Yes, I’m a Vegan

cow-983119_1280

New to the world and suitably confused, an intelligent, breathing creature is dragged from its mother, never to see her, or anything, again. A result of forced impregnation, this living being exists only as a byproduct of the milk which exists to serve its nourishment, too expensive even to be sold to a slaughterhouse, let alone kept alive. Naturally unwilling to face the savagery herself—this would be too much—the dairy farmer throws some coins into the bloodied hands of a knackerman, after he kills and disposes of the biological waste. (Had the calf been female, she might have been spared this fate in order to serve as her mother’s successor, but those males slaughtered early are probably the lucky ones in this regard.) The mother is left with no one to provide her milk to except those who on that farm need it least: members of our own exigent species. She is sucked dry up to three times per day, before being re-impregnated or sent to be butchered. The resulting milk then begins a long journey from the distributer to the supermarket to the shopping basket to the plastic carrier bag, before finally ending up in a cup of tea, which I do not finish.

I have never felt more embarrassed than when I first recognised my role in this circus of inhumanity. Unimaginable levels of suffering are being unceasingly funded by the wallets of the consumers of animal products; this is a uniquely economic moral emergency, which disappears the moment we refuse to afford any more of our money to the animal industry. To prevent this suffering, the remedy is as simple as choosing something else on the menu, and after beginning to make this decision several months ago I have committed myself to never again allow my convenience to balance upon the carcasses of any sentient members of our moral community.

That cow is unlike us in many important ways. Its wellbeing requires much less to maintain than most human beings. It is less intelligent, has less self-awareness and less of a sense of dignity than most human beings. It does not philosophise. It cannot vote or enjoy poetry. Yet that cow knows pain as we do. That cow feels as we do. That cow recognises its children and distress in their faces as we do. That cow wants to live, just as we do.

That cow is unlike us in many important ways, and yet those few ways in which it does resemble us are the only ones ethically relevant, and thus the only ones that should determine how we treat them.

48 comments

  1. You are totally right. As the great Jeremy Bentham put it: “The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But, can they suffer?”

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  2. hi ,alex
    i hope you read this comment ,because i have some problems with veganism . My main problem is that you cant just free these animals into the wild . After thousands of years of demostications and living without predators most of them wont able to survive on this planet , and those that survive will become invasive species which means that they will destroy the habitat and the native animals in the area . Many people say that we will just keep in captivaty , but who will pay for all these animals ? The meat or the milk companies will not pay for them because they wont be able to make a penny from them. there are billions of animals that are owned by these companies , even if we decided to make charities for them we wont be able to pay for all of them.Even if we made our best efforts to support these animals we will still have many vegans who want to free these animals into the wild which is a very very bad idea.

    your fellow human ,monther

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    1. There really isn’t any reason to free them into the wild. A better proposal would be to simply stop breeding them. Besides, it’s not as though everyone will become vegan all at once. It’s a slow process composed of many individuals making tough choices. That’s how the demand for meat can gradually decline.

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    2. I am not sure your argument is valid.

      Not everyone will become vegan any time soon. What will happen is that as the demand for slave animal flesh dwindles, so will their population. On the day that slave animals are no longer in demand, the remaining few could be cared for at zoos and other institutions.

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      1. I think its a valid argument. Especially in an ethical sense. There’s a dilemma with the assertion that farm/meat industry is immoral, if the abolition of it would be immoral as well (as in leading to death and suffering of the animals, regardless).

        The answer in these comments seems to be that its OK because not all are going follow the morals at the same time. That reasoning is very unsatisfying. Basically saying that the industry is immoral, but in order to reach to a moral ending some should not follow these morals right away.

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    3. The animals would just stop being deliberately bred in their billions when demand reduces. People aren’t going to go vegan overnight, so this idea that millions of animals are going to suddenly be released isn’t going to happen. It would happen very gradually over a long period of time. Some may go to sanctuaries, some may be able to be released into the wild to fend for themselves, but, once they’ve stopped being bred there wouldn’t be such large numbers. There is talk of “rewilding” some areas of the countryside, so there could be national parks or woodland where they could go.

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      1. Hi there, I hope Alex answers your question because it is a very good one. However, it is a simple one to answer. Your hypothetical will only exist if the world goes vegan overnight, which is not possible. Every year it seems like the production of meat and dairy has declined due to the growing number of vegans. If less people buy their products the less these companies will bring those animals into existence. So over time as we grow into a mainstream vegan world the production of animal products will have gradually disappeared and those animals product companies will have either adapted to the growing vegan demand or go broke.

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    4. Do you think the world will go vegan overnight or do you think it will be a slow process as the demand increases for strictly plant based products?

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    5. Hi there! Because the shift towards veganism will certainly not happen overnight, the animal agriculture industry will gradually breed less of these “farm animals” into existence as people begin to demand vegan alternatives, thus reducing the amount killed and, eventually, leading to none of these animals existing at all- apart from maybe a few thousand that will spend the rest of their lives happily at farm animal sanctuaries as they are now. These animals being released into the wild is a scenario that we don’t have to worry about as the change will occur gradually by supply and demand, not an overnight ban of animal agriculture.

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    6. Eat the last one of them as we normally would, but don’t bread anymore.
      It will take less than a year to end their suffering for good.

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    7. Eat the last one of them as we normally would, just don’t breed anymore.
      It won’t take more than a year to end their suffering for good.

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    8. Is it not better to kill all these animals and not continue the suffering? What you’re proposing is instead of doing something about it, we just continue to kill and eat them, while also forcing them to breed so we can kill and eat their children. Even if there is no good solution (and I don’t know if there is or isn’t), isn’t it absolutely better to kill them and not keep reproducing them?

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    9. they won’t be released to the wild. this would only occur if everyone would switch to veganism tomorrow, which won’t happen. this will be a gradual change and we’ll have time to sort out every problem that we may face. vegans don’t want all factory animals to be released into the wild tomorrow, ever heard of animal sanctuaries?
      don’t try to find “problems with veganism” and make the move, for the animals, and for all of us 🙂

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    10. Hey monther,
      I try to answer to your concerns since Alex seems to be too busy to visit this comment section.

      So essentially you are asking where the domesticated animals of the animal industry go after everyone has gone vegan?

      The answer may be simpler than you think: It’s not realistic to expect the whole world to go vegan overnight. Instead the change will be gradual. The animal industry will respond to the decreasing demand of animal sourced food products and breed less of them into existence.

      If we ever come to a point when the whole world’s vegan, we will probably be left with some of these animals. But I wouldn’t expect it to be billions of homeless animals. It’ll be easier to find them a place in animal sanctuary then.

      Some have even hypothesized that vegan world would mean the extinction of some of these breeds, and I can see why that’d be the case with the “broiler chicken” especially. – That’s an example of a breed that’s been bred to such extremes that their legs can’t even support their heavy body. Conserving such breeds would be arguably immoral.

      Best wishes, Ikuna

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    11. So I am vegan and I totally agree that releasing that many animals all at once would cause a lot of issues. But, l don’t think that it is the goal to free all the animals, it’s to minimize the suffering that happens to those animals. So to do that there are a lot of solutions but the one that I think that Alex would agree with is probably the best solution that we are aware of. Here is how it goes; if the goal is to reduce the suffering that would happen to the animals you would want to put the meat, dairy and egg industry’s out of business. By not purchasing animal products you reduce the demand for those products which would reduce the supply of the products (so less chickens, cows, etc. would be artificially born). And eventually, if enough people participate, you would reduce the demand so much that it would reduce the supply of these animals. So when they do eventually go out of business and are unable to continue to artificially breed them, the population of those animals are not overwhelming and unmanageable. So if enough people stop supporting it, it will all come tumbling down.

      Sincerely, your fellow living being

      P.S. I apologize for this not being well typed and worded.

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  3. After 58 years on this planet, many of them as a guilt-feeling carnivore, two things have finally led me to commit tobveganism:

    1. the responses of many meat defenders to this issue amounting to “bacon tastes awesome.” The pervasive lack if willingness to engage ulimilately highlighted, for me, the inadequacy of their defense.

    2. Your honest wrestling with this issue.

    Thank you.

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  4. I sympathize with your point of view, I think you are making good moral points.
    At the risk of seeming heartless another point should also be considered. You’re about 10,000 years too late. All this should have been considered before humans started domesticating our fellow creatures a long time ago.
    All of the typical farm animals are no where near wild or natural. None of the food you find in a grocery store, or what you consume is natural. These are actually ” man-made ” animals and plants. Humans have through artificial selection created these creatures for our own consumption.
    Can you imagine the environmental damage we’d do if we consumed wild, natural animals and plants for consumption?
    We, simply don’t have the ability to provide for our own nourishment in a way which doesn’t violate another living creature, animal or plant. One day, maybe we will.
    Yes, there are moral arguments that can be made against killing animals for food but for the present we are doing the most moral thing we can.

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    1. We should have done this a long time ago and we always cause a certain amount of suffering to beings when we buy any kind of food. Are you saying this is a reason to keep paying for animals to be directly slashed across the throat? Just curious on your stance.

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      1. Animals have a moral value and plants don’t. Are you sure? How do you know?
        This is really an endless rabbit hole of semantics.
        Are we to condemn our distant ancestors for killing animals for food? How about the Native Americans who killed bison for food? Would you condemn them for killing to survive? Were those bison less aware or have less moral value?
        When a Tiger or Lion kills for food, do we pass moral judgement on that? Is the antelope the lion kills to eat less alive or morally aware than a modern cow?
        On this planet, in this biosphere, life consumes life.
        I’m not saying veganism is wrong headded. If anyone wants to be a vegetarian go ahead. Just don’t play yourself as being morally superior to everyone else.

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    2. Amon Jones, you’re right about the damage we’d do if we consumed wild animals and plants. There are too many of us here for that to be possible. But that’s not an argument against veganism.

      We do have the ability to provide for our own nourishment whilst minimising harm to planet and animals and we most definitely are not doing the most moral thing we can. Breeding animals into existence by the billion and wasting food on keeping them alive in appalling conditions until we stab them to death to obtain a fraction of the nutritional value they’ve consumed is not moral. It’s not even sensible. It’s greedy and wasteful.

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  5. Damn, you are good.
    This made me wish you were teaching somewhere, then I realized you ARE doing that everywhere.
    And thank you.
    I may not stop completely today, but I am going to start cutting down more and more with stopping as a goal to reach as soon as possible.

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    1. Amazing Daniel. I went vegan 1 year ago and it has been an enlightening experience. There is always more to learn. Check out a documentary called DOMINION. It’s filmed over here in Australia. It will help you reach that end goal.

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  6. As the grandson of a dairy farmer, I would like to point out that choosing to be vegan is a fine personal choice, but it is not the only ethical choice.

    In small towns most people would have access to small-scale farms run in traditional ways that treat animals well. It might require an ethical non-vegan to do a little searching, but such milk is likely available.

    In big cities people usually have access to ethically-sourced dairy products with through farmers’ markets or through grocers who source and sell ethically-grown products.

    Farming has been going on for thousands of years, and for most of that time smarter farmers knew that treating the animals well both resulted in better quality products and we’re easier to handle. Contented cows are cooperative with milking.

    Of course when people make the choice to find and consume farm products only from ethical farms they often pay several times as much for the food as they would for products from what are sometimes called “factory farms,” but it’s money well spent for a clean conscience.

    That can be as ethical as being vegan. If there were a mass movement to veganism, one effect would be that small, traditional, ethical farms would lose their ethical customer base and go out of business, leaving only factory farms able to run profitably. Animals raised in a family farm might be forced to either be destroyed or sold to a factory farm, a rather terrible result. Encouraging people to simply spend their money with ethical farms, on the other hand, increases the proportion of animals being treated humanely.

    For me, the ethical path of choice for dairy is not to become vegan, but to budget my food spending to accommodate ethically-grown products. The food is often of higher quality, and I support a contented life for the farm animals.

    I agree that the question is more complex when it comes to whether to be vegetarian. Raising a dairy cow ethically is one thing, but raising animals specifically for slaughter is a bigger question. My culture doesn’t consider death to be an absolute bad. Everything dies eventually and, personally, if an animal is treated well in life and slaughtered in a humane way then, personally, I don’t have a problem with that. But I also recognize that some cultures are less comfortable with death, especially death that is intentionally imposed on another being.

    May I ask whether you are familiar with Jainism? I think you might find the dietary ethics of Jainism am interesting philosophical standard. They are vegan, but even avoid vegetables they can only be harvested in ways that are disruptive to small creatures like insects. So many of those practicing Jainism won’t eat things like onions, potatoes, and other root vegetables, and obviously won’t eat honey, and some will avoid refined sugar because of how disruptive harvesting cane or beets is. Even grains can be problematic if machinery is used because of the side effect of accidentally killing nice and insects during harvest. Give it a look, is be interested to know your thoughts on it.

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  7. As the grandson of a dairy farmer, I would like to point out that choosing to be vegan is a fine personal choice, but it is not the only ethical choice.

    In small towns most people would have access to small-scale farms run in traditional ways that treat animals well. It might require an ethical non-vegan to do a little searching, but such milk is likely available.

    In big cities people usually have access to ethically-sourced dairy products with through farmers’ markets or through grocers who source and sell ethically-grown products.

    Farming has been going on for thousands of years, and for most of that time smarter farmers knew that treating the animals well both resulted in better quality products and we’re easier to handle. Contented cows are cooperative with milking.

    Of course when people make the choice to find and consume farm products only from ethical farms they often pay several times as much for the food as they would for products from what are sometimes called “factory farms,” but it’s money well spent for a clean conscience.

    That can be as ethical as being vegan. If there were a mass movement to veganism, one effect would be that small, traditional, ethical farms would lose their ethical customer base and go out of business, leaving only factory farms able to run profitably. Animals raised in a family farm might be forced to either be destroyed or sold to a factory farm, a rather terrible result. Encouraging people to simply spend their money with ethical farms, on the other hand, increases the proportion of animals being treated humanely.

    For me, the ethical path of choice for dairy is not to become vegan, but to budget my food spending to accommodate ethically-grown products. The food is often of higher quality, and I support a contented life for the farm animals.

    I agree that the question is more complex when it comes to whether to be vegetarian. Raising a dairy cow ethically is one thing, but raising animals specifically for slaughter is a bigger question. My culture doesn’t consider death to be an absolute bad. Everything dies eventually and, personally, if an animal is treated well in life and slaughtered in a humane way then, personally, I don’t have a problem with that. But I also recognize that some cultures are less comfortable with death, especially death that is intentionally imposed on another being.

    May I ask whether you are familiar with Jainism? I think you might find the dietary ethics of Jainism am interesting philosophical standard. They are vegan, but even avoid vegetables they can only be harvested in ways that are disruptive to small creatures like insects. So many of those practicing Jainism won’t eat things like onions, potatoes, and other root vegetables, and obviously won’t eat honey, and some will avoid refined sugar because of how disruptive harvesting cane or beets is. Even grains can be problematic if machinery is used because of the side effect of accidentally killing nice and insects during harvest. Give it a look, is be interested to know your thoughts on it.

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  8. Hey Alex, I just wanted to run some things by you.
    Veganism does at this point seem to be the moral “high ground” so to speak. But I think it would be more advantageous to focus on first getting everyone to agree that the conditions these animals live in are terrible and in-humane. If we can focus on that, we can create better lives for these animals, and as more money has to be devoted to taking care of these animals, the price for meat and animal products will go up. I also think introducing methods farmers can use to more easily switch to plant based farming will make some switch to that, thus eventually bringing the price of plant based products down.

    Idk it seems to me the conversation should be less “is eating meat moral” and it should be “are the conditions in which food animals live humane and how can we change that”. It also tackles this from a different angle that doesn’t say “stop eating bacon” as well as actually making changes to the industry as a whole. As far as I can tell that seems to be hitting the problem at the problems source in a way that more people can get behind

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  9. A good point, Alex.
    Now I hope you will never buy a newspaper again, nor for that matter, toilet paper. In fact, don’t ever buy books or magazines. As for furniture, such as tables and chairs, that will be a problem too.
    Because vast swathes of rainforest are disappearing at an alarming rate, especially in the Amazon region. In addition, much of Magadascar has been stripped of its rainforest cover as well, and I believe, the pine forests of Russia is suffering the same fate too – all victims of logging, much of it illegal.

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    1. First of All Veganisem does not aim for perfection it aims for a practical way of life while excluding needless harm to animals and if what you are saying is correct than I would ditch paper and go digital.
      But I guess the rain forest is cut down for differant reasons – the main reason is to grow soy for livestock.
      And whatever is the reason in a Vegan world there is a bigger chance mankind will look for a better solution.
      Lets imagine now a person who is trying to abolish slavery but than you might say look I saw you commenting a Shovinist remark to a woman so Im gonne keep all my slaves.
      One crime does not justify another.

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    2. A good point, Frank.
      Now that you participate in all of that, also murder your neighbor.
      Try to rape anyone you would like to, but of course don’t get caught because it’s illegal.
      If you want to steal anything go on with it, since you are already doing something wrong as buying newspaper.

      See what I’m doing here? The principle of veganism is to avoid cruelty ((as far as is possible and practicable)), focusing on diet will lessen the cruelty by a major fraction, probably higher than 90%.
      Include the clothes, zoos, circuses and cosmetics experimented on animals and it will probably reach 98%.
      The do-gooder argument is too fallacious, and the way you described it sounds too absurd to even reply to, but I hate seeing an argument against veganism without replying to because it might give the impression it actually makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Beautifully put – both blog and video. As a result, I’m now a Patreon. I hope others do the same. Wishing you every success.

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  11. This obsession of vegans to focus first and foremost on milk, the or one of the, animal products which in fact involves the least amount of killing and suffering (comparatively speaking) is counter-productive when it comes to actually helping animals.

    The most potent one step we ought to be encouraging is suggesting people stop eating chickens.

    It takes up to 250 chickens to produce the same amount of meals as one cow. That’s 250 to 1! And chickens are typically produced in a way which involves the greatest amount of suffering.

    Find our more at https://www.onestepforanimals.org/ – cheers!

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    1. Really?
      Do you really believe that producing milk, that’s artificially inseminating a cow throughout her life, taking all of their calves away from her, killing the male ones, exhausting her in her first 5 years while she would naturally live healthily up to 20 years causes the least amount of suffering?
      Yeah, no.

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  12. I have no idea where you get your information, but it clearly isn’t from visiting a real dairy. The animal’s welfare is paramount: unhappy cows don’t produce much milk. In a modern farm the cows spend most of their time standing in a field, eating the grass, and when they want to be milked they can go into the parlour where a robot will milk them, saving them the discomfort of having to wait for a farmer to do so and avoiding the risk of mastitis. Anthropomorphising the animals and presuming they suffer in the same way we do is unhelpful and an unrealistic way to view their existence.

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    1. The animal’s welfare is paramount only up until the point it is needed for its meat. In my mind, no matter how well you treat the animals can ever be a justification for killing them in the end. You are still stripping them of their rights. People often find that comparing industrial farming with slavery to be an unfair comparison. In my mind, the comparison could not be more accurate. Taking that into consideration, no matter how well you treat a human could never be a justification for killing them. Animals have feeling and preferences which are violated. Not having the same level of understanding, intelligence, feelings, or the same level of pain, does not mean they don’t have them, in which case we should respect them and not violate them.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Alex
    I have been following you for some years now, and I really appreciate all your work. I have a question that might be interesting to discuss with Ed Winters once you get a chance to get him on your podcast. Just to set the stage; I am Norwegian, 28 years old and do athletics. I am currently the Norwegian champion on 800 m and have been for the last 10 years. Taking my economical- and social status into consideration, I am currently convinced that I have no good reason what so ever to not be vegan. That being said, I am pescatarian, but my conscience is in no way free of guilt. As I said, I am absolutely convinced that my reasons for not going vegan are not valid (I’m not even certain what they are). My question is: since I’m not currently vegan, does that necessarily mean that on some level I’m not convinced by the arguments? A person could be convinced that pulling the trigger to save her own family is the correct thing to do, but when push comes to shove doesn’t have it in her to take a life. I recognize that not acting in accordance with once believes is indeed irrational.

    Keep up the good work!

    Thomas

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  14. Hi Alex. I have always followed you with great interest and respect, and your arguments and debates have always been persuasive and interesting. But when it comes to your rationalisation of veganism, I simply cannot believe it is the same person talking. What has happened to you? Suddenly, when you get onto the subject of veganism and animal rights morality, your rationalism seems to suddenly fall apart and you end up making statements and conclusions that are not rational, not logical, and simply follow vegan misunderstandings of reality.

    This is a huge topic so I will only present a few comments from your piece above for consideration. I would love to discuss it with you further, but who knows.

    The main problem I have with this piece, and it is a problem with all vegan argument, is that, because something is bad the emotive response is to get rid of it all, to cut it out and even ban it. It ignores the fact that because some is bad, it does not apply to all. But vegans are quite happy to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

    There are many farming methods, and practices of animal husbandry, usually long practiced traditional methods of balanced rotational farming, that benefit humans, AND the animals as well as benefiting the ecosystem and biodiversity as a whole.

    These methods are under threat from some of the destructive cruel and profiteering modern farming methods, and would be taken down with the modern methods if vegans have their way. We are then left with easily foreseen consequences, and undoubtedly additional unforeseen consequences to the remaining cultivation of our plant sourced food, which already is creating huge environmental and ecosystem problems. You are just swapping one set of problems for another.

    Vegans must be encouraged to look wider, outside the myopic constraints of their passion, to recognise and understand that all life, both plant and animal exists in a mutually dependent symbiotic relationship which is essential in order for the perpetuation of life to be maintained.

    For vegans to believe that we can step outside this and cherry pick the parts that we think will support us is dangerous and creates consequences that end up damaging ourselves as well as the rest of life around us.. It rejects our evolved place within this mutually supportive “family” of life..

    I have already gone on too long, but please re-read your piece and recognise the statements that are littered within it that are based on emotion, and opinion which you are using as evidence and truths which ultimately lead you to false conclusions.

    Before I stop, a couple of very brief example to get you started. “ Yet that cow knows pain as we do. That cow feels as we do.”….. You have no evidence for saying this, and it is in fact highly unlikely. Ask yourself what are the sources of your own “feelings” and experience?

    “ New to the world and suitably confused” …..Really? Newborn animals including Humans are born confused? Try to keep your statements factual rather than emotive when presenting a reasoned debate.

    “Unimaginable levels of suffering” … (again a hugely emotive and non factual comment)… are being unceasingly funded by the wallets of the consumers of animal products”. No they are not, they are only being funded by consumers that can’t be bothered to source where their food comes from. Do vegans source where their plant food comes from and only use ethically and environmentally friendly sources? ….No. That is because the doctrine encourages not thinking about these things. If it is wrong, ban it.

    By promoting the banning of animal agriculture, you are stifling people’s capacity to think for themselves, and their creativity in finding solutions to the problems of modern farming methods.

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  15. I agree with everything you said in this video. That said, it seemed like you were insinuating that your moral arguments were objective on this topic. That’s how it came across to me at least. Kind of odd since you and I agree that morality is ultimately subjective.

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