Veganism Makes a Lot of Sense
But only if you would take a moment to understand it.
The National Review recently published a truly misleading, factually impoverished piece of rhetoric by columnist Josh Gelernter, titled “The Science is in: Veganism Makes No Sense.” For the most part, the article spews the familiar fallacious arguments of a not-so-subtle moral cynicism along the lines of “you can’t be perfect, so why try at all?”
So let’s break this down for him.
The first paragraph of the article ends with a definition of veganism that conveys an all-or-nothing attitude:
A vegan — say various vegan authorities — is someone who abstains from eating or using animal products, byproducts, and anything whose production entails exploiting, killing, or being cruel to animals.
Well, okay. But most people, including The Vegan Society, use a different, more reasonable definition (emphasis added):
Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.
The definition Gelernter cites perfectly sets his article up for the “why bother trying?” argument he relies on in the remaining paragraphs. By painting vegans as absolutists he can now call them hypocrites for not living up to the unrealistic standards to which he claims we adhere, with the wind of “science” in his sails.
He is right that “nothing vegans eat meets those criteria.” Which is fine, because vegans are generally not trying to meet those criteria. The goal of veganism, again, is to reduce suffering to the extent that it is possible. Gelernter, using the absolutist definition of veganism which virtually everyone considers irrelevant, merely has to illustrate that some amount of suffering is involved in the production of every food product available to make his claim that veganism makes no sense.
He does this by pointing out the various ways animals are used or killed in the process of growing and harvesting crops: bees must pollinate fruits, vegetables, and nuts; pesticides kill insects, mice, rats, and some birds. He didn’t mention that the harvesting of crops kills yet more small mammals, but he made his point.
He ignores that most vegans consider a species’ capacity to suffer as a primary factor in determining the moral permissibility of killing one of its members. Instead, he cites a statement from PETA — an organization hated by many vegans — alluding to an animal’s inferior intelligence relative to humans as a bad reason to harm it, to support his claim that vegans dole out the same moral consideration to cockroaches and oysters as they do to pigs and cows. He doesn’t have to mention that vegans consider a species’ ability to experience pain as an overarching factor because he took PETA’s statement to mean that vegans don’t care about that.
We reach peak moral cynicism, with a fallacious cherry on top, towards the end of the article, when Gelernter actually typed these words with no satirical bent:
After all, you have to kill a lot of pests to grow just one apple, whereas you can get many, many steaks by killing just one cow.
It’s laughable on it’s face, but the factual inaccuracy illustrates the total ignorance of the entire article. An indisputable fact of animal agriculture is that the process of growing crops, feeding them to animals, and then killing those animals requires far more energy and suffering than the alternative of growing crops and feeding those directly to humans.
It’s simple math: the number of calories contained in the crops fed to animals does not equal the number of calories available to consume when the animal is slaughtered and turned into meat. It’s a poor conversion relative to the alternative of just feeding those crops directly to humans. And it’s a process that produces far more suffering than any vegan diet, because it’s a double whammy: There is animal suffering in the production of the crops — which are fed to animals and converted into far less calories than originally invested — and there is animal suffering in the slaughtering of the animal that consumed the crops. Animal agriculture requires both that more animals die in the production of the crops fed to animals (because not all the food an animal consumes turns into meat, so more crops are needed for the same number of calories), and that animals are killed for their meat. Veganism requires less crops, and therefore less suffering for the same number of calories, and doesn’t require that you slaughter an animal to consume its flesh.
But Gelernter doesn’t care, because the point he wants to make is that there’s no point in trying, vegans, because you can never completely eliminate the suffering inherent in the food system. So you may as well not care at all. He wants “perfect” to be the enemy of “good,” because “perfect” is unattainable, and he cares not about reducing the suffering of animals.
We were promised “science,” but all we got is trash.