Being Vegan – What Ethics Has To Do With It

By Paul Graham

Imagine there are two people who are identical in every way–except one.  One is a vegan and the other is a meat-eater.  All things being equal, which individual is more ethical?  The vegan or the meat-eater?  The answer is blindingly obvious to everyone.”   Philip Wollen

I would have to agree with Philip Wollen.  In case you have not heard of Philip Wollen, he is an Australian Philanthropist and a former Vice-President with Citibank.  He is the founder of the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, a global initiative whose mission statement, “to promote kindness towards all other living beings and enshrine it as a recognizable trait in the Australian character and culture,” has certainly been a part of the rise of plant-based eating and conscious living in Australia and beyond.  The Kindness Trust emphasizes ethics, compassion, and co-operation and opposes cruelty to humans and non-humans.  His talk recently at the St. James Ethics and Wheeler Center Debate has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people on YouTube and other outlets and is one of the most eloquent arguments for the conscious and ethical lifestyle of veganism as the way that we should consider living.

By definition, ethics can describe the moral principles of either an individual or culture.  It is a system of moral principles and how that should impact individual and collective behaviors.  There are those ethics that are related to a particular belief system or profession that should be a benchmark for the behavior of those connected with them. Ethics can be seen as a branch of philosophy, dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.  There can be great debate when the ethics of one group or individual conflict with that of another.  That is possible when dealing with various belief systems that might not be congruent with one another or the tone of the culture at that particular time. Unfortunately, people will go to great lengths to justify behavior that might seem unethical to so many others.

There is a fundamental level of ethics that I believe transcends those of any individual, belief system, or culture.  These are the ethics that influence every human being in relation to our treatment of one another and every living creature and how we dwell upon this planet.  It is an ethic to preserve and encourage the life of every human and other sentient being.  The scientific community has recognized animals as sentient beings, meaning they have qualities such as recognition and feelings not unlike that of human beings.  This ethic of the preservation and respect of life should extend to animals.  The fact that we hunt, torture, and murder over 60 billion animals for our own pleasure each year is in direct conflict and violation of an ethic that is so fundamental to our existence that it cannot be ignored.  It should not be our decision to which living creatures lives should be preserved and which should be eliminated.  If we violate this ethic, that I believe is fundamental to all life, then the resulting actions of doing so cannot be deemed as anything other than unethical.

I know that there will be a great number of people who would disagree with that assertion.  By their actions, that is obvious.  There are far too many people who must be unconsciously living in this regard.  They cannot be thinking through the entire process of the desires and actions of their lifestyle and the impact that it has on all living beings, including their own, and even how it impacts the health of the planet that we share. Whatever belief that one could hold on to to support a lifestyle apart from an ethic supporting life for all living creatures must be seriously evaluated and altered.  I believe that conscious eating and living is a part of the evolutionary process that find ourselves in.  The decision to become vegan is to align ourselves with the most fundamental of ethics we should adhere to. It is one that will have a greater impact upon all living creatures, our health, and the vitality of our planet than any other decision that we can make in our lives.  Do you want to change the world? This is a great place to start.

Paul Graham Las Vegas News VeganPaul Graham

Paul Graham was born and raised in Northern California and has lived in Las Vegas since 2004.  He is a top wedding officiate, a green Realtor and writer.  He has a daily vegan food blog www.eatingveganinvegas.tumblr.com which is 365 days and 365 vegan meals in Las Vegas.  He can also be reached at eatingveganlv@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/EatingVeganinVegas.

7 Responses to Being Vegan – What Ethics Has To Do With It

  1. Wollen is correct- a world with less suffering is better than one with more suffering. And since we don’t need meat to survive, we shouldn’t contribute to the suffering. Thank you for the nice article.

  2. For more information on a vegan diet check out ChooseVeg.com. You can read lots of articles, check out tips and recipes!

  3. Pingback: NARN News and Updates » Blog Archive » News of Note

  4. Mr. Graham’s analysis fails to consider another alternative–fishing and hunting. Opponents to hunting and fishing frame the debate in terms of animal and environmental welfare—two positions assumed by every responsible citizen. Despite this commendable intent, by these measures the argument against them remains poorly considered. As with all choices, the merit of the anti-hunting/fishing position depends also on the alternatives.

    For the acquisition of food, the only alternative to hunting, fishing and gathering is agriculture, and agriculture, environmentally speaking, does not compare favorably. Consider the millions of acres of forest, grassland and wetland converted to beets, beans or barley—vast monocultures incapable of supporting wildlife of any form. Consider the millions of tons of pesticide released annually into the air, water and soil to ensure the exclusion of wildlife, and the damage to ground water and sensitive aquatic ecosystems that results from fertilizer runoff and water diversion for purpose of agriculture. The fields from which the supermarket shopper takes his meal remain ecological wastelands for as long as they exist.

    In comparison, hunting has little or no impact on non-target species and habitat. The removal of one animal frees resources that ensure the survival of another that would otherwise perish.

    To criticize hunting as barbaric is to deny the annihilation of entire populations by the crush of the plough, and the death by starvation that invariably befalls the individuals “fortunate” enough to have survived the initial onslaught. It takes a pretty slick lawyer to portray agriculture as an environmentally sensitive alternative to hunting. Hunting is, in effect, the ultimate form of organic farming where the species raised are those best suited to existing natural habitat without interference by man. The exploded human population prohibits us all from “living off the land” but, to the extent that we can, we should try. Those who do not benefit directly from nutritious, chemical-free meals taken from the wild can at least breathe easier knowing that somewhere, a patch of native soil has been spared, for now, thanks to the resources Mother Nature provides.

    • I agree with you that the current agricultural system is greatly flawed and that monocultures do not promote biodiversity and in addition, create environmental harm. However, if everyone turned to hunting – I can only envision that the idyllic vision of a utopian hunting world would fall apart. For example, I think of areas of Peru where nothing survives, not even the smallest animals. When considering the ethics of hunting, which I have especially when I first became vegan, I believe it’s better than factory farming as there is an aspect of animal welfare which is far better than factory farming. I find that hunters are much more greatly aware of and respectful of the environment. But considering that hunting still involves the harm and suffering of an animal, what you really have to ask yourself is – does that animal have a right to life. I think most vegans believe that yes, it does which means that we do not have the right to impose harm, suffering and death upon it.

      • Hello, Tanya. I agree that hunting must be regulated to ensure stable animal populations. and healthy ecosystems. Uncontrolled hunting would be disasterous and I am not therefore suggesting that the entire human population may sustain itself by living “off the land”. I am merely suggesting that hunting avoids the ill effects of agriculture and should therefore be utilized where possible. Hunting undeniably results in harm and suffering, but it is my contention that the harm and suffering resulting from cultivation is even more significant and equally undeniable. While none of us have a “right” to impose such harm, neither are any of us able to avoid it. I do not understand the assertion that the vegan lifestyle is less harmful, given the obvious consequences to native species and ecosystems. I have always regarded habitat loss as the biggest threat to wildlife, and of all human activities, agriculture poses the greatest threat to wild lands and native species.

  5. Genuine human carnivores are actually very rare. Many people who are omnivorous rely heavily on veg to redress the effects which meat has upon human physiology. The only genuine carnivorous humans are the Innuit people of the Arctic.

    The UK where I live is a predominantly veg eating country with fruit and veg accounting for 67% of all food produced with meat at only 6%. The other 27% is dairy products.

    This is the reason why potatoes, including potato chips and crisps, all forms of bread including pizza and curries with rice including bactericidal spices are very popular.

    Human beings need plentiful food in bulk which meat can never provide, generally root vegetables and crops. Meat eating does not offer any answers to any human problems.

    We humans have evolved from vegetable eating and fruit eating apes for good reason and have no physical resemblance to tigers, lions, wolves, sharks and whales, which are the real carnivores – NOT HUMANS.

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