“I feel that the technology problem is the source of Animal and Earth degradation. If there was no industry and computer tech, even if everyone hunted and ate Animals, 99% of the Animal abuse and murder that exists today would be gone!”
-ALF prisoner Walter Bond, May 2014*
What if the very infrastructure necessary for widespread veganism is itself a threat to the well-being of nonhuman animals? Might the best of all possible worlds be a less-than-vegan world?
Industrial infrastructure may make veganism possible for a wider range of people than it would otherwise be and yet it almost necessarily will claim the lives of a great number animals. The factories producing tofurky jerky and soy ice cream will be located on land that was once habitat; parking lots will replace forests. Refrigerated trucks transporting fresh produce will require a massive interstate system and will foul the air that all life—human and nonhuman—depends on.
If we think of veganism as more than a diet—as many will quite fairly insist upon—the problem grows more severe. Synthetic materials for vegan clothing often rely on fossil fuels and we thus have a need for drilling, refinement, global shipping, and the whole climate changing operation that we currently live (and die) with. Every step of the way is going to degrade and cut short the lives of animals.
Many, including Peter Singer and PETA, have put their hopes of widespread veganism in the prospect of in vitro meat and yet to accept this is to accept vivisection. There are also hopes for lab grown leather and lab grown cow’s milk which on the surface eliminate animal suffering but are deeply intertwined with the industrial system that is antithetical to animal flourishing.
The mainstream animal rights movement—like mainstream society generally—anticipates technology solving the problems that concern them rather than amplifying problems. This expectation is an article of faith and therefore unthreatened by existing evidence. A much younger Wayne Pacelle is quoted in Ted Kerasote’s book Bloodties as saying:
“I…believe in interstate transfer of food items. I believe in providing that food to people in other regions where it cannot be locally produced. My ethic is not a local food production ethic. It’s an interlocal, interstate, and perhaps an international system of food distribution to allow people to tread lightly on the planet, and it should be a food production system that is as energy efficient as possible, and hopefully one day it will be an energy-based system that’s not based on fossil fuels.” (255)
Pacelle is endorsing a global food system and with it mass society; he can only hope that “one day” the problems associated with such a system will be overcome in some currently inconceivable way. Transitioning from fossil fuels, to say wind or solar, is still going require intense environmental degradation including the mining of rare earth metals.
Closer to the present, vegan author James McWilliams has written and article titled “The Future is in Plastics, Son: Technology and Veganism” in which he argues:
“should vegans want a future in which the world’s population has a steady access to wide diversity of plant-based foods, it will require…an expansion of food miles and advanced plant biotechnology”
I would agree with this point but where I see domestication and industrialization as the most basic threats to animals, McWilliams evidently sees them as exciting paths forward.
Does this mean the veganism is a mistake?
My belief is that for myself, and people who are similarly situated, veganism remains morally obligatory. I feel it is the most defensible option in my particular time and place. The mistake would be extrapolating from one’s own particular time and place to the universal claim that veganism is obligatory to all people and at all times. Ethical vegans, that is vegans motivated by concern for animals as opposed to simply health concerns or celebrity endorsements, tend to extrapolate in this fashion—possibly making exceptions for those notorious desert-island castaways that are so frequently posited in discussions of veganism.
Exceptions are also sometimes made for indigenous communities with food cultures that are not vegan but this is less often a principled exception than it is a strategic, face-saving concession granted for the purpose of avoiding an even more difficult conversation.
But in any case, it does not seem that veganism will be possible for all people in all bioregions given a minimally disruptive level of technological development. To push for greater levels of development may be to spread veganism but simultaneously harm animals.
To safeguard animals from the systematic aggression and encroachment of humanity we need to dismantle existing industrial infrastructure, sabotage ongoing projects, and prevent future development. Paradoxically, these vitally important actions may make veganism less feasible than it currently is for many people. But veganism is a means to an end; the end is animal liberation. As is so often the case, the means sometimes get confused for the end. The means may vary even while the goal remains unchanged.
Veganism is potentially appealing because it is an intellectually easy answer; it forgoes nuance in favor of clearly defined lines. Clearly defined lines are helpful especially when nuance is apt to generate confusion or mask self-interest but occasionally those lines need to be reassessed. Veganism is not always possible, not always necessary, and never sufficient.
*Private communication via email. May 13, 2014. Shared with permission.
I’m not clear on what alternative to widespread veganism Smith has in mind, since it is not enough to show that veganism could be harmful to other animals. Of course it is. But the question is: Is it more harmful than some preferred alternative? What would that alternative be? (And what would make it preferred? Smith says that the end is animal liberation, but I suspect he has more in mind — some ideal way of life for humans.) Let me turn the tables: What if the new technological concoction called Soylent could support a vegan diet for every human being at a fraction of the environmental and animal (and monetary) “cost” of plant agriculture: Would Smith accept universal soylentism as a moral obligation?
I think the least of all possible evils is the best path. However, I think the only way to truly be an ethical vegan is to not breed and have the human population die off. As the species that causes the most suffering, yet doesn’t want to give up its societal and technological perks, I think this is the best option.
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Reblogged this on XCLUSIVX fanzine and commented:
Well put thoughts.
” If we think of veganism as more than a diet—as many will quite fairly insist upon—the problem grows more severe. Synthetic materials for vegan clothing often rely on fossil fuels and we thus have a need for drilling, refinement, global shipping, and the whole climate changing operation that we currently live (and die) with. Every step of the way is going to degrade and cut short the lives of animals.”
I’m fiercely critical of veganism amd agree that vegan lifestylism will never lead to animal liberation, but this aricle makes fatally flawed arguments by equating veganism with industrially produced food. There is nothing inherent in veganism that requires industrial mass production, a global economy, or even agriculture. We can (and should ) critique the vegan movement by and large for failing to have a critique of civilization, agriculture, technology, industry, capitalism, etc., but it’s flat out wrong to suggest that veganism is only possible in the context of these things.
Good question Adam: why doesn’t veganism have a critique of civilisation? For example,I have listened to Gary Francione and I would appreciate any information as to whether Gary has made any critique regarding civilisation, technology etc. He is all for changing behaviour via education and so I would have thought that such critiques would be invaluable regarding such issues?
How will we make the B12 without some level of industry?
This post resonates with me. I always say that the vegan diet is the best response to the current situation. In Lierre Keith’s infamous book (Vegetarian Myth), I believe she says something to the effect that (in our current age) you are either eating animals or oil. (More like animals plus oil or oil, in reality.) But there is something here for those who would go deeper.
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Is no one on this site aware that we human animals were Vegan on this planet for almost 180, 000 years. Please see World Peace Diet, and MANY other fact driven research analyses, like the FACT we humans are herbivores: http://www.vegsource.com/news/2009/11/the-comparative-anatomy-of-eating.html
To say the arguments here are flawed would be a gross understatement. Hope all you cognitive dissonance ridden humans get educated and soon!
If humans are herbivores, it’s a pity that the B12 producing bacteria in our guts aren’t in the right place for us to absorb that B12, or that we don’t eat our own shit, like gorillas, to get that B12. Also it’s a pity that meat is such an easy way for us to get iron and zinc. If we are herbivores, we obviously got round it by 1) increasing the meat-eating behaviour of our nearest cousins, chimpanzees, 2) tools to make it easier to hunt and kill without claws and canines; and 3) by cooking – cooked meat is still meat. Trying to deny that our species have been omnivores since day one is the vegan equivalent of the Garden of Eden – an ideological myth.
What wankers you primitivists are! You always tend to hide behind unrealistic utopian images of a future primitivist society and poor readings of anthropology and history to distract from what you don’t do in the present.
Eating a vegan diet requires less resources today! Almost none of the primitivist bs-ers are hunting and rely on industrial processes for their meat, and even if they do hunt they rely on industrially manufactured ATVs, cars, guns, cartridges, etc. to make it happen… There is no way a vegan diet and lifestyle can take up more resources than a meat eating one, but it can cost more financially for you as a consumer if you eat lots of processed fake meats. But you don’t have to eat those fake meats, you can eat much cheaper starches as a base for your diet like rice, corn, potatoes, wheat:
But no, most primitivists eat industrially raised and slaughtered meat and because of their stupid ideology with poor historical analysis and utopian underpinnings think this poor screed is some trump card against doing something in the present by going vegan!
Ian wrote: “Exceptions are also sometimes made for indigenous communities with food cultures that are not vegan but this is less often a principled exception than it is a strategic, face-saving concession granted for the purpose of avoiding an even more difficult conversation.”
I am interested in the details of what “…an even more difficult conversation” would entail?