Friday, January 31, 2014

My Thoughts on Veganism

I've written about my thoughts on eating meat here and here.  I've also been sharing with you my attempts at eating a more plant based diet through my Adventures in Vegetarian Cooking series.  Today I want to write about my thoughts on what would seem on the surface to be the most straightforward way to resolve my complex feelings about eating meat: going vegan.  In summary, I don't think it is the most straightforward and is not the right choice for me.

Side note: why am I talking about going vegan rather than vegetarian?  Because for whatever reason you pick to be vegetarian, you should really be vegan.  Health reasons?  Dairy cows and laying hens are pumped full of the same hormones and antibiotics and dairy as your main replacement of meat is not so good for you.  Environmental reasons?  We utilize the same resources to provide dairy and eggs as we do meat.  Cruelty reasons? Do you think milking cows and laying hens have it any better than the animals raised in factory farms for meat?  I would argue they have it worse because their lives (and their suffering) are longer.  So while vegetarianism is great, I see it as a middle of the road choice.

Back to why going vegan is not the right choice for me.

(1) It does not have to be all or nothing and it is not a competition.  I really hate PETA and the "meat is murder" crowd.*  I find PETAs tactics - shock, shame and scare - to be very alienating and counter-productive. My guess is that the number of people who are alienated by their tactics (so then close their mind to their arguments) far outnumber the people who are swayed and adopt a vegan diet.  We would be better served to get a majority of people to reduce their meat consumption via a Meatless Monday, Vegan Before 6, or Weeknight Vegetarian diet rather than a minority to go all out vegan.

(2) I don't think eating meat is inherently wrong.  The way the vast majority of our meat in the country is produced is abhorrent to me and I think the disassociation we've permitted ourselves is shameful.  But on the other hand, I don't believe every life is sacred and we are part of the food chain.  Nature is cruel and a good life/quick death (my personal goal and what I aim for with my food) is not guaranteed.  If you've ever seen a cat stalk its prey or coyotes make a kill you know this.

(3) I don't understand what vegans' end game is. If every person on the planet became a vegan tomorrow, what would happen to all the pigs, chickens, and cows?  I guarantee there would be a lot fewer of them since they don't make very good pets.  So... what is the endgame?  An end to factory farms/needless suffering?  That I can get behind.  But we'd have to have a fundamental shift of power in our country - away from subsidies going to big agro and instead going to small farmers who practice sustainable agriculture and focus on quality of life. Otherwise that type of farming will be unattainable for the majority in our country (it is expensive for the farmers to raise animals that way and therefore expensive for the consumer - out of reach for many).  If the farm bill that just passed is any indication we are very far from that happening.

Also the number of vegans who attack small time farmers definitely portray that this is not their endgame and they see any slaughtering of animals as murder.  Take the comments on this Washington Post series as an example.  Tamar Haspel writes over at Starving off the Land, a homesteading blog I followed for awhile when I was dreaming of having a hobby farm. She raised three pigs for food and gave them a good life.  It was a project in dealing with her food first hand and I admire her for undertaking it.  However, the amount of hate spewed towards her in the comments of her articles made me fear for her safety.* 

And some more personal reasons:

(4) I'm married to someone who won't give up meat entirely.  He's been game to try more vegetarian meals with me and I am happy he has been so supportive.  He recently reached a limit though when I made four vegan meals in a row and he begged a meat based meal.  I made some pork steaks (from the pig share we participated in) the next night and he was happy. So we won't quite be weeknight vegetarians :)

(5) I don't want to be the person at the dinner party that can't eat anything/needs a special meal. I hate to be a bother and I hate being hungry even more so I'm going to eat whatever you serve me (happily).  And finally...

(6) Meat is delicious.  It really is.  I'm not sure what my last meal would be if I was on death row but I am sure it would have some sort of meat or fish and melted cheese in it.

*I know not all vegans are like this and it may be that vegans, like feminists, have a branding problem.


  1. Very well put. I try as much as my bank account will allow to buy animal products from the most humane sources possible, and realize that the meat I'm eating did not just fall into a blissful slumber and then magically end up on my plate. And I agree that PETA is doing a huge disservice to the vegan movement.

    1. It is hard because it is so much more money for what looks like the same thing! I have found that red meat at farmers markets is not that much more expensive than the supermarket. But chicken/turkey is a lot more - like 3 times! We don't eat a lot of chicken/turkey because of this.

      I'm sure PETA uses shock/shame tactics because every time they do an outrageous ad that gets everyone talking it is free publicity for them. But I think they alienate way too much.

  2. I like your thoughts on this! I'm lucky in that I was never a huge fan of meat in the first place, so avoiding it to be vegetarian has never been difficult. I do really want to be vegan, basically as you pointed out, all my reasons for being vegetarian apply even more so to justify going vegan. But it's hard! I'd at least like to be vegan at home. But probably not when socializing.

    Although I'm sure there are some militant vegans out there who deserve their reputation, I think for the most part it is a branding-type issue. I think omnivores who feel conflicted about eating meat, but haven't worked out their thoughts on it, often take out other people's decision to be veg as a personal insult, even though the veg*n isn't meaning it as such.

    1. I think you are right that it is a branding issue and a defensiveness issue. I do hate that, when someone takes someone else making a different choice personally (I see it with name changing, kids/nokids, how many kids) so acutely.

      I think the militant vegans are the loudest and why vegans get that reputation. Articles I read on sustainably and ethically raised livestock are always overrun with them.

      Vegan at home sounds like a great compromise. I bet it would be really restrictive when dining out/socializing. I'm excited to hear how it turns out!