Saturday, August 2, 2014

Veganism: The Very Least We Can Do

Being vegan for ethical reasons is often talked about as if it is an ascetic sacrifice undertaken only by people who possess a high moral standard. However, as I wish to point out in this short essay, such a view is as wrong as can be, since veganism, in moral terms, actually is nothing more than the very least we can and should do.

First of all, being vegan is in no way ascetic; it can be, of course, if one fashions that, but the notion that vegans cannot eat a great variety of delicious foods is simply plain wrong — just think about how many kinds of fruits, grains and vegetables you can name, and they will likely only be a fraction of those that are available. Furthermore, fully vegan restaurants are increasingly normal, at least in major cities, and so are all-vegan supermarkets. So, to paraphrase Ray Kurzweil, while there are limits to what vegans eat and consume, these limits are in fact not very limiting, and increasingly less so.
The notion that being vegan is difficult is also wrong, at least for anybody who has realized the moral necessity of veganism, and the lack of necessity of eating other sentient beings and the products of their exploitation. When one has realized that, it would surely be much harder to partake in the eating of animals and of the products of their suffering than to abstain from it. So in this light, being vegan is indeed the easiest option of all.

But are ethical vegans not highly ethical, though? Not at all, and the notion that they are only stems from a failure to realize what veganism in fact amounts to. A vegan is simply someone who does not actively support atrocities such as the egg industry’s killing of male chicks; the dairy industry’s torture of cows; or any other act of exploitation or killing of non-human beings for frivolous purposes. So veganism per se is not even an active fight against evil, but merely a rejection to actively support it and be part of it. To make a flashy analogy, being vegan is akin to walking down the street and then simply managing to not hit anybody in the face, and such an accomplishment can hardly be considered highly moral.

Given the fact that being vegan merely amounts to not actively supporting atrocities such as those mentioned above, it is indeed strange why veganism is often considered extreme, as it reveals that it is actually anything short of veganism — anything short of, say, withholding support from the egg industry and its killing of male chicks, and of chickens in general — that is extreme. And the fact that the most basic ethical values we all hold commit us to veganism makes the same thing clear: veganism is in no way an extreme position, but a most trivial and uncontroversial one, indeed the only defensible one, if we apply our own values consistently. So the fact is that the view that veganism is extreme itself is the extreme one; a morally misguided view that causes immense harm.

We do not need to eat anything that comes from non-human beings, and yet we torture and kill them by the billions — we make them suffer to a completely incomprehensible extent — for the purpose of eating them and things from them. An atrocity is taking place right before our eyes, and it is us, the consumers, who make this atrocity happen. We are all responsible for it, and, in normative terms, we all have a responsibility to help bring an end to it. The first and most obvious step we must take in order to live up to this responsibility is to stop actively supporting this atrocity — to stop being a backing part of it. That really is the very least we can do.