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Helmut F. Kaplan: Paths to VeganismIf you want vegans, promote vegetarianism
Over the last twenty years, I have dealt with the moral significance of a vegetarian and a vegan lifestyle in about as many texts, trying to become clear on this issue myself and to convey my conclusions to my readers. I failed miserably at the latter. This might be because of the following two reasons:
First: The way the question of the moral significance of vegetarianism and veganism is thematized and answered depends largely on one’s own ethical position. If you are a “deontologist,” you ponder if an action is correct IN ITSELF, independent of its consequences. If you are a “consequentialist,” you believe that it is PRECISELY the consequences of an action that matter. Not being aware or not wanting to be aware of this fundamental theoretical question is naturally not exactly conducive to a fruitful debate.
Second: Vegetarianism/veganism is a topic that is so emotionally loaded that even the QUESTIONS brought up are hardly taken note of, let alone discussed in a sober and rational manner. So I turned to mostly to discussing the following question:
What is the best strategy IN DEALING WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC - i.e. meat eaters — to come closer to the goal of a vegan society?
The responses I got were almost exclusively to another question: To which diet am I, Helmut F. Kaplan, morally obligated?
In the light of this history, and these problems, I will try deal with the question vegetarian or vegan on an (almost) strictly factual level:
Economic and psychological facts
The commercial use of animals practically ALWAYS implies the ABUSE of animals, because today’s ubiquitous commercial-mindedness automatically leads to their exploitation. The animal industries form a tightly interlocking, fully integrated system designed to maximize economical gains — in which meat production stands at the center: Almost all animals, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE BEING USED, end up BEING EATEN.
General VEGETARIAN advocacy has comparably good chances to be successful, because the reasons for doing without meat do not only make sense on an ethical and rational level (or can be presented in a way that they make sense), but are also comprehensible on the practical level of “everyday life”: It becomes immediately clear that the chicken or pig that I am eating now had to be killed for me earlier. And it is also relatively easy to imagine that in future I will be eating a cheese sandwich instead of a ham sandwich.
But with VEGANISM everything becomes more complicated, less straightforward — and harder to accept: That the milk in my cheese comes from an animal who is being tortured and eventually will be taken to the slaughterhouse is a harder connection to make than that the animal whose flesh I am eating now had to be killed for me earlier. And that in the future I should eat neither a ham NOR a cheese sandwich seems almost inconceivable. We must not forget (what is almost always overlooked by advocates of veganism): Dropping the meat habit, i.e. adopting a VEGETARIAN lifestyle, is already a very, very big step for the vast majority of people — if not a “courageous” one!
Optimally, people can be led to become vegetarian, but usually they have to become vegan by themselves. The step from vegetarian to vegan takes place in silence, in privacy - but as a rule only if one prerequisite is met: The people concerned refrain from eating meat for ETHICAL reasons. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to lead people to an ethically motivated vegetarianism.
In the following I will evaluate in a matter-of-fact and emotionless way which consequences will result from which strategies at this specific historical point in time (2010):
Vegetarian policies create vegetarians AND vegans
There is a clear connection between (morally motivated) vegetarianism and veganism, even though it is not a stringent one. Vegetarianism functions as a sort of prerequisite for veganism. Almost all vegans were vegetarians first; almost no meat eaters become vegans in a single step. It is relatively easy for a vegetarian to go vegan, but it is hardly ever the case for a meat eater. Therefore, every step toward vegetarianism is at the same time a potential step toward veganism. In short, anyone who promotes vegetarianism is simultaneously promoting veganism.
This applies to the economic realm accordingly: A noticeable impetus toward a vegetarian society sets off a process with its own dynamics that moves society toward veganism. As I said, the different forms of animal utilization form a tightly interlocked integrated system of which the most important component is meat production. With the crumbling away of its most important element, meat production, due to a continous trend toward vegetarianism, the entire system will become less profitable and will gradually disappear. In conclusion: If we succeed in the vegetarianization of society, we will get its veganization as a bonus.
Vegan policies create NEITHER vegans NOR vegetarians
Attempting to turn “ordinary” people, i.e. meat eaters, into vegans at this point in time is not just futile but downright harmful. Not only do we fail to create new vegans, we even PREVENT people from becoming vegetarian! Even people who might be ready to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle will turn their backs on us if we tell them: “You see, dear folks, actually the situation is such: even if you stop eating meat now, you’re still not doing nearly enough.” A potential vegetarian that has been “educated” in this way will immediately “shut down” emotionally and intellectually, will continue to eat meat, and will turn a deaf ear to further efforts to convince him or her to stop eating meat for a long time (if not forever).
Of course, we should also campaign for veganism. But only when there is a realistic chance of producing vegans — and not when we risk preventing people from becoming vegetarians.