The ethical choice is vegan.

Via on Sep 29, 2011

All sentient beings feel pain.

Meat, dairy and eggs come from sentient beings. Meat, dairy and eggs always cause pain. Humans do not have a biological need to eat meat, dairy and eggs. So, if you choose to eat meat, dairy and eggs, you are choosing to cause pain and to participate in exploitation and murder. Participating in pain and murder is always unethical. The ethical choice is vegan.

About Gary Smith

Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world. Evolotus specializes in nonprofits, documentary films, animal advocacy campaigns, health/wellness, natural foods and socially beneficial companies. Gary blogs at The Thinking Vegan and writes for elephant journal, Jewish Journal, Mother Nature Network and other publications. Gary and his wife are ethical vegans and live in Sherman Oaks, CA with their cat Chloe and two beagles rescued from an animal testing laboratory, Frederick and Douglass.

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212 Responses to “The ethical choice is vegan.”

  1. What if by becoming vegan you are causing harm to yourself? I hold the belief that some people, including myself need animal protein to live. While ethically I would like to be vegan, I know that true harm would also be to myself.

  2. Thoreau says:

    Should polar bears be vegan?

    What about people who live in areas where no vegetation grows? Should they pay to have fruits and vegetables shipped 1000s of miles. All that fossil fuel being expelled into the air in the process.

  3. George says:

    This post is mean.

  4. Karen Kelley says:

    Head over to YouTube and watch "Earthlings." No matter what someone's decision is on this issue, it's important to be informed.

  5. Suri kate says:

    Oh my god the vegan taliban is here….what if the problem is not that humans eat meat ? Maybe the problem is that we are just too many and we are on the way to be even more and thats why this nasty inhumane meat -and agriculture -industry exists in the first place …because thre is no way to feed 7billion people in a sustainable , humane way … so maybe the ethical thing to do is stop having babies …touchy subject ehh? There is a surplus of adoptable babies , specially in 3rd world countries and they are sentient beings too you know..but people are too selfish , they always want their own … By the way have you ever noticed that there are two kinds of vegans ,the first kind live in first world countries and have acces to a wide variety of delicious vegan products ….the other kind live in poberty stricken countries and have to be vegan by neccesity , not by choice,a lot of them eat air and mud on a regular basis hows that for vegan!….so there you go there are more vegans than you think and the majority of them dont brag about it or lecture you.

  6. Jennifer says:

    I’m not sure there’s a way out of behaving unethically, especially if one has an obligate carnivore as a pet, as Gary does (and as I do). Do you a) choose to deprive the cat of what it has evolved to eat and essentially perform a risky experiment on its longterm health — which seems unethical as a responsible cat caretaker, or b) engage in the exploitation of other animals by putting your cat’s health first? Maybe we should just not have cats?

    Sorry, but if I have to be vegan AND cat-less in order to meet Gary’s standards of ethical, I’m not interested. Although I choose not to eat meat, I don’t find blanket statements and black and white scenarios helpful, and making people defensive is seldom a good way to effect change.

  7. Suri kate says:

    I totally agree and you couldnt have said it better:
    " Why not just try to enjoy life in a way that doesn't harm others? That seems to me to be the logic of being vegan…I don't need animals, and they have feelings and are sentient so…why eat meat? "
    This is the kind of argument that works , it is positive , it is constructive and impartial . This is the kind of argument that promotes healthy discussion …theres no need to be confrontational you can promote veganism without sounding like a crazy person and i can assure you people will be more open and receptive to what you have to say. 8)

  8. Gary Smith Gary Smith says:

    All of the responses by non-vegans are just distractions from the real issue, which is the point of the post. Using and eating nonhuman animals is unethical. You do not have a biological need to consume animals. If you choose to consume animals, you are causing pain and participating in exploitation and murder, whether the exploitation is kinder (i.e. happy meat, dairy and eggs) or less kind (factory farmed animal products).

    Rather than twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to justify your participation in the exploitation and murder of nonhuman animals, why not take a few moments and ask yourself if this participation lines up with your values. Unless you value murder and oppression, the answer is vegan.

  9. Jessica says:

    I also agree that humans who live where there is little vegetation need to supplement with some other type of protein. We have to use the resources we are given, and being that we are part of the food chain, sometimes that means eating other animals. Would humanity have evolved without eating animal protein? I'd like to see more research into that question? Seriously, would humans have risen to the top of the food chain by eating just vegetables that offer little protein? Why is the concept of a human animal surviving off the meat of another animal considered mean or unethical, but the concept of a lion surviving off the meat of another animal is not? What about carnivores? The argument then gets reduced to HOW we obtain the meat. THAT is what is unethical, and in factory farms it IS painful and cruel. Eat less meat, and don't get it from a factory farm!

  10. Chip Njaa says:

    I'm not arguing this one point because I feel, in some way, defense… I'm just curious: how does eating an unfertilized chicken egg, that the chicken would have laid anyway, cause pain to a sentient being? Not all chickens are raised and kept on factory farms. I have seen plenty of happy and healthy chickens that lay eggs which eventually would go rotten if not collected. My family raised a few chickens when I was a young one and they seemed quite content. Most chickens are considered domesticated and rely on humans for food and protection. Is Mr. Smith recommending that all chickens should immediately be set free? Just wonder because I've never understood the opposition to eating honey or chicken eggs… I don't see how it hurts anything. And, I'm certainly not against learning something new… so if you have the time respond, I would appreciate it. Thank you : )

  11. BrianD82 says:

    The human digestive system and even our teeth are designed to consume both meat and veggies. Why is it unethical to do what evolution or nature or God designed us TO do?

  12. matthew says:

    "It strikes me as childish logic. It's like 'I like bees and I like cows….more than the immigrants that pick the vegetables I eat.'" -Chelsea Peretti

  13. Jessica says:

    I can totally see that there aren't many places to get a truly humanely raised and killed portion of meat, but I don't buy that humans are NOT supposed to eat meat. However, I think factory farms are evil. If everyone had to kill the meat they ate, there would a lot more fishing and a lot more vegetarians.

    I also think the dairy industry is evil, and that humans consuming the milk of another animal – not just in infancy but throughout adulthood – makes absolutely no sense.

    But eggs? How does getting an egg from a chicken (that is raised humanely and with kindness) cause pain? I think your statement is a little too broad in that respect.

  14. Val says:

    Love this post. That really is what it all boils down to: Every time you sit down to eat, you have a choice to cause another living being pain or not. Why would you ever choose to make an animal suffer if you don't have to?

  15. sonyaa says:

    Yesterday I read that Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian… it kind of confused me, but I guess it’s a personal decision after all… I don’t want to judge Dalai Lama, so maybe no one should be judged.

  16. I'm saying that you should show a level of consideration to your audience, especially if you want them to change their lifestyles. Whether I am a murderer or not, being told I am unethical without any logical reasoning is not going to want me to ask you to teach me more. Having said that, I very much appreciate some of the books and data you have since presented. I wish you had opened with that.

  17. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    For a more in-depth article exploring the deeper reasons behind vegetarianism and veganism: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/the-3-reas
    I personally feel that the Ethics argument alone is ridiculous. If it were 'wrong' to eat flesh, eskimos and tibetans would be 'bad'. By all means, be a vegan, but don't do it for ethics alone.

  18. Once upon a time there was a little girl
    (isn’t there always)
    and she loved her dogs, and cats, and bird, and fish.
    and all the animals everywhere.
    And she decided (at the tender age of 12)
    That she didn’t want to eat
    Her furry, feathered, and finned friends.
    So she stopped.

    But the little girl grew older
    And sadder
    And sicker
    And smaller
    (and smaller still)
    and didn’t eat animals.
    Or milk.
    Or eggs.
    Or much of anything at all.

    (Unless she gobbled up lots of
    vegan goodies
    only to puke them up again
    And run
    And run
    And run
    To make the hurt go away)

    And when the little girl
    Was so sick
    And sad
    And small
    That she decided to get better:

    She put it all back on the table.
    She bit by bit put herself back together.
    She still doesn’t eat her (animal) friends.

    My point here isn’t to say vegan = eating disorder (because I’m guessing at least one person will pounce on that.) My point is to say that for my part, vegan did not come from a place of non-harming the way my vegetarianism did. It was another tool to facilitate my eating disorder. I know many many vegans for whom this is not the case. I also know many friends with ED’s who have used food choices as a way to facilitate/hide their disease. May we all keep ahimsa at the heart of our decision making.

  19. Suri kate says:

    Mr Gary
    How bout all the health issues that you can get from being vegan like:
    neuropathy , shaking hands , impaired memory , anemia , osteoporosis,feeling tired a lot, not sleeping well, weak hair and nails, sensitive and decaying teeth, inability to maintain a healthy weight, constant hunger, unexplained irritability, or depression… Why wont you talk about the serious vitamin deficiecies that very often come with the vegan diet???
    How bout the fact that as far as recorded history is concerned, there has never been a population of people in our world that has lived on a strict vegan diet for an entire lifespan. Some populations have eaten mostly plant foods, there has not been a single population that has been on a 100 percent plant-based diet. Even hindus eat yoghurt and use copious amonts of buter -ghee- in their food.
    If you are so sure humans are not supposed to eat meat why dont you cite some science based , reliable sources to back up what you are saying …and the china studY does not count since it has been debunked… Why are you so dishonest about the dark side of veganism??

  20. carolina says:

    instinct btw sorry she too one day won't be around but not because I ate her

  21. Ashley says:

    This is a no brainer for me and I simply cannot imagine why it's not a no brainer for most if not all of Elephant readers. Buddhism teaches us kindness and compassion for all living beings. Why do most follow this except when it comes to food on their plate or products they buy? These are sentient creatures, they feel pain just like we do. How is it our place to steal them from their family? Oh, right….it's not. Please please wake up enlightened ones, choose compassion at all times- choose vegan.

  22. Suri kate says:

    Read the ADA article (pdf) it is clear that a well planed vegetarian diet has indeed many health benefits .an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet is the one that best meets nutritional requirements where as a vegan diet does not meet all the nutritional requirements without supplementation ..calcium , vit D , B12 , iodine ,zinc and n3 fatty acids might need to be supplemented in a vegan diet , specially B12…b12requirement can be met with an ovolacto vagatarian diet but not with a vegan diet as "no unfortified plant Food contains any significant amount of active vitamin b12"….calcium intake in a vegan diet usually must be supplemented as vegans have 30 percent higher risk of bone fracture Due to their lower calcium intakes….

    Vegetarian diets are rich in folacine wich may mask the symptoms of b12 deficiency so that vit b deficiency can go undetected until after neurological signs a d symptoms may be manifest

    risk of bone fracture is similar for meat eaters and ovolactovegetarians …Diets that do not include fish , eggs or generous amounts of microalgae are low in dha and epa , fatty acids essential for cardiovascular health As well as eye and brain development..
    Reduced bone mass has been reported in some vegan and macrobiotic groups who did noT used vit d supplements

  23. Jo Tyler says:

    ‎"As omnivores, we may resent vegans for reminding us of the suffering we cause, for we’d rather be comfortable and keep all the ugliness hidden, but our comfort has nothing to do with justice or with authentic inner peace. It is the comfort of blocking out and disconnecting, and it comes with a terrible price. " – Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet
    http://www.amazon.com/World-Peace-Diet-Spiritual-

  24. Gary Smith Gary Smith says:

    The point of the post was to force people to examine their values. I really do believe that most people want to do the right thing. They are hypnotized by the culture, a culture which is truly violent. A culture that focuses on selfishness, sexism, racism, speciesism. The culture would fall apart if we examined our behaviors and changed them to benefit others. I get why everyone believes they have the right to take the life of an animal for their own pleasure. That does not make it right or ethical.

    When that violence is questioned, people react strongly. I understand that they want to make me the bad guy for pointing out the disconnect in their values and behaviors, but the anger is really pointed at themselves. It's uncomfortable to observe ourselves, that is why we drink, watch TV endlessly and stuff our faces with sugar, salt, fried foods, animal products.

    If you truly examined the point of my post, you would make the choice to go vegan. Not because I said so, but because your heart tells you that it is the right, moral and ethical choice.

  25. Femmefatal says:

    I suffered for seven years if major digestive and ongoing tummy and ulcer problems. Half the time I slept sitting up! I went vegan in may and I’m cured. It’s the creepiest and most freaked out thing I’ve ever witnessed. I have received a gift of a miracle.

  26. Despite the debatable elements of vegetarianism that will inevitably evoke disagreement for all eternity, the simple non-debatable fact is that the cumulative (individual or human) effect of living/eating veg*an is more positive than negative, more light than dark.

  27. Lindsay Jean says:

    I’m so tired of seeing “articles” like this on ele. It’s so narrow and counter to what is good about this site. Many paths, friends.

  28. Shandy says:

    You know what… I am S0 SICK of Diet D0GMA! Who has the right to say what diet is right or wrong for ANY "B0DY"? What is right for me, could be poison for you. We evolved eating MEAT. The first humans did what they could to survive. They did that by HUNTING AND GATHERING F00D, mostly from animal sources. I am not saying that because we evolved eating animal sources of food that EVERY0NE should ea…t that way. But, I will be DAMMED if I am going to spread diet dogma that eating animal sources of food is N0T ethical and that vegan is somehow more ethical. Get off your high horse! Guess what?: we live in the USA and guess what, we have millions of mouths to feed, and guess what… not all those mouths can survive on a vegan diet for your dogmatic ethical reasons! I have plenty of friends who are vegan, but they don't shove it down my throat that for my body type and NEEDS, I eat MEAT!

  29. Carolyn says:

    Great post! Thanks for stating the obvious, despite it, obviously, being so difficult for many people to hear.

    I'm a little confused as to how a post like this, which is a statement of fact, not the opinion of any individual, can cause so many misguided and nasty comments.

    I have to wonder how people would react if I were to suggest that murdering humans was unethical. Would I be considered to be "shoving my opinions down peoples' throats"?

  30. I think the logical argument that you present would not be seen logically based on the idea that, if we want people to change their habits and their lifestyles, the approach may be to come at it more gently. At least, that kind of attitude resonates with me. If Mr. Smith had opened his article in a more educable fashion, I can assure you, I would not have been frustrated or turned off by his comments. His morally absolutist tone, however, makes it very difficult to feel like there is something to learn from all of this (even though there is). These are just my thoughts, Carolyn. I appreciate your thoughtful post.

  31. boulder5 says:

    gary ~ as a vegan, i think that trying to educate people about veganism on elephant journal seems to be a lost cause and has been for some time. i appreciate you wanting to reach out to people, but things have gotten so hostile over the last number of months. i can tell by the replies that no one is truly interested in this subject. people are ready for an argument, they are not interested in learning, and i doubt you are changing any minds by your posts here… :( there are so many positive vegan outreach opportunities in the community; why not focus on reaching people this way? the comments section of elephant journal seems to be a know-it-all competition and the idea that animals are suffering is getting very lost. there comes a point when we need to spend our valuable time 'walking the talk' somewhere else. sincerely, just another mean horrible militant vegan b*tch 😉

  32. Jeffrey says:

    A couple of good articles on this subject. "Food" for thought at least. :-) http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/understanhttp://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/like-anim

  33. Jeffrey says:

    A couple of good articles on this subject. "Food" for thought at least. :-) http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/understan

  34. Joyce says:

    Humans are so egotistical to really believe plants are not sentient and don't have feelings.
    It doesn't matter what you eat, what you eat is life, including plants. The trick is to offer the
    Universal oneness thanks and gratitude for everything you eat whether it be plants or
    animals. It also helps the pain of plants and animals and promotes our own health by
    eating organic.

  35. […] article is in reply to one written by Gary Smith on September 29, called The Ethical Choice is Vegan. Mr. Smith’s post is very short but contains a lot of passion behind it that caused, to say the […]

  36. […] core of people. We spend so much time slapping on the existential version of bumper stickers. This guy’s a vegan. That chick is a feminist. This one does yoga. That one’s a teacher. This one is a […]

  37. […] slaughter and injustice? Right now, at dinner? On a first date? I can go into all of the moral/ethical implications. I’ll touch on great health benefits and positive environmental impact. I can tell you that […]

  38. […] When one takes refuge in the Three Jewels—the Buddha as example, the Dharma as his teachings and meditation practice, and the sangha as the community of our fellow meditators – we also take the vow against killing. […]

  39. […] addition to some of the other Lululemon controversies, there was the Great Secession from Anusara, vegans vs. everyone who isn’t vegan, the marriage of John Friend and Manduka and a panoply of other happening events to keep things […]

  40. JoeC2K says:

    Jesus, the Buddha and the Dalai Lama all ate meat. The logical conclusion to your reasoning is they were also unethical…

  41. tesk nayrb says:

    just some points to consider.
    1) not all people do well being vegan. ( i tried for eight years for ethical reasons and never felt optimal. esp my digestive system and energy level. ) and even after eight years still craved meat.
    2) yes meat 3 meals a day seems overkill yet meat a few meals a week has no negative health benefits to people or this planet. the key is moderation.
    3)does gary drive? where loads of insects are killed. what about live in a house where loads of animals are killed and displaced when clearing land and creating factories for the production of household items. ect……
    4) for ethical reasons the jain yogis where a mask as to not inhale insects and walk with a broom sweeping in front of them as to not kill when stepping. to them if gary is not doing these things he is unethical. although they may not call him unethical because if they are truly yogi's they know judgement is most unethical.
    5) are all indigenous people unethical because most eat meat?
    6) i feel a lot of our farming practices are horrible and unnecessarily harmful. best for all that we make conscious choices about where our for comes from and how it is treated. plants and animals can be raised and slaughtered with gratitude and compassion.
    7) i know a vegan girl who always had stomach issues i tried to convince her to add fish to her diet but her desire to not harm animals was strong. she found no relief from any doctor. finally she consulted a chinese doctor who told her to add animal protein to her diet. she agreed to finally and her condition disappeared.
    8) maybe whats most ethical is to mind your own business, focus on yourself and be the best you can be and if you achieve something amazing others will be inspired by you.
    9) i believe the focus should be on promoting the ideas you love and believe in not in judging others. Vegans make a lot of wonderful points and everyone should consider their perspective, yet preaching their idea's as being " more ethical " will only serve to alienate those they wish to influence ( like born again christians tend to do ).

  42. tsek nayrb says:

    just some points to consider.
    1) not all people do well being vegan. ( i tried for eight years for ethical reasons and never felt optimal. esp my digestive system and energy level. ) and even after eight years still craved meat.
    2) yes meat 3 meals a day seems overkill yet meat a few meals a week has no negative health benefits to people or this planet. the key is moderation.
    3)does gary drive? where loads of insects are killed. what about live in a house where loads of animals are killed and displaced when clearing land and creating factories for the production of household items. ect……
    4) for ethical reasons the jain yogis where a mask as to not inhale insects and walk with a broom sweeping in front of them as to not kill when stepping. to them if gary is not doing these things he is unethical. although they may not call him unethical because if they are truly yogi's they know judgement is most unethical.
    5) are all indigenous people unethical because most eat meat?
    6) i feel a lot of our farming practices are horrible and unnecessarily harmful. best for all that we make conscious choices about where our for comes from and how it is treated. plants and animals can be raised and slaughtered with gratitude and compassion.
    7) i know a vegan girl who always had stomach issues i tried to convince her to add fish to her diet but her desire to not harm animals was strong. she found no relief from any doctor. finally she consulted a chinese doctor who told her to add animal protein to her diet. she agreed to finally and her condition disappeared.
    8) maybe whats most ethical is to mind your own business, focus on yourself and be the best you can be and if you achieve something amazing others will be inspired by you.
    9) i believe the focus should be on promoting the ideas you love and believe in not in judging others. Vegans make a lot of wonderful points and everyone should consider their perspective, yet preaching their idea's as being " more ethical " will only serve to alienate those they wish to influence ( like born again christians tend to do ).

  43. […] the fact that it makes me feel horrible, so even if I felt there were an ethical way to do it (which is a huge subject for debate) I just won’t do […]

  44. grass fed says:

    The saddest thing about all this is that these people seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that in organic agriculture large quantities (millons of tons) of animal-based fertilizers are used. For example, feathermeal is the major fertilizer used in the production of organic rice. Bone meal and blood meal also are widely used. All come from abbatoirs, and good thing too, otherwise it is just good carbon going to waste.

    When we farm, we need to restore the soil with animal manure, etc. Because tillage is very damaging to the soil, soy is the least sustainable crop there is. If we want to save the world, we need to end dependency on grain! Eating Grass fed beef and local organic vegetables, especially if you grow them yourself is the best thing you can do for the world. Read Joel Salatan. Widely vilified by the Vegan Right, but just plain old common sense both dietarily and ecologically.

    Vegans are the best friends of Monsanto, Tyson, Cargil, etc.

  45. ilan ben-yehuda says:

    plants also have a kind of sentience.
    their consciousness is equally as mystifying to us as that of animals.
    trees communicate with one another to warn of invading termites. they can sense the invaders, synthesize a response, communicate this to their surrounding colleagues, receive the message, and react to it in a way that protects them from further forest damage.
    fungi have shown some level of awareness of their surroundings in test studies (documented in Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets).
    that trees do not walk around shopping for an answer to 'what does it mean to be a tree?' does not make them suddenly not sentient.

    "i don't eat sentient beings" is not an ethical argument. all beings have sentience of some kind (why on earth do we think that we or animals have the market on awareness?) and to claim that an egg or chicken feels pain, but a plant doesn't is absurd. A tree knows when it has lost a limb, and an apple is an egg of a tree.

    That is, of course, unless you clarify what you mean by sentience. It comes from the word sense – which plants and fungi certainly do – ask anyone who has spent a goodly amount of time with growing plants. Sentience (feeling) was, in the 18th century philosophies, used against the concept of "reason" (thought). Again, that palm tree and mushroom qualify as sentient. From Wikipedia: "For Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care." Again, all things (which includes mountains, clouds, fire, oceans, water, as well as trees, forests, wildabeasts, and popcorn) are sentient.

    The simple, spurious, esoteric, and empirical view of ethics in this blurb of an article is an insult to those who choose to not eat meats, those who choose to eat meats, and to those with no choice whatsoever. By Mr. Smith's logic, we may also assume that cats (as animals they must be sentient) are completely unethical, as they play with their food while eating it while it still hangs on to an inarguably painful existence.

    Also – we are biologically equipped to process meats. all strict herbivores have a much longer GI system so that they can break down plant matter and reap enough nutrients to survive. We on the other hand, have short colons, one stomach, canine and incisor teeth, and the need for certain minerals and protein chains which are difficult (but in recent times not impossible) to come by in plants and fungi alone.

    the real question should be – why aren't we all eating insects? no one really likes them. they're not cute. they have the biggest biomass on the planet, and they are choc a broc full of protein.

  46. […] did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their leather. He eschewed all animal products for any reason. He considered eating honey to be exploitative and avoided […]

  47. nowaytommy says:

    I have a problem with the absolutist term "Always causes pain" If someone keeps a few chickens in their yard (Which they never kill even when they stop laying and they live out their lives untroubled and in peace) If they take unfertilized eggs how is this causing pain?

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