Save The Planet By Not Going Vegan?
It’s incredibly unlikely that we are going to be the last generation of human beings to live on earth. Assuming this is true, human beings living now have an obligation to future people to leave the planet in a livable environment. This means that we need to stop destroying the planet and one way we could do this is by changing the way we eat. This paper seeks to explore this topic, and sets its sights on meat reduction as a key step in this process.
The average American eats around 200lbs of farmed animals every year, requiring the slaughter of about 100 million pigs, 100 million cows, and 9 billion chickens. Up to 95% of these animals are raised on factory farms. We could not satisfy current U.S. demand for meat without factory farming. However, factory farming is currently the leading cause of loss of biodiversity and one of the biggest contributors to global warming. In short, factory farming is destroying our planet.
Many animal advocacy groups have argued that the best thing to do to save the environment is to go vegan. However the author of this paper argues that reducing the amount of meat and eating sustainably produced meat could be more successful in saving the planet.
Different Stances On Eating Animals
Richard Ryder coined the term speciesism in the early 1970s, and Peter helped to popularize the term with his writing in subsequent years. Singer argued that it’s wrong to treat beings differently based solely on their species, and that sentience — the ability to feel pain — should matter instead. Veganism follows on from speciesism, meaning that we shouldn’t use or kill animals for food because their right to life should be respected as would a human being’s.
For a different perspective, philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that if you were rational — meaning to think clearly and to take thoughtful actions — then you were considered a person and should be treated with dignity and respect, otherwise you were a non-person and could be used by persons. Examples of persons would include everyone reading this article, whereas examples of non-persons would include puppies, trees, and human beings that have suffered significant brain injuries.
The author here disagrees with both lines of thinking and believes that there are many things that should be taken into account before determining whether a being is a person or non-person. They also believe that there could be many levels between being a person and a non-person. For example, it would be difficult to determine whether a chimpanzee was a person or a non-person because of their intelligence and similarities to human beings.
To understand what these classifications mean for eating animals, the author asks whether our interest in eating animals is vital, serious or tedious.
- Vital interests are needed for survival. For example, your interest in breathing is a vital interest.
- Serious interests are a level lower than vital interests. An example could be your interest in continuing your current lifestyle and leisure activities.
- Tedious interests are the least important interests. An example of a tedious interest could be your want for mint-chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla.
If we look at our diet on a day-to-day basis, we could question whether it makes a difference if we were to eat a steak or a salad for lunch today. This is a small decision and comes under tedious interests. But if we, instead, ask whether it makes a difference if we were to become strict vegans for the rest of our lives, then this would be considered a serious interest as it’s a dramatic change to our lifestyle.
Is Veganism Extreme?
We could survive without meat, just as we could survive without leisure time, but it could significantly affect our lifestyle. If your boss tells you to work one weekend then that’s probably fine, but if your boss tells you to work every weekend for the rest of your life then this will probably cause you to sacrifice some of your serious interests.
Despite this, many people believe that eating meat is wrong, even when the animals are environmentally and sustainably raised. Singer has previously compared farming animals to German death camps and slave ownership but the author here argues that these extreme examples could turn people away from veganism. If Singer keeps pushing the view that the pain of a chicken should be considered as important as the pain of a person, then the author believes it is unlikely to reduce animal suffering at all.
This paper instead moves to advocate for a reduction in meat consumption, believing that it could be far more effective than advocating for veganism. Only 1-3% of the U.S. population is veg*n, and doubling this number would only reduce the amount of meat consumed in the U.S. by another 1-3%. However, if 150 million people (roughly half of the U.S. population) were open to the idea of halving their meat intake, we could reduce meat consumption by 25% and at the same time encourage humane and sustainable farming practices.
For The Sake Of The Planet
As a consumer, the author recognizes that he usually wants to get the best tasting, most convenient, and cheapest food he can get. However, the current food system promoting this lifestyle is unsustainable and based on factory farming, and thus he realizes that restrictions need to be in place for the sake of the future of our planet.
For animal advocates, the paper offers a philosophical framework for the debate between elimination and reduction, a debate that is currently very much a hot topic in advocacy. Though it is a tension that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, this paper offers a coherent and clear way of thinking through some of its key ideas.