I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Greger’s work, and this post has come about because of his recent work in nutrition. But I think it speaks to a larger issue.
As much as I encourage healthy veganism on this blog, the first and most fundamental point of this blog is ethical veganism. And that’s part of the problem. I shouldn’t have to elucidate veganism as being ethical as opposed to some other kind.
The original Vegan Society describes veganism thusly: A vegan is someone who tries to live without exploiting animals, for the benefit of animals, people and the planet. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, with nothing coming from animals – no meat, milk, eggs or honey, for example. A vegan lifestyle also avoids leather, wool, silk and other animal products for clothing or any other purpose.
But let’s go back further. Let’s go back to the very beginning of modern day veganism, when Donald Watson who founded the above mentioned Vegan Society, first put down in words, his beliefs and ideology behind why he chose to become what he later termed vegan. The first issue of Vegan News from which I quote below can be found here. This is what he wrote:
For years many of us accepted, as lacto-vegetarians, that the flesh-food industry and the dairy produce industry were related, and that in some ways they subsidised one another. We accepted, therefore, that the case on ethical grounds for the disuse of these foods was exceptionally strong, and we hoped that sooner or later a crisis in our conscience would set us free.
That freedom has now come to us. Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently mature to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the ‘full journey’.
I would add that the ovo or egg industry is just as egregious and the reason why eggs are prohibited in the vegan diet.
The clear impetus and raison d’etre for veganism is based upon ethics. This is the basis of my veganism and should be the basis of anyone’s veganism. If you are vegan for SOLELY health reasons then you are not a vegan but rather a strict vegetarian. You might think I’m splitting hairs, but I’m not. It is an important distinction and one which we need to protect and reaffirm.
Because if you are clear as to the ethical basis of your veganism then the animal rights vs. animal welfare approach is easily addressed. Animal abolition should be the goal for animal rights and for the common goal of vegans. Animal welfare just allows the conscience to be assuaged and massaged while we continue to eat animals who have been “less” cruelly slaughtered.
Ethical veganism is about allowing animals to live their lives unencumbered by any stain of human cruelty or use, and humanity would only involve themselves in the lives of animals if at all, in a nurturing and caring, empathetic role. The Golden Rule can and should be extended towards animals. Looking through this lens, it becomes apparent that if you would not wish to be eaten, however humanely you were treated and killed beforehand, then naturally one should allow animals the full and unfettered use of their natural lifespan.
And this is where veganism is starting to lose its way, and perhaps I have been caught up in the smoke and mirrors of mistaking some forms of strict vegetarianism for veganism.
The case in point which brings about this blog post is Dr. Greger’s recent videos on health. He has a very helpful blog where he discusses the current research in nutrition. You can find it here. His last few videos would seem to recommend and suggest that the best “meat” to be eating is insects.
He might be producing these videos with his tongue firmly in cheek, but that remains to be seen. I don’t believe that vegans should or need to be promoting any type of animal use including insects. Many people do not need encouragement to start eating insects, and in fact, some will find this avant garde to do so and jump in within abandon. This is indicative of humanity’s still undeveloped stage of infancy, and the vice of greed that grips most of us tightly.
Leave the animals and the insects alone. It should not need mentioning that insects are not food. Nevertheless, perhaps the error is mine, for as much as I tried, I could not find any indication that Dr. Greger calls himself a vegan. As such, perhaps he is solely interested in nutrition and health, ethics be damned.
But here’s the rub and the problem. He is often found speaking at events where you would find a large assortment of vegans and vegetarians. He often speaks at the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii and other venues which promote ethical veganism. It says so right on the front page of VSH’s webpage.
Perhaps this is where the confusion starts. Most of the “vegan” doctors out there are perhaps nothing more than proponents of the health benefits of a strict vegetarian diet. Although to be fair to Dr. John McDougall, he seems to have found and perhaps even embraced the ethical aspect of veganism. But I cannot say the same for all the others except perhaps for Dr. Neal Barnard.
Looking around the web, I see very few ethical vegan blogs out there amongst the littering of food based vegan blogs. Food is important, but it is a soft issue. What veganism needs to focus on is abolition and animal rights. And we need to draw a clear line between those, like Dr. Greger who are willing to entertain the idea that some animal foods are perhaps not harmful and “ethical” vegans who are interested in animal abolition regardless of whether some animal foods in the diet might not be harmful.
It has been concretely proven that a vegan diet can be just as healthy (though I’d argue healthier) than a diet including animal products. So if we choose to eat animal based foods we do so solely on the basis of seeking pleasure for one of the base senses i.e. taste.
And if we are willing to commit or allow others to commit atrocities and violence for the base sense of pleasure, is there any end to the violence we’ll be willing to tolerate for other reasons. I ask that you think of the pain and violence involved in your glass of milk, chicken breast, steak or fish. Veganism is the foundation for a non-violent life and an opportunity to stand for all that is decent, kind, empathetic and loving about the human condition.
If you see the value in living without contributing to unnecessary violence, then please consider veganism. And if you are rather just interested in the healthful aspects of the vegan diet, please consider calling yourself a strict vegetarian, for veganism has a tough enough road to climb without having to continually correct public misconception about it being a dietary “thing”.