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29.8.08

Why Vegans Can Eat Roadkill

Being vegan is about reducing the amount of harm done to animals. That's it. If a practice harms animals more than the alternative, it's not vegan. If it doesn't, then it is.

Unfortunately, since the key mechanism by which veganism reduces harm to animals is in the procurement -- and hence consumption -- of food, non-vegans so often insist on reframing it as a diet. A "diet" here is a food practice whose guiding principle is regulating what things go into your mouth and down your throat. A person with a peanut allergy avoiding peanuts is on a diet -- they don't care if the world is buried in a 2-foot layer of peanut butter, so long as none of it ever passes their lips. As it's been explained to me, keeping kosher is a diet -- observant Jews don't care how much shrimp is produced and eaten, as long as *they* aren't among the eaters. Veganism, however, is just the opposite*. Keeping meat out of their mouth is only an instrumental act for a vegan, aimed toward reducing the demand for and hence production of things that involve animal harm. That's why it makes no sense, for example, to tell a vegan to go ahead and order the full breakfast combo and just give their bacon to someone else -- once the bacon is ordered, the contribution to harming
animals is done, and it doesn't matter whose belly the product ends up in.

I was reminded of this issue by a recent post by belledame222, who recounted a story told to her by a diner cook who was smug about sticking it to an annoying vegan customer:

"Oh, yeah, he's going on and on about how he's a vegan, and I'm thinking, I didn't say it, those french fries you're eating? Were fried in the -same- oil as the scallops, the chicken...and I was like, haha, I win."


Cooking french fries in oil that has been used for meat does not in any conceivable way cause more harm to be done to animals. Assuming that there's no way to stop those scallops and chicken from being produced in the first place, I would *want* my fries cooked in the same oil, just so the diner isn't wasting oil. So the joke's on the diner guy -- his gotcha is based on a false understanding of the thing he was gotcha-ing.

Roadkill raises a similar issue. Setting aside health concerns and second-order effects (e.g. that eating roadkill implicitly endorses eating all meat), there's nothing un-vegan about eating roadkill. Refusing to eat it won't bring the roadkilled animal back to life, nor will it reduce the likelihood of future animals being hit by cars. Because veganism is fundamentally about keeping suffering out of animals, not about keeping animals out of our bellies.

*The issue is a bit confused because there are actually people for whom veganism is a diet, either instead of or in addition to the harm-reduction motivation. For the sake of brevity I'll use "vegan" to refer to people who avoid animal products solely for animal rights and/or environmentalist reasons, not those who do it to lose weight or reduce the risk of colon cancer.

2 Comments:

Blogger Elaine Vigneault said...

I absolutely agree with your basic premise that veganism is a philosophy, not merely a dietary choice.

However, vegans are divided regarding the use of cooking equipment and oils. Some wouldn't want their food cooked in the same oil because the oil imbues a flavor and many vegans find the flavor of animal flesh disturbing. Another reason some vegans wouldn't want their food cooked in the same oil is because they want the restaurant staff to really *think* about veganism. Asking them to prepare the food differently forces the chef to think harder about veganism and if the chef isn't an ass she might decide to start cooking more vegan foods or go vegan herself.

I'd never eat roadkill, but I understand your point :)

8:58 AM  
Blogger Stentor said...

The flavor thing is true, although it's not a *moral* objection (and it couldn't be grounds for a *secret* gotcha like the cook in question was trying to pull). And depending on the cook, asking for clean oil seems just as likely to make someone think vegans are pushy jerks and hence make the cook less sympathetic.

I wouldn't actually eat roadkill either (though I have in the past).

11:30 AM  

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