Bucknell University philosophy professor Gary Steiner, a self-described vegan, penned an essay published in the Sunday New York Times to lecture meat-eaters (that is, 97 percent of Americans) about how cruel they are. Steiner thinks he has it all figured out. If only someone—anyone—agreed with him. Steiner’s thesis boils down to a nyah-nyah epithet about the compassion deficit supposedly represented by every pork chop and turkey drumstick. We’re not buying it.
If you don’t have time to read Steiner’s op-ed, here’s the basic gist of it:
[M]ost people just don’t care about the lives or fortunes of animals. If they did care, they would … forswear the consumption of animal products of all kinds.
Got that? People eat meat because they’re mean. In the face of such sanctimonious arrogance from the ethically “pure,” a number of readers wrote to the Times to gore his vegan ox. Alexander Mauskop of New York City notes that vegan eating leads to the destruction of animals’ homes—and the deaths of plenty of critters:
When we plant and harvest crops that vegans would find acceptable to eat, many animals are killed and their habitats are destroyed. If we all decide to consider animals as precious as humans, the only logical place for us is back in the jungle. But even then if we were to survive we would have to kill some animals in self-defense.
Cal State North Beach professor emeritus Lawrence Lerner writes that biology isn’t on veganism’s side either:
[M]any paleoanthropologists maintain that the evolution of the large, energy-hungry human brains depended on a transition of our ancestors’ diets to include meat. And vegans must tread a very narrow line to avoid all sorts of deficiency diseases.
Alice Desaulniers of Irvington, NY asks whether Steiner is walking his own walk by owning a cat (a carnivorous animal, no less):
If [Steiner] wishes to make no distinction between animal and human life and rights, how does he justify keeping an animal in what amounts to captivity?
And L. David Peters of New York City presents a moral conundrum for vegans:
If we are not justified in eating mackerel ourselves, are we not also morally obligated to stop the slaughter brought on by the tuna?
If vegans feel obligated to walk the woods policing packs of hungry wolves, that’s their prerogative. But for the rest of us, it’s important to remember that the “food chain” in which animals kill and eat one another—a food chain that we participate in—is entirely natural.
Maybe Steiner is just bitter because veganism has never come anywhere near being a mainstream philosophy. (He writes: “The number of vegans I know personally is … five.”) And he concedes that even refined sugar, Band-Aids, and razor-blade comfort strips are created using animal products.
Living life making sure every lollipop, napkin, and toothbrush you buy is “untainted” is not how most people want to spend their precious time. Steiner can do that if he wants—he just shouldn’t get on his high horse to lecture the rest of us.