Friday, January 11, 2008

Vegetarian Humor

 
Today after class we were having a wide-ranging discussion about all kinds of issues when one of my students announced that she was a vegan. She claimed that all us meat-eaters were ignoring the slaughter of animals required to justify our habit.

I retorted with the standard reply that she was conveniently ignoring all the plants that had to die for her. Her response caught me off-guard—it was new to me but may be old hat to you. Anyway, she said, "I'm not vegan because I love animals, I'm a vegan because I hate plants!"

The original quote is ...
I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.

                                             A. Whitney Brown
I like it. From now on I'll say that I'm an omnivore because I hate all living things!






The photo honors National Meatloaf Appreciation Day. At least one animal, and several plants, were seriously injured during the making of this photo.

23 comments :

  1. Actually, I would think that vegetarians are responsible for fewer plant deaths than omnivores - just think of all the plants that cattle, poultry and such eat before they trundle off to the abattoir (i.e. the 10% efficiency through each step of the food chain).

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  2. Mmm... Cute response on your part, but disingenuous. Do you really imagine that eating animals which eat plants results in a net decrease in the amount of plants consumed? Come on.

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  3. Protein is necessary for brain development.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060905225522.htm

    One gets a higher concentration of protein in animal products than in vegetable.

    I remember reading something about how homo sapiens developed brain capacity because of their reliance on meat. Sorry, I have lost the reference.

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  4. I'm not an omnivore, I'm an oppotunivore. If it comes near me, and it's edible, I'll eat it.

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  5. Ned did you actually read the article? It doesn't really support your later statements.

    Regardless of what you eat, factory farming is an abomination.

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  6. Nickel says,

    Regardless of what you eat, factory farming is an abomination.

    Why is growing tomatoes in a greenhouse an abomination?

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  7. @ned - yes, protein is necessary for brain development (as well as developing the rest of our body). So what? A lot of things are necessary for proper development.

    If a little bit is good, it doesn't mean that a lot must be better. We only need a certain percentage of our calories from proteins, any more is converted to sugars and fatty acid. I have read (but am not up to date with current research) that excess protein intake reduces the level of calcium in our bodies and so can lead to bone deterioration, actively harming us.

    It is perfectly possible to take in all the proteins and nutrients we need from vegetable sources.

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  8. Tyro asks,

    Do you really imagine that eating animals which eat plants results in a net decrease in the amount of plants consumed?

    No, I do not believe that. Why do you ask?

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  9. For those in the, "but I love animals so much!" camp--while they may be "saving" cows and sheep and chickens, they *are* responsible for the killing and/or harming of boatloads of other "animals". Earthworms and insects die either through plowing or insecticides (organic or otherwise); prairie dogs are moved or exterminated, moles and other earthworm eaters face the loss of their chosen diet as do the insect eaters (not to mention the havoc insecticides have caused to insect eaters and those who eat insect eaters--DDT and eagles, anyone?). They may love animals, but they seem to prefer them cute, cuddly and familiar, not less familiar and/or 6-legged or no-legged.

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  10. @Corbie - "They may love animals, but they seem to prefer them cute, cuddly and familiar, not less familiar and/or 6-legged or no-legged."

    On the assumption you're ignorant of some basic facts, farm animals eat plants and over 90% of farm crops are fed to livestock. The way to save the lives of these less familiar animals is to save the lives of these "cute, cuddly and familiar" animals.

    @Larry Moran - your joke retort that the vegetarian was "ignoring all the plants that had to die for her" isn't true since the plants that livestock animals consume per unit of calories/protein is an order of magnitude larger than if we consume the plants directly.

    While that wisecrack sounds witty, it says nothing about the ignorance of vegetarians but instead relies on people ignoring how livestock are fed.

    I guess it was meant as a joke, but with some introspection it backfires and makes the joke-teller look foolish. I am just surprised that you'd tell it since it's the sort of cute-sounding but irrational thing you dislike so much in other contexts.

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  11. Tyro says,

    ... your joke retort that the vegetarian was "ignoring all the plants that had to die for her" isn't true since the plants that livestock animals consume per unit of calories/protein is an order of magnitude larger than if we consume the plants directly.

    While that wisecrack sounds witty, it says nothing about the ignorance of vegetarians but instead relies on people ignoring how livestock are fed.

    I guess it was meant as a joke, but with some introspection it backfires and makes the joke-teller look foolish. I am just surprised that you'd tell it since it's the sort of cute-sounding but irrational thing you dislike so much in other contexts.


    My comment wasn't meant as a joke. I'm annoyed at those people who put a high value on animal life but don't care about other kinds of life.

    That's irrational. In my experience, most vegetarians who use that argument do so without ever giving any justification for it.

    Why would someone be so opposed to eating a bowl of mussels but happy to devour carrots? Why would someone be against eating eggs but not oranges? Why is it wrong to catch a fish and eat it but not to dig up truffles?

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  12. nickel, "Regardless of what you eat, factory farming is an abomination."

    And what does that have to do with anything?

    You might as well say that factory farming of potatoes is an abomination. Which it is in fact.

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  13. @Larry - I'm a vegetarian and you're right that I don't generally give much justification. Not because I don't have one, but because I don't like getting into big moral discussions at the dinner table, especially since any answer I give is going to come across as condemning others. Not good table manners :)

    "I'm annoyed at those people who put a high value on animal life but don't care about other kinds of life."

    Well, as I said, if you do care about plant life, the best way to preserve it is by adopting a vegetarian diet. If your comment wasn't a joke, then I really don't understand your reasoning. Animals eat plants, a lot of plants. Over 90% of the crops grown are fed to livestock where it is inefficiently converted to meat and fat. If a person really believed that plant life was valuable, then they would be compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. This isn't controversial stuff here, you must know it.

    Where is the disconnect here?


    "Why would someone be so opposed to eating a bowl of mussels but happy to devour carrots? Why would someone be against eating eggs but not oranges? Why is it wrong to catch a fish and eat it but not to dig up truffles?"

    Mmm... Sounds like a disingenuous starting point to me. If the world no longer ate any cows, pigs, chickens or fish and instead moved to mussels then I'd bet almost all vegetarians would be ecstatic. When you ask a vegetarian what their biggest concerns are, I doubt it is for mussels.

    Eggs and fish are another matter, but still you find vegetarians who would eat eggs and some who would eat fish. Opinion is on a continuum, as are most moral questions. Still, by ignoring the biggest offenders, this is practically shouting "strawman", else why not deal with the issues head on?

    For myself, I can only say that the conditions factory chickens live in is appalling and I won't contribute to it, and fishing have devastated the ocean ecosystems and the means of killing the fish (suffocation or being crushed by other fish) is excessively cruel, so I also don't contribute. I fail to see how this makes me hypocritical.


    Stepping back from myself, I'd say there are a number of broad reasons why vegetarians do not eat meat:

    1. Because it minimizes suffering and pain. Animals can feel pain and so presumably can suffer. They suffer not just by being killed but in the inhumane living conditions in which they're raised. Even if you try to argue that plants feel pain (never seen reason to accept that), a vegetarian diet dramatically reduces the amount of plants that are harmed, so it's a win on both sides.

    2. Because raising and harvesting so much livestock and fish has severe environmental consequences. This ranges from clearcutting forests to graze cattle, methane and other harmful gasses released into the air, dumping tonnes of animal waste into rivers, keeping animals on antibiotic drips (resulting in antibiotic resistant bacteria), and the destruction of oceanic ecosystems.

    3. Because the excess protein and saturated fats in meat can harm our health. Some people may not do so well on a strictly vegetarian diet, but equally many people thrive so this applies more on an individual basis.


    In each case (save possibly the last), if you start with a harm-reduction point of view, the answer is unambiguous: vegetarianism is superior. It is consistent.


    What exactly is irrational here? You seem to be saying that the way to preserve the lives of plants is to eat animals who eat plants. How rational is that?

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  14. Tyro asks,

    Well, as I said, if you do care about plant life, the best way to preserve it is by adopting a vegetarian diet. If your comment wasn't a joke, then I really don't understand your reasoning. Animals eat plants, a lot of plants. Over 90% of the crops grown are fed to livestock where it is inefficiently converted to meat and fat. If a person really believed that plant life was valuable, then they would be compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. This isn't controversial stuff here, you must know it.

    Where is the disconnect here?


    The disconnect is your assumption that I care about eating plants or animals. I don't.

    I'm simply addressing the hypocrisy of others.

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  15. @Larry - "The disconnect is your assumption that I care about eating plants or animals. I don't.

    I'm simply addressing the hypocrisy of others."


    Sorry if I implied that I assumed anything about your morals. I didn't, and I think it's irrelevant. I have always been talking about your claims of hypocrisy.

    As I've said a few times already, vegetarianism isn't hypocritical, even if you imagine that plants suffer. It results in the least harm to the least number of organisms - plants and animals. Where's the hypocrisy?


    If you understood that animals eat plants and inefficiently converted them to meat, I can't imagine how you could support any charge of hypocrisy.

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  16. Tyro says,

    As I've said a few times already, vegetarianism isn't hypocritical, even if you imagine that plants suffer. It results in the least harm to the least number of organisms - plants and animals. Where's the hypocrisy?

    You can't be serious.

    When's the last time you saw vegetarians getting all teary-eyed over the plants they were forced to eat in order to survive?

    When's the last time you saw groups of vegetarians marching to protest the killing of flowers for flower shops?

    When have you ever seen vegetarians throwing themselves in front of machines collecting corn for ethanol production?

    How many vegetarians are fundamentally opposed to drinking alcohol because of all the plants that are killed?

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  17. @Larry Moran - that's a separate matter. I think there are good reasons to care more about the suffering of animals with nervous systems and the capabilities to feel pain than organisms which cannot suffer. Has this really never crossed your mind before? Whether you agree or not, are you really totally blind to the possibility that other people might rationally believe that suffering is bad, and the potential for suffering correlates with the development of a nervous system?

    Agree or not, the fact remains that it's a perfectly consistent moral stance, so it is not hypocritical.

    And for the fifth time, if a person did care about the life of all organisms equally, vegetarianism would still be the only consistent moral stance short of suicide!

    "When's the last time you saw vegetarians getting all teary-eyed over the plants they were forced to eat in order to survive?

    When's the last time you saw groups of vegetarians marching to protest the killing of flowers for flower shops?"


    It sounds like you're attacking some fantasy Greenpeace parody and not vegetarianism.

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  18. tyro asks,

    Whether you agree or not, are you really totally blind to the possibility that other people might rationally believe that suffering is bad, and the potential for suffering correlates with the development of a nervous system?

    I am not blind to the fact that some people think that way. Whether it's rational is another matter.

    More importantly, how people choose to act on their beliefs can be separated from the beliefs themselves. For example, if the main reason for being a vegetarian is because one doesn't like to see animals suffer then one should have no qualms about eating cows that die of natural causes, right?

    And eating eggs should be okay since eggs don't have a nervous system.

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  19. @Larry - "Whether it's rational is another matter."

    Agreed.

    "For example, if the main reason for being a vegetarian is because one doesn't like to see animals suffer then one should have no qualms about eating cows that die of natural causes, right?"

    If that's the only reason you're a vegetarian, then I somewhat agree but with a caveat. If it ever became legal and healthy to sell "downer" cows, then I think it's still worth asking about the consequences of your actions. Are you taking the place of someone who will then order a slaughterhouse cow?

    If we lived in a very different world without factory farming, then you would be absolutely correct.


    "And eating eggs should be okay since eggs don't have a nervous system."

    No but the chickens who lay them do have a nervous system and it's worth understanding how they are raised.

    It's the question of "Blood Diamonds" or dealing arms, the diamonds and guns don't have a nervous system, but our actions have consequences beyond the immediate transaction.

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  20. @ Tyro

    Assuming that you're ignorant about me (which, you know, how else could you be?), you're unaware that I have lived my whole life surrounded by dairy farms. My first job was working at one. I would certainly hope that dairy cattle consume more than I do considering our differences in body weight. My point, which you seem to have missed, is that the usual argument I get from vegetarians (and before you can make another assumption, yes, I do in fact know a number of vegetarians and vegans) is that they do not eat meat because they love animals. If it is pointed out that eating nothing but grains and/or vegetables also results in the deaths or displacement of animals, it's waived off as unimportant. Thus my assumption that those folks (and please note that nowhere did I say "all vegetarians"; I specifically used the "I love animals!" arguers.) prefer their critters fluffy, large-eyed and four-legged and don't give much of a rat's patootie about those who are 6 or 8-legged, compound-eyed or those fluffy, but less cute or inclined to leave big dirt mounds or holes in your yard, animals.

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  21. @Corbie - I don't think you addressed my point though, that eating crops directly instead of feeding crops to livestock and then eating the livestock results in far more harm.

    I think you've raised a few points. Please correct me if I passed over some.

    1. Raising & harvesting crops also kills or displaces animals. Any diet by any animal anywhere will have this effect. Unless you're advocating mass suicide, this can't be avoided. The question really becomes which diet minimizes our impact, and a vegetarian diet (or vegan) has an order of magnitude lower impact than one with meat.

    2. Vegetarians don't eat meat because they love animals. Some might. Even though this is a more emotional argument rather than rational, it doesn't mean they're wrong. Whether by design or accident, a vegetarian diet requires far less crop land, and so results in far fewer killed or displaced animals. See point 1.

    3. Emotional vegetarians don't value all life equally. So? Who does? And I don't see why anyone should. Maybe you've decided that the lives of beetles are just as precious as the lives of a chimp or a human, and you'd rather beat your neighbour's dog to death than let it kill three ants, but that doesn't mean you are right and they're wrong.



    You also implied that the larger amount of food consumed by dairy cows is explained by their greater size. Partly, but that's not the question. It's not how much they eat, but how many calories & nutrients they consume is converted into calories & nutrients which we can consume. The answer is, unfortunately, not much. About 90% of the calories & nutrients they consume doesn't make it to meat or milk. If we feed crops to dairy or meat cattle instead of eating the crops directly, we have to grow ten times as much. This wasn't a problem when the cattle graze on marginal land which can't support crops or eat the chaff, but that's not what happens in our world.

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  22. Protein is necessary but it is not something you ingest, it´s created in our body by the digest and assimilation proccess from amino acids, you can have protein from vegetables, actualy animal protein is the worst for human body... plants are living things but they have no brain, no emotions (even though animalic), no face, they are living things for one reason: to fill the human body needs for fresh and minerals. dead bodies can supply human body with that.

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