Being a vegetarian, it’s actually difficult to justify on the same principles the reasons why I’m not a hardline vegan.
I became a vegetarian in 2002 because I was concerned about the environmental destruction that a meat-based diet can cause. I also was generally interested in becoming healthier. During stressful situations like finals week, however, it seems I become a kind of ‘junkfood vegetarian’ who drinks only coffee and eats chocolate wafers. And I feel as though I need to recommit myself to the principles that led me to vegetarianism in the first place, perhaps pushing myself in a more hardline direction.
Although many vegetarians shy away from saying that the animal liberation ethics played a role in their decision (I felt the same way too) I have been increasingly aware of its significance and less convinced by the reactionary and dismissive critical response that some animals deserve systemic enslavement by other animals. I feel as though if one were to become a vegan, this is the most crucial aspect of the rationale. I don’t know of many vegans who based their decisions on health or environmental reasons alone. Most of those people remain simply vegetarian.
I recently came across the Hardline Manifesto on the Vegan Revolution website. It’s not particularly authoritative. It’s a statement, and a commitment, to a set of values. In many ways I’ve become more “hardline” in the last five years. I justify my vegetarianism on nearly the same principles that any reasonable vegan would. I’ve said, along with Robert Nozick, “Kantianism for humans; utilitarianism for animals.” I’ve also said, along with the transhumanists, that there is no inherent exceptionalism for humans. I don’t subscribe to the Singerian view of utilitarianism across the board to justify animal liberation. That view is pretty popular among vegetarians. I think utilitarianism is generally ridiculous and leads to all sorts of undesirable scenarios. And so I’m struggling to elaborate the foundations of my theoretical opposition to hardline veganism.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that my opposition is actually not theoretical. Although theoretically, veganism is a much more accurate extension of my views on individual choice, health and consumerism, it is also less practical. There are less vegan options when eating out, for example, and it would require finding substitutes for things like eggs, milk and vitamin B 12. However, being a vegetarian also seemed impractical to me at first. Just think! I had to find substitutes for meat and cholesterol. That actually was fairly easy to do, and contrary to what my cousins think during family gatherings, I don’t “miss” meat or any meat-flavored artificial substance. And it turns out many of my friends are either vegetarian or vegan, so eating out isn’t something to stress about.
As I write about this, it seems much more appropriate to become what somebody once called a “flexitarian“. A flexitarian compromises his or her diet when it is less practical to uphold their principles. It’s not a theoretical objection. But I generally think that view is dishonorable. It says one’s principles are dictated by the social environment. If someone does not feel like speaking up and saying “I’m sorry, but I’m a vegetarian”, it seems like a complete cop out to adjust your principles for the time being. Now, if it were impossible to uphold those principles in some circumstance, it seems reasonable. But if it’s merely to be respectful to some dinner host, I don’t buy it.
I think that veganism is something more people can be flexitarian about, however. Vegan foods are harder to come by in social settings and within consumer society in general. These could be considered ‘non-theoretical barriers’ or something like that, because, while they do not exist in theory – they exist in practice. However, buying and preparing vegan foods for yourself is easier and has fewer barriers. Twenty years ago there were greater barriers to the vegetarian, but as vegetarianism has generally become more practiced, the non-theoretical barriers have virtually vanished. The pragmatist’s reply to vegetarianism now seems irrelevant. And the same may be true of veganism in the future.
So in the end, I think it is possible to justify becoming a vegan, but falling back on vegetarianism when the barriers are too high. And I think this is something I may be ready to do. The purpose of writing this is basically to demonstrate to myself that for me there are no theoretical barriers to practices like veganism, only practical barriers. And recognizing that has made me feel closer to veganism.