The Skeptic Next Door: Carrie Poppy

This week I bring you a fascinating discussion with an animal rights activist from my little Los Angeles neighborhood. Carrie Poppy is lovely, insightful, entertaining AND she even shares a kick-ass recipe!
This interview has it all. Enjoy!
carrie 1

I first met you at an atheist convention in Los Angeles. Were you raised an atheist or did you become an atheist later in life?carrie 2
That was the same week I met Richard Dawkins! I literally shook in my boots as I stood in front of him. Clearly, good practice for meeting Skepti-Amy. I was definitely not raised atheist. My parents believed in God, but didn’t push it very much. When I was 13, I went to a church camp and was hooked. I quickly became the most religious person in my family, and completely devoted my life to God. I remained that way until age 18, when I went through some doubts (but never really stopped believing), then recommitted myself at 20 after a friend showed me “evidence” for the resurrection of Jesus. I have always been an evidence person. I would pray for God to show me signs and evidence for His existence. So when my friend presented me with books on the historical, scientific, and philosophical “evidence” for God, I was thrilled. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I let that all go. I’m 26 now. I had my 2nd atheism birthday in May. You owe me a present.

What first got you interested in skepticism and involved in the skeptical community?
I guess it depends on how you interpret that word ‘skepticism.’ If it just means a search for evidence and a passion for the truth, I was born with it. I’ve always questioned things, never trusted anyone’s word– even my parents.’ But I joined the secular skeptical community when I was 24. I heard Richard Dawkins on the radio and got hooked. I read The God Delusion, put it down and realized I couldn’t say I believed there was a god. I was in love with a Christian and preparing myself to be a good Christian wife and start popping out babies. Richard Dawkins saved my life. After that, I just kept reading more and more and more (as I am wont to do), and one day I was driving on Hollywood Boulevard and passed the Center for Inquiry. I had heard of that place. I went to the very next lecture there. It was all uphill from there.

What one skeptical topic do think is the silliest?
carrie 3Oh dear. I am caught in definitions again. If you mean which topic that the skeptical community recognizes as woo-woo, I’d be caught in a dead heat between so much crap: alternative medicine, psychic “powers,” creationism, and the plain old belief in a ‘god.’ I think those are all damaging and all worth fighting (in ALL their incarnations, not just the most severe), though I think alternative gets me the most hot under the collar. But if you mean, which topic do I think skeptics handle in a silly way, then I take issue with a couple: For one, I think we have a hangup about being ‘militant.’ We so want to dissociate ourselves from the militant religionists that we don’t want to appear as passionate and committed. But we MUST be as passionate and committed! The difference is, the thing we are passionate about is evidence. We believe in studies, not stories. The other thing I think we sometimes get wrong is our patience for the seemingly less damaging versions of woo-woo. We’re happy to knock the reiki healer who treats cancer victims and encourages them to forego real treatment, but we’re reticent to condemn the aura-adjuster who just helps you deal with your knee pain via a little placebo treatment. But why? The aura-adjuster still puts money in the pot that pays out to bad medicine in general. By legitimizing their practice, by ignoring their harm, by (at worst) paying them, we let charlatans keep on keeping on. And those who are victimized by alternative medicine continue to visit their practitioners in part because they see their constant presence and barely a word of opposition. The same goes for the liberal religions, the pro-evolution ‘creationists’ and everyone else who promotes woo-woo. They plant the tree that provides the shade under which charlatans lay and wait.

What one skeptical topic do you wish we could find evidence for?carrie 4
I would love there to be a nice God. I’m not yet in a place where I can say I am just as happy that there isn’t one. I know there isn’t, and I accept there isn’t, and I do love the world as it is. But I think it’d be swell to have a really nice God running the universe, who would pat me on the back when I was done and introduce me to my dead relatives. I’d like that. I would NOT want it to be the God of the Bible… or any other holy book I’ve read. And I know it’s pretty much impossible for a god to exist who is nice AND created this world (and even more obviously, a nice god who runs it). But the thought, on its own, is nice. Sometimes, when I’m sad, I think of a pretty pink lady pig running the universe, and even though I know it’s just pretend, it makes me feel a little better. I’m dead serious. Try it. Her name is Lily.

You are very active in animal rights activism. Could you tell us a little bit about what organizations you are involved in and the work that you do?
Sure! I’ve been involved in some capacity since I was four, and gave up meat. I’ve always loved animals, and always believed they have rights. I doubt anyone reading this disagrees with me; if you believe it is wrong to kick your dog for no reason, you acknowledge that animals have rights. I think those rights extend to not causing them suffering when you don’t have to, and not ending their lives when you don’t have to. I’ve worked with a few different animal organizations– for a few years I worked for a farm animal sanctuary that rescued abused farm animals. Since pretty much every animal who comes through the farming industry is a victim of abuse, we were never short on residents. Now I do outreach and educational work for an animal rights organization. Mostly writing. I focus on farmed animal issues.

Why do you feel activism for animal rights and activism in general is important?
carrie 5Activism in general is important because we have 80 years– 90 if we’re lucky. If you only had one minute to prove to yourself whether you would do the right thing, you’d do it, right? Say, if you watched a baby fall into a fountain and no one else was around. You’d jump in and save her. Because you had one minute to decide whether to do the right thing, and that makes it easy. You don’t think– you just do. Well, what if you had ten minutes to do the right thing? Maybe you can bet your kids’ college fund on craps. You don’t, right? But it’s a little harder because you have 10 minutes to ruminate. What if you have 8 hours to prove you’ll do the right thing? Say, you’re married and someone you’re really attracted to offers you one night with them. You have one night to prove you will do the right thing. Hopefully, you say no, but it might be the hardest thing you ever did because you had a whole night to fight with yourself. Well, we have 80 years, 90 years. Some of us have 30 years or 40. It’s the blink of an eye, but it feels like we have all this time. That’s the trick. It’s no time at all, but it feels like all the time in the world. Activism means acknowledging that this time is so short. All we can do with that time is try to do the right thing on a global scale. At the end of it all, that’s all we can do with this time. Try to make things better.

Activism for animal rights is important because animals have rights. The pig who is confined in a gestation crate barely bigger than her body for most of her life and then is killed by electrocution has rights that are being violated, the same way a kitten who is thrown against a wall has rights that are being violated. Whether those animals taste good, or have skin we’d like to use, or could entertain us in the circus, or might look beautiful on our wall is morally irrelevant. What matters is that someone who can suffer shouldn’t be made to suffer unnecessarily. And that someone who wants to go on living shouldn’t be made to die for something frivolous, like taste.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved to help protect animals?carrie 6
Great question! The #1 way people can help animals– by the THOUSANDS, in one fell swoop– is to not eat them. Nothing else you EVER do will save as many animals as that will. You could go help clean up the oil spill for the next 6 years, get your veterinary license, and fight the logging in your nearest forest, and you won’t even come close. The average American pays for the killing of 100-400 animals every year, by eating them. People don’t like to hear this answer because it’s inconvenient (meat, dairy and eggs taste good) and it’s uncomfortable (for most of us, our friends and families all eat those things, and it sounds awkward to renegotiate our lives around that kind of decision). But if you really believe in helping animals, the most important fight you’ll ever have is with yourself, teaching yourself to think about the animals you want to help, every time you eat.

We have discussed briefly that it seems logical that a rational person would become a vegetarian or a vegan could you talk a bit about that and explain why?
There are a couple of reasons. For one, secularists are used to bucking the trend and ‘thinking outside the box.’ We’re disillusioned with tradition and cultural norm. We know that horrible things have been justified in the name of religion, power, status quo. We’re good at questioning things. So it makes sense that a critical thinker questions whether we should mistreat animals over something as unimportant as liking the taste of their flesh or having an affinity for milkshakes.

The second thing is, we’re good at researching and we like to learn. A lot of people think cows just go on producing milk all the time (even though every other species just does that when they’re pregnant or just gave birth), or that animals are usually slaughtered humanely, or that chickens wander around in tall grasses and lay eggs once a week. But secularists often know the truth about factory farming– that animals are crammed into tiny cages, their kids are torn away at birth, they have their throats slit and bleed to death. We know animals are treated in horrible ways to get those products because we’ve read, we’ve been educated. And once you know, you have to ask yourself if you support it. A lot of people refuse to pay for animal cruelty once they know.

And finally, we’re done with religion telling us we’re special. We realize we’re not the center of the universe, that no God put this earth here for us. We need to realize the same is true of the animals. I think the Judeo-Christian world view really still has a grip on a lot of us when it comes to animal rights. The Bible teaches us that animals are ours to treat as we want because they are lesser than us. But science has shown us that animals are as capable of feeling pain as I am. As secularists, we should be moving past treating animals as commodities, and seeing them as fellow sentient organisms that weren’t created for us. We’re not the center of the universe, but we’re not the center of the web of life either– we’re just the species with the most power. That means we also have the greatest capacity for mercy.

Are you vegetarian or vegan?
Yep! I’ve been vegetarian since I was four and vegan since I was 19.

For people who do not know, can you explain what it means to be vegan?
carrie 7For sure. A vegan is someone who makes every effort they can not to pay for animal abuse. The most obvious ways we do this is by not buying or consuming meat, dairy, eggs or anything that comes from those products, and avoiding leather, fur, wool, and anything else that comes from treating an animal as a product.

What is your favorite vegan recipe?
Ohhh man, toughie. I love to cook, and obviously everything I cook is vegan. I have great recipes for cupcakes, thai food, pastas, anything, really. But right now, the thing I’ve been making a lot is an Indian dish called Bharta:

3 medium or 2 large eggplants
6 medium potatoes
4 medium vine ripe tomatoes
2 large yellow onions
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 tablespoons salt
2.5 tablespoons chopped garlic
Several fistfulls of spinach (optional)

Preheat oven to 450
Boil some water
Cut the potatoes into 1″ square cubes
Put the potatoes in the water and cook until cooked but firm
Cut slit in the sides of the eggplants so they won’t burst, and then bake them whole for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into big chunks (over 1″ square)
Chop the onions and fry in 1/4 cup oil until transparent
Add tomatoes to onions and cook into a sauce.
Add garlic, cayenne and turmeric to onion/tomato mixture and cook a few minutes on low heat.
When eggplant is done baking, cut off the top, cut up as best you can, and add to onion/tomato/spice mixture and cook over very low heat, being careful not to let the bottom burn. The eggplant and spices should be thoroughly merged.
Add the rest of the oil to the potatoes
Dump the potatoes into the mix (or the mix into the potatoes; whichever has room)
Cook until potatoes soak in spices.
If you’re adding spinach, plunk it on top a fistful at a time, letting the heat from below steam the spinach, then stir it in, and so on until all the spinach is added.
Taste to make sure no one spice is dominating. Tweak with salt, cayenne and turmeric accordingly.
Eat your heart out.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and letting me photograph you, Carrie! It was a fascinating discussion! Until next time, this has been another edition of, The Skeptic Next Door!

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

Related Articles


  1. “If you believe it is wrong to kick your dog for no reason, you acknowledge that animals have rights.”

    It always amazes me that people will treat their pets as family and then act baffled at the idea that treating pigs like trash might be wrong. How can someone eat the slaughtered body of a creature that under different circumstances could have been their best friend?

  2. I can appreciate the animal rights arguments, but as a spokesperson for the cause she may inadvertently be increasing the incidents of physical abuse towards primates and the strangulation of fowl.

  3. “it seems logical that a rational person would become a vegetarian or a vegan”

    I’m completely blown away to read something like this on this, of all sites. While vegetarianism/veganism may be healthy for SOME people, it’s by no means ideal – or even at ALL healthy – for many more people.

    To imply that NOT going veg is somehow illogical or unreasonable really discredits the skepchick view, in my eyes. If you’re against woo, be against it universally – not just the woo you personally disagree with.

    1. Marie, if nutrition or health is what you are worrying about, there is no reason to. That vegetarian diets can be nutritious is an established fact now. Clinical studies have also shown advantages during heart disease in many cases. I was REALLY surprised to hear this, but it is accepted now. If you want I can share links with you.

      On the contrary, several pseudo-skeptics are passing rumors that a vegetarian diet will shrink your brain etc. None of these has ever been verified. They just want to continue with meat, and are making up *conspiracy* theories for that.

      Going veggie is environmentally better and one less ethical burden to worry about. I would recommend people to go atleast lacto-ovo-veggie if not fully veggie (that totally takes care of any nutrition problems too)

    2. I really don’t understand your tone behind ‘this stuff on this site’… may be you are too sure of yourself… like pseudo-skeptics who objected to the Big Bang Theory just because religious views agreed with it.

      Big Bang theory is the currently accepted theory of the formation of the universe, for everyone’s kind information.

  4. [Animals] have rights. I doubt anyone reading this disagrees with me; if you believe it is wrong to kick your dog for no reason, you acknowledge that animals have rights.

    This is clearly not accurate, as there are well-developed systems of ethical philosophy that do not involve natural rights. In fact, the most prominent ethical philosopher in the animal advocacy movement is Peter Singer, a utilitarian who denies the existence of rights. (Hence “Animal Liberation” rather than “Animal Rights.)

    The objective existence of natural rights is not quite as absurd as angels and faeries, but it is still pretty silly, and, in my opinion, unskeptical.

    1. Well the point is still the same regardless of the words… you don’t need to kill animals… there was one time when humans felt the need to kill them… today we have alternatives… let us use them right away.

      We would still be killing plants, but we would have to kill them anyway to feed animals (I guess in about the same amount or less). With rearing animals there is always this ethical burden of ‘how much pain is acceptable?’

      But since this question can be avoided, why not avoid it, instead of wasting time over it (and we know it would lead to no definite conclusion)

      I like to say this again: bygones are bygones – we don’t need to eat animals today – if we need to eat them tomorrow, we will discuss it then. It is a small difference to us, but a huge one for the animals.

  5. @TyphoidMarie: An interview conducted with a skeptic obviously does not represent the view of our entire blog. I would expect you and others to question the points made here. That is part of what it means to be of a skeptical mindset. And for the record, although I do agree with much of what Carrie says, I do not adhere to a vegetarian diet nor am I a vegan. When I said that we were discussing that it seems logical does not imply that is the best or healthiest option for everyone. It simply means that we were discussing it.

  6. I really appreciate hearing someone talk about animal rights in the farm context instead of the usual medical research context. Animals used in research (in general) are treated much better than those in agriculture, even though research seems to get the brunt of animal rights groups’ attention. Not to mention the necessity of animals in medical testing. Thank you!

  7. Marie- In the interview, Carrie seems to be defending veganism from an ethical standpoint. I might have missed something, but I didn’t see her mention health once. I’m not an expert on nutrition but it seems like you can be a healthy or unhealthy meat eater, vegan, or vegetarian. One of my schools professor of health and wellness, Dr. Amy Lanou (senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) is a vegan herself. Yeah, that could be an argument from authority but I think it lends some plausibility to the idea that being vegan is at least a potentially healthy(er?) option.

    I think what she meant by that statement is that since atheists have rejected the moral certainty of religious ethics, they should be more prone to pro animal advocacy arguments. Once we leave religion, we have to develop a new set of ethics outside of religion. Certain ideas such as “life is better than death” and “freedom is better than slavery” are found in secular ethics as well.

    This is all assuming that morality is under the “skeptical umbrella”. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we can use skepticism to make and evaluate moral arguments.

    1. Good point sir. I did not know Dr Amy Lanou was a vegan.

      Is it not strange that people are suppressing evidence and withholding information about the benefits of a veggie diet, just because they want to continue to eat meat?

  8. @Bjornar: You just haven’t met the right pig!

    Sorry I jumped right into the animal rights thing: I just got a little excited that I could be on a skeptical website and not feel like an outcast for being a vegetarian. I should have started my first comment with “Great interview,” which it was!

  9. First of all, I enjoyed the interview very much. I sympathize with her because I’ve not come out and told my family that I’m an atheist either. I’m somewhat mired in coming to terms with this myself.

    Regarding TyphoidMarie’s concern, I tend to agree with it. You see, I don’t agree with the analogy, banyon. Just because you have adopted a pet as part of the family does not mean that you can’t eat other animals.

    My knee-jerk reaction, I think this kind of animal activist reasoning is similar to theists’ insistence that humans are set above the other animals.

    The facts are that humans are omnivores, animals that eat plants and animals. Our bodies have been doing it for millions of years.

    To be clear, I am sensitive to how animals are raised for slaughter – and I support ways to make it more humane. But there are solutions to making this happen without everyone having to go vegetarian or vegan.

    It is a sensitive topic, and one that I wished received more conversation that looked at a consensus, rather than overly-charged strawman/false analogy rhetoric.

  10. BINGO!

    Thanks Carrie. It’s finally nice to see another vegan skeptic represent. My own activism is slowly shifting away from AR and more towards critical thinking advocacy. I also believe not using animals is the rational thing to do and if people thought critically about how we treat other species we would see more people opting out by default. For now while I figure out my plan I’m fighting the woo within the vegan community and I certainly have my work cut out for me.

    Thanks for your unapologetic attitude and keep on rockin!

  11. @TyphoidMarie: Yes, that statement is a bit too broad. And yet, there’s a weird knee-jerk reaction to vegetarianism that I find strange. We live on a rock with limited resources and a growing population. We are destroying/over-using some resources in order to gain others. Animal products contribute heavily to this. Using less animal products is both logical and rational.

    The health of the individual is also important. As with any change in diet, some research is needed. An omnivore who decides to eat healthy has probably been getting enough protein but they have been lacking vitamins, fiber, etc. They balance their new diet to address that. A person who decided to switch from omnivore to vegetarian or vegan will probably get enough vitamins but will need to address the protein issue.

    Of course there are problems, the over-processing of vegan replacement foods uses massive resources, many people have problems with soy or gluten, etc. But these problems aren’t worse than the well-documented issues of the meat-centered diet.

    Vegetarianism gets lumped with woo quite often. Makes sense because it often goes hand-in hand with dippy hippy stuff. But the reasoning behind it is sound even if some of it’s proponents act like Neil from the “Young Ones.”

  12. @TyphoidMarie:
    Why are there skeptics that always start throwing the “woo” word around when they encounter an opinion they don’t agree with it? It’s like the equivalent of “heretic” in this community. I don’t make that comparison lightly, either. The fundamental use that word in a debate like this is to discredit, dehumanize, and demonize the opposing view without actually engaging it critically at all. It wreaks of the same childish quest for ideological purity as McCarthyism.

    For what it’s worth, I’m closer to your side on this issue than I am to Carrie. But at no point did she make any claims about the health effects of a vegan diet. You stuffed that claim into her mouth yourself. I could easily see someone weighing potentially negative consequences to their own health against what they see as an unethical action and choosing to be a vegan in spite of the risks. That’s a moral decision.

    But even the position you concocted for Carrie doesn’t require supernatural belief. I could easily see someone arguing rationally with evidence that the right vegan diet could be healthy. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that humans could live healthy and happy without eating animal products. There are an infinite number of possible vegan diets. We haven’t and can’t study all of them. The fact of the matter is, even putting the ethics of the matter aside, there isn’t just one double blinded study that’s going to conclusively answer even the simplest questions on this issue. Looking at all the available evidence, rational people might not come to a consensus on this. Even your straw man is hardly a “woo” proposition.

    Why do you assume that there’s the one “True Skeptical Opinion” that we should all naturally come to when we evaluate the facts? Something like this is a hell of a lot more complicated than “Can Sylvia Brown talk to the dead?” or “Does water have memory?” Skeptics can disagree about things.

    Instead of calling Carrie a skeptical heretic for not adopting the TyphoidMarie dogma, maybe you should try presenting evidence or studies disputing her claims or supporting your own. Right now, you’re essentially expecting me to take your word over someone else’s because you’ve made a claim and dropped an ad hominem. Then you stopped typing, as if you’d finished the job. Even Ray Comfort goes farther than that. If you’re unwilling to support your own ideas with any rigor, why should you expect anyone else to ever think critically about any idea? If you’re not advocating critical thinking, what right do you have to call anyone else a “woo” or yourself a “skeptic”?

    If you’re not interested in practicing skepticism yourself, how about at least having the decency not to imply the people you disagree with are naive believers in the supernatural, on par with ghost hunters and faith healers? Then we can leave the discussion to responsible people with facts at hand who might actually teach us something useful.

    Shorter version of this comment: If you don’t have something constructive to say, hush.

  13. Fair enough delphi_ote. But I was trying to counter the false analogy/false premise that it’s illogical to eat meat. I guess I wanted to show a historical relevance to it as a means to counter the assertion. :P

    Other than that point, I do find Carrie’s concerns to be valid, and again – I’m sensitive to the fact that more humane ways of raising and slaughtering animals is a justified pursuit. There is a way of doing this without going completely vegetarian/vegan, I believe.

    1. Why not avoid killing animals altogether? It is easy, requires little change and relieves you of ethical complications. You would not have to answer whether it is ethical or unethical, because you have chosen not to let that questions arise in the first place, without losing on nutrition or taste.

  14. @delphi_ote:

    An appeal to nature or tradition would only be meaningful if Mythology had made a should statement. It is a fact that humans are omnivores, and are exactly what we have become because we have eaten omnivorously, and even more specifically, cooked our food. That is a fact.

    The should statement doesn’t come from this claim, but from the statement so poignantly made by Carrie.

    And finally, we’re done with religion telling us we’re special.

    Correct, we are not special. And there’s nothing special that ought to require us to think ourselves out of our biological niche. But does that mean we should consume or utilize animal products? No. But it also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
    As @TyphoidMarie said, no given diet is healthy for all people. I think the goal ought to be to improve regulation and practice to reduce suffering as much as possible while still maintaining the ability for those who require animal nutrient sources to utilize their optimal food (just try maintaining a 70% protein diet on plant sources). If you want to impose a philosophical diet on yourself, great. But proposing that it’s the appropriate end result of logical thought is rather a stretch.

  15. I am just actually shocked she used the term kids while referring to calves. I had to look up the definition to make sure that kids didn’t also refer to calves. Turns out it doesnt. She seems to be anthropomorphizing animals here.

    Personally, I am insulted when people raise up animals to the level of people.

    Have we come so far from nature that we forget that the rest of the planet isn’t sentient? Why do we feel the need to think that every living creature is at the same level as us?

  16. @whatbluedot: An appeal to nature or tradition would only be meaningful if Mythology had made a should statement.

    Which is why I said “careful.” From this post and the subsequent post, it does seem like Mythology was skirting dangerously close to the “should” link.

  17. “If you believe it is wrong to kick your dog for no reason, you acknowledge that animals have rights.”

    That’s ridiculous. If I believe it’s wrong to kick a hole in my neighbor’s window for no reason, am I acknowledging that windows have rights?

  18. Nice interview Amy and thanks for introducing your neighbor! Carrie seems like a very nice, sincerer and thinking skeptic. And if she came over for dinner I’d make my incorporable ratatouille lasagna with vegan roasted garlic soy bechamel sauce. It’s not a problem leaving out the ricotta and pork shoulder cofit when a dinner guest happens to be a vegan. Se la vie.

  19. Ehhh personally Animal rights are entirely subjective. I mean sure I could show some restraint when it comes to kicking a domesticated pet but if I was hungry enough you better believe I wouldn’t hesistate to eat my dog.

    No argument will ever get me to stop eating animals.

  20. A few commenters have hinted or stated that Carrie’s description of slaughter houses/factory farms are exaggerated. If her descriptions are accurate, if factory farms are as cruel as she says, would you change your behavior? Would you reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat to benefit the animals?

  21. @cicero: If you want to do that comparison, you need to make it _your_ window. If you believe it’s wrong to kick a hole in a window owned by you, for no reason, you’re making an ethical judgment that most people would find odd. Whereas lots of people would consider it obvious if the abused “object” was a dog.

  22. @Small Girl & Cantor – In my opinion, a person who asserts that becoming vegetarian/vegan is the solution to ending inhumane treatment to animals raised and killed, is a violation of the Either-Or fallacy. There IS a middle ground consensus. We need to focus our efforts on more humane methods of raising livestock for consumption. I would be very interested in finding out information towards that aim, rather than the more steeper uphill battle of turning everyone to vegetarianism/veganism.

  23. @Mythology: I didn’t assert what you implied I did. Even if I had, I wouldn’t be subject to the fallacy you cite. Other than that, I agree with you.

    I was simply making the point; chicken vacuums suck.

  24. @Mythology:
    FYI this is known as the welfare vs abolition schism. Welfarist vegans are looking for better treatment of animals and abolitionists see species as a morally irrelevant criterion for justification of the way we treat nonhuman animals. Currently there are few “humane” farms so welfarist vegans opt-out but humane treatment of animals is on their agenda. It IS one of the biggest fallacies they perpetrate when they espouse veganism as the answer though. Smart of you for picking that out so quickly. Whereas veganism is the most you can do to avoid poorly treated animals it the least you should do if you recognize them as having inherent rights to existence (or non-exploitation).

    /dirty laundry

  25. @@banyan: “It always amazes me that people will treat their pets as family and then act baffled at the idea that treating pigs like trash might be wrong.”

    The distinction is between family/not family, as much as between human/animal: your dog is special because it’s your dog and you have a personal relationship with it.

    People will often quite happily accept other people suffering at a distance, or make excuses for it. People happily wearing cheap sweatshop-made clothes would probably be horrified if you suggested their little sister work in those conditions, but they are quite capable of ignoring the fact that some other girl is doing so, because they don’t have a personal relationship with that other girl.

    It’s precisely because people treat their dogs like family that they can separate them from other animals in their minds. They don’t know the pig they ate for dinner personally – and if they’re a farmer-type and did, they’re probably much less sentimental about their pets, too, because it’s harder to make that much of a distinction.

    That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do – but it is a kind of hypocrisy that’s much more widespread than just the pet/food dichotomy.

  26. I must say that I’ve been thinking a lot about this one lately. There are good arguments on either side, but some end their consideration to summarily for my tastes (@PathofReason – “No argument will ever get me to stop eating animals.” – if no argument will change your mind about something then you’re not a skeptic).

    Anyway, I do think veganism is sometimes a denial of reality. Things die, things hurt, we’re evolved to eat them, etc. We can’t deny that the world is as brutal as it is just because it makes us uncomfortable. On the other hand, we’ve made numerous changes to our collective morality that do attempt to make the world less brutal. As our society’s morality evolves, we get further and further away from what comes “naturally” to us.

    In the end, I think it comes down to what we think about animals. Do we care what they feel or what they think? Do we value a life as a life, or do we only value life if we judge it to be “on our level?”

    Just as a thought experiment, I think there are two thresholds that are going to make us decide collectively on this matter. First, when we start growing meat independently of animals, and second, when(if) we encounter alien life.

    Oh, and this is just for my own curiousity: is it wrong to eat human flesh? Why? Why not? I’m not asking this to start a flame war, but I think that it might offer some insight into the current topic.

  27. @James Fox: Incorporable = Incomparable.

    It seems to me that a philosophical positions that is arrived at in what appears to be either a sentimental or existential manner can be nothing more than an individual matter of choice that does not poses the merits of a logically defensible doctrine based on facts or evidence; on the other hand if one holds a certain value one can act and think consistently and logically within that value system. Political discussions often have the same value problems and conflicts that are not well addressed in the broader context of skeptical thinking but are none the less worth discussing because of the rational reasons many have for their positions.

  28. @Necrosynth: “Have we come so far from nature that we forget that the rest of the planet isn’t sentient? Why do we feel the need to think that every living creature is at the same level as us?” One can believe that something has rights or interests that we should take into account without believing that they are the same as us. I’m well aware that people and pigs are quite different, but I haven’t heard a good argument that the differences are morally relevant and significant enough to justify treating them as disposable property.

    @Pathofreason: “No argument will ever get me to stop eating animals.” Does that seem reasonable to you?

    @duckwhatduck: I agree completely.

  29. @duckwhatduck:
    When my sister was in college, she took a semester as an exchange student at a college out west. For Thanksgiving, she visited a friend’s farm. One day they had hamburgers for lunch. Her friend’s mother said “I really liked Betsy when she was alive, but I think I like her even better now.” Betsy was the family’s milk cow, recently demised. So, yeah, farmers are a little less sentimental about animals than most of us.

  30. @rider: Those were my favorites of the photos I took but thanks for being an asshole. It’s very constructive to the conversation and inspires me to be a better person.

  31. Every time I see this issue discussed it always strikes me as the ultimate false dichotomy fallacy. Either it is okay to eat all animals other than humans or it is okay to eat none of them.

    Nonsense. I can see a reasonable argument for not eating pigs, cows, and chickens. I have a hard time extending that to mussels, clams, and oysters.

    I can’t even really summon an ounce of guilt over eating fish, and they are vertebrates.

  32. @Buzz Parsec:

    Yeah, my comment is mostly based on the fact I live in a rural village and at least half the people in my school were farmers or spent a lot of time on friends’ farms.
    I have bottle-fed orphaned lambs on my friend’s farm and later eaten lamb chops that had a good chance of being pet-lamb. It happens.

    I see the ethical and logical arguments for vegetarianism and veganism – and while I’m not vegetarian myself I try and eat minimal meat and if possible only stuff I know the source of (I’m fine with local lamb, for instance, because I know how the farmers treat their sheep). But what I think is morally indefensible is eating meat while refusing to recognize that yeah, you’re eating a dead animal – which is the case with a lot of people I know. There are arguments for both eating and not eating meat, but if you’re going to do it you should be able to accept that an animal died for your sausage.

  33. Great post – it’s good to see a vegan skeptic being given a platform. I’m a vegan atheist and am always dismayed whenever I see skeptics resorting to all manner of crap arguments to justify their own pleasure in the taste of meat. A few of which have popped up on this thread!

    The reason why I stopped eating meat and dairy is because there is overwhelming evidence that animals FEEL.

    The facts that a) nonhuman animals have brains and/or nervous systems, b) their behaviour suggests very strongly that they find pain unpleasant and they want to prolong their lives, and c) the feeling of pain and the ability to want to live (and be afraid of death) are evolutionarily extremely useful things to have for mobile living organisms, make it basically a n0-brainer to realise that where pain/death is concerned, nonhuman animals’ interests are barely different from humans’. Once you have admitted this to yourself, it’s a short step to considering nonhumans morally.

    If an animal feels (including human animals!), there is a moral duty not to cause it unnecessary pain or distress. If an animal values its life, there is a moral duty not to end its life unnecessarily. This is not an extreme point of view – these are moral standards that we already apply to other human beings. All vegans do is apply the standard to other feeling beings, because there is no reason *not* to apply it.

    I’d like to ask all those who are in favour of ‘humane’ killing of animals: how would you like to be humanely killed? If I wanted to feast on your flesh, how would you like me to make this happen? Oh what’s that… you’d rather stay alive and actually *not* be eaten at all? How odd.

    Those who say that people should just minimise their meat intake rather than give up… I trust you’d be in favour of fighting crime by asking thieves to just do their stealing on weekends?

    There is no argument that I have heard in defence of meat-eating that can not be invalidated very quickly. There’s certainly nothing on this thread so far that I haven’t read approximately 48570429 times before and which hasn’t been refuted on sites like, for example, this one:

    It might be a ‘steep, uphill battle’ (as one commenter put it) to attempt to convert as many people as possible to veganism, but it’s better than the alternative, which is throwing under the bus all those animals who are currently being killed in so-called ‘humane’ operations.

    Again, great interview, and thanks for posting something about animal rights on a skeptics site. I hope to see more about this subject in the future!

    1. I agree… when it comes to primitive lusts and temptations, skeptics just forget that they need to justify things well enough.

      I have seen pseudo-scientists claiming that plants have consciousness or that animals don’t. While we speak science otherwise, we leave it outside when it comes in our way of life. Strange…

      1. Ofcourse I meant ‘some’ skeptics… we are all scientific skeptics around here :)

        It is terrible to see many people only making fun of this very serious discussion.

    1. In my opinion it is morally perfectly fine. There is nothing immoral about that, but one might still not want to do it for psychological reasons. For example, meat eaters themselves don’t eat human meat for psychological reasons.

      I would rather use roadkills for scientific research. In this way I don’t have to face the ethical question of ‘is it good to relish the dead’ etc.

      Once again, the principle of parsimony: among equally useful alternatives, follow the one which is the easiest to justify.

  34. @rider: @rider: Wow.. the dickishness and ass-hattery of some of the posters to this blog is insane! Your classic retreat of the asshole to claiming that, “it’s just a joke”, is amusing to me for it’s childishness and transparency. Do it again already so I can laugh some more.

    @earthling: “…The reason why I stopped eating meat and dairy is because there is overwhelming evidence that animals FEEL. …”

    There is overwhelming evidence that plants FEEL too. The evidence also indicates that they don’t ‘enjoy’ feeling pain and seek to avoid it and warn other plants around of their experience of it. Does this mean that you will stop eating plants too? (

    Or, without my snarkiness, you are mistaking a personal value judgment for a logical conclusion. Vegetarianism is no more logical or skeptical than: being a Republican, being a Democrat, being religious, or believing that manned spaceflight is a waste of money. In the end, all of these are basically positions taken based upon specific value judgments that, themselves, never seem to have any true preponderance of evidence one way or the other.

  35. @Andrew Nixon:

    Interesting question – some veggies would say yes, as the animal’s life was not taken prematurely and it was not caused to suffer by humans. But then, this would be an argument to eat human beings who have died of natural causes too – I’d like to bet that most people would not do that, out of respect to the dead person (although whether this is entirely rational or not could be debatable). Many vegans (including me I think, although I haven’t thought about this particular issue a great deal) would not eat animals who have died from natural causes, for the same reason. Aside from the purely practical issues of whether it would be safe to eat meat from such an animal (i.e. who knows what it has died from, whether it has an infection that could be passed on, etc).


    You have stumbled into one of the most common (and the most irrational) anti-vegan arguments going – ‘plants feel pain therefore you are a hypocrite and so it’s okay for us to eat meat’.

    Your link contains a lot of information and various abstracts which I will have to read at my leisure, however, it’s not necessary for me to read it to refute your argument.

    Let’s assume that you are right and that all plants do have a type of nervous system and brain that allows them to feel pain. A vegan diet is still the most humane diet, causing the least amount of suffering. This is because omnivores actually consume *many more* plants than vegans do, once you take into account plants fed to the animals being eaten (for example a pig typically requires eight pounds of plant protein in order to ‘produce’ one pound of ‘pork’ for human consumption).

    Secondly, while it is not necessary for humans to eat meat or dairy, it *is* necessary for us to eat *something* nutritious if we want to live. Therefore, any suffering we may cause to plants is necessary for our survival. The suffering we cause to animals is *not* necessary, by comparison. It is causing unnecessary suffering which is the moral wrong. And as I have shown above, a vegan diet causes by far the least amount of suffering, plant or animal, of any other kind of diet (except perhaps fruitarian, which is sub-par nutritionally).

    Thirdly, I doubt very much that even the scientists who wrote those abstracts regard plant ‘pain’ as equivalent to animal pain. Is pruning your rose bush the same as cutting a leg off a dog? Would you walk on a carpet made of live kittens as readily as you’d walk on a grass lawn?

    Veganism is much more than a ‘personal value judgement’. I think I have shown in my comments that there is indeed a ‘preponderance of evidence’ that animals feel pain and value their lives, and that it is entirely reasonable for someone to decide that therefore causing animals pain or ending their lives unecessarily is morally wrong. Veganism is perfectly logical. It is the slavish loyalty to a culture of meat eating, adhered to without question on the basis of pleasure and ‘tradition’, which is irrational.

  36. @MoltenHotMagma:

    You’ll be pleased to know that I looked at all the abstracts in the link you provided. Not a single one of them even mentions the word ‘pain’.

  37. @earthling:

    “I think I have shown in my comments that … entirely reasonable for someone to decide that therefore causing animals pain or ending their lives unecessarily is morally wrong.”

    Still a moral, not a scientific issue, though. Moral issues are not decided by evidence. Morals can be *informed* by evidence, but – when it comes to morality – everyone takes that evidence and decides what it means to them.

    I have to be honest, earthling. You kinda sound like a religious zealot because, even though these are moral/ethical questions (as opposed to scientific ones), you have the arrogance to assume that everyone who looks at the evidence will naturally come to the same conclusion as you. Well guess what? Some of us don’t. And I don’t lie to myself; when I am eating my bacon, I am perfectly aware that a pig died to give me that yummy, yummy piece of bacon. And I’m okay with that.

    Maybe you’ll consider this a ridiculous question, but should we also be out in the wild, stopping animals from killing and eating each other or is it just possible that animals eating other animals is just the way of the world?

    1. Think about it this way: in science we have Occam’s razor which says that we should not believe in a scientific theory unless there is no alternative to that theory.

      On the same lines, we can have a simple ethical principle: if two alternatives are equal, choose the one that requires least ethical burden. Scientists are trying to minimize the gap between the taste and texture of veg-vs-nonveg diets. You just have to help and adjust a little for the time being.

      I like Carrie’s point: we are secularists – we have done things which other people haven’t… we should not hold back on this one either.

  38. @Rhettfairy – Slippery slope.

    That’s the entire problem with this question – once you start arguing a specific reason not to eat some animals, it seems to run straight to ridiculous extremes. Sure, we don’t eat chimps or whales (was glad to hear Steve’s comment on the recent SGU), but where do we draw the line? If we draw it at aversion to death, we can’t even justify taking antibiotics, or the work our own immune systems do anymore…

    Was babbling to my boyfriend about it as he was trying to sleep, and these are the thoughts I had. It seems that we haven’t set up the whole “don’t kill humans” out of any sense of compassion, but in order to create a reciprocal agreement of non-killing among humans. We don’t want to die, so we agree not to kill and ask others to do the same. Maybe it would be a logical thing to not kill things that don’t try and kill us?

    1. The answer is easy: Solve the issue one case at a time. We don’t need to kill animals now, let us not kill them. If we ever need to kill them, we will see it then.

      Plants, anti-biotics, mosquitoes? Well these are difficult questions, but there is no reason we should postpone vegetarianism now; we will target these questions later.

  39. @Rhettfairy:

    I’m sorry you think that I’m arrogant, or that I sound like a ‘religious zealot’. I find that quite curious, as your comment contains absolutely nothing in the way of a reasoned argument to justify why it is morally okay to cause unnecessary suffering and death to a being who can suffer and value its life.

    Your ‘arguments’ basically consist of nothing more than ‘not everyone thinks like you’ and ‘eating meat is okay by me’. That much is obvious but the question is why?

    Evidence is only part of coming to a conclusion about a moral issue – reasoning is the other part. Employing reasoning with regard to moral questions can show us where our views are inconsistent or make no sense. A person faced with the evidence regarding animals’ ability to suffer, etc, and employing honest, correct and consistent reasoning not tainted by prejudice or self interest, will inevitably arrive at the conclusion that veganism is the only morally acceptable choice of diet.

    (The same way as someone who is faced with the evidence for the existence of a god, and who reasons accurately etc, will inevitably come to the conclusion of atheism.)

    You state, for example, that you are aware that a pig died to produce the bacon you eat, and that you are ‘okay with that’.

    Consider if a man kicked a dog to death in the street because he liked the yelps it made, and he wanted to record those yelps for future enjoyment. Suppose then he shrugged and said ‘I’m perfectly aware that a dog had to suffer and die to produce those cool, cool sounds I’m listening to. And I’m okay with that.’ I’m guessing that most people, including you, would be horrified by this.

    So tell me, why is it different when it is a pig which is suffering and dying, and the taste of flesh which is being enjoyed?

    ‘The way of the world’…. hmmm, okay then, if eating meat is the way of the world then so is murder, rape, theft, infanticide and many other unpalatable things which we seek to remove from our society as much as possible. All these things are done on a regular basis by wild animals, and we do not copy them – yet you are offering their behaviour up as justification for humans continuing to eat meat.

    The reason why vegans generally do not trouble themselves with converting lions to tofu, etc, is because we realise that wild animals lack the ability to morally assess what they are eating. And even if they possessed this ability, they would still have to conclude that they had to eat the meat – because if they didn’t, they would die.

    This is not comparable to the human situation for two reasons: a) we possess the moral ability to assess what we’re eating, and b) the vast majority of us do not need meat to survive.

    So in other words, yes, it’s a ridiculous question.

    I love the way you call me ‘arrogant’ and yet you are the one who presumes their taste buds to be of greater importance than a sentient animal’s whole life. Remarkable.


    Where do we draw the line… well, I’d say we draw it where there is clear evidence of a nervous system and/or brain – the tools required to feel pain and experience a desire to live (the relevant characteristics in this argument). So there’s no need to worry about giving up antibiotics seeing as bacteria have neither of these things.

    I’m not convinced that our aversion to the suffering and killing of other humans is purely out of self-interest and reciprocity as you claim. In fact I think it’s quite dangerous to hold up self interest and reciprocity as the foundation of our morality. It gives the green light to the powerful oppressing the less powerful. ‘I will only behave compassionately towards person X if they are in a position to help me out in the future’ – is this how morality works? I hope not.

    And in fact much evidence says not, too – why would well-off people living hundreds of miles from fault lines give money to Haiti? Clearly the way we react to the killing and suffering of humans is about much more than reciprocity. It is also about empathy.

    So why not extend this empathy to nonhuman animals, who can suffer and value their lives as humans can?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: