Why aren't we all vegan? : Confessions of an inconsistent vegetarian.
By Markus Anderljung
I'm not vegan, but I should be. Not only should I be so because it is the right thing to do, but mainly because the arguments I use to justify being vegetarian apply equally well to veganism. So, here's a confession of an inconsistent vegetarian, why I (and you) should be vegan and why we’re not. To begin let's look at the three most common reasons people go vegetarian:
- The way animals are treated in meat-production is wrong, because animals should not be made to suffer and/or should not be killed.
- Meat production is a large contributor to global warming, for example being responsible 37% of all methane emissions caused by humans. This is because not all of the food a cow eats goes to its thighs: some goes to the cow walking around (if it can), breathing etc. Therefore, only a small proportion of the grain that we feed our cows actually ends up as meat. It would be far more energy-efficient to just eat the grain ourselves!
- Because meat production wastes grain in this way, it contributes to world hunger. Instead of giving/selling grain to those who need it, we feed cows grain in order for us to have meat.
Usually vegetarians (and many meat-eaters) will see these arguments and agree that therefore, it is the right thing to be vegetarian. Now, these arguments are recycled over and over again in the vegetarian community. What I find interesting though, is that one could use the exact same arguments can be used to suggest that one should be vegan.
It's not like dairy cows have a nice time producing milk. Most of them, in fact the majority of them, are confined to small spaces, are separated from their children right after giving birth and more. So if we don't think animals should suffer, just as we think humans shouldn’t suffer, we should abstain from eggs and dairy just as we think we should from meat. The only way I see one could have there be a significant difference here between being vegan and vegetarian would be that meat requires the killing of an animal while dairy does not. However eating dairy and eggs too contributes to the killing of animals. What do you think happens to the male cows and chickens that are born? They can't sit in nice little boxes and produce milk or eggs, so in the case of chickens, they are often killed immediately to feed livestock and most male cows are used for veal (that’s right, veal is the meat of less than 6 month old dairy cattle males).
On top of this, it is easy to see how the world hunger and environmental aspects play a role here. Dairy cows release methane too. In addition to this, again, not all grain goes to the production of milk or eggs, just as it does not go to the production of meat. Moreover, the most loved food of vegetarians – cheese – uses not just a lot of grain in producing the milk it is made of, but also uses at least 10kg of milk per 1kg of cheese. Again, this grain could be used far more efficiently, decreasing our environmental impact significantly.
There we are: all vegetarians (and everyone else for that matter) should be vegan, for the exact same reasons they became vegetarian in the first place. But so why aren't we all vegan? Why am I not vegan? Well first I guess that most people don't see it as obvious that we should be vegan: but this is being dealt with. But what of those that think they should be vegan but (like me) aren't? This is interesting because, here vegetarians are in the same position as many meat eaters. They realize that they should be vegetarian, just as we realize we should be vegan, but they aren't: again just like us. Some reluctant vegetarian might protest: "well it's really difficult to be vegan!" This is just what meat eaters say to vegetarians all the time, though, isn't it? And in fact, although it might be a bigger step to veganism, it's not that a big step once you're already vegetarian.
So what should we take from this? First of all, maybe us vegetarians should get down from our high horses: we're evidently not that much better than the meat eaters. More than this though, it shows that veganism and vegetarianism are no all-or-nothing affairs. With these three reasons to go vegetarian – animal suffering/rights, environmental impact and world hunger – the closer you go to veganism, the more you minimize your contributing to these problems in the world. It's not eating meat, being vegetarian or being vegan as the three big options. All three of them are on a scale on how much they contribute to harming the world. And so why aren’t we vegan? The only reason I can come up with is that we don't always do what we believe is right. People do this all the time – going on holidays by airplane, not taking their vitamins. This is not an excuse though. Of course we should do what we believe is right. Therefore, I will move towards veganism; I’ve cut out dairy milk and will cut out cheese. Will you join me?