First, this article was inspired by this post and follow-up comments with awesomeaustin.
Second, for brevity in this article, I will use veg*n to mean vegetarian/vegan and veg*nism to mean vegetarianism/veganism.
Although I eat meat, I have made multiple forays into veganism, and today have significantly cut down my consumption of animal products.
Why? Because I believe animals can suffer and hope to do my part to reduce this suffering. However, I believe this suffering comes in degrees and thus this dietary issue is not as black and white as the more ardent veg*ns make it out to be.
In fact, as I have reflected on this over time, the following questions keep coming up.
1. Do all animals suffer equally? This question has two components. The first is the vividness of the animal’s sensations. The more vivid an animal experiences, the more it will suffer unpleasant experiences. So with this in mind, does a fish suffer as much as a chicken, a chicken as much as a cow, and so on? The second is the animal’s ability to psychologically suffer, likely due to its ability to reflect on its condition. So for instance, one would consider caging a rat or putting a leash on a dog to be different from doing the same to a human.
2. How many animals must die to feed people? For instance, a cow can feed more people than a chicken, so if one avoids beef in favor of chicken, one is killing more animals. On this front, I am confused that many people transitioning to vegetarianism actually kill more animals by increasing their consumption of chicken and fish.
3. Animals die to support veg*n diets, namely from pesticides, being caught in harvesting machines and so on. Admittedly, the same holds for meat based diets, as the animals raised for food also eat farming products. But it still illustrates that a veg*n diet is not cruelty free, it’s simply less cruel.
4. Typical dairy and egg production causes a lot of suffering. Animals are mistreated, kept in cramped conditions, and killed when they are no longer productive. So what causes less suffering, vegetarianism or a mostly vegan diet with some occasional beef?
5. Regarding advocacy, if it’s more likely to convince many people to cut down on meat than it is to convince a handful to go vegan, and if the former would have a greater impact than the latter, then is it ethical to advocate veg*nism rather than something more mainstream, and thus more likely to be adopted?