In debates between meat-eaters and veggies, the rhetoric (on both sides) is positioned as competing versions of ‘the truth.’ But I’m willing to support the vegans — on one condition.
I want to share a little project of mine that I believe could make a small but meaningful difference in the dialogue — shall we be honest and call it a “dispute” — that goes on between vegan advocates who believe the animal kingdom is off limits to humanity, and the rest of us who believe that animal agriculture is an honorable profession and the inclusion of meat and dairy in the American diet is 100 percent nutritious and desirable.
The idea started with the receipt of an email from an organization called Vegan Outreach, a group that I’ve criticized on occasion for both its hubris in insisting that their extreme vision of the “proper” diet is one that everyone must embrace, and for their relentless accusations of torture and suffering that they claim is endemic in the business of livestock production.
The email solicited donations from vegetarian believers to support VO’s outreach program, which consists primarily of proselyting college students that the livestock industry constitutes a moral offense to society, and that eating meat guarantees ill health, chronic disease and a host of even less desirable effects.
On its website and in its literature, the group tries to portray veganism as trendy, citing Google’s 24,000 search results for “vegan 2013,” and the estimates of nine million vegetarians in the United States. Logic would suggest that based on those numbers, there are 321 million Americans who are meat eaters. But logic aside, the other argument VO makes is that meat eating is killing us, citing statistics on heart disease, diabetes and cancer incidence as if it’s somehow proven that animal foods are the cause of such mortality data.
And of course, they trot out the trendy argument that meat eaters are ultimately responsible for everything from rainforest destruction to resource depletion the threat of climate change.
We won’t bother summarizing the animal abuse argument. Anyone with more than a couple hours’ experience in this industry has heard those arguments ad nauseum.
So here is the email from Vegan Outreach (actually a correction to a previous solicitation):
“In encouraging you to consider a monthly donation to VO, we said that $10 a month breaks down to four cents per day, when actually, it’s forty cents per day. We sincerely apologize for this error. Thank you to the reader who pointed it out. Coincidentally, four cents a day does add up to $36 a year, which, as a one-time donation, would make you an official Member of The Vegan Club and get you some pretty neat membership gifts as well.”
And here’s my offer: I will make that 40-cents-a-day donation, out of the lucrative income I earn opposing VO’s extremist views, to become an official Member of The Vegan Club — on one condition: The leadership of Vegan Outreach must publicly admit that the vegan lifestyle, as honorable and moralistic as they believe it to be, is merely a choice, an alternative to “conventional” agricultural practices and mainstream dietary recommendations, and that a vegan diet is neither normal nor natural, but instead the by-product of modern science and technology that offers us modern consumers food choices that simply didn’t exist a few generations ago.
I’ll join the club if they admit the truth: Choosing a veganism is akin to choosing celibacy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either, and in fact, there are good arguments that both choices are associated with valid moral principles.
Point being, strict adherence to eating only plants is a voluntary choice that cannot and should not be positioned as the preferred lifestyle for society in the 21st century.
If the folks who make a living demonizing animal agriculture as leaders of Vegan Outreach will admit that they’re selling a lifestyle, as noble and principled as they believe it is, that must be positioned as a choice people make for reasons other than pretending it’s a moral imperative.
If they’re willing to acknowledge that veganism is a modern construct for people who believe their choice make a statement about modern agriculture — in the same way one could take a stand against overpopulation by refusing to have children — I’ll fork over the cash to support their efforts to convince people of the validity of their message.
Stay tuned. I’ll be reporting on the response I receive.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.