Considering the, um, lively comments posted to BugGirl’s recent article on potentially insecty Frappucinnos, I thought you all might enjoy hearing from a skeptical vegan. I’m lucky enough to know several, and so I first turned to Skepchick’s beloved former web host, Stephen Rider. He was kind enough to write up a few points on why he and his partner, both long-time die-hard skeptics, are vegan. Obviously Stephen doesn’t speak for every vegan, but I find his views to be fairly representative of the skeptical vegans I know. Enjoy!

+++

I live in a vegan household. DH and I choose to avoid, whenever feasible, using products made from animal sources or eating animal derived foods. Like many other life decisions we have multiple varied reasons, some purely personal and arbitrary, and some based on an informed decision to minimize our impact on our favorite planet.

While it is clear that the human digestive system is very well adapted to an omnivorous diet, and eating meat is entirely natural and normal for instances of homo sapiens, it is also true that humans can and do thrive on a strictly vegan diet. So the decision to be carnivorous or vegan can be made on an arbitrary basis, as neither position is necessary for survival.

There is information that suggests a vegan diet has health benefits and there are also some concerns that are often expressed – in particular worries about getting sufficient protein while on a vegan diet. Because it is virtually unheard of for a person in Western society who is getting as much to eat as they wish to show any sign of a protein deficiency, these concerns seem to be without merit.

I choose to be vegan largely because a vegan diet requires far fewer resources and thus reduces my impact on this planet. I also prefer not to harm other creatures when I have another option. I do not kill animals to eat them, and I choose not to have anyone else act as my proxy and kill animals so that I can eat them. My preferences may be different than those of some others but I make no pretense of moral superiority. I see no reason why other people should be expected to adopt my views, nor why I should adopt theirs.

Powerful arguments can be raised to suggest that a vegan diet is good for the planet. In particular, it is argued that food for the vegan diet requires less land and water while doing less harm to the environment (link).

Of course it is one thing to choose not to eat anything that ever had a face, and it is yet another to join PETA. I’m comfortable with the idea of applying my moral and ethical standards to my own behavior while other people hopefully follow their own conscience. No deity put me here to tell other people how to live. I do make some effort to live in harmony with the force of life that I revere so deeply.

Coincidentally I happen to have celiac disease which means I must avoid the tiniest trace of wheat, rye, or barley for the rest of my life. Therefore, I am painted into the corner of a gluten-free vegan diet. Most meat analog products like veggie burgers contain wheat gluten, a form of purified poison to my immune system. This makes being vegan much less convenient. So it goes.

As stated part of our intention in choosing a vegan lifestyle (I admit, it’s a choice) is wanting to do less harm to our planet. For that reason we expect installation may begin next week on our 18KwDC photovoltaic power system, displacing the need for burning coal, gas, or oil to power Geek Hill. It is indeed very likely that Geek Hill will still be producing power once I have left the planet, and that would be sort of cool.

I commit to love and respect the planet that gives me life.

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Stephen Rider is a retired data communications whiz who just can’t quit. He is a cofounder of the atheist discussion forum Ain’t No God, the sole proprietor of Skeptic Hosting, and currently the chief cook, bottle washer, photographer and network administrator at Geek Hill where he resides with his legally homo husband. Steve prefers to describe himself as a militant atheist fag.

Featured image of a calf at a bike rack via CuteOverload.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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123 Comments

  1. Avatar of Luna
    April 4, 2012 at 11:46 am —

    I was a vegetarian for 20 years so I agree veganism is a good diet; however a vegan diet does not end all suffering from food. Palm oil, corn, sun-grown coffee and many other foods can cause tremendous environmental devestation and suffering.
    Also not everyone can thrive on this diet. My doctor who is a world-class internal medicine specialist and nutritionist (and a vegan) specifically noted that some people, especially women, don't do well short of eating some animal product. I have a gluten allergy as well and for some women, it's not the protein, it's iron and B12. If someone has absorption issues, they need more bioavailable sources of those nutrients. Sure, hypothetically avoiding gluten should get rid of the problem, but combine that with menstruation and fatigue and yes, some women may not do well on a vegan diet.

  2. Avatar of Jim Stitzel
    April 4, 2012 at 11:59 am —

    I completely respect a person's choice to be vegan, especially if, like Stephen, they aren't militant about it, but I will point out that, as someone who is actively involved in agriculture (both plant and animal) every day, farming and raising animals does not have to be harmful to the environment. Indeed, most farmers who love their jobs and who do it right take utmost care to preserve the land they work. It is, in fact, a necessity if we are to continue producing the world's food supply. Thanks to Stephen for being respectful in his choices. Farmers face a fair bit of animosity on a regular basis from people who don't understand what it is we do.

  3. Avatar of corinna
    April 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm —

    Fantastic post. As a skeptic and a vegetarian I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who just don't accept my position. Why other people care what I eat, I don't know. But they do, and consistently argue that meat consumption is "natural", and that as a skeptic I should bow to their logic. "No," I reply, "as a human I'm free to make choices. As an omnivore I'm free to eat a plant-based diet. And as a person lucky enough to have choices,  I'll make them". I've never seen another skeptic address this. Thanks so much! 

  4. Avatar of mrmisconception
    April 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm —

    I wish all vegans had Stephen’s live and let live attitude toward their own, and others’, personal choices.

  5. Avatar of Matt
    April 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm —

    I've been a vegetarian for about a year and a half now, and made the switch primarily to reduce my contribution to animal suffering. The arguments of Peter Singer were particularly effective in influencing me. The reduced global footprint is another bonus. I like your post, but I think you may have skipped over some of the health complications associated with particularly a vegan diet. Protein deficiency is no concern of mine, but what about B12, iron and calcium? B12, for example, can only be obtained naturally from animal products. Vegans are at a risk for B12 deficiency if they don't stay on top of it by say cooking with an extract. This is part of the reason I'm still vegetarian. I'm not much of a chef and am a student who often eats on the go, and so I don't feel comfortable at this point adopting a completely vegan diet (or mostly; I'd still eat clams, honey, etc. as I take a generally utilitarian approach). So I think there are very valid health concerns associated with veganism. I am also not convinced that red meat and disease are strongly linked. The epi studies that have drawn this conclusion are weak, and the benefits of a veg diet are likely more a result of vegetarians largely being more health conscious in general, rather than simply a result of not cutting out meat. I also don't eat fish, and so I'm not getting the good Omega-3 I need. It's either fish or algae and again I'm not much of a cooker, and have never eaten algae.

    • Avatar of Skeptic Hosting
      April 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm —

      I have been B12 deficient since before I was vegan, it led to my diagnosis with celiac disease. Today I am dangerously low on B12 and my gut reacts violently to B12 supplements, so I'm getting monthly injections of B12.  My mother, a lifelong meat eater, had the same problem.
      It is wise for vegans to take B12 supplements.

    • Avatar of ihatemusic
      April 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm —

      I take a B12 supplement. i think it's important to get away from this "it needs to be natural to be right!" approach. I also take a vitamin D supplement because, well, it might not be "natural" to live in Europe where it's cold and not enough sun but I'd rather get the vitamin than move just to become more "natural". 

      • Avatar of Matt
        April 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm —

        I am the last person to commit the naturalistic fallacy. But that doesn't really solve the question of whether supplements work. Evidence shows that the vast majority of vitamin supplements do not work and some can even be harmful in higher doses. There's evidence for D. I take D. Not entirely clear on B12. I know it's recommended for certain individuals (pregnant women, vegans) and people get B12 shots, etc. I'm going to talk to a physician first. Should really be getting my blood checked regularly anyway.

  6. Avatar of Matt
    April 4, 2012 at 12:35 pm —

    edit:  rather than simply a result of cutting out meat/not eating meat.

  7. Avatar of Jon Wells
    April 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm —

    Many of us do :P Just like skeptics, some vegans will annoy you and some won't.   Good article, thanks for posting!

  8. Avatar of scanadensis
    April 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm —

    As a homo atheist vegan with gluten intolerance, I really appreciate this post. I've abandoned other blogs because of all the vegan hate, so to all involved: thank you for doing this.

  9. Avatar of ineedavacation
    April 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm —

    I can totally understand a person becoming a vegan for the environmental and health benefits attributed with it, but I do argue those benefits can also be gained if people simply ate less meat, I think cutting it out entirely is just overkill.

    The moral aspect however is what I don't understand, this comment Stephen made "I also prefer not to harm other creatures when I have another option" is something that I often hear and it always causes one question to pop in my head, what makes an animal's life so much more valuable than a plant?  Now this is something I honestly have thought about in earnest, I mean they are both living organisms and yet we place animals on higher pedestal.  Speaking to the few vegans that I know I've heard a multitude of responses, but it seems the most frequent answer is that animals can feel pain like we do and because it feels bad for us we should take into account how it feels for them.

    When I first heard this it appeared to be a logical view point(which it is) but to me it didn't look deep enough.  I mean when I thought about what pain is I find that it's reactionary impulses that triggers under certain conditions to force a creature to take a particular action(ie if a dog get cut, it feels pain and runs away).  It's a evolutionary tactic given to animals to help them avoid damage to themselves, does that mean their life is more valuable than a plant?  I mean the reason a plant doesn't feel pain is because it has no motor functions so it can't move away from whatever inflicts damage upon it, so it has no need for a feeling of displeasure as it wouldn't change the situation it's in.  The plants evolutionary history didn't require it to feel pain in order to survive but the animals did, and somehow that makes the animals life more valuable… I just don't get it.

    • Avatar of Skeptic Hosting
      April 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm —

      I might have thought not eating meat was more like underkill than overkill, but thanks for the reply, you raise great points.
      In my own case I feel that plants and animals work together in a life cycle.  I do think the animals we raise for slaughter suffer, I identify much more closely with other animals than with plants, but as you point out all life is in some way related.
      I do not think humans are an exceptional species, we are just animals much like the ones I do not eat.
      I do have respect for the broccoli I eat and have even written a terrible poem to that effect.
      I hope this helps you understand why I draw the line where I do.

      • Avatar of ineedavacation
        April 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm —

        "I might have thought not eating meat was more like underkill than overkill"
        lol, I see what you did there

        but seriously as for your other points, I'm afraid I disagree with some of them.  When you talk about the whole animal/plant cyclic relationship, I can only see that as partially true.  While yes plants do work with animals to a certain degree (plant makes fruit, animal eats fruit and spreads the seeds) I don't think a head of lettuce intends for a person to chop it down at the stalk and eat it before it can grow seeds nor an elm tree intends for the emerald ash borer to destroy its bark slowly killing it from the inside.  From what I can see there is no cycle, just a mish mash of interactions, some constructive and some destructive and that's all.

        Also you said you think we humans are animals and are not that different from the ones you chose not to eat.  While I agree we are animals and we have far more in common with animals than not, our differences as few as they may be, resulted in humans reaching the moon and every other species continually following their instincts for millions of years, and to me that does make us more exceptional when compared to other animals.
        As for the vegan thing, well I think I understand your view point now, I was discussing this with someone else and they gave me a different way to look at how you see things, I'm still gonna stay an omnivore but I think I get why you feel it's a moral obligation.

    • Avatar of Matt
      April 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm —

      This is a very confusing argument. You seem to be conflating the value of an organism's life with the subjective experience of pain. You accept that mammals and birds experience physical pain likely very similarly, maybe even identically, to the way humans do, correct? These animals have an interest in avoiding pain and suffering, as we do. We're currently causing them mass amounts of needless pain and suffering through abhorrent factory farming practices. Where does the fact that pain has evolutionary roots fit into this? The same logic can be applied to humans. If a population of humans were raised only to be tortured their entire lives before being killed for food, would you be making this argument? I am not suggesting that a cow or pig's life is as valuable as a humans, as humans normally have much deeper preferences and can plan for their futures. And so taking the life of a human is almost always worse (under normal circumstances) than taking the life of say a cow or pig. But the ethical argument can be restricted to the experiences these animals have while they're alive. Again, their experience of pain and suffering isn't different from ours. So why should we discount it? Because they're not human? Because of… plants? You're not making a whole lot of sense.

      • Avatar of Skeptic Hosting
        April 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm —

        Matt and Dustinlal,
        I made no mention of pain at all in my guest post, your arguments are directed at a straw man. 

        • Avatar of Matt
          April 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm —

          We were replying to ineedavacation.

        • Avatar of
          April 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm —

          @Skeptic Hosting: Sorry for the confustion. Yes, Matt is correct. My reply was directed at ineedavacation.

    • Avatar of
      April 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm —

      If pain is merely an evolutionary tactic, and not indicative of an organism's value, then would you be against animal abuse laws? If animals have no more value than plants, then what's the difference between mowing one's lawn and torturing one's dog to death? Granted, nothing has *intrinsic* value. The value of something is whatever we as a society or as individuals assign to it. But there *is* a real difference between the experiences of animals and the experiences of plants (if plants are even capable of "experiences.")  And if we, as a society or as individuals, decide to assign different values to plants versus animals based on whether they can experience pain, then there's nothing logically incoherent about that.

      • Avatar of Matt
        April 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm —

        Yep. Not to be rude but I'm kind of shocked at the incoherence of his argument. It's a sort of bizarre twisting of logic that would lead him to the conclusion that torturing a dog isn't morally different from ripping up a plant (I think?). It's a matter of recognizing the range experiences different organisms have. The value of an organism's life doesn't even need to enter the argument.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm —

      Well I'm vegan because animals are proven to feel pain.  Plants most certainly are NOT (and no there's no scientific consesus to say they do). 
       
      I don't feel like I'd like to be raised to be killed or if I was a woman, artificially inseminated to induce lactation, therefore I don't want to inflict on others.  These are my personal moral reasons for being vegan, and I don't judge you if you don't share my views.
       
      I'm not sure why the pure mention of someone being vegan incites such a deeply emotional response from some non-vegans.

      • Avatar of ineedavacation
        April 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm —

        I'm not saying that plants do feel pain, what I am saying is I think the ability to feel pain does not make a life anymore valuable than the life of something that doesn't.
        Also, did my post really sound deeply emotional? if so that's NOT what I intended, I just didn't understand a portion of the OP's view

        • Avatar of
          April 4, 2012 at 10:50 pm —

          @ineedavacation: Regarding your statement: "what I am saying is I think the ability to feel pain does not make a life anymore valuable than the life of something that doesn't": I understand your point, I think. First, I should reiterate something I mentioned before, which is that I don't beleive anything has intrinsic value. The value of any organism is whatever we as individuals or as a society assign to it. I, as a vegan, ascribe more value to an animal than to a plant because an animal is capable of experiencing pain and duress, while there is insufficient evidence that a plant is capable of such experiences. Now, you may disagree with my personal value judgement, and that's fine. I'm perfectly willing to admit that it's a subjective value judgement. But, if you're saying that, in your eyes an animal has no more value than a plant, and that an animal's avoidance of pain is no different to you than a plants avoidance of being eaten, then I must ask again: do you believe that animal abuse laws are needless legislation? Do you believe that torturing a dog to death is no different from mowing a lawn? I sincerely want to hear your answers to these questions because I think it will help me to understand your point of view better.

          • Avatar of Matt
            April 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm

            I think you've made the point well, but we also have to be clear about what we're talking about when we say the value of an animal's life. ineedavacation, in reiterating a position he's arguing against, is moving from these animals being able to suffer to placing value in their lives, which isn't an entirely clear concept to me (is he talking about killing the animals as well?). I think the argument can be made clearer by simply focusing on the beings' preferences and interests.

            Mammals and birds are sentient beings that have an interest in avoiding pain and suffering. Plants do not. None of this says anything about whether it's more wrong to kill a plant or an animal. The moral consideration we're applying to these animals, which is focused on their experiences while they're alive, simply don't apply to plants as they're organisms that are not sentient and don't have experiences anything like mammals (or experiences at all). Killing organisms is an entirely different line of argument, in my opinion. Mammals like cows or pigs and humans are both sentient and can feel pain, but humans have even deeper preferences that relate to holding complex relationships with others and anticipating and planning the future. The treatment of beings while they're alive and the taking of their lives needs to be looked at separately as different beings have different interests that relate to either.
             

          • Avatar of Matt
            April 5, 2012 at 12:03 am

            I think the root of the problem and our differing perspectives is that he's approaching these issues from a purely speciesist perspective – one rooted in human-centrism and religion, which gives ours species some special standing for arbitrary reasons. I'm sure he believes it's morally wrong to torture an innocent human, but he hasn't though about why that's the case. He takes it for granted. It's wrong because humans have deep preferences in avoiding pain and suffering. These preferences happened to be shared by our fellow mammals. It's such a simple concept to us, but he's been conditioned to draw the line between plants and animals. He's influenced by religious concepts of morality, whether he recognizes it or not. That's an arbitary and seriously misdrawn line when we're talking about pain and suffering.

          • Avatar of Matt
            April 5, 2012 at 11:19 am

            edit: he's been conditioned to draw the line between humans and all other species [not plants and animals]

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          April 5, 2012 at 7:31 pm —

          It's simple, I think it's horrible to inflict pain on something self-aware that can feel it.
           
          That's my subjective determination.  I don't go into esoteric/arbitrary considerations of "value".

      • Avatar of axegrrl
        April 7, 2012 at 12:48 am —

        I'm not sure why the pure mention of someone being vegan incites such a deeply emotional response from some non-vegans.

         
        You might have seen this already, but in case you haven't (and to anyone else who hasn't seen it before)…..enjoy :)  
        http://img.myconfinedspace.com/wp-content/uploads/tdomf/124781/defensice-omnivore-bingo-590×700.jpg
         
         

    • Avatar of Glow-Orb
      April 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm —

      Pain is detected by a nervous system.  Animals have them; plants don't.

      • Avatar of Wilson
        April 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm —

        Here here. Plants can't remember or "care" about pain. Since they don't have any sort of cephalization, they don't even "know" they've been hurt – they just respond. Since they grow with no "intent," cutting a plant to me isn't really more morally problematic than, say, breaking apart a crystal growing in a cave. After all, the more simplistic life becomes the more it just acts like a natural computer thats is programmed simply to grow and reproduce. It's the emergent properties of life that matter to me. If something can actively "want" to survive, I think that has value.

        • Avatar of ineedavacation
          April 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm —

          "If something can actively "want" to survive, I think that has value."
          you think a plant doesn't actively want to survive, then why do plants cut off growth to areas that are damaged? why do they grow towards sunlight and not just steadily outwards? why do they grow thorns to protect themselves from animals they don't want to eat them? I don't know about you, but it seems plants are doing everything that can to survive.

          • Avatar of Will
            April 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm

            Sun comes up. Sun goes down. You can't explain that!

          • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
            April 5, 2012 at 8:16 am

            LOL, will!
             
            ineedavacation, he's saying the argument sounds a bit like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyHzhtARf8M. 
             
            Short reason why it does: plants are not self-aware.

          • Avatar of Wilson
            April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

            Reacting to stimuli is not equivalent with wanting to survive or avoid pain. Some plants grow to the sun because sunlight triggers chemicals within them that cause the cells on the side of the stem away from the sun to grow longer, causing them to bend sunward. There's no choice involved, just mechanics. Likewise, plants don't choose to grow thorns anymore than you choose to grow fingernails. Plants with a thorn mechanism have been better able to survive and have thus been selected for. Plants cut off growth to areas that have been cut because of how plants grow – always from the tip using a collection of cells caled an apical meristem. If you cut those cells off, a plant can't keep growing along that branch (that's why a branch on your tree will never get further from the ground as the tree grows – the trunk it's attached to can only extend at its tips).
            Really, plants are just far closer to being simple growing machines. No thought, no "caring", just mechanical responses that have been evolutionarily selected because they keep the plant alive and reproducing.

    • Avatar of Drew Spencer
      April 4, 2012 at 10:39 pm —

      Any vegetarian that's really interested in having a coherent ethical framework to justify their decision has to have an answer for "why draw the line at animals?" Of course, every non-vegetarian similarly interested should have an answer for "why draw the line at humans?" The line must be drawn somewhere.
      The point is philosophical, not scientific, although science should inform the application. For example, many people do not want to kill and eat anything which has the ability to experience pain; science can inform us about what is and is not likely to feel pain. For myself, I don't have a hard line, but to the extent I will naturally empathize with something, I will not want to have someone kill it so that I can eat its body. For this reason, I don't have much of a problem with eating shrimp or clams.
      However, there is a huge community of vegetarians and vegans, so often it's easiest to draw the line somewhere where you will have a lot of support. If that means not eating some entities that shouldn't seriously be called moral agents, well that's no big deal is it?

    • Avatar of kaileyverse
      April 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm —

      In order to eat an animal  – that animal must consume a massive quanity of plant material. I would just prefer to eat the plants directly.
       
       

  10. Avatar of anovasjo
    April 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm —

    As a vegan skeptic myself, I'm extremely tired of the assumption from others that I must be flakey and woo-woo, or else a militant activist because of the food I eat. 
    I am extremely careful not to attribute false health claims to my decisions: I eat the way I do because I understand it has a smaller impact on the planet than eating the more typical omnivorous diet, and because I would prefer to be the cause of as little pain as possible– just like Stephen.
    Thanks for the post, it's very gratifiying to be represented properly in the science/skepticism sphere. :)

  11. Avatar of Jim Corcoran
    April 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm —

    There is a tidal wave of consciousness sweeping across the land. Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice to become vegan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org

    • Avatar of Michael Waters
      April 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm —

       

      Both videos honestly displayed all the reasons why I have such a negative view of vegans. Very simpistic arguements devoid of much of the actual nuance in the issues. 

       

       

       

       

       

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm —

        Bleh, the point is, drop your misconceptions about ALL of us.  People said the same about how Rebecca Watson's videos gave them a negative view of feminism.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm —

        Bleh, the point is, drop your misconceptions about ALL of us being the same.  People said the same about how Rebecca Watson's videos gave them a negative view of feminism.

        • Avatar of Michael Waters
          April 5, 2012 at 12:35 am —

          And i just won't even touch block quotes this time haha <.<      >.>
          Vegans like the Stephen I have no problem with. I just found these videos terribly annoying.  I suppose I have a similar view to veganism as I do to evolutionary psychology a position with some possible merits completely marred in my eyes by what people have done with it. So to stretch my analogy this is to me like seeing terribly evopsych videos at the bottom of a reasoned defence of evopsych.

  12. Avatar of carriepoppy
    April 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm —

    So glad to see this. I would expect the vegan and skeptical communities to have much more overlap than they do. If I would die without eating meat, I would probably eat meat (if I were going to die on a desert island without eating my sister, I might eat her too). But knowing that I can thrive on a vegan diet, I can't see any legitimate reason to make an animal suffer for me. That is the beginning and the end of the question, for me. Helping the environment is a bonus.

  13. Avatar of davew
    April 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm —

    So many things wrapped up here it is hard to pull them apart. To me if you wanted to select a diet that was best for your health you wouldn't go vegan. If you want to select a diet that is best for the planet you wouldn't go vegan. As others have pointed out the best ways to accomplish these goals is some variation on vegetarianism. Holding to strict veganism is a moral position.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm —

      //So many things wrapped up here it is hard to pull them apart. To me if you wanted to select a diet that was best for your health you wouldn't go vegan.//
      Well you can meet all your dietary needs as a vegan if you don't have food allergies or other condition like the poster does.  You don't NEED animal protein, just complete protein.  The only missing thing is B12, and that you can supplement with.  So for a lot of us, it wouldn't make a difference whether we were an omnivore or a vegan.  However, yes, for SOME it's definitely not the best diet.  But for a lot of us, we're not "less healthier than meat eaters"
       
      The thing that can tend make people more healthy when they go vegan is this: many people eat like shit.  When you go vegan or veggie, you're forced to make vegetables your main dish, so a lot of people end up eating a more well rounded diet because of it.  Not to say they couldn't have done this being omnivores or that there aren't vegans/veggies who eat like shit, but often it spurs people to eat more veggies.
      //If you want to select a diet that is best for the planet you wouldn't go vegan. As others have pointed out the best ways to accomplish these goals is some variation on vegetarianism.//
      How so?  Meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans all use horribly environmentally destructive products.  Palm oil is in most all margarines these days, and people who eat meat drink destructive coffee also.  Your environmental impact is really more about what products you choose, whether you're omnivorous/vegetarian/vegan doesn't hold a bearing on it.  The only part where veggies/vegans are above meat eaters in impact is in environmental impact caused by animal farming (and to be quite clear, most meat IS from factory farms).

      • Avatar of Luna
        April 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm —

        Dr professor I don't know if you're a real doctor but THANK YOU for emphasizing those points. So many people claim that anyone can thrive on a vegan diet and ignore the terrible consequences of deforestation and soil destruction from palm oil, corn, tea, (should I continue)? vineyards, apple groves, coffee, squash, cacao……note that the rediscovery of multicrop and shade growing could seriously reduce the impact and help restore our environment.
        Also just FYI palm oil is found in a zillion products sometimes called vegetable oil. It's in many Nestlé products, soap, cereal and most of my favorite gluten free snacks have palm oil as well.
         

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          April 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm —

          No, not a doctor :).
           
          My point simply is that it doesn't make sense to say the following things
          – "Meat eaters are necessarily more destructive to the environment that vegans/vegetarians"
          – "Meat eaters with a balanced diet are healthier than vegans with a balance diet"
          – "Vegans are more healthy than meat eaters"
          – "A vegan lifestyle requires expensive foods, and products destructive the environment (palm oil) are exclusively bought by vegans"
           
          A lot of these arguments used by vegans and non-vegans alike stem from the following process.
          "My position is definitely superior, and there's is WRONG WRONG WRONG, therefore I will go looking to reasons to validate my emotional position and use them in debate"
           
          No no no, as skeptics, we SHOULD look at things scientifically and factually.  Investigate rigorously without bias first, make claims later.

    • Avatar of kaileyverse
      April 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm —

      I dont like the taste of meat, fish, or eggs. I'm also lactose intolerant.  Veganism isn't always a moral issue.  Sometimes it is a taste preference. 

  14. Avatar of Luna
    April 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm —

    I agree with others here that veganism is simply a lifestyle and dietary choice. Some farm and wild animals (like bees) will get a break, and that's great. Omnivores who give up their cars, grow their own food, support canopy growing, cut down on meat consumption, buy shade-grown coffee and of course buy Humane Certified make just as much of an impact. That way everyone can get their respective nutrient needs met. 

  15. Avatar of annabolic
    April 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm —

    Thanks for running this. We vegan skeptics need more visibility!
     
    One frequent argument people make against veganism is that it's not perfect. Farming can result in the deaths of animals, such as insects and ground-dwelling rodents, and some crops can be environmentally damaging, such as palm oil. These arguments are not compelling. No one ever claimed veganism was perfect, and just because there might be some insect eggs in my grains (for example) it does not logically follow that I must start eating chicken eggs as well. It's about minimizing impact, not being completely perfect and pure. If I wanted to have absolutely no deleterious impact on the environment I should probably just kill myself, and, well, I'm not gonna do THAT.
     
    It's also annoying to keep hearing about these "militant vegans." In my life I've met way more militant omnivores than militant vegans. I never impose my veganism on other people, unless I'm sharing my homemade brownies or cookies with them, yet so many times the mere mention of my veganism will cause other people to go on the offensive. And the attacks on vegans I read in online communities! I guess we vegans are stereotyped as "militant" because those of us who aren't "militant" tend to be less vocal about our diets, only bringing it up if it's relevant. Who knows, there might be a lot of vegans in your life, and you don't know it because they're NOT "militant"!
     
    Vegan B12 supplements are inexpensive, readily available, and even taste good. B12 is not a problem, nor is any other nutrient when you're following a well-planned diet. (The same applies to omnivorous diets. They're not healthful by nature, you have to plan them well and develop good habits.)
     
    It also weirds me out to hear scientifically minded people invoke the old chestnut, "How do you know plants don't feel pain?" We have a lot of evidence about pain perception in animals with central nervous systems. The only "evidence" I've found of plant pain was based on speculation and misinterpretation of studies. I'll base my decisions on what I can be reasonably sure of: that animals can suffer immensely.
     
    I agree that veganism is not necessary when we're only looking at health or even environmental issues — but I'm taking ethics into consideration as well. Yes, it's good to avoid processed meats and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, but I believe there can be perfectly healthy omnivorous diets. It's the ethics that pushes me into complete veganism, not the health arguments.
     
    When I moved to a new town several years back I looked into vegetarian/vegan MeetUp groups. All the members of these groups seemed also to be involved in groups dealing with alternative medicine and other such topics. I never went. While I feel bad about making my friends go to vegan-friendly restaurants when they want to go out to eat with me (though they've never complained about all the delicious Ethiopian, Indian, and Mexican food they had to eat), I find that I have much more in common with rationally minded non-vegans than I do with the few local vegans I've been able to find. That's why I love the Internet — it lets me know that other skeptical vegans are out there and I'm not alone!

    • Avatar of Luna
      April 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm —

      Annabolic, it is simply not true that people with any health issue can just take supplements and miraculously thrive on a vegan diet. Ask any doctor or nutritionist. 

      • Avatar of Luna
        April 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm —

        Apologies for posting again, I meant to mention: some people also have diet restrictions like allergies or GERD induced asthma which would require them to get glutamate and restrict the consumption of many fruits, juices, spicy foods, salty foods, etc. any number of such health conditions would so severely limit their intake on a vegan diet that it would be unhealthy. 

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm —

        Meh, but a lot of people DON'T have weird medically necessitated dietary restrictions.  My guess is that for a majority of healthy people, B12 would probably be the only supplementation necessary as it's the only thing you cannot get from plants.   A diet well-rounded in everything humans need is the most important thing to health, and I seriously doubt that there's a significant difference between the health of a typical vegan with a well balanced diet and the health of a typical omnivore with a well balanced diet.
         
        But yes, people with particular health issues can't always be fully vegan, this is true.  

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          April 4, 2012 at 4:43 pm —

          //Annabolic, it is simply not true that people with any health issue can just take supplements and miraculously thrive on a vegan diet. Ask any doctor or nutritionist//
          But yes, actually you bring an important point, because many people will espouse bullshit facts in undying devotion to their beliefs, including vegans.  I really think the world would be a better place if people would correctly evaluate facts and weigh them heavily in their decisions and arguments.  But I think that's really hard for humans to do due to our overridingly strong emotions :).

      • Avatar of annabolic
        April 5, 2012 at 1:02 am —

        I'm not sure what you mean by "people with any health issue" but I think it was clear I was making a general statement that most people can eat very healthful vegan diets with no problems.

    • Avatar of Glow-Orb
      April 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm —

      You don't know the militant vegans?  They live in Hollyweird with the militant atheists and the feminazis.

    • Avatar of mrmisconception
      April 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm —

      I think part of the reason that you have met more, I’m going to use the word ardent because militant is inaccurate, omnivores than you have vegans is because you happen to agree with the vegans’ point of view.

      As an atheist I have never personally met an ardent atheist but have on many occasions been verbally accosted by those who feel my beliefs are wrong. I don’t believe that means there is a larger percentage of ardent theists or that atheists can’t be ardent, just that only theists would bother to tell me why they feel my position is wrong.

      I’m sorry if you are regularly bothered by omnivores trying to get you to eat meat or wear leather or whatever, and I think that we can see from the discussion the other day that emotional bullshit arguments are plentiful from both sides (the vegans didn’t happen to pull them out on that occasion, but they do have them) I just wish the word moral wasn’t brought up so quickly when vegans are asked why they are vegans, I much prefer your word ethics. As an atheist I do not like when someone starts with the assumption that their view is more moral than mine simply because they are theists, and I don’t like it when vegans (or libertarians, or Prius drivers, or what have you) do it either.

      If you (rhetorical you) wish to make an ethics argument in favor of your position please do but don’t start from an assumption of moral superiority and please be gracious if I don’t immediately capitulate. That’s why I like Stephen’s, and your, approach of non-judgment, I just wish more people, on both sides, shared it.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm —

        //As an atheist I do not like when someone starts with the assumption that their view is more moral than mine simply because they are theists, and I don’t like it when vegans (or libertarians, or Prius drivers, or what have you) do it either.//
         
        Well this is kind've the thing we're irritated about.  A lot of omnivores ASSUME IMMEDIATELY that just because of the property of being a decided vegan, we're acting morally superior, and they start to dig at us and our beliefs (and no, not just asking questions, actively insulting/refuting) as soon as they find out.  That pisses us off.  Not all mind you, but anyone vegan has probably experienced multiple times choosing a vegetarian or vegan option at a group dinner and had to put up with people giving them shit about over a personal fucking meal choice.
         
        Please do not assume that because any of us are vegan and we do it for moral/ethic reasons, that we're immediately standing in judgement of you.  That's kinda like the same thing when a guy hears that someone is a feminist and immediately feels like he is sitting near someone who hates men.
         
        Try it sometime as an experiment.  Try mentioning passively (as in, if the subject happens to come up, don't push it on them) to various groups of people that you're feminist, and to others that you're vegan.  I'm sure that you'll notice an unusually high level of defensiveness/agressiveness in both cases from a lot of poeple.

        • Avatar of mrmisconception
          April 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm —

          You are also being just a bit touchy as I did not make any assumptions about anyone here. When someone is specifically asked why they are vegans and their answer is “because it is more moral than eating meat” they are stating their belief of moral superiority. These are the people that I am talking about, not vegans in general.

          I don’t doubt that you are “given shit” about your choices, that happens when a person has a belief outside of the norm because people can be asses. But here you have assumed that I think all vegans believe themselves to be morally superior despite my stating the contrary.

          • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
            April 4, 2012 at 4:31 pm

            //When someone is specifically asked why they are vegans and their answer is “because it is more moral than eating meat” they are stating their belief of moral superiority//
            Well, eh, yes, that is the core belief man that not eating meat is morally better than eating it.  That's kinda the key to holding a moral or ethical belief.  Do you expect different?
             
            Everyone holds such beliefs that they think are superior to others, but that doesn't make us believe that we feel WE are superior to others or are judging the person.  Are you really telling me that you yourself don't have a single belief that you hold as superior to other beliefs?  I think you do, we ALL do, but that doesn't mean you judge yourself superior to someone or judge the person who believes different does it?  Same with a lot of us.
             
            EVERY HUMAN holds such beliefs and I think it's disingenous to single us out for it.

          • Avatar of mrmisconception
            April 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

            @drdrprofessor

            Then it comes down to semantics. I suggest that the word we should use here is ethics rather than morals. Ethics, at least to me, suggests a choice among many shades of gray; morals suggests the black and white.

            It is good to know where you personally hold your line, your morals. It is not so good to use that same line to judge others. That is all I’m saying.

        • Avatar of dysomniak
          April 5, 2012 at 1:33 am —

          Yeah, I used to be one of those asshole omnivores. Nowadays I try to not judge the dietary choces of others a\s I expect them not to stand in judgement of mine. On the basic moral level pretty much anyone living in a first world nation has a lot to answer for (even me, and I've never owned a car, even lived on $8400 last year). As a "progressive" (fuck I hate that term) I try to find ways to lessen my culpability and I recognize that veganism comes from the same impulse. I guess I may as well take this oppurtunity to apologize to any vegans or vegetarians I may have mocked over the years. Unless you came at me first, in which case fuck off.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      April 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm —

      Annabolic said: "It's also annoying to keep hearing about these "militant vegans." In my life I've met way more militant omnivores than militant vegans. I never impose my veganism on other people, unless I'm sharing my homemade brownies or cookies with them, yet so many times the mere mention of my veganism will cause other people to go on the offensive."
       
      As I said in the other thread, your anecdote reflects your personal experience, which is probably due to you being vegan.  Omnivores have probably met more militant vegans than vegans have, just as vegans have probably met more militant omnivores than omnivores have.  When you disagree with someone's premise, you'll be more likely to pick apart their entire argument, while if you agree with their premise you may be less likely to notice every little thing they do that is assholish.  Confirmation bias for dietary choices.  I'm in a lot of food groups on one website, and while the Vegan group has some stories about omnivores being shitty, many of the members of the vegan group don't seem to realize (or even encourage each other) when they make really shitty, judgmental comments about omnivores.

      • Avatar of annabolic
        April 5, 2012 at 1:10 am —

        My anecdote was just that, an anecdote. I did not mean to put forth any claims that "omnivores are more militant than vegans" or anything like that. I don't know how one would even go about quantifying that.
         
        The point of bring it up was to point out that omnivores can be "militant" too. They can be obnoxious about their food choices. They can be loudmouthed and vocal. So that's why the stereotype bothers me — because omnivores can be pretty obnoxious and not get called out for it because they're well within the mainstream (at least when it comes down to their food choices).
         
        I am well aware that there are all kinds of self-selection biases going on, so I wasn't trying to make absolute statements. Like you said, I might be more apt to ignore other vegans' "militancy" because I already agree with them; likewise, omnivores often seem to tend toward not noticing "militancy" from their fellow omnivores.

  16. Avatar of benjaminsa
    April 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm —

    Thank you for writting and posting. I did disagree with:

    My preferences may be different than those of some others but I make no pretense of moral superiority. I see no reason why other people should be expected to adopt my views, nor why I should adopt theirs.

    Food choices are moral decisions, and not simple preferences. The choice between a red or grenn apple is a preference, but the choice between a factory farmed pig and a salad is not. One clearly causes a whole lot more suffering and harm, and I don't think you can avoid the moral aspect, especially when your choice is based, partially, on moral considerations.

    • Avatar of mrmisconception
      April 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm —

      Your choices do matter of course but I wonder why you feel you should judge someone else by your morals? Plus, your statement that “The choice between a red or green apple is a preference, but the choice between a factory farmed pig and a salad is not.” Is woefully simplistic.

      Is it more ethical to eat a steak from the deer my neighbor hunted and dressed or a salad made of lettuce from 6 states away, tomatoes from Peru, olives from Spain, croutons and salad dressing that contain palm kernel oil, and tofu from Japan?

      I don’t ask to be confrontational, just to point out that choices are not always as black and white as they might appear.

      • Avatar of benjaminsa
        April 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm —

        I just don't think you can avoid the judgement, especially not when it is a simplistic choice. One which, given the huge amount of factory farmed meat, many people are making everyday (so I don't think it is a woeful example). I agree that many food choices are complex,  but that doesn't get you away from the fact that the debate has an ethical dimension. Also I would seperate out a judgment of an action, and condemnation of an individual. I might disagree with an action and think it is wrong but that doesn't mean I think the individual is a bad or evil.

        • Avatar of Otoki
          April 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm —

          I think the point is more that it can be between a factory farmed pig and a pic from a local, humane farm that lets it live its life foraging until it's slaughtered for consumption.  And salad from local produce vs salad from produce that was shipped from all over the place.  There are many arguments and moral/ethical issues raised with both examples, and that's why it's not "simple".
           
          To me, there's a big difference between the two, and that's why I only buy meat from local humane farms, AND I buy as much local produce as possible, only buying non-local when there are no options for that produce (avocados, for instance).  For me it's important that the animals that become my food live a good life and don't suffer from unnecessary pain (as in, pain besides their quick death before processing), and it's also important to me to support the people growing food in my own goddamn state (or neighboring states) because I feel that buying local is both environmentally friendlier (not really something I care about that much, but hey) and is a very real way to keep my local economy strong.

          • Avatar of Matt
            April 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm

            I agree that people can take steps to reduce their contribution to animal suffering by knowing that the animals they're eating have lived good lives, by avoiding factory farmed meat, etc. I think arguments regarding the animals' experierences while alive are much stronger than those that focus on simply the death of the animal. Locally grown I'm not so sure about though. It seems environmentally friendly on the surface, but is it. It appears that the deeper one looks into it, the more evident it becomes that in many cases it may actually be worse for the environment. Brain Dunning of Skeptoid has written some pieces on the issue worth checking out. See http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4162.

          • Avatar of Otoki
            April 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm

            Matt: For some reason this won't let me reply directly to you (too many replies, maybe?) but as I pointed out with local produce, I said "when there are no other options for that produce".  I should have been clearer about "local", but for me that's wrapped up in "seasonal" as well.  As in, not going out of my way to buy avocados grown in a greenhouse in MN in January.  I don't think produce grown in a less than ideal climate for it will taste as good or have the same amount of nutrients at its peak ripeness as produce grown in a climate that is more conducive to it growing without much trouble.
             
            As I said, environmental factors aren't as big a deal to me as giving money to the food industry in my area:)

      • Avatar of Wilson
        April 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm —

        I think something is morally superior. I think society would be better off if more people acted more morally. I cannot force people to act how I percieve to be more morally. Therefore, I try to convince others of my moral's superiority in hopes that they will adopt that stance and they will make more moral decisions that benefit society.
        I the end, I talk about being vegitarian for the same reason I talk about Skepticism. See above.

        • Avatar of mrmisconception
          April 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm —

          “Morally superior”? Really, what else do you find morally superior that you would “try to convince others of my moral’s superiority in hopes that they will adopt that stance and they will make more moral decisions that benefit society”?

          If you don’t wish to come across as judgmental (maybe you do, I don’t know) you may try to describe your position as “more ethical” rather than “morally superior” to seperate yourself from those who judge by “morals” that they get from dubious places; 2,000 year-old tomes say.

          • Avatar of Wilson
            April 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

            More ethical, whatever.
            I find making decisions based on evidence to be "more ethical". And morally superior.

          • Avatar of Wilson
            April 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

            Just read my post again. I was trying to point out that we are all "acting morally superior" when we try to convince others to our points-of-view. If we don't think our view is superior, why would we care to share it?

  17. Avatar of lisavilisa
    April 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm —

    So this raises an interesting question: Is there a way to make a moral choice ((be it diet, transportation method, giving to pan handlers on the street, etc.) and then talk about it without seeming morally superior?
    I'm not talking about going on a street corner and preaching the values of vegetarianism, but much like the scenario where you order the vegan dish at a restaurant, someone at your table asks you
     "Oh. You’re vegan? Why?"
     What do you say? If you made the decision for moral/ethical reasons should you lie? Explain the ins and outs of moral relativity? Or say you don't like to get into it much and risk making the person uncomfortable?

    • Avatar of Amanda
      April 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm —

      "Because I have made it my life mission to destroy as many vegetables as possible." 

  18. Avatar of Wilson
    April 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm —

    This is a very complicated issue. Such a complicated issue, in fact, that I don't think that anyone can have the full moral "right" of it. There are just too many ripple effects of whatever choice you make about your diet. Personally, I tried to eat less meat, more humane meat, local meat. In the end though, analyzing the downstream effects of those choices was simply too much of a chore (our brains have only so much chemical energy for making decisions). So I decided to call myself vegitarian. I still sometimes eat meat but when I do it's a divergence from the norm – and that makes it easier for me to limit my consumption.
    Though it sounds religious, sometimes you just have to adopt a steady moral rule that you hold to, even if it doesn't take every consideration into account, simply because our brains can't handle all that decision making. Note that I say this with the strong caveat that you have to be willing to "reopen the issue," as it were, and reexamine the moral rule as you receive new evidence. 

  19. Avatar of cornelioid
    April 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm —

    I'm glad to see food issues discussed more openly in the skeptic community! I was vegetarian for a while, and vegan for a shorter while, and what i've come to over time is an emphasis on conscious consumerism that has absorbed and further informed most of my food restrictions. I must keep conscious that it is all tentative, since new information keeps displacing old.
    For example, something that surprised me in Richard Carrier's defense of omnivorism was a breakdown of the water consumption involved in meat production. He focuses on the factory farm model and argues that any water savings by going vegetarian are negligible. Since you mention water specifically i wonder what you think of his argument. Granted, it does not directly address unconventional agriculture, but the math involved doesn't seem to depend on the conventional model.

  20. Avatar of kagehi
    April 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm —

    I am also not convinced that red meat and disease are strongly linked. The epi studies that have drawn this conclusion are weak, and the benefits of a veg diet are likely more a result of vegetarians largely being more health conscious in general, rather than simply a result of not cutting out meat.

     
    This is the one that makes me sketical of the idea of veganism, that and the idea that environmental impact is a result of animal raising "period", and not a result of it being done as cheaply as possible with a corporate view of environmental impact. I have had two people in my family, who only had two things in common with vegans, and that by accident, who died at over 100 years of age. The one thing they had in common? They didn't eat as much as the average person does today, but in their cases, it wasn't "health awareness", it was simply not having access to a grociery store with 50,000 products in it, 70% of which is over sugared, over salted, etc. Oh, and they, out of necessity, often grew, or helped pick, their own vegies, due to not having the money to just buy them.
     
    All of the "benefits" claimed from various diets are "unproven", since no one of any generation using them has, so far, lived long enough to say that they added 5-10 years to the average, compared to access to medicine, and other factors. And, the studies.. a lot of the people involved jump on every study, like its being given by the Oracle of Delphi, and with just about as much of a clue as to what it actually means when applied to humans. They then, all too often, rail against anyone coming along after and saying, "Well, actually, it might not be as helpful, beneficial, or as clear cut, as we thought.
     
    Allergies being one of those. Some people go to doctors, find no cause, then start looking for the latest "allergy" they might have, and "feel better" at some point. This doesn't answer if its true, doesn't fix the problem, if it is, and we do what, label everything that comes in contact with gluten, "May contain gluten", like we do with nuts now? Other than finding a way to derail more cancers, I think the single **biggest** advance in medicine would be some way to definitively fix non-genetic allergies, so they could be identified, and corrected, not just identified, and often via, "I tried to stop eating 50 things, but I don't *really* know if it was soemthing I stopped eating 43 things ago, or the 50th.", method I get from some people where I work. Ok.. And, this couldn't have been a temporary medical thing, a bug, something you came in contact with, by chance, in the same time period, but not now that you don't eat at a certain place any more, or stopped going to the park, or changed shampoo? You know it was this thing, because, of course, none of this other stuff would have stayed in your system for days, or weeks? But, your doctor didn't identify it, so you went with what you read in a magazine, as a guide to what to cut out of your diet?
     
    Same person, almost always, BTW, that insists they *must* have hand wipes, before using a shopping cart, and presumably keep their kids from so much as touching dirt (and thus leaving the kids ammune system at possible risk of generating false positives from perfectly harmless things). Just one more complication in the whole bloody mess called "diets". So, yeah, a personal approach makes sense, but some of the reasons for the approach are fixable, others less so, and some "solutions", may be worse than the problem being solved, "individually". Ironically, as per the case this derived from, one "major" solution to the problem of, "things with a face", is actually, "more bugs". Its just that the same person that will swat a mosquito will often reject the idea of eating one… Makes no sense to me, but then huge swaths of the issue make me shake my head and go, "WTF?", all too often (like the idea that animal colegen, for jello = bad, but genetically engineering a bug, to produce "human" colegen = good, unless you are someone that thinks bug = animal, in which case = still bad…). Would a plant be OK, or would that them be GM food, and therefor 'bad'? Take this stuff far enough and you could make everything in a lab, using petri dishes, and still not avoid "living products" (some minerals only form in the presence of life forms), not that it would matter, because, "unnatural = bad", too. o.O
     
    Given the number of loud, and vocal people that just about match the above, its damn hard to not hear "vegan", and end up with an not entirely "balanced" view of what most people are talking about. lol

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 4, 2012 at 6:47 pm —

      Eh, what?

    • Avatar of Jaclyn
      April 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm —

      Kagehi,
      It's pretty hard not to hear feminazi given all the portrayals we see of that. It's pretty hard not to hear miltant atheist attacking all christian rights, given how much of that we are told exists. Feminists and athiests are unbalanced! We know that because some of them are and therefore when we hear the word, that's what we think! Give me a break.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 5, 2012 at 8:07 am —

        Yeah kind've a lame statement:  "I know one crazy person who calls herself vegan, therefore my stereotypes are justified". 

  21. Avatar of Nikki Qureshi
    April 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm —

    I must admit, I often feel alienated by the attitude to towards veganism and animal rights type issues around here whenever the subject arises.

  22. Avatar of James Fox
    April 4, 2012 at 8:05 pm —

    I wonder how much bigger the environmental impact of a single cow would be if it was served on a intercontinental flight full of skeptics on their way to conference X.

  23. Avatar of emmastaf
    April 5, 2012 at 1:01 am —

    The issue of animal pain might be a touchy subject that no one wants to get into, but my two cents…
    I think a large part of why we humans find pain so abhorrent is that it often triggers, or is correlated with, unpleasant emotions: fear, anxiety, betrayal, sadness. The pain itself is merely a sensation, but it intensifies and is intensified by emotions. If an animal feels the sensation of pain, but no negative emotions (like fear) associated with pain, do we really sympathize with it, or are we over-personifying it? A fish may feel physiological pain when hooked, but is it really upset? 
    I think that generally animals more related to humans are more likely to have human-like emotions, probably because we share an ancestor with emotions. (Maybe emotions have evolved more than once among animals; I'd guess that parrots and primates don't share an ancestor with similar emotions.) I'm not an expert, but I think most mammals show some sort of emotion, and probably birds, too. Maybe reptiles, fish less likely.
    I study (fossil and modern) mollusks: mostly snails. I don't know if snails can feel pain (as we understand it) but I very much doubt they have emotions. A flight response is not the same as gut-wrenching fear. Of course, I haven't been in the "mind" of a snail, so I don't know for sure, but they don't exhibit behaviors that suggest emotions.
    I'm not saying that the pain argument is not valid, but I do think it's more complex than many may realize.
    On another note, someone above mentioned cephalization as evidence of animals' relative nervous sophistication over plants. As an invertebrate nerd, I am compelled to point out that many animals do not exhibit cephalization, especially sedentary or sessile (non-moving) organisms, like clams and seastars. Thus, they don't have a face. There are in fact many groups of animals, including entire phyla, that do not share the characteristics most people ascribe to "animals". I'm pointing this out not so much to add to the veg*nism debate, but just to exercise my duty as an Invertebrate Awareness Activist. There are a lot of sea creature that many would assume were plants/algae.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 5, 2012 at 8:05 am —

      Meh, but bugs still feel pain :), so I don't eat them.  Whether they have emotions personally doesn't matter to me.
       
      Note that I'm not asking the whole world to join me :).

    • Avatar of Wilson
      April 5, 2012 at 10:34 am —

      You are completely right about cephalization Emmastaf. Since that's part of the reason I don't find eating plants abhorrent, I also have no problem with eating various slimes, sponges, or assorted gastropods. The whole issue runs on a sliding scale of "badness" related to complexity for me. Killing fish is less bad than killing cat is less bad than killing humans.

      • Avatar of emmastaf
        April 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm —

        Wilson, I definitely agree about the sliding scale. I think it's pretty reasonable to assess organisms in terms of "how similar is it to me", in absence of a more objective standard. Some draw the line in different places. I would only eat a human in the most dire circumstances, and I don't think I'd kill the human to eat them. I don't think I'd kill a great ape, either. Certain monkeys and prosimians, maybe, but only if there was no other option. I'll also admit that I'd find it hard to eat a dog or cat, being a pet owner, but I have no problem eating pork (not particularly rational). If someone else draws the line farther away from humans (e.g., doesn't eat any mammals, doesn't eat any vertebrates, or doesn't eat any animals), their reasoning isn't necessarily different from mine, it's just a matter of degree.
        I think it's funny that some people (radical omnivores) can get so upset about people NOT eating something… I don't get mad at people who hate tomatoes :)

  24. Avatar of deedub
    April 5, 2012 at 8:38 am —

    Thanks for this post. I've been a vegetarian for 15 years and the scorn and judgement I see heaped on vegetarians/vegans by some skeptical people bums me out. It bums me out almost as much as the woo-flinging I see from my fellow vegetarians/vegans.  
    I'm a vegetarian because factory farming, where the overwhelming majority of meat comes from, is horrible for the environment. All the pollution and suffering and waste caused by factory farming is not justified, in my eyes, by the enjoyment people get from eating it.
    I'm not of the belief that nothing shoud die, ever. I'm not going to claim that I'm singlehandedly saving the world by not eating meat, or that I'm completely blameless in all the things I buy and use, so coming at me with those assertations is a straw man, one I've heard literally hundreds of times since I was 12. It's just as clever and entertaining as saying "Moo" when you're eating a burger in front of me.

  25. Avatar of Claudia A
    April 5, 2012 at 10:40 am —

    Great post, although it would be great to have more articles about being a skeptic veg*an. I became a vegetarian over 10 years ago because meat grosses me out but I didn't became a vegan until a couple of years ago. I did it for humanitarian reasons and, frankly, I feel guilty for not having it done earlier.
    Anyway, even though I do know several skeptic veg*ans, one of the things that bother me the most is he large amount of new agey, pseudoscientific vegans. I recently moved out of the US so I've been trying to find local groups of veg*and. Most of them push a pro-veg*an agenda, alongside with their anti-science ideas: homeopathy, the chakras, anti-vaccination/anti-medicine lifestyes, etc. I try to be a 'live and let die' kind of person but I do speak out when I hear people spreading ignorace and harmful supersitions.
    I guess the situation is very generalized and happens in many countries, but I found that being veg*an and skeptic was way more common in the United States than the oher countries I've been to.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm —

      Yeah it's hard to find people who don't also love to surround themselves with pseudoscience. 

  26. Avatar of Luna
    April 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm —

    It's interesting for me as I have somewhat been on both sides of the debate. I do think vegans / vegetarians have to watch what they say; on this post I'm hearing people say it's a  more ethical diet and in general, anyone can pull it off health-wise. Which is simply not true. For one, you'd have to know everything about the source of your food: the conditions for farm workers, if slash-and-burn agri was involved, pesticide use, if logging attracted poachers (some use leghold traps), etc etc. Your diet in total may actually not be as ethical as a meat eater who 1. Ate meat on a limited basis and bought humane certified   2. Made very consciencious decisions.
    That said, I find that we omnivores are probably more rude and aggressive than any vegan. In college I was subjected to harassment (like people shoving plates of meat in my face) and one student hid in her dorm room to eat because the omnivores were so rude to vegetarians, and most of us said nothing about our diets, they surmised it from what we had on our plates.
    If people asked me why I chose that diet, I would simply say "I don't believe in killing animals" (ironic considering my grim-reaper stint years later working at an animal shelter and euthanizing hundreds of cats and dogs) I suppose my somewhat snide response was partly defensive but I can see how I may have seemed to tout myself as morally superior, when really, I was not.

  27. Avatar of kagehi
    April 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm —

    Yes, because its only "one" of them I know… Seriously though, I am sure there are people in the anti-vax movement that are not 100% wrong about vaccine dangers, it doesn't mean that everyone here wouldn't react to an anti-vaxer with the assumption – Oh, hell, its another Jenny McCarthy.
     
    My point, which you missed, in order to whine about my lumping everyone all in one boat, is that there are a lot of cranks out there which don't have medical reasons for it, and whose ethical reasons tend to bleed over into a variety of crazy, from homeopathy, as a means to avoid "unnatural" drugs, to you name it. Actually, better example – If someone said they meditate, what would your first reaction be, to assume they do it for the real benifits, or to at least *wonder* what sort of other stuff they are into? I know its an irrational bias, but its one that comes from living in a bloody country where things like veganism are picked up, all too often, by the tide of "non-cognitive elite" types, who go from one idea to the next, without comprehending any of them.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm —

      //Actually, better example – If someone said they meditate, what would your first reaction be, to assume they do it for the real benifits, or to at least *wonder* what sort of other stuff they are into?//
       
      Actually counter example – If a woman says to any guy "I'm a feminist", what would their first reaction be, to assume they're cool like anyone else, or to at least *wonder* if they might hate men or be a lesbian?

      • Avatar of kagehi
        April 6, 2012 at 11:37 pm —

        Since we now seem to be choosing, admitedly, bad examples, lets take a brief trip back to reality:
         

        Greta Christina: Are you seriously arguing that the context of this “commodification” is irrelevant? That there is no difference between selling the strength of my muscles to a leftist small-press book distributor, and selling it to Exxon? That there is no difference between selling the intelligence of my brains to raise money for an atheist student’s scholarship fund, and selling it to Halliburton? And that there is no difference between selling the image of my naked body to a feminist and anti-theocratic fundraising project, and selling it to Page 6? If you are making that argument… it’s absurd on the face of it. And if you’re not — if you’re arguing that it’s okay to sell my muscles and my brains to promote causes that I care about, but it’s not okay to sell my nudity — then you need to actually make a case for why nudity is different. Something you have conspicuously failed to do.

         
        http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/04/04/what-i-may-do-with-my-naked-body/
        Now.. What sort of reaction would you have to the term "feminism" if the **only** feminists you had ever ran into where this sort of, "Men force women to do these things, therefor, if you do them, or worse, like to do them, you are part of the problem!", types? Sadly, the observer never gets to pick the name someone who reached a conclusion by idiocy, instead of skepticism, and facts, uses the describe themselves. And, someone who never read anything by, or even met, a feminist that wasn't like the one Greta's post addresses, isn't likely to be thinking, "Ah, well, that must just be the fringe of the movement."
         
        Frankly, without clear evidence, its hardly certain that, even if they allowed for rational members, those wouldn't be the fringe, and the crazies the main body. And, that may be a serious problem (even if its only an image problem, not a real one). And, you have to admit, the number of people you are likely to encounter selling certain things… are not targeting the "rational" people with it, there are way more of the irrational ones, hense success of the whole "altie med" movement. It pays to sell diets, life styles, etc., including Veganism, to the clueless, so long as there is money to be made from it. And, that makes rational ones at least a "bit" of a surprise, if you haven't run into a lot of them before.

  28. Avatar of wills4223
    April 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm —

    The environmental impact of soy production is pretty heavy. Brazil has been cutting down tons of rainforest to plant soy. A portion of that is because of the increase in demand of soy based food products. Meatless eating does have environmental impact.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 5, 2012 at 7:34 pm —

      //Meatless eating does have environmental impact.//
      Yeah, of course it does.  Food production in general does.  But I think the claim that people who are vegans are someone causing extra harm.
       
      I'd like to inform you that omnivores consume a lot of the same environmentally destructive products that vegans do.  It's not like becoming vegan makes you choose more destructive products all of a sudden.  You know what I eat mostly?  Non-Organic vegetables I buy at the store and sometimes margarine.  You know what omnivores eat?  The same things as me + Animal Products.  How is my choice more harmful than any omnivore's choice?
       
      But yeah, I don't claim that it's "so much better for the earth", in fact, frankly, I DO NOT KNOW whether it's better for the Earth or not, it would be something I have to investigate.

      • Avatar of Luna
        April 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm —

        I think the personal choice to be a vegan is wonderful for farm animals and surely spares a lot of suffering. And I have written to the humane certified organization and asked them to raise their standards. They could do so much more. Short of that, it would be great if Americans could cut their meat intake to just a few times a month. That may spare many more farm animals and give them space to roam. I agree with you, total environmental impact is tricky to measure.

    • Avatar of kaileyverse
      April 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm —

      I am coming from an understanding that a large number of soy products are grown for non-human animal consumption – and soy is in everything – cereals, breads, etc. That a lot of people eat, not just vegetarians/vegans.   
      I'm a vegan and don't really do the tofu thing, I make a lot of food from scratch using dry beans, veggies and flours.  I try to avoid pre-packaged foods, but no one is perfect. Every so often I might get some tempeh or something, but I try to avoid soy as it does have such a large environmental footprint.  It is possible to eat both a plant based diet and an onminvorous diet and limit your ecological impact through purchasing locally sourced and grown products.
       
       

  29. Avatar of Wilson
    April 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm —

     
    For me the "better for the environment" concept comes mainly from the concept of the "energy pyramid" representing trophic levels in an ecosystem. http://www.biocab.org/energy_pyramid.html. Put simply, the higher up the pyramid you are, the more energy has to come from the sun to provide you with your energy (due to loss from heat and waste). Since the energy from the sun can fairly directly translate into number of crops and amount of land used I feel it's a fair measurement of my impact on the environment (though not perfect, I know). Instead of taking a field of corn to feed cows to feed me I just drop a trophic level and consume the field of corn myself, skipping the energy waste that occurs from the transference through 1-2 other trophic levels. Since there's absolutely no way that I get from the cows can net more than what they got from the field… Of course, they're ruminants, and they get more from plants than I necessarily could so it's not cut and dry, but still – in general I eat less than they have to eat to feed me.
     
    Another good point from the same energy pyramid concept, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomagnification.

    • Avatar of Luna
      April 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm —

      Wilson, that's partially fair when talking about large scale cattle ranching, however in permaculture people can humanely integrate chickens into their multi-crop growing while creating a landscape that supports itself. Sheep and goats also use 80 percent less land than cattle. Multi-crop and canopy growing while using humane farm animal techniques is far, far less harmful in my mind than monocultures, which destroy the soil, deforests, uses tons of water and displace so many species.

  30. Avatar of greenstone123
    April 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm —

    I appreciate everyone that takes a skeptical look at their consumption, of anything, and comes to a conclusion about how to best go about things. Of course no ‘one plan’ of consumption of products/food/resources is going to work for everyone.
     
    Personally I am an omnivore, consuming meat, animal products, and plants. I take careful consideration into meal planning and how we use our utilities and such. I grew up raising my own meat, hunting, and growing my own veggies and fruit. I think that it is good for people to know how they get their food before it is served up at the dinner table.

  31. Avatar of Feats of Cats
    April 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm —

    The only time I get uppity about my vegetarianism is when other people claim to be vegetarians/vegans, but with caveats.  Like they'll eat fish (how is fish not an animal?  You're a pescetarian) or they'll eat meat if it was local and treated well.  I don't have any problem with either of these diets, but it irritates me to hear these people call themselves vegetarians.
    I've been a vegetarian for 13 years now, since I was 14.  I am proud of this, as it takes a certain amount of discipline.  I have no desire to impose my lifestyle on anyone else, but fake vegetarianism really digs under my skin and makes me a bit preachy.

  32. Avatar of Luna
    April 5, 2012 at 6:32 pm —

    Going on the B12 theme I would love it if the awesome Skepchicks (and Skepdudes, I know there's at least one) would post on the evidence or lack of that supplements shorten life. Scary finding, industry scam, or woo?

    • Avatar of Charles Bosse
      April 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm —

      B12 is actually from bacteria – so mostly good sources of B12 are kind of gross if you think too hard about it… but you can get a reasonable amount of B12 without meat (okay, okay, and without cheese, though I haven't totally crossed that bridge yet) if you are willing to eat your veggies without scrubbing them to death (hey, I didn't say you shouldn't cook them).
      Anyway, I don't mind people eating meat, but I think it's silly when they scream "freedom, variety, and taste!". Really? You eat the same 3 things every time you go out, whereas I have the entire plant kingdom to choose from. Somehow, though, it seems like our food selection is caught in an era where the idea of "branching out" is heresy, and I'm frankly pretty surprised at the garbage people pay money for. If I'm going to your house, feel free to boil some veggies, or serve them raw, but if I'm paying for food – please, challenge yourself a bit, and possibly consider having more than one non-meat option on your menu.

  33. Avatar of dr. dr. professor
    April 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm —

    Okay, so would you like to actually know WHY I don't eat meat?  For 2 reasons
    1. I frankly like eating all vegetable dishes.  It tastes REALLY GOOD TO ME.
    2. Everytime I consider eating meat, the following images run through my head.


    I'm sorry if it seems extreme, but it is what happens to get the ham to the grocery store, and thus why I choose not to eat meat.

    • Avatar of Matt
      April 5, 2012 at 11:08 pm —

      Here's a video worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THIODWTqx5E
      I've heard people pass it off as "propaganda," but it's really not. Factory farming is not regulated at all in most places, including the US.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
        April 6, 2012 at 12:56 am —

        Yep it's some pretty cruel shit.  I just can't personally watch that and then in good conscience buy meat.

        • Avatar of Finn McR
          April 6, 2012 at 3:10 am —

          I can watch geese being fed, then buy and eat foie gras. How about that?
          What about those who raise for personal use and slaughter animals? Or keep hens for eggs? Or hunt?
          All serious questions. I don't like the idea of animals suffering needlessly to be my food, but on the other hand, I don't think that every sausage I buy is the product of a diseased, abused, chained-up pig. Some suffer, no doubt. It is industrial food production, not some bucolic ideal of small-scale farmers. The same can be said of vegetable and fruit farming. It uses excess of fertilizer and pesticides, may be killing off honey bees, is killing the Chesapeake bay and a massive dead-zone off the coast of Louisiana…
          There are too many people for us to live in anything like a "natural" state with the environment.

          • Avatar of Matt
            April 6, 2012 at 10:55 am

            Pesticides and fertilizer are, at this point, necessary in order to feed the world. Once technology progresses and people are less wary of for example GMOs, which will do much to reduce pesticide use and increase yields, a lot of these problems will be start to be fixed. The mass torture of cows, pigs, and chickens is not necessary under any stretch of the imagination.

          • Avatar of kagehi
            April 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm

            It uses excess of fertilizer and pesticides, may be killing off honey bees

            Interesting bit of detail there. One common used pest control, in places where they try not to use "artificial" ones, is nocotene based. Turns out, while colony collapse is a non-single issue, bloody complicated, thing, one possibly contributor is the fact that nicotene based repelant works so well precisely because it gets into **every part of the plant**. Yep, your organic tomatoe may be a low dose cigerette… And, it also seems to make it harder for bees to find their way back to the hive, from collecting nicotene laced nectar. Oops!
             
            As for the excess of fertilizer, this is due to idiocies in mono-culture farming, driven by corporate profit, in contradiction to the practices of farmers, and the consequences ignored by people more interested in *always* growing one crop, instead of growing a different one each year, possibly at a lower profit. In short, its not needed, except in extreme cases, at all, except for the convenience of always having a specific crop being grown and sold, year after year, after year, on the same land. Its somewhat less clear if other pesticides, which do not get absorbed into the plants themselves, have the same impact. This is simply the "assumption", for many people who are not doing the science, but have simply heard about how it, "may be a cause". It might be nice to have much clearer data, instead of what isn't much better than, "maybe". The same sort of "maybe" that can lead people to become obsessed with Goji Berries, and the like, based on possibly preliminary, and unclear, data. Call me skeptical as to just how much of an effect some of those things are having, when they can't even present clear data on how, and why, instead of just, "More of X is being used, less of Y is around, therefor X is killing Y." Yeah, because that sort of causality projection has *never* been wrong.

    • Avatar of Otoki
      April 6, 2012 at 12:50 am —

      That's the sort of shit that passes through my head that keeps me picky about my meat.  There is no fucking reason outside of profit to treat an animal that way in order to kill and eat it.

    • Avatar of Rafael Cardoso
      April 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm —

      I totally support you! Veganism is the only way to stop animal suffering.

  34. Avatar of Finn McR
    April 6, 2012 at 2:52 am —

    I'm an omnivore. I don't have any food alergies (including not lactose intolerant), so I may be in an enviable position. I like food. All kinds of food. I try to expand my food horizons whenever I can. I don't like: overcooked anything (squid, vegetables, beef, nasty dry white meat chicken) or raw salmoln (any kind of sashimi is better). I eat very little meat (most of which is fish…which is meat folks) but probably too much cured meats to be good for me (umm… baaaconn…). This is not because I am healthier-than-thou or more "ethical"-than-thou, just lazier-than-thou. Grains and veggies seem to be cheaper, are longer-storing (unless you are bolder about meat storage than I), and are definitely easier to dispose of the waste if you only toss garbage once a week. I even eat lots of rice, ye gods! Thankfully, I (and millions of East Asians) have managed not to get fat on rice.
    Arrgh. People and their B.S. anguish about food. Eat a normal (or even fairly abnormal) diet in moderation, walk places and up stairs, exercise a bit and you will probably be fine. If you don't eat beef, Galapagos turtles, tuna/cod, or eagles every day you are not solely to blame for species and ecosystem destruction. Eat a little of this, a little of that, and a bit more of basic vegetables; sweat once a day; then relax.

  35. Avatar of Otoki
    April 6, 2012 at 11:23 am —

    I think it's perfectly valid for people to not want to eat animals.  I also think it's perfectly valid for people to want to eat them.
    What I don't think is valid is people bemoaning the mistreatment and torture of animals in factory farm environments…and then going out and buying products made from those very animals.  My mother-in-law does this, and it drives me nuts.  But despite MY beliefs on where meat should be bought, I don't push it on her because I've said my piece once.  And anything beyond the one-time "If you don't like the way they're treated, maybe you should pay the extra money to buy meat from xyz instead of abc" is being preachy and pushy.
    So when I see people jumping on others for what they eat, I think that's shitty.  It's one thing to have a calm, polite disagreement or discussion, and another to start making shitty assumptions about each other.

  36. Avatar of Jamie Foley
    April 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm —

    *fixed spelling
    Great post, Im glad to see a postive response to some of the bickering resulting from bug girl's post.
    Just wanted to let folks know that if they are interested on finding other skeptical vegans that there are a number of blogs they should check out. First I gotta plug my own blog
    SkepticalVegan
    other great blogs include
    PythagoreanCrank
    Vegan Scientist
    Vegan skeptic
    The Rational Vegan
    You can also come hangout with other vegan and vegetarian skeptics at TAM2012, we are hoping to have a meet-up like we did last year

  37. Avatar of lyke
    December 6, 2012 at 1:33 am —

    Just to be clear, the point is that it’s an intellectual sin to report averages without some measure of variance.

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