The Guardian published an op/ed piece a week ago by a woman named Jenna Woginrich titled “Why I Stopped Being a Vegetarian“, and I knew that I had to post a response of some sort.
In her piece, Ms. Woginrich exhibits levels of mental contortion and Orwellian doublethink that would be impressive if they weren’t so horrifying. She describes how after ten years of vegetarianism she came to the baffling realization that vegetarianism was only avoiding the question of animal treatment instead of confronting it.
She makes the argument that if you care about animals, the only logical course of action is to eat them, with the caveat that you should only eat animals that lived a happy, respectable life. Her argument is typical of the animal welfare philosophy: that animal slaughter will continue forever no matter what and that the only change that can possibly be made is a superficial reduction in some kinds of cruelty inflicted on livestock animals.
It is easy to see the weakness in the welfare argument: first and foremost it requires cognitive gymnastics to mesh the idea that caring about animals means killing animals. This is not an easy idea to grasp so she fills her piece with a lot of nonsensical metaphors like “you can stay in the rabbit hole…but the only way out is to eat the rabbit.”
The argument she makes – that refusing to consume animals doesn’t make a difference – is rooted in disempowerment. By convincing people that their choices are meaningless she can paint her own ideas as pragmatic when they are anything but.
The truth is that cruelty and compassion are non-issues. The western world didn’t attempt to deal with the problem of slavery by adopting legislation that gave slaves better housing, and it certainly didn’t deal with the problem by telling people to only buy goods from plantations where slaves were treated “humanely”. We dealt with slavery by ending the practice of humans owning other humans.
We don’t embrace “humane” reforms to other problems, we don’t advocate for humane murder of humans, we don’t advocate for compassionate genocide or humane pedophilia. We understand that these things are wrong and as much as we begrudgingly admit that it may be nearly impossible to rid the world of them completely, that doesn’t stop us from trying.
I’ve been vegan for over three years and every day I realize more and more why my decision is the right thing to do. Veganism isn’t about trying to change the conditions in one slaughterhouse or even all slaughterhouses. It isn’t about making life easier for one type of animal in one situation or saying that some kinds of torture and murder are acceptable while others are wrong.
The real question is whether or not a sentient being with a mind of its own should ever be considered the property of another being. For me that’s an easy question.
Being vegan isn’t about a diet, it isn’t about making a list of things I do not wear or consume. Veganism is the real life extension of my belief that an animal is not an object. I can no more own an animal than I can own a person. I can’t kill an animal because it’s smaller, weaker, or less intelligent than I am anymore than I can kill a child for the same reasons.
This theory is the foundation of all of my actions as an activist for animals. For more on the abolitionist theory, read “The Necessity of Theory” by Gary Francione.
I’m still vegan because I believe that my actions have meaning. I’m still vegan because I believe an animal has the right to live without being the property of another. I’m still vegan because peace, justice, and equality cannot exist in a world that slaughters billions for the trivial reason that they taste good.
Photo: Public Domain
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