A few miscellaneous thoughts on animal rights
When people find out I’m vegan, occasionally they ask whether I’m an animal lover, or they just assume it. I’m not. I don’t love all animals any more than I love all humans. However, just like I don’t want humans to suffer for my pleasure even though I don’t love them all, I don’t want non-human animals to suffer for my pleasure.
Health comes up a lot in vegan outreach. People have concerns about health, and that’s reasonable. Many think you need to eat animal products to be healthy, and that’s definitely not the case. Some think you need animal products to be optimally healthy, and this is likely not the case, but I’m necessarily less sure about this than the first claim.
Nutrition is a hard science by its nature, and there may well be one animal product which when consumed in a certain quantity alongside a vegan diet will lead to a slightly better health outcome than a vegan diet. This is not a thing that is impossible, even though I don’t have evidence for it right now. Of course, I’m not arguing that we should act like this is the case until we see evidence for such a thing, but the question remains – what if this was optimal for health?
I’d say – so what? Even if consuming a non-vegan product* was optimal for health, I still wouldn’t do it. I’m not trying to be a purist, in fact I see this as pragmatic. If we really think non-humans matter, their flesh or secretions being a little bit healthier still shouldn’t justify us causing suffering to them. This is for the same reason I wouldn’t eat humans if it turned out to be a little healthier to include humans in my diet.
How much healthier would eating animal products have to be for me to do it? There is probably some amount of increased health outcome that would make me include some animal products in my diet, somewhere between ‘a little bit sick all the time’ and ‘dead’. But I’m quite confident that if there is some reduced health outcome from being a purist vegan, then it’s so small that it’s worth it.
Someone might say that this line of thought isn’t very utilitarian of me, but I disagree. I’m being utilitarian, I’m just not being human- or me-centric. I fail to see how the slightly increased health outcome (reduced suffering) could outweigh the significant increase in suffering experienced by the animals now being farmed because of me. Intrinsically speaking, being a little bit sick for a year straight shouldn’t outweigh even a single animal suffering for a whole year.
What about flow on effects? Me being a little sick for a whole year will probably mean I advocate for animals a little less good. What if I could be a little sharper of mind by eating animal flesh once a year? Well, I’d factor this in to the utilitarian calculation. And I still don’t think it’s worth it, even if eating the occasional non-vegan product makes you a little healthier (and to be clear, I don’t think it does). Does the world we want really look like us eating others to be a little bit sharper of mind?
I recall a conversation with a friend who was almost entirely vegan at the time but said they would eat a non-vegan meal on a flight if the airline forgot to get a vegan meal. I wouldn’t. The meal has already been made, sure, but refusing it still affects supply, and therefore animal suffering. They should be less likely to make that extra non-vegan meal in the future, and more likely to get the vegan meal right (I hope…). And in any case, it’s just one meal, being a little hungry isn’t that big a deal. If it was a week long flight, I’d eat the non-vegan meals so as to not die, but gosh would I lay in to the company about it.
To conclude, I want to clarify that I do think a well-managed vegan diet is optimal for health, that I feel perfectly healthy, and that my annual blood tests continue to be perfect. But I did want to cover this, since I think advocates and non-vegans alike care a bit too much about nutrition.
*Note that I’m not talking about medicine or vaccines here. I’m appalled that these involve animal products or testing, and will fight until they don’t, but we need vaccines and so I won’t stop taking them.