This is the first installment of ‘5 Smart[ass] Answers to 5 Dumb[ass] Questions About Veganism’, a Q&A written by Veganomaly contributors in the hopes of offering some catharsis to vegans everywhere, as well as practical answers to those often loaded questions that can come out of nowhere and leave you unsure of what to say. And because the people asking them tend to either be genuinely curious or openly antagonistic, we’ve created separate responses for each. The ‘Smart’ answers are designed for the well-intentioned omnivore, while the ‘Smart-Ass‘ answers are reserved for the pseudo-curious interrogator who really only wants to get under your skin.
This will be a regular feature on my blog, and here’s the exciting part– YOU can send in any question/comment you want addressed. Got an uncle who likes hunting and insists on rubbing it in your face? How about a coworker who stares at your quinoa salad like you’re from a different planet? Or what about the 100’s of good-hearted people who seem to ask the same dumb-ass questions over and over again? Send them to us! We’ll do our best to craft a clever response and hopefully make you laugh while we’re at it! Just fill out the form at the bottom of this post, with the question or comment you want answered.
Question One: Where do you get your protein?
The Smart Answer: Lots of places! Whole grains, legumes, nuts, tofu, soy milk, hummus, falafels, veggie burgers, bean burritos, pad thai – just to name a few. It shouldn’t be that surprising to learn that plants offer up lots of protein; if they’re good enough for big, strong herbivores like gorillas, elephants and rhinos, why wouldn’t they be good enough for us?
The Smart-Ass Answer: Where do you get your nutritional propaganda? Kwashiorkor, also known as protein deficiency, is all but non-existent in the developed world; it’s unlikely you’ll ever meet anyone who has suffered from it, vegetarians and vegans included. The real issue at hand is where YOU get YOUR protein, as it’s most likely from the body of a sick, suffering animal raised for the sole purpose of selling cheap, unhealthy food.
Question Two: But I’ve been to family farms and seen animals that have a pretty good life. What’s wrong with that?
The Smart Answer: I don’t blame you for thinking that the farms you’ve seen are fair to the animals while reflecting an industry norm. After all, the animal foods industry spends tens of millions of dollars a year trying to convince you that modern animal farms are happy-go-lucky places where kind, old farmers attend to their animals’ every need. The sad reality is that 99% of the animals raised for food in this country are raised in factory farms, most confined their entire lives to tiny cages or stalls where the vast majority of their most basic needs (comfort, freedom of movement, foraging, socialization, access to fresh air and sunlight, and so on) are never met.
People want cheap animal products from healthy, happy animals, but few realize that the two are mutually exclusive. Over 10 billion animals are killed and eaten each year in North America; numbers like that simply cannot be sustained without treating animals like machines. That is why at the end of the day, it’s not really the meat or milk or eggs that need to be marketed, but the myth about how they were produced. This is why it is relatively common to be offered a free tour of a ‘friendly’ farm showcasing a handful of ‘happy’ animals, but completely impossible to get a tour of a factory farm. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth, because the truth would bankrupt them.
The Smart-Ass Answer: People said the same thing about human slavery. That didn’t make it right, and the fact that some farmers are ‘nice’ enough to give their animals food and room to walk around doesn’t make their exploitation right, either. The bottom line is that in 99% of all cases, farmed animals are raised for the sole purpose of marketing their flesh, milk, eggs, skin or hair at a profit, and if anything gets in the way of that (vet bills, high quality food, spacious housing), it will always be the animals who suffer. That is why even on the most ‘humane’ farms, practices like castration, dehorning and tail-docking are performed without anaesthetic; unwanted baby males are discarded or butchered; unproductive (read: not productive enough) animals are sent to slaughter; and so on.
If it was really about the animals’ comfort and wellbeing, the animals we’ve selectively bred to maximize productivity (at the expense of their physical and emotional health) would cease to be bred (read: artificially inseminated), and those that remained would be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in peace at places like Farm Sanctuary. Anything less than this is exploitation and abuse in the name of profit, pure and simple.
Question Three: Why do you care more about animals than people?
The Smart Answer: Actually, I don’t. One of the most beautiful things about empathy is that we don’t get to pick and choose who we care about, we just do. In the case of farm animals, I can’t help but care immensely about their suffering, not only because it is so cruel and unnecessary, but because it takes place on such a massive, institutionalized scale. Another beautiful thing about empathy is that there isn’t a finite amount of it. The more you feel it, the more of it you have. Which would explain why most of the vegans I know are also human rights activists, feminists, environmentalists, and so on. Being vegan doesn’t consume all of your empathy; it liberates it.
Another thing to consider is how closely tied animal and human suffering actually are. The foods that cause the most animal suffering are also the foods that cause the most human suffering, by way of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. And it doesn’t stop there: studies have shown that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. In short: I don’t care more about animals than people, I care about them all, together.
The Smart-Ass Answer: Since when does caring about animals mean not caring about people, as if the two are mutually exclusive? This is about as logical as asking someone who volunteers for the visually impaired why they don’t give a shit about the hearing impaired.
Question Four: But don’t plants have feelings too?
The Smart Answer: Actually, from what we understand at this point, they don’t. But while science has failed to demonstrate any measurable level of sentience in plants, it has become increasingly clear that animals not only feel and suffer like humans do, in some cases they feel and suffer more. Anyone who has ever spent a reasonable amount of time with a dog, for example, knows how intense their feelings can be; most people recognize a dog’s happiness, loneliness, excitement, anxiety, fear, jealousy, devotion, and even empathy as similar to our own. And people who care for pigs, chickens and cows assure us that their range of emotions is equally broad.
If you’re still convinced that plants belong in the same ethical grouping as animals (and people), consider this: all of the animals you eat EAT PLANTS — and lots of them. In fact, it takes 5-10 times more plants to produce an animal-based diet than a plant-based one. The process of cycling vast quantities of corn, soy and wheat through farm animals results in the loss of 90% of the protein, 96% of the calories, 99% of the carbohydrates, and 100% of the fibre. It would be difficult to design a more wantonly wasteful use of plants.
The Smart-Ass Answer: Wow, I would never have pegged you for a plant rights activist. And a botanist, bioethicist, and plant psychologist to boot. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought you were using pseudoscience to justify what you already know to be morally unjustifiable behaviour. I’m really looking forward to your forthcoming paper, “Assessing the Long-term Impacts of Refrigerator Crisper Confinement on the Emotional Development of the Common Eggplant”.
Question Five: What if your plane crashes in the middle of nowhere and all you can eat is whatever wild animals you can catch?
The Smart Answer: Life or death situations are ethics game changers, even if animals aren’t involved. Extreme situations can force people to choose not between right and wrong, but between wrong and less wrong. In the case where you are forced to choose between your life and someone else’s – or between two other lives – your decision will always be a difficult one, especially if the ‘someone’ in question is a person or animal you have a close relationship with.
Your question places me (a vegan) in a situation where I must kill animals in order to survive. The point of the question is to force me to admit that I either a) value my own life more than an unknown animal’s, thus ‘justifying’ your meat-eating, or b) value an unknown animal’s life more than my own, thus proving me to be the crazy, people-hating extremist you knew I was all along.
The bottom line is that it’s a loaded question, a bomb engineered to go off no matter how I approach it. The only honest way to answer the question is to say that I couldn’t possibly know how I would react in that situation, but I’m sure it would be very difficult. Unlike the situation we’re in now, where a win-win outcome (no one has to die) is not only possible, but as simple as opting for a veggie burger.
The Smart-Ass Answer: So let me get this straight: not only have I just been in a horrific plane crash, but I’m nowhere near a tofu factory? Talk about a double whammy of shitty vegan luck. First off, if all I can eat is what I can ‘catch’, I’m already in big trouble. I not only lack the claws and teeth required to take down a wild animal – I also lack the speed, agility, and strength. And even if I do manage to get ‘lucky’ and trap, say, a chipmunk (using the pack of almonds from the flight, which I somehow fail to recognize as a more direct food source), I’ll still die if it is the ONLY thing I can eat. Unlike true carnivores, who can survive solely on flesh, human beings require a broad range of plant-based nutrients like vitamin C, fiber and magnesium in order to survive.
Solid question, though. Kind of like the one about which I would rather save from a burning building: my partner or my child; my dog or a total stranger; my iPhone or someone else’s iPad. There’s nothing like a highly implausible hypothetical to defend a habit that has nothing to do with survival, and everything to do with lazy, ignorant, and arbitrary personal taste.