Not being a Vegan is a Personal Choice — The Ethical Debate

Anjali Lal
6 min readMar 14, 2020


“You are free to make whatever choice you want, but you are not free from the consequences of the choice. “
— Ezra Taft Benson

When you start embracing positive things in life, other positive things stumble across your life path on their own. You may say Like attracts Like or that YouTube recommendations are pretty bang on based on our past history. Past few months, I have been trying to lead a better lifestyle and inevitably I stumbled upon Veganism. Don’t worry, this post is not a health blog in which I tell you how being vegan is better for your health, I am not a health writer as of yet. I just want to address the moral and ethical debate around veganism in my own way.

If you happen to live under a rock, then let me tell you what veganism is. Veganism is abstinence from animal products, and it lies on a spectrum. Some may just abstain from consuming animal food product while others do not use anything in their home that comes from animals such as leather, make-up tried on animals, etc. It is important to remember this definition - it helps with a lot of the discussion.

The first debate is probably the most controversial and that has been my own shield against the avalanche of vegan snow on all of us

Like everything in life what we do or don’t do is our personal choice.
Slight correction, it is our persona choice as long as we don’t harm others. And harm we do.

But but, humans are different from animals. Harming humans and animals is obviously not the same thing is what Me From The Past would tell myself.
Let’s trace History, the start of every injustice in the world has been the idea that someone is less equal to someone else. Be it racism where whites are more human than blacks be it patriarchy wherein men are the first citizens while women can exist(without vote and every other right that can free them from being a commodity), or caste where certain castes are upper while others are lower by the definition of things. The premise of all this injustice has been that certain beings are not the same as others thus, the whole argument of harming animals is fine but not humans, stands on the feet of this unjust argument and just like these arguments it does not stand. There is no logical reason for human’s pain to be higher than animal’s.

But but, animals just don’t have the same consciousness as humans? Isn't it? They are NOT the same as humans is what Me From The Past would argue.
For a very long time I did tell myself that even though animals do feel pain but, since they don’t have consciousness the way humans do, it doesn’t last long. It is like the pain you had as a baby, it existed but you have no memory of it now. I did not fully understand my own argument(to my credit even philosophers still debate what consciousness means) but today, I understand it what I meant to say was that animals don’t know their being — they don’t know they exist hence their pain holds little value. There are two major things to be said about this argument. First and foremost, the idea that only conscious beings deserve to treated equally is just an extension of the inequality debate I have talked of above. If an animal feels pain then, that should be ground enough to treat their pain as equal as that of a human. And secondly, animal consciousness is real. Consciousness in animals is generally the ability to perceive between oneself and the environment. Self-awareness is thus, one way to know more about it. Experiments have been conducted to test it wherein animals are made to stand in front of a mirror and they do recognize their own self there. As of today, multiple apes, birds, and mammals have passed the test. Do note that this test is merely based on vision and many animals might have a sense of self-based on their senses such as dogs rely on olfactory senses. To conclude, animals know they exist and when their existence ends they feel it. With this, the Me From Past would be a little pacified but if only winning a debate meant convincing someone then life would be easier.

But, what if I am okay with killing animals? I mean being an omnivore, my mind does not make me feel any guilt of eating animals and I don’t think I can change that and then, it just remains a personal choice.
Glad, you used the word personal choice Me From The past because that is the point the choice is not personal at all because it does not affect just you and thus, it is not personal. The numbers are known to all but specifically, around 18% of total emission comes from animal farming and by 2050, these emissions are projected to account for about half of the world’s available “carbon budget” — the limited amount of carbon dioxide and its equivalents that can be poured into the atmosphere if we are to hold global warming. Compared with a 100g portion of vegetables, a 50g chunk of red meat is associated with at least 20 times as much greenhouse-gas emitted and 100 times as much land use. Averaged across all the ecological indicators, red meat is about 35 times as damaging as a bowl of greens.

Also, studies have found that switching to a vegan diet is on an individual level is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact cutting your carbon footprint by 73% and reducing global farmland use by 75%. That is a lot of change. Continuing with a non-vegetarian diet harms the environment in irreversible ways and unless you wish to shrug individual responsibility there is no way to be a responsible citizen of the world and still continue to consume meat. That is like keeping your taps open while brushing– a show of privilege.

I don’t wish to be a responsible citizen you say why should you be is what you ask.
You feel you live for yourself and only once and hence you must be allowed to do what you want.
But then if this is true for you then it is for everyone else so anyone who likes taking long showers for hours should take so or those who like to eat only 20% of their food on the plates and throw rest of it away are right in doing so or those who continue to use fossil fuels while alternatives such as solar are available should be allowed to do so?
If no one wishes to be responsible then life can’t be sustained. Freedom in life comes with a responsibility to respect each other and the earth and its resources. Abuse of anything can’t be a sustainable strategy.

Clearly, being veganism is a moral imperative and just like every revolution in history, it is not going to be easy. So, I am going to tread on the other side now and talk of how to become a vegan — not the food but the path.

We all know someone whether a friend or an acquaintance or an online activist who truly believes that anyone who is a meat-eater despite knowing the consequences of it is a devil.
But I want to go back to basics. The whole idea of veganism stems from compassion and kindness to beings around us and the path to veganism must reflect it. Alienating people is not only the wrong way to go about it but also takes you further away from your goal.

Making people feel aware should be the goal and not feel guilty.
Also, most importantly, there is a big emphasis on going all in i.e. if and when you do become vegan you must give up everything that is animal-related starting from diet to your leather shoes to everything possible under the earth.
First, the idea is to not reach perfection. It is not possible to give up everything.
Second and more important, the goal never was perfectionism but sustainable living. According to the Economist, going vegan for 2/3rd of your meals could cut food-related emissions by 60% and you could still indulge in some meat. Of course, going full vegan cuts it by 80% and higher but the point is to live compassionately with respect to other beings and yet be kind to ourselves. Just like gymming, building habits will take time and you have to take one day at a time perhaps by starting with being a vegetarian and slowly replacing everything else and not beating yourself up for occasionally indulging in your favorite garlic prawns at a party. An ideal life is not one that follows all rules but one that lets you be sustainably happy.



Anjali Lal

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