I have a handful of friends who are strictly vegan, and I talked with each of them before about their views. At least 3 of them have said to me that under no circumstance would they eat an animal or use an animal product (say, for clothing). This is nonsensical, right? There are no real justifications for this, as I understand it. Let's start from the beginning.
What is veganism?
In its most general and purest sense, it is the rejection of using any animal products for any purpose. Typically, you hear about it most in terms of diets (dietary vegans), i.e., what people choose to eat, although strictly speaking vegans should not wear fur or leather or really partake in any activity which involves the use of animals.
Why do people hold such a position?
- Health reasons
- unable to eat meat
- health benefits
- Ethical reasons
- animal welfare
- environmental sustenance
The Poverty of Veganism
It seems to me that veganism in its absolute form is an irrational position.
While theoretically you could have an adverse reaction to a component found in some meats, it's virtually unheard of to be unable to eat any kind of meat whatsoever. This, then, is not a real reason to be a vegan by itself; there must be some other reason why a person is vegan beyond this unless a person is literally unable to consume all meat.
Humans have been eating meat far longer than the species we now call Homo sapiens even existed. Our bodies have evolved specifically to be able to digest a wide range of foods, meat among them. It has yet to be shown that a purely plant-based diet is healthier than a mixed diet; in fact, in many reports have suggested that purely vegan diets can be very low in iron, vitamin B12, and other crucial nutrients.
What I'm really interested in, however, are the ethical reasons behind going vegan. People who are vegans for ethical reasons are this way generally for two reasons:
Some people are vegans because they are concerns about the welfare of animals. Animals which are raised in hellish conditions, with little room to move, subject to cruel containment practices (debeaking, electric prodding, etc), and slaughtered in an inhumane way. All of the above is absolutely true; animals are treated terribly, they lead short, painful lives, and a ruthlessly slaughtered day in and day out. It's not a great existence. However, people who are vegan for reasons of animal welfare should not participate or condone any activity which at some point along a chain of events has made the life of an animal suffer. Taken even one step back, this is impossible. What if someone's wheat and barely is sowed by an ox? It seems to me that a an ethical vegan should not eat that wheat, because an animal was forced into labor to harvest it.
What about animals who are treated nicely? What if that ox is only kindly guided along the field, with love and care, and leads a happy life. It should then be okay to eat the wheat. At the same time, what if that happy ox dies of natural causes; is it okay to eat its meat? It seems to me that in cases like this vegans should be okay with eating meat or wearing animal products because the welfare of the animal is not a concern. I can conceive of perhaps 1 reason why they would still not want to wear ox leather—because it might encourage others to do the same who otherwise wouldn't have the luxury of having an ox die peacefully in their backyard and made into a jacket. But still, eating it should not be a concern...
Environmental vegans reject the use of animal products on the premise that the industrial practice is environmentally damaging and unsustainable. Specifically, meat-based diets consume more resources and causes more environmental damage. This is not actually true (1)(2), but let's just say it is anyways for the sake of argument (it's irrelevant to my position).
Even if this is true, people who are vegans for either of the above ethical reasons should not do anything that involves the use of an animal. The iphone in their hand was made by a factory worker who probably had lamb chops or chicken noodle soup one of these nights. By purchasing the iphone, the vegan is contributing to that workers pay and therefore condoning his treatment of animals (i.e. his eating habits). It would be no different than directly paying the factory-farms which slaughter animals, in principle. My point here is that there seems to be an infinite web of interconnectedness among things involving the use of animals, and it is virtually impossible to do anything which wasn't in some way affected by animals. As an ethical practice, veganism seems to be impossible to follow.