Ad Hominem

I am frequently on the receiving end of ad hominem arguments and attacks.

When I talk about trying decrease the harm I cause through veganism, people immediately become defensive. I understand why people are uncomfortable with the corollary of my argument, that they are causing harm by not being a vegan.

The most banal response is “what are your shoes made of?”. Since becoming a vegan, never have I had so many people express an interest in my footwear.

I wear shoes that do not contain animal products, but even if they were made of baby seals, this would not make my argument any less valid, it would only make me more hypocritical.

Sometimes people like to point out all the other ways I am causing harm in my life; that I work in a shop that sells Nike products, or that I eat soya, which is bad for the environment. I admit that I am uncomfortable with selling sports wear made in sweatshops, it is not consistent with how I would like to live my life, and I am leaving that job as a result. But this doesn’t make my points about veganism untrue. Soya may be bad for the environment, but as between 80% and 98% of it is fed to livestock, I won’t lose sleep over that one. The crux of the argument seems to be that I am not causing zero harm, so therefore I may as well torture and kill animals.

A recent ill-researched, inflammatory article about quinoa production blamed vegans for the plight of poor farmers in Bolivia. Even if the article were accurate, it is not only vegans who eat quinoa; we make up 0.3% of the UK population, I don’t think we are responsible for any food crises.

Yes there are issues with how crops are grown, but we should deal with those issues by improving standards of crop production, not defaulting to eating animals. The scientific consensus is that you can feed more people on less land using fewer resources on a vegan diet.

On other occasions I am told that by buying vegan produce from shops that also sell animal products, I am supporting the business and therefore responsible for animal suffering. It’s true, Waitrose doesn’t compartmentalise the profits it makes, and when I buy peppers, the money could go towards cheese production, but don’t blame me for companies supplying products that you demand. Of course I would like to buy all my produce from vegan businesses and stock-free farms, but there are not enough vegans for such businesses to be commonplace. You can remedy that.

My sincerity is questioned at every turn, and when there is the slightest suggestion that I am inadvertently causing more harm than I thought, the gloaters point their fingers and cackle, “look at her, she tried to be kind and she failed”. But at least I tried, and I’ll continue to try. I will try to be exemplary.

A vegan friend once told me she was tired of the ad hominem attacks on her that omnivores used as an excuse not to give up animal products. She said “what are they going to do, follow me around until I do something wrong and say, you messed up, I can eat this burger now?”

Perhaps my failures salve their consciences.

I try to be kind and compassionate, and sometimes I fail. I just wish that people would exhibit as much moral sensitivity with respect to their own behaviour as they do to mine.


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