In Which We are no longer thinking Vegan, (but maybe Vegetarian…?)

Thinking about chickens lately (ridiculous beasts that they are). And cows, which are one of my favorite animals.

My understanding of veganism is a rejection of the use of any animal-derived products, for food or otherwise (someone correct me if I’m mistaken).

I would want to argue that this is not a good ultimate goal for the sanctification of the world because, when the heavens and earth are remade, service and work will not be eliminated but rather blessed: ‘work’ is not a part of the curse, man’s work itself is cursed. Men will still plow and the earth will yield up its abundance into our hands, fulfilling a part of its own work and service before the Lord.

In the same way, the animals have services to render to God and Man, duties to fulfill which are not in and of themselves a hardship or a curse, but rather responsibilities which have been cursed because of Man’s sin. Like a tree bringing forth fruit or a woman bearing a child, fulfilment is not to be had in the mere act of reproduction (which is an oxymoronic phrase anyway): The Life given goes far beyond the individual being created (whether it be a baby or a bean sprout).

Thus, to reject the use of all animal products, including the eating of eggs, milk-based products, etc. is to devalue the work which may be a part of their fulfilment and thus to, ironically, denature the creature.


13 comments on “In Which We are no longer thinking Vegan, (but maybe Vegetarian…?)

  1. Neva says:

    But cows produce milk to nourish their own young, not so those young can be stolen away for veal and the milk taken for us. Egg production, even in so called “Cage Free” facilities is one of the cruelest practices in existence. Not to mention the environmental harms from animal agriculture.

  2. Kelly says:

    Neva, could you expand on what you mean by “‘Cage Free’ facilities”? Do you include a family keeping a small, free-range flock for its own needs?


  3. kelly,
    i’m so glad you mentioned free-range chickens, because that reminds me of a joke i heard some stand-up comedian tell about the vast herds of chickens that used to roam this great land before the white man came.

    thanks for dropping in. if you ever swing through again, i’d be interested in how you would define ‘cruelty’ (or its converse), and what you would picture as the ‘ideal’ goal for the relationship between man and beast.

    john? nathan? bueller? bueller…?

  4. Nathan says:

    With no intention to sound … well if I say something hear, I’ll have planted the seed of doubt. Let me go on.

    Ben said:Thus, to reject the use of all animal products, including the eating of eggs, milk-based products, etc. is to devalue the work which may be a part of their fulfilment and thus to, ironically, denature the creature.

    If I understand your line of reasoning correctly, is this the same thing as saying that we should make sure we continue to make love to our wives because they “will be saved in child bearing”? That is, if a woman finds a sense of fulfillment in being a mommy, we should make darn sure we assist them in their calling?

    Ok, now that I’ve said what I was thinking, please don’t hear this as intending to be insensitive.

  5. I was reading more, “This (producing eggs, milk, etc. for human nourishment) is the work God gave these creatures to do for His glory, ergo we should not contravert His design for them.” Or maybe that’s the same thing Nathan’s saying….

  6. valerie,

    you are correct.


    that’s what i keep telling abra…

  7. Neva says:

    I’m sorry in taking so long to respond. Eggs are typically produced in battery cage farms, where chickens are packed into tiny cages, can’t even turn around, and then the cages are stacked one on another. Check out
    to learn more about battery hens.

    However, some farms can claim their eggs are “cage free” simply by taking away the cages and packing huge numbers of hens into dark windowless sheds. It is still no way for any animal to live.

    There is a photo in the article here
    which shows that hens still suffer considerably on farms that claim to be “cage free.”

    If you have a neighbor who has 2 or 3 hens and treats them as pets, then your eggs might be ok. But you also might ask what that neighbor does with the hen if her egg production declines.

  8. neva,

    thanks for commenting again. having grown up in rural idaho, i’ve seen the sorts of facilities you mentioned, and (for what it’s worth) you’re preaching to the choir on that subject.

    all evils of industrialization and efficiency-worship aside, i’m still curious about the philosophical framework that informs your ethical pronouncements with regard to the treatment of animals.

    – what is cruelty?
    – why is cruelty reprehensible?
    – what do you think the relationship between men and animals ought to look like (and, of course, why)

    again, i appreciate you jumping in here. i look forward to future discussion.



  9. Neva says:

    I actually grew up in a rural environment as well, and we raised and my father slaughtered our own chickens and I never felt there was anything wrong with it. It wasn’t until I was in my teens and saw some factory farms that I started asking questions and learning more.

    I’m not sure I’m any kind of expert to draw the line on what is cruel and what isn’t and what is absolutely morally wrong and what isn’t.

    What I do feel is that in order to supply the volume of animal products our current human population demands, factory farms are unavoidable. I don’t see the well-treated band of chickens living with a neighbor as a reality for a population of our size, though certainly individual people can sometimes make that work. Given this, I really do feel that people who are able to live, and live well as vegans, should, in order to set an example for others and to reduce the amount of animal products consumed.

    Also, just judging from my own rather limited experience, we killed our chickens at a very young age, and though they did get sunlight and good food and all of that, I do wonder if it’s just intrinsically wrong to bring animals into the world just for our own purposes. I mean, we got these mail-order chicks in boxes, which is cruel in and of itself, and you don’t know the breeding conditions. Then you only let them live to adolescence. So when I’d been vegetarian for a while, I was kind of like “I don’t need to eat chicken or eggs, so that kind of stuff, the breeding, the shipping, the killing, all of that is so unnecessary.

    I think this matters because on a very basic level it just does. I know that’s not a real answer. But it’s sort of to me like asking “why should it matter if a child suffers in Africa?” And I don’t have a deep philosophical answer; my answer is just that we know in our hearts already that this matters. We don’t need a lot of justification to care. True, some people just don’t care at all about animals, though I think more would if they spent time around them in a gentle and caring environment and realized that animals are capable of many complex emotions. Of course, some people just don’t care about other people, so they probably won’t ever care about animals. Still, most people I meet like animals and do think they matter, they just don’t really understand all the issues or they hide from reports of animals suffering and dying because they know it would upset them.

    I’m really no great philosopher actually, so I’m not sure my answers will be totally satisfactory here. My philosophy of life and existence and my ideal of what the relationship should be between human animals and non-human animals is an ever evolving thing. We live in a less than ideal world that is very difficult to sort out. For example, I rescue unwanted companion animals (dogs, cats, rabbits, and sometimes smaller animals like turtles, fish, mice, etc). For the most part I find other homes for the animals I rescue, but some have wound up staying with me permanently for various reasons (major health issues, couldn’t find another home, psychological trauma, or in some cases they just got so attached to me and the other animals that I let them stay). I love sharing my home with these animals. I love the richness they bring to my life and I love the feeling I get from helping them. However, after so many years of trying to help these animals and often having the ones I’m trying to help die because they were so abused or neglected before I found them… So, while I think taking care of animals is great and valuable and fulfilling, I’d prefer to not have them bred anymore at all, because of so many dying and being killed and abused.

    But also, when I think of this, I never envision a world where every single person jumps on my bandwagon tomorrow. I more see this as reaching out to people and appealing to their compassion and hoping to gradually make a change in the world.

    So, sometimes when I talk about veganism people ask “Well, then what would happen to all the homeless cows if everyone became vegan?” But I don’t really consider a sudden change like that possible. I just hope that people who care will do their best and hopefully spread that caring and we’ll keep trying to do better.

    I couldn’t even venture a guess as to what the world in 50 to 100 years will look like, much less further out than that. I just think we should all do what we can right now. I do think veganism is an important part of that, but individual people may disagree.

  10. neva,

    now i have to apologize for taking so long to respond. coming up on finals week here at school, so i’m up to my baby-blues in grading. a few quick comments here, and hopefully we can get into this in more depth in future posts.

    i do think it is important to answer the ‘why’ questions, for two reasons.

    first, if i want to convince someone who disagrees with me on a given topic, i have to come to the table with more than “it’s obvious to me”. an appeal to my personal gut reaction is rarely if ever an effective or authoritative argument. if i want to discourage my friends from producing or consuming fois gras, for instance, my saying “it makes me sad” (and it certainly does) is unlikely to produce results in anyone other than my wife. but a discussion of our duties toward animals, a definition of cruelty that we both agree to and an argument which appeals to mutually acknowledged authorities as to why the process of making fois gras is cruel and antithetical to the dominion mandate would be more likely to convince a skeptical person.

    secondly, i am well aware that i and my opinions are not the last word on the way the world is or even how i ought to behave in it (as most folks i know can attest). that being the case, i need to work out the whys and wherefors in more detail, not just so that i may do more effectively what i already desire, but so that i may correct or reform my current beliefs and actions.

    in short, i must have more than my gut feelings to base actions and exhortations on. if not, i have nothing to say to anyone who disagrees, nor is there anything compelling me to continue on in my current actions should the going get tough or my emotions change.

    anyway, that is my apologetic for focusing more on the theoretical questions first. i would like to get into the specifics of particular practices eventually, but for a while i have a feeling that such forays into the real world will be on more of an illustrative basis. at least as far as my posts go.

    i appreciate your graciousness and non-alarmist approach to these very important and often inflammatory issues. please keep coming back.


  11. Neva says:

    I hope I’m not an alarmist! Thanks for saying so.

    I think that for me the specifics get awfully complicated.

    When it comes to a definition of cruelty, I have some trouble. For example, Compassion Over Cruelty put out a video of an undercover investigation into an egg farm. In that situation it was clear to me that there were many types of cruelty involved. If pressed, I’d have to say that I found what was shown on the tape to be cruel for the following reasons. The intensive confinement seemed cruel to me, as it was demonstrated that many birds could not even turn around. That, to me, seemed cruel because even though I might now share many characteristics with a chicken, I’m pretty sure it’s vital to the nature of any bird to be able to move, and to be deprived of that inflicts suffering on the bird. Living birds were crammed into cages with dead birds–that seemed cruel to me because of the distress caused by seeing other birds dying, dead, and decaying, plus the involved sanitary and smell related concerns. I have had some people tell me that birds do not process such things in the same way that I would, which I don’t disagree with, but on reflection, I still think that it’s cruel. Also birds had had their beaks and toes removed without any pain killers, so they wouldn’t be able to fight other birds or self-mutilate due to the stress and crowding. Not only did I feel that particular practice seems cruel, but the very fact that the owners of the egg farm found it necessary seemed to me to indicate that they were aware of the vast suffering in their facility. And this was not so much an unusual or exceptional egg farm, but the norm. COK has done a number of such videos at other farms and generally find the same things over and over.

    To me personally dominion is more about caretaking the putting to use, though by necessity of living in this world, we put nature to our uses.

    But I still find I’m at the same basic problem: I’m vegan, I believe in it (I’m not doing it as a fad, I really do feel it’s important). But my personal path to becoming vegan was sort of long and twisty. It was more about small revelations here and there that lead me to a place where the sum of all these little things seemed to add up to veganism. So rather than finding one single, hard and fast rule that defines once and for all what cruelty is, I find for me I kind of have to take it case by case. But I prefer to err on the side of avoiding something if I feel cruelty may be involved, rather than continuing to use something while trying to figure out every aspect of production. So, definitely, some people are going to feel differently than I do.

    I actually do not feel that everything natural is intrinsically superior or better. For example, I’m all for technology so long as it is beneficial and not destructive.

    I do believe that we’re in the early stages of an ecological disaster, and that animal agriculture is a major contributing factor to that crisis. But I also feel that given the size of our population, we will need some technology and we will need cities to live in, etc. But I do believe that the more people who adopt a vegan life style, the less intensive animal agriculture there will be, and that will be better for the environment.

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