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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger? And Other Questions People Ask Vegans

The author of this book is familiar from me from her regular legal essays at Verdict and involvement with her husband and others (primarily one other person, all three vegans) at Dorf at Law. The book is one of many that discusses various aspects of veganism.* It addresses such things such as "what about plants," why vegetarianism isn't enough nor is lack of purity a reason not to be vegan, abortion, native groups, religion and other issues. Overall, she provides some interesting analysis using the legal analytical approach familiar at Verdict in a strong but polite fashion.

As to the title, either order a vegan cheeseburger, or understand that it is polite to take into consideration the desires of your eating partner. If you are really serious about the question, the person probably would say "yes" if totally honest though personally I don't mind too much -- perhaps, I should more. Then again, I'm not a full vegan yet. Really, there are enough alternatives that you can have with your vegan eating companion, if you really are worried about it. Finally, a cheeseburger is a pretty blatant thing to have. 

I personally did not find it earth shattering or anything though like various standard things (such as discussion of abortion generally or some other issue) how she approached it was notable and different in various cases. For instance, the chapter on abortion is fairly notable while her one on religion matched up with the Jewish faith she was raised on (strikingly, she is a child of Holocaust survivors -- she was born in 1966).  As one Youtube review noted, however, if you are familiar with this stuff, it isn't that sine qua non or anything. The forward on that point is a tad overblown.

The introduction provided "the simple case for veganism" -- health, environment and animals.  The first reason is why Bill Clinton apparently is now a vegetarian (who knows if he is pure on the point -- we are talking Bill Clinton here) though it really isn't enough -- you can be pretty healthy and still eat animal products. Still, animal products are a major cause of the dietary and health issues in this country, particularly the fatty nature. Factory farming also is a major threat to the environment. But, concern for the moral well being of animals is really the determinating factor here.

I personally am what is known as an "ethical" vegetarian -- someone who chose this path because of a particularly ethical and moral approach. My basic sentiment in the mid-1990s was that on an equality level, animals warranted enough respect that avoiding unnecessary harm to them was appropriate. The fact I liked to eat some of them was not really an appropriate enough reason to be part of their harm. Neither is optional wearing of their hides or the like. The book does not really cover animal testing or zoos, by the way, which suggests it is not meant to be comprehensive. Still, a lot of the former is clearly unnecessary, while the latter very well might be acceptable if done the right way. Not free from problems.

Anyway, the chapter that turned me off is the one where Prof. Colb argues that certain animal welfare laws, particularly those to make their lives on farms and in slaughterhouses a little better, are counterproductive. Why? Well, they take a long time to kick in, are underenforced, are defeatist (the best we can do?) and encourage people to think the animals now have decent lives. Something similar can be said about a range of partial solutions to problems that are not going away any time soon. It comes off as some sloppy "perfect is the enemy of the good" fallacy. No sale.

So, I also welcome those who do partial steps toward protecting animal welfare, even if they don't fully respect animal rights or think animals have rights. Those who don't eat veal, e.g., might only being doing a little thing, but  it is something and hopefully they will take the next step. Her chapter on the Bible is telling -- even if Jewish scripture can be read to allow animal usage only as an imperfect expression of the limitations of human wants, it is a realistic thing for it to at the same time set some basic floor.  Paul noted as to marriage that it very well might not be ideal, but if you have to do it to avoid immorality, it can be better than the alternative. He didn't just say that supporting marriage at all is wrong, since it is an imperfect approach. He was realistic about human nature.

Also, she is a bit too quick to say that being vegan is so easy. It might be for someone with her means, including those who have the wherewithal to make vegan recipes etc., but it is not totally easy for everyone. I myself am not a cook and even "simple" recipes are not so easy for me, plus don't have a home stacked with the many ingredients so many of them have. The basic example of her ordering at a restaurant is telling -- loads of places don't have too many vegan options. And, yes, some don't want to wait until later to have a vegan desert. It is great that many places now have a range of vegan options, including big supermarkets or Whole Foods style stores. Plus, especially with mail order, there are ways to get vegan options, including footwear. But, like those who eat badly in other ways because of what is readily available, being vegan takes some work.

[I personally never really liked eggs much and am not a big seafood person. As to foods I do like more, milk products directly seem to be too much. I do let myself go with foods where milk and eggs might be in there -- the real concern here would be muffins, since I'm not really a big cake eater. I avoid products that have other animal products, including various process foods like "vegetable" soups or the like. So, I though I'm closer to being a vegan than some, vegetarian is an honest label. Still, since I don't blithely eat cheese or eat regular ice cream, that is somewhat misleading.]

One thing that comes to mind here is a matter of line drawing.  A late chapter addresses bees -- she notes that they might have subjective experiences and feel pain, plus consistency makes it useful to not have honey. Better safe than sorry, plus there is little reason to have it given the alternatives. Things like mussels and oysters are similar and her husband once summed up the concerns -- possibility of some feeling of pain, concern for health and possibility of other animals (such as dolphins) to be caught in the process. There also can be environmental concerns in the raising of seafood.  It is an ill advised indulgence.

Regardless, this is a footnote to a much great usage of animals where pain is a no brainer. Thus, her "why not just be a vegetarian" chapter focuses on eggs and milk products, not touching seafood or honey.  As with other things, some basic perspective should be kept here.  A priest might be a more holy person than a parishioner, but a pretty good church goer will be a lot better than many. Anyway, the book is worth a look for those who have a chance.  As with others, as it goes along thinking thru things, you will benefit, even if you don't totally agree. [When a ref explained why a call on the field stood yesterday, I thought "huh, this is a good way to teach people logic and reasoning."]

One more thing. What about abortion? First, the chapter repeatedly used "fetus" -- this bothers me, since most abortions occur earlier in the development, when there is an "embryo." This is half the point -- abortions generally occur before there is a sentient being, which is different from killing a live dog. Second, there is a major difference in justification. The chapter addresses this, the fact that women are required to in effect be Good Samaritans if they stay pregnant. The true late term abortion, a rare thing, involves a fetus that can be viable, but nearly always there is some compelling reason it is done. The typical abortion occurs when the embryo is much less developed and it still is done for a pretty compelling reason for the person involved. A lot more compelling than optional dietary choices. The chapter made it a tad too hard.


* The book notes "Vegans avoid participating in violence toward animals. This is a broad thing really and does not just involve eating, which is basically (if not completely) the focus of the book. Veganism can be seen in a broader light -- Compassion the Ultimate Ethic: An Exploration of Veganism by Victoria Moran is recommended on that front -- veganism as in effect non-violent living.  I personally think that is a good ideal and my own stance on eating, wearing etc. animals is part of a bigger picture.

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