More on Leiter’s Veganism Poll

Surprisingly, my recent post about Professor Leiter’s poll on “attitudes toward veganism”  seems to have sparked substantial interest among AnimalBlawg readers. Given the attention that the post has received, I want to keep readers updated on a couple of developments regarding this topic.

First, it seems that Professor Leiter was somewhat annoyed by AnimalBlawg readers and other animal advocates who decided to participate in the poll. Here’s what he had to say after some of us linked to his poll:

UPDATE: Unfortunately, some pro-vegan websites have now linked to this, thus skewing the results, at least for now.  I would encourage other law-related blogs to link, so that we can get a less skewed sample of opinion.  Thanks.

Regardless of whether animal advocates voted in sufficient amounts to significantly skew the poll results, it seems pretty obvious to me that most people (50%)  who follow Leiter’s blog believe that “[v]eganism is neither morally commendable nor morally wrong, but is a reasonable personal choice for some individuals to make”. This is probably an accurate reflection of what most law professors (and students) think about veganism. (On a side note, I’m curious to know what option Professor Leiter voted for).

Second, it looks like Professor Bainbridge also voted for the “veganism is a reasonable personal choice option”. Bainbridge explains his choice in the following manner:

Brian Leiter’s taking a poll of his readers on veganism. For lack of a better option, I chose “Veganism is neither morally commendable nor morally wrong, but is a reasonable personal choice for some individuals to make” as my answer. I’d qualify that statement, however, by noting that the attitude of moral superiority on the part of many vegans gets old real fast. Plus, the efforts by some vegans to turn the issue into a political one, using the state to regulate food choices (see, e.g., foie gras bans), needs to be resisted at every opportunity.

Professor Bainbridge raises two important points. Do animal advocates generally and vegans (and vegetarians) in particular display an “attitude of superiority” when they talk about their lifestyle and food regimen? I’m sure that some do, but it’s far from clear whether most or even “many” do so.

The other interesting point raised by Bainbridge is his suggestion that the animal advocate’s attempt to ban foie gras should be resisted. While Professor Bainbridge’s contention that the state should not regulate food choices is understandable as an abstract proposition given his conservative political views, it’s not clear why he takes issue with proposals to ban foie gras but has no problem with banning dog fighting in order to prevent animal cruelty. A couple of years ago, Professor Bainbridge defended his views by pointing out that:

(1) Because “the enduring truths of what Burke aptly called “original justice” are revealed slowly, with experience, over time”, conservatives are guided by tradition, experience and history,

(2) There is a long history of  opposition to dog fighting, as “England prohibited it and other blood sports as early as 1835” and “[t]here is a longstanding consensus in the Anglo-American tradition that blood sports are cruel and ought to be banned”.

(3) There is no tradition or long history of opposition to foie gras in this country.

(4) Therefore, the wisdom of tradition and history “justifies an infringement on human property rights” in the case of dog fighting, but doesn’t justify governmental intervention in the case of foie gras.

This strikes me as a particularly weak argument. After all, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously asserted in The Path of the Law, “[i]t is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV”.

Luis Chiesa

5 Responses

  1. The Update was not a reference to this blog, which didn’t send much traffic to the poll that I found in looking at the referrers. It was a reference to a pro-vegan Facebook site, which must have sent at least 100 voters–that produced a surge in the top two options. As to your post on Dorf, you might note my replies to him in the comments section.

  2. As someone who spends a lot of time living with and blogging about animal issues, I am pleased both by your interest in veganism itself and in perceptions of it. However, I remain confused by your assertion that veganism is a lifestyle decision and in your decision to go with the “veganism is disgusting” choice in the poll. Since it is ethically driven, veganism differs markedly from other decisions that are more oriented toward lifestyle (i.e. house or condo, hatchback or sedan). I understand your point that ethics is inherently choice-driven but that makes veganism no different from any other ethical consideration and I do not understand you to be saying that all ethical decisions are lifestyle choices. Furthermore, I must question whether the fact that a certain segment of the population has a knee-jerk (and ignorant) reaction to veganism makes that reaction worthy of validation as a poll choice.
    All that being said, I hope you will continue to blog about these issues and that you will consider guest-posting here.

  3. “Lifestyle choice,” as I explained in the comments at Dorf’s blog, is not a pejorative phrase, at least not as I was using it. I understand that people have what they believe to be ethical reasons for choosing to live in a vegan way, which is precisely the point of the first two choices in the poll. The dietary dimension of veganism (which the poll perhaps wrongly emphasized) does strike some people as disgusting: I’ve heard the word used. As I noted at Dorf’s blog, the fact that someone would choose that characterization may say more about the person and his/her attitudes than it does about veganism. (There are people who think homosexuality is disgusting–probably not in the legal academy any longer, but elsewhere–and that reaction is, I would think, highly informative about a person’s attitudes.) The far more critical response is to deny that there are any ethical reasons for a vegan lifestyle.

  4. I understand that it was not meant pejoratively, I am simply questioning its utility. The phrase is either universally applicable to ethical decisions, in which case its use becomes unnecessary, or it is somehow more applicable to veganism. If the latter, I respectfully differ and would love to have you take the matter up at more length, either here or over your way. I further understand the fact that there are those who feel veganism is disgusting; they are likely the same people who feel that animals are beneath any moral or legal consideration. If your intention was to sus out whether there are people in the legal academy who feel the latter, then I guess I understand your choice.

  5. I’m losing the thread of the disagreement about the word “lifestyle.” Would you prefer “way of life”? Vegans live differently in a variety of respects from non-vegans. We need a word to pick that out.

    There may be overlap between those who think a vegan diet are disgusting and those who think animals “are beneath any moral or legal consideration,” I don’t know. I can imagine someone thinking animals deserve some moral consideration, but who was raised on a traditional American diet, still finding the idea of a radically different diet “disgusting.” But, yes, I was interested in getting some sense for how many law-related folks have this kind of visceral reaction to veganism. The answer is not many, and of course, we don’t really know whether those choosing that answer were really law-connected, since one right-wing blog did link to the poll.

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