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Vegetarian or Vegan?
Necessary remarks to an unnecessary debate

from EVU News Issues 3+4, 1995

by Dr. Helmut F. Kaplan


Vegetarians don't lead an easy life. Until a short time ago mocked by meat eaters, here again trouble, this time from the other side: Criticism from vegans, who not only refuse meat, but also dairy products, eggs and leather for moral reasons. To that, at once, two theses at the beginning, to illustrate the problems and the explosive effect of the question "Vegetarian or Vegan?":

Criticism of vegans towards vegetarians in terms of ethics and facts is completely right.

Criticism of vegans towards vegetarians in terms of policy and strategy is completely wrong.

As always, when it comes down to emotionally charged and objectively many-sided discussions, here, too, it is recommendable to look at the facts first in a dispassionate way:

Every commercial "use" of animals, and also those in dairy, egg and leather industry, stands for "exploitation" - since competition, economic thinking and aiming at profit automatically lead to the exploition of animals. In addition to this dairy, egg and leather industry are so firmly multi-sided and undetachably connected to meat-industry, that every consumption, or every usage of dairy products, eggs and leather stimulates meat-industry at the same time.

Three illustrating examples: calves of milk cows, find themselves immediately at the butcher's, supposing they are not female and will be conveyed to the painful milk production. The little ones of hen, if male and not gassed, drowned or thrown in a meat mincer, end up as chicken. The sale of leather raises the profit margin of meat producers.

On the other hand, it is completely out of place to lump vegetarians and meat eaters together, as it is not seldom practiced, so as to say: "Who eats cheese can likewise eat meat!" Obviously, carnivores cause more damage: because they do not only, like vegetarians, directly exploit animals as milk and cheese suppliers and thus indirectly support meat industry, but furthermore promote meat industry directly. The meat eater, who is usually also milk, egg and leather consumer, to cut a long story short, has caused many more dead animals than a vegetarian.

Another fact to take into account when discussing the question "Vegetarian or Vegan?" is this one: becoming a vegan is not a thing to do in one step. On the contrary it is common to be vegetarian before turning from meateater to vegan. Just because of this, it would be foolish to damn vegetarianism, actually the first stage to veganism.

In addition to this: for vegetarianism, one may and should advertise frankly and in public. Here, "persuasive work" makes sense and is necessary, because ethical and practical reasons for abstention from meat can not only rationally be made plausible, but also in view of life-style; to replace sausage rolls with cheese rolls and meat sauce with herb sauce - this is easy to be imagined. But to abstain from "everything" in one step, asks too much imagination (not the least because of insufficient information) and provokes fear, anger - and above all - escape: "Well, then I'll just do like I've done up to now, I'll eat anything I desire!"

To vegetarianism you can guide people, to veganism they have to get themselves. The step to veganism takes place silently, in private. Nevertheless, in general only under one condition: if people are motivated to dispense with the exploitation of animals due to ethical reasons. The sensitiveness for this you get nearly always from an ethically-founded vegetarianism. That's why it is so important to guide people to the ethical vegetarianism. Everything else that further happens, if it does, happens by itself.

Condemnation of vegetarians does not make vegans, but prevents vegetarians. Condemnation of vegetarianism is of no use, but immense damage. Important is, as said before, a moral motivation.

That's why those who have the honest intention to abstain from meat, those, who have already arrived at the vegan end, and all the "in-betweens" have to pull together - instead of marking out each other and thus harm the animals.

If the conflict between vegetarians and vegans were not a reality, it would probably be invented by advertising men of the meat industry - and would be a brilliant idea. There's no bigger pleasure for carnivores than non-carnivores arguing among themselves!

Dr. Helmut F. Kaplan, born 1952, is philosopher, author and teaching at the University of Salzburg. He published several books: "Philosophie des Vegetarismus" (1988), "Warum Vegetarier?" (1989), "Sind wir Kannibalen?" (1991), "Leichenschmaus" (1993) and "Warum ich Vegetarier bin" (1995).

Translated into English by C. Reiter