In reply to: Do not force your values on me; what I eat is a personal choice
This objection to animal rights and veganism is made by those who are not aware of the implications of eating animals or by those who are aware but are unwilling to change. It is often accompanied by a statement such as, "I respect your right to be vegan; you should respect my right to not be vegan."
This objection is usually an implicit admonition to back off.
Personal choices are not necessarily ethical.
Just because it is a choice you personally make does not make it an ethical choice. For example, you may choose to be rude to someone because of their gender or color. The fact that you are not legally restricted from such an action does not imply the action is ethical.
Also, the personal-choice declaration can be and has been used to defend all manner of indefensible positions:
- "It's my personal choice to own slaves.
- "It's my personal choice to pay women less money than men for the same work."
It's not just a personal choice.
It is a personal choice in the sense that it's a choice you can personally make, but for any choice to be only a personal one, all those affected must give consent. For example, I may personally choose to cut in front of you in the grocery-store line, but unless I get your permission, it negatively affects you.
If it involves harming others, then it is as much a social choice as it is a personal choice. As the saying goes, "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins."
This choice has a victim.
It is inescapable that eating meat and animal secretions (such as milk, cheese, and eggs) harms animals.
When we buy or eat animal products, we are not just ignoring the victim—we are complicit in the violence the victim has endured. We are complicit because even though we are not inflicting harm directly, we are paying someone else to do so.
Awareness changes your perspective.
When you become fully aware of the harms resulting from eating animals or their products, it is impossible to view it as merely a personal choice. When you take a little time to educate yourself on the atrocities inflicted on animals before they become the food on your plate, you will less likely choose to harm other sentient beings whose lives are as important to them as yours is to you.
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.