Vegan Q&A column
I contribute a "Q&A" column to a local newsletter. Sometimes the questions have to do with animal rights, so I thought I would reproduce a few of those here. Here is the first one.
Q: I think that animals should have rights, but I feel that going vegan is too extreme. Can’t I show my support for animal rights by eating vegetarian food most of the time and only eating free-range, organic animal products when I do eat them?
A: Because eating animal products is so common and accepted in society, there is a misconception that while veganism may be a political statement, meat- and dairy-eating is politically neutral. This is not true -- the action of eating meat, dairy, or other animal products implies that you accept the idea that it is okay for us to use animals, including to kill them unnecessarily (as it is certainly not necessary for human health to eat animal products, and “free-range” animals, even those who are exploited for their milk or eggs, have their lives cut short just like those raised in factory farms).
Support for “free-range” animal agriculture and the idea of “better” or “more humane” conditions for the animals does not have anything to do with animal rights, but rather animal welfare. These two positions are fundamentally incompatible: one says that it is okay to use animals as long as certain standards are followed with respect to their welfare before they are killed, while the other position says that animals should have the right to live out their lives on their own terms. This starts with the right not to be considered someone’s property, for while animals are property, people can do whatever they like with them including killing them for personal or economic use. The property owner's right to make the most of his or her property will always take legal precedence over the interests that the animal property has in not being harmed. An animal rights position says that no matter how well the animal is treated, it is still wrong to use his or her body as a production machine (such as in the case of dairy, eggs or honey) or as a commodity itself (such as in the case of meat, leather, etc). These are rights violations (and they inevitably lead to suffering).
Therefore, when we talk about “animal rights”, we need to be aware that the many forms of institutionalized animal exploitation in our society, including the use of animals for food, clothing, medical testing, entertainment, and other purposes, violate the most basic right that animals would need to be accorded by humans, the right not to be considered property. If you are serious about wanting animals to have rights, the first thing to do is to stop participating in violating their rights, in order to live in a manner consistent with your ethics. This does mean going vegan as the minimal baseline.
Veganism may seem overwhelming at first, but remember that nearly all vegans were once in your position, and succeeded in making the transition. You can do it as well. Your taste buds do adapt, and most vegans find that they end up discovering so many new foods and recipes that they are eating a greater variety of delicious food than they ever did before. Social situations become easier as you become more comfortable with polite but firm ways of expressing your commitment to avoiding animal products. Be sure to also seek out support so that you don’t feel alone in your beliefs and lifestyle - for starters, take advantage of NCVA activities, or look for like-minded friends online. There are plenty of great resources out there. You will no doubt end up finding veganism very enjoyable and fulfilling, knowing that you're living in a manner that is consistent with your belief that non-human animals should have rights too!
Labels: question and answer column