Over the weekend I read a negative piece about vegan diets that claimed, among other things, that vegans are “anti people.” The author noted that we humans are the only ones in a cerebral position to consider matters of food choice—which lends us a certain status. Part of our decision-making, he noted, has to be about where to draw the line. He believed that when we place the rights of animals on a par with the rights of humans, we diminish humanity.
His complaint wasn’t with those who choose vegan diets, but with those who want others to choose veganism. Well, I guess that latter group would include me. But do my attempts to promote vegan diets diminish humanity?
All vegans have heard that silly question: “How do you know that plants don’t suffer when you eat them?” My response is that I don’t know it for an absolute fact. But I do know that humans need to eat plants to survive. I’m in favor of feeding our families in a way that ensures their health and well-being. We must eat plants or we die. On the other hand, we may like to eat meat and eggs and dairy—but we don’t need them to survive. So I can promote the health and welfare of my own species without hurting animals.
My role as a vegan dietitian is to help people understand that vegan diets are nutritionally adequate. I’m not an ethicist. But as someone who counsels about food choices, I feel some obligation to point out all of the impacts that diet has—not just on personal health but on the world around us: animal suffering, the environment, and effects on food availability for the rest of the world. What people do with that information is, of course, up to them.
We do have a certain status in the world because of our ability to think about a host of philosophical issues. We just have to decide whether that status entitles us to do as we please or obligates us to consider the welfare of others. It’s hard to imagine how taking a stand against animal suffering could possibly diminish humanity.