Sunday, 1 May 2011

Does Veganism Save Animals?

Let's get all the serious posts over with in one weekend, why don't we?

I'm quite torn over making this post.  I'm not sure how it will be taken, and I hope I'm wrong, and someone can show me the flaw in my logic.  But let's see, shall we?

The short answer is; it's complicated.

Let's use a very simple metaphor.  Let's have a farmer, Farmer Jones, raising ten cows for the meat, and let's say he has ten customers, each of which consumes one cow each over the course of a year.  Last year, he sold ten, so this year, Farmer Jones expected to sell ten again.

However, this year, two customers have gone vegan or vegetarian.  Farmer Jones sells eight cows, at the normal price.  The other two, he has trouble with.  Every customer who wants meat has already bought it; he's forced to either reduce the price until it becomes appealing for customers to buy extra, or to throw it away when it rots, and take the cost of it himself.

In response to this, Farmer Jones buys, breeds, or otherwise obtains, eight cows for the next year, instead of ten.

Those two cows?  They don't exist.  They were never born, because they weren't needed.

Of course, this is an oversimplification.  Those calves would have been born, at the very least, so their mothers would continue to produce milk.  They'd just have been slaughtered and disposed of earlier, if no-one wanted the meat.

My point is, that not eating meat doesn't directly lead to saving animals.  There are no kind farmhands, just waiting for the chance to take the unneeded animals to a loving home.  As far as I know, there are no loving homes for farm animals.  Some people keep chickens sure, and some have pigs as pets, but, as far as I know, the options for a cow are be shot and sold for food, or be shot as a valueless commodity.

(I hope I'm wrong, and if you know of anything else that happens, please tell me in the comments.)

To continue that story; once Farmer Jones reaches a certain point, he will switch to selling something else.  Before then, he'll try to get his meat into other products, and sell it cheaply to anyone who wants it, if he can't sell it at normal prices.  Anyway; once he switches to selling something else, there will simply be less cows in the world.  No one will 'create' any more, if they can't sell them.

At this point, we don't have to worry about the extinction of cows.  But, that is the way veganism goes.

I suppose, if we were to reach that point in the current climate (which is about as likely as no one turning up to vote, to use an old economists argument), we'd end up keeping a few cows in zoos.  They'd become rare.

I suppose the ideal solution would be something along the lines of returning cows to their natural habitat; keeping a bit of space for them to just go out and be cows.  But, do cows have a natural habitat, at this point?  They've been domesticated for so long, and, especially recently, had so many modifications that perhaps they can't live in the 'wild', even if there was a wild for them to live in.  Some dairy cows, for instance have been genetically modified to the point where they produce too much milk for a single calf, and would be in a lot of pain (this does not make it okay to take the milk, especially since farms traditionally take the milk meant for the calf as well as the excess).  Some chickens too, have been bred to the point where their breasts are so large they have trouble walking.  Much like dogs, many breeds of which would die out quite quickly if humans weren't around to feed them.

I'm not sure where I stand on pets, as I've mentioned before.  I think the whole concept, that you can own another living creature, is fucked up.  But, I do think we owe other animals something; we bred them to reach this point, where they cannot live without our help.

I honestly don't know what the solution is.  The easiest way is to simply realise that this will be a problem for another generation to solve.  I do know that the solution isn't simply to shrug, and keep eating other creatures (and when you think about it abstractly, how messed up is that?).

Any ideas?

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