Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Veganism: Starvation

or Dietary Morality?

 This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine, and a friend of hers, at Golden Harvest in the TL a few weeks ago.

You're damn sure I'm not going to feel some moral dilemma about cracking the aborted infertile fetus of a chicken in the frying pan. Runny, sunny-side up or scrambled; I'll eat it however. Also, I definitely enjoy cheese, milk, and honey. Better yet, give me all three with a hearty helping of steak wrapped in bacon.

See, I'm a carnivore. I eat meat. I like it, love it, can't get enough of it! Every time I make a meal, it doesn't seem complete without some version - chicken, fish, beef, or veal (yes even veal) - and whenever I don't have any, my body keenly feels the lack. It's like being slowly starved. It's like going outside with no shoes on. Sure, you can walk, but there's something missing...

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Yet I'm also educated on the niceties of the issues. Read books like Fast Food Nation, listened to PETA speeches, and considered the arguments from Tom Regan to Steven Davis. The ALF versus Ted Nugent. Fur coats versus red spray-paint. Faux-soymeat versus "where's the beef?"

Hell, I even went to a factory farm once. Saw the whirley-gigs ripping chicken's heads off by the dozens. Watched their bodies flail post-traumatic shock. Blood rivulets running down to drainage systems and recycled in the never-ending flow of animal-parts used down to the last giblet.

But what did I feel at the end of the tour? Was it disgust? Moral outrage? The strong urge to vomit? Nope. It was then that I realized I might be a bad person, because the first thought I had after leaving was, "damn... I'm hungry."

I disagree with the moral objections of Veganism. Animals can feel pain, and they can suffer. Animals don't deserve to be cruelly treated. Animals aren't unaware - they understand what's happening to them - but I put people first. Humans over animals... though we are all humanimals, in my opinion.

Why? Because I'm a goddamn specieist. Because I, like the lion - or the tiger, or the wolf, or the shark - don't care about the gazelle, deer, rabbit, or tuna-fish. Nobody tells them to try a veggy-burger. Nobody says, "I know you're all about the meat, but how about maybe giving it up?" No, they don't say shit - because a lion would just get bored and bite your face off.

But even more so, why do we ascribe sentience, free will, and rights to animals, but not plants? Is a carrot less of a lifeform than a turkey? And what about insects? Are ants not living creatures like squirrels? Nobody ever thinks to notice that this moral-objection-based veganism is no different than the reasoning that people use to eat animals. Carnivores eat meat because they don't care about the animals they're eating. Vegans eat lettuce because they don't care about the plants they're killing.

Vegans expand their circle of sentience to include other beings, for the sole reason that they're more "like us" (humans) which is just another way of saying that we're all still anthrocentric. Species are regarded to have consciousness - and therefore worth saving or protecting - by their proximity to stereotypical traits of humanity. A calf is better than a mosquito, because a calf has eyes you can look into and a bleating cry that can move your bleeding heart to pity. But does this mean then that a mosquito isn't as alive as the calf? Isn't as vibrant an existence worthy of cherishing?

According to many vegans - like Richard Dawkins, or David Sztybel - [apparently not]. The whole argument devolves into relativism. Each person propogating their own version of sentience, but being unable to justify it when confronted with the logic that consciousness is defined by its proximity to our own human understanding.

If an apple could scream as it was plucked off the tree, there'd be no slices in the fruit bowl, or apple-pie at the BBQ. If trees could express themselves in ways we understand life - which is pitifully narrow - there'd never be such a thing as lumber-jacks. If the flowers spoke words, there'd never be another wedding day bouquet.

If bees didn't sting people, instead just dancing for us, there wouldn't be Raid-cans killing them in every suburban garden. If worms had eyes to look into, we'd stop tying them to our fishing lines. If butterflies weren't unable to speak, we could hear them cry as they're trapped in nets and pinned on to the pages of some collector's scrap-book.

But they don't. They can't. And yet, that doesn't mean they aren't alive. That they can't feel pain. Yet we still eat them. Vegans still use them, eat them, kill them. So I fail to see the real difference between us. We both take life to sustain ourselves, only I'm honest and less picky about it.

What about dietary concerns? Why veganism? Are you lactose intolerant? Are you allergic to honey? Does meat make you sick enough to throw up? That's fine. I understand differences in people's diets, but to deny yourself food to eat purely based on cool-factor quotients (because vegan-vegetarianism is all the rage these days) is not just ignorant, but also foolish.

Our bodies aren't meant to live off nuts and berries. Sure, maybe once upon a time we had so-called "cruelty-free" diets, but humans have evolved since then. The appendix is shrunken. The teeth are clearly ominivoric. The nutritional requirements to have a healthy body don't include self-denial of the necessary vitamins and minerals for no better reason than misguided morality or popular culture.

And don't tell me we've got substitutes for the food I eat. Do we really? Have you ever had a veggy-burger? Tastes like paper, and leaves me hungrier than Chinese-food an hour later. Faux-meat? Really? Fake meat? Didn't I get enough rubber-food in my high school cafeteria? It didn't quench my hunger then, and doesn't now. It didn't maintain my healthy weight. If anything, it made starvation seem a better alternative, than to stick such shit-on-a-stick down my gullet.

And it seems like the fake-food line is neverending. Makes me wonder why people protest "franken-foods" when we've got crap like that as the alternative. Soy cheese, soy milk, tofu patties, and goddamn gluten!? Gross. Unhealthy. Expensive. Please tell me they're not serious...

Unfortunately, they are.

So, while I resist this meatless, cheeseless, food-revolution, it seems the rest of our culture is embracing it, from celebrities to hipsters to Trader Joe's. It's not threatening... yet, but it is annoying. It is depressing. It is a little ignorantly hypocritical.

So it goes.

6 footnotes:

natalye said...

it's lovely that you bring it down to a black and white argument, ending in the statement that veganism is hypocritical based on the fact that vegans (moral vegans, that is) don't eat animal products because animals are sentient beings. i know you're trying to sum things up to write a post about it, but there are so many issues and p.o.v.s that are left out of this.

but those aside, i fail to understand how this is hypocritical, seeing as hypocrisy is the act of pretending to have beliefs but not really abiding by them. i say i don't eat animal products and i am true to that. how is that then hypocritical? or you imposing an across-the-board set of beliefs and reasoning for why all vegans are vegans? that's the only way your argument would then be valid.

the fact of the matter is you can't compare animals to plants in this kind of argument. yes, they're both living beings, but it's apples to oranges.

we ascribe sentience to animals and not plants because we have no proof that plants are sentient beings (with the exception of carnivorous plants, which, i believe, have some kind of low positive standing on the sentience quotient scale). of course, you have to define sentience, and the definition on the sq scale is intelligence. but there's also the prevalent idea that sentience is the ability to feel things at a basic level, to distinguish between what feels good, and what doesn't, between what is painful and what is not. this is the idea of sentience that vegans typically are referring to.

modern medicine dictates that a nervous system is necessary in order to be capable of sentience. plants don't have central nervous systems. neither are they cognizant beings, and your suggestion that maybe they CAN feel and we don't know it just because apples can't scream and flowers can't speak seems more devil's advocate than something you actually truly believe (correct me if i'm wrong).

when an animal experiences pain, it does what it can to alleviate that pain (run away, fight back, et cetera). when a plant experiences what would be understood as painful for us (being eaten by a lion for example) it doesn't struggle to get away, to survive. using that line of logic, a plant hasn't evolved over the years to be able to run or fight back to survive, and if it was truly feeling pain, wouldn't natural selection have worked in favor of plants, eventually resulting in plants that could do things to resist "pain"?

you then say that "The nutritional requirements to have a healthy body don't include self-denial of the necessary vitamins and minerals for no better reason than misguided morality or popular culture." if i'm not mistaken, i do believe a vegan diet provides all the "necessary vitamins and minerals" you speak of except for b-12.

you also state "but I put people first" - first over what? the context you use it in implies that going vegan would be putting something at risk - but what? yourself? your friends? the well-being of the human race? it's not like being vegan compromises one's ability to continue existing. i understand that we're - for all intents and purposes - at the top of the food chain. but that doesn't mean that we must use that standing to our advantage and exert power over whatever is below it in the chain. that kind of viewpoint is both old-fashioned and unattractive. and to use that as an excuse, to say that you're a "speciest", is to do just that. veganism, or vegetarianism for that matter, doesn't ask you to sacrifice your own well-being, so it really isn't a matter of life or death.

i know some people (like bromance) judge others based on whether or not they're vegan. i don't, so i think it's unfair that you judge me and dare to group all vegans into the category of dishonest (which you imply when you say "We both take life to sustain ourselves, only I'm honest and less picky about it.")

Zek J. Evets said...

@natalye: well, i don't think the issue is itself black & white - so i'm sorry if it seemed i was reducing it to ridiculous absurdity - but i definitely have a bias, a stance, an opinion, which means the other opinions in relation to it are judged by how much they reflect my own reasoning. yes, it's ignorant of me, but i prefer to admit to my bias rather than pretend it doesn't exist.

there are so many POV's and other issues,but my objective was to deal with what i've experienced - the vegans & veganism i've seen and experienced, so of course i'm going to miss a few things. (or more than a few.)

how is veganism hypocritical? well, i thought i explained it pretty well in the post... but let me try to sum up.

moral objectionist vegans are hypocritical because they ascribe a definition of sentience to life that isn't provable, that IS prejudicial based on a candidate's proximity to human characteristics, and ignores the trend of ALL life using other beings to sustain themselves - whether that be deer eating plants, wolves eating deer, or bacteria eating a corpse.

as for many dietary vegans, they are hypocritical because they ascribe to veganism for the "cool factor" as opposed to any actual diet-based on their body's personal nutritional requirements.

and going back to plants vs animals, while i personal think that plants aren't sentient, i do realize that the reasoning behind this assumption is prejudicial. i don't think plants are "really" alive because they don't possess certain traits i associate with sentience. but i also expand that to include animals. animals aren't fully sentient to me because they aren't exactly like me either. they are closer than plants, but still not human, so still worth eating. yes, this whole rationale is specieist, but so is the veganist perspective! judging sentience based on the possession of certain organs, the ability to communicate (in some "beastly" fashion), or what actions a being takes. but this assumes that all sentience follows the same rules, that it is based on how "human-like" a creature is. is it? does it? maybe plants CAN feel. many plants have evolved defense mechanisms to limit the amount of predation upon them - from spines to sap to poisonous leaves to thick bark. also, don't plants follow the sun? they are capable of distinguishing between what they like, and what they don't (that is, between sunlight and shade). and what about insects? they certainly act like they don't enjoy being squished. they can run away from predators, and many have intricate social hierarchies reminiscent of our own modern cities. but are they not sentient either?

don't you see? they just changed the definition. the arguments are both the same flawed reasoning that we use to justify the lives we take.

i'm not personally judging a person's worth or intelligence based on their veganism. so i'm sorry if it seemed like i was saying so. but i am making judgements on that aspect of a person's personality in particular. it's no different than laughing at someone with a strange obsession for doing stupid tricks in a shopping cart. i don't "get it" but whatever.

the overall point of my post was to illuminate the subtext of the lifestyle. there's a lot of ignorance, hypocrisy, generalizations, assumptions and superstition just like in any movement/philosophy/religion/belief-system/etc. and i'll probably continue to explore it, changing some opinions, discarding others, maybe even gaining new ones. we'll see.

but yeah... sorry if you felt smack in the face.

FunkyStarkitty50 said...

I have a friend who is a vegetarian-- I guess she can't give up the fish and can't fully commit like a vegan. We have gotten into these discussions where she says that it is inhumane how humans can eat other living things, but she has a leather purse. I don't get that. Genuine leather comes from animals, doesn't it?? I don't know if it is really possible to not wear clothes that are not derived from an animal-- even polyester has some cotton components to it. I was into PETA for a while and they were really trying to indoctrinate me into their way of thinking--- it was funny how so many of them were pro-choice. Again, I don't understand how you can be so passionate about saving animals, but are perfectly fine with people aborting babies??? That's a separate issue, though.

The bottom line is that if someone is going to commit to an animal-free lifestyle, they have to be consistent and stop trying to convert others into a way of thinking that they haven't fully embraced. I'm not criticizing vegans-- the true ones, but some of the ones that I know who say one thing, yet do another. I admire vegans-- I just can't kick the chicken habit :-)

Lex said...

I happen a cynic where this topic comes into play...

Ahem, I admire vegans. I personally think it takes a lot of willpower and effort to maintain a vegan "status". I mean think about it, if you don't live in San Francisco and you don't know how to's a hard thing to manage. Vegans are a funny crowd to me, super-sensitive people (usually very artistic, hippi-ish, it surprises me that you're not a vegan. You're so sensitive sometimes), and they have this enormous will power to maintain their veganess (is that even a word?). They really are a committed bunch. Imagine if someone took how committed they were to veganism and put that effort into something else, hell there isn't a lot they can't do.

I'm not even going to try and get another point of view in. There's too much to say and regardless of what it is I say, people will eat the flowers or they're going to eat the baby chick.

Jasper said...

Wait. So the real issue you have here is with people who do stupid tricks (wheelies, kick-flips, barrel-rolls, etc. I'm guessing) with shopping carts? How intolerant of you.

Zek J. Evets said...

@jasper: haha, you deconstruct my arguments, sir, like a knife thru butters.