Frequently Asked Questions about VEGETARIANISM
Please, as you listen to the following questions and answers,
note that none of these questions addresses the fact that meat-eating is the worst thing you can do for the environment, supports human injustices both in the U.S. and globally, and harms your own health.
If you are a vegetarian and someone asks you a question, before you answer ask yourself, "Does this question challenge my fundamental opposition to causing animals to suffer needlessly?"
In 99 percent of cases, the answer will be "No," and you may wish to explain that to the person who asked it.
OK, here we go:
Animals eat one another in nature, so why shouldn't we eat animals?
Variations on this question include "Aren't humans at the top of the food chain?" and "Aren't humans omnivores?" Please really think about what we do to animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses, denying animals everything that is natural and important to them and then killing them in gruesome ways, and try to tell me that this is moral. Nature's law is, without a doubt, Darwin's "survival of the fittest." But some animals may procreate by rape and other animals may fight territorial battles to the death. But the fact that those things occur in nature does not mean we say they're acceptable for humans.
We hold ourselves to a higher standard in our interactions with one another. We even hold ourselves to a higher standard with regard to animals we often form special bonds with, such as dogs and cats—readily granting them some basic protections. What animal welfare advocates suggest is that we should be compassionate toward all animals, not just those we know a bit better.
Do you care more about animals than humans?
Variations on this question include "With so much human suffering, why don't you focus on human issues?" The interesting thing to me about this question is that none of my friends who run shelters or soup kitchens or who work on famine relief ever asks it.
The people who ask this question invariably have not dedicated their lives to alleviating suffering—human or animal. And, of course, a vegan diet is the only environmentally responsible diet, it's the healthiest diet, and it's the diet that is the best for U.S. workers and the global poor. So a vegan diet is good for both animal and humans. Regardless, shouldn't all suffering be addressed? Princeton bioethicist Dr. Peter Singer said: "When nonvegetarians say that 'human problems come first,' I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farmed animals." One great thing about veganism is that it allows you to take a stand against suffering without doing anything that requires any real time or effort.
Didn't God give us dominion over animals?
As a Roman Catholic, this is the one question that unsettles me most, because it is such an obscene rationalization. Dominion doesn't mean domination and exploitation. All the world's prominent religions teach the importance of compassion, the importance of mercy. But the choice to eat meat, dairy products, or eggs is a violent one; it supports cruelty.
Even if their religious beliefs allowed people to eat these products, they would certainly not be required to do so. Leaving aside the environmental and human consequences, which should be anathema to any kind or ethical human being, God created animals with needs, wants, desires, and species-specific behaviors, and all these things are denied the animals who are turned into food by the farmed-animal industries.
God created animals with a well-developed capacity for pain. Chickens, pigs, cattle, fish, and other farmed animals—they are individuals.
If you get to know chickens or other farmed animals, you find that they have personalities, intelligence, and social structures. They love their families.
The Bible talks repeatedly about a hen's love for her children, and that's the metaphor Jesus uses to describe his love for humanity.
Anyone who has ever seen a hen with her children or protecting her nest knows this to be true. Farmed-animal industries abuse animals and deny them the expression of each and every natural behavior that God created for them. For more information on this topic, please check out JesusVeg.com.
Why are you imposing your will on me?
This is sometimes put as "You choose to be a vegan. I choose to be a meat-eater.
Live and let live." The problem here is that meat and dairy consumers are supporting the gratuitous abuse of an animal who had no choice in the matter.
They are not putting into practice a "live and let live" philosophy. Just as child abuse involves the child who has no choice, eating meat, dairy, or egg products involves an animal, or many animals, who have had no choice. And just as you can choose to beat your child, you can choose to eat meat. But if you do, you're hurting someone who is powerless to stop you.
Don't plants feel pain?
Pain requires a brain, a central nervous system, pain receptors, and so on.
All mammals, birds, and fish have these things. No plants do. Really though, we all know this to be true: We all understand that there is a fundamental difference between cutting your lawn and lighting a cat's tail on fire and between breaking up a head of lettuce and bashing in a dog's head.
Birds, mammals, and fish are made of flesh, bones, and fat, just as we are. They feel pain, just as we do. I may not know quite where to draw the line. For example, I'm not sure what a roach or an ant experiences. But I do know, with 100 percent certainty, that intentionally inflicting suffering because of tradition, custom, convenience, or a palate preference is unethical. And if we're eating meat, dairy products, or eggs, we're intentionally causing suffering, for no good reason.
***Aren't vegans deficient in protein, calcium, or other nutrients?
The American Dietetic Association and the World Health Organization, among other groups, point out that vegan diets provide everything we need and that, in fact, they cut out a lot of the stuff that's horrible for us, making vegans healthier. The diseases that are killing us are not deficiency diseases. We're dying from heart disease, cancer, and strokes. We're plagued with diabetes and obesity.
You can be an unhealthful vegan, but it's a heck of a lot easier to be an unhealthful consumer of meat, dairy products, and/or eggs.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell argues that animal products are like tobacco—a little bit probably won't hurt you, but why risk it? They're bad for you. Of course, you can be a vegan, technically, and do nothing but drink soda and eat French fries. It's important to make an effort to eat a variety of foods and be as healthful as possible.
Wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?
No. People who ask this have fallen victim to the very effective Nazi propaganda machine that wanted to frame Hitler as an ascetic, focused only on the needs of the German people. There is ample documentation of his meat-eating.
If you want more information on this, do a Google search for "Hitler vegetarian," and you'll find an article by historian Rynn Berry. Even if he had been a vegetarian, though, this would be an absurd argument against ethical vegetarianism, because even had he been a vegetarian, it would clearly not have been for ethical reasons.
Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein were meat-eaters, but so what?
What do you think is the strongest argument for veganism? How do you convince someone who does not want to be convinced?
I would like to suggest that anyone who is interested in being an activist or convincing a friend or loved one to become a vegetarian read an essay that I wrote called "Effective Advocacy." http://www.goveg.com/effectiveAdvocacy.asp
You can find it online by Googling "Effective Advocacy Bruce," and it should be the first thing to come up.
Everyone opposes cruelty to animals, so it's important to remember that people who eat meat are doing something that conflicts with one of their basic values.
It helps tremendously to have a conversation with meat-eaters, rather than ramming your views down their throats, so you can help them convince themselves that this is a problem.
So if you can ask meat-eaters, "Why do you eat meat?" and then really listen to the answer, that will probably help you have a conversation with them. And then I suggest moving into a discussion of some basic points about being a person with integrity.
I suppose that it boils down to Socrates' adage from 2,600 years ago: "The unexamined life is not worth living." It seems to me that what it means to be a person of integrity is that I try to ask questions, that I try not to support things that I oppose, and that I try to make my life mean something. So for example, I could take part in every aspect of getting vegan foods to the table—picking them, trucking them to the plant to turn them into bread or whatever, and so on.
But I wouldn't want to take part in any aspect of getting meat to the table—castrating pigs without pain relief, cutting birds' beaks off, trucking animals through all weather extremes to slaughter, slitting their throats, etc. There are moral qualms involved in all aspects of getting animal flesh, as well as dairy products and eggs, to the table.
I like what Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says about his veganism. It's very simple, he says: I don't need meat to survive. I know that eating meat causes animals to suffer, so I'm not going to eat them.
So challenge yourself, or your friends and family, to really grapple with these questions: Would you want to work in a factory farm, cutting the sensitive beaks off chickens or castrating pigs and cows without any painkillers? Would you want to work on a factory-fishing trawler? Of course the answer is no. So why pay others to do these things for you?
Are there other areas of your life where you participate in practices that would repulse you if you had to watch them happening? Most of us could watch the tilling of grains or even spend an afternoon shucking corn or picking beans, fruits, or vegetables. But how many of us would want to spend an afternoon slitting open animals' throats?
I think that ethics must include living a life that is, as much as possible, in keeping with our basic values. We can't be perfect, but we really should all do as much as we can.
What about so-called "humane" meat?
I suppose I'd give in on road kill—if you want to eat an animal who died naturally or got hit by a car, I suppose there's not any strong moral objection. And there is certainly no question that some animal products are less cruel than others. But it's worth noting that the industry is taking over these labels. All the worst abuses in these factory farms are now called things like "Swine Welfare Assurance" and "United Egg Producers Certified," trying to con consumers into thinking that the worst abuses of factory farms are actually kindnesses. We look at all the labels and what they mean in the "Vegetarian 101" section of GoVeg.com: http://www.goveg.com/index.aspx
Of course, in every circumstance, eating meat will be bad for our health, bad for the environment, and a vast waste of resources. And in every instance, you're eating an animal's corpse if you're eating meat, or you're eating a baby calf's food if you're eating dairy products. If you're thinking about eating so-called humane meat, please check out the dirty reality behind organic and free-range animal products. http://www.goveg.com/organic.asp
How can you compare animal abuse to the Holocaust, slavery, etc.?
Many great thinkers—from Tolstoy to Harriet Beecher Stowe to Gandhi to Albert Schweitzer to Alice Walker to Dick Gregory to Holocaust victim and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer—have made the point that the same justification is used to support both animal and human exploitation—the moral paradigm of "might makes right": I can do this to animals or people, so I'm going to.
It's worth considering: Why do people eat animal products? It's for some inconsequential reason, such as convenience, tradition, or taste, and because they can—because the animals can't defend themselves. No one argues that the animals want to be raised this way, transported this way, killed this way.
Most people understand how gruesomely violent slaughterhouses are. But they don't want to bother making the change, even though it's easier than ever. They eat animals because they can.
Well, that moral paradigm is no more justifiable when applied to animals than when applied to people. In fact, Isaac Bashevis Singer held that speciesism—bias on the basis of species—is the epitome of this "might makes right" moral paradigm, because animals are the weakest and least able to speak up for themselves.
Although it's easy to see how this is a challenging notion, since no one wants to think that he or she might be contributing to a moral wrong on the level of slavery by something as basic as eating, some historical memory is a good idea.
The Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey explains in his groundbreaking book Animal Theology, “[G]o back about two hundred or more years, we will find intelligent, respectable and conscientious Christians supporting almost without question the trade in slaves as inseparable from Christian civilization and human progress."
And Dr. Richard Dawkins, the foremost Darwin scholar alive, has consistently challenged the human "speciesist arrogance," suggesting that our horror at the justification 150 years ago by most people of slavery is similar to the justification today of speciesism.
Both Dawkins and linguist and political scientist Noam Chomsky have suggested that concern for animals is likely to be the next great moral battle.
So we have the intellectual heavyweights of our generation and previous generations in agreement that bias against animals on the basis of species is similar to bias on the basis of race, gender, and so on.
It's interesting to consider that women were not given the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Many people reading this probably have close relatives who were alive when there was a spirited debate in Congress about whether the Union would dissolve if these "irrational creatures," women, were given a say in governance.
One hundred years ago, there wasn't a single law against child abuse in this country. Not one. Your child was your property.
One hundred years ago, there was not a single country on the planet that guaranteed the right to vote to all adults. It's remarkable to recall that just 350 years ago, the pope sentenced Galileo to the torture chamber until he would recant the "heresy" that the Earth is not the center of the physical universe.
For a bit of historical perspective here, let's recall that Socrates was teaching 2,600 years ago, Plato and Aristotle were philosophizing 2,500 years ago, Jesus was preaching 2,000 years ago, and Shakespeare was writing 500 years ago.
But it was less than 150 years ago that we got around to saying, "Hey, maybe people shouldn't hold slaves, and maybe people shouldn't be allowed to beat their children, and maybe women are rational enough to be given a say in governance."
I mention all this only to point out how quickly things change.
Not so long ago, society believed—with complete certainty—the diametrical opposite of what we believe to be true about many things today.
Look how far the animal rights movement has come in, historically, the blink of an eye.
In just the past 20 years, science has shown that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest diet and environmental researchers have proved that eating meat, dairy products, and eggs is not sustainable.
Even more importantly, the scientific view that animals don't feel emotion has been replaced by a new, belated understanding that, of course, they do.
In just the past few years, the issue of animal treatment in factory farms has taken center stage, with members of the U.S. Congress decrying slaughterhouse treatment of animals and fast-food giants and requiring improvements for animals.
Note that just 20 years ago, the vegetarian stereotype was of hippies in communes, finding good vegetarian food in a restaurant was rare, and most people didn't know anyone who was a vegetarian.
Now, the ranks of vegetarians include everyone from uber-celebrities Sir Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson to Apple and Ford CEOs Steve Jobs and Bill Ford. Many of the leading national restaurant chains—like Johnny Rockets, Burger King, Chili's, and Ruby Tuesday—sell great-tasting veggie burgers, and The Washington Post and The New York Times regularly run front-page stories about factory-farming abuses.
Every grocery store now has a section of frozen mock meats and other vegetarian convenience foods, such as Boca's Chik'n patties, Gardenburger Riblets, and Morningstar Farms' Chik'n and Steak strips, and a recent poll by food-service giant Aramark found that nearly one-quarter of college students want vegan options available at every meal.
Millions and millions of people are learning that moral integrity requires that when we sit down to eat, we make conscious choices, rather than unconscious ones, and that the only diet for environmentalists, animal lovers, and people who care about their health is a vegetarian one.
The animal rights movement is making rapid progress, but we have a long way to go, and we need your help. The best ways that you can help are by taking a moral stand and adopting a vegetarian diet and by encouraging your friends and family members to do the same.
The 18th century saw the beginnings of our democratic system, which was the first to hold that "all men are created equal" and which established, under the law, basic freedoms such as the rights to assemble peacefully, practice one's chosen religion, say what one likes, and print what one likes.
The 19th century abolished slavery in the developed world. The 20th century abolished child labor, criminalized child abuse, and gave women the vote and blacks wider rights. If we all do as much as we can, the 21st century can be the one in which animal rights take hold.
I have no doubt that in 100 years, human beings will look back on humans' mistreatment of other animals with the same horror that we presently reserve for historical injustices such as slavery and other moral transgressions against human beings.
Animals suffer and die just as we do.
Animals are made of the same stuff that we are.
Eating them is an act of gluttony and disregard for our own health, for the environment, for the global poor, and, most of all, for our fellow animals. If you are not a vegetarian, please work toward becoming one.
If you are a vegetarian, thank you so much for caring, and please become more active in encouraging others to adopt a vegetarian diet also.
One of the exciting things about helping animals, the Earth, and your own health is that you don't have to fill out a form or make a call. You can start today, by choosing a healthy, humane vegan meal when you sit down to eat.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that one of the great tragedies of history is that so many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. I'm convinced that we're in one of those periods.
Thanks very much for remaining awake.
Source : PETA