Problems with the vegan argument:
There are different reasons for choosing to opt out of eating animal products. Some do it for health, some for the environment, some for ethical reasons but most do it for a combination of some or all of these reasons. For the most part, I find all these reasons for choosing not eat animals or products rendered from them to be admirable and respectable but there are a few things that I often run into with either the logic of veganism or with the attitudes of the people committed to veganism that do more harm than good for the cause. There seems to be problems associated with many of the arguments, lines of logic and attitudes that are common points made by many vegans that I’d like to address mainly for the sake of truth and clarity surrounding this important issue of what we put into our bodies, how we treat the world and how we treat other sentient beings.
Food is such an integral part of culture, lifestyle and identity. It is bound to religion, health, ethics and even politics so it tends to be one of the more controversial topics to discuss. There are many convincing arguments on both sides of the debate to say why a plant-based diet is healthier than one that includes animal products and vice versa. However, in the long run, what is more important than which side you may fall on depending on which nutritionist you’re reading or what new study comes out is the question of honesty. It seems to be far too common for studies to be ignored, data to be cherry picked to fit a desired outcome, arguments to be straw-manned or even sheer denial for the sake of promoting a “greater good” such as ethics or the environment. However great the intention may be, deceit and obfuscation about certain facts, scientific studies or logical arguments is allowing the ends to justify the means and breaks down honest discourse and credibility which actually hinders the cause in the long run and may reduce health benefits for many people.
The argument that eating a plant-based diet is better for the environment is a point that I find agreement with but that also runs into problems of dishonesty and lack of clarity. For the most part I would agree that eating plants does less harm to the environment especially when looking at factory farming related to water usage, antibiotics and the methane farts of cows that arguably pollute more than all of the cars in the world. However there are many circumstances where that is simply not the case and often is the exact opposite case. Disregarding ethics for moment, hunting in natural habitats (especially bow hunting) or fishing to a moderate, sustainable degree are examples of methods of attaining nutrition that have either a low, nearly nonexistent or even positive impact on the environment. On the other end of the spectrum for plant-based diets there exists the phenomenon of mono-cropping with all it’s negative effects on the environment, sometimes involving clear-cutting old-growth forests or rainforests to produce corn or soy, often involving harmful chemical pesticides. It would be interesting to know how many acres of soy would render the same amount of calories as one deer hunted in the wild would. Another aspect of environmental impact that may not be as clear cut as often made to seem is that of transportation. Is a banana from the other side of the world better than an egg laid by a chicken in your backyard in terms of carbon footprint? Not to mention the politics involved in such trade which runs the gamut of mutually beneficial to oppressive. It is clear that the issue of environmental impact is much more nuanced than veganism simply being less harmful for the environment than usage of animal products which seems to be an unquestioned claim in vegan circles.
The question of morality in regards to the consumption of animals is very tricky but there is often a lack of clarity in the debate which should at least be cleared up regardless of one’s final beliefs about the ethics of it. I often find a logical inconsistency in the argument that animals should not be killed which should be pointed out for the sake of clarity. As most would agree, intelligence alone shouldn’t be the only factor that determines the value of a being’s life given that there is a wide range of intelligence among humans yet most would argue that the most intelligent person is just as deserving of dignity and life as the least intelligent of us. It would seem ridiculous to eat somebody with a mental deficiency who is less intelligent than a very smart pig. When that argument is extended to other species it holds logically that less intelligent lifeforms should also be deserving of that same access to life and dignity. Everybody has a different cutoff however of what level of intelligence is no longer valued enough to protect the destruction and enslavement of for nutritional ends. For most, those that eat meat or consume animal products, it ends with humankind, for others it is fish, for others it is insects and for nobody (who is alive at least) it is plants, bacteria and fungi which are all lifeforms who arguably have some level of intelligence and even consciousness. For the most part, most arguing for the morality point would draw the line at a nervous system which, although it has problems of anthropocentric views of what systems of intelligence and life-force is valuable, has further problems.
If intelligence or complexity are not the factors used to determine what deserves to live on and what deserves to become food it could also be argued that likeness to the consumer be the main factor. Even if it is not spoken outright, this seems to be the de facto “reasoning” that most people employ when regarding what beings are permissible to eat. For example, it is appalling to most (in the West at least) to eat dogs or monkeys since they exhibit human-like qualities and therefore have more worth than other animals who are less like humans, or more genetic difference. However this line of “reasoning” taken to it’s logical conclusion would indicate that some humans, those who share more genes with you, are worth more than other humans who share less genes which is obviously problematic.
There is a claim often made that eating plant-based products doesn’t harm sentient beings which is unclear at best and a lie at worst. Even the least harmful foods like an apple that has already fallen from a tree takes the meal away from the worms and ants, implicitly valuing the apple-eaters single life over the multiple lifeforms that would have benefited from that apple. In most other scenarios it is worse because land is tilled, water is diverted from water sources, trees are cut down to make space for plants and trees that give food and often pesticides, natural or not, are needed to be used. In the process of even the most eco-friendly agriculture, thousands of intelligent beings perish as a result of feeding humans including small burrowing mammals, reptiles, birds and of course the beloved insects. If all lifeforms are regarded as equal in respect to their right to live then it could be argued that drinking a glass of soy milk is supporting genocide on a mass scale where a glass of goat milk is supporting the non-consensual theft of only one being’s body fluid.
It seems to be evident that the ethics around food choice are not as black and white as is often portrayed, especially when vegans make the claim explicitly or implicitly that they stand on a higher moral ground than omnivores. The topic of animal rights and what we consume is so important to human health, well-being of animals, the environment, politics and morality in general that it should be approached wisely. Ridiculing vegans on one end and expressing moral indignation of others on the other end only fuels the polar extremes, muddies the conversation, promotes and environment of shame or hubris and hinders progress.