Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Could Never Go Vegan

“I think it's great what you're doing, but I don't think I could ever go vegan.” This phrase, “I don't think I could ever go vegan,” is one that I hear a lot in my activism, or even just day to day interactions with people. With that one statement people entirely shut themselves down to being influenced by any argument we might have to make. I could spend days presenting every case for why other animals deserve similar consideration for their interests and how they are being callously denied their most essential interests currently, but if the person I was presenting to opened with, “I don't think I could ever go vegan,” my money is on my arguments falling on deaf ears 99 times out of 100. Recently I've started using the following reply when people tell me that they could never go vegan:

I totally understand that not everyone I talk to is going to go vegan right away, but the things that are happening currently [on factory farms] are things that I think anyone would be troubled by. We each make decisions every day about what we consume, and even if someone isn't going to go fully vegan, every time they make a choice to avoid animal products is a major victory for the animals suffering on our factory farms.

There are a lot of things I've liked about this response. While a moment ago they were someone who could never go vegan, I've subtly recast their statement to emphasize that they merely were not taking the leap right away. Additionally, I've encouraged them to start looking at each individual decision they are making and emphasized the relative importance of the decision for the animals. Finally, I'm always very careful to use terms like “we” and “our” as often as possible when discussing making decisions and always use the more generic “someone” or “people” instead of the more accusatory “you” and “your” when the former terms are not possible.

In giving this response to someone last week I started wondering: “Just how much impact does each one of our decisions have for the animals suffering on factory farms?” Luckily, the question is a fairly simple one to answer. To determine the answer I put together the table below with rough approximations of how long the animals used for the products below live in a typical modern production system and roughly how much product is generally acquired by the time the animals are slaughtered. I divided the time by the amount of product to get the amount of time spent suffering per unit of product produced.

Product Animal Life Unit Production Unit Suffering
Beef 600 Days 750 lbs 1,152 min/lb
Chicken 45 Days 3 lbs 21,600 min/lb
Pork 250 Days 200 lbs 1,800 min/lb
Dairy 1,500 Days 1,000 gal 216 min/gal
Eggs 1,000 Days 800 eggs 1,800 min/egg

The values in the table are only rough approximations and could probably vary by as much as a factor of 1.5 in either direction from farm to farm. Nonetheless, the table still gives us very useful data for how important each of our decisions is. The amount of suffering that goes into producing chicken and eggs far away outpaces any of the other products. If someone wants to know what is most important for them to give up right away, our answer should always be chicken and eggs. On the other end of the spectrum, dairy involves far less time spent suffering than any of these other products; yet, I still can't imagine any plausible amount of pleasure we could get out of a gallon of dairy that could possibly justify the over three hours a dairy cow was subjected to in factory farm conditions to support our demand (not to mention the plethora of easy dairy substitutes).

We won't be able to get every person with whom we speak to go vegan right away, but plenty of people will be willing to start looking at their individual decisions in more detail. Hopefully with this data and knowledge of the unimaginable horrors our fellow animals endure on our factory farms, more people will be willing to make all of their decisions victories for the animals.