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13.12.07

It's too tasty to be wrong

I hate to pick on Hafidha Sofia, since she's almost always a thoughtful and morally serious person, but in an earlier post she made a comment that's one of my pet peeves in discussions of veg(etari)anism:

I'm glad I'm not a vegan. I love cheese way too much.


I like cheese too. And I used to like meat quite a bit (though I now usually find it gross). Talking about how much you enjoy animal products is fine in the context of a general discussion of food preferences, or of "personal" arguments for veg(etari)anism, e.g. health concerns. Gustatory pleasure is a reasonable thing to balance aginst health.

But in the context of a discussion of "ethical" arguments for veg(etari)anism (environmental and especially animal rights), I find such offhand mentions of the tastiness of animal products somewhat inappropriate. Their effect is to trivialize the ethical concerns motivating veg(etari)anism. I think tastiness is a mostly impotent argument in such cases -- if the animal rights position is correct, the harm done to animals by eating meat or dairy is serious enough to outweigh even the most orgasmic taste sensation. For tastiness to come into play, you have to have already discounted the animal rights position.

What elevates tastiness from a bad argument to a pet peeve is that it's usually framed to preclude treating it as an argument. Tastiness is presented as an expression of shoulder-shrugging personal preference, often with humorous and/or self-deprecating overtones. The implicit strategy here is in the same family as the "it was just a joke" defense.

I'm reminded of the way a friend and I used to harass a vegetarian friend when the three of us sat together in the dining hall. We would loudly rhapsodize about how great meat was, and how everything (even absurd things like milkshakes) should be meat-flavored. That's something I regret now (and not just because I could be on the recieving end now).

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