Skepticism

Moby: A Vegan World Would Have No Pandemics???

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Remember Moby? Bald, got famous selling all his songs to car commercials, got more famous for claiming he dated Natalie Portman when, according to Portman, “my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school”? Yeah, Moby! Well did you know that he’s also a vegan? If you didn’t know that I assume it’s because you forced him out of your memory, possibly with the help of drugs or alcohol, because he’s definitely one of those vegans. Like, he’s the vegan from the joke about vegans. You know the one.

And recently Moby, in all his brilliance, took a break from making up relationships with actors 15 years his junior to gift us with this completely inane thought: “A reminder: in a vegan world there would be no pandemics. 100% of pandemics are zoonotic in origin. #veganforlife”

I see a lot of wrong things in a day — it’s my job, I seek out wrong things and then I correct them. Or mock them. But this takes the wrong cake. This is the wrongest thing I’ve seen in DAYS.

And it’s not just Moby who thinks this! This Prince Valiant looking mother fucker with half a million followers on Instagram has been saying the same thing and getting way too little pushback.

Before we dig in, let me declare my conflicts of interest: first of all, I did buy “Play” when it came out. I was young and foolish. I apologize. Also, I am not vegan, but I don’t eat most animals. I only eat things that I have, in the past, personally murdered. Vegetables? Check. Fruits? Check. Insects? Absolutely. Crabs? Yes, they are the insects of the sea. Pigs? No way. Too smart and cute, I couldn’t do it. Cephalopods? Ditto. Please note that this does NOT include a “me or them” situation. Like if a squid was coming at me with a knife then I would have no moral qualms killing it. Don’t kid yourself, Jimmy, if a cow ever got the chance he’d eat you and everyone you care about.

Anyway so I’m not vegan but I am pescetarian, or flexatarian, or whatever you want to call someone who doesn’t eat the things most Americans tend to eat. And as I’ve discussed in the past on this very channel, I do think the data shows us that if more people reduced the amount of meat they ate, the world would be better off in terms of global warming. I think the science on health benefits to vegetarian and veganism is less conclusive but mostly because humanity has used our legendary brains to invent ways to be extremely unhealthy on vegan and vegetarian diets. Thanks, double stuffed oreos and beer.

While I think there’s a pretty clear scientific consensus that reducing meat consumption will benefit the environment, let’s talk about whether or not everyone going vegan would mean no more pandemics.

For this thought experiment, we will have to assume the world is very different to what it is, because the fact of the matter is that every human on earth can NOT go vegan. I mean, without starving to death. There are entire cultures that subsist on meat by necessity — it’s kind of tough to grow tofu in the Arctic circle, for instance. Being a vegan is a massive privilege, as it requires having ample access to products made without animals. I could easily go vegan if I wanted to — well, not “easily” due to my crippling addiction to cheese, but I have the resources to do it — but most humans do not.

But let’s set that aside. If we could snap our fingers and make the entire world wake up vegan, would we no longer experience pandemics? No. Sorry.

Let’s start with COVID-19. Scientists still aren’t entirely sure about the exact origin of this pandemic, but the evidence is currently leaning heavily toward blaming markets in China that sold both living and dead wild animals. The leaders of the “Intellectual Dark Web” still think COVID-19 escaped from a lab, but the Intellectual Dark Web is a bunch of morons, which you know because they believe stupid conspiracy theories and call themselves the Intellectual Dark Web.

But real scientists suspect that it started in bats — bats are very good at carrying diseases because they have completely bonkers immune systems that allow them to catch viruses that end up not really bothering them that much, so they can still go about their flappy, bitey business. To use another Simpsons reference, they have Three Stooges Syndrome like Mr. Burns. But for real, if you wanna know more about the incredibly bat immune system, read that Washington Post article because it is fascinating. Like, the way their immune system controls diseases without completely ridding their bodies of them might even be connected to the reason they can fly. Weird!

So after carefully examining SARS-CoV-2 genomes, scientists think that it was hanging out in bats, and that bats then passed it on to some as-yet unknown intermediary species, which may have been sold at that animal market in Wuhan (or possibly at a farm that supplied animals to the market), where it made one more leap into humans. I nearly said “final leap” but that wouldn’t be necessarily true since it probably also jumped from humans to cats and dogs after that.

One note about that unknown intermediary species: despite a lot of racist “jokes” about how this happened because Chinese people eat weird shit, Nature reports that “Chinese researchers collected nearly 1,000 samples from the Huanan market in early 2020, swabbing doors, rubbish bins, toilets, stalls that sold vegetables and animals, stray cats and mice. The majority that tested positive were from stalls that sold seafood, livestock and poultry.” You know, the things that Americans tend to eat. Just saying.

So in this specific case, this pandemic absolutely would not have happened in a vegan world. At least, not exactly like this. The farms, the markets, the humans buying meat, all of that happened because humans eat meat.

But when vegans claim that NO pandemics would happen in a vegan world, they are quite obviously wrong. While it is true that most viruses that are a danger to humans have their origin in other animals, we don’t just get those viruses from eating animals, or from farming animals for food. One very obvious example is the black plague, which was most likely spread by fleas living on rats and/or humans. Fleas, rats, and humans share space not because of what humans eat or what animals humans exploit but because we all have similar goals, that is to be warm and well-fed and fruitful.

As much as many animals would probably appreciate it if humans were able to completely disinvest from their lives forever, unfortunately for them we cannot. While we can reduce our meddling in the lives of other species, we cannot just check out of the ecosystem. We are a part of the ecosystem and always will be, unless and until we all fuck off to Mars, at which point we will be a part of THAT ecosystem.

The problem here is one of balance. Getting everyone to go vegan tomorrow isn’t possible and even if it was it isn’t going to solve all our problems. What would help begin to solve our problems? If everyone who CAN eat less meat does eat less meat. If we enact regulations that fix farm conditions. If we limit the use of antibiotics in farming. And if we deplatform vegans like Moby who spread misinformation that gets in the way of people taking the problem seriously and making positive change.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. Well…..if humans didn’t insist on cultivating vast quantities of grain, would there have been a rat population so large and widespread as to make Plague a sweeping epidemic?

    If only those silly people had all been Healthy Carnivores… Let’s see how long it takes the Petersons to show up with this claim.

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