Vegan Ethics, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 25 2013 @ 2:00pm

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A reader writes:

I really appreciate that you’ve been airing this debate about vegan ethics.  I think some context might be helpful. As of 2002, about 9.5 billion non-human animals died annually in food production in the United States. By comparison, about 218 million were killed by hunters and trappers, in animal shelters, in biomedical research, product testing, dissection and fur farms, combined (pdf). I don’t have up-to-date numbers or numbers for wild animals affected by human behavior, but I think that this data gives folks a sense of the scale of the factory farming problem. Put simple, about 95% of non-human animals killed by humans are killed for food. Rhys Southan may be right that veganism will not end humans’ domination over other animals, but I do think it’s important to point out that merely by boycotting factory farmed food you can avoid participating in the vast, vast majority of the killing.


Ugh. I’m not a vegan, but this whole collection of arguments drives me insane.

One common point of veganism is the simple fact that one can still be a functioning part of modern society and be vegan. That’s the point: you’re not giving up roads, (sub)urban development, and all the other aspects of modern life. You’re giving up one direct, large, and superfluous type of consumption: killing and eating (or wearing, etc.) animals. These entire “critiques” of veganism smack me as willful ignorance of the most pernicious sort: I’m going to assert you’re not as perfect as I say you have to be, because I know deep down on this one you’re right, and better than me.

Now if only I could give up cheese and leather …

One who did:

I grew up next to a small dairy farm in rural England (Herefordshire). I came to veganism from a love of animals (obviously) and an aversion to suffering. Yes, land transformation kills animals. But it’s not the same as industrialized mass suffering. It’s the argument made most eloquently by the ethicist Peter Singer: It’s okay to kill someone on the battlefield, but not okay to capture and torture them. I am not against all farming involving animals. But I can’t support factory farming. Factory farming is torture for animals, and arguably worse for egg-laying chickens and dairy cows than for animals raised for meat.