The Broad Relevance of Vegan Ethics in Everyday Life
A new book shows that many ethical decisions center on how animals are treated.
Posted September 14, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- A new book shows that veganism isn't a radical view, but rather a practical one that informs the fair and just choices people constantly make.
- The differences between humans and animals are not morally relevant when it comes to basic fairness.
- Vegan ethics are not only about food, but rather a holistic approach to everyday life.
I recently read an outstanding and thought-provoking book by Emilia Leese and Eva Charalambides titled Think Like a Vegan: What Everyone Can Learn From Vegan Ethics.1,2 Among the many reasons I enjoyed and learned a lot from this wide-ranging book is that it clearly shows that veganism is not a "radical" view, but rather informs the choices we make in numerous situations including politics, law, meal plans (who we choose to eat), friendships, and love in which fairness and nonhuman animals (animals) are involved. I'm thrilled that Emilia and Eva could take the time to answer a few questions about their landmark book.3 Here's what they had to say.
Why did you write Think Like a Vegan?
We wrote our book simply to show that veganism is an extension of basic fairness: Accord the same moral treatment unless there’s a morally relevant difference. Animals aren’t objects to be owned, like a handbag or a phone. All animals have needs, wants, fears, abilities, intelligence, skills, social habits, and emotions, which they demonstrate in ways like, and different from, people. One animal may be cute and intelligent and another less so. The differences among them, and between us and them, are not morally relevant when it comes to basic fairness. We all share a desire to live, expressed in our own ways, and that commonality should be the basis for our coexistence.
How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
We’ve both always been advocates in some way. I’ve been a corporate lawyer for over two decades, so identifying issues and examining problems are second nature. Also, understanding how global finance works is handy when looking at the economics of agribusiness. Eva studied radio and television and then went on to help produce multi-city vegan events. We’ve often been the ones others turn to when they have questions about veganism and we’ve written for a variety of online publications about veganism. We’re both involved in forest projects—rewilding for Emilia and low-impact home building in a forest for Eva. So, creating a practical tool to understand veganism and to encourage and facilitate positive and productive conversation was really an inevitable step.
Who is your intended audience?
It’s for anyone, vegan or not, who wants an easily accessible resource to understand vegan ethics and delve deeper into how those echo through a variety of contemporary topics.
What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?
Beginning with what it means to be vegan and the ethical concepts at its heart—basic fairness—we then get a bit more personal and talk about how veganism has affected us. We also think about whether there’s room in our lives to speak clearly about veganism. Talking about veganism might not always be easy but it’s always worthwhile.
Veganism might not always be easy and it’s always worthwhile.
Veganism is inextricable from social justice. We should be discussing this more. Although our primary focus is the injustice of animal use, we recognise that society’s systemic injustices are related and interconnected. Seeking fairness for animals means we must also reject and redress the injustices perpetrated on humans. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals or ideas and we show how veganism is a response to, and a rejection of, such systemic injustices.
One of the more eye-opening chapters to research and write was the one on money and politics. In it we take a deep dive into the economics of animal use, presenting the persistent growth of agribusiness over the decades. We then consider what the massive new market for vegan foods might mean for veganism, humans, and the animals. We also look at a few examples of political and legal developments concerning animal laws, where some view these developments as wins for the animals, while we question how much of a victory these really are when we look at their real-world implications. It’s important to be aware of facts even if they may be overwhelming because they can all be springboards for further conversations about the unfairness of our contemporary reality and what we can do about it.
In our chapter on health, we deconstruct some of the myths around veganism being a cure-all or an expensive food trend. Of course, we also provide a compilation of excerpts from well-respected medical and nutritional institutions about a vegan diet and health. We also consider how zoonotic diseases have been the high cost of animal farming throughout human history. There should be little remaining doubt that eating plants is healthy and this chapter is a handy reminder.
Concerning the environment, we provide an overview of some of the most serious studies linking animal agriculture to climate change. We also look at arguments about land use and we question the disconnect between environmental concerns and being non-vegan.
Throughout the book we provide thought experiments, culminating in a final collection of scenarios. Each scenario puts into practice what we’ve discussed to see how we might respond to what are real-life anecdotes. Some may not have clear-cut answers and perhaps all will engender debate.
How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?
We write without judgment or resorting to graphic imagery, simultaneously keeping the focus on fairness to animals. We show how the larger themes of social justice are inherent in a discussion of animal use. And our scenarios, or “workbook” section is practical and useful to new or long-term vegans and non-vegans.
Are you hopeful that as people learn more about veganism and vegan ethics that go way beyond meal plans and who we eat things will change for the better for our magnificent planet and other animals?
Yes, veganism is good for everyone—people and other animals.
Bekoff, Marc. Even Vegans Die: Leaving a Legacy of Caring and Compassion.
Who we eat is a moral question: Vegans have nothing to defend.
2) Part of the book's description reads: In this book, we invite you to set aside any preconceived notions about veganism. Through a personal, imperfect and often irreverent lens, we explore a variety of contemporary topics related to animal use and veganism in the context of everyday modern life. From the basics of vegan logic, to politics, economics, love and other aspects of being human, every chapter invites you into a thought-provoking conversation about your daily ethical decisions relating to animal use, which also apply to all aspects of life.
3) For further discussion about relevant topics see Jen Kim's "Want to Cut Down on Eating Meat? Just Look at It", Lisa Kemmerer's Eating Earth: Environmental Ethics and Dietary Choice, and my review of Rethinking Food and Agriculture: New Ways Forward in "The Effects of Food on Ecosystems and Biodiversity." (Science shows our meal plans are destroying our magnificent planet.)