“Eating animals is normal.”

The assumption behind this thinking is that the wisdom of the majority is to be accepted as an ethical justification for continuing an act. However, majorities can and have been wrong. Social attitudes to morality and justice have changed radically – even over the last few decades. If morality is solely determined by mob rule then that would leave us in the difficult position of having to defend some highly questionable moral practices, both historically and in the present day.

We should also keep in mind that ‘normal’ doesn’t happen by itself, many of society’s norms are purposely conditioned into us. It is ‘normal’ for women to be expected to shave their legs, and this norm can be traced directly back to decisions by marketing companies to explicitly represent unshaven legs as unclean and undesirable. Toxic masculinity culture is promoted by the mass media, as is sexist stereotyping and classism. These things have become norms due to successful advertising, but it would be difficult to argue that this alone makes them ethically justified.

We must therefore acknowledge that just because a behaviour is widely practiced does not justify continuing the behaviour. Eating animals is so normal for us in our day-to-day lives and so it is sometimes difficult to reflect on it, but the fact that everyone we know does something does not mean that what they are doing is a good thing. When it comes to our morality, we have to think for ourselves and use our moral compass, rather than relying on majority consensus to determine it for us. Arguing that eating animals is morally justified
because it is normal is not just a poor argument, it is not an argument at all, since what is normal has no relation to what is ethical.

“Eating animals is natural.”

To a certain extent, eating animals can be argued to be natural on the basis that we have evolved to at least be able to process meat. Despite any evidence to the contrary, we can still accept the designation of humans as omnivores and the idea that eating meat is natural, but what comes naturally to us should not in any way inform our ethics.

An overwhelming body of research demonstrates that humans can thrive on a plant-based diet, so while eating meat may well be ’natural,’ this fact alone is ethically irrelevant. Most of us can live a healthy life without any animal products and so the decision to consume them is as open to criticism as any other freely chosen behaviour.

When we point to the existence of canine teeth, the fact that other animals kill animals, or that we can process meat does not in any way support the notion that doing so is ethical. It is beyond doubt that eating animals is within our capacity as humans, but it does not follow that this is the action we should be performing. Murdering other humans to compete for scarce resources and territory was also adepted and well within our capacity, but we now recognise that this behaviour is no longer ethical in the modern world.

The same should be said for the consumption of animal products. We must not forget that we are not discussing hunter-gatherers with bows and arrows, but the industrialised slaughter of billions of animals, most of whom will be pumped with drugs and antibiotics, whose flesh will probably be bought pre-packed from a supermarket. This is about as far from ’natural’ as can be imagined.

The notion that because we are adapted to do something we therefore should do it is absurd. Just because something is natural, it does not make it right, and the appeal to nature is a well-known logical fallacy for this very reason. Most of us are not hunter-gatherers anymore; we live in technologically advanced, industrial societies.

If what is natural is to be the basis of our ethics, then surely we should all be condemning computers, mobile phones, glasses, medication and surgery, too. We cannot simply pick and choose which parts of our natural behaviour to observe and which parts to discard based solely on which of our primal behaviours we would like to be able to justify. This is an argument that is far more about having a convenient approach to ethics than a rational one.

“Eating animals is necessary.”

This justification for eating animals and their by-products is largely based on misinformation and ignorance. Necessities are things that we cannot live without; the existence of humans subsisting on entirely plant-based should be enough to disprove this argument entirely. Plant-based diets are nutritionally adequate and healthy, and most of us can get everything we need from them, so the idea that we ‘cannot live without eating animals is, for most of us, unequivocally false.

As vegans, we do not even need to be able to prove that a vegan diet is healthier than one that includes animal products. If the argument is that eating animals is necessary, to disprove this, the only thing we need to be able to conclusively demonstrate is that humans can be healthy while consuming an entirely plant-based diet, not that doing so is any healthier. With the existence of many vegan athletes at the top of their respective fields, it cannot be disputed that even those with the very highest vitamin and nutrient requirements can subsist on a plant-based diet.

Of course, there will always be anecdotal evidence and well-publicised cases of vegans becoming deficient on a plant-based diet. We should not seek to deny that this happens but rather highlight that this also occurs in diets rich in animal products. The occurrence of deficiency in plant-based eating is not an argument against veganism, it is an argument against insufficient plant-based diets. Animal-free diets can certainly still be unhealthy, just like any diet can- if you eat nothing but vegan junk food you will not be healthy. However, this is not evidence that we require animal products to be healthy.

We do not need to demonstrate that vegan diets are so superior that they guarantee good health, in fact, trying to do this can often be counterproductive. We just need to be able to show that the majority of people can be perfectly healthy without consuming animal products, which clearly, we can.

“Eating animals is a personal choice.”

This is a very commonly quoted statement, used not so much as an attack on veganism but as a personal justification for the consumption of animal products. The reasoning goes that since everyone is entitled to choose their diets, not being vegan is a personal choice, and thus vegans should not seek to ‘impose’ their beliefs on others.

The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes the only person affected by your dietary choices is you. This is the case when it comes to choosing between an apple or an orange, but not so when choosing to consume animal products. This is because, in this decision-making process, the one most affected by the decision is the animal being consumed, yet their needs, preferences, and choices are not taken into account by the person choosing.

Personal choice ceases to be a matter of simple preference when those choices have victims – when they affect other beings. In the case of animal products, it could not be clearer that other beings are directly affected by being held captive, exploited, and killed as a result of our decision to eat them. This argument is not simply a silly, off-hand excuse; it reveals some deeply troubling beliefs. To honestly believe that how you treat animals is simply a ‘personal choice’ is not only claiming that humans matter more than animals, but relies on the idea that animals don’t matter at all.

This entire argument is built on the assumption that animal suffering
doesn’t have to be treated seriously or even considered when making a moral decision, to the point that we can discount their suffering entirely. Plenty of people argue that suffering is permissible in pursuit of taste, tradition, habit, etc. but it is a different thing entirely to argue that suffering doesn’t even need to be considered so long as the victims aren’t human.

The dismissal of all moral criticism under the justification of ’personal choice’ only ever seems to surface where eating animals is concerned; if any human were committing any other harmful action this excuse would be rightly dismissed as the nonsense that it is. For example, if a person decided that they would enjoy watching dog fights, and they arranged a small room in their house for such a purpose, no one would accept the idea that this was their ‘personal choice’ and we should just leave them to it. Diet has no special moral significance over any other form of consumption; if we can condemn a person for trophy hunting or bullfighting then we can certainly condemn them for paying for an animal to be slaughtered on their behalf.

This argument displays not only a lack of understanding as to how personal responsibility works, it also shows a stunning level of ego-centrism. This may seem like simple arrogance but it reveals not only a belief in human superiority over animals but more insidiously, it asserts that animals do not even need to be factored into the equation when making ethical decisions. This way of thinking is completely indefensible for anyone claiming to care about ethics.

“Eating animals is part of our culture/heritage.”

The argument from culture or heritage has been widely used to justify a wide range of societal practices, and eating animals is no exception. This argument asserts that because something is ingrained in a culture or it is what a person was raised to believe, it is morally acceptable as a result. To assess the validity of using culture as an ethical defence for eating animals, it is first necessary to establish what we mean by ’culture.’

Loosely defined, culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. When people use this defence, this is usually the definition they are applying. Even from the point of the definition, an obvious weakness of this argument should become clear. When we say that ‘This is in our culture, all we mean is ’This is how we behave as a group.’ When framed this way and distinguished from the practices which we engage in out of necessity, it is obvious how flawed this defence is.

Essentially what we are saying here is: ‘This is ethically justified because this is the way our society behaves.’ The person making this claim is arguing that eating animals is okay because it is in our culture, and it is in our culture because we eat animals. If we accepted the conclusions of this logic we would be in a position where we could justify almost anything on the grounds that it is an inherent part of our culture. Racism is deeply ingrained in many cultures, as are sexism and classism; that does not make these attitudes, behaviours, and values any less unethical. To concede that actions are morally permissible if they are part of a culture or heritage would leave us with very few acts that we could consider truly immoral.

A defender of this argument may want to intercede with the
classic ‘ethics are relative to cultures’ argument, but this would not be helpful in this case either – as we have already stated, plenty of behaviours are widespread across several cultures that are not generally considered to be ethical. When this argument is framed in terms of our heritage, the central premise simply changes from ‘This is okay because our culture does it now,’ to ’This is okay because our culture has done it in the past.’ Once again, this falls victim to the same criticisms as the previous incarnation of this argument, and in addition, it suffers the additional flaw of assuming that since things were done a certain way, they must continue to be done that same way now.

This conclusion does not follow from the premise. The previous practices of society in no way predetermine the future behaviour of said society, so long as that behaviour is not a necessity for survival. To have been raised a certain way, with certain emotional attachments to specific behaviours, makes our repetition of these behaviours understandable, but not permissible. The classic examples that are frequently used are indigenous communities. Many people make the mistake of assuming that sustenance hunting is done for cultural reasons, which is not always the case, it is very often done out of necessity and must be viewed separately from culture.

That said, living off the land and hunting for food is a huge part of th
cultural identity of many indigenous peoples, a fact which should be respected. Many such communities have lived ecologically successful lives among animals for many centuries, and could not continue to live this way if they were not able to hunt to survive. Asking a British person to give up sausages is not asking them to abandon their entire culture, heritage, and way of living, whereas trying to impose veganism on a sustenance hunting indigenous community would require them to do exactly that. Hunting is never a morally good thing, but
there is a great deal of difference between hunting for survival and buying frozen chicken nuggets because you like the way they taste.

The key factor to remember here is that as vegans we are not advocating that all subsistence hunting communities move into cities and give up their way of life. We aren’t talking to hunter-gatherers when we advocate veganism, we are talking to members of a consumer society who very much do have a choice whether or not to hunt animals or buy their meat from a supermarket. The vast majority of the time when this is raised it is done with little analysis or genuine concern for the cultures cited, it is usually a fairly transparent attempt to
use someone else’s situation as a justification for their consumption of animal products.

None of this is to say that culture is not important, or that eating animals is not an issue of deeper social and spiritual significance to some cultures more than others, it is just that this is not a good enough reason to inflict suffering and death on sentient beings when we live in a consumer society with many other options freely available to us. To accept this argument would be to accept that whatever behaviour we currently practice as a culture and has been part of our traditions is ethical by that fact alone.

The consequences of accepting such reasoning would be extremely dangerous, and most of us would not be willing to entertain this logic in any other context. Practices that have cultural and spiritual significance should of course be treated with respect, but we cannot allow culture alone to be used as a shield against legitimate criticism.

“Eating animals can be humane.”

This is an extremely common argument, often accompanied by anecdotes about a farmer down the road who loves their cattle and would never hurt them. We already know that even though almost everyone makes this claim, most people get their animal products from factory farms, especially in the West, and most people already recognise that animals are not treated humanely in factory farms.

Due to the secretive nature of slaughterhouses, it should first be noted that it is extremely difficult for farmers to know how their animals are killed once they are sent to slaughter, never mind consumers themselves. The terms ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ refer to treatment while alive, but they have absolutely no impact on the way an animal is slaughtered. Buying local does not mean that the animal was slaughtered locally, the majority of farmers do not have a licence to slaughter themselves or it would not be cost-effective, meaning that most
must rely on the very same slaughterhouses that factory farmers do.

Visiting any of these slaughterhouses requires at least some deception, the vast majority will not allow a consumer to visit just to verify the welfare of the animals they consume. Even before you could approach a slaughterhouse, you would have to figure out which one your meat came from, since sellers have absolutely no legal obligation to reveal that information. Even the inspectors who are legally allowed to visit usually do so with prior warning, and their main role is to inspect for hygiene and disease, not primarily for animal welfare
violations. There is simply no way to know for sure how an animal has been treated unless you have witnessed or performed the act of slaughter for yourself.

Even if we are generous and assume that everyone making this claim knows exactly where their animal products come from, they do all get their meat from that uncle or nice farmer who lives down the road and never from a supermarket. Even if we accept that these people never visit large restaurant chains, none of them order takeaway, and their ethics prevent them from even considering stepping foot into a McDonald’s. Even if every person making this claim knows where all of their meat comes from, checks every restaurant ahead
to make sure the meat is ‘humane,’ can trace all of their animal products from farm to slaughterhouse to the plate and has personally seen how these animals are treated, this still does not in any way excuse the consumption of animal products.

This is because the term ’humane slaughter’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Humane’ is defined as being characterised by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed, and acting in a manner that causes the least harm to people or animals. Therefore, for any given action to count as humane it must cause the least harm possible to people or animals. It is not up to the person holding this position to defend the idea that slaughtering a healthy animal who is often barely an adult represents the least harm possible. Given the fact that the majority of us do not require animal products to be healthy, the other option is to not slaughter an animal at all. This means that the person arguing this position is left to defend the premise that shooting an animal in the skull or slitting their throat is less harmful and more sympathetic than allowing them to live.

There is an assumption being made here, namely, that it is harmful to cause an animal pain but it is not harmful to kill them. The idea that pain is the only form of harm that exists is an extremely narrow definition of the word. Even the most ’humanely raised’ animal is taken from their family, suffers exploitation, and is slaughtered long before their natural life expectancy. They still have their most fundamental preferences and desires ignored in favour of the preferences of a ’superior’ species, who want to eat their flesh and what comes out of
their bodies – simply because they like the way it tastes. This is very clearly harmful to the animal concerned, under any reasonable definition of the word.

Under the requirements of a common understanding of what it means for an action to be humane, the terms humane and slaughter are mutually exclusive.

“We are the top of the food chain.”

This argument stems from one of the most ancient justifications for violence in existence; the proposition that might makes right. That because we are powerful enough to kill other animals this alone gives us the right to do so. The flaws in this as an ethical system, and the consequences of universally applying such a notion should be obvious.

That humans are, by our technology and our societal organisation in a position to mass produce, exploit and slaughter trillions of animals for our consumption is not a good ethical reason for us to continue to do so, or any ethical reason at all for that matter. This proposition also arises from a basic misunderstanding of how natural systems work. ‘The food chain’ is simply a construct we have imposed on the natural world in an effort to understand it; we are not at the top of a chain, we are part of a complex system of mutual reliance.

This argument relies on a version of hard biological determinism; that how we
behave is entirely dictated by our biology, but in any other context this would not be entertained as a justification for behaviour that causes harm. Besides this, a society practising industrialised agriculture cannot reasonably count itself as being ‘part of the food chain;’ the majority of humans are not contending with wildlife and giving back to the cycle when we die by being eaten by someone with sharper claws. Most of us buy our meat pre-packed from our local stores or kill animals with mechanised weaponry. Irrespective of what the food chain is and is not, what is certain is that it is of no ethical relevance whatsoever.

What those holding this argument fail to account for is the fact that
humans, unlike lions and other predators, are moral agents. Lions and other similar predators are obligate carnivores and have no choice in what they eat; therefore, they are not subject to the same moral standards as humans are. We however, do have a choice. Since most humans can be perfectly healthy without consuming any animal products, most do so purely for taste, convenience, habit and tradition.

This makes consuming animals a moral decision, and because animal agriculture is responsible for the deaths of billions of animals and is one of the leading causes of climate change, that moral decision is very much
open to criticism. When we can choose to live in a way that minimises our harm to animals and the planet, and we choose otherwise, we cannot reasonably use our place in ‘the food chain’ to justify that behaviour.

“Humans have always eaten animals.”

This argument is at least based on truth, though its intended conclusions are deeply flawed. It is thought that humans have been consuming meat since we were recognisably human, and that it was a necessity for our survival. It is also thought that it played a significant part in our neurological development. That being said, the undoubtedly significant role that eating animals has had on our evolutionary development is not a convincing ethical reason to
continue to consume animals today.

When humans began incorporating meat into our diets, this was largely due to necessity. When a particular action is a necessity, as in, the moral agent could not have acted otherwise and still continued to survive, the action in question is not subject to our normal moral considerations. Now, however, the situation has changed. It is generally known that humans can survive without animal products, as we have already established. This means that the original justification for consuming animals, that it was a matter of survival, has ceased to be
relevant for most of the population. Given that this is the case, it is now very possible for most people to survive without consuming any animal products at all, which means that doing so is now a choice.

Ethically speaking this makes an enormous difference; the decision to consume animal products in the modern day cannot be compared to the same action being performed when it was a necessity for our survival. The context of an ancient human stalking prey with rudimentary tools and the modern consumer buying their meat pre-packed from the supermarket could not be
more different, and modern hunters who kill for sport or just because they enjoy eating animals are no closer to our hunter gatherer ancestors than the rest of us are.

The idea being presented here is that because we have always done something, this is a good enough reason to continue performing that action today. The issue with this is that there are many harmful traditions that humans have always perpetuated, for example, humans have committed infanticide, murder and incest for thousands of years and yet the longevity of such actions are rarely cited as reasons to keep doing them. It seems that people are generally quite happy to dismiss this argument as an attempt to justify harmful behaviour, except where eating animals is concerned.

Humans have always eaten animals, but that is irrelevant when the decision we are left with is whether or not we should continue to practice this environmentally destructive, profoundly harmful action in a society that offers us a wealth of humane and sustainable alternatives.

“Animals are bred to be eaten.”

This argument is flawed at its foundation, as it is based on the unjustified assumption that one group of individuals can, based solely on their own preferences, decide or determine the purpose of another group. This undermines the right for self-determination which all human and non-human animals should be granted as far as is possible.

The belief that animals exist solely for humans has no more logical basis than the belief that women exist for men, which is also a fairly widely held and misguided belief. Our designation of some animals as ‘food’ and other animals as ‘pets’ does not fundamentally change anything about the animal themselves, and certainly nothing about their relative moral value.

Animals are not objects, they have no innate purpose like a table or a chair does, they are autonomous beings with needs, preferences and a will that is separate to our own. Humans have, at various points throughout history, thought they could decide what the purpose of other humans would be, and attempted to ‘breed’ them specifically for this purpose. That is not to say that slavery is comparable to animals being bred for food, the two forms of oppression are unique and take place in their own context, but it is a telling example of how corrupt this particular line of reasoning can become.

Furthermore, this argument relies on the assumption that just because a purpose has been imposed on a sentient being from outside of themselves, that fulfilling this purpose is the only ethical outcome for the individual concerned. If this is indeed the case, it is extremely odd that people who hold to this belief still celebrate beagles who are set free from animal testing labs, or cows who escape slaughterhouses and run through the streets, or pigs who become beloved members of a family. In all these cases, the animal in question is not fulfilling their original ‘purpose,’ and yet, we hear no ethical condemnation.

This begs the question of why this could not be the case for all farmed animals. If we celebrate those few who do escape their purpose, it would be logical to assume if all farmed animals escaped their ‘purpose’ it would be a cause for celebration. This argument rests on an assumption that is justified by nothing more than blatant and arbitrary speciesism. The notion that it is ethical to decide on another being’s purpose against their own interests is immoral and lacking any logical basis whatsoever.

The prevalence of this kind of thinking throughout history, and the appalling consequences of those occasions when it has been put into practice, should be enough to convince any free-thinking person against accepting any proposition argued on this basis.

“Animals also eat each other.”

This is a very common argument used against vegans, the basic idea behind it is that since animals also eat each other, humans eating animals cannot be seen to be immoral, because we are just doing what other creatures do. This is often followed with rhetorical questions about whether vegans would force a lion to go vegan too, or why we aren’t protesting against cheetahs and wolves. Some people even believe that the goal of veganism is to stop natural predation too, since we apparently view all animal death as inherently unethical.

This argument stems from a basic misunderstanding of what vegans believe. The assumption is that vegans are against any animal being killed for any reason, and that we view any animals dying as an intrinsic evil. Though this assumption is understandable, it is completely inaccurate. Vegans oppose animal exploitation and the unnecessary slaughter of animals for human benefit. The issue for us is that exploiting and killing animals is placing our desires, taste preferences and convenience over their right to be alive and placing the interests of humans as inherently more important than those of any other animal, even in cases where their needs are clearly greater than ours.

Necessity is the key concept here. For wild animals, eating other animals is a
matter of survival; they do not have the option or the capacity to make a moral choice to avoid harming other creatures, whereas most of us do. There can be no moral judgement about an act if the being performing it could not have chosen otherwise, and this counts for humans too. It should be self-evident that a lion hunting gazelle because they and their cubs will starve if they do not, and a human buying pre-packed meat from a supermarket containing hundreds of other options are in no way comparable. An obligate carnivore hunts for survival and because they cannot exist in any other way, and therefore places their survival above that of other animals, not their taste preferences.

It also cannot be ignored that non-human animals are not moral agents in the same way that human animals are; we cannot apply our human concept of ethics to non-humans who are not capable of making an informed ethical choice. Animals can be ethically acted upon, meaning they need to be considered in any moral decision, but they themselves cannot be judged according to our conception of ethics. It is unfair and illogical to compare a wild animal living in nature with a modern human in a consumer-driven society and weigh up their behaviour as if they can be judged by the same standards.

The point that we cannot compare obligate carnivores and omnivores with modern humans is an important one, because it is something that we as a species vehemently believe in every other context. We justify our exploitation and consumption of animals by claiming that we are higher than they are, and we deem any comparison between us and them as anthropomorphism. Moreover, we routinely deny that they experience pain or emotions the
same way that we do, or that they are capable of thought in the way that we are. How then, can we justify eating animals on the basis that they eat other animals too?

It seems that we compare ourselves to other animals only when it is convenient for us to do so, and the rest of the time we enforce a strict moral and intellectual distance between us, baulking at the mere suggestion that humans and animals should be treated equally on the grounds that they are not like us. Either we are better than animals and we use that to justify
the cruelty we inflict upon them, or we are the same as them and thus cannot be expected to behave better. We cannot be both.

We think of ourselves as so much better than animals, yet we use their behaviour as our moral baseline and to justify our own actions. We make these comparisons very selectively, too – taking our behavioural cues from obligate carnivores like lions, while ignoring the fact that many of our closest animal relatives are primarily herbivorous. We are also highly selective of which behaviours to emulate and which ones to ignore; animals routinely commit
incest, killing for territory and infanticide, yet no one ever uses this behaviour in animals to justify it in humans.

Few humans seriously entertain the notion that we should imitate the behaviour of lions in any other context besides eating meat, and even fewer genuinely made a moral decision to eat animals on the basis that carnivores in the wild do it, too. We eat animals because they taste good, because we were raised that way and because it is convenient, not because we saw a pack of hyenas bring down a wildebeest and decided that this looked like the most ethical way for us to live. What is natural has no moral relevance whatsoever, and the fact that a
specific behaviour is exhibited by other animals is certainly no indication that it is something that we should be doing ourselves.

“Plants are alive/feel pain too.”

This argument is most often an attempted attack on vegans who believe that their lifestyle involves less cruelty than an omnivorous one. This is actually a logical fallacy known as tu quoque, which is to accuse your opponent of being guilty of doing the same thing they accuse you of in cases where the two situations being compared are not identical.

Firstly, it is clear that plants are living organisms that do respond to stimuli. However, as vegans we do not abstain from eating animals because they are alive or because they respond to stimuli, but because they are sentient. The claim that plants have sentience is based on little more than popular pseudoscience; we know that plants do not feel pain in the way that animals do, because they lack the basic requirements for sentience. Meanwhile, over 2,500 studies suggest, and an overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that at least some animals are sentient, including most of the animals we farm for food.

Even if we were extremely generous and accepted the notion that plants are sentient, despit all the evidence to the contrary, that would still in no way justify choosing to eat animals instead of plants where a choice exists between the two. For this argument to make sense, we would have to be willing to accept that plants are even more sentient than animals are. We would then be in a situation where the challenge would be to consume as few plants as possible, however, unfortunately for those holding this position, the conclusion of that logic would be that we all need to go vegan as quickly as possible.

This is because we feed considerably more plants to farmed animals than we ever eat ourselves. Livestock take in far more calories in crop feed than they will ever give out in meat, much of this is not edible for human consumption, but these are still plants capable of ‘suffering’ according to this argument. This means that your average omnivorous diet requires significantly more plant ‘suffering’ than a vegan diet does. That isn’t even accounting for the vast swathes of rainforest cut down to make room for animal feed and grazing land for cattle.

Either plants are sentient or they are not; but either way a plant-based diet is still the best course of action. A vegan lifestyle is not without harm or environmental destruction, which absolutely should be addressed and discussed. However, since we must consume food to survive, when that choice is between a food sourced from the bodies of clearly sentient beings or beings that have never been found to be sentient, which of these decisions is the
least harmful should be absolutely clear.

“It is impossible to be 100% vegan.”

This is a commonly used argument which puts forward the idea that since no one can be 100% vegan, vegans are hypocrites, and attempting to be vegan is in some way pointless. Besides being a clear example of a tu quoque fallacy, there are some very obvious flaws with this kind of all or nothing thinking.

Firstly, we should not attempt to dispute the claim that it is impossible to be 100% vegan, we only need to object to the conclusions of this premise. We live in a world built on the exploitation of animals, we find their body parts and secretions in many unavoidable products like plastics, glues and animal fibres, not to mention the animals involved in crop farming. In cases that do not involve food allergens, companies are often not required to share information about whether certain products use animal parts in their production, making it extremely difficult to even find out. In some cases, like medication, it is impractical to avoid products that are the result of animal exploitation.

It is clear then, that unless we are prepared to live off the grid and not be consumers at all, we cannot live lifestyles that completely avoid the products of animal exploitation. However, it does not follow that because we cannot do everything, we should not try to do anything at all. This kind of thinking in the case any other social justice issue would be rightly dismissed as an avoidance technique. It is extremely difficult to avoid the products of human exploitation too, but does not mean that people should not try their absolute best to
support more ethical companies and boycott those who abuse their workers and destroy the environment?

Similarly, environmentalists cannot ever completely erase their carbon footprint, but it is still essential that all of us try to reduce our environmental impact as much as we can, and doing so makes a real, measurable difference. While vegans still contribute towards exploitative systems, by boycotting all animal products we directly reduce the demand for those products. This matters; both in terms of not funding industries we consider to be abhorrent and in terms of being consistent with our personal morality.

This argument is based on the premise that we can’t avoid being involved in at least some animal exploitation, but that fact alone is enough to dismiss the conclusions of this argument. In cases where there is no choice, there can be no moral judgement. Judgements can only be made when the moral agent in question chose an action where they could have chosen otherwise, which the argument itself states that we cannot. In addition to this, the intent of an action matters. When a person actively chooses to purchase products that are the result of animal exploitation where there are other options, it is vastly different from when a person has no choice but to purchase said product due to a lack of other choices, despite their intention not to take part in animal exploitation.

The kind of simplistic ethical binary involved in this kind of argument only makes sense when it is perfectly possible to avoid any complicity in an unethical act, but this is not the case when it comes to animal exploitation. What this argument essentially does is blame vegans for the actions of the industries that they are dedicated to opposing. Those putting forward this argument are merely pointing to those trying to reduce the harm they cause and trying to undermine their efforts by claiming: ‘Look – you are doing it too!’ This is no more
than a blatant attempt to avoid critically analysing their own behaviour.

Dismissing the efforts of someone trying to do something just because they can’t do everything is both cynical and utterly irrational.

“If we didn’t eat animals they would overpopulate/ go extinct.”

These are separate arguments that are often simultaneously held to be true by the same individuals, failing to realise that if either one were true they would be mutually exclusive. These arguments imply that it is acceptable to eat animals because it is the lesser of two evils; that if we did not eat them animals would overpopulate the planet or go completely extinct as they could not survive on their own.

Firstly, the argument that animals would overpopulate the planet if we stopped eating them is completely ridiculous and flies in the face of common sense. Even the most optimistic vegans do not expect the world to go vegan overnight, what we would hope to see is a gradual process where the demand for animal products is lowered, and thus the supply would be lowered as well.

If a soft drink corporation slowly lost half of its sales over time, it would not
continue to make and attempt to distribute the same number of bottles, as this would make no financial sense. Similarly, if the global demand for animal products is reduced over time then there will be less supply, so less animals will be born and slaughtered. Even with government subsidies on meat and dairy production, farmers will not just keep breeding the same number of animals with no one to purchase the products made out of their bodies. To suggest otherwise is plainly illogical.

This leads us on to the second argument at play; as fewer animals are being bred into existence, fewer would exist, and eventually, it is argued, none would exist at all. Therefore, we are somehow acting in the best interests of animals to breed, exploit and consume them. This assumes that no one could possibly be willing to take care of a farmed animal without making a profit out of them, ignoring the existence of the many non-profit sanctuaries and private rescuers already in existence the world over. What is far more likely than extinction is that we would end up with a drastically reduced domesticated animal population, where those who remain would live out their lives in sanctuaries.

There would be far few animals living far happier lives, and these sorts of numbers would be much more sustainable to maintain. We must remember that we are not talking about the happy, healthy animals seen in idyllic cartoon advertisements and on the front of packages. These animals are not natural occurrences, but biological manipulations.

We are talking about animals who are so genetically modified and selectively bred that they are designed to produce as much meat, milk or eggs as possible with little to no regard for their health. These are chickens bred to grow so large, so quickly, that they often cannot even walk, cows bred to produce seven times more milk than they did a century ago, turkeys so genetically diminished that they can’t even naturally breed. Animals like these are a far cry from their natural ancestors, making it absurd to claim that since we made them this way, we must keep doing it for their own good.

Even if these animals would go extinct if we stopped farming them (which is not at all the case) that could still be considered a mercy. Arguments like this one are little more than attempts to use reason to justify what is ultimately an irrational decision. No one eats animals because they are worried they will
overpopulate or go extinct if they don’t; we eat them because they taste good. This argument is particularly insidious, since not only does it seek to justify the mass exploitation and slaughter of trillions of animals, but in the same breath, it tries to convince us that doing so is in their best interests. Only those willing to delude themselves into continuing to benefit from the misery of animals would believe such a proposal.

“Going vegan would put farmer’s jobs/ the economy at risk.”

This argument is often used as a justification for continuing to support animal agriculture, and therefore to continue consuming animal products. By boycotting animal products, it is argued, we are taking away the jobs of farmers and potentially putting the whole economy at risk, since it relies so heavily on animal agriculture.

It must be acknowledged that to some extent, this argument is based on truth. In the short term, by boycotting animal products vegans may have an impact on the profits of farmers, and indeed, given the harm farming animals inflicts upon animals and the environment, many vegans see this as a positive result.

However, even the most optimistic vegan does not
believe that the whole world will go vegan overnight and that we will be in a position where all animal farmers are suddenly out of work. As demand for animal products decreases, demand in other areas of the market increases. After-all, people will be replacing animal products with other foods, so as with any market shift, it is up to suppliers of the no longer required products to adapt. This doesn’t mean that any of us want to see people unemployed or losing their homes.

Vegans are generally quite politically active, and are therefore sensitive to class issues and unemployment. We don’t want to see farmers or their families out on the street, what we would like to see is subsidies, tax-breaks, and financial support for farmers trying to switch away from animal farming towards sustainable crop farming, as well as training on how to diversify and manage the land in an ecologically friendly way. A growing environmental catastrophe will likely force this change on farmers eventually anyway, so this is a change the
industries, workers and governments will need to prepare for.

We see examples of this transition taking place already, with dairy farms responding to demand by shifting away from dairy and towards plant milks and well known dairy brands diversifying into plant-based products. These individuals and corporations are recognising that demand is shifting and adapting accordingly, as all members of a free market must. Given that livestock farming is already heavily subsidised by tax money, there is no reason to suppose it should be protected from market forces any more than any other industry.

A transition away from animal products would be good news not only for consumers, but for entire nations, with the growing spectre of climate change, food security becomes a more pervasive issue than ever. The key to food security is, first, to grow as much food as possible at home on mixed, low-input farms and, second, to keep food chains as simple and short as possible. The lower down the food chain we eat, the more secure the food source is. Thus,
eating crops directly is a great deal more economically secure than eating an end product which requires other inputs such as soy, corn, wheat, and more often than not, the overuse of antibiotics.

The implication of the economic argument seems to be that just because a product gives people jobs, that means we should continue to support it. We could make an equally convincing argument for supporting wars on this basis, since the arms industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise employing hundreds of thousands of people. The same could be said about large pharmaceutical companies who charge extortionate prices for insulin, or the tobacco industry which keeps many farmers, packers and sellers in jobs.

While it may be true that much of our economy is built on animal agriculture, it is important to note that the economy of the western world was in no small part built on the backs of slaves. That is not to say that animal agriculture and slavery are the same or even comparable, but it is at the very least noteworthy that this very same argument was used against slavery abolitionists at the
time.166 It goes without saying that these warnings proved false; it is an economic fallacy to assume that because this is how the economy is now, that any alteration will have permanent negative consequences.

Our generations have witnessed the digitisation of the workplace, the widespread, the adoption of mobile phones and Internet, the invention of AI and the rapid move away from analogue to digital. To suppose that the market economy can adapt to these vast and profound changes but could not do the same for a move away from animal agriculture has little justification. Those who benefit from the status quo often argue that ’this is how things are so that is how they must remain.’ This is simply untrue. Our market should be forced to adapt to our ethics and our lifestyles, not the other way around.

“Veganism is not cruelty free either.”

Veganism is not cruelty free, and it’s important to acknowledge this fact from the outset. The very definition of veganism contains an acknowledgement that all we can do is cause the least harm possible, but you cannot be a consumer and live a lifestyle completely free from causing any harm.

The term ’cruelty free’ is a marketing term; it is a label which is applied to products when they obtain a certification from Cruelty Free International. It is not a claim that being vegan is literally being cruelty free, nor should it be. What we as vegans are trying to do is to cause the least harm we can while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect vegans to live off the grid, to grow all their own food and to only purchase or replace those items that they
absolutely need for survival. This would not only be completely impractical, but it would be inaccessible to anyone who is not fortunate enough to be able to live in this way.

The basic philosophy behind being vegan is that this is something we really can do to minimise the harm we cause, and since it is possible and practical for us to do so, we should. The harm vegans still contribute towards is not insignificant; from deforestation to monocrops, worker exploitation of crop pickers and factory workers, to water, energy and plastic use – we all have an impact on this world simply by existing in it.

However, what is being argued here is essentially that because we can’t live a lifestyle completely free from harm, we shouldn’t even try to reduce the harm we cause. This all or nothing mentality is not only bizarre but extremely harmful; it encourages the kind of consumer apathy that unethical corporations depend on in order to make a profit. Vegans still need to be able to survive in a
consumer-driven society, and it is not our fault that capitalism forces us to compromise on some of our values just to exist.

This argument could also be applied to almost any ethical dilemma – why bother avoiding sweatshops if you can’t buy 100% of your clothing ethically? Why bother buying that fair trade banana if you can’t do it for everything you buy? Why save one person if you can’t save them all? Morality is seldom all or nothing, most of the time it is about doing what we can to achieve the most good given the situation, and veganism is exactly the same way. It is incredibly cynical to berate someone for trying to live a lifestyle which is as ethical as they can make it, especially if they are someone who is making no such effort themselves.

This is not to say that vegans shouldn’t be actively trying to reduce the harm they cause in other areas besides animal products, whether it’s trying to support ethical brands or campaigning on other social justice issues. The fact that we cannot be perfect is no excuse not to try, and just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we should do nothing. When it comes to trying to live a more ethical lifestyle, there is no excuse for not trying.