This weekend, my cousin was jokingly pestering me about not eating meat (as he always does – I don’t take it personal because I know he’s just messing with me) and some questions came up that I want to address because these are questions that people actually do ask, whether it’s out of pure curiosity or the need to disarm/debate with a person who is vegetarian.
#1 “What if you are asleep and you accidentally swallow a bug, does that break the rules of veganism?” Now this question can be formed in many ways, but essentially the person is asking that if you, by some unintentional means, eat something that isn’t a plant (or rather IS an animal, insect, etc), can you call yourself a vegetarian/vegan. What if you eat a carrot that had a bug on it and you didn’t know it or what if you swallow a gnat while riding your bike? I’m not really sure of the intention behind these questions. Certainly the person asking them doesn’t expect some logical debate to come from it. It’s like asking a person who says they don’t smoke, “But what if you accidentally inhaled some second-hand smoke?” These questions are silly and they distract from the actual intention of a veg diet, which is not to try to be perfect, but to reduce as much suffering as possible. The vegan police aren’t coming to get me if I accidentally swallow a spider in my sleep or even if I accidentally eat some fries that were fried in the same oil as some chicken.
#2 “What if you were stranded on an island/trapped in a room/lost in the woods (or any variation) and all you had to eat was meat?” Well of course if that was my only option, I’m not going to starve to death or commit suicide to avoid eating meat. I am also well aware that there are people on Earth that would find it near impossible to survive on a vegetarian diet because of the climate they live in or because of some rare genetic disease (a common red herring argument people use to explain why the whole world cannot go veg and therefore, why no one should). Again, this is silly. None of these situations apply to my life. I’m not trapped on an island and I don’t live in the arctic. I am perfectly capable, as are most people on the planet, of eliminating animals from my diet and still being able to thrive.
#3 “Plants are alive too! Why do you eat them if they are alive?” I really can’t believe people ask this, but I have had someone bring this to me as an argument, no lie! Yes, plants are alive, but they are not sentient beings. They do not have a central nervous system and do not feel pain or suffer. When a legitimate study has been done to suggest otherwise, I’ll give this question the time of day!
#4 “Doesn’t it hurt cows/goats if they don’t get milked? They have to be milked or they will be in pain!” This is strictly a vegan-related argument, of course, but still silly. Cows don’t explode or lie on the ground wailing in agony if they don’t get milked. Mammals produce milk for their young, and milk production is triggered by pregnancy. As their young drink the milk, the pressure is relieved, and the mother’s body is triggered to produce more (hormones and such are involved, you can look up the scientific explanation if you like). When the calf is weaned, the body starts to reduce, and eventually cease, milk production. Just like in humans, the milk slowly dries up. Now I’m not saying there isn’t any discomfort or even some pain when a lactating mammal doesn’t nurse, but she’s not going to die. This is a natural process that occurs when mammals feed their young. Cows do not NEED humans to intervene and milk them. They especially don’t need us to artificially inseminate them, pump hormones into their body to make them produce more milk, and turn them into milk machines while they stand in filthy, crowded cages. That is something that does cause them agony.
#5 “Do you eat fish or chicken?” Last time I took Biology 101, which I’ll admit was some years ago, chicken and fish were in the animal kingdom. Neither grow from the ground, so no, I don’t eat them.
(By the way, I do actually welcome your serious questions about the vegetarian diet!)