In response to Caleb Bond – on veganism and petting zoos

This essay is in response to the opinion piece by Caleb Bond, published by an Adelaide (Australia) newspaper, The Advertiser, on the 1st of May, 2017. The piece takes aim at vegans and animal protection groups who protested the presence of a petting zoo at the entrance of a local music festival. Caleb was light on facts, and heavy on verbose ad hominem attacks against vegans, such as “…some of the most judgmental prigs I’ve ever met have been vegans” and “So moralistic and oh-so-superior”.

Concerned that this piece would give people the wrong impression about animal advocates, thus leading to negative outcomes for animals, I urged The Advertiser to publish a piece covering some actual arguments that vegans make, and offered to write it myself. The head of Opinion at The Advertiser said that, due to being inundated with requests, they were getting PETA to write an opinion piece covering the other side (although a week later this has still not emerged). To me, this strongly suggests that they were not intending on covering the other side prior to the complaints – so much for unbiased journalism and covering all bases.

As an opinion piece, it might be tempting to say that the credit lies squarely with Caleb. However, by not issuing a response, The Advertiser does the animal protection community (and indeed animals) a great disservice. I hope that The Advertiser will make good on their promise and allow PETA to write an opinion piece, however as an insurance policy, this is my response. Because The Advertiser is apparently disinterested in covering the other side of the story, please share it widely.

While I was not involved with the petition to the music festival, started by Jaymie Hammond, from later conversations I gathered that the rationale seems to have been roughly this – the combination of loud music, large crowds and individuals under the influence is not an environment conducive to the wellbeing of animals. Interestingly, the music festival quickly accepted the growing concern over the petting zoo, and cancelled it. “While we had the best of intentions, we understand your concerns and so we have decided not to go ahead with it.” They, at least, seem to have understood the motive.

I’d also like to cover some of the actual reasons people have for being vegan, since Caleb seems unwilling to cover that. Apparently people are vegan because they want to be superior to non-vegans. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of why one might choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

Environmental damage – In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations wrote the Livestock’s Long Shadow report, discussing the environmental impact associated with animal agriculture. In particular, an estimated 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the livestock industry. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is one of the most effective individual acts one can make to reduce their impact on the environment (more effective than forgoing showers, having solar panels, and riding a bike instead of a car).

Human wellbeing –The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in 2015 that processed meats are a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogen to humans), and red meats are a Group 2A carcinogen (probable carcinogen to humans). A diet rich in plant-based food is suggested to lead to lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and a reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. As I have argued previously (volume 2, page 15 of the Australian Vegans Journal), a government public health campaign could reduce the public health burden in Australia, saving the taxpayer money and benefiting their health.

Animal suffering – This industry also creates unimaginable suffering for the animals used as food. Undercover investigations have revealed extreme cruelty and pain as standard in Australia, particularly in industrial farming of pigs and chickens.

Generally speaking, vegans do not believe that a small amount of pleasure outweigh the damage and suffering. Luckily for vegans, the food is delicious (try Vego n’ Loven It or Zenhouse in Adelaide, Caleb!), and the hardest part is having to put up with ridicule, and correct misinformation. However, it’s still worth it.

Caleb says “Vegans make a lot of noise, but precious little sense.” You might indeed be forgiven for thinking this if this opinion piece was your first introduction to veganism. However, Caleb left out the above rationale, thereby misleading the public.

There was some mixed commentary on Caleb’s piece in the letters to the editor of The Advertiser the following day. In particular, I was struck by the comments by Eric Taylor of West Beach.

If they have their way and veganism becomes compulsory, I trust these moral dictators own some pretty large properties to house the animals. They will no longer be on the farms, as there will be no commercial benefit. What do these people suggest we do with the 74 million sheep and 26 million cattle in Australia? The choices are limited. They will either get moved to non-productive land owned by our vegan masters or sent to slaughter.

The question of ‘what will we do with all the animals’ is a common criticism of veganism, though it misses the point and is misleading. The transition from animal exploitation, whether through behaviour change (increase in proportion of vegans) or technology (increased availability of realistic animal product alternatives, e.g. plant-based or cellular agriculture), is almost certainly going to be gradual. There won’t be an overflow of food animals to deal with because there will be no demand for them. Less of them will be bred and therefore in existence, which is a good thing, as most food animals are argued to have lives not worth living (that is to say, with more pain than pleasure).

Caleb, I sincerely hope that I have left you feeling more informed about the reasons that I and many others have decided to avoid animal products. If you are willing to have a well-reasoned and informed discussion about this, I would be happy to do so. And to The Advertiser, I hope you will consider urgently sharing information about the case for veganism. As a journalistic publication, it is your duty.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from Caleb’s piece.

See, they profess to be such loving, careful, gentle souls. Friends of everyone and everything. But some of the most judgmental prigs I’ve ever met have been vegans.

So moralistic and oh-so-superior. They like to think of themselves as a higher echelon of human. They’re apparently more evolved than you and I.

All because they don’t enjoy a nice steak with a glass of red. Yes, wine is off the list, too, because it’s processed with animal products. No wonder they’re generally so uptight and sour.

Then they’ll start proselytising door-to-door. “Hi, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and saviour, tofu?”

Edit (09/05/17) – it has recently come to my attention that The Advertiser published a response by PETA, however it was a week after the original article, and it was just a letter to the editor, not a full opinion piece. After a search I was confident that nothing had been published – the Advertiser’s website makes it hard to double check these things.

However, I still believe The Advertiser could have and should have done more to counter the baseless attacks from Caleb Bond on an entire community.

2 thoughts on “In response to Caleb Bond – on veganism and petting zoos”

  1. Forgive me, for I have not read the whole article at the time of commenting, but this is sufficiently a tangent that I feel it’s unlikely to be too damning. You note that:

    “Adopting a vegan lifestyle is one of the most effective individual acts one can make to reduce their impact on the environment (more effective than forgoing showers, having solar panels, and riding a bike instead of a car).”

    I’ve been trying to find empirical bases for claims like this. Obviously I’ve come across estimates and suchforth, but it strikes me that the majority of those points are more “if 1000 people became vegan, it’d lead to X less suffering, which effectively means each person reduced suffering by X/1000”. Which seems to me to be sufficiently different to “if one person becomes vegan, they will reduce suffering by Y” (where Y is equal to X/1000, I just use a different notion to be clearer).

    Are you aware of some kind of empirical basis of these estimates? I know empirically testing economic ideas is really hard – I’m not asking for perfectly conducted RCTs or anything. I’m just intuitively sceptical of estimates without some kind of empirical checking at some point in the process. In addition, it would not be the first time that estimates, even expert estimates, have been way off when actually checked.

    Thanks for your patience!

    1. An important question! I first saw such claims in Will MacAskill’s Doing Good Better. I’ve also seen some similar claims in the documentary Cowspiracy. These are by no means primary sources, but at the very least I’ve trusted Will MacAskill to be credible on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: