Ezra Klein in WaPo:
But the result isn’t funny at all: Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius (PDF). A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week. That prompted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to recommend that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere. The response was quick and vicious. “How convenient for him,” was the inexplicable reply from a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “He’s a vegetarian.”
The visceral reaction against anyone questioning our God-given right to bathe in bacon has been enough to scare many in the environmental movement away from this issue. The National Resources Defense Council has a long page of suggestions for how you, too, can “fight global warming.” As you’d expect, “Drive Less” is in bold letters. There’s also an endorsement for “high-mileage cars such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.” They advise that you weatherize your home, upgrade to more efficient appliances and even buy carbon offsets. The word “meat” is nowhere to be found.
[...] It’s also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It’s not a value judgment on anyone’s choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it’s better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.
I’ve not had the willpower to eliminate bacon from my life entirely, and so I eliminated it from breakfast and lunch, and when that grew easier, pulled back further to allow myself five meat-based meals a month. And believe me, I enjoy the hell out of those five meals. But if we’re going to take global warming seriously, if we’re going to make crude oil more expensive and tank-size cars less practical, there’s no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates.
Mark Krikorian at The Corner:
Is he going to recommend meat-flavored gum next, just to take the edge off the craving for those who haven’t yet been able to kick the habit? And lawsuits against the Merchants of Flesh, with big payouts for trial lawyers? What about developing countries, whose people are working and earning and saving and investing precisely so they can eat more meat?
Just so you know, I think we do eat too much meat, and salt, sugar, and fat, because our species evolved to crave these once rare elements of our diet which are now abundant. But vegetarianism and veganism are not only not virtuous, they’re immoral, based as they are on the principle that animals are morally equivalent to humans. Likewise, meat probably should cost more than it does, but not because we need a global-warming tax on it but because animals, while lacking “rights,” are not inanimate objects we can use with impunity as industrial inputs — and their humane treatment will almost certainly raise the price of hamburgers.
But it seems that Orwell is still right — socialism draws with magnetic force the nudists, pacifists, sandal-wearers, and vegetarians.
I know very many vegetarians and vegans. I do not think a single one of them—possibly excepting PETA’s Bruce Friedrich, and I’m not even sure about him—holds the view that “animals are morally equivalent to humans.” File this under what is fast becoming one of my chief pet peeves: People who purport to specialize in political commentary and show no sign of having even the vaguest idea what people with different views actually believe. (Must I think Radovan Karadzic and my first grade teacher are morally equivalent if I’m not terribly sanguine about barbecuing either of them?) You’d think the view Krikorian himself endorses would be quite sufficient to get one there: If you think animals are at least deserving of humane treatment, then given an actually existing meat industry that manifestly falls well short of that, might you not decide it’s better not to support it at all? More so if you’re not quite as dismissive as Krikorian is of the secondary environmental harms.
Andrew Sullivan comes up with a new verb.
Mark Krikorian responds to Sanchez:
The practical reasons are invalid to buttress such a principle because none is categorical. For instance, if our modern methods of animal husbandry are cruel and inhumane and unsafe, refusing to consume meat whose provenance is unclear is a perfectly sound decision. But it’s not vegetarianism, because it leaves open the possibility of buying meat at the farmer’s market or straight from the farm from a man who raised and slaughtered his livestock humanely, something that’s actually quite easy nowadays. Now, maybe you can’t afford that or don’t want to be bothered, so you avoid meat altogether just to be on the safe side — that’s vegetarian-ish, but it’s simply not vegetarian-ism.
Likewise, there’s little question that modern Americans (including myself) eat more meat than is good for us. (There goes my subsidy from the American Meat Institute.) To further betray my crunchy-con-ness, I think Michael Pollan‘s advice to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is on the money. When I go to a deli, I actually don’t want “mmmore mmmeat,” as the Quizno’s commercial boasts, I want less — I can barely get my mouth around a two-inch-thick pile of pastrami or beef tongue and would like a few vegetables in there. But if health reasons are your concern, then cut back — smaller portions, using it as a sort of condiment or base when preparing meals, and so forth. But that’s obviously not vegetarianism either, and not a basis for such a principle because man evolved eating meat and it’s natural and healthy for us to do so in moderation.
Vegetarianism as a matter of principle is simply wrong. Vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice is not, though too often it’s callow and silly, like the co-ed who in her moral vanity prides herself in her vegetarianism, except when she’s served a nice piece of farm-raised salmon.
I think there are probably many kinds of vegetarianism and it doesn’t seem to me necessary to conclude that they all depend on the assumption that animals are on the same “moral plane” as human beings. No doubt, there are many people who do believe this, but such people don’t exhaust the supply of those whom we can fairly be call “vegetarians” or practitioners of vegitarianism. Scully himself is a self-described vegetarian, I believe. And while I think his views have evolved a bit since he wrote Dominion, I believe he still doesn’t think humans and animals are on the same moral plane. I think he believes that the moral plane humans inhabit requires them to treat animals much better than we do. (Matt’s a friend and he’s free to chime in, btw).
This talk of vegetarianism reminds me of a T-shirt slogan I saw the other day. It said (something like): “Humankind didn’t claw its way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables.”
Wesley J. Smith (can’t link for some reason):
I consider vegetarianism for moral reasons akin to a vow of chastity by monastics: It eschews a normal human activity for higher moral purposes. That is to be admired. But no monastic would or should say that his vow of chastity makes him morally superior to married married people who have sex. Similarly, vegetarians’ decision to refrain from eating meat does not make them morally superior to people who do eat meat.
In Dominion, Scully does indeed come at his advocacy from an animal-welfare (as opposed to an animal-rights) perspective. But he is barely on the right side of the line because he is indifferent to the human good derived from animal industries and animal use.
He also claims that the ideology doesn’t matter in this debate. That is absolutely wrong. Animal-welfare philosophy supports human exceptionalism; animal-rights philosophy disdains that approach and rejects human exceptionalism as “speciesist.” There is a huge difference between the two. Whether we believe human beings have a unique moral status in the world has tremendous implications for human rights and human flourishing. Indeed, it could be the most important ethical and moral issue of the 21st century.
I’d say that there is no need to impute a subscription to this principle in order to establish immorality of a diet devoid of animal products. At least I can do this for situations of a relatively narrow scope:
I think It would be immoral to abstain from eating animal products if it can be shown that to do so is to introduce higher levels of risk of substantial health problems for those that do not have the power to make such decisions on their own, but are dependent upon such choices of others.
There is ample evidence that embryonic development, and child development are very sensitive to levels of various nutrients, amongst which are several (like vitamin B-12) that have as their best dietary source so called ‘whole’ foods, and in particular meats. This is not to say that supplemental sources cannot be found for these things, but such sources are generally considered less reliable than ‘whole foods.’
So, if you are responsible for a growing human life, and knowingly take on such risks, I would say that is an immoral act.
Did you catch that? He claims veganism is immoral. That is, he says that the practice of abstaining from animal products is immoral. He says veganism is immoral because he claims that veganism requires the belief that animals are morally equivalent to humans. He doesn’t back it up with evidence and he doesn’t explain exactly why moral equivalency between humans and animals is wrong. He just asserts it as fact.
Here are the real facts: Some vegans believe that all animals are equal, both human and non. But plenty of vegans don’t. There is NO requirement that to be a vegan means you must believe nonhuman animals are morally equivalent to humans. None. Krikorian just made that up.
There’s certainly no requirement that in order to eat like a vegan, you must think like one. In my opinion, veganism is more about the practice of abstaining from the consumption of animal products than it is an adoption of any one specific belief. This is particularly so because many nonvegans already have one of these beliefs below, they just don’t eat like they do. But also because I’ve met many varied vegans who give all kinds of reasons for their veganism.
UPDATE: At The Corner, Jonah Goldberg
And more Smith
UPDATE #2: More Sanchez