Are There Reasons Not to Be Vegan?

I’ve been thinking about/researching reasons not to be vegan. Other than the social and emotional drawbacks to veganism, most arguments against veganism were silly “nutritional” ones like, “You’re never going to get enough protein!”

The most compelling reason for me, I’ve decided, is the fact that food is a very important part of social and cultural identification, particularly for marginalized groups. Meat, especially pork, features prominently in both Puerto Rican and African American.

While I don’t have to put chicharron in my beans, there’s really no vegan way to make pernil. (I’m not as worried about ham hocks and chit’lins because the Puerto Rican side of my family is way more into food than my black side.)

I also don’t know how I could travel and not eat any animal products. I wouldn’t want to. Most of the fun of travelling is sampling local fare. On the plus side, the places I tend to travel probably aren’t serving meat from a factory farm. Also, it seems that non-American food traditions are a lot less wasteful, using all part of the animal. Puerto Ricans eat every possible part from pigs’ feet to chicken hearts, which are surprisingly delicious in soup.

Another irritating thing about veganism–not a reason not to do it, but annoying nontheless–is that it presupposes resources that some people just don’t have. You need time to research and make vegan recipes. You need access to resources through the Internet or books. Ideally, you’ll also have access to a community of other vegans.

You also need money. People keep telling me that it’s so much cheaper, blah blah blah, but these are the same people who own food dehydrators and soy milk makers. I am convinced that to really do veganism right, you or someone that loves you has to make a serious initial investment in some kitchen appliances. Vegan dairy and meat substitutes are a lot more expensive than the original, particularly if you used to shop at Aldi. There’s also a very frivolous use of nutmeats in many vegan recipes.

Photo by: Sally Tomato, Cosmonaut

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10 comments on “Are There Reasons Not to Be Vegan?
  1. In “Update on the Vegan Experiment” you claim that you prefer argumentation and persuasion to “dogma”. But in this post here you seem offer an objection to veganism that rests completely on a dogmatic acceptance of the cultural status quo.
    Let me explain. The objection you level against veganism seems to me to run roughly as follows (correct me if I’m wrong):
    (1) In some cultures, eating meat and animal products are highly valued communal activities.
    (2) If a communal activity is highly valued by a particular culture or cultures, then that activity is morally permissible.
    (3) [from (1) and (2)]: eating meat and animal products is morally permissible.
    (4) If eating meat and animal products is morally permissable, then we have no moral obligation to be vegan.
    (5) [from (3) and (4)] We have no moral obligation to be vegan.
    Here’s my problem with this argument. It seems to me that you’ve got nothing but a dogmatic belief in the authority of culture to undergird your second premise (2), which is the linchpin of your argument. Why should anyone think that a culture’s valuing some particular communal activity constitutes any reason whatsoever to think that the activity in question is morally permissable? Some religious groups value the tradition of marrying off 14 year old girls to polygamists. Members of the Ku Klux Klan value the tradition of getting together to burn crosses and chant hate speech. Certain tribes in various places value the ritual of female genital mutilation. I could multiply examples of the bad moral judgment of various cultures into infinity, but the point is clear: the fact that these groups *value* these practices is irrelevant to the question of whether these practices are morally just. If there is one thing that history has taught us well, it is that cherished cultural practices, even widespread ones, can turn out, upon reflection, to be morally abhorrent.
    So what, other than “Rah Rah for the authority of culture!” (which is a dogmatic claim, not an argumentative one), can you say in defense of your second premise? Or have I misinterpreted your view?

  2. I went straight for the critical point first above, but I should add that I think you make several important and interesting observations here that are right on target: (1) we need to be sensitive to cultural and socio-economic factors when we are discerning how to convey the message of compassionate eating; (2) we need to be aware of the risks that others will feel excluded or marginalized by our commitments (though it seems to me that goes both ways; we should ALL respect each other, regardless of what our differences happen to be when it comes to eating); (3) making a life change like veganism is a big transition and (potentially, depending on how you do it) an investment. These are all important reflections that those considering veganism will want to keep in mind.

  3. One last thing: if it isn’t clear from the fact that I spent the last two hours reading and replying to your posts that I found them VERY ENGAGING and STIMULATING, then allow me to make it crystal clear: Thanks for these really in depth and personal reflections on what you’re going through in this fascinating experiment. You know me: I’m just trying to persuade you to keep that experiment going just a little longer… ;)

  4. Liz says:

    Hey, I’m coming late into this experiment, but I just wanted to say I’m enjoying reading all about it. I’m a vegetarian, and completely agree with pretty much everything you’ve observed so far. I definitely find missing out on certain cultural culinary experiences to be the hardest thing about not eating meat.

  5. kevinb says:

    Sally, thanks for writing all this, very good thoughts.
    In terms of the Vegucator’s concerns: it doesn’t seem like the issue is all that complicated. Some people, including myself, feel that killing an animal (or taking its milk or eggs), if done correctly, is a morally permissible act. Some people think it’s not. The G-RAD audience seems pretty enlightened about the many negative side effects of factory farming, so preaching about feces-filled cages and animals being pumped with hormones seems to be beside the point, we’re all trying to avoid that.
    What I think, and this seems to be what Sally is suggesting as well, is that there are ways of living with (and from) animals that are very harmonic and sustainable. Looking at various cultural takes on relating to domesticated animals is not a pointlessly dogmatic exercise. Rather, it is a way of reclaiming the legacy of our healthy relationship with animals that has sustained humanity from its very beginnings.

  6. I don’t think that we can afford to be cultural relativists when it comes to the issue of compromising the most basic interests of other sentient creatures in order to satisfy trivial interests of our own. Killing animals for food, under any circumstances, requires the taking of a meaningful life that is valued by the being whose life is taken (and who are we to presume to know the value of life to the animal killed? It’s just a little too convenient to call this killing “harmonious” without the faintest sense of the creature’s perspective). As I see it, KILLING another sentient creature against its will is serious business, and to presume that we can defend it with wistful appeals to the “way things have always been done” is the essence of being dogmatic. This is exactly what fundamentalists do when faced, for example, with complicated issues concerning poverty, gender, or human sexuality: “That’s not complicated. It’s really very simple. This is how it’s always been done and this is how it should stay.” To rise above the level of dogma, it is necessary to give an ARGUMENT. It’s not enough to say “here’s my opinion: killing animals for food can be harmonious and sustainable.” Okay. So let’s hear some good reasons why we should believe that-reasons that take into account the most current scientific evidence of the complexities of animal physiology, psychology, neurology, and behavior, as well as development research on the efficiency of animal husbandry as a protein conversion mechanism. You may not share my opinion on these matters after doing this research, but I would be very surprised if the issue still seemed uncomplicated to you.
    When living beings are dying by the billions for our convenience, we owe them more than nostalgic musings about the harmony and healthiness of Old McDonald’s farm (which, by the way, no longer exists in the state of Michigan, since state laws require that animals over a certain weight be slaughtered in standard slaughter facilities rather than ON THE SMALL FARMS where they are raised). So even if one goes to the trouble and expense of buying kinder, healthier meat from Old MacDonald, the animals in question still endure the miseries of being crowded into semi-trailers, being transported in extreme weather conditions (hot or cold, depending on the season), and being slaughtered en mass in factory-like facilities where they experience the horror of witnessing members of their own species dying before being violently killed themselves. Those of us who’d prefer to believe that this isn’t a horrific experience for the animals should read a few industry articles about the science of slaughter. Animals do all the same things that we do in similar circumstances. They cry out in protest, they evacuate their bladders and bowels, they shoot so much adrenaline that it affects the character of their musculature (this is such a problem that companies have had to develop strategies to try to manage wastage of the meat from affected tissues).
    With all due respect, I believe that it is irresponsible to deny these complexities. Perhaps animal ethics isn’t an area of inquiry that you feel is particularly important. Fine. Not everyone deems the same causes to be important. I can assure you, however, that things ARE that complicated, at least for people who believe that compassion for sentient beings is a worthy goal.

  7. kevinb says:

    I’m not going to present a well-researched, point-by-point argument. Maybe I differ from Sally on this point, but I find these arguments tedious and annoying. I completely respect your beliefs, but that doesn’t seem mutual. I’m also very pleased with the additional information I’ve received about where food comes from from things like the extraVEGANza blog and Wake Up Weekend event. I honestly eat way less meat because of those things.
    It’s funny that you bring up fundamentalism. I think my stance is essentially non-fundamental. I am NOT telling you what to eat. I’m not even claiming I’m completely right. I’d just like people and cultures who are seeking out ethical and sustainable ways of consuming meat to be respected, that’s all.
    I honestly believe that you’re doing what you’re doing out a spirit of compassion. But at least for me, that spirit is lost when someone’s personal opinion is systematically dissected.

  8. I really regret that it appears from my post that I don’t respect your different opinion. I DO respect your opinion, and I appreciate your right to express it. In fact, though maybe I am an idiot for thinking this way, I take it that my spending an hour of my time responding to your opinion is indicative of my respect for you and your views. As I see it, the way that one expresses respect for another’s opinion is by taking it seriously enough to engage it deeply and rigorously. The opinions that I *don’t* respect are the ones that I don’t even bother to engage with a response. It is precisely because I *know* and *respect* you (and I know that the G-Rad community respects you *very much* as well) that I felt it was important to raise some questions about your reply.
    I guess at the end of the day I just don’t believe that respect for one another and vigorous, spirited disagreement with one another are ultimately incompatible. It seems to me that it is entirely possible both deeply to respect and care for a person and to believe that, at the same time, that person is mistaken about something or other. I think that intense, difficult discussions over deep-seated disagreements can be VERY positive and challenging, but perhaps I miscalculated in thinking that a blog comments board would be a good place to try to achieve this kind of communication. I am genuinely sorry to have given off the false impression that I don’t respect you.

  9. kevinb says:

    thank you so much. this is really great. i’m not trying to convert you to my line of reasoning, i was just beginning to believe that people were trying to bully their beliefs on others. i was wrong. maybe i was paranoid.
    i totally agree that vigorous debate is essential to dynamic community.

  10. buckshot says:

    i don’t really feel a need to get involved with the actual topic of this post/debate, but i do want to voice disagreement with the vegucator’s point that cultural relativism leads to moral acceptability. i know that you’re a philosophy prof, so i’m not looking to get into anything too involved, since i’m sure you’re better versed on the topic than i am, but i thought it should be acknowledged that morality itself is founded in a cultural environment (or even a subcultural one). therefore any culturally-prescribed action from cannibalism to female genital mutilation can be seen as both morally and culturally acceptable within the context in which they occur. it is not until external opinions are brought in that the morality of the actions becomes questionable. questioned the acts should be, but the matter then becomes one of cultural interaction and ethical discourse, rather than an action occurring in a distinct cultural/moral atmosphere. the vegucator should acknowledge that his morality is a construct of all he has heard, read, and experienced–a product of on-going discourse and research and a combination of many world-views and ethics–and that the moralities of others are also the cultural constructs of their combined learnings and experiences . it is not acceptable to externally judge cultural practices that occurred in culturally distinct places and times ex post facto through the lens of today’s constructed morality. admittedly, such a culturally isolated environ exists in very few places in today’s culturally-interconnected world. what should be strived for (and what i believe the vegucator is striving for) is meaningful dialog that respects the cultural and ethical views of all parties to better understand the reasons for our actions and to work toward an ethos of universal justice (however we define that together).

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I'm a smart, sassy, globally-mobile freelance writer, content creator, brand journalist and nonprofit storyteller. The world is my office. Email me to find out more.
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