I read an interesting article in the New York Times a few days ago about a vegan chef in NYC. The article wasn’t especially interesting to me as its focus was preparing delicious vegan dishes. What is interesting is the vegan lifestyle. Veganism is, according to the Vegan Society:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. [In dietary terms the society defines Veganism as] The practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
While I have great respect for those who promote worthy causes such as the environment and the ethical treatment of animals, veganism is too extreme for me and in many respects overshoots the mark. Simply put, a dead animal does not suffer. The cow who’s flesh is my burger and skin is my shoes does not suffer with each bite and step. Food animals can be raised and slaughtered without cruelty.
The passion vegan zealots have for animals is admirable. The problem is that they throw their nets too wide. Nature, quite simply, is cruel. If heterotrophs stopped feeding on animals in lower trophic levels and the food chain became a dissociate collection of independent creatures, biomass transfer would cease and mass extinctions would occur in days. Many animals survive by exploiting other animals. Humans are no different.
Most vegans have no desire for eagles to stop eating fish and fowl and adopt an autotroph diet. The point I’m trying to make is that it is not morally objectionable to hunt deer, eat sushi, or wear a silk tie.
In the New York Times article Isa Chandra Moskowitz is quoted as saying, “I would love to live in a world where I knew the eggs came from happy chickens.” So would I. But I doubt chickens are capable of such complex emotions as happy and sad. I understand Ms. Moskowitz’s point. To the degree we can reduce animal suffering we should. Factory farming should be abandoned and animals required for research should be treated in a way that minimizes suffering.
Humans have always been on the winning side of our relationships with other animals. There is an urgent need to stop the cruel treatment of animals. People who mistreat animals should be dealt with harshly. We need to be sensible in our dealings with these animals and create–where possible–symbiosis. Vegans do their part to reduce unnecessary dependence and exploitation of other animals. Their voices, however, are muted by their fanaticism. We can have our cake (with butter, eggs, and milk) and eat it too if we are responsible, ethical, and minimize suffering.