The Internet is full of bustling opinions and opposing views never get quite as passionate as vegan vs. non-vegan. As the global interest in veganism rises and media attention increases, the arguments against veganism continue to be voiced—from industry and individuals—and it remains a contentious topic with emotionally charged debates and keyboard wars.
This post is a long list of some of the most common responses, justifications and arguments against veganism that are paired with pragmatic and logical responses. If you’ve thought of one to add to the list, please use the contact form or leave a comment below.
This list will be continually updated and any new additions will be marked with “New!“.
Quite simply for the vast majority of people who go vegan the answer is this: Vegans did not stop eating animals because they didn’t enjoy the taste. What comes into play is a matter of ethics, and in this argument we can exclude those who consume a plant-based diet for health reasons or environmental reasons as they still use animals in other ways (clothing, products that involve vivisection, entertainment, etc).
When you believe it is ethically wrong to kill and use animals for our own selfish benefit, the decision to stop eating animal products isn’t because they don’t taste nice or don’t look appetising. No one is denying that a hamburger tastes great or that bacon isn’t delicious.
Eating is not only an enormous social aspect of our lives, but it is instinctual for survival and it also brings us comfort. In the modern world with all of its stresses, comfort is a big one. Often what we crave isn’t necessarily animal products themselves, but we crave fat, salt, flavour, texture, and familiarity. When these familiar tastes and textures of animal foods can be replicated from 100% plant-based sources, then there is no moral dilemma against consuming the food at hand, nor is it hypocritical. When vegans consume vegan meats, they are remaining morally consistent and enjoying their food.
But plants have feelings too is one of the most common arguments against veganism. By this assertion, an omnivore makes claim that eating sentient animals is morally equivalent to eating plants. This rebuttal also stipulates that because we are apparently doing something that’s already morally wrong (eating plants), then we all should continue doing something that’s even more morally wrong (eating animals). This flawed logic does not make humans eating meat morally neutral.
Neuroscientists have positively confirmed the areas of human neurology (brain stem, limbic system, etc) that serve to provide sentience and complex emotion. All vertebrates, and at least some non-vertebrate animals, have these nervous system components, providing strong positive, empirical evidence that such beings are sentient, and that most of them have highly subjective, emotional lives. Plants do not have any of these neurological components. Importantly, a necessary condition of consciousness is sentient experience—there is no evidence to even remotely suggest that plants possess sentient experience.
As unconscious entities, plants have no subjective conscious interest that would be morally relevant to whether we kill them for food or other sufficient reasons. We should respect plants in the same sense in which we respect the beauty, complexity, and wonder of insentient nature and natural phenomena in general, which entails reducing our impact on them as much as is reasonable, and not destroying them gratuitously. However, our moral obligations regarding plants do not compare in kind to our direct moral obligations to vertebrates, whose sentience and conscious, intentional striving for life and survival is obvious to us.
This is actually completely true.
When human slavery was the norm, one who was not being oppressed could have made a similar argument. Unless they were living outside of society, it would have been difficult to be 100% slave-free. Sure, they could have avoided owning slaves themselves, but it would have been impossible to avoid all items that contained even a small degree of slave input. For example, slave labour would also have been used in public and private construction—would it make sense to tell someone who was trying to abolish human slavery that unless they stayed off the roads, they’re a hypocrite? Would it make sense to say that since we can’t 100% avoid items made with even a small amount of slave input, therefore human slavery is morally okay and we should go ahead and own slaves? Of course not.
What we would say is that slavery is morally wrong and we must fight for society to abolish slavery. And in the meantime, we should avoid items made from slavery to the extent possible, particularly the primary owning of slaves ourselves and any products made primarily through slave labor.
Similarly in the vegan context, it is currently impossible to avoid everything in the world that contains even a tiny amount of animal-derived products. But we should still state that animal oppression, exploitation and slaughter is wrong and demand society move towards abolishing it. And in the meantime, we should avoid all products made from animals to the extent possible, particularly from the primary industry of animal agriculture and any other products made primarily through animal agriculture.
Morality is not what society makes easy for us. If society is making it impossible to live 100% according to morality, we don’t change morality in order to fit society, but instead demand changes in society so that we can live morally.
There is a popular study which had its words twisted into a headline of “plants can hear themselves being eaten”. However, when you review the actual study instead of click-bait news headlines, it specifically stated that “vibrations caused by insect feeding can elicit chemical defences” in plants.
While plants are highly evolved complex organisms that react to their environment in surprising ways, the confusion arises when the assumption is made that such plant behaviour is caused by the plants “subjectively experiencing the world through sense data”, rather than by insentient hormonal, electrical, mechanical, and chemical processes.
There is no study or research that shows that plants are subjectively aware. Just because a plant has a chemical reaction does not mean that the plant has some kind of mind that desires not to be eaten. Plants are insentient beings without thoughts, feelings and a central nervous system in which pain can be processed. But the animals we exploit clearly and regularly demonstrate that they are highly sentient, emotionally complex individuals who are aware of and value their own individual lives.
Even if it were actually true that plants had some kind of subjective awareness, this does not somehow then make animal suffering irrelevant or unimportant, and it certainly does not mean we should exclude animals from our scope of moral consideration.
While DMT, when used productively, can provide some amazing insights into nature and its complex inner workings, taking any of the subjective observations made during a trip and trying to use them in argument is unfortunately not very credible.
The brain’s primary building element starts with the brain cells known as neurons. Chemical processes in the brain send out messages through the neurons that determine the mental processes along with thinking. Cells called glia exist between the neurons in the brain. The glia interact with the neurons and hormones chemically in the production of thought. The motor neurons produce the action in our muscles and the sensory neurons connect to our five senses. The five senses in the body are sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing. The senses bring information back to the central process in the brain. Emotions exert an effect on human thinking by producing actions, such as crying or sadness, that modify the sensory information.
Science organises knowledge in the form of testable explanations and it can tell us that plants lack three fundamental elements for being regarded as sentient: sensory organs, basic variability of response and appetite, and locomotion. There are scientific studies have shown that plants can react to stimuli, however, this does not conclude to them being sentient. If a plant truly feels pain then that organism would possess the ability to alleviate that pain.
Regardless of whether this person believes that someone mowing the lawn is decapitating thousands of blades of grass, it doesn’t change the fact that animals suffer so long as you continue to consume them. The possibility of plant sentience does not minimise the reality of animal sentience.
The original 1968 assertion by L Ron Hubbard that tomatoes scream when sliced is nothing more than physics and an example of basic electrical relationships. The founder of Scientology used an E-meter, which works as a Whetstone bridge, that measured subtle changes in resistance of a substance. Basically as one cuts a tomato, the movement of the metallic knife within an electric field changes the resistivity of the substance.
In short: this is physics. Anyone versed in basic electrical relationships can tell you this will happen.The tomatoes aren’t screaming, the cutting action causes the magnetic field to change. This affects the electric field and thus, the electrical properties of the substance.
It’s quite an irrational correlation to try and make when our physiologies are entirely different and unrelated. Lions do eat meat, though, just like other carnivorous non-human animals who are doing as they must, in order to survive. The fact that lions eat meat does not make humans eating meat morally neutral.
Humans have the cognitive ability to make moral and ethical decisions and weigh the impact of our actions, as well as the development of food systems and technological industries which provide direct food sources. Non-human animals do not have this higher cognitive ability to weigh their decisions with attached ethical considerations, nor do they have an industrialised food system at their disposal providing suitable options.
Therefore animals, like the carnivorous lion, have no choice but to eat other animals in order to survive. The greater majority of humans, on the other hand, do have a choice.
While ‘what if’ scenarios can be fun to talk about, they don’t actually hold any place in our current reality. There is absolutely no sound reason to alter the choices we make today and tomorrow based on worst-case hypotheses.
A better question that is actually relevant to our reality and way of life today is: what if you lived in civilisation where there was an abundance of food of all kinds, would you choose to kill animals for unnecessary reasons?
According to this study, Australian vegetarians might be healthier than meat-eaters but they are unhappier and more prone to having depression and anxiety disorders, as well as being less optimistic about the future.
Firstly, to state quite clearly: this study is not saying that abstaining from animal products causes unhappiness and mental disorders. It is stating that there is a correlation between two variables; not eating animal products and mental health disorders. However, just because there is a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other.
Short response? Look, an NCBI study shows that a strict plant-based diet does not appear to negatively impact mood, in fact reduction of animal food intake may have mood benefits.
Long response? Assuming the study is accurate for the sake of argument, step back for a minute and think about why this might be.
As a vegan, you are advocating against the violence and oppression which 95% of the world’s population says is acceptable. As a vegan you are mocked for what you believe in and ridiculed for it. As a vegan you spend a great deal of time and energy having to justify to anyone who asks why you are vegan. As a vegan you exist in a world surrounded by suffering and death in every store, restaurant, TV commercial, billboard, magazine, and sometimes even in your own home. As a vegan you know the planet we live on is under severe threat because animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. As a vegan you have to work out how to exist in this world and to reach a level of peace within yourself when you are fully aware of the gigantic amount of pain and suffering that your fellow human beings, and often loved ones, inflict on animals—animals you feel responsible for and want to help as much as possible. For some people this can take a short amount of time, for others it can take years. As a vegan, you care about billions of animals who are suffering and dying annually and while you do your utmost on a daily basis to promote a compassionate way of living, you can be left feeling very helpless in the grand scheme of things. As a vegan you live in a society which flaunts their disregard for other life forms—effectively you are gagged and it can exacerbate your feelings in ways which are completely misunderstood and no support is provided.
No vegan actually feels bad for actually being someone who doesn’t participate in exploiting animals (in fact, it feels fantastic), just as no woman feels bad for actually being of the female gender, and no gay person feels bad for being of homosexual orientation. But what can lead to stress and even anxiety is how the rest of the world can potentially perceive and treat you. Human beings have a long history of discrimination in many forms, it is not unnatural to be fearful of it nor be affected by it. Suffering from any mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
What this study fails to even include is positives that exist alongside any potential stress and anxiety: the liberation a person feels when becoming vegan, all of the areas which this empowerment permeates, the reverence you gain for all creatures of life, and the greater respect you gain for yourself and life itself.
If that’s the justification, then why don’t we then farm and kill human beings given we all have a rump, ribs, legs, tongue, a liver, and muscles just like the animals whom we refer to as “meat”? A German convicted cannibal reported that human meat tastes similar to pig meat but a little bit tougher—and yet cannibalism remains illegal despite it having taken place since Prehistoric Europe right into the 21st century.
Cannibalism is illegal because human beings have immediate inherent rights regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, colour, religion, language, or any other status, and we are entitled to our rights from day 1 without discrimination. This is the privilege we afford ourselves. Animals, however, have their basic rights to freedom denied and are entirely controlled by human beings who regard them as property to be bought, sold, killed, and eaten. Humans dominate animals and see them as here for us to control and use, however we see fit, and by whatever methods.
Just about all flesh can be cooked up to taste delicious—ours included—and by stating that palatable pleasure is an acceptable reason for 70 billion animals to be used and killed annually is nothing but a self assertion in selfish arrogance and blatant speciesism.
Actually, many witnesses have attested to Hitler eating liver dumplings, Bavarian sausages, stuffed squab (young pigeon) and caviar. There are first-hand reports from hotel and personal chefs that attest to the fact that he ate dishes made of animals or animal products. For example, animal glands and bone marrow were added to his food, and The Hitler Book which was prepared by Hitler’s Closest Personal Aides for Stalin states that “after midnight she would direct [for Hitler] that there should be another light snack of turtle soup, sandwiches and sausages”.
According to Hitler’s biographer, Robert Payne, the vegetarian claim was made up by the Reich Minister of Propaganda to make Hitler seem ascetic; like Gandhi. Author Rynn Berry, maintains that although Hitler reduced the amount of meat in his diet, he never stopped eating meat completely for any significant length of time. Berry claimed that many historians use the term ‘vegetarian’ incorrectly to describe someone who simply reduced their meat consumption.
Using the “but Hitler was a vegetarian” argument is quite literally using Nazi propaganda to make an argument against veganism/vegetarianism.
Even if these personal accounts were somehow not true and Hitler in fact did not eat animal meat, how does it feel to know that the most arguably evil man in history was kinder to animals than you are?
The very definition of personal is “belonging to or affecting a particular person rather than anyone else”. Therefore, as someone’s ‘personal choice’ to eat animal products directly affects someone else, which it does, the logic of this justification completely fails to take into account the animal’s desire and interest in living. As soon as your “personal choice” harms someone else, it is no longer a matter of personal choice.
So often, we hear that eating meat is part of our heritage, part of our history and traditions, and because we were raised in a certain way, this implies that our future is predetermined. People commonly find they have a deep-seated connection and attachment to traditional meals, which typically involve meat and other animal products, and any disconnection or move away from that is a rejection of those traditions, and often, the family members that are close by.
Unfortunately, the idea that because we were raised in a certain way and have emotional connections to how we grew up necessitates that we must continue along the same road is not rational. When we recognise that traditions are just that, the way things were done in the past, and that they may not necessarily align with what is ethical, the rational move forward is to create new traditions, ones which do not facilitate the suffering of others.
Yes, currently it is legal to kill and eat non-human animals. While our laws do reflect the current majority of societal attitudes, it is important to acknowledge that laws are always adapting and evolving with society, so that the society can continue to function.
Importantly, law is also not inherently moral. Our past experiences provide tragic evidence that law can sometimes have no intrinsic moral value. Human slavery and segregation were both once legal, law was an instrument of persecution against the Jews and other minorities, and other laws continue to deny equality today. Legal philosophical debate concerning the morality of law and its connection to the quality of conduct that we associate with the ‘rule of law’ is paramount to our growth.
Simply stating that eating animals is legal does not automatically wash one’s hands of any moral responsibility, though it may feel like it does. Our past experiences show us that law and subsequent behaviour are not always ethically sound, and that it takes social revolution and the demand of justice to enact change. Our current laws pertain to the oppression of a group (non-human animals), which is supported by the vast majority of humans for their own benefit—but as history shows us, current laws do not make our actions morally neutral. While it’s legal to kill and eat animals, such laws will not escape change and the morality of law is always evolving.
The exact same thing could be said for other things that exist in the cycle of life, such as murder, rape, slavery, war, genocide and any of the other human vices that are an unfortunate part of our human legacy. Just because something comes naturally to us, or has been done for a length of time, or is part of a tradition, it does not automatically qualify as ethical or moral. Free-will is also natural, and with the choices we freely make comes a responsibility to weigh the positive and negative impacts of those choices.
To innocuously state that growing and eating animals is part of the cycle of life is incredibly inaccurate. Every year 70 billion farmed animals have all of their natural behaviours and desires denied and every part of what little remains controlled, including the date of their death—that is not a natural cycle, nor a natural development of evolution; eating animals is part of the human constructed institution of slavery and oppression.
Try to imagine another person stating the same thing, but instead of referring to eating animals, they are asking you to respect their decision to be sexist, racist, or homophobic. Immediately, it’s recognisable that this person is asking you to respect their actions that involve discriminating against others based on a particular group, class, or category that they belong too and contributing to the oppression that these individuals endure.
As a society, we recognise that it is unlawful and immoral to discriminate based on someone’s gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religious belief, and so on. Speciesism, as a form of discrimination by humans against non-human animals, is not currently recognised in our law. As such, non-human animals are not protected by anti-discrimination laws and their oppression is widely accepted, not seen as morally wrong, and is rarely questioned. It’s important to note that law is not inherently moral and there have been many examples of law in the past which have directly persecuted others while benefiting institutions of power.
Asking a vegan to respect a decision to discriminate, oppress, and exploit non-human animals is on par with asking feminists to respect sexists, asking people of colour to respect racists, or asking homosexuals to respect homophobes.
It is preposterous to simplify down a direct form of discrimination and oppression, which has billions of victims every single year, into a difference of opinion and demand mutual respect for it.
Discrimination and oppression does not warrant respect or tolerance. It warrants the question of moral integrity. It warrants the discussion of our responsibility to not subjugate others. It warrants the opposition to the exploitation of the powerless. It warrants standing up against those who appropriate suffering, support oppression, and encourage exploitation.
A belief such as this one is learned and it stems from anthropocentrism. Having an anthropocentric belief system means to consider yourself and other human beings as occupying a significant and perhaps even the most important existence in the universe, while interpreting the world only in terms of human values and experiences to the detriment of all others.
This philosophy of human supremacy is not really any different to white supremacists who believe that white people have superior characterises, traits, and attributes to others and should, therefore, rule non-white people. We can all agree that this kind of belief and any subsequent behaviour is morally abhorrent and wrong.
Entire religions and mythologies have been constructed around anthropocentric principles. Just as the archaic beliefs of geocentricity, which placed humankind at the centrepiece of existence, gave way and was superseded by the heliocentric model of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, we know that human beings are certainly not the center of everything.
Believing that we humans are more important than other animals on the planet is anthropocentric and speciesist. Simply privileging the interests of our species over the interests of other species does not make it morally right. These kinds of beliefs have shaped our violent and dominating behaviour towards not only animals, but the environment, where instead of the acknowledgement that we exist within an interdependent web of life that forms complex, yet fragile, ecosystems, we instead dominate and inflict pollution, mass deforestation and irrecoverable damage on the very environment that sustains us.
The same kind of prejudicial judgments are and have always been made against all oppressed groups, including African slaves, gays and women. Such statements and judgments only aid oppressor, while assisting in the oppression of and reinforcing the subjugation of the victim.
Grouping all non-human animals into a collective use solely for human benefit is nothing more than a prejudicial, unreflective judgement that has no basis in any serious understanding of who animals are and what their complex social and emotional lives tell us.
Respectfully, veganism is not a religion nor is it like a religion.
Vegans do not practice being vegan to appease a god, an institution, any number of priests, or to ensure we have a peaceful “after life”, nor is it for any self gain. Because ethical vegans become vegan out of love and respect for all life that exists, veganism is not self-serving—it is altruistic.
However, the common implication in this statement is that vegans proselytise like evangelicals and try to convert people to their beliefs. Speaking out against discrimination and oppression as part of a social justice movement is how education and awareness is developed. It must be pointed out just how vastly contrasting the choice to eat animal products is from one’s choice of faith. Believing in a faith, or in atheism, is a personal choice that does not necessitate the harm of others. Any belief system—secular or religious—can become either an impetus for living a compassionate life or justifying a violent way of life. Yet eating animal products always necessitates—at the very minimum—oppression, violence and death to animals for food products we have no biological or nutritional need for.
Force means to compel someone to do something against their will, generally with violence or coercion. While a vegan may make suggestions and engage in a debate on how you can live your life while minimising harm to others, this is not force.
When you are an individual who includes animals within the scope of moral consideration, force is actually what a non-vegan engages in (either directly or indirectly) when an innocent animal is killed on behalf of their selfishness.
Unfortunately, stating that vegans just like to be difficult and create trouble is a fairly common dismissal tactic. Basically, the logic goes that the vegan individual is the problem, rather than an omnivore’s decision to eat animals, so then there’s no need to rationalise such a decision. It is nothing more than a ‘ad hominem‘ attack where an individual’s character is attacked rather than the content of the argument addressed on its merits.
A common stance to take is that everyone makes their own personal choices and lives their life how they see fit, and that any judgement on that is nothing but an elitist, self-righteous attack.
The definition of elitism is the belief that members of certain groups deserve favoured treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intelligence, social standing, or wealth. As such, the control, rule and domination by such a group and the sense of entitlement enjoyed.
However, the core ideologies of veganism involve equal rights for all beings regardless of species and seeks to end exploitation, subjugation and discrimination against animals. It is the acceptance that the interests of our own species are not automatically the most favoured and should not override the interests of members of other species.
Therefore, by definition, non-veganism is the elitist idea that human interests are to be favoured by the virtue of their perceived superiority.
Many people often feel judged by vegans upon justifying why they continue to eat animals when we know they are sentient beings who are subjectively aware and can, and do, suffer.
To make a judgement is to have or display an overly critical point of view, and most of the reactions that vegans receive are a desire to deny participation, a desire to live a life unexamined when it comes to non-human animals. Certainly, the critical critique of the current attitudes, behaviours and treatment of sentient animals in our society needs to occur, just as it occurred in the past with other social justice movements where those oppressed were represented by those who knew it was wrong, and why it will continue to occur into the future. For example, the first child labor laws were passed because people agreed that children shouldn’t have to earn a living doing dangerous factory work—this was a judgment and corporations fought it tooth and nail.
No one is advocating yelling, abusing or attacking those around us. However, the truth about how billions of sentient animals are being exploited and brutalised, in a forthright, sincere, truthful, factual manner is absolutely required to spawn social change. All great social change stems from people making a judgment because a group of people has to stand up and say “this is wrong and must be stopped.” That is, indeed, a judgment and it takes a certain fearlessness to do this and will undoubtedly cause a reaction in those who are participating in it.
Taking an ethical position demands that we not apologise for representing billions of non-human sentient animals while critiquing their treatment and use by humans who are often unknowingly in a position of privilege.
It isn’t a matter of caring what people eat, it’s a matter of caring about who they eat needlessly. When people consume animal-products, they do so out of selfish palatable pleasure, not necessity.
There is absolutely without doubt a large amount of human suffering going on in our world; war, genocide, inequality, sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness—the list is almost never ending. And yet, if we care about suffering holistically, why would each of us not want to try to end as much of it as possible every single day?
It may interest some people to know that it is accepted by professionals and scientists alike that mistreating animals is part of a constellation of anti-social behaviours, that the FBI has shown that animal cruelty is a prominent behaviour in the profiles of violent criminals, and that on-going studies show that socially sanctioned violence against animals in agriculture drives violent crime rates up in the communities that slaughterhouses exist in.
Consequently, if we care about human suffering, then we cannot support the current legal practice of killing animals for food given the drastic consequences it has on the individuals who do the work and the local communities that it occurs in.
Choosing to exclude non-human animals from the scope of consideration in our society means that we directly stipulate that human suffering is more important than the suffering of any other. This also results in ignoring the wider impact that violence against non-human animals has on humans and communities. This is discriminatory and ultimately speciesist and actually creates more suffering.
Benevolence and empathy should extend to all beings, not just a specific selection. We should categorically reject animal abuse and suffering for all the same reasons we categorically oppose the same for humans.
It is absolutely true that soy production is resulting in mass deforestation in places like South America. In fact, the area of land in South America devoted to soy grew from 17 million hectares in 1990 to 46 million hectares in 2010 and it was mainly on land converted from natural ecosystems. However, what many people who make this claim don’t realise is that three-quarters of the entire global production of soy is turned into soy meal, which is used for farmed animal feed.
Only a very small portion of soybeans are consumed directly by humans at approximately 6%. Whole beans may be eaten as a vegetable, or crushed and incorporated into tofu, tempeh, soy milk, or soy sauce. 2% of the meal is further processed into soy flours and protein additives. Soy oil is also used to produce biodiesel, although this remains a small proportion—just 2% of total soy production.
The very reason meat and dairy production has been able to increase since the 1960s, while relative costs of these resulting products has declined, is because of soy meal. In the last 50 years, the production of soy in South America has grown tenfold, from 27 to 269 million tons. The total area of soy now covers over 1 million km2–the total combined area of France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
While soy production is absolutely contributing to the environmental disaster that is deforestation and habitat destruction, it is a meat eaters diet that is the primary driver behind this occurring, not a vegan or plant-based diet.
Researchers of the actual 2015 study came out in media saying that such headlines are a total mischaracterisation of what their research found.
Certainly, calorie-for-calorie, producing lettuce creates more greenhouse gas emissions than bacon. However, these are only two foods. Rationally, no vegetarian or vegan is going to replace each pork calorie with a lettuce calorie. One hundred grams of pan-fried bacon, for example, contains 541 calories. To get 541 calories from lettuce you would have to eat 3.6kg of lettuce. 3.6 KILOS—and no one is going to do that. Calories are made up with things like grains and pulses, which according to this same study, have low impacts.
Making this statement and citing this single data point alone purposely ignores the researchers’ finding that kale, broccoli, rice, potatoes, spinach and wheat—just to name a few—all rank lower than pork in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Read the actual study properly and what you’ll find is that not all foods in a particular food group are created equal, but a calorie-for-calorie focus is a tragic flaw. In fact, the study’s data clearly shows that meat consumption produces the most greenhouse gasses.
Globally, nearly every single animal eaten by humans is breed into existence via artificial insemination. Simply, if the world evolved over a period of time into eating entirely an plant-based diet, the breeding of animals by agricultural industries would decrease over time and eventually cease.
During this period of time as more and more people learned the immorality of eating animals, we would see the needless killing of animals be recognised as a moral wrong and eventually as a legal wrong. Legislation changes occur in phases and likely one of the first major changes we would see would be the banning of breeding farmed animals. If this ban was enacted, those animals already on farms would still be legally recognised as property of their owners and could still be slaughtered. While this is regrettable, it is no different from their original fate.
Thus, this argument against veganism is illogical—farmed animal populations would not continue to grow and overrun the Earth, they would not starve or be let loose to wreak havoc.
This is a bit of a misconception. In most parts of the world, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains are some of the cheapest forms of food available. In fact, grains and legumes have been the staple crops in civilisations around the globe since the domestication of agriculture around 10,000 B.C. It was within the last half century or so that animal based products such meat, cheese, milk and eggs stopped being so cost prohibitive—instead of being a “luxury”, they are now common place. The industrial revolution and development of intensive factory farming created an industry where cost production was lowered, with the help of billions of dollars in subsidises, and output was increased dramatically.
Certainly, processed and ready-made foods always tend to cost a lot more whether it’s animal product based or plant based. Ready-made packaged foods are often done for convenience and time efficient for the consumer, but you pay for the labour in producing the product. So if one’s diet consisted of mainly processed packaged foods, it would be quite expensive.
While a vegan or plant based diet can include processed and ready-made packaged foods, a plant based diet closer to a wholefoods diet is far more accessible financially.
The book Eat Vegan on $4 a Day is a great resource to learn how easy it is to eat vegan on a restricted budget.
Certainly, the world would never be able to nor would it ever turn vegan over night. There is no example in our evolutionary history which shows all humans making a succinct and global holistic change within such a short timeframe. Social change occurs slowly because our beliefs about the way the world works are slowly absorbed from earliest childhood—mostly at the behest of our parents and other authorities. They are constantly reinforced by the dominate patterns of socioeconomic-political activity that surrounds us every day, and by educational, cultural, religious and political leaders. We are not inclined to rethink our our basic beliefs as long as they are working reasonably well, or until we’re prompted to do so by another source.
However, there are many examples where we have turned away from a practice, even a practice that made us a lot of money and created many jobs, because it was unethical. Examples such as:
There are also many industries where the better alternative was actually more expensive, but we did it or are doing it regardless (e.g. renewable energy). These examples show quite clearly that human beings are capable of analysing complex implementations and practices which have deep roots in both economic structures and social bodies and are able to enact change regardless.
Innovation, especially when widely adopted, changes the way our every day world works—and they do change how we think. Before long, they also change our social structure (i.e. television and mobile devices can testify to that kind of impact). Therefore, it is incredibly dismissive of our abilities as a species to presume that we could not develop and change agriculture when our whole history is full of change, albeit much of it slow. The solution is to work at creating new jobs and industries, especially for working class people, while then minimising and closing unethical industries.
The “incomplete protein” or “complementary protein” myth started in the 1970s by Frances Moore Lappé whose first major book regarding global food policy, Diet for a Small Planet, stated that plant foods are deficient in some of the essential amino acids so in order to be a healthy vegetarian, you needed to eat a combination of certain plant foods at the same time in order to get all of the essential amino acids in the right amounts.
This statement is when and where the myth of plant-based diets being inherently difficult and inferior to animal protein diets began.
Lappé—a sociologist and not a nutritionist, physiologist, or medical doctor—later retracted this statement admitting she made an incorrect assumption regarding protein in plant-based foods, when in fact humans do not need every single of the nine essential amino acids in every bite of food in every meal we eat; we only need a sufficient amount of each amino acid every day.
Modern research shows that it is virtually impossible to design a calorie-sufficient diet based on unprocessed whole plant foods that is deficient in any of the essential amino acids (the only possible exception could be a diet based solely on fruit). There has been a growing amount of scientific data that supports that a well-balanced, plant-based diet will provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids and prevent protein deficiency.
The term omnivorous doesn’t mean must eat some animal products—it means being capable of subsisting on both plant and animal matter. Of the two, we are able to thrive without eating animals; however, if we don’t eat plants, we die.
Decades of actual scientific evidence have demonstrated that humans have no biological need to consume animal meat, eggs or dairy products. A recent study shows that red animal meat contains a sugar–called Neu5Gc–and when humans eat red animal meat, the body triggers an immune response to the foreign sugar, producing antibodies which spark inflammation and then leads to the progression of cancer. Other studies confirm a positive association between the consumption of meat and type 2 diabetes, and further studies show that dairy products can increase prostate cancer risk and cause brittle bone disease.
If we were physiologically designed to eat animal meat the way in which carnivorous mammals are without any adverse health consequences (like lions and hyenas), then the human body would already produce this same Neu5Gc sugar—but it doesn’t. The very consumption of animal meat increases our risk for for various forms of cancer, diabetes type 2 and heart disease—none of which support the statement that we’re designed to be omnivorous.
Humans are meant to and are able to obtain all of the vitamins, nutrients and minerals required on a plant-based diet, without the unhealthy animal protein and cholesterol, without inflicting needless suffering and death on billions of animals, and it can still be delicious and interesting.
Various Government and health association recognise the large body of scientific evidence that a plant-based diet is not only a viable option for people of any age (including babies and pregnant and breast feeding women), but that eating plant foods in favour of animal-derived foods can confer many health benefits, such as reduction in incidence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some types of cancer.
Nearly all mammals have canine teeth, and having canine teeth isn’t an automatic translation that we are meant to eat animal meat. Many herbivores and primary plant-eaters have ferociously long, sharp canine teeth that look very different to the canine teeth that humans have—our “canine teeth” are “canine” in name only.
In fact, the largest canine teeth of any land animal belong to a true herbivore and are part of a defence mechanism—the hippopotamus!
Furthermore, human anatomical features in regards to our teeth and jaw structure are quite different to that of true carnivore and omnivore animals:
- Canine teeth: Ours are short and blunt, while carnivores/omnivores have long, sharp and curved canine teeth. Any herbivore who has long, sharp and curved canine teeth does so for defensive mechanisms.
- Jaw type: Ours are at an expanded angle, while carnivores/omnivores are angled and not expanded.
- Jaw joint location: Ours are above the plane of the molars, while carnivores/omnivores are on the same plane as the molar teeth.
- Jaw motion: Ours do not shear but move well side-to-side and back-to-front, while carnivores/omnivores shear.
- Major jaw muscles: Our primary jaw muscle is the masseter and the pterygoid helps to abduct it, while carnivores/omnivores rely on the temporalis muscle.
- Mouth opening vs. head size: Ours are quite small, while carnivores/omnivores have large mouth openings.
The anatomical evidence clearly shows us that we’re optimised for eating plant-based foods.
Many people insist that eating animals is “natural”, and therefore morally neutral because other animals eat animals.
It’s important to realise that (with a few exceptions) when humans kill other animals for food, we’re not doing what animals do in nature. When animals kill other animals for food, they do as they must, in order to survive; they have absolutely no choice in the matter. The greater majority of humans, on the other hand, do have a choice.
When we know that we have no biological need to consume animal meat or their bodily secretions and that we can thrive on a plant-based diet (various Governments and health authorities recognise and endorse vegan diets), when people eat animal meat simply because it’s convenient and they like the taste of it, they are harming animals not from necessity, but for personal pleasure.
And yet, harming animals for pleasure certainly goes against core values that we hold in common—which is why, for example, dog fighting and cockfighting are opposed on principal. It is a morally confusing double standard to state that harming animals for pleasure is wrong in one instance, and not in the other.
Selectively modelling our behaviour on animals also makes no sense and is fairly hypocritical. Do we kill our newborn young like some animals do in certain circumstances? Do we defecate on the streets like dogs do sometimes? Do we lick our own anuses as a method of cleaning? No. And yet, when it’s convenient, we claim eating animals is natural because some animals do so.
Often referred to as the expensive tissue hypothesis, the widely accepted claim that our brain size and complexity are connected to eating animals has been rigorously tested and refuted in a key report published in Nature (Navarrete, 2011). This comprehensive report evaluates the research into more than 100 mammalian species, including 23 primate species, analysing brain size and organ mass data. Lead researcher Navarrete concludes that “human encephalization (brain development) was made possible by a combination of stabilization of energy inputs and a redirection of energy from locomotion, growth, and reproduction.”
While our brains have evolved to create complex societies where Hitlers and Lenins exist along with great visionaries like Ghandi and Leonardo da Vinci, fortunately, our brains appear to also be well equipped at making rational and moral judgments about what is good and bad, what is right and wrong—for ourselves and for others directly affected by our decisions.
Even if the expensive tissue hypothesis were true, would it really matter or remain relevant today? Just as the fact that countries like America were built by slaves does not justify the continued enslavement of other human beings, neither would the fact that our brain size evolved from eating animals be a justification for continuing to exploit animals for food when we have no need to do so today.
While many people actively believe in the “food chain”, the concept of a “food chain” is a human construct that imposes a rigid hierarchy and competition among species, rather than a good respectful understanding of the complexity of the ecosystems to which we belong.
We are not at the top of anything—we are merely part of an interdependent web of life that forms complex yet fragile ecosystems. We choose to either participate in the protection of these natural systems, or to destroy them, at our own peril.
Claiming to be at the top of a so called food chain is a very shallow affirmation of our ability to violently dominate everything and anything. The justifications for violence that draw on the notions of power and supremacy are based on the philosophy that “Might makes Right”—the principle behind the worst atrocities and crimes of human history. Studies confirm that as people become wealthier, they tend to eat more meat and fewer plant foods. Human made concepts of wealth, status and privilege are associated with eating more meat and the belief that we are at the “top of the food chain.”
Selectively appealing to biological determinism also ignores the fact that we are moral agents. By choosing plant-based foods, we can obtain our nutrients through primary sources of nourishment, in the most environmentally friendly and resource efficient way possible, minimising our harm to other animals, humans and the planet.
But for those who believe that there is some biological basis for the claim that humans are at the top of some food chain, consider this. In 2013, for the first time ever, ecologists used a statistical way of calculating a species’ trophic level (its level or rank in a food chain) based on its diet. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, scored humans at 2.21 on a scale of 1 to 5, roughly equal to an anchovy or a pig. On the low end of the scale are primary producers like plants, and on the higher end are pure apex predators (animals that only eat meat and have few or no predators of their own, such as tigers, crocodiles or boa constrictors).
Unfortunately, one of the major shortcomings of the study is that it overlooks the distinction between our ability to make choices about what we eat, versus animals in the wild who have no choice but to eat what is available to them.
Prehistoric humans and their ancestors ate some amount of meat along side plants, there’s no question about that, but how socially and ethically relevant is what our ancestors did thousands of years ago to the different set of circumstances that we face today regarding our way of life, environment and food choices?
We are no more compelled or required to eat like our ancestors did than we are to practice cannibalism, or commit rape, murder, slavery or any other violent traditions.
We have evolved to a point where we have used our technology to transcend animalian state. As a result, we have removed ourselves from the ecosystem, and the human construct of the “food chain”, through technology. There is unlikely to be a return to this harmony and ecostatus where, without technology, basic survival would most certainly involving hunting.
The holistic problem with this argument is that we cannot simply cherry pick from both ideologies. We can’t frame one and borrow from the other—while we live with the fruits of modern society, we cannot claim the apparent necessities of an old one.
We live in a society which is governed by laws that are essentially aimed at discouraging the behaviours that seem to persist at our baser instincts–stealing, beating, raping, murdering, etc. Despite the stigma and criminalisation of these behaviours, they still occur very commonly.
At some level these types of behaviours are instinctual and are part of the human species, and yet, it is also evident that a behaviour being instinctual has no bearing on whether or not it is ethical. We have both moral and immoral instincts, impulses and urges that are sometimes kind, and sometimes violent and cruel.
Living an ethical life means we strive to prevent our baser instincts that cause harm and injury to others, and to develop behaviours and attitudes which promote the wellbeing of ourselves and others.
Vitamin B12 is essential to normal brain and nervous system function and to the formation of healthy blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in DNA synthesis and cell metabolism. Non-vegans argue that because B12 is not produced by plants that plant-based diets are unnatural, and therefore veganism is misguided.
While it is true that plants do not produce vitamin B12, neither do animals inherently produce it. B12 is produced by bacteria that live in the soil and in the intestines of animals, including humans. However, in humans and other animals, it is generally manufactured too far down the intestinal tract (in the colon, in our case) to be absorbed and is instead excreted in feces, where it is abundant. Vitamin B12 also contains the biochemically rare element cobalt which is essential for the production of vitamin B12.
In environments not interfered with by humans, cows, sheep and other ruminants would get B12, and B12 producing bacteria, from dirt clumps around the grass roots that they pull up and the forage and fecal matter they ingest. Chickens and other birds would take in B12 when they peck through soil for worms and insects. B12 is stored in the livers and muscles of these animals and some of it passes into their milk and eggs.
However, modern farmed animals do not consume natural diets. Farmed animals in the US spend 95% of their time in feedlots and factory farms without access to such environments, and they receive large doses of antibiotics to combat disease. Australian-based cows spend more of their time outside of dedicated feedlots with greater access to grasslands until several weeks before their slaughter, while other farmed animals are factory farmed and receive heavy antibiotic doses.
Antibiotics actually kill B12 producing bacteria in the guts of farmed animals, while pesticides used on plants kill B12 producing bacteria and insects in the soil. Because of this, farmers add cobalt and B12 supplements in the form of injections, capsules (boluses), drenches, or pour-ons. In fact, 90% of the B12 supplements produced in the world are fed to farmed animals.
This means that in industrialised societies, meat, eggs and dairy are not any more “natural” as sources of B12 than the fortified foods or supplements vegans consume–in both cases, the B12 derives from a synthetic supplement.
Unbeknownst to many meat-eaters is the fact that various food products they consume are fortified with B12 and other minerals–breakfast cereals such as All Bran (B12), dairy milk (B12 and riboflavin B2), salt and bread (iodine), tap water (fluoride), and so on. Conveniently, meat eaters do not complain about these fortified products being unnatural.
Quite importantly, though, the question of whether or not supplemental B12 is “natural” seems to be the wrong question. Is taking aspirin for a headache natural? Is medicine natural? If supplementing with B12 helps us to easily eliminate harming and killing billions of animals for food, then why not go vegan and take a B12 supplement? But for those who feel they can’t go vegan without proof that B12 can be acquired “naturally”, here’s good news: studies show that humans can get all the B12 they need by eating their own poop—as rabbits, guinea pigs, and possums do for precisely this reason. And if other animals do it…
Anyone can have a poor diet and ill health when they do not understand nutrition. In fact, it is quite easy to become unhealthy and unwell by eating a poor selection of foods, regardless of whether you are vegan or not.
Why is it that people focus solely on those consuming a plant-based diet who become ill, but purposely fail to mention the incredible number of meat-eaters around the globe who suffer from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, with multi-billion dollar medical and pharmaceutical industries supporting their treatment?
Certainly, anyone can become unhealthy eating a poorly planned diet. But if you build your plant-based diet on a solid foundation, on real nutrition information from board certified plant-based dieticians who cite the best peer-reviewed scientific sources available, then you allow yourself to cover all the required mineral, vitamin and nutrient requirements that human beings have.
To apply the irresponsible dietary outcomes of small portion of people who became unwell to millions of people around the globe who successfully consume a plant-based diet is irrational and nothing but fear-mongering.
Such a statement clearly indicates that there must be an apparent either/or situation. Either animals die a horrible death at the hands of nature after a difficult existence, or they have a comparably “easy” life and a better death on farms.
This is a false dilemma. Farmed animals would never exist in the wild; they are artificially bred into existence and genetically controlled by humans to be used on farms. Animal agriculture is certainly not some heroic intervention into nature where animals are saved from a horrible death that would have been far worse than the pseudo-salvational slaughter they experience at human hands.
Animals are not rescued or “saved” from predators; they are bred by humans to be killed by humans without a fighting chance.
This insists that “humanely” raised animals on free-range farms and the like have a better quality of life than those who are held in factory farms, and as such, we are justified in eating them.
Firstly, regardless of farm location, these animals are bred into existence by human hand and would not exist otherwise “in nature”.
Secondly, many of the worst cruelties inflicted on animals in factory farms are also routine on smaller “humane” farms; violation of reproductive systems, mutilations without anaesthetic—castration, dehorning, nose rings, ear tags or flesh “notches”, debeaking of hens, maceration of male baby chicks.
The comparison is false and does not justify our needless breeding, exploitation, and killing of animals for food.
Animals have absolutely no control over any aspects of their lives no matter what farm they are on. Humans decide where they will live; if they will ever know their mothers; if, and how long, they will nurse their babies; when, and if, they will be permitted to see or be with their families and friends; when, where, or if they will be allowed to socialise with members of their own species; when, how, and if, they are going to reproduce; what, when, and how much they will eat; how much space they will have, if any; if, and how far, they will be allowed to roam; what mutilations they will be subjected to; what, if any, veterinary care they will receive; and when, where, and how they are going to die.
Even a hypothetical “humane” farm is impossible to discuss. There can literally be no such farm—whose entire reason for existing is to grow animals and kill them for food—where animals are allowed to exist for their own reasons; are able to avoid suffering and seek out enjoyment; are allowed their own bodily autonomy; are allowed to die from old age; are allowed to control their own reproductive behaviour; are allowed to decide what they eat and when, and so on. Farming animals for human benefit is mutually exclusive from animals living their lives autonomously.
Farmed animals can be profoundly mistreated and still produce, in the same way that profoundly mistreated humans can be with disease, sexually active and able to produce offspring. Like humans, farmed animals can adapt, up to a point, to living in slums and concentration camp conditions. Is this an argument for slums and concentration camps? Farmed animals do not gain weight, lay eggs, and produce milk because they are comfortable, content, or well-cared for, but because they have been manipulated specifically to do these things through genetics, medications, and management techniques.
For example, cage layer producers artificially stimulate and extend egg production by keeping the lights burning for 16 or 17 hours a day to force the hen’s pituitary gland to secrete increased quantities of the hormone that activates the ovary. Animals in production agriculture are slaughtered at extremely young ages, before disease and death have decimated them as would otherwise happen even with all the drugs. Even so, many more individual animals suffer and die in intensive farming, but because the volume of animals being used is so big—in the billions—the losses are economically negligible, while the volume of flesh, milk and eggs is abnormally increased.
If you buy animal products, you’re quite literally paying someone who makes a living off of commodifying animals—artificially breeding them, growing them quickly to “market weight”, violently killing them in their youth, treating animals as objects to be used, and excluding them from any moral consideration. Just because you don’t physically commit these acts yourself does not excuse you from the realm of responsibility—as a consumer you contribute to the demand for this to occur and it makes you just as responsible as any farmer or abattoir worker.
The confinement, the inherent abuse that occurs, the systematic practices to grow animals quickly, and ways in which animals are killed, which if applied to humans, would be regarded as constituting torture.
You cannot have a moral dilemma regarding animal suffering without it applying to all species of animals. It unfortunately is nothing but hypocritical and morally abhorrent to only apply that concern to certain species of animals instead of all.
The concept of sacrifice has its roots in the earliest recorded civilisations. And even though we no longer practice the ancient rituals of animal sacrifice (with the exception of traditional societies), many modern day meat-eaters insist on framing the hunting or slaughter of animals as a case of animals “sacrificing” their lives for us.
The self-congratulatory rhetoric of “honouring” the animals we needlessly brutalise for food continues to paint animals as “giving” us their flesh, milk and eggs. It’s as if they are bestowing a gift upon us, or as if to suggest that milk and eggs just fall from trees like fruit. This kind of rhetoric is also self-exonerating where a person remains not guilty of any of their actions nor the lives that they’ve forcefully taken.
Animals do not consent to being commodified, or to being engineered to produce milk and eggs at a far higher capacity than their bodies were designed for, or to being forced into captivity and confinement, or to being sexually violated to produce offspring, or to having their offspring taken from them, or to being killed against their will.
The psychology of sacrifice is based on our need to absolve ourselves from the guilt we feel for harming animals by assigning them a human-like ability to selflessly “gift” us their bodies and their lives.
If you were unaware of your murderer’s premeditated intention to kill you before he shot you point blank in the head, and you felt little or no pain or suffering before the life was snuffed out of you, would this make the murderer’s act any less immoral?
Farmed animals are highly aware and sentient. They clearly demonstrate their interests, likes, dislikes, needs and desires. Indeed, animals will fight for their lives—and for the lives of their offspring—and even for the lives of members of their extended social group, as vociferously as we would fight for our own lives. Our cats and dogs yearn for our attention and affection and bond with us. Farmed animals who have learned to trust us will often similarly bond with us, but most parts of urban society rarely have this interaction ever occur.
Also like cats and dogs, cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens clearly display depression, frustration, anger, hostility, fear and despair when we deny them the conditions that allow them to freely express themselves, as is the case on farms. Even under the highest welfare standards, most or all of an animal’s fundamental interests are denied and a violent and undignified end to their abbreviated life is the inevitable outcome.
Those who claim animals are not consciously aware are strongly denying clear evidence to the fact. This is likely done as part of a misguided attempt to secure their own wobbly conscience, or as part of a justification for a complete dominating subjugation tactic.
There have been quite a number of arguments which have gained traction by claiming that if vegans factor in the amount of animals killed in the harvesting of plant crops, they would find that vegan and vegetarian diets result in a greater number of animals killed than diets based on pasture-raised animals. And they conclude that if vegans seek to minimise harm, then a vegan diet is not the way to go.
One of the best among them is AnimalVisuals’ comprehensive and well-researched study, Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories in Eight Food Categories.
It’s important to note that aside from the actual numbers of animals killed, intention is a critical factor in assessing the moral weight of an action. The unintentional killing of field mice and other animals during the process of harvesting essential food crops is a vastly different intention from that of deliberately and artificially breeding billions of sentient individuals into existence for the sole purpose of exploiting and killing them, for flesh and secretions we have no need to consume. If killing certain animals in the process of raising necessary food crops is morally objectionable, then how can our ethical accountability for their deaths be rectified by breeding even more animals into existence in order to intentionally exploit and slaughter them at a fraction of their natural lifespans?
Furthermore, the claim that eating pasture-grown animals is more ethical than unintentionally killing animals in the harvesting of crops is a version of the argument that if we cannot avoid unintentional death, we might as well in engage in intentional killing. Just consider that thought for a moment—we cannot avoid accidental or unintended death in manufacturing anything, including the most innocuous and beneficial of products, so somehow it’s okay to kill humans intentionally? No, it’s not. If the world transitioned away from animal-based products because we cared morally about non-humans, that would translate into methods of crop production that would be more mindful of incidental and unintended deaths. The focus would be on respecting life and minimising harm, instead of advocating for further violence.