June 08, 2005
Then why go vegan?
Well, if I can't get a straight answer from philosophy about why I should go vegan, then why do it at all?
The thing that amazes me about this question is that there are soooo many arguments for going vegan. If one turns out to be no good, then there are many others that still have a lot of potential.
Even if you think that ethical reasons are a bunch of crap, then there are health and environmental reasons too.
Ethical reasons, however vague they might be, are definitely my primary reasons though, the environment and health are secondary.
Once I saw the conditions that animals suffered through in factory farms and research labs, it really helped me empathize with farm animals. It was a strong feeling that I had for animals all of my life but had never connected those feelings to where my dinner came from or how my shampoo was tested.
It is easy to forget about the animals that are raised on farms and used in research for those of us who don't ever see them. Once I was informed about the reality that most of these animals experienced, it was not something that I could forget.
A life is an amazing thing. Even in some of the smallest creatures, take insects for example. Last year I worked in an entomology lab for a researcher who was studying beetles. When I think about all the things that might be a part of a beetle's life while it is living out in nature, I like the idea of that kind of life. But then I think of the life of a beetle that we caught and kept in a small plastic vial, and I don't like that idea of a life so much. Even if the beetle in the vial didn't suffer any pain, it just doesn't seem like a good life for the beetle. If catching the beetle hadn't been part of a research project that I felt was worthwhile, I don't think it would have been right to keep the beetle in a plastic vial.
Alright...enough about beetles...
Itís just that I think that itís great to see animals flourish and do thing the things that they do best. And I want to disrupt that as little as practically possible. Giving up meat, dairy, eggs, leather, etc. does not interfere with my happiness at all, so its something that I'm very happy to do in order to reduce the pain, suffering, and the impediment of the natural behaviors of animals.
June 07, 2005
Why am I unsure about animal rights?
Coming to the conclusion that there are things called animal rights involves dealing with a lot of hard philosophical questions that underlie the concept of rights. This would also mean that I reject all of the other theories about morality that are out there. This seems like a really big commitment to make. Because these arguments are continuing constantly and the theories are also in the process of being developed and changed, it seems like in the end, picking one theory over the others would require a bit of faith.
Although I first became interested in animal issues because of the philosophical approaches to the issues and continue to be interested in those philosophical arguments, I don't feel like my reasons for going vegan are necessarily based on one specific argument.
If I were to say that raising hens in battery cages is wrong. I'm not sure exactly what that means. Maybe it means that raising hens in battery cages.....
causes more suffering than happiness,
violates the rights of a hen,
is something that makes me unhappy,
is a practice that is generally not approved of by society,
is not something that a good person would do,
Many of these seem to be plausible, and each of these interpretations of my statement about battery cages could be the product of a different moral theory. Choosing a moral theory that makes the most sense to me would involve questions that go beyond the topic of animal rights, so that's why I'm unsure about animal rights.
What are animal rights?
That's a tough question...
Is it necessary to believe in animal rights to justify going veg?
The phrase "animal rights" is often used when talking about animal issues and veganism. Some people interpret the phrase as meaning that animals have these things called rights. Well, what in the world is a right?
This is a slippery term that is hard to define and even harder to give rock solid justification for. I guess we might think of a right as something that entitles an individual to something and requires others to respect whatever it is that the right entitles the individual to.
Some say that individuals that have rights have "inherent valueĒ and should not be treated as a "means to an end". These ideas become clearer when we think about human rights.
Let's look at an example: Imagine I have come up with a new drug and want to test my drug on a woman named Sally. Sally is not willing to volunteer for the test because Sally is perfectly healthy, and by participating in the test Sally runs the risk of getting sick. So when I say that I am going to test the drug on Sally without getting her permission first, how would you respond?
It is wrong because.....it violates her rights...?
Well, what does that mean?
A person has a life and has the right to decide what she wants to do with that life. I am expected to respect that person's right to decide what to do with her life.
Because that person can make decisions and has ideas about what she wants to do with her life, that person has inherent value. That person's life and the decisions she makes are worth something no matter what use she might serve for me or other people.
I am not supposed to use that person a means to an end. It would be wrong to use that person to satisfy my end, testing the drug.
Now imagine that Sally is a chimpanzee. If animals have rights, then it would be wrong to test the drug for the same reasons.
Alright, so why are we talking about rights?
Um, I forgot....
If you found that confusing or inaccurate, I'm not surprised. I don't know a whole lot about the philosophy behind rights. I've taken some moral philosophy, but it seems to have escaped from my mind, at least for the summer. Anyway, I've always found the concept to be really hard to grasp or find plausible. The reasons for having rights in the first place were never very clear to me. It is also unclear to me what exactly those rights are.
I've been thinking about reading Tom Reagan's "The Case for Animal Rights". It presents an argument for why animals have rights. But I haven't gotten the motivation to do it yet!
So you might get the idea that I'm not super enthusiastic about the concept of rights. Its not that I think that rights are a bad thing. It would be great if people and animals really had these wonderful things called rights that protected all of us from harm, but I'm just not totally convinced that such things exist.
Sure, people talk about rights all the time especially when talking about the law, but is there some justification for these things called rights other than the fact that we talk about them and write laws to protect them? That's an open question for me.
What happens if it turns out that a bunch of really brainy folks get together and come up with this really great argument for why there is no such thing as rights? Or maybe they say that only humans have rights. Maybe they already have and I just don't know it yet or am too stupid to understand their argument :)
I would still believe that factory farming was a very bad thing!
The point of all of this is to explain that when I write about animals rights, I donít necessarily mean that I believe animals or people have those sorts of rights.
Well, what am I writing about then?
Hmm, letís see....
Maybe I should break this up and start another post...
Category "Veg Information and Resources"
June 02, 2005
Rediscovering the goal
The past few days, I was kind of going through a phase where I was having some doubts about why I've decided to go vegan. But after doing some thinking and reading some articles, I'm really happy that I've made this choice.
Sometimes I get too worried about the details and loose focus on what's important. The goal is to reduce animal suffering, and to do that I want to reduce the amount of animal products I consume. The products that I want to eliminate are those for which animals were bred, raised, and slaughtered. There are small amounts of animal by-products used in many things, but those aren't so critical to focus on.
Being vegan is not about purity or moral superiority, its about taking action to reduce suffering and spreading a message of compassion and consideration.
It's also not necessary to go vegan to help reduce suffering. Even eating vegetarian one day a week is awesome! If people are interested in reducing animal suffering, they can do a lot to help with out going vegetarian or vegan. Every little bit counts.
I get so excited when people even show the slightest interest in animal issues even if they're not vegetarian!
People can also do a lot to help by talking to their friends and family about the conditions that animals face on factory farms. For some reliable information, check out Vegan Outreach's " Why Vegan?". Vegan Outreach is an excellent organization that focuses on distributing accurate information about animal suffering. They're not using propaganda and unreliable sources. Their pamphlets have educated thousands of people about animal issues and going vegan!
May 31, 2005
Although it seems like many people who are vegetarian or vegan are okay with making some exceptions about the products that they buy and consume, to me it seems like this can be a somewhat confusing topic. Each person seems to come up with their own set of conditions for making exceptions to their vegetarian or vegan practices.
Should I eat the cake that my sister made for my mom's birthday? Should I keep the wool sweater that my grandma gave me? Should I give away my favorite pair of leather boots?
Sometimes people justify making exceptions, but how often is to often to make exceptions?
At some point, the whole definition of vegetarian or vegan seems unaplicable. The terms vegetarian and vegan are a bit too neat and tidy to be a really accurate description of many people's practices. When I was vegetarian I didn't drink milk or eat yogurt, but I still ate cheese and milk chocolate. This was based on an attempt to balance my own tastes and eliminate use of more animal products beyond just meat. I wasn't trying to fit my actions to conform to a rigid set of standards.
I think that it is important to realize that the terms 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' are two words that have fairly set definitions and can be really useful to give a general idea of what your beliefs and practices are, but in reality each person who labels his/herself as vegetarian or vegan is an individual. There is too much fuss about identifying exactly what a vegan is and whether or not people conform to those standards 100% of the time, because the truth is they will never eliminate 100% of the animal suffering they cause in the world.
What is important is that people examine their lives and consider whether they want to choose to expand their sphere of consideration to include animals. And if they choose to do so, they should not feel pressure to ensure that their actions are perfectly consistent with a pre-packaged definition.
May 28, 2005
As a vegetarian I really struggled with the inconsistency of the whole idea. I had decided to stop eating meat because I believed that the suffering that chickens, cows, pigs, etc. experienced in factory farms was not justified by my desire to eat them. But while this was an effort to reduce the suffering of animals, many of the products that I was still using were the cause of animal suffering.
Egg laying hens have one of the worst lives of any animal that I've heard of, and cattle on the other hand have relatively good lives. So why had I cut beef out of my diet long before I decided to cut out eggs? Well, it's a lot easier to cut out beef, but I think part of it was because it is also much more common. Most people have at least met someone who is vegetarian, but I've never heard of a person who refuses to eat eggs but still eats beef....
So in many ways, at least from an ethical viewpoint, being vegetarian seems really inconsistent. That's why going vegan, trying to eliminate the use of animal products as much as practically possible, seems much more appealing to me.
What's my goal?
While talking to my family about why I've decided to go vegan and why I want to spread the word about animal cruelty, my step-father asked a simple question: What is your goal? This is a tough question for me. I know quite a few vegans whose goals are complete liberation for animals. Ideally people would not raise animals for food at all in the future. I have a little more trouble with this question because if animals don't suffer during their lives on the farm, I don't think I would have any really strong objections to their being raised in this way to provide people with food.
Is it possible to raise an animal for food and still be able to truly take its interests into consideration? It certainly seems possible to provide them with adequate food, shelter, health care, and social interactions with other members if their species. We just wouldn't be able to produce the products on the scale that we do now. The animals would still be killed before the natural end of their lives....
Is this enough to make it wrong to raise animals for food? I'm not sure.
If my goal is to advocate for humane farming methods instead of complete elimination of animals products from our diets, then maybe I should be rethinking the message that I want to try to spread. Right now labels such as 'free-rangeí that are meant to indicate that an animal was raised using more humane practices are not regulated in any way. This makes it difficult to ensure what exactly the producer means by the term. The only way to ensure that animals are not abused is to refrain from buying animal products. But if you have some knowledge of how exactly the animals were raised, and you know that they did not suffer, that seems like it might be alright too.
If the goal is more humane farming practices, then wouldn't I be obligated to support producers that do take these steps? Wouldn't I be obligated to eat their meat, eggs, and dairy products?