Every Argument Against Veganism | Ed Winters | TEDxBathUniversity

Every Argument Against Veganism | Ed Winters | TEDxBathUniversity

Transcriber: Palma Mozes
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven
So when I say the word “vegan” to you,
what do you think of?
I’m sure for many of you,
you think of “Oh, vegans.
Why can’t they just live and let live?
I personally have no problem
with you being vegan,
but can you not force your views
and just respect my personal choice
to eat animal products?”
For some of you, you might be thinking,
“Ah, no, vegan. I could never be vegan.
I love the taste of cheese
far too much for that.”
And some you might
just be confused and thinking,
“But eating meat is the circle of life,
and after all, other animals
eat other animals,
so why can’t I?”
This is a selection of the things
that I used to say
when someone said the word vegan to me.
But I also used to say
that vegans were crazy
and that no one should ever go vegan.
But now I am vegan.
And so, how on earth did that happen?
It’s a question I often ask myself,
and so to try and understand
why it is that I’m now vegan,
I want to go through all the main
arguments that I used to make
and show you why I changed my mind.
And so, the first one:
“It’s personal choice.”
Can we morally justify not being vegan
by saying it’s our personal choice
to consume animal products?
Well, interestingly, yes,
it is our personal choice
to consume animal products
in the same way that it is
our personal choice to abuse a dog
or beat a cat.
In essence, what I’m saying
is that every action that we make
is a choice that we
personally choose to make.
And so to imply that it’s morally
justifiable to use animals
because it’s a personal choice
would mean that every action
that we as humans can make
must also be morally justifiable
because every action is a personal choice.
And so, is it morally justifiable
to randomly assault a stranger
on the street?
Is it morally justifiable
to go to a shelter, rescue a dog,
bring them home
and then abuse them yourself?
No. Of course it’s not.
Because those choices have a victim,
someone who suffers negatively
because of the personal choice
that we have made.
And so consequently,
the inclusion of a victim removes
any possibility for moral justification.
And besides, one of the reasons
that I went vegan in the first place
was for personal choice.
The personal choice of the trillions of
animals who are killed every single year.
Who have granted their choice?
They would just like to live their life
without human inflicted exploitation.
Remember, animals don’t willfully walk
onto the kill floor of a slaughterhouse.
They are forced there against their will.
Any notion of choice
has been removed for them,
and so when we cite personal choice
as a justification,
whose personal choice are we considering,
other than our own?
And if it is a choice,
then why would we choose to be cruel?
And so we might then think,
“Yes, but the difference is
these animals are bred for that purpose,
which is why your example
of abusing a dog is disingenuous
because that’s just needless suffering.”
To which I would say, yes,
but most of us find dog fighting
to be morally abhorrent,
yet many dogs used in fighting
are bred specifically for that purpose.
Does it make it acceptable?
So we might then say after that,
“Yes, but dog fighting
is illegal in this country,
but farms and slaughterhouses
are allowed under law;
they are lawful practices.”
But does legality equal morality?
Is something acceptable
just because the law says so?
I mean, if that was true,
then dog fighting would be moral
in the countries where it’s legal.
And if we apply that way of thinking,
let’s take it to a human situation.
Is female genital mutilation
a moral and acceptable practice
in the countries
where it’s legally condoned?
And let’s take this argument
and this line of thinking
and apply it to the “culture
and tradition” excuse as well.
Is it justifiable to kill dogs
during the Yulin dog meat festival
because the festival is a cultural event?
Is it justifiable to slaughter
dolphins in Japan
or pilot whales in the Faroe Islands
because those events are traditional?
And again, using that example
of female genital mutilation,
is it a moral practice simply
because it is cultural and traditional?
Because the thing is if we try
to excuse using animals by saying,
“Well, they form part of our culture
and can be used in our traditions,”
we therefore have to make
every cultural and traditional action
and practice morally justifiable
simply because they are cultural
and traditional practices.
And so we might get
to the point where we say,
“Well, that’s all fair enough,
but the thing is we need to eat
animal products to survive;
in fact, they are optimal to our diet.”
And so, the question becomes,
Are animal products a necessity?
Now, the American Dietetic Association,
which is the largest body of
diet and nutrition professionals in the US
and is formed of over
a 100,000 certified practitioners,
has categorically stated
that a vegan diet is healthy, safe
and nutritionally adequate
for all stages of life, including
pregnancy, lactation and infancy.
This is also supported
by the British Dietetic Association
as well as the NHS.
Furthermore, there is extensive
and conclusive research and evidence
that links our consumption
of animal products
to some of our leading
diseases and illnesses,
including heart disease,
certain forms of cancer,
type 2 diabetes, strokes.
The issue of thriving on a vegan diet
is not a contentious one
within the scientific community,
and therefore, consuming animal products
will be deemed an unnecessary action.
And so let’s progress
the argument and say,
“Yes, but you’re denying us of our nature!
After all we are omnivores.
Have you seen our canine teeth?
And we’ve always eaten meat.
If your ancestors didn’t eat meat,
you wouldn’t even be alive today.”
And so, to being with, many herbivorous
animals do have canine teeth.
Take the saber-toothed deer as an example,
which means that canines
don’t necessarily equate to meat eating.
Furthermore, there’s many people out there
that believe that biologically
and physiologically speaking,
our bodies are more closely aligned
to that of herbivorous animals
rather than omnivorous animals.
They point to the fact
that our intestines are on average
around three times longer
than that of the average omnivore;
the fact that our jaws,
they grind side to side when we chew,
like the jaws of herbivorous animals;
and the fact that the
hydrochloric acid in our stomach
is comparatively weaker
to carnivores but also omnivores as well.
But personally,
I find that entirely irrelevant.
I don’t think it really matters
if we’re herbivores or omnivores.
I mean, just because
we can physically do something
doesn’t mean that we are
morally justified to do so.
And because we don’t have to eat meat,
that means we can survive of plants.
So biologically speaking,
it makes no difference,
because we don’t have to do it;
and therefore,
in the absence of necessity,
there is the absence
of justification as well.
And so, I also think
it’s a little bit logically dishonest,
a bit disingenuous,
that we claim that we’re somehow built
to be intrinsically designed
to kill animals,
yet so many of us would
never want to kill the animal ourself.
And so, if we wouldn’t want
to kill the animal ourself,
why is it acceptable to pay
for someone else to do it on our behalf?
I’ve always found it interesting
when I try and show someone
slaughterhouse footage and they say,
“Don’t show me that!
That’s going to put me off my food.”
Then I say, Well, why?
Why would seeing the process of
how animal products arrive on your plate
put you off consuming them?
That seems to make
little to no sense to me.
And also, why is it that we get upset
when we see footage of animals
being killed in gas chambers
or animals struggling to survive
as they desperately try to flee
from the kill floor
they’re being forced onto?
Let’s take that idea of ancestors
and run with that for a moment
because our ancestors
used to do lots of horrible things.
They would rape. They would murder.
Are those actions
automatically justified in society
simply because our ancestors
used to commit them?
And besides,
why would we ever base our morality
on the actions of a primitive society
where modern day notions
of right or wrong didn’t exist
and in the absence of choice
consuming animals
was a necessity for their survival?
Let’s take that argument.
Because it’s also pertinent
when we look at the “animals
eat other animals” excuse as well.
Just because a lion kills
and eats a gazelle
doesn’t mean we’re justified
to go to a supermarket and buy a steak.
Lions are obligate carnivores,

As we’ve already established: we don’t.
And like before,

as doing things that we would never
deem acceptable within our own country
or, indeed, within our own
society in general?
So the argument continued even further.
So let’s run with the idea
of necessity and survival
because I’m pretty sure that if a vegan
was stranded on a desert island
and the only thing
they had to eat was an animal,
they would definitely do it.
And so, the reality is
no one knows how they’ll react
in an extreme survival situation.
That’s really the point of the argument:
to make vegans seem hypocritical

But there’s been documented cases
of humans cannibalising to survive.
There was a plane crash in the Andes,

because they cannibalised on the flesh
of the dead passengers.
And so, cannibalism, in effect,
became a justifiable act in that moment.
Does it mean that cannibalism
is a justifiable act in everyday society?
Likewise, just because a vegan
might consume an animal
if they absolutely had to to survive
doesn’t mean that
consuming animal products
is a morally justifiable act
in everyday society.
And so the argument presses further,
and we say, “Yes, but consuming animals
is part of the food chain.
I mean, it’s the circle of life:
everyone who is born must one day die,
that’s a natural process,
that’s symbiotic and harmonious to nature
and the world that we live in.
And our food chains
are incredibly important.
They symbolise part of the natural order
and help maintain and form ecosystems.
Fundamentally they are there
to ensure that population sizes
of animals are kept consistent
and to ensure that the natural ecology
is just well balanced.”
But what we do to animals
when we selectively breed them,
when we genetically modify them,
when we artificially inseminate
and forcibly impregnate them,

when we mutilate them,
when we exploit them for what they
naturally produce for their own species,
when we load them into trucks,
take them to a slaughterhouse
where we hang them upside down,
cut their throat and bleed them to death
has nothing to do with a natural order,
and most importantly,

You see, the food chain that we cite
is a human construct
created very conveniently
to try and justify
what is an entirely unnecessary act.
It ignores the complexity,
an interdependent web of life
that form our natural ecosystems.
It is an appeal to nature fallacy
that overlooks our ability
to make moral decisions
as beings who possess moral agency.
In essence,

the belief that
because you have the ability
to physically exploit someone else,
you’re somehow
justified to do so as well.
And the circle of life,
all that refers to is two moments
of our existence that are certain:
our birth and our death.
Everyone who’s born must one day
come full circle and die.
But what happens between those areas
of certainty is variable
and has nothing to do
with preordained circle of life.
If we run with that argument,
we’d be morally excused
to harm anyone at any time

We’d be morally excused
to murder an animal or, indeed,
murder a human as well,
running with that logic.
And so let’s move this on
to a more practical note,
because if the world went vegan, well,
what would we do with all the animals?
We can’t just release billions
of animals into the wild,
that’d be devastating
for the natural ecology –
and of course it would.
But what we have to understand
is that animal agriculture runs
on a system of supply and demand,

we demand that product be supplied.
Now, farmers will only breed animals
into existence if they can sell.
They’re not going to breed them
if they can’t sell them,
because that’s just not
economically viable in the slightest.
And so the shift to veganism
would of course be very gradual.
And so as the number of vegans increases,
the number of animals being bred into
existence would decrease proportionally.
And if – and of course it is an if –
but if we ever get that vegan world,
that vegan world would be a world

And as such, we will never be
faced with the dilemma
of having to either release
billions of animals into the wild
or take them to a slaughterhouse
so we simply discard their bodies.

but this is the problem.
You see, vegans are hypocrites.
Haven’t you heard that small animals
sometimes die in the production of crops,
and therefore, you can’t even
be a 100% vegan?”
Now, it’s true.
Animals like caterpillars and worms
do die in the production of crops,
and we also can’t guarantee
that small mammals like mice and rats
don’t sometimes get killed as well.
But the difference is that notion
of intention and certainty.
You see, when we buy an animal product,
we’re intentionally paying

That is a certainty.
When we buy a plant product, we’re not.
And so think about it this way:

morally, that is not the same
as if you were driving down the road,
saw a dog, actively pursued them
until you run them over.
But the philosophy and ideology
behind the argument
that it’s morally justifiable
to buy animal products
because sometimes small animals
die in crop production
adheres to the idea that morally speaking,
accidentally hitting the dog is the same
as intentionally hitting the dog.
“And so what about plants?
Because plants are alive as well.
So why don’t we consider plants
within our circle of moral compassion?”
And so, plants are of course alive.
But they’re not conscious.
They don’t have a brain,
central nervous system or pain receptors,
but also more importantly,
it can take up to to 16kg of plants
to produce 1kg of animal flesh,

in the production of a non-vegan diet
than a vegan diet.
So, if we care about plants,
logically and morally,
we’re still obliged to be vegan.
And this also ties in nicely
with what we were just saying
about animals being killed
in crop production.
Because if more crops are used
in a non-vegan diet,
that means if we care about small animals
being killed in crop production,
we’re again logically and morally
obliged to still be vegan.
“But what about soy farming?
Because soy farming is devastating
for the environment, is it not?”
Soy farming is terrible
for the environment.
But that’s only because 70 to 85%
of all the soy that is grown
is fed to livestock animals.
In fact, it’s predicted that as little
as 6% could be used for human consumption.
And that’s not even
about vegans eating tofu.
Because soya is ubiquitous
among nearly everyone’s diet.
It’s found in breads and cereals, sauces,
chocolates and so much more as well.
So then we say,

Simply put – no, it’s not.
In the egg industry, male chicks are
useless because they won’t produce eggs.
They also won’t grow to be the same size
as the chickens that we kill for meat,
which means that as soon as they are born,

All egg laying hens as well

when their bodies are fully depleted
from being overly exploited

In the dairy industry,

They are mammals, just as we are.
And so this means that farmers forcibly
impregnate dairy cows year after year
to ensure a continuous cycle
and production of milk
is there for him to sell, or her to sell.
When the dairy cow gives birth,
the baby will be
taken away from the mother,
normally within 24 hours of birth.
Male dairy calves are useless
to the dairy industry.
And so this means that approximately
95,000 male dairy calves are killed
shortly after birth in this country alone,
normally by being shot in the head.
This is because they won’t produce milk.
And it’s sometimes not profitable enough
to be sold on for beef.
The female cows will be raised,
and they too will join the herd,
where they’ll be forcibly
impregnated year after year
and all dairy cows are sent
to the slaughterhouse as well.
Which means that dairy and eggs
are pretty much the same as meat.
But potentially even worse
because the animals suffer for longer,
and yet they still are killed
in the same way.
And so let’s talk about humane slaughter.
This is something we often hear
when we talk about the killing
of animals in slaughterhouses.
Now, the word “humane” means having
or showing compassion or benevolence,
which means that humane slaughter
is of course an oxymoron
because you can never compassionately
or benevolently take the life of an animal
who does not wish to die
and who does not have to die.
And so that brings us on
to our final excuse:
And so I want to leave you
with a couple of questions.
What has higher value:
taste or life?
Do we require more than sensory pleasure
alone to morally justify an action?
Remember that a meal to us
lasts only a matter of minutes,
but that meal has cost
an animal their entire life.
We take their life
for a moment that is fleeting,
a meal that we forget about
almost as soon as we have consumed it.
I used to think that vegans
force their views.
I said this regularly.
But one day I realised
that nothing can ever be as forceful
as taking the life of someone
who does not wish to die,
taking the life of an animal
who does not wish to die.
And so in the end,
that’s why I became vegan.
Because when put into perspective,
my arguments held no veracity,
no credibility, no validity.
Fundamentally, I called myself
an animal lover,
yet I paid for animals to suffer
and die on my behalf.
Through all of the excuses I used to make,
I realised that my values
contradicted my actions,
and deep down, I could
find no real justification.
Thank you so much for listening.

Every Argument Against Veganism | Ed Winters | TEDxBathUniversity

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