Should we go vegan?

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Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated abolitionist philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.

Arguments for[edit]

Animal agriculture is the main cause of deforestation around the world.[1] Farmers chop and burn trees to make room for cattle to graze, and to grow crops, most of which is used to feed cattle living in feedlots. To fight against global warming and protect biodiversity, humanity should go vegan.
This would only be a valid argument against increasing animal agriculture. If we didn't increase it, there would be no need to cut down forests to make more room for animal agriculture. If we wanted to increase forest coverage by taking area away from animal agriculture, we could decrease meat consumption, so the deforestation argument doesn't warrant a complete change to veganism.
It's true that not eating meat is the core of this argument but we also need to graze cows for milk, so we would avoid dairy as well. That accounts for the vast majority of animal product-based food, so it overlaps veganism quite a bit.
It takes much more land to produce 1kg of meat than 1kg of vegetables. World population is expected to reach 11 billion before it starts to decrease.[2] Feeding all those people will be impossible if the current trend towards a diet with more animal products continues. To prevent even more starvation, humanity should go vegan.
In the developed world a lot of food is thrown away, as not all of the surplus can be redistributed to other areas of the world, due to logistical, economical, political etc. problems. In the USA alone, approximately 40% of the food gets thrown in the trash. This means that, for example, if the USA started consuming less food, this food wouldn't magically teleport to the tables of people who have food shortages
Then fix those problems. Either way, animal product-based diets are more resource intensive from energy, land, and water. It's inarguable that more efficient food sources are better all things being equal and that we are in the midst of huge crises of resources—environmentally, economically, politically. Don't compound those with meat and other animal products.
That current trend towards more meat in the diet would naturally go away due to supply and demand if meat becomes more expensive, and then people would eat less meat, veganism would grow more common even if nobody was advocating it for simple economic reasons, and the problem would solve itself. Also overpopulation is a problem that solves itself, just look at any animal species, when a species of animal becomes overpopulated, they naturally have their population either stabilize or go down.
This assumes a lot about markets being rational (they are not) and if we aren't even arguing for some kind of state intervention in a market—humans can choose to deliberately control markets as private actors. There used to be a market for child labor but we deliberately chose to stop employing it rather than let the invisible hand somehow naturally move away from it. If the exploitation of children, slaves, or non-human animals is wrong, then we shouldn't just put our faith in a promissory note of markets to somehow stop exploitation.
So? Meat is more calorie dense so while you may need more land per kilogram, that kilogram is more efficient in delivering calories. If you wanted to guarantee everyone a minimum number of calories, you need fewer total kilograms.
There are many calorie-dense foods which are vegan—particularly nuts. And we would need to do the calculus that compares land usage, kilograms of food, and caloric value (in addition to nutritional value) to actually know what is optimally efficient.
Humans currently produce food for 10 billion people, but about a third of the crop is fed to animals, which leaves about a billion people without enough food. Going vegan would go a long way in helping end world hunger.
Or we can just produce more food.
Virtually all arable land is already being cultivated.
There are sources of meat which don't take arable land away from crops, for example, fishing.
It's true that eating fish would use much less land but that is also irrelevant to freeing up land for other purposes which are more efficient, helpful, or economical. So yes, we could convert to pescetarian diets and then use land for other purposes but this is just part of the green argument against eating meat.
This is only an argument for reducing meat consumption, not completely eliminating it.
If you lower it to zero, then that will be even better.
Many food sources animals eat are inedible to humans. For instance cows eat grass and while humans can technically eat grass, we cannot digest the cellulose whereas cows can, so if we eat cellulose-rich plants, the vast majority of the energy in the food is wasted as we cannot digest cellulose. Cows convert the cellulose into chemicals that humans are capable of digesting. Eating animals is a way to indirectly get nutrition from food sources that are not directly digestible by humans.
But we can still get far more efficient and effective nutrition from other sources so we could convert a small percentage of that grassland into farmland.
Billions of animals are slaughtered without mercy every year, in systematic and extremely cruel ways.[3]
Nowadays there's cultured meat.
Yes, but only at small scale and high cost. We have yet to see if it ever becomes a viable commercial option.
The meat industry is getting more humane.[citation needed]
Not really, but even if it did, it will always be more humane to not eat and otherwise exploit the animals.
It takes anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of meat.[4] Such inefficiency is unacceptable when over a billion people lack access to clean water.
Meat production may be a very inefficient use of water, but saving that water doesn't mean that it will be given to the people who lack it, and saving for the sake of saving makes no sense, as water follows a cycle and will return, eventually.
Saving water is an end unto itself as it's a precious resource and the treatment of water is an important part of the water cycle in the anthropocene. In addition to the waste that goes into using the water to grow animals for food, they are also huge polluters of the water system—specifically pig farms. Just never using that water in the first place relieves a huge strain on our infrastructure.
So why go vegan and not vegetarian? Beyond the raising, meat requires minimal additional water whereas something like rice, lentils, beans all requires 2-3× their volume in water to be edible, lack of access to clean water is a matter of technology being affordable (borewells, desalination etc). We don't have a shortage or scarcity of clean drinking water as we do with exhaustible resources like oil or natural gas. Because not everything grows everywhere, but animals can be raised locally, removing all meat from the diet necessitates a larger amount of pollution from transporting the food. How are you defining inefficiency here. I grant you that 5,000–20,000 litres is a lot of water, but larger quantities don't mean inefficiency. By that logic, an airplane is more inefficient than a Honda.
Rice doesn't actually need much water to grow—rather it is used as a pesticide. If someone were eating exclusively very water-intensive vegan foods, then this would be a problem but no one would be as a diet composed entirely of almonds is not nutritious.
The main cause of premature death among humans are cardiovascular diseases. The main cause of cardiovascular diseases are clogged arteries.[citation needed] The main cause of clogged arteries are animal products.[citation needed]
That is an oversimplification of the matter. First of all, the main cause of cardiovascular disease is not clogged arteries, rather that cardiovascular disease is often used to refer to clogged arteries. However, when one takes into account all possible diseases of the cardiovascular system, the leading cause is actually genetic. Furthermore, while it is true that atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, is often linked to one's diet, it is not necessarily true that animal products are the problem. In the past, cholesterol has been blamed for heart disease, but this, as well as most other claims made by dieticians, is still very disputed and inconclusive.
We all evolved in vary dangerous environments and our species survived but that doesn't mean we should expose ourselves to increased danger. It's correct that there is some shaky science on whether or not animal protein is more dangerous than plant protein but it's definitely true that eating certain animal products (e.g. red meat) is associated with vary serious and debilitating health problems. Furthermore, some are almost entirely from animal products, such as mercury poisoning from fish and salmonella from undercooked chicken and eggs. Diversity is key to survival but we can have entirely balanced and diverse diets without animal products. For the subset of humans who can't realistically have a balanced diet without supplementing it with animal products due to availability or special health concerns, then that is a different story. For the great majority of us, veganism is a a legitimate healthy diet that inarguably avoids many health risks which are exclusive or far more common to omnivorous diets.
Causing unnecessary suffering on animals is morally wrong. Exploiting animals is unnecessary and causes much suffering. Therefore, exploiting animals is morally wrong and should be abolished.
Animals in the wild suffer more, as starvation and predation is a constant threat to them. For a natural equilibrium, all animal species living in the wild live at the brink of starvation, as an excess of food leads to their numbers increasing, then collapsing
Animals in factory farms suffer guaranteed predation at a fraction of their natural life. They don't lack food, true, but they are systematically mutilated, exploited, denied of basic freedom of movement, electrocuted, kicked, and many, many, many other atrocities. Comparing suffering can sometimes be difficult, but in this case it isn't. If you're not convinced, consider it this way: if you were to choose between wild life and Auschwitz, would you choose Auschwitz?
To compare farms to Auschwitz is to compare Jews to cattle.
This is a non-argument. It is not appropriate to compare any subset of humans to cattle in some senses but it is appropriate to compare humans to other animals in the sense that we can feel pain. That's the purpose of the original argument above and it still stands. Jews and Gentiles alike both feel pain just like other animals do. Why would we want to increase it just for our pleasure?
Factory farming could be ended without necessarily converting everyone to veganism (although we would have to eat less meat); the relevant comparison for an argument for veganism in particular, as opposed to newly a lower intake of meat, is between life in the wild and the most humane methods of farming meat that we could plausibly institute
Any scheme to end factory farming will certainly result in animal products being much less economical or realistic an option for many of us. So while eating meat and other animal products from non-factory farms is of course possible even now and while the cessation of factory farms wouldn't demand veganism, it would certainly be a wise choice from the perspective of your pocketbook. If a lower intake of meat is cheaper, an even lower one of no meat is liable to be cheaper still.
Until a few decades ago, factory farms didn't even exist, yet most people ate still ate meat. There are still plenty of farmers who do not work on factory farms, and if we eliminated the factory farm competition, they would be able to earn a better living, and this would increase the standard of living in many poor countries across the world, if more people bought produce from family farms where the farmers know the animals individually and treat them better. People might not eat as much meat without factory farms, but they would probably still eat some, at least on special occasions.
True, there are many contexts for meat-eating and the exploitation of non-human animals but the environmental reason for being vegan is because of factor farms. The problem is real and much worse than it was a few decades ago, so since this industry is a massive polluter, that is a good motivation for not supporting them. Most of us would argue that less meat eating and less animal exploitation is certainly better but if that is better than surely none of it is what is best.
Each cow produces between 70 and 120 kilograms of methane per year. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. There are almost 1 billion cows alive at any given time. Thats equivalent to about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.[5] Getting rid of this methane emission would make a big difference in the fight against climate change.
There are other solutions for this problem other than going vegan, such as favoring animals which don't produce methane, like chickens.
As with many of these arguments, although in theory this could be true, a vegan diet would be one solution to this problem plus it would solve many other problems. So you are correct that chickens don't produce methane on the scale of cows but we have many other reasons here to not eat them as well. Part of the reason to be vegan is to support the well-being of the environment and part of the reason why omnivorous or carnivorous diets wreak havoc on the environment is due to this expulsion of greenhouse gases.

Arguments against[edit]

Animal products are delicious.
We may get pleasure from a lot of activities but that doesn't justify them.
That an activity is pleasurable is still, all else equal, a point in its favour.
Granted, but eating animal products causes unmeasurable amounts of harm, to humans, the environment and especially animals. Even if the industry were to become utopian (which is extremely unlikely) we'd still be killing animals in huge numbers and at a fraction of their natural life.
Under utilitarian ethics an act being pleasurable can sometimes be justification enough, at least if the harm done is sufficiently little, so the question of justification depends on which ethical framework is being used
Certainly but if we use a utilitarian/consequentialist ethic, the strongest arguments are against increasing suffering. Similar arguments could be made with other meta-ethical theories but this is not an argument against veganism if we assume utilitarianism--it's only an argument against utilitarianism as such.
Vegan foods exist which are equally if not more delicious.
Such as?
Every fruit, vegetable, nut, grain, and mushroom, for instance. Ultimately, tastes are different for different persons but it is much easier to make vegan equivalents of meat and cheese than it is to turn meat into a substance that tastes like broccoli. Even if you insist on the taste or texture of meat and cheese, it's possible to duplicate those fairly convincingly with plant-based products.
With the exception of plants, all life forms feed on other life forms. Feeding on animals is therefore as ethical as feeding on any other life form.
Animals, unlike plants, are able to feel and suffer, and humans are not obligate carnivores like cats. Therefore feeding on animals is not as ethical as feeding on plants.
Animals can be raised in ways that allow them to live happy lives, and slaughtered with quick, painless, humane methods. Animals that live such lives have a whole lot more happiness in their lives than suffering, even if they do end up as meat. Maybe this is not commonly done at factory farms, but many family farmers are good to their animals.
But this doesn't justify exploiting them. Tacit in your argument is the notion that less exploitation is better so surely no exploitation is best.
Plants feel and suffer too.[citation needed]
No they don't. But even if they did, we'd be causing much more suffering by growing the plants, feeding them to the animals and then killing the animals to eat them, than by eating the plants directly.
Humans have canine teeth, so we're supposed to eat meat.
Most herbivores and omnivores have canines. Canines are not a trait exclusive to carnivores.
And in the case of humans, our species are omnivores similar in diet to raccoons, not herbivores like rabbits or cows. Eating an herbivore diet when you are a member of an omnivore species is unnatural, and going against our natural diet is likely to be unhealthy unless you put a whole lot of energy and research into your nutrition.
Our closest evolutionary cousins are not raccoons, rabbits or cows, but gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees, all of which are herbivores. Humans are naturally herbivores, not omnivores.
Most domesticated animal species would go extinct if we stopped raising them, as they are unable to survive in the wild.
The extinction of species that are not fit to survive in the wild is natural, and even if we did have an ethical obligation to protect species from extinction, a vegan world could easily maintain populations of domesticated animals for this reason alone, as we would other species that are extinct in the wild
Animals grow all year round. Edible crops might not. In some regions, keeping and eating animals is a better use of the land than trying to cultivate it. For example the Arctic regions around the world, from Alaska to Greenland to northern Canada to Siberia to northern Norway. The land there is not suited to agriculture, but there are plenty of fish in the sea, and larger animals such as seals which feed on the fish and are also an essential part of the diet of people who live there. If you are a member of the Inuit people, the traditional Inuit cuisine is probably the best diet to eat if you want to survive in the frigid north.
Since those living in and near the Arctic Circle are less than 1/100th of a percent of the population, their meat consumption is mostly irrelevant to the larger point about the impact of exploiting animals on a global scale.
These are probably good reasons why no on should live in the extreme north anyway—this is simply not a natural habitat for humans, so we aren't justified for trying to exploit it as much as possible for our benefit.
Many of the problems with meat and dairy farming as practised currently could be solved without necessarily abolishing it entirely, such as by drastically reducing the amount of meat in people's omnivorous diets, and by abolishing factory farming in particular, so it's not necessary for humanity to go vegan
If we "solved" most of those problems then 1.) that would likely make the costs of animal products as food skyrocket so the market solution would be a drastic reduction in their intake and 2.) if reducing their consumption is a good thing, then reducing it even more is probably an even better thing. We won't have to worry about the problems of excess in these industries if we don't have these industries. Once a critical mass of humanity stops seeing other animals as something fun for us to exploit for profit and pleasure, then we can disincentivize anyone else from what are clearly cruel and wasteful excesses through social pressure, laws, market forces, changes in morality, etc. I don't think it's likely that humans will stop exploiting animals entirely but it's also not likely that murder, rape, or slavery will be eradicated entirely--we should still stand up against those heinous practices. In some sense, modern-day slavery may well be preferable to the slavery of centuries past but it's still fundamentally wrong. A gentler form of exploitation is nice in some sense but allowing it to continue just because it's better is actually worse in the long run because it brutalizes us.
Veganism is a privilege, a first-world phenomenon.
So is higher education and universal health care. The fact that something is a privilege doesn't imply that we shouldn't strive for it.
Most people around the world don't make enough money to be able to afford a diet that would give them enough nutrition, most notably protein,[citation needed] unless that protein is of animal origin. Telling poor people around the world that their way of life is morally inferior because you can afford a healthy diet that avoids making any animals suffer but they don't have enough money to afford such a diet is moral elitism.
The cheapest food in the market is vegan: fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, tubers, etc. Vegan diets have no protein deficiency.[6]
Cheapest in first world countries, you mean, due to the exploitation of third world countries.
And other places too, since you will always have to grow grain to feed livestock. Many farmers in western China for instance are vegans or ovo-vegetarians because they can't afford meat and dairy simply isn't a part of Chinese cuisine.
For many groups, eating meat is culturally significant. Many would not willingly give up meat completely, and forcing them to do so would infringe on their liberties
There are many cultural, economic, political, and religious traditions that we change or give up entirely because a better alternative is available. Slavery and the prejudicial attitudes which allow it are almost universal in human history but we can recognize that it is exploitative and wrong.
Slavery is an issue of human rights. Less sentient beings cannot truly appreciate having equal rights to humans.
Nor can baby humans but they still have rights and interests that they may not be able to appreciate. Rights are rights even if someone isn't cognizant of them.
No one is arguing that everyone should be coerced into being vegan.
How else do you expect every human to go vegan? This is clearly a debate and there are inevitably people who will not forgo meat and animal products by choice.
I also expect everyone else to not murder or not assault me: I don't anticipate that everyone has to be coerced into having a conscience. But just like how animal cruelty is illegal, it's entirely possible to reframe other warrantless exploitation of animals as cruel and illegalize it.
Doesn't it make the most sense for humans to be omnivorous, as we evolved to be?
Humans are naturally herbivores, just like our closest relatives the gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees. Evidence for this can be drawn from the length of our intestines (similar to that of other herbivores), lack of strong canines (or strong teeth in general), ability to chew in a sidewise motion, lack of claws or other natural weapons, and evolutionary past as tree-dwelling, fruit-eating and plant-munching monkeys.
Omnivore simply means there is the capability to digest and benefit animal cells, which there are.
Even if we can that doesn't mean we should. Humans can choose our diets and broadly speaking, we can. Due to economics, circumstance, and medical issues, this can be difficult but humans are not bound to instinctual diets like other animals.
Vampire finches are carnivorous and related to house finches.
Vampire finches are not carnivorous—they occasionally drink blood and eat eggs.
Non-human animals don't deserve the same rights.
Rights are conventions, not natural laws. The only reason why humans "deserve" rights is because we say so. Similarly, we can give rights to non-human animals if we decide so.
Non-human animals have rights whether or not humans recognize them, just like how other humans can ignore the rights of some humans but that doesn't make them cease to exist. And even if we didn't argue from animal rights we can still talk about other animals having interests and those can be relevant to our decision-making. It's still worthwhile for us to bear in mind the interests of non-human objects for all kinds of moral decisions, such as spoiling public resources or destroying property. We don't have to require non-human animals to have rights in order to take into account their suffering and how we brutalize ourselves by exploiting non-human animals.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. Livestock's long shadow by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  2. Don't panic - Hans Rosling on the facts about population
  3. Earthlings - Documentary about the daily cruelty to animals on a worldwide scale
  4. "How much water is needed to produce food and how much do we waste?". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. "Meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. IME state that to produce 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water." 
  5. For comparison, in 2011, our burning of fossil fuels released 33 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to Le Quéré, C., A. K. Jain, M. R. Raupach, J. Schwinger, S. Sitch, B. D. Stocker, N. Viovy, S. Zaehle, C. Huntingford, P. Friedlingstein, R. J. Andres, T. Boden, C. Jourdain, T. Conway, R. A. Houghton, J. I. House, G. Marland, G. P. Peters, G. Van Der Werf, A. Ahlström, R. M. Andrew, L. Bopp, J. G. Canadell, E. Kato, P. Ciais, S. C. Doney, C. Enright, N. Zeng, R. F. Keeling, K. Klein Goldewijk, S. Levis, P. Levy, M. Lomas, and B. Poulter. "The global carbon budget 1959–2011." Earth System Science Data Discussions 5, no. 2 (2012): 1107–1157.
  6. Vegan Protein Deficiencies and Death