“Veganism is not sustainable.”

This is a point which is primarily raised by those who acknowledge the strength of the moral argument for vegansim, but want to insist that despite the cruelty inherent in animal agriculture industries, it would not be sustainable for the world to go vegan. This assertion is demonstrably false, and a little research into any of the positions of reputable environmental organisations and environmental reports is enough to discount it entirely.

The first issue with this argument is that it is critical of a change in our lifestyles on the basis that it would not be sustainable, but ignores the fact that what we are doing now is completely unsustainable. Animal agriculture is responsible for roughly 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions; cows alone produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day, with a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame. Livestock is also responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide, which stays in the atmosphere for approximately 150 years. All of this means that even if we cut all other CO2e emissions to zero immediately, we would still exceed our 565 gigatonnes limit by 2030, solely from raising animals for food. That isn’t even accounting for the vast swathes of rainforest cut down to make room for animal feed and grazing land for cattle. This, and the systematic destruction of wild species by farmers, ranchers and animal agriculture corporations contributes towards animal agriculture being one of the biggest contributors to global species extinction.

When people talk about sustainability, they don’t always mean global emissions, but our ability to feed our population with the land and resources that we have. In  terms of land use, a full 1/3 of the planet’s land surface and 2/3 of available agricultural land is used for farming animals. If we look at cows, for example, it takes 12 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef.  Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle 54:1, lamb 50:1, pork 17:1, turkey 13:1 and milk 17:1, according to the ecologist’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. This means that if we took a 2.5 acre piece of farmland the number of people whose food energy needs can be met by this land would be 23 people if producing cabbage, 22 for potatoes, 19 for rice, 17 for corn, 15 for wheat, 2 for chicken, and just 1 for eggs and beef. The USA is a stark example, though the population is approximately 321.1 million, the amount of grain fed to US livestock alone would be enough to feed 840 million people who follow a plant based diet.

As for the sustainability of water use, water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually. Approximately a fifth of that water consumption is from animal agriculture alone. It has been conclusively demonstrated that the water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value. To demonstrate this, 1L of soya milk has a water footprint of about 300 L, whereas the water footprint of 1L of cow’s milk from the same country is more than three times bigger. The water footprint of a 150g soya burger produced in the Netherlands appears to be about 160L, while the water footprint of an average 150-g beef burger is nearly fifteen times bigger. Almond milk is often criticised for how water intensive it is, but even in California, where 90% of the world’s almond’s come from, only 10% of the state’s water use goes to almonds, whereas meat dairy alone account for a massive 47%.

There are of course environmental issues with the growing of crops to feed humans, nevertheless, it is undeniable that the meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than a vegan diet does. Pointing towards unsustainable crop farming as a way of dissuading people from moving away from the current system and towards plant based diets makes very little sense, since our current system is far worse than the alternative being offered. It is for these reasons and many others that even the UN has urged a global shift towards a meat and dairy-free diet. Far from being unsustainable, it is thought that a global shift away from animal products is essential to curb the worst effects of climate change.

If the world moved away from animal agriculture, not only would we be able to feed more people with less energy, less crops, less water and less animal suffering; but we could also save approximately 8.1 million humans lives in the process. We could free up energy reserves, increase our food security, re-wild land deforested for animal grazing and create new national parks and protected land. With the money saved from treating the health issues associated with our excessive consumption of animals we could fund urban farming programs, eliminate food deserts and comfortably feed everyone in the process. Taking tax subsidies away from animal products and instead subsidising plant based foods would mean that everyone would have access to cheap, accessible and healthy food, and farmers would be able to make a living from growing crops alone while paying their employees a decent wage.

Those who claim that a vegan world is unsustainable resort to this argument simply because they can offer no defence of the status quo beyond trying to convince people that things cannot be any other way. But our dependence on animal products is not some law of nature, and our fast-food, factory farm driven food system hasn’t always existed, and doesn’t always have to. A well-fed world doesn’t have to come at the cost of our environment and the lives of trillions of animals, most of us have the option to choose a way of living which is healthier, more sustainable, less resource intensive and far kinder.

“Is it okay to kill pests?”

This is one of those areas where the lines can become a little bit blurred for some vegans. Whether it’s through fear, convenience, or just not knowing what else to do people can often contradict their values and act in ways which aren’t consistent with vegan ethics. There are several different opinions on this within the vegan community, all I can really offer here is my own and try to justify as best I can, but I am by no means speaking on behalf of all vegans.

Firstly, I think it’s necessary to distinguish between pests who are deemed so because they pose a genuine risk to human health, and those we call pests simply because we don’t like having them around. Having a rat or mite infestation in your house is a pest problem, because they can post a genuine risk to humans, will make life uncomfortable, could destroy your property and will make living conditions unhygienic. A spider who has wandered into your house to get out of the cold or to hunt is not a pest, and unless they are venomous they pose no genuine safety risk to you or your family.

Even if an animal genuinely is a pest, that is not a good reason to inflict unnecessary cruelty on them. Where a humane alternative exists, which it usually does, there can be no moral justification for choosing to kill an animal when it isn’t necessary to do so. That an animal occupies the same space as you is not a reasonable reason to kill them unless there is literally no other reasonable option available to you.  You might be disgusted by an animal in your home, or genuinely frightened of them, but how you feel about a specific animal doesn’t have any impact on whether they deserve to be treated humanely, including allowing them to live where it is possible to do so.

The most humane option for dealing any pest is preventive measures to ensure they don’t enter your home in the first place, including storing food in proper containers, cleaning any food waste regularly, sealing cracks in walls and blocking space under doors, or any other potential points of entry. When a pest problem emerges in a home, it is usually because these steps have not been taken adequately. For specific animals you might have a problem with, there are usually natural deterrents which are very effective, ranging from fruit juices, specific herbs or flowers, and chemical deterrents depending on the animal in question. There will almost always be a way to deter an animal from entering your house in the first place if you know there is a risk of them doing so.

Once a pest has already established itself in your house, deterrent may no longer be an option for you. If capture and release is possible, which it usually is, this should be the first thing you attempt. Humane traps for rats and mice are widely available, cheap and effective, such as this one. When using catch and release traps, these should only be active when you are in the house and can check the traps at least every two hours. Animals become extremely agitated when trapped like this, and can go into shock or harm themselves trying to escape if not released in good time. A local park is the best place to release, do so gently by opening the trap and setting them in the grass, giving them plenty of time to leave of their own accord rather than forcing them to. For insects and arachnids, humane bug catchers like this one are very effective and don’t require you to get close to the animal in question if you’d rather not do that.

If you are dealing with a true infestation and there is no chance of dealing with the issue in a non-lethal manner, then that may be your last resort. If an animal poses a genuine risk to your health or that of your family, then self-defence can be a reasonable cause for killing, when all other options have been exhausted. This is never a good thing and it’s deeply unfortunate, but it can be necessary in some scenarios, particularly when dealing with insect infestations or animals which pose a real risk of infection, like mosquitoes and cockroaches. Keep in mind that veganism is about avoiding unnecessary harm to animals, but we have to acknowledge that not all harm is unnecessary in all circumstances. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to tolerate an infestation in their home out of a strict adherence to veganism,  since all moral frameworks have to be practical or they will become useless and unobtainable.

When it comes to dealing with pests, we need to make sure we don’t leave our veganism at the door and act out of instinct, fear or discomfort, no matter how tempting that might be. That we don’t always like the animals who share our homes with us is no excuse for treating them unkindly, and our personal feelings towards them should have no impact on whether or not they deserve to be alive. We should apply the same logic to rats, mice, insects and arachnids as we do to all animals, that we should avoid harming them wherever possible, and treat them as individuals whose rights and lives must be respected. No matter how small, how scary or how different they are to us, all animals have the right to life a life free from unnecessary suffering, and we should grant them that right whenever it is in our power to do so.

“What is the difference between welfarism and abolitionism?”

The difference between welfarism and abolitionism is one that rises often in debates within the animal rights community, even though it’s not a distinction most of the general public know exists. The differences between these two philosophies are profound however, and understanding them can shed light on where a lot of the disagreements between advocates comes from.

The theory of animal welfarism basically holds that it is okay to exploit and kill animals, so long as they are treated humanely. An animal’s welfare is the primary concern, not their rights, and so advocates of this philosophy generally support animal welfare reforms such as bigger cages, cleaner conditions, CCTV in slaughterhouses and proper stunning procedures. Most people who aren’t vegan are welfarists, though there are many vegans who are as well, as paradoxical as that might seem to many. A good example of an animal welfare organisation is the RSPCA. They support inspections of slaughterhouses, stricter slaughter standards and better conditions, but they are not opposed to killing animals for food, and even host barbecues as fundraising events.

By contrast, abolitionism holds that the issue isn’t how we use animals, but that we use them at all. Abolitionists therefore don’t generally support welfare reforms, since their ultimate goal is a vegan society and for all animal agriculture to be abolished, hence the name. For an abolitionist there is no such thing as humane slaughter, and the act of killing an animal is intrinsically wrong, regardless of how is done or what measures are in place to take care of the welfare of the animal before and during slaughter. Abolitionists will often dismiss campaigns for larger cages or cleaning conditions on the grounds that they are welfarist, and instead see advocating veganism and for a legal change to the property status of animals to be their primary concerns.

A lack of understanding of this distinction is what leads non-vegans to often ask why we aren’t “doing something useful”, like petitioning animal agriculture corporations to treat animals better, or supporting local farming instead of large animal abusing enterprises. It is also the reason people are confused when we tell them that we don’t support eating eggs from backyard hens, or why we won’t join protests which people view to be in the best interests of animals. For many of these people, the concept of abolitionism is almost unthinkable, so they assume that when we say we are advocating for animal rights, we are advocating for their right to good living conditions and a quick death, not for their right to life and bodily autonomy.

Mainstream animal rights is still very driven by welfarism, and all of the larger animal rights charities have campaigned for welfare reforms, even if their mission statement is abolitionist. The reason for this is primarily financial, in order to gain supporters and financial backers animal rights groups need to have wins, so they can inform supporters of where their money is going and advertise the good work they do. So animal rights groups will pressure a company like Tyson to stop using veal crates, Tyson will co-operate and just keep them in slightly larger enclosures so that they’re not called veal crates anymore, the animal rights group sends out an email blast claiming victory and praising Tyson for co-operating, which gets them more supports. Tyson, in turn get to tell everyone that their veal is humane, and it must be because even the animal rights groups support it, and they get to increase their sales by easing the conscience of their consumer. A short time later conditions usually return to normal with little to no fuss, though sometimes they do result in permanent changes, even if they are only small.

The issue with this is that despite almost 70 years of legislative welfare reform, things are worse for animals now than they have ever been. When welfare reforms are won in courts or agreed in boardrooms, like the CCTV in slaughterhouses campaign in the UK, the impact on the animals themselves are small. The real impact is on consumers, since it makes people feel better about consuming animals, which in turn increases demand. Consumers will respond to anyone asking them to give up meat that the animals are treated really well, how could they not be, since CCTV will be in all slaughterhouses in the UK? They won’t know that these CCTV videos aren’t made public, or that they’re monitored by a small number of vets who would have anywhere near enough time to watch even a tiny percentage of the animals being processed, and many have a direct financial incentive not to challenge what they see. Consumers will also not know that almost all the cruelty inflicted on animals in slaughterhouses is perfectly legal, and so a vet seeing it won’t make any practical difference to the procedures themselves, or what animals suffer. All they will know is that their meat is humane, so why should they give it up?

This is why companies like Tyson, who very obviously don’t care about animal welfare will nevertheless still negotiate with animal rights groups, because they know these reforms will make people buy their products. The result is that more animal products are bought, which increases demand, which in turn increases the number of animals being consumed. We saw this start in the 1970′s in the boom of “ethical meat,” when people began to become aware of the cruelty of animal agriculture, and producers realised that they could capitalise on this concern for animals rather than losing profit from it, and so marketed their products as humane alternatives, free range, cage free or humane approved, despite the fact that these labels legally mean very little. This is how consumers can see RSPCA approved sausages and humane certified veal, and never question why a group supposedly devoted to protecting animals would support products which cannot be acquired without their exploitation and death.

Animal welfarism plays into this idea that it is somehow possible to clean up the slaughterhouses and to make the industrialised slaughter of 60 billion land animals humane. Many argue that it is unrealistic that we will ever stop animals from being slaughtered, but the same could be argued of many other cruelties inflicted upon humans and animals. We don’t advocate for people to treat prisoners of conscience more “humanely”, we argue for them to be released. Similarly, westerners don’t generally advocate for dogs to be treated more humanely when they are eaten elsewhere, or when they are used in dog fights, they recognise that a change in living conditions alone would not be enough. In no other context would the idea of reforming exploitation, violence and death be taken seriously, and it seems to me that the only reason it is advocated in the case of animal agriculture is because it’s victims aren’t human.

None of this is to say that animal welfare isn’t important, animals must always be treated well wherever they are kept, but so long as an animal is viewed as property, as a commodity to be bought, sold and killed, then their welfare will never be taken seriously. No matter how “kind” the farmer, the needs and preferences of farmed animals will always come second to profit. If animals are to have any rights, surely the most fundamental of these should be the right to life, not just the right to have their life ended slightly less horrifically, or to live in a better cage before they have their throats slit. Those of us who claim advocate animals must surely defend their right to life as a bare minimum.

(More resources available at Acti-veg.com)

“Are backyard eggs ethical?”

As the information becomes more freely available, people are becoming more aware of the extreme cruelty involved in the egg industry, and so are choosing to raise their own chickens and consume their eggs. This is a positive step away from supporting industrial animal agriculture, and it is certainly better than buying from a store or a farmer directly, but it is still not ideal.

While chickens do produce eggs on their own with no encouragement from us, the volume they produce is highly unnatural. This is because chickens have been intensively bred to overproduce eggs for human consumption. The Wild Jungle Fowl, the closest wild relative to our domestic hens, lay somewhere between 10-15 eggs per year in only two clutches, whereas our modern farmed chickens can lay more than 300 eggs per year. This is extremely energy intensive for the chickens concerned, and is the loss of these calories and vitamins can cause a wide range of health problems. It is better for the chickens if they are allowed to eat their eggs instead, so that they can restore their invested calories, protein and energy. This means that the chickens are benefiting from their own production, rather than us.

We’ve all been conditioned to think of a chicken eating their own egg as strange, but chickens will actually do this anyway without any human intervention. In fact, if you type “chickens eating their own eggs” into any search engine you’ll be presented with almost nothing but advice articles and problem pages from farmers to try to get their chickens to stop doing this, or as they put it, to “break them out of this bad habit.” That “bad habit” being their natural way of regaining lost calories and energy from overproducing eggs. If you have hens and they don’t do this by themselves, cracking the shells will usually do it, otherwise chickens love to eat eggs mashed up or scrambled. Either way, feeding eggs back to the chickens means that they get to benefit from what they produce, rather than us taking it from them.

This concept that it matters who benefits from what hens produce is an important one, and it’s the primary reason why taking eggs from captive hens is unethical. An animal shouldn’t have to pay “rent” for their care, and they shouldn’t need to be exploited for us to keep them safe and healthy.  Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare. This is not a case of a symbiotic relationship, as is often claimed with animal farming, since chickens do not have the capacity nor the opportunity to enter into this relationship willingly, nor are they able to leave them if they would rather you didn’t take what they produce. Using another being for your own personal gain is clearly exploitation, and even if that isn’t the primary reason you keep chickens, we shouldn’t need to find ways to benefit from our relationships with animals in order to care for them properly.

Taking eggs from backyard hens is not even close to being the most significant animal rights issue in the world, but it is part of a wider narrative where animals are subject to us and it is okay to take from them whatever we want so long as it benefits us. Whether or not animals are being treated well is irrelevant, because their producing something for us to enjoy should not be a requisite for us maintaining their welfare. Considering the fact that chickens clearly benefit from eating their own eggs, taking them because we like the way they taste is a clear demonstration that we think that think of our desires and preferences as inherently more important than theirs. Rescued chickens should be pets and companions, treated no differently and valued no lower than our dogs or cats. It is not for us to decide that it is okay to take something from them which they make, which they spend energy and time producing, just because we like the way it tastes.

“Why do people compare animal agriculture with the holocaust?”

I don’t see this comparison made nearly as much as I used to, but it remains a contentious topic. It comes from an understandable place, because there are obvious similarities between the treatment of farmed animals and victims of the holocaust, both in terms of methods used for murder and attitudes towards those who suffered, particularly with regards to Jewish victims of the holocaust. I will outline here some of the facts and myths which form the basis for some of those comparisons, but also explain why I don’t think that these sorts of comparisons are appropriate for animal rights advocates to use.

Firstly, it is often stated that the Nazis drew their inspiration from slaughterhouses when figuring out how to mass murder so many millions of people, but no one has ever been able to supply me with a credible source to back this up. It most likely comes from Henry Ford’s comment that slaughterhouse kill floors were what inspired him to make cars on an assembly line, and the fact Henry Ford in turn influenced the Third Reich and their creation of concentration camps, but this link is tenuous it best. It seems far more likely, as has been remarked by the Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer John Toland, that Hitler was in fact inspired by the US Indian Reservation system, and the Armenian genocide is often cited as another inspiration. As for the actual method,  the effectiveness of Zyklon B was discovered when it was first used upon Soviet prisoner’s of war, not on animals, and the creation of concentration camps in the form they eventually took was built around this.

The other comparisons which are made generally involve how animals are transported, how they are treated during the slaughter process in factory farms and the use of gas as a method of slaughter, which is still common. More than this, I think it comes from trying to find any human atrocity which even comes close to the sheer scale of animal slaughter in terms of numbers and organisation, and the holocaust is unfortunately an obvious example to use of this. Every single death from the holocaust and the battles of world war 2 combined still doesn’t even come close to the numbers of animals killed per year, but the comparison is often used in the context of slaughtering a large number of individuals all at once, and how those who died in concentration camps were certainly treated no better than we treat farmed animals now, and similarly were viewed as objects, as less than human.

I explain these things so the context in which these comparisons are drawn but I vehemently oppose their use, because they are both offensive and unhelpful when trying to advocate for animals. While all oppression is linked, what we are talking about when we discuss  the holocaust is the shared experience of millions of people in a specific time and a specific place, with specific cultural ramifications still felt today, which unless you are Jewish yourself are impossible to understand. Unless you are a holocaust survivor or are in someway emotionally and culturally involved in that event it is simply not your comparison to make. Most Jews still eat meat, and while I think that’s wrong, I don’t think that makes it okay to tell them that they are taking part in the same thing that was done to their ancestors, because drawing on that pain and using it as a way to provoke guilt is manipulative in the extreme. This is all these comparisons ever really do, they don’t sway them to our cause; more often than not they just end up hurting people, and often they are used to do exactly that.

It is inappropriate to compare animal agriculture and the holocaust not because what animals experience is any less horrific but because animals are the victims of an entirely different system of oppression, with very different causes and consequences. The holocaust is unique in all of history. It is not comparable to the Rwandan genocide, it is not comparable to ethnic cleansing Darfur, it is not comparable to the mass slavery of black men and women in Europe and the Americas. Even if this comparison were philosophically appropriate it still wouldn’t be appropriate for advocacy regardless; all it does is isolate and further distance people from the animal rights movement; it makes us sound like extremists. We can advocate for our own movement and talk about animal suffering without being insensitive to the suffering of others, or hijacking someone else’s cause and using it for our own ends.

Most of the time when these comparisons are used they are used simply to make a point about animal rights, they aren’t exploring the interlinked nature of oppression, they aren’t empathising with the suffering of humans, they are essentially just using victims to further our own agenda, and that is wrong regardless of what our intentions are. If a holocaust survivor or someone deeply involved in that event wants to compare animal suffering to what they or those they loved suffered through, like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Ellie Wiesel did, then that is their decision to make, but it is not ours, however similar the means of murder used for holocaust victims and farmed animals alike may be.

The mass slaughter of animals is uniquely and profoundly immoral in a way that has no comparison in all of human history. We don’t need to rely on comparisons which offend and isolate because what is happening to animals is horrific enough by itself. These comparisons may be understandable, and I’m sure they grab people’s attention, but it is exactly the wrong sort of attention for our movement. These comparisons are offensive, inappropriate, and the fact of the matter is that they just don’t work. If we want to be taken seriously as a movement then our advocacy has to be better than that.

“What if I can’t go vegan?”

Veganism is generally very accessible, affordable and healthy, and the wide range of plant based options make it an option for the vast majority of people. However, there does exist some significant barriers to eating and living 100% plant based, ranging from those in recovery form eating disorders, to lack of food availability and extreme food sensitivity.

It is important to acknowledge however, that veganism is not about perfection, it is about doing the most you can to reduce the harm you cause., given your situation. The definition of veganism is  a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. This definition contains an acknowledgement of the fact that it is not always possible or practicable to avoid all animal products all of the time, it asks only that we do our absolute best at all times, and anyone can do that. No vegan is perfect, and there are things which are just not possible to completely avoid, such as animal tested medication, but no good vegan will ever criticise you for falling short if it is essential and no reasonable vegan alternative exists.

In terms of food, I find that most of the time when someone says they cannot go vegan, they usually can. It is not that they are lying, it is often just that people are not aware of the wide variety of plant based options, or alternatives for food they are allergic to or intolerant of. Sometimes it is also the case that they have been advised by a doctor that they cannot go vegan, but keep in mind that doctors are generally very poorly informed on nutrition as do not receive much training on it, and don’t tend be any better informed about veganism than the general population is. A qualified nutritionist with a knowledge of plant based nutrition will be better placed to advise, but even then, find out specifically what it is you need, and you will almost definitely be able to find a viable plant based source for it. There is no know physical health issue that absolutely necessities the consumption of animal products, and there is no vitamin, mineral or nutrient which cannot be obtained on a vegan diet.

In cases where a 100% plant based diet is not achievable, people often assume that it is an “all or nothing” kind of lifestyle, and that if you can’t do it all you shouldn’t do any of it. The best thing to do in this situation however, is to try to eat as plant based as you are able to and follow vegan principles as much as your condition or situation allows. This means eating vegan whenever it is in your power to do so, whether that is ordering out, or just replacing meats and animal products with good plant based foods whenever possible. There is no health reason why someone would not be able to stop using animal fabrics, for example, or to boycott animal tested cosmetics and cleaning products. By doing these things, you would be doing everything you can to avoid cruelty to and exploitation of animals as far as is practicable for you, which is what veganism is all about. I would suggest having a look at my guide to going veganand just seeing which of these things you can do and which you don’t feel able to attempt yet, and using one of the incremental methods to take it slowly.

We are in a situation where animal agriculture is destroying our planet, is driving species extinction, is using an unconscionable amount of resources, is exploiting humans and killing trillions of animals per year. In that context, we all need to do everything we can to oppose it, even if what we can do isn’t a complete boycott. Veganism is not about moral puritanism, no good vegan will ever judge you if you are doing all you physically can. Besides, regardless money you can take away from animal agriculture industries is a good thing, and if everyone couldn’t eat completely plant based did this it would have real impact. Just do what you can, no one can ask more than that. If you need any help and support doing this, whether it’s general advice or personalised meal plans, then feel free to send me an ask or a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

“Why go vegan instead of vegetarian?”

Despite the growing popularity of veganism, there remains significantly higher numbers of vegetarians in comparison. The primary reason cited for going vegetarian instead of vegan is not wanting to give up a particular animal product, usually cheese. If someone is a vegetarian on ethical grounds however, there is no morally justifiable reason to be opposed to the consumption of flesh but not other animal products, such as dairy, eggs and honey. I will discuss some of the main issues with these products individually.

Like all female mammals, cows only produce milk when pregnant and after childbirth. Cows therefore, are restrained and forcibly impregnated so that they will produce milk. Naturally, this milk is intended to feed their calves, however, in order to take her milk, farmers separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, causing extreme distress and sometimes resulting in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mother on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and are not considered profitable for meat production, so are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond formed between cows and their offspring, it is common for the mothers of dairy calves to quite literally scream for their lost calves, sometimes for days at a time. Cows are put through this agonising process three or four times, before they too are killed.

The life of an egg-laying chicken normally lasts 12 to 18 months. During this time, in most commercial egg operations they will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their natural cycles and keep them laying all year round. These facilities are often extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to sear or cut off portions of the beaks of laying hens to prevent them pecking or cannibalising each other due to stress and boredom. This prevents chickens from engaging in most of their natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. In order to maximise profitability, most hens are raised with the minimum required space of 600cm squared useable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. These laying hens are sourced from vast hatcheries, where male chicks are commonly ground up alive as they do not lay eggs and are not considered profitable for meat production.

Bees are often cruelly treated and exploited for profit by the honey industry. Queen bees are often artificially inseminated and many beekeepers cut off their wings to prevent them  leaving the hive. It is standard practice for commercial operations to take all or most of the honey bees produce, and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to purposely disorient and panic bees, and some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Many people are willing to overlook welfare concerns because it is popularly thought that consuming honey helps bees and the environment. Contrary to popular belief, Apis mellifera (the species of bee we use for honey production) are not even close to being endangered; but thousands of lesser known species are. The honey industry only boosts numbers of these captive bees, when in fact, wild bees are better pollinators and their populations being threatened by the presence of domestic honey bees.

If you oppose eating animal flesh because you think it is wrong to kill animals because we like the way they taste, then you should object to dairy, eggs and honey on exactly the same basis, since animal deaths are usually directly involved in the production of all of these products. If it wrong to kill an animal for their flesh, then surely it is equally wrong to kill them when their milk or egg production slows, or because you want to harvest what they make.  All of these welfare concerns aside, even without animal deaths at the heart of these issues is the fact that animals are being exploited for human gain. In all of these cases, we are taking something which quite simply doesn’t belong to us, and causing harm to animals concerned in the process.

Even in those few cases where no deaths are involved, an animal does not have to be directly killed for this product in order for them to be harmed, breeding an animal and keeping them in captivity their entire lives, solely to make a profit from their bodies is harmful in and of itself, and regardless of whether or not they are killed during or afterwards, their entire lives have been taken from them because we enjoy the taste of what they produce. Treating animals as mere commodities to be manipulated, exploited, bought, sold and killed is denying them their right to their own lives, and that is the core of the issue.

There are cases where a person cannot eat 100% plant based, or is using vegetarianism as a stepping stone, both these cases are completely fine and that is not what is being criticised here. The issue is when someone chooses to be a vegetarian when they have the option to be vegan, despite the fact that the exact same reasons people oppose meat apply to other animal products, too. Sometimes this is simply a case of not knowing, and no one can blame you for that, but if you have read this post then you can never again say that you did not know, so it is now up to you to live in a way consistent with your values. If you any help going vegan I would recommend you look at these resources, and I would be more than happy to offer my support if you want to get in touch.

“Veganism isn’t cruelty free either.”

Veganism is not cruelty free, and it’s important to acknowledge that from the outset. Veganism is defined as: “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” The very definition of veganism contains an acknowledgement that all we can do is cause the least harm possible, but you cannot be a consumer and live a lifestyle completely free from causing any harm.

The term “cruelty free” is a marketing one; it is a label which is applied to particular products when they pass a certification from Cruelty Free International. It is not a claim that being vegan is literally being cruelty free, and nor should it be. What we as vegans are trying to do is to cause the least harm we can, while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect vegans to live off the grid, to grow all of their own food and to only purchase or replace those items which they absolutely need for survival. This would not only be completely impractical but it would be inaccessible to anyone who is not fortunate enough to be able to live in this way. The basic philosophy behind being vegan is that this is something we really can do to minimise the harm we cause, and if it’s possible and practical for us to do so, then we should.

The harm vegans will still contribute towards is no small thing, from deforestation to grow crops, worker exploitation of crop pickers and factory workers, to water, energy and plastic use, we will all have an impact on this world simply by existing in it. However, what is being argued here is essentially just that because we can’t live a lifestyle completely free from harm, we shouldn’t even try to reduce the harm we cause. This all or nothing mentality is not only bizarre but extremely harmful; it encourages the kind of consumer apathy that unethical companies depend on to make a profit.  Vegans still need to exist and survive in a consumer driver society, and it is not our fault that capitalism forces us to compromise on some of our values in order to survive.

This argument could also be applied to almost any ethical issue- why bother avoiding sweatshops if you can’t buy 100% of your clothing ethically? Why bother buying fair trade whenever you can if you can’t do it for everything you buy? Why save one person if you can’t save them all? Morality is seldom all or nothing, most of the time it is about doing what we can to do the most good given the situation, and veganism is exactly the same way. It is incredibly cynical to berate someone for making an effort to live a lifestyle lifestyle which is as ethical as they can make it, especially if you are someone who is making no such effort.

This is not to say that vegans shouldn’t be actively trying to reduce the harm they cause in other areas besides animal products, whether it’s trying to support ethical brands or campaigning on other social justice issues, but the fact that we cannot be perfect is no excuse not to try. Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should do nothing, and when it comes to trying to live an ethical lifestyle, there is no excuse not to try.

“Is dissection ethical? What if I have to do it?”

This question is usually asked in the context of dissection for educational rather than medical or research purposes, so that’s the context in which I’ll try to answer this one. Dissection unfortunately remains extremely common on biology, zoology and veterinary science courses, among others.

Starting with ethics, it is first important to acknowledge that there is really nothing that is learned through dissection which can’t be learned elsewhere. Many education institutions are already moving away from dissections, less for ethical issues and more due to the fact that it isn’t thought by many to be a particularly useful teaching method. Interactive software, video observations and textbooks can teach many of the same things without requiring the death of an animal. These methods are more modern, far more humane and if the same learning outcomes can be achieved by using these alternative methods then there is no real reason to make use of dissection for the vast majority of cases in which it is used. Those which are essential for the subject matter being taught should be sourced solely from voluntarily surrendered animals who have been humanely euthanised due to mortal, incurable illness or injury.

It is a common myth that dissection animals are essentially “byproducts” of other industries, but this is not the case. Many mice and rats, are domestically bred, raised and sold solely for the purposes of dissection, while other animals such as  frogs, salamanders, birds, snakes, turtles, fish, and most other invertebrate animals used in dissection are predominantly taken from the wild. These numbers are not small either, in the US alone, around 10 million vertebrates and 10 million invertebrates are used per year. When organs are dissected, these are usually sourced from slaughterhouses; meaning that their use and sale helps keep the rearing and slaughtering of animals a profitable concern. Dealers who supply these animals often stockpile animals on top of one another and ship them in crowded containers with no temperature regulation, food, or water. Undercover video footage has exposed that some are still alive as they are pumped full of formaldehyde or other preservatives.

In terms of whether or not you have to do it, that really depends on a number of factors. Some states in the US have enacted laws protecting a student’s right to choose a humane alternative, including  Florida, California, Connecticut Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, New Jersey and Vermont. Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Mexico and Louisiana. Some countries like Argentina, Israel and Slovakia have banned the practice from schools entirely, whereas Italy, Queensland Australia and India all uphold the right for conscientious objectors to refuse to take part in dissection. If you live in any one of these places, cite the law on this and simply refuse, they will not be able to punish you in any way so long as you are willing to take part in a humane alternative, most of which will be book or software based.

If you do not belong to any of these countries or states, there are still options available to you. Your first step should just be to discuss it with your teacher or professor, explain the fact that you are morally opposed to dissection for education purposes, and that you would like to instead opt for a humane alternative. The key is to make it clear that you are not being lazy, offer to do a written or research based assignment instead, or to write a report or an essay on a dissection video if necessary. You need to be careful to be very polite here, tell them you understand why it is done, but your beliefs will not allow you to take part in something like this. Don’t get bogged down arguing about the ethics, be firm and simply state that regardless of what their arguments are, where they say the animals come from, you do not believe dissection is ethical.

If they still refuse, your next steps will depend largely on the situation. If you are a minor, you should ask your teacher if they would be willing to meet with your parents to discuss it further. This is worth trying even if you know your parents won’t attend a meeting, as most of the time this offer by itself will be enough to make your teacher think twice, as they don’t want to deal with angry parents and lose their free time on an extended meeting. If your teacher still refuses, try to obtain a note from home or actually arrange that meeting if your parents are supportive; very few schools would go against the wishes of your parents or guardian over such a sensitive issue. If this still doesn’t work, you can still refuse and simply take whatever the punishment is, if that is an option for you.

If you are not a minor and are in a university context, then you could try appealing to the head of the department, in writing. This will often be enough to show how serious this is for you, and a compromise can be discussed with them. If this doesn’t work, you could offer to observe and take notes as a last resort. Failing that, you need to look at whether or not the exercise counts towards your grade; if it doesn’t you may simply refuse to take part and take the punishment, or just call in sick on that day, even though you and your professor will both know why you did it.

If you have done all you practically can to fight it and you do not have the option to push any further and refuse, then it may be something you are forced to take part in. This is not your fault, and it is okay to compromise on this in order to obtain a qualification. If you are doing an animal based degree, which dissections will usually be required on, going through this could give you a qualification which can help you do some real good in the world, and these fields could certainly benefit from more animal rights advocates pushing for change, including on the practice of dissection. It will not usually come to that, but if it does then keep in mind we can only avoid exploitation as far as is practicable, and no one can reasonably expect you to forfeit your qualification due the ethical issues involved in dissection.

“Would veganism solve world hunger?”

This is a claim I see batted around quite often, and while there is a good and rational basis behind it I think it grossly oversimplifies the issue of world hunger. What people making this argument are failing to understand is that solving world hunger isn’t just an issue of producing more food, though that is obviously a large part of it, people go hungry because of food waste and unequal distribution far more than because we don’t have enough to feed everyone.

The basis of this claim is that we could feed considerably more people if we grow crops to feed humans than we currently do raising animals for food, which is indisputably true. At present a full 1/3 of the planet’s land surface and 2/3 of available agricultural land is used for farming animals. The issue is that farmed animals consume significantly more calories to get them to slaughter weight than they will ever produce in meat, meaning that they are actually detracting from the global food supply. Chicken meat production consumes energy in a 4:1 ratio to protein output; beef cattle 54:1, lamb 50:1, pork 17:1, turkey 13:1 and milk 17:1, according to the ecologist’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. All told, farmed animals consume 40% of all grain produced and 70% of all soy produced globally. All of this means that if the world went vegan and we fed these crops to humans instead of animals, we would add an addition 70% to the world’s global food supply.

This would obviously be a wonderful thing and would have a significant impact on world poverty. It is estimated that because of these factors and the impact of animal products on food security, global health and climate change, the world going vegan would save approximately 8.1 million human lives per year. As positive as all of this is, the idea that it would completely solve global hunger is a very different claim. The fact of the matter is that we already grow more than enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t distribute it equally or use it efficiently. Globally, roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year, which is approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, goes uneaten due to loss or wastage, though some figures place it closer to half. Add that to the fact of global market forces and capitalism meaning that food is unequally distributed, having enough of it for everyone unfortunately doesn’t mean that everyone gets to eat.

It is very understandable why people might look at the statistics for how much more efficient plant protein is than animal protein per square foot of land and conclude that the world going vegan would solve global hunger, but advocating veganism alone as a way to solve this issue risks causing people to stop advocating for any other cause. The truth is that the systemic evils of unfair distribution need to be rallied against across the political spectrum, companies need to be pressured to donate waste and countries need to be encouraged to pass legislation for better distribution, that is in the absence of some global revolution and massive redistribution of wealth; but solely advocating veganism will achieve none of that.

A global shift away from animal agriculture and towards sustainable, plant based eating would undeniably have drastic benefits for human health, global good security, the alleviation of poverty and the environment, which is why even the United Nations have been advocating it for quite some time now. However, veganism needs to be part of a wider movement pushing for social change and equality for both humans and animals, and it is simply too much to expect veganism alone to solve all of the world’s problems.