You not consuming animal products isn’t even a blip in the market, the same number of animals will be raised and killed whether you buy animal products or not.
Just because we cannot stop animal cruelty does not mean we should be part of it.
It is our responsibility as consumers to vote with our wallet for the things we support.
Detail - Analytic - Our Actions are our Ethics
In a capitalist framework, one of the only ways to influence companies is through ‘voting with your dollar’. This has already lead to the blossoming of vegan options in supermarkets around the world with companies rushing to take advantage of increasing vegan market.
Even if supply and demand didn’t have an impact on companies production choices (e.g. milk subsidies in the US) we implicitly take a position on the morality of these industries by deciding whether or not we participate in them. Just because we cannot stop animal cruelty does not mean we should be part of it.
This fatalistic argument suggests that because an injustice is the status quo and there is no reasonable hope of ending it that we are morally justified in participating in it.
Thought Experiment - Yulin Dog Festival
Let’s look at that through the lens of a different example, not even a terribly different one. Eating dogs.
As a tourist to China you visit Yulin during the summer solstice, and visit the Yulin Dog Festival where freshly cooked dog flesh is as available on the streets as pig and sheep flesh is all year round the world over.
Under normal circumstances you (presumably) find the idea of killing and eating dogs morally abhorrent, do you suspend this value judgement and eat the dog meat in Yulin? If not, why not? No more or fewer dogs will be killed based on your decision.
If the answer is “because it’s still wrong” then you need to face that this is true of other animals as well, irrespective of whether or not you abstain from consuming them would result in a direct reduction of suffering.
If the answer is “Because I find it personally uncomfortable but I would be okay with it otherwise” then we’re getting down to the core of the issue. Why are you okay with eating dog abstractly if you believe killing dogs for food is wrong? “There’s no negative consequence to eating the dog once it’s already dead. Why not eat it if you want to?”
In the Yulin dog festival scenario there are two things wrong with this:
- You will be supporting the industry by paying for the meal, that money goes back into next year’s festival to breed more dogs for slaughter.
- There is a disconnect here between the ethics of your actions and the ethics of the consequences of your actions.
Thought Experiment - Dead Body at the Side of the Road
Let’s look at the aforementioned ethical disconnect between actions and consequences through the light of another thought experiment.
Suppose you find a body on the side of the road, killed by a hit and run. Rather morbidly you rifle through the journal you find in their pocket learning they are entirely alone in this world and unmissed by anyone. You are miles away from any jurisdiction, on a disused logging road deep in the forest, the police will never find the body.
Is it ethical to eat the body?
Most people will be repulsed by the question and say of course it isn’t ethical, how could it be? Eating people is inherently wrong, unlike animals.
But what is the difference between this scenario and the Yulin dog scenario? If anything this scenario is more clear from negative consequences because you’re not providing monetary support to the person who did the killing, and therefore are not contributing to the likelihood that more people will be killed.
The difference is that you’ve successfully internalised that eating people is wrong irrespective of the circumstances, and are therefore unwilling to eat people even if it doesn’t make a difference to how likely it is for more people to die.
It is this internalisation of rightness or wrongness that most vegans hinge on when they make the decision not to consume animal products. It’s not even about whether or not an individual can make a difference (hint they can, influentially, in aggregate, and over time), it’s about whether the action is fundamentally right or wrong.
It is, at its core, about the fact that an animal had to die in order for you to be able to eat them.
Detail - Analytic - Monetary Support
The second problem with saying “it’s okay to eat a dog in the Yulin dog festival” when you disagree with the concept of killing dogs for food, is that irrespective of whether your purchasing the dog meat makes the dog any less dead, that purchasing decision is the demand that business owners take into account when they make stock decisions.
Your money from purchasing the dog meat will go towards breeding more dogs for next year’s festival, and even if the amount you pay is paltry, it has to be considered in aggregate. If every tourist supports the dog meat industry, it will grow to accommodate that demand. If none of them do, it will shrink accordingly.
Detail - Motive - Impact of Individual’s Actions - All Actions are Activism in an Oppressive System
All political movements engaged with righting a wrong throughout history have been composed of individuals. Without individuals there is no movement, and every action you take in service of animal liberation is an act of resistance against the status quo. The waiter whom you ask for the vegan option, might just think ‘huh, so many people are ordering that these days, I should check it out’. Your conversation with your friend might plant the seed of receptivity to veganism, and they might inspire others in turn to go vegan. The animal rights march you take part in might be the biggest ever and make the news. You might inspire, or get inspired through activism to be, a driving force in the animal rights movement.
Every action, no matter how small, matters. You don’t have to boil the ocean, you just have to make a splash.
Whatever you do, just don’t forget, veganism is not for vegans.
Veganism is for the animals.