I’ve been meaning to tackle this post for weeks now, but I think I may have (intentionally?) let it get lost in all of the holiday madness. Truthfully, I’ve been dragging my feet just a little bit, for several reasons. While the questions I’m going to answer today will likely have much shorter replies than the other posts in this series did (as evidenced by the miscellaneous jumble), that’s not what’s making me procrastinate. What is? Well, quite frankly, some of these questions are…stupid.
I almost always get the feeling that they’re not being asked in a real and truly inquisitive way. Not in an “I have a serious concern, what are your thoughts?” kind of way. More often than not, they’re posed in a condescending tone; anger and defensiveness are pretty common, too. Or like this particular question will give me great pause (hey, why didn’t I think of that?) and somehow dismantle all of my deeply rooted values and ethics in an instant. Perhaps this will even be the one great question that will finally destroy the authenticity of a vegan lifestyle once and for all. So, for the most part, I don’t take these questions all that seriously (hence the derogatory label of stupid), especially considering the manner in which they’re generally asked.
However, I have personally been asked many of the questions I’ll tackle in the next two (or three) posts. And not always by someone taking a cruel jab or (over)reacting in a defensive manner, but as actual thoughts to ponder. Honest questions looking for honest answers–asked in friendship and mutual respect. So in honor of the 1% who I think take these questions seriously, here are my thoughts. As always, these answers reflect my opinions only and in no way attempt to answer for all ethical vegans. As with any other group, we are a motley crew. Ready? Because I’m done dragging my feet now…
Why do you care only about the animals and not about the people?
I was completely caught off guard when this question was posed to me. Like, completely. Not only because it was done in such a derogatory tone, but because this person knows me. And until this specific conversation, they had never bothered to ask me what I do (or don’t do) for “the people,” but had still somehow come to the conclusion that it was nothing.
Had they asked (prior to the unspoken accusation), my answer would have been that I do a lot for the people. We’ll start with the fact that I don’t eat them (joking…kind of). But seriously, I regularly donate and support multiple organizations whose sole purpose is to help human beings. Groups like Kiva, Women for Women International, ACLU, IRIS, Knit-a-Square, Self-Realization Fellowship. Riley Mae and I make dolls for charity. A portion of my weekly grocery money is allotted for food donations to our local food bank.
I do care about humans–a lot. But at the same time, I also care about our planet. And I definitely care about the animals that inhabit it with us. My strong stance for animal rights doesn’t negate my strong stance for human rights or environmental rights. And the fact of the matter is, living a vegan lifestyle–all by itself–helps other humans in many grave and important ways.
I’m going to throw some numbers at you right now to substantiate this point; these statistics are based off of my having been vegan for the past ten+ years. They’re so impressive that they even caught me by surprise.
- 4,015,000 gallons of water saved
- 146,000 pounds of grain saved
- 109,500 sq. ft of forest saved
- 73,000 pounds of CO2 saved
All of those big and beautiful numbers? They help people. And even if I did nothing else, and supported no other organizations, I would argue that veganism does more than enough helping all on its own. I personally, and some would say idealistically, feel that if humans were to spontaneously go vegan it would remedy massive and enormous problems of humanity. Food would be available for the starving, the planet could recover from the relentless onslaught of animal agriculture, and obviously the animals would be freed from the cruel clutches of human greed.
So my official answer is: I care about both the humans and the animals. And my life reflects exactly that.
(Not noted in the statistics above: 3,650 animal lives saved.)
Why don’t you care about the plants that you’re killing? Maybe they feel pain, too.
I actually do care about the fact that plants have to die so that I can live. It’s one of the terrible truths to my existence that something has to perish in order for me to survive. But since the hard-to-swallow truth is that I need to eat, I have to ask myself where I can do the least amount of harm. I know, unequivocally, that animals feel pain. And I know, unequivocally, that their deaths are riddled with it. But do plants feel pain, too? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a hundred times.
I’m going to differ here from almost every vegan I’ve ever seen answer this question because I can’t (and won’t) say with 100% certainty that plants don’t feel pain. How can I know this? I’m not a plant. The question is often met with derisiveness (and easily dismissed) by vegans, and with good reason. It’s one of “those” questions asked only to put vegans on the spot–as if I haven’t already considered this particular quandary. It’s also a weak attempt to cast doubt on our general belief that we should do no harm, because after all, we’re harming plants. But if the question is meant to somehow invalidate the vegan stance that the animals shouldn’t suffer (by making us hypocrites), then it fails. I know animals shouldn’t suffer because I know that they can. And do. But can the same be said for plants?
The conventional response to this question is that plants do not have a central nervous system, and are thus incapable of feeling pain. It seems simple and clear-cut enough until I think about all of the ways we’ve been wrong in the past. Simply because we don’t currently know or understand something doesn’t make it any less real. Our not knowing doesn’t negate it’s existence. (Molecules existed long before we could prove it.) What if plants have such a highly developed system that they have no need for a “simple” nervous system? What if there are levels of understanding that we have no concept of yet? (I ask this like it isn’t exactly true. How many things do we now know exist that would have seemed unbelievable to someone 3000 years ago? 300 years ago?)
So while I can’t say definitively that plants don’t feel pain (reading about the Indian scientist J.C. Bose gave me great pause), I turn the question back on myself and ask, but what if they do?
If they do, a vegan diet is still the avenue to cause the least amount of harm. Yes, to the plants.
That beef burger (cow) required massive amounts of grains and greens to produce, way more massive than would be needed to feed a single human being. So by eating the burger I’m not only causing pain to the animal, but also to the plants that it consumed (going on the premise that plants are indeed capable of experiencing pain). Eating a vegan diet eliminates the suffering of the animal, and greatly reduces the number of plant deaths. Currently, it’s the best I can do. If someone could just teach me how to live off of sunshine then I’d be one very happy lady.
According to Peta:
The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth.
Those calories come from plants. Lots and lots of plants. And that’s taking only the cattle industry into consideration; humans eat a lot more than cows.
So my official answer is: I do care about the plants. And in a weird twist of fate, a vegan diet causes the death of far fewer plants than an omnivorous one does. And one day, if I can know a better way, then I will do a better way.
Is a vegan diet more expensive?
This doesn’t actually fall into the “stupid” category, but since I can’t fill an entire post with my answer, I’ll tackle it here. Is eating a vegan diet expensive? For me? Yes. Is it more expensive (in general)? I think it’s safe to say definitely not.
This is kind of a tricky one for me to answer, not based on the food, but based on my choices. Because if I were eating an omnivorous diet, it would be much more expensive than the norm, too. My proportionately large expenditure on groceries can be easily traced back to my avoidance of all processed foods (cheaply made, cheaply sold, and enormously unhealthy), but most importantly, my unwavering belief that organic is best. Period. For the humans and for the planet. And choosing organic over conventional is, unfortunately, still crazy expensive.
So, yes, I spend a lot of money on our food, but living a vegan life isn’t the cause—living an organic one is. I’m pretty sure that legumes are one of the cheapest sources of protein out there, and these make up a substantial part of our diet. Ditto on the grains.
So my official answer is: No. It’s been many years since I purchased meat of any kind, but unless something has changed, beans and rice are still less expensive than a cut of beef.
But didn’t God put animals on the earth for us to eat?
I’m not interested in arguing the Bible with anyone, and will avoid this at all costs. I will say several extremely brief things before I leave this subject gratefully in the dust. I will not be quoting scripture nor will I pretend to be well-versed in the subject; these are simply the thoughts and understandings that I intuitively feel in response to this common question.
First: The God that I know (in my heart) is a God of joy and love and unending compassion. There is nothing, nothing, in the animal industry today that could be labeled as such. And something so contradictory to the essence that I feel is God isn’t, in any way, compatible with my spiritual journey.
Second: Thankfully, times have changed since the days in which the Bible was written. It seems suspiciously convenient to me that we choose which changes we are willing to accept (i.e. we no longer own slaves or deem women as inferior pieces of property–as the accepted rule), and those which we refuse to accept. Apparently the latter are written in stone–for all time. Quite frankly, it boggles my mind. The slavery of animals now is just as appalling and cruel as the slavery of man was.
Third: Thou shalt not kill seems pretty clear to me. As clear as not committing adultery, and I don’t do that, either. Why not? My heart tells me–loud and clear–that God doesn’t approve.
Fourth: Before The Fall, Adam and Eve were given plants and fruits to live on. You know, green stuff. So if they started out as vegan, it seems quite clearly to be the preferable (and spiritually elevated) choice. It was only after we had to go and blatantly disobey God that we found ourselves eating the flesh of other sentient beings. And if sinning was the cause of that, it definitely doesn’t feel like something we should still be embracing.
So my official answer is: No. My heart screams no. And even though eating animals may once have been a necessity, and may still be in parts of the world, it no longer is here. And here is where I am. No part of me believes that animals were placed on this earth to be at the brutal and indifferent mercy of man, most especially considering what the industry has evolved into today.
One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Amen to that.
It’s What I Do
And there it is, Part I is officially done. Feet dragging aside, it wasn’t so bad. In the past, many of these (and upcoming) questions were hurled at me in anger, and meant to be intentionally cutting. I had to make sure as I dove into these answers of mine that my heart was once again open and not still harboring resentment over the attacks. I’m happy to say, it is not. People are where they are, and judging them for that doesn’t do me (or them) any good. So I’ll keep going, and maybe somehow turn these “stupid” questions into valid ones. Optimistic? Well, it’s what I do.
Hoping that your week is a joyful one. Much love ~ Melinda
For more in my Vegan Q&A series, please visit here.