I have lost track of the number of debates I have had since becoming vegan several years ago. Having spent the previous years of my life as a non-vegan in a non-animal-friendly industry surrounded by meat eaters, you can imagine the number of conversations that were had. The protein deficiency, the B12, the personal choice. We all know all the excuses. Some are born of ignorance, others out of the pure conviction that eating and abusing animals is absolutely fine.

I grow tired of pointing out the inconsistencies in their arguments –how they can love their pets yet happily eat lamb or beef for their Sunday roast, or how they can marvel at the intelligence of dolphins yet sponsor the imprisonment of pigs for their entire lives, be inspired by the magnificence of the plumage worn by a Bird of Paradise and also by the style afforded by a fox-fur coat. I grow tired of dragging out the same science and explaining it and then listening to yet another excuse to get around that.

But to examine these defences from a philosophical standpoint, only one makes logical –and troubling –sense. Remember of course, that all the points I have mentioned above as arguments against veganism have been debunked:

We have scientifically obtained empirical proof that it is possible to live and thrive on a vegan diet.

We have proved that vegan food is just as palatable –if not more so –than a meat diet.

We have even gone to the trouble of creating meat substitutes almost indistinguishable from the ‘real thing’.

When we consider these points, there is only one statement that makes logical sense that can be made in defence of eating meat:

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“I eat meat because I want to”.

No science backs up the decision, no planetary benefits, no health benefits that survive scrutiny, and no arguments about lack of sentience or feelings. I eat meat because I want to eat it.

Perhaps at face value, this might seem like an easy exit for a consumer of animal products from a tricky argument: ‘Well I like eating this way so that’s it.’ But to unpack this a little –as we should, given that it is the only argument that can be made without being instantly disproved –has disturbing implications. Here we have an activity that has been repeatedly proven to be detrimental to health, that has had viable and beneficial alternatives found to it and causes immense suffering to millions of sentient creatures every month, and yet you continue doing it because you want to???

If then, you use this reasoning to justify the continued abuse of animals, can I use it to justify any activities I might suddenly want to do? What else might we ‘want to do in the future for no other reason than because it pleases us? It seems ludicrous to think of justifying any other harmful activity or crime on earth in this way, and yet, when all other arguments and reasoning are exhausted, it is the excuse fallen back on time and time again. It is the unspoken reason lurking not only behind the slaughterhouse doors but swirling in every lick of flame in the Amazon, every puff of smoke as the bulldozers open another rare-element strip mine, every blast of the hunting horn, every buzz of the fishing reel, every roar of the coal furnace. It is the most terrifying excuse of all because it cannot be disproved.

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When someone says ‘I am aware of all the negatives and yet I choose to continue for my own gratification and personal enjoyment’ it means they have chosen to listen to that little voice inside –the insidious, narcissistic streak that we all have –and given it leave to command them; chosen to ignore the sense of empathy we all desperately need to cultivate and instead given in to the temptations of personal pleasure.

Of course, this happens on different levels for different people and we are doubtless all guilty of such reasoning in other areas of life to some extent or another, but we are entering a time where the continued abuse and consumption of animals and the destruction of their habitat and the natural world can be put down to little else. We have access to too much information to claim ignorance about these issues. The science is clear, there is no room left to say that you weren’t aware, and the time is coming when you will be forced to make these choices in the open as the continued options for a vegan diet and lifestyle become more and more affordable and appealing and the damage caused by the meat industry becomes more and more publicly apparent.

That is not to say, however, that all who use this reasoning are in some way to be seen as ‘the enemy’ or inherently evil. Many make this choice subconsciously and it is for this reason that continued outreach, education and ever-improving vegan choices are so essential. Sadly though, the further up the heights of power we look, the more evidence there is that those at the top (and therefore with the greatest capacities for decision-making and propaganda distribution) are making this choice consciously, particularly when it comes to large-scale benefits (and therefore destruction).

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We need to address this by looking not only at those around us with whom we can engage in immediate conversation but by looking to create a new set of values for our societies. Ones which will finally quiet the little voice inside which can only say ‘more’. It is becoming so abundantly apparent that the abuses inflicted by us on the natural world are tied so closely to our collective psyche of capitalist growth and endless personal gain that it is only by going back and re-examining the very roots of our culture that we are going to change permanently for the better.

Phil Hatfield
Phil Hatfield is a part-time writer and committed vegan and animal rights advocate based in Cornwall, UK. He is a long-time student of philosophy, psychology and ethics, with his primary interest being the way we interact with the world around us and the morals, we use to guide and structure our lives.