This was originally a reply I wrote to a post on Feministing.com. It became so long and elaborate that I re-wrote it as a post.

I think feminism and veganism in America are so closely associated with each other because of the extreme cultural significance of meat here. As Carol Adams showed in The Pornography of Meat, advertizing of meat is so sexist and so vile, as are advertisements using women, that it’s impossible for feminists not to see the connection. I don’t think it’s the same in many other cultures, and certainly not this extreme.

Many Hindus are vegetarian (not my family) and traditional Hindus are strict about widows being vegetarian, since they’re supposed to give up all pleasures of life. Growing up in that culture, it was kinda feministic for me to rebel against vegetarianism. I’ve realized later that this is not the way to be radical, as I was basically following a patriarchal model of appearing dominant by oppressing another group of beings. Now I usually never eat meat, milk or fish, or eggs, though I still remember the taste and give in at rare times. I have a lot of respect for feminists who maintain their veganism strictly.

I don’t think it’s universally wrong to consume meat, because in many parts of the world, vegetation is scarce, so people have a meat based diet. Meat consumption also makes sense for some climates and some nutritional reasons, when vegetables aren’t adequate. I think humans have always been a part of the food chain so it’s not “unnatural” to eat meat either. Besides, just as animals have lives, plants have lives and creating a hierarchy between organisms with sensation and organisms without apparent sensation (plants) is just as arbitrary as the hierarchy between humans and animals.

However, what’s wrong is the amount of meat we consume, and many people’s attitudes about meat consumption. Western countries, and countries that are westernizing fast are consuming wayyy too much meat and it shows in our health. Meat is not easy to digest and any food that stresses our digestive system out raises the level of inflammation in our body. If we have meat once in a while, the damage can be repaired, but if we have it so often then the damage can lead to inflammatory diseases, which can predispose someone to everything from arthritis to heart disease to cancer. The concept of factory farming of animals is also wrong to me. Meat is not supposed to be cheap, because we aren’t supposed it eat it as often! Factories grow animals under filthy, high stress environments, then give them antibiotics to promote rapid growth. This not only damages the meat but increases the number of antibiotic resistant microbes in the environment. Then there’s the obvious torture of animals in factory farming (fois gras anyone?), and who knows how it harms the health and psyche of the low-wage factory workers. As for hunting for animals for food, it isn’t wrong to me, but for sports it is.

So I support and admire vegan feminists in this context. Giving up animal products is a strong and effective political statement. There’s no way to defend consumption of factory farmed animal products for feminists who are informed about the issue.

Animal research is another thing I’m conflicted about. For sure it’s unethical from an egalitarian view. We haven’t used results from Nazi experiments on Jews because they were unethical, so it is wrong to not apply the same standard to animals, who in my view are equal to humans. Any experiment that deliberately causes pain is absolutely wrong. However, being a medical student, I can see how much knowledge has been obtained from animal experiments that don’t cause “direct” pain. Ultimately though it doesn’t really matter whether the experiment causes pain or not, because the concept of using an animal for our benefit is unethical. Switching to strictly human based clinical trials or observational studies should provide different, but equally important knowledge. I basically think there are many things we already do know about human medicine, if only Westernized scientists would try to understand other medical systems. I don’t mean in a randomized clinical trial way, that proves whether something is a placebo effect or not; that is evaluating other systems only from a Western medical view. I mean traditional Western medicine has to see other systems completely, and understand that a lot more factors are required in those systems. Substitution of an herb in place of a synthetic drug without making dietary or lifestyle changes is not so-called “alternative” medicine.

Where I disagree with most traditional vegans is the way they defend the ethics of not eating meat. Many vegans tend to think that meat eating is inherently wrong because we are hurting a being, and that is the end of that. I heard from one person that this was an “Utilitarian” argument, which I can understand. But being utilitarian is not being absolutely ethical. We judge the morality of an action by the amount of suffering we PERCEIVE. So let’s say we don’t understand how much suffering a group of people – poor/minority/women – go through, then we won’t see anything wrong with oppressing them. Or let’s say that a person isn’t outwardly expressing suffering, would we be able to judge their action properly and react appropriately?

What I’m saying is that the difference between the suffering of plants and animals is a matter of our perception. Of course there seems to be multiple differences, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t discover later that plants have other ways of showing “suffering.” Besides, if suffering is the main issue, is it okay to anesthetize an animal and then kill and eat it? There are a small number of people who are FRUITARIANS – they eat only fruits that don’t kill the plant while extracting, so no potatoes, cabbage, greens, wheat, etc. Are they at a moral higher ground than vegans? They might even be damaging their own health for the cause of not killing life.

I think this difference between sentient/non-sentient life forms is a weak theory to defend vegetarianism/veganism. For me a much stronger argument is environmental preservation, and health reasons. Environmental preservation includes includes eating very little meat and fish, and not growing mono-crops to make processed food that deplete the soil of nutrients. It also supports local foods, as growing genetecially engineered foods in unnatural habitats, or transporting vegetables from far away is very environmentally degrading. One person commented on this that should we stop sending food to poor countries because it’s environmentally harmful? Well, first of all, many of those countries are now in need of food because of our very agricultural practices. And many of those countries are suffering because of the pollution from industrialized countries causing global warming. The purpose of supporting local foods, vegetables and meat, is to reduce this pollution and make communities self-sustainable, so they’ll need less food aid. Heck, if Americans just ate healthy portions then we wouldn’t spend so much energy making huge amounts of low-grade food that we waste. It’s all about reducing our carbon foot print.

This brings me to another comment someone brought up – if people have all the necessary vegetarian foods, then is it wrong for them to consume meat? Not if those vegetables aren’t locally grown, so it harms the environment in transportation, but the meat is local. If the deer population in your area is high, and you can hunt a deer to feed your family for days, why would you buy more non-local fruits and veggies instead? You may be supporting evil Monsanto by doing that. Now of course in reality many of us don’t plan our diets so ethically and then we are in the wrong. I’m guilty of that too.

So again, I believe eating meat is not inherently wrong. Herbivores eat plats, carnivores eat meat, and omnivores have evolved to eat both. In some cases it may even be more wrong to eat highly processed vegetarian foods that damage the environment. eating meat is only wrong in certain contexts, like the current industrialization of meat. I admire people who’ve made the conscious decision to harm the environment less, and not take part in animal torture, but I see no basis for saying all meat eating is wrong.

This is not an argument against vegetarianism/veganism though. Along the same lines of evolution, humans have evolved to have a conscience, so we can make decisions that are above and beyond our survival. Hence, it’s wrong to eat animals in certain contexts, especially if we have other food options for adequate survival.

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