Monday, May 30, 2011

What I Have Learned from Exploring Veganism

At the risk of rushing to conclusions, here are a few things I have learned.

1.  There is no simple principle behind veganism. It is not, or not only, about not killing animals; it is not just about domination; it is not about exploitation except perhaps where eating is concerned; and it is not about the "natural" inclination of humans.  I have come to think that veganism is a lifestyle that works for people who wish to think about their relationship with animals and the planet at all times.  Thoughtful veganism is hard work; consistent thoughtful veganism is yet harder.

2.  Veganism is not quite like an orthodox religion.  Each practitioner comes to his or her own balance.  Still a curious and intellectual vegan must think about actions so often that it is a bit like a religion which requires many prayer sessions a day.

3. The eating is easy.  Breakfast with friends and family was the hardest thing, but otherwise there always seemed to be things to eat.  If I liked fruit more, even the breakfasts would have been easier.

4.  I saved the lives of a few animals this month (not counting the extra few that might have died while the farmer harvested his field for my quinoa).  Right now that feels good but I am not sure that feeling will stay with me.

5.  What I enjoyed most about my vegan experience:

* Discovering new foods
* Seeing the deep differences between vegetarianism and veganism
* Discussing veganism and vegetarianism with others
* Becoming better informed (for example, a real highlight for me was reading and thinking about Kleiber's Law, discussed in my post on evolution)
* Best of all was running into people who had read my blog and reading comments from people who have thought about these things much more than I have.


  1. Nathaniel, I think this has been a terrific project, and you have done a great job with the blog. I've really enjoyed exchanging ideas and arguments with you, and that will of course continue, blog or no blog. I think that you've raised some very fundamental issues, which I hope you'll continue to explore. Among them: What is the basis of moral status (is it sentience? life? or something else). Why do we have duties to animals and the environment, if we do? (Is it because of human goals and ends, or because of the intrinsic importance of animals and the environment, or some combination of these?). Are our ethical duties duties to real existing individual creatures, or to systems, such as populations, species, ecosystems? What is the relationship between doing harm and allowing harm to occur (that "trolley problem")?

    I like what you said here about veganism being like a religion, because I feel that it is not exactly an ethical system: its conclusions can't quite be defended as flowing from some ethical idea such as the importance of diminishing suffering, or of respecting creatures' autonomy. I feel I don't really understand how it all fits together, the way I do with vegetarianism. But you've helped me learn a lot about it, and understand it better than I did.

    I think you are a promising philosopher! It will be fun to see where these interests and talents take you over the next few years.

  2. Ha! I think conclusion # 2 is so true! It does seem like that, yes.

    Conclusion # 1 seems spot on to me. One of the advantages of veganism is that it drives one to become explicitly philosophical in one's relationship with the wider Earth (understood as a continuum of life and death).

    Thanks for your project. Also, I referred it to a class on environmental citizenship at Ohio State University, just fyi.