People come up with the strangest questions. It’s as if they run out of perfectly logical thoughts so, to keep the anti-compassion machine burning full steam, they dream up ridiculous scenes to fuel it. I wonder if they’re thinking, as I used to think, “Surely there’s some scenario in which eating living beings makes sense, isn’t there?” It seems any reason is acceptable even if it goes against every fiber of their core beliefs and requires tremendous amounts of twisted logic or outlandish scenarios, provided that reason permits continued consumption of animals.
Some of the questions I’ve been asked by earnest, well-meaning, and apparently very confused friends:
- What if the whole world went vegan tomorrow? What would we do with all the animals?
- What would you do if you were dying of hunger in the desert, surrounded by deer and nothing else edible for dozens of miles?
- What if you went your whole life and never ate meat, then on your death bed you ate a hamburger and wished you had eaten one before? Won’t you feel foolish for missing out on all of those years of pleasure?
- Hey, can I have some of that lasagna? It smells great. Oh, god, oh no! It doesn’t have any curdled teat milk in it. Never mind. Your plant-based lasagna is weird. It’s extreme. It’s crazy lasagna, that stuff. Get it away from me.
Except for that last example, such questions seem innocent enough, but they’re not. Let us expand their assumptions and meanings a little bit. I’ll pick on the “whole world goes vegan tomorrow” scenario.
Instant Vegan Evolution Globally (the iVeg)
After iVeg, this hog confinement is history.
The question is, “What would we do with all the animals if everyone went vegan tomorrow?” Your curious friend wants, rephrased a little, your Official Vegan Ambassador seal on a solution. But not just any solution. A foolproof, easily-summarized response to a radical, global shift of consciousness, agriculture, eating habits, ethics, restaurant menus, animal welfare, law and circuses. Oh, and don’t take too long responding, because he has a conference call in a few minutes with Dave from accounting.
We’ll call the global awakening he has dreamed up the Instant Vegan Evolution Globally, or the iVeg for short.
Does your friend think you are qualified to answer such a question? Do you often provide bulletproof strategies for radical, world-changing shifts that occur overnight? Of course not. At least, not without a few beers in you, right?
Your friend doesn’t want a sincere answer. He might think he does, but he doesn’t. How can you be expected to give a sincere answer to an insincere or misleading question? Can the iVeg ever occur? Overnight?
What does he want, then? I can’t speak for all of your friends, or all the people who ask questions like this, but I can analyze this particular example.
It’s not a question at all. Rather, it’s a collection of statements and assumptions bundled and tucked into what your friend probably considers an innocent thought experiment. The real statements behind the question are:
- Having fifty six billion animals released into the wild would probably result in a lot of starving and suffering (of animals). That is bad and wrong.
- Killing all ofthe animals instead of releasing them is not something a vegan could advocate because vegans state killing is bad and wrong.
- Therefore, since the imaginary scenario could not “work,” all tenets of a compassionate, plant-based diet must be invalid and rejected.
- (Robot voice) Drop your veganism. You have 15 seconds to comply.
What could a vegan do to answer this question? For starters, don’t answer it. It’s outlandish. Do you really think the entire world is going to drop meat and dairy from their diets over night? That restaurants are going to replace their seven pages of pig, chicken, lamb, goose, bison, turkey, fish and cow selections with pepper, potato, bean, cauliflower, broccoli, yam, carrot, rice and greens? Hey, and while they’re at it, all the restaurants will cut back on portion sizes to help prevent gorging and obesity, right?
Some might assert that far-fetched questions like this have purposes besides trolling and taunting. Besides descending into an exercise in creative reduction-to-absurdity, I cannot imagine any other use. One might as well ask, “What if the whole world except three men went vegan tomorrow? How could those men eat all of the remaining delicious, cancer-causing hot dogs?” This question is just as pointless.
The Accidental Troll
Here comes the compassion!
Here’s the easy part: Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this particular fantastic what-if scenario?” You’ll realize there is none. It’s just trolling. We are not talking about a journalist asking you questions as you deliver your groundbreaking twenty-year research results. We are talking about everyday conversation.
Here’s the hard part: breaking it to your friends that they’re trolling you when they probably didn’t even mean to.
If you’re like me, you’re thrilled that a meat-eater even wants to discuss a reduction in meat, much less veganism. A lady at work once borrowed a vegetarian cookbook, and I was so happy I nearly multi-grain pooped myself on the spot. However, when someone invents a topic like this, they might as well be asking, “Well, what if… I don’t know… what if real, live jackals took over the government? And we had to kill their natural enemies, the noble and gracious lions, in order to get jobs? And to secure land? What would you do then, smarty vegan pants? I saw The Lion King. I know what goes on.”
Dreaming up scenarios like the iVeg sounds a lot like the jackal scenario in my head. It’s ridiculous. It follows the same kind of talk as, “You want to drive a car? What if a piece of the moon breaks off at just the right angle, flies down and crushes your car? Don’t look at me like that, young man, it’s possible the moon could do that. Therefore, driving is unsustainable. Stay home and eat your meat. Oh, you want to write a magazine article about sport cars, instead? What if a driver reads it instead of paying attention to the road, then wrecks and dies? Don’t you even care about your fellow man? Here you are, passive-aggressively trying to kill motorists with your articles. For shame!”
The only sustainable slaughterhouse is an abandoned slaughterhouse.
The Real Answer
I said I would not provide a sincere answer to the iVeg, but I will anyway. Here is an easy solution to the questions, “What if the whole world went vegan tomorrow? What would we do with all the animals?”
Since we’re dealing in imaginary, far-flung scenarios, we can simply feed the animals forever on the free Infinity Food space aliens drop off for us. Problem solved. Oh, and we’ll use shrink rays so those pesky animals don’t take up too much space any more.
What? Your friend won’t like that answer? Okay, okay. You want to keep your friends, not alienate them. Fine, I’ll give you a real answer. But before I do, please dwell for a moment on the difference between a meat-eater being able to ask asinine questions and expect to be treated like a deep thinker, worthy of serious responses, while the “crazy” vegan would be judged for answering in a similar fashion.
The serious answer is that we would kill all, or at least most, of the pitiful last generation of food animals. Gasp! Did some vegan guy just recommend we slaughter the last vestiges of our captive, thinking, feeling animals? Isn’t that hypocritical?
Yes, I did and no, it’s not. In the iVeg scenario, no one has room, food or water for the animals. They are, I gather, either killed this week or released into parking lots and grade school playgrounds across the world. In imaginary world that is the iVeg scenario, either all of the animals are “dealt with” or the iVeg cannot happen.
Let’s get some numbers for this scenario, and why I recommend killing all of those in the last generation of victims. Fifty six billion animals are killed each year for their flesh, secretions and other pieces. Some lazy math, for the sake of argument, spreads out the average lifespans, slaughter ages, and such. The number we arrive at is one billion animals enslaved and ready for execution on the day of iVeg. If this number doesn’t work for you, pick another. The exact amount is irrelevant, imaginary, and subject to change based on which bearded expert you query this week.
Here we are, at the dilemma your friend wanted. Either we release one billion animals into the wild or (gasp!) kill them. These animals were going to be (gasp!) killed anyway, so what’s wrong with them being killed now? Seriously. This is one final, the final, swing of the glutton’s ax.
If the iVeg never occurred, those animals would be killed anyway. But it wouldn’t end there, would it? No. There is a cycle of rape (how do you think cows are bred? Through courtship?), abortion, veal crates, genetic manipulation, accelerated growth into salable weight, and eventual slaughter.
This cycle is what must end. When it ends, and whether it ends in an iVeg moment or over the course of fifty years is less important. We must acknowledge: the cycle must end. One way or another, we cannot sustain animal agriculture and continue to grow the human race.
If you spread the iVeg out so it is not an instantaneous transition, but rather one that takes a couple of hundred years, then you have a couple of hundred years of tapering death counts. That’s a long, long tail. It adds up to many more than one billion animals.
From a utilitarian approach, the iVeg which culminates in slaughter by the billions is a heck of a lot better than the slow weaning from blood and milk. A gradual transition to global veganism forces exponentially more animals to die in hopeless, lightless captivity where the only sounds are those of their fellow inmates bleating, moaning, and being skinned alive.
The gradual transition is what is occurring right now. People are waking up from the meat-is-necessary-and-or-ethical illusion. Sure, as countries and regions gain affluence they also increase their meat consumption. But that is the way things are in human history at this time. All societies have some threshold at which point they will no longer increase their meat consumption. Once that threshold is met, demand for meat drops off and will eventually taper down to the civilized, enlightened level of zero.
My answer is probably not the one a meat-eater would expect from a vegan. The image of vegans is that we all want to dance in daisy fields and hold hands and that none of us have any grasp on “reality.” (Somehow the people who cannot connect drinking milk to the veal industry have a tighter grip on “reality” than vegans do.) It may be difficult to imagine a guy such as myself who won’t even eat Chex Mix, due to the milk in it, advising that we slaughter all of the animals in one fell swoop.
City of Bone
A mass grave.
The natural follow-up troll question to the iVeg scenario is, “What would we do with all the corpses? If everyone is vegan, no one would eat them.” Since vegans are tasked with solving all of the world’s problems, my answer to that is also easy:
We’d feed the flesh to our pets and back to the wild.
With the bones, we’d build a horrific city out of them. We’d decorate alleys and buildings and street corners with skulls, hip bones, horns and beaks. To each corpse we would attach a little sound system playing the heart-breaking, bloody squeals of their final moments. Billions of little music players bleating, mewing and gagging over red-stained tile. Video screens would loop high definition footage of the final days of slaughter. It would show calves watching their mothers die of starvation and disease, wallowing in the feces-soaked mud, while in the distance a river of blood gushes from the slaughterhouse on the hill and pumps into our soil, seeping into our water supply.
The city of bones would be a testament to the greed and unfathomable depths of denial of which humans are capable. Who knows? Maybe we could turn it into an 8th wonder of the iVeg world, and use the proceeds to fund a compassionate education.
Sound grotesque? It may be. What is more harrowing and disturbing, though? Forming a reminder of the killings of the past or continuing to eat animals, silently hiding our consciousness from reality. To me, refusing to admit to ourselves that we are creating cities of bone many times over, and hiding from that fact, is more disgusting.