Honesty as "Bashing"
A vegetarian blogger recently lambasted me on Twitter for having called for consistency in animal advocacy by asking vegan activists not to mince words or water down their message to advocate anything other than veganism. I pointed out that to endorse anything less makes as much sense as endorsing part-time murder or part-time child abuse. If one takes the interests and rights of nonhuman animals seriously, how can one reconcile this with supporting someone else's continued exploitation of animals? The blogger took issue with this and used it as an opportunity to promote a post he wrote ("Veganism is a Part of Vegetarianism") accusing those calling for veganism of being "vegetarian bashers". In this piece, VegBlogger asserts that it is "counterproductive to vegetarianism as a whole (which includes veganism) to bash vegetarians or vegetarianism" and makes clear that "bashing", in this case, means:
- that "they are doing no good" (i.e. to point out that animal exploitation other than the actual consumption of animal flesh is immoral), and
- telling vegetarians that they are "the same as an omnivore" (i.e. to point out that there is no significant ethical difference when it comes to animal exploitation whether you consume the flesh or secretions of animals).
It Is What It Is
The truth is that there is as much--often more--suffering involved in dairy or egg consumption as there is in meat consumption. There is no less death involved. Calves are taken from their mothers and sent off to slaughter in the dairy industry, male chicks are killed--sometimes ground alive--in the egg industry. In both industries, the the milk-producing cows and egg-laying hens' daily lives are filled with misery and as soon as their production goes down, they're sent off to slaughter, as well, to in turn be used for food. When one consumes animal products, one continues to commodify nonhuman animals--to treat them as things that exist to satisfy our selfish urges. One continues to be complicit in all of this. This isn't just a matter of opinion leading to the unwarranted wagging of a finger. The facts are what they are and to try to convince oneself otherwise (i.e. that the consumption of animal products like dairy and eggs is less ethically problematic than the consumption of animal flesh) is self-delusional; to perpetuate that sort of confusion in others who choose to continue exploiting animals is both dishonest and misleading. If a vegetarian who consumes animal products finds the truth "insulting" or offensive, that's unfortunate, but it doesn't alter the facts.
On Stepping Stones and Shuffling
Some, like VegBlogger, insist that an exception should be made for vegetarianism (i.e. the consumption of animal products other than flesh) since vegetarianism is a "stepping stone" to veganism. The example often brought up is that most vegans were once vegetarians; most vegans were once omnivores, too, yet few would jump at positing a causal relationship there. The reality is that vegetarianism is no more a stepping stone to veganism than any other altered form of omnivorism is a stepping stone to veganism. If anything, humans sometimes get lulled into complacency by deluding themselves that they're doing enough by merely cutting out this or that animal product. I know this firsthand--I was a lacto-vegetarian for many years and I truly wish that, rather than pat me on the back and reassure me that I was doing enough, someone had actually talked to me about veganism.
Thinking that shuffling out this or that animal product is "enough" is like telling oneself that it's alright to beat the hell out of one's child on Tuesdays as long as one refrains from doing so the rest of the week. An accusation often thrown at vegans for being unequivocal about vegan advocacy is that we present an "all or nothing" dilemma that purportedly sends so-called potential vegans back to their omnivorous ways. If my neighbour told me that she only beats her child on Tuesdays and I told her that she needed to stop completely, would it make sense to accuse me of sending her back to beating her child everyday by taking an "all or nothing" approach to the situation? Would it make sense to accuse me of "insulting" her if I asked her to stop altogether? Would it make sense to say that I was "insulting" every other person who chooses to beat his or her child on one single day a week (i.e. rather than everyday) since I was ignoring that "every little bit counts"? Of course not. So why is it such an issue when we're discussing the interests of nonhuman animals? Is it because their interests are not as significant to some as those of humans? Is that not speciesist?
We owe nonhuman animals more than to let human feelings trump nonhumans' rights to not be used as things. I also think I owe my fellow humans more than to lie to them about what we owe those nonhuman animals. I'd like to give my fellow humans enough credit to think that they can handle the truth and act accordingly, rather than mislead them into continuing to exploit nonhumans, which is what I'd be doing by advocating vegetarianism or any other type of nonhuman animal consumption.
For more information on why we should persevere in educating others about veganism and why stopping short by endorsing vegetarianism as an ethically significant "step" is problematic, please visit The Abolitionist Approach website to read these three essays:
"Vegetarianism as a "Gateway" to Veganism?"
"Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a "Gateway" to Veganism"
Also visit Dan Cudahy's Unpopular Vegan Essays blog to read his essay "What Is Wrong with Vegetarianism".
Go vegan. It's the right thing to do and it's an easy and healthy thing to do.