More German mainstream media outlets are debating veganism. This is a good thing because it means that vegans have become more numerous and louder and that their arguments are too good to ignore. I love a spirited debate—it advances the movement and hones our persuasive powers. In the last couple of weeks, however, several articles on veganism have been written whose arguments are so primitive that addressing them is hardly fun. Eckhard Fuhr’s article „A vegan world would be cultural eradication“ in today’s issue of the German newspaper Welt is a case in point.
In it, Fuhr argues that veganism eradicates culture. He writes: „The knowledge of husbandry and of raising livestock, the diversity of breeds as a cultural good would be lost.“ Fuhr also worries about our language. If we stopped breeding animals, who would still „eat high on the hog“ or describe a quiet crowd „like lambs to the slaughter?“ Most Americans have also stopped using „cotton pickin’.“ Is the English language any worse off for it? Fuhr then asks: „Can anyone imagine European culture without the range of animal products it produced? France without cheese? Austria without prime boiled beef? What has to happen that someone wants such a future? Has he never eaten well?“
Since when is a culture worthy of preservation simply because it exists? Slavery in the US also produced some wonderful music—did this make slavery worth protecting? Culture has to change; culture is borne from change. No culture is somehow the original or ultimate one, and every cultural practice and good developed at one point or another. More than cultural eradication, veganism is cultural questioning, re-imagination, and innovation. Besides, morality is more important than culture. Ethical arguments against the preservation of a cultural good trump any notion that such a good should continue to exist simply because it is an expression of culture. President Obama recognized as much when he gave the Confederate flag a thumbs down two weeks ago—out of piety for the descendants of those it hurt. And Germans recognized this, when after World War II they questioned even the cultural heritage of the Nazis—their architecture, their music, their visual arts.
Fuhr also writes: „No living being can avoid killing other living beings for his survival. So how can anyone believe that we could live without killing animals?“ Fuhr is wrong. Many animals live without killing other animals. Horses and elephants, for example, eat only plants. I doubt Fuhr would want to call the chewing of stalks, leaves, and grasses killing. I also doubt he would equate the accidental stepping on bugs to the systematic breeding and killing of billions of animals. And even if we assumed for a minute that there are indeed no other herbivores on this planet, this would not be an argument against veganism among humans. No other animal has constitutions and courts, democratic elections and printed words. Does this mean we should rid humanity of these institutions?
Fuhr then calls veganism „a hysteric spasm of the pigged-out societies of the West.“ He thus blatantly ignores the millennia-old vegan-vegetarian and animal rights traditions of the non-West, like Jainism or parts of the ayurvedic teachings and Buddhism. Respect for other living beings is precisely not a fleeting trend, it has nothing to do with being „pigged-out,“ and it certainly is not limited by time and place. Fuhr writes: „The meat of tomorrow is the meat of yesterday, just like the humans of tomorrow will be the humans of yesterday, or else they won’t be at all.“ How did Fuhr come up with these platitudes and which „humans of yesterday“ is he envisioning? The God-fearing Europeans who summarily burned „witches“? Those US-Americans whose racist acts of violence dwarf the recent massacre in Charleston? Does Fuhr want to abolish the website on which he publishes and the computer keyboard on which he typed his hissy-fit?
Fuhr is also bothered by vegans’ „total dependence“ on the „vegan surrogate industry“ and by the fact that soy, „the base material of vegan delicacies, is being transported across the globe.“ Only which „vegan delicacies“ has Fuhr eaten recently? I’m writing this in the afternoon. So far, today I’ve eaten oatmeal with strawberries, salad, vegetable tortellinis with pesto and mango sorbet. For dinner I’ll most likely have bread. Which „surrogate industry“ do I depend on? As a side note, the vast majority of soy is being consumed by animals in the meat and dairy industry. And non-vegan consumers buy soy, too. Fuhr’s claim that vegans depend on the surrogate industry is a misdiagnosis. And besides, much of the food we consume has travelled around the globe. To single out soy in this globalized food industry is hypocritical at best.
Finally, Fuhr writes about the vegan premise that not eating meat is „ethically correct“: „This conclusion is so simple, that it has to be wrong.“ Rejecting an argument because it is too simple? Some of the foundations of human morality could hardly be simpler, yet we orient our laws by them and live almost universally in accordance with them. „Thou shalt not kill“ is one of these straightforward premises. It may sound simple; its simplicity doesn’t make it any less true.