Smiling cowAndrew Tyler has a piece in today’s Guardian which suggests that veganism is the new vegetarianism. It seems that being a vegetarian in modern Western society has become so common that the moral case against eating animals must fall exclusively to the vegans.

I’m with them on this, actually. I’ve long thought that being vegetarian for ethical reasons is inconsistent. There are some who are vegetarians for health reasons or other reasons, and that’s fine. But if one is a vegetarian because they believe it ethically wrong to harm animals, then they’re being inconsistent to be only vegetarian: they still might wear leather, they still might eat fish, etc. Such people are usually having a hard time implementing their ethics. They should actually be fully vegan.

I have no problem with vegans, if only they’d be consistent. Yes, even vegans are usually inconsistent. To be vegan, one must avoid eating the meat of any creature of any kind, including all poultry and fish. One must also avoid all dairy products, eggs, honey, woolen sweaters, silk shirts, down feather pillows, leather wallets, couches, and shoes, suede jackets and more. Vegans need also avoid gummy bears, jelly and much more; since they contain gelatin, made from the collagen of animal tissue. They must also do without many foods containing carmine food colouring, which is extracted from the cochineal insect. They need also prevent themselves from eating any foods containing cane sugar, which is whitened with bone char. If a vegan does all of this, and then some, he might be ethically consistent. But really, how many vegans do you know who stick to this regimen?

Now to respond to Andrew Tyler’s article. He is himself a vegan, and says much of society is beginning to join him:

“We are now a nation of ‘meat reducers’, with only National Farmers’ Union regional reps prepared to argue in public … that chickens, cows, sheep and pigs – nearly 1,000 million of them every year – are content in their stinking sheds and in the killing factories.”

Come, now, Andrew. Surely you’re not appealing to the happiness of farm animals in order to make a serious point? Babe, the talking pig, was only a movie you know.  How would you suggest we measure said happiness? Ever seen a happy cow? How did you know it was “content”? Did it smile at you? Did it wag its tail when you patted its large, ugly bovine cranium? And could it really be that you’re arguing for vegetarianism at least in part because of the smell in cow sheds? I would suggest, sir, that even the most contented cows would still stink to high heaven, and thus their sheds would continue to be “stinking sheds” regardless of their level of contentment (which, as I’ve argued, is still impossible to measure). In any case, the vast majority of cows which ever lived are dead now and do not know that they lived in a “killing factory”, nor did they know when they were alive, nor even in the seconds before being slaughtered.

Tyler goes on to describe veganism:

“That means no dairy, no eggs, no honey and, of course, no meat or fish. [But] let’s not call it abstinence.”

Well that is what it is, Andrew.  According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, ab·sti·nence [ab-stuh-nuhns], in the first sense as a noun, means “forbearance from any indulgence of appetite”. If you are not going to eat dairy, eggs, honey, meat or fish in principle, sir, then abstinence is what it is.

“The data shows we tend to be slimmer, and we are less prone to a range of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and colorectal and some other cancers…”

Yes, and more prone to anemia, rickets, cretinism, osteomalacia, hyperthyroidism, and calcium deficiency. Don’t worry! It’s not an indictment on your diet, just on your honesty.  I’ll admit that your diet is probably as healthy or moreso than mine, but your selective fact-picking is decidedly bad for the health of your position.

“Veganism is also kinder to the environment; it requires considerably less land, water and energy.”

Why would requiring less land be kinder to the environment? What else would you like to do with it that would constitute being “kinder”? And what is water for, if not to drink or feed crops? With regards to that, and to energy, sir, perhaps you’re not aware of where the plants you like to eat derive from. They’re farmed, on land, just like cattle. The only way you might argue that veganism is kinder to the environment is if you can make a case that the environment must be in some kind of raw form (like a rolling hill of flowers) in order to be regarded as having been treated kindly. In addition, I know some of you people believe that bovine flatulation is a threat to the world, but since you advocate consuming a higher quantity of brussel sprouts than I do, I must consider that a little hypocritical.

Tyler then goes on to talk about how “cool” veganism is (his word), though it quickly becomes clear that he’s simply defining the word “cool” by reference to how far to the left the people he’s listing have managed to swing. (For example, Benjamin Zephaniah, “a man who said ‘up yours’ to the government for recommending him for an Order of the British Empire” = cool; Dr Janez Drnovsek, president of Slovenia = cool; Gordon Ramsay, who hates vegetarians = uncool.)  These examples are reaching further even than the point he’s trying to make.  President of SLOVENIA? Are these really the best examples of “cool” vegans?!  And once he mentioned Morgan Spurlock, the verdict was in.

He finishes his article by equating veganism with a healthy diet: “You’ve nothing to lose but your elevated blood cholesterol levels.” While I’m sure a vegan diet is healthy, Andrew has far from proved that the only healthy diet is a vegan one. Of course the argument from health reasons is secondary; it’s the moral arguments from ethics which convinces.

I know that, in the past, Stephen Graham has said he’s almost been persuaded by moral vegetarian arguments like the ones put up by Peter Singer. I must admit to wishing to minimise the suffering of animals myself, though it isn’t for any conflict with my ethics that I would do so. For me, if an animal is slaughtered humanely, it’s a perfectly moral candidate for a good marinading, grilling, seasoning and subsequent digestion. That’s more consistent than vegetarianism, wouldn’t you say?

On this point, I side with the aforementioned renowned chef Gordon Ramsay. He may be uncool to vegans, though that isn’t a surprise. He’s been known to play cruel jokes on vegetarians by covertly feeding them meat and afterward asking if they liked it, and, while I don’t condone his trampling on someone’s sincerely held ethics in this manner, I’ll be damned if it isn’t wickedly hilarious at the same time. When the girl band Girls Aloud went to dine at a Ramsay restaurant, he told one of them, who’s a vegetarian, “Didn’t you get the message? Vegetarians aren’t welcome here…” He’s also threatened his kids with electric shock treatment should they ever turn vegetarian. This stuff is all good fun, not because we meat-eaters really believe that vegetarians are ethically challenged, but because of the stereotypes vegetarians tend to bring upon themselves. The limp-wristed, over-serious, pasty-faced vegan stereotype is largely a product of the way vegetarians have been projected in years gone by, and invites mockery for the sheer sport of it.

I know many vegetarians personally, of course, and get along wonderfully with them all. Contrary to the impression I may have given at times for the purposes of good polemics, I’m not a huge meat-eater in any sense. I don’t sit down with huge, grisly cuts of steak every night. Chicken, turkey and bacon are the meats most represented in my diet, followed by ground (minced) beef and the odd burger here and there. I’m happy with a salad, pasta dish, stir fry, casserole, or sandwich, though not so happy when it doesn’t involve chicken at least. There’s got to be a reason for that, and thus for the continuing popularity of meat-based diets.

Anyway. You ethical vegetarians should really be vegans, and you vegans should really be growing your own food if you want to do it right, or rely exclusively upon vegan food companies (though if you’re that committed to veganism, maybe you’re against capitalism too – perhaps to be regarded as “cool” among your fellow vegans? – in which case the only solution is freeganism).

To the rest of the meat-eating readership, you should be ashamed of yourselves.