“Vegetarian” & “Vegan”: How to Define A Cause

Katie Hance

How would you define a “vegetarian”?  A “vegan”?  Animal rights scholars have not collectively provided clear definitions for these terms.  I believe that it hurts the vegetarian and vegan advocacy efforts that these causes are not clearly defined.

For example, Peter Singer who advocates for vegetarianism describes avoiding eating meat or fish.  Tom Regan describes vegetarianism embodying the belief that it is wrong to eat meat.  Yet, Gary Francione, a vegan advocate, describes a “vegetarian” as basically one who does “not eat the flesh of cows, pigs, and birds, but who eats some other animal products, such as fish, dairy products and eggs” (see “The Abolition of the Property Status of Animals”).  Combining these definitions vegetarians believe it is wrong to eat meat or fish but still eat fish.  Not exactly a strong (or even logical) slogan for vegetarianism.   While there are other terms defining different degrees to which people do not consume animal products, such as pescatarian (those who do not eat meat but eat fish), lacto-ovo vegetarian (vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy) lacto-vegetarian (vegetarians who eat dairy but not eggs) and ovo-vegetarian (vegetarians who eat eggs but not dairy) none of these additional terms lead to a simple definition of “vegetarian.”

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Fish Feel Pain; Now What?

fishhookGuest blogger: Elaine Hsaio

One of the most common arguments for not eating meat is animal suffering, but this rationale all too often stops short at recognizing the pain of other beings.  Common example: pescatarianism.  Fish don’t feel pain or experience suffering, so we can continue to eat fish despite having given up meat because big brown cow eyes and screaming pigs break our hearts.  A recent study published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science, indicates that not only do fish feel pain, but physical experiences of pain actually alter their future behaviors:

http://news.mongabay.com/2009/0506-hance_fishpain.html

So, if fish feel pain, does that change things?

Maybe a few pescatarians might reconsider their position, but those looking to continue justifying their dietary choices tend to respond with the question – What about plants, do they feel pain?  Touche, so become a Jain.  More power to you if you have that kind of discipline and are lucky enough to live in an environment that’s still healthy enough to sustain you.  Or can transcend geopolitical borders to follow migratory seasonal harvests, but few on this planet hold such golden passports.

So if that’s too difficult, then consider what’s necessary.  From what I understand, homo sapiens have (one of) the most diverse diets on this planet (we can consume a greater variety of things than most other species for our energy and subsistence).  And supposedly we have consciousness, civilization and free(ish) will.  So, I can choose what to subsist off of….and I know that I can obtain my sustenance – vitamins, proteins, all that good stuff – from a solely flora-based diet.  Not true of a fauna-based diet.  Oftentimes, it is also possible to harvest from plants in a way that you can’t from animals, i.e. you can take parts without killing the whole.  Many of those parts would separate of their own means anyway, maybe to nourish the Earth….or maybe to nourish me.

Either way, plant or animal, food needs to be rethought….we are over 6.7 billion mouths to feed and growing.  Malthus bodes mal….