Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in The Ethics of What We Eat (pages 255, 256), say that objecting to the idea of killing young healthy farm animals for food:
…leads many people to become vegetarian, while continuing to eat eggs and dairy products. But it is not possible to produce laying hens without also producing male chickens, and since these male chicks have no commercial value, they are invariably killed as soon as they have been sexed. The laying hens themselves will be killed once their rate of laying declines. In the dairy industry much of the same thing happens—the male calves are killed immediately or raised for veal, and the cows are turned into hamburger long before normal old age. So rejecting the killing of animals points to a vegan, rather than a vegetarian diet.
I’m not fond of labels but I would say now that I’m asymptotically approaching veganism, that I am moving towards a plant-based diet. I’m largely there but 100%, all the time?
There’s the “low-hanging fruit” like meat. Then dairy and eggs.
Yet there are shades of grey.
I have shoes with leather uppers that I purchased before my thinking changed. Should I discard them? Will that help the animal now? No. Will I buy shoes with leather uppers in future. No.
Do you care about herd immunity? You should. Will you get the yearly flu vaccine to protect the vulnerable in our society as well as yourself? Eggs are used in the process of making the flu vaccine. Having the flu vaccine involves a compromise. In part 5, I referred to Australian research that aims to reduce the ethical dilemma by determining sex before hatching.
On the subject of vaccines, fetal bovine serum may be used instead of non-animal derived alternatives in vaccine production. The RSPCA says that where a synthetic serum or a non-animal derived alternative exists, they must be used instead of the animal-derived product.
The extent to which alternatives are used is something I want to discover more about, but: vaccination matters people! Imagine smallpox making a comeback.
Of course, as the recent outbreak of African Swine Fever in Chinese factory farmed pig populations shows, when a large outbreak of disease in animals occurs, they are “destroyed”. I don’t think that would fly with human disease outbreaks.
Do you use a sweetener in your coffee? Does it contain lactose? Some do and some don’t.
Do you drink almond milk or otherwise consume almonds? How are the flowers of almond (and other) trees pollinated? By bees. Is this a natural process? Do the bees just fly in and out of the orchard, or are they brought there, in man-made hives? If the latter, although less harmful than taking their honey, it’s arguably still a form of exploitation. Is that enough to make you stop drinking almond milk? If not, you made a compromise.
We recently had a turkey in the freezer with a long expiry date that had not yet been eaten. Would the “right action” have been to not consume it? If so, wouldn’t that have been a waste and wouldn’t that mean the turkey’s demise was pointless? I think so, therefore we had it last Christmas and were grateful.
Do you drink wine? The fining process often uses animal products (such as milk or eggs), but there are alternatives. Sites like Barnivore will help and obviously you can Google. Wine labels may sometimes say whether they are vegan friendly. More reds than whites seem to be vegan friendly from what I’ve seen so far, but by no means all. Beer is often okay. The main thing is: check if you don’t know.
There are even lighter shades of grey.
If food has been cooked and will be discarded if I don’t eat it, should I eat it?
More subtle, if food is cooked and leftovers would be kept refrigerated, should I eat it since it will be eaten later by someone else anyway. That’s less compelling since any animal based food I choose not to eat will reduce the need/demand for that food.
There are bacteria everywhere, including in what we eat. Fragments of insects may inadvertently end up in our food. I may step on a bunch of ants…
But we have to make a distinction between the foregoing and deliberately enslaving and killing animals, treating them as means to our ends, instead of sentient creatures who, as Moby said in a TED talk, just want to be free of pain and suffering, essentially just want to be happy.
The point is to think. To ask questions. To intend change, to do better. To find alternatives, to say no more often.
It should never be about dogma. That way lies religion and unjustified ideology.