Why do vegans talk about veganism so much?

Being a vegan, I meet many people who get on some level why I am vegan, but just don’t understand why vegans talk so much about non-human animals and how they are treated in farming. I have come up with a story which, I hope, will enable you to understand, even if you don’t agree. I want you to really try and visualise yourself in this scenario and be honest with yourself for maximum effect. My goal here is not to convince you to be a vegan, but to convince you that, if you were vegan, you would want to talk about it all the time too.

Imagine you lived in a society where 99% of the population ate humans. These humans are farmed in ways that bring about unimaginable suffering, and they are killed at very young ages. When you find out how most of your food is made, you make a decision to stop contributing to it. You stop purchasing human products.

But most of your friends and family still eat humans. You might go to dinner with friends and see them eating humans around you. They ask you why you don’t eat humans and you explain. They might crack a few jokes, or say that these humans are bred for food, so it’s ok, or that they are less intelligent, so it’s ok. They might say that it’s necessary to eat humans for survival or to be healthy, but you know it’s not.

Perhaps you would feel compelled to tell your friends what really happens in human farms, and why it is wrong to eat them. I can almost guarantee that you wouldn’t be silent. You would want to tell everyone, and wouldn’t care if people thought you were being too ‘pushy’ or ‘preachy’. When your friends listen but ignore your plea, you might start to feel helpless and dejected. You might think about the footage of humans suffering, and know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Your friends are good people, so you just can’t understand why they choose to continue eating humans.

Perhaps you disagree that non-humans should be given ethical consideration. Perhaps you think that the taste of their flesh outweighs their suffering. But through this hypothetical, you can now see why vegans talk about it so much. Because we do think non-humans are as or almost as worthy of moral consideration as humans. We know how easy it is to reduce the suffering caused by animal agriculture, and it is hard for us to live in a society where 99% of people disagree with us. If you don’t think you can understand, then you are deceiving someone, and it’s probably yourself.


Helping Aussie farmers in a drought? There are better opportunities

Lately, I feel like the motivation for me to write a post on a particular topic comes from having had a series of debates on social media about it until I get frustrated enough that I want to write out my thoughts in full so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. This post is no exception.

Some regions of rural Australia are currently experiencing their worst drought in 100 years. This surely affects all farmers (and users of water), but it seems the media has chosen to focus on how it affects animal farmers. It has sparked a lot of attention, from news articles, to it being a major talking point on political Q&A show Q&A and countless businesses pledging to give some of their profits from a certain day or item to farmers (usually through a charity called Buy a Bale which gives stock feed, money and volunteers to farmers).

This issue has also divided many vegans. Most are against the idea of helping animal farmers e.g. by donating to Buy a Bale, but some are also urging vegans to support the farmers to alleviate the suffering of the animals affected by the drought. This would be a hard pill for vegans to swallow, but I would like to argue that, even if you were open to supporting animal exploitation in some cases, to do so here would be highly irrational.

The suffering of the humans and non-humans affected by this is clearly awful. However, in thinking about supporting the farmers, vegans and non-vegans alike have completely ignored the concept of opportunity cost. That is to say, if one were to spend or donate a dollar in one way, they are forgoing other opportunities to spend or donate the dollar in other ways.

By supporting animal farmers, you are forgoing much more effective opportunities to help humans (e.g. Against Malaria Foundation where you would save a life for an average of $6,000 AU), or animals (e.g. Vegan Outreach). It seems quite hard to argue that giving stock feed, money or volunteers to animal farmers would be more effective at alleviating either human or non-human suffering than any of the current top rated giving opportunities (e.g. GiveWell for humans, and Animal Charity Evaluators for non-humans).

Even if you disagree with the research put out by either of these organisations, you must surely recognise that the chances of Buy a Bale being the best bet for reducing suffering are very low. Check your biases – are you supporting Buy a Bale because you think it is the best thing to do, or is it because it is a topical issue currently that is in the news and a lot of other people are doing it?

“Will you buy a parmy and help our farmers and animals?”
Public: Yeah!
“Will you donate to an effective international development or animal charity outside of a media cycle?”
Public (usually): Eh

Any one dollar you donate to help animal farmers is one dollar you could otherwise use to reduce suffering more effectively. Yes, the suffering of animal farmers and their animals is sad, but it’s sad because they suffer. If we care about suffering, we should be open-minded about how best to reduce it.

I also want to say that I’ve seen some quite awful things said about farmers by vegans in the context of this drought. Things have been said along the lines of ‘I’ll pay for the farmers to be shot alongside their animals’. Threats of violence are never ok, and it’s not even useful to say it, regardless of whether it is a joke or not. All suffering is bad, and that includes the suffering of humans who harm animals. We can be sad about their suffering without condoning the suffering they cause non-humans.

If you have seen any comments like these, please know that they are not representative of animal advocates in general. In any case, how a minority of people in a movement or who hold an idea act should not affect your opinion on the movement or idea itself. After all, I have also received death threats from a variety of meat eaters and farmers, but I do not in any way believe this to be representative of meat eaters or farmers as a whole.

In much of the conversation about this, people are turning to climate change and the increased likelihood and severity of droughts. Some are playing a political blame game, while others are condemning the energy industry for their part in climate change. I do find it somewhat ironic that no one seems to be talking about the role of animal agriculture in increasing climate change (it’s one of the leading contributors) which in turn affects animal agriculture (and all users of water).

In particular, I’m disappointed in Q&A for completely neglecting this in their discussion on Monday (yes, I’m calling you out Tony). It has gone on for so long that it is starting to feel like undeclared interests, rather than complete ignorance.

As a final point, if you don’t like seeing animals suffer, don’t pay people to breed them. Be vegan.

Response to criticism of Aspeys’ cruise

A recent video has accused vegan activist James Aspey of hypocrisy. From what I can gather from the video, Aspey has taken part in a cruise with a number of vegans, where he gave talks which the video accuses of ‘preaching to the choir’. The video argues that Aspey contributed to environmental damage by taking part in the cruise, and is therefore hypocritical.

It seems like the main objection here is not that Aspey spent money and time on the cruise. If they were criticising the money he spent on the travel, arguing that what he is spending it on is ineffective at reducing suffering and that there were more effective things he could be doing with it, I’d be inclined to agree. But a) that doesn’t seem to be the argument, and b) we all spend money on things we don’t need when we could be further reducing suffering.

I don’t like cruise ships either, but most people don’t donate all of the money they would spend on leisure activities on donations to the worlds most effective environmental or vegan charities (as much as I do wish people would donate more). Are we not all doing the same every time we spend money on ourselves instead of reducing environmental damage or suffering?

I didn’t see a figure for the volume of emissions per person as a result of going on the cruise, but I’d be very surprised if it were more than a few tonnes. This amount can be offset via a donation of several dollars to Cool Earth. If we ignore the money being spent on the cruise that’s could otherwise be donated (that doesn’t seem to be the objection here?), anyone spending $10 on a meal when they could spend $5 and donate $5 is causing roughly the same degree of damage, unless you don’t think that an inaction can be as morally culpable as an action. I think you probably already believe this, since many people would agree that walking past someone dying and not saving them when you could for no cost is as bad as killing them yourself.

Of course, I still think spending too much money on leisure activities is bad (I still do it more than I’m happy with) and encourage people to consider donating more to effective charities (for ones own happiness, as well as for the greater good), but if we are upset with Aspey for taking part in the cruise, we should be upset with some 90% of vegans who spend money on leisure activities.

I could steelman the video by expanding the argument to saying that Aspey would have been better off giving the money to an effective cause and doing some advocacy locally. I don’t know the content of Aspeys’ talk, and in fact the video makes no effort to address it (the creator of the video, KARen Savior, is a well known critic of Aspeys’ work), but let me also steelman his involvement. If he was using the talk to get the other vegans to become more effective advocates for animals, that may well have been a decent (still not the best) use of money.

We don’t like to think about it, but every time we spend money on ourselves, there is an opportunity cost.

As an aside, I have had some incredibly frustrating conversations about the original video here and here, including receiving ad hominem attacks and a variety of other fallacies.