Re; ‘Freeganism Is Evil’ – A Pro-Freegan Story Analogy

Here’s some incredibly niche philosophy arguments encase you ever feel the need to defend rescuing animal products that have gone past the best before date like bread with whey in it from shops for free and eating it yourself or sharing them out:

Firstly it can be great animal rights advocacy in rare circumstances like so; by setting up a Food not Bombs stall in the town centre and putting up a vegan sign in front of a big pan of vegan stew and a freegan sign infront of rescued bread. The vegan sign can provoke lots of interesting conversations about the ethics of breeding and killing animals. While the freegan sign can get people talking about a further layer of if it is true that harming animals for their meat, milk and eggs was necessary to feed the population, how come so very much meat, milk and eggs ended up rotting in supermarket skips instead? Which can provoke further conversation about the evils of producing such an energy intensive product like meat to just become food waste, while people are starving around the world.

Secondly non-human animals we farm don’t experience a worse quality of life worrying about whether they’re going to be eaten by other humans after they’re dead, humans do as a species norm.

Thirdly there exists healthy human cultures in which humans being eaten by non-human animals after they’re dead is seen as a positive, for example in Tibet, having your energy transferred into that of a bird is seen as a beautiful thing or green burials where your body can more easily become nutrients for both animals and plants. So then, healthy human cultures in which non-human animals are eaten by humans is also likely possible.

And finally, even if it’ll be a better world when everyone is vegan and we’re all disgusted by animals products (in the same way as if no one ever felt pressured by sexist beauty standards to shave their legs again), that doesn’t mean that it’s not morally permissible to consume some of those animal products at the moment i.e. it’s not comparable to cannibalism where you’re causing worse quality of life in other humans by normalizing it or normalizing the standard that women should have their genitals mutilated as neither the choice to shave your legs or eat thrown out animal products necessitates violating anyone’s rights or causing harm to anyone.

Intro

Yo, so this is a response to Vegan Footsoldiers video entitled ‘Freeganism is Evil’. My understanding – extrapolating from his story analogy – was that he believes you can’t both be a great human rights advocate and not care about humans interests as a species norm during a humans life time, to then go against them by eating them. And that the same applies to animal rights advocates and animals. But basically I disagree, because animals aren’t worrying about events past their death, so they aren’t suffering a worse quality of life imagining maybe they’ll be eaten by humans after they’re dead.

He also wrote in the comments he uses Immanuel Kant’s indirect principle to justify calling freeganism immoral, so I’ll flash up on the screen my formal refutations of that now for anyone curious you can pause the video or come back to them later, 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. [At the bottom of this post]

But the point of this video is I’d just like to tell a story analogy back, because I think narratives as intuition pumps are useful.

So here we go…

The Story

Once upon a time the good people of London and of all Britain were horrified to hear that a girls genital mutilation ring was discovered in the capital city. A deeply abhorrent and unethical tradition from the land of their origin, the families and surgeons had forced children to have their clitoris’s chopped off. They tried to keep their terrible work secret and warned the children that they must never tell, and most of the children never did, and yet the story came out. One night the ten o’clock news reported that multiple children had been subjected to this horrible abuse.

The people of Great Britain were horrified, they shuddered at what was one of the most ethically repugnant operations continuing to exist in Great Britain. How could it be happening? Why were the children not saved? Was it still happening even now?

The people cried for justice, something must be done! Questions were asked in Parliament, what were the police doing to stop these heinous acts? Stirred into action by the loud clamour of the people, the police searched for information on where the genital mutilation was taking place.

Then suddenly, the surgeons, the elders and parents responsible who had been able to cause unquantifiable tragedy during its short existence thankfully all were arrested and charged by the police. Newspapers across the land carried pictures of their heads bowed in shame, names were named, details given. In the courtroom they all admitted guilt and were each sentenced to prison. Justice! Justice! The repulsed crowd of onlookers shouted as the perpetrators were escorted in handcuffs out of the courthouse and stuffed into the police vehicle.

Two human rights activists stood together gravely, feeling a sense of deep tragedy for the victims while shedding bittersweet tears of resolution knowing that the foul people responsible would be put behind bars where they belonged, where they would have the time to contemplate such heinous crimes.

Jane and Billy were their names. It was these two human rights activists who played the most important part in the story for they had taken it upon themselves to spy on the genital mutilation ring and alert the police.

They already knew what had been going on well before the media picked up on the story and having had little faith in the police to do something about it, thankfully Jane and Billy had become vigilantes to track down the perpetrators themselves Without the help of these activists it would have likely taken much longer with much more bloodshed until the perpetrators were finally brought to justice.

They had frantically run to the police station after having received word of the mutilation that would take place that day to alert the police and point out who the doctor and parents responsible were. The police had broken down the door to the secret location in the middle of the night. The parents had already years ago mutilated their two eldest children’s genitals and were in the process of mutilating the youngest two when the police stormed the building.

One of the children fortunately was unharmed but one wasn’t so lucky, the girl was experiencing massive blood loss and had gone into shock. She was rushed to the hospital accompanied by the human rights activists as they had been at the scene when the police made the raid.

At the hospital whilst the medical staff raced to save the injured child’s life the human rights activist waited distraught in the corridor just outside the operating theatre, Billy paced up and down. Furious at himself not having been able to bring the police to the location sooner. Jane sat with her head in her hands, if only they had been able to arrive just five minutes earlier, maybe even just one minute earlier. Never before had 60 seconds meant so much to either of them.

It wasn’t long before the surgeon walked glumly out of the operating theatre door and into the corridor where the activists waited now frozen, now unable to take a breath in anticipation of the news. Looking up from her chair Jane burst into a whale of tears even before those six heart-breaking words could escape from the lips of the medic, ‘we did all that we could’.

Billy threw his arms around Jane in an attempt to comfort her as she cried engulfed in sadness and regret for not having been able to have saved the girl from this terrible fate. They gathered their things, knowing there was a long night still ahead, the police would want statements. It would be many hours before they would be back home.

A week later, Billy and Jane, still reeling from their experience, were walking round the supermarket together when Jane got a text from their daughter Sam asking for a safety razor. She turned round to Billy to read out the text and they both looked at each other concerned.

Sam was 14 years old and had been a young advocate at school for girls not needing to shave their legs if they didn’t want to. For Sam, the point had always been that women should not alter their bodies to conform to cultural standards or gratify the male gaze. She’d often been teased at school but had always laughed it off. Had someone said something really mean to her for her to suddenly want to shave her legs now?

They discussed the issue some more, but decided they better get the razor as it was her decision and if she changed her mind again, she could always let the hair grow back. They could hardly fight so hard for girls to exercise their rights over a cultural norm like FGM and yet not trust their daughter’s judgement in the matter of shaving her legs.

When they got home they talked to their daughter, trying to find out if she was feeling pressured into shaving her legs, and worried that she was being influenced by advertisements or all the bullying over the years. They were relieved to find out that now it was summer she just wanted to try out shaving her legs to see what it felt like. Billy and Jane were glad to have talked it through and furnished her with her very own safety razor.

The next day was a Saturday and Billy and Jane were busy setting up a ‘Food Not Bombs’ stall in the town centre. They had worked hard all morning on a massive pan of vegan stew that could feed 500 people. Fragrant with cardamom and coconut oil, thickened with red lentils, it contained squashes and pulses, potatoes and vedge. Billy had rescued the crusty bread to dip in the stew from an overstuffed supermarket skip the night before. Jane noticed that it contained the tiniest amount of whey from cows milk, but because they were giving it away, she knew the corporations wouldn’t profit from their work.

They put up two signs on the table, ‘Vegan Stew’ and ‘Freegan Bread’. As well as tons of pamphlets and leaflets with helpful advice on living a low impact vegan or freegan lifestyle and the various campaign struggles in the city and internationally.

The vegan sign provoked lots of interesting conversations about the ethics of breeding and killing animals. While the freegan sign got people talking about a further layer. If it was true that harming animals for their meat, milk and eggs was necessary to feed the population, how come so very much meat, milk and eggs ended up rotting in supermarket skips instead? This provoked another conversation about the evils of producing such an energy intensive product like meat to just become food waste, while people are starving around the world.

So, when it came time to fold down the table and go home, a great day of advocating for human and animal legal rights, plus environmental protection had been had.

Driving home they got to talking about how years ago, Jane had used rescued cheese to help her stay strong in her decision to go vegan. Jane had got the idea from a documentary she’d watched which talked about a therapist who devised a technique in group therapy to help people quit cigarettes. On day one, they emptied bags full of cigarettes into the centre of the group circle, to show them the abundance, so that that stress about scarcity was dulled.

She had worried that she might have been weak willed enough to fail without the rescued cheese and convince herself that going vegan wasn’t for her. But she knew that probably that happens to a lot of people. If more people had access to animal products from a source that is doing no further harm to animals, it might help them in their transition to not buying it anymore. And that could only be a good thing.

Freeganism had had that same effect of re-aligning the value of junk food for her, getting rid of low-level addictions. When you see the mountains of packaged baked goods, croissants and doughnuts produced that day in the shop, stacked in a mountain all in front of you, you know you can get that sugar crash whenever you like, you stop seeing it as such a hot option.

Billy then remarked how interesting it is that buying cigarettes for that therapeutic technique is doing a little harm in the short term, buying the fags profits the tobacco industry. Yet the therapeutic technique serves a greater good long term.

And yet with freeganism not only is no harm being committed, it’s carbon negative because you’re eating food that would otherwise have been thrown out, so less food needs to be produced.

Then Jane said; I used to think it would be as simple as saying, “imagine if you grew up knowing that you were going to be killed for your meat!” Because of how compassion for our fellow human beings works, we couldn’t imagine causing them that fear. The harm would have this cumulative effect on the culture, our community bonds, and who we know we are. Like abhorring female genital mutilation.

But it’s not the same thing. Animals aren’t burdened by those questions, don’t know they’ll be killed for their meat, don’t live in fear of that end. But by buying animal products, we perpetuate the industry that profits from their killing, and contributes to the devastation of the environment.

Billy said, that’s the point isn’t it? In Tibet, having your energy transferred into that of a bird is seen as a beautiful thing, so funerals at the top of mountains and your remains left as a tasty snack for the vultures is not so unusual. He said; it would be a great thing to move away from graveyards with cold gravestones in rows. Imagine if more people chose to be buried at a memorial woodland site. A tree planted in remembrance of you, your remains feeding the tree.

Finally Jane said; Right, so culture can be good or bad, we have to look towards something more concrete like what brings us happy flourishing and go from there. Like, it probably will be a better world when everyone is vegan and we’re all disgusted by thrown out animal products. And it would be great if no one ever felt pressured by sexist beauty standards to shave their legs again!

But at the end of the day, it’s not like cannibalism, where you’d be causing worse quality of life in other humans by foretelling a gruesome ending. And the same goes for normalizing the standard that women should have their genitals mutilated. Both ideas are barbaric, and rightly rejected.

Neither the choice to shave your legs or eat thrown out animal products causes harm to anyone, so I don’t really see why people ought not do it. Even though I want that culture without any more domestic animals or carnism, I still just see a win in the political act of rescuing animals and wasted food, building relationships with people that can benefit from those calories or companionship, where no positive change would happen otherwise.

“Here, here” they both said while enjoying a little laugh. And laugh they did.

Formal Arguments

First here’s my formulation of Footsoldiers argument which is IMO unsound:

A1) Kant’s Indirect Principle Against Advocating For Freeganism

P1) If I accept Kant’s axioms then I accept the indirect principle established in the groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

P2) If I accept the indirect principle established in the groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals then I would agree that treating non human animals without dignity would harm myself

P3) If I accept the indirect principle established in the groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals then I have a moral duty to not harm myself

P4) If I agree that treating non human animals without dignity would harm myself and that I have a moral duty to not harm myself then I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity

P5) If I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity then I should reject consuming animal products (as it is the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

P6) If I should reject consuming animal products then I shouldn’t promote freeganism (as to do so would constitute promoting self-harm)

P7) I accept Kant’s axioms

C) Therefore I should be against freeganism

Through consquentialism it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the ethical issue is breeding and killing of animals, cutting short their interests to experience wellbeing. And that if non-human animals aren’t experiencing worse quality of life worrying about whether they’re going to be eaten by other humans after they’re dead, then there’s no ethical issue to freeganism.

Through deontology however, you might think you should reject consuming all animal products on principle as you feel it is the antithesis of treating animals with dignity.

So the arguments I’d suggest you use on such a person is firstly you could use a simple comparison to argue the way the person is applying dignity is a category error, like I do in the story analogy by saying:

It probably will be a better world when everyone is vegan and we’re all disgusted by thrown out animal products. And it would be great if no one ever felt pressured by sexist beauty standards to shave their legs again!

But at the end of the day, it’s not like cannibalism, where you’d be causing worse quality of life in other humans by foretelling a gruesome ending. And the same goes for normalizing the standard that women should have their genitals mutilated. Both ideas are barbaric, and rightly rejected.

Neither the choice to shave your legs or eat thrown out animal products necessitates violating anyone’s rights, so I don’t really see why people ought not do it.

And in formal logic terms:

A2) Rejecting the utility of culturally specific disgust reactions

P1) Non-human animals don’t experience a worse quality of life worrying about whether they’re going to be eaten by other humans after they’re dead, humans do.

P2) IF there exists healthy human cultures in which humans being eaten by non-human animals after they’re dead is seen as a positive (for example in Tibet, having your energy transferred into that of a bird is seen as a beautiful thing or green burials where your body can more easily become nutrients for both animals and plants) THEN healthy human cultures in which non-human animals are eaten by humans is also likely possible

P3) There exists healthy human cultures in which humans being eaten by non-human animals after they’re dead is seen as a positive

P4) If non-human animals don’t experience a worse quality of life worrying about whether they’re going to be eaten by other humans after they’re dead, humans do AND healthy human cultures in which non-human animals are eaten by humans is likely possible THEN even if it’ll be a better world when everyone is vegan and we’re all disgusted by animals products (in the same way as if no one ever felt pressured by sexist beauty standards to shave their legs again), that doesn’t mean that it’s not morally permissible to consume some of those animal products at the moment (i.e. it’s not comparable to cannibalism where you’re causing worse quality of life in other humans by normalizing it or normalizing the standard that women should have their genitals mutilated as neither the choice to shave your legs or eat thrown out animal products necessitates violating anyone’s rights)

P5) IF (even if it’ll be a better world when everyone is vegan and we’re all disgusted by animals products, that doesn’t mean that it’s not morally permissible to consume some of those animal products at the moment) THEN (IF I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity THEN I should not reject consuming animal products [as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity])

P6) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity

C) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity, and I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

Or secondly without even challenging their gut disgust reaction to thinking it would be treating the animal without dignity you could try something close to a consequentialist argument:

A3) Refutation of P5 of A1 using Tom Regan’s worse-off principle

P1) If I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity then I should promote freeganism on rare occasions where it’s an effective advocacy tool at encouraging people to stop buying animal products because the principle that I should avoid very minor self-harm in the disgust it brings to mind when advocating shouldn’t override the principle that it’s immoral to pass up easy opportunities to encourage people to stop buying animal products (which leads to the breeding and killing of animals) because I wouldn’t want to live in a world in which everyone passed up on those opportunities, so I should act according to that maxim by which I can at the same time will that it should become a universal law

P2) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity

P3) P1 entails if I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity then I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

C) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity, and I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

Or thirdly you could you could try challenging the necessity of the disgust reaction:

A4) Kant’s Indirect Principle For Advocating For Freeganism

P1) If I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity THEN I should promote freeganism on rare occasions where it’s an effective advocacy tool at encouraging people to stop buying animal products because although killing an animal isn’t treating the animal with dignity, eating an animal to prevent waste is, because you’re eating food that would otherwise have been thrown out, so less food needs to be produced, causing less harm to the environment AND if it had gone to the landfill it might have gotten eaten by maggots which can survive on any food like rotting vegetables, but it would be much less dignity than you could show the animal by putting that energy to use in achieving happy flourishing yourself and setting an example for others.

P2) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity

P3) P1 entails if I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity then I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

C) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity, and I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

Or finally you could try nudging them away from deontology with a kind of virtue ethics argument a la W.D. Ross:

A5) Refutation of P5 of A1 using W.D.Ross’s principle of prima facie duties

P1) If I accept W.D.Ross’s theory of prima facie duties THEN I accept any felt obligation is a prima facie duty, though it can be overridden depending on the circumstances by another one, that doesn’t mean that the original obligation disappears, it simply means that it’s defeasible and it usually continues to operate in the background.

P2) If I accept any felt obligation is a prima facie duty, though it can be overridden depending on the circumstances by another one, that doesn’t mean that the original obligation disappears, it simply means that it’s defeasible and it usually continues to operate in the background THEN I accept when I have a felt obligation that talking positively about the consumption of animal products is disgusting and would be an act of self-harm to myself AND I learn about people using freeganism as an effective advocacy tool in turning people vegan who wouldn’t otherwise have considered it, such that I now feel a stronger felt obligation to do the same that the duty to do the latter is overriding, but I’m going to work extra hard to advocate for veganism such that I can know I’ve contributed to a future world in which no one needs to talk about the positive effects of consuming animal products, because the initial obligation still operates in the background even though it was overridden.

P3) I accept W.D.Ross’s theory of prima facie duties

P4) P2 entails if I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity then I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

P5) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity

C) I should live in a way which treats animals with dignity, and I should not reject consuming animal products (as it is not the antithesis of treating animals with dignity)

References

The video I’m responding to is called ‘Freeganism is Evil’ by Footsoldier:

The idea for the analogy came from this great video called Thoughts On Freeganism by Catherine Klein:

“I understand that shaving my legs and my armpits and everything is a sexist double standard, why are women expected to be completely hairless in order to be seen as attractive? It doesn’t make sense and I think it’s totally badass when women break this norm and go all natural. It does make me question my choices like I probably should be like fuck the patriarchy and stop shaving, just like I probably should be horrified by my leather boots and throw them out because one could argue that shaving your legs is an example of internalized oppression, but at the end of the day, neither of my choices here are causing direct harm to anyone, so I don’t really see changing my ways as a moral necessity.”

Freeganism article on the Philosophical Vegan Wiki:

Freeganism video catalogue

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