Vegans and vegetarians, how often do we hear this question?
“what would the vegetarian utopia look like? And would anyone seriously want to live there? How would vegetarians set about dismantling the mixed farming system? What would happen to all the farm animals?” (says the man who is dishonest with his child)
What are your answers? What does your veg*n utopia look like? If not utopia, how about simply a veg*n world, what would that look like?
In the meantime, here are mine…
Generally, people who ask the above question are looking for loopholes. They’re looking for an excuse to remain omnivorous. If they can’t imagine something, it must not exist. If it can’t be done their way, it’s not worth doing. But let’s just pretend the questioner has good intentions and is honestly curious. Here’s what I would say:
Hypothetical philosophical scenarios are not necessarily relevant to the real world. Their usefulness is in deriving basic principles and developing theory, not in deciding on concrete action. Do not use implausible hypothetical scenarios to base your moral decisions.
Utopias are fantasies. They are helpful for the creation of guiding principles or visualizing an end goal so that we may work towards that goal as much as possible. But practically speaking, there will always be some evil in the world. Our task is to try to create a world that limits that evil. We ought to limit this evil as much as possible.
The wholly unnecessary breeding, raising, and slaughtering of animals for food is part of that evil. It’s unjustified cruelty. Meat-eating is not necessary for human health. The only rational reason to eat meat is because it tastes good and when compared to the amount of suffering to the animal as well as the health and environmental consequences, the taste justification is insufficient. Meat-eating is a morally bankrupt behavior.
We can’t control the world, but we can control our own actions. We all have choices and most of us can choose to go vegan. We can make that choice for ourselves right now. We don’t need to worry about what would happen if everyone else made the same choice at the same time because that’s highly unlikely.
As more and more of us choose to go vegan, the demand for animal products may decrease. If this happens, the transition from an omnivorous society to a vegan society will be so gradual that the animal agriculture industries will have ample time to adjust. They can change direction and start producing non-animal products that are more profitable.
However, even though vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, so is meat-eating. People who don’t choose to go vegan are “choosing” to eat more and more animal products, if you can call it a free choice. Omnivores who have never lived even a month or two as a vegan or vegetarian can’t be said to be making a “free choice.” They haven’t explored the other options. They are merely repeating habitual behaviors without critical thought. They are not free. Until vegetarian and vegan options are as readily accessible as nonveg*n options, no omnivore is making an entirely “free” choice to remain an omnivore.
A more likely scenario for the meat industry than a “tipping point” where everyone goes vegan all at once is a situation akin to the tobacco companies’ current situation. While more and more people quit smoking everyday (through choice or through death) the industry continues to create demand for the product through intensive marketing. Already, that’s exactly what the meat industry does.
THEY are the ones making this transition more difficult. Instead of allowing the market to work ‘naturally’ and letting the decreased demand for animal products change the food economy, the industry, with the help of government subsidies, artificially inflates the demand with low prices and acculturation, such as feeding school children meat and dairy at EVERY school lunch.
So think about it. Could our economy survive without tobacco? Of course it could. Could we convert the land used for tobacco farms into something else without significant detriment to humankind? Of course we could. Does it make sense from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint? Of course it does.
The same is true for the meat industries. Our economy could survive without the meat industry. People currently employed raising and killing animals could instead grow vegetables, build computers, or clean solar panels among other things. The land used for farming animals could be used for other purposes, such as hydroponic gardening, alternative energy production, or a computer game factory. The possibilities are endless. Does it make sense to end animal agriculture from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint? Of course it does. And it most certainly does from an ethical standpoint.
However, the ethical imperative to destroy the meat industry is stronger than the imperative to destroy the tobacco industry. Smoking, though addictive and detrimental to human health, is still a choice that for the most part only directly and intentionally harms the person who has made the choice to smoke. Eating meat, on the otherhand, directly and intentionally harms not only the meat-eater, but also the animals, the people paid to kill the animals, and others (source).
And about the farm animals… With careful planning, we could easily avoid ethical, environmental, and economical disasters. But it all starts with you. What are YOU going to do to try to make the vegan utopia a reality?