Friday, April 9, 2010

Interesting Slate article: "It's okay for vegans to eat oysters"

I just thought this article was interesting.

I am by no means living the ultra-ethical environmentalist lifestyle that I would ideally live, but I agree in principle with most of this unusual article. Why am I not? Well, the exigencies of the moment are always something we define for ourselves, and I have made hard decisions to suspend my harshest judgment in favor of what I feel is my best judgment. I know some of you get varying mileage, here, and I respect any well-considered lifestyle -- whatever your reasons.


Not.A.Sasquatch said...

Interesting philosophy. It begs the question if the author might also find the Whale Shark to be okay for vegans to eat, as they subsist on plankton, and have an extremely simple nervous system. It might lead to the consumption of opioid-spiked whales, as they also wouldn't be feeling pain.

Sounds like a slippery slope to me.

PMS_CC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PMS_CC said...

Agreed. It seems to me that veganism attempts to be a bright-line ascetic movement; finding exceptions based on nervous systems makes the movement something other than veganism.

I can say tri-tip is a vegetable, too (and I have!), but it probably voids my vegetarian membership card. :)

Dismissing adherence to rules as "fashion" doesn't help the argument here. I'm not sure quoting Ralph Waldo "I make a promise then retract it" Emerson in a discussion about consistency helps, either.

Ducks said...

I think that part of the problem we are perceiving is that we are not looking at one philosophy, but an intersection of several. In my experience among veg*ns, I have found several motivations for their choices to be primary in their minds; among these motivations, the following have consistently topped the list:

1) humane animal treatment.
2) ahimsa (causing no suffering).
3) environmental concerns.
4) pragmatic concerns with resource management (i.e. you can feed more veg*ns on X piece of land than carnivores).
5) anorexia nervosa (both as a way of supplying plausible but false excuses for one's revulsion for food, and because vegan food can be more aesthetically pleasing to people who find food challenging.)
6) other aesthetic reasons.

The first and second groups really are distinct from one another. People who only want the humane treatment of animals may participate in consumption of their products when they are treated kindly throughout their lives. For some, this stops at wool, or eggs, and/or milk. For others, humanely raised and slaughtered meat is okay.

The ahimsa people are appalled by the idea that slaughter (and some would also say "theft" or "slavery" -- even in the best treated of farms or family owned flocks) could be considered something other than the causation of pain. It depends on how absolute you are (which is, for many, a matter of religion or similarly held beliefs.)

(Wanna see me aggro'd? When humane veg*ns allow their cats to roam outside, murdering and injuring dozens to hundreds of wild animals annually, that annoys me. Don't keep an obligate carnivore if you are a "humane" veg*n, IMO.)

Those with concerns for the environment are sometimes appeased by small-scale and organic farming; however, others are not, as the mitigation is only partial. (Those of this camp who are locavores or freegans may actually eat meat -- if it's local, in the former case, and if it would otherwise go to waste, in the latter.)

The resource management people are taking a huge step to reduce their impact upon foolishly squandered resources (honestly, beef is a profligate waste). Sadly, due to the massive financial interests involved, there is no way to "feed the world" even if we gave up animal husbandry entirely... we produce a surplus of food for the world's population already, yet starvation is rampant.

Anorectics and aesthetic vegans are distinct, here, from ethical veg*ns.

Clearly, (like myself) the author is more interested in environmental reasons than humane ones for his dietary choices. This is true no matter what other arguments he has tried to rope into support of his point, but... well, we do kind of have to draw a line somewhere (this is why I don't agree with Pat's statement that "finding exceptions based on nervous systems makes the movement something other than veganism." In point of fact, even veganism is a complex and (albeit limited) diverse movement.) And what's an animal? Do bugs count (most vegans don't eat honey or cochineal, but some do)? Do bacteria count (I have heard vegans mourning the exploitation of yeast -- but again, not many)?

Discussions of when fertile cells become "human" come to mind, in a similar vein. In any legal or behavioral system, the line must be somewhat arbitrarily drawn. The question is in whose interests it is drawn, and to what degree it supports the desired ethos.

(In the above comment, the annoying use of "veg*n" is used for any "vegetarian" lifestyle, including "flexitarian," "freegan," and others that are not strictly vegetarian as well as "vegan." Why did I do that? Because it is a really good way to represent the diversity of the community -- and it's one that the community itself uses.)

Ducks said...

And so I never quite got to the other point I wanted to make. The author of the article is talking to the veg*n community, specifically the vegan part of it. He says, "look, the depredations to land, air, and water quality are not an issue here; the food is ultimately renewable and high quality; also, the creatures do not have much of a nervous system." I've seen the same argument made regarding lobsters -- where it is clearly false! They DO feel pain and react to stimuli. Do oysters? Dunno. But a sizable minority of veg*ns, whose ethics center on environmental concerns or even humane treatment of animals (but NOT ahimsa-level humane behavior), may find him persuasive.