This is an very often quoted line, used not so much as an attack on veganism but as a personal justification for the consumption of animal products. The reasoning goes, that since everyone is entitled to choose their own diets, not being vegan is a personal choice and thus vegans should not seek to “impose” their beliefs on others.
The problem with this reasoning, is that it assumes the only person effected by your dietary choices is you, the moral agent. This is the case when it comes to choosing between an apple or an orange, but not so when choosing to consume animal products. This is because in this decision making process, the one most effected by the decision is the animal being consumed, and their needs, preferences and choices are not being taken into account by the person choosing. Personal choice ceases to be a matter of personal preference when those choices have victims, when they effect other beings. In the case of animal products, it could not be clearer that other beings are directly effected in that are being held captive, exploited, and killed for the enjoyment or sustenance of the person making the decision.
Eating animals is a moral decision, and no moral decision takes place in a vacuum, nor are animals the only beings who are negatively impacted by the decision to consume animal products. Industrial animal farming has a severe and devastating effect on surrounding communities, polluting water, air and driving down land values. Those who try to speak against these corrupt industries either on behalf of these communities or on behalf of animals, are met with legal action and often even criminal charges. Those who work for these industries are also effected; slaughterhouse workers are much more likely than average to have problems with alcohol abuse and with mental health issues like PTSD from working under extremely stressful conditions. These workers have astonishingly high rates of injury due to a high pressure, dangerous working environment, when workers do sustain injuries, The Human Rights Watch reports the industry failing to administer their workers’ compensation programs by systematically failing to recognise and report claims, delaying claims, denying claims, and threatening and taking reprisals against workers who file claims for compensation for workplace injuries. Unfortunately these are most often poor immigrants with no other choice.
This dismissal of all moral criticism under the justification of “personal choice” only ever seems to surface where eating animals is concerned; if any human were committing any other harmful action this excuse would be rightly dismissed as the nonsense it is. For example, if a person decided that they would enjoy watching dog fights, and they arranged a small room in their house for such a purpose, no one would accept the idea that this was their “personal choice” and therefore we should leave them to it. Diet has no special moral significance over any other form of consumption; if we can condemn a person for visiting Seaworld or a bull fight, we can certainly condemn them for paying for an animal to be slaughtered on their behalf if it is not absolutely necessary.
This argument displays not only a lack of understanding as to how personal responsibility works, but shows a stunning level of ego-centrism. This may seem like simply arrogance, but it demonstrates not simply a belief in human superiority over animals, but more insidiously, it states that animals do not even need to be factored into the equation when making ethical decisions. The person making this argument implies that not only do animals not matter as much as we do, but they do not matter at all. This kind thinking is morally bankrupt and completely indefensible.