In reply to: With all the problems in the world, we should spend our time helping humans first, then animals
This objection is one that vegans and animal rights activists hear a lot. It is often expressed something like this: "There are so many problems in the world and so much human suffering, we should focus on these pressing human concerns rather than spend our time and energy on animals. Maybe after we make real progress on human problems, we can then help the animals."
Living vegan does not take more time.
Insofar as this objection is addressed to vegans who are not also animal rights or vegan activists, it assumes that just living a vegan life takes an inordinate amount of time—time that could be spent helping humans.
Yet vegans go about their lives in the same way as everyone—going to work, preparing recipes, eating out, buying groceries, and embarrassing their children in front of their friends.
Once you learn a few new recipes (or adapt your favorite ones) and choose brands of underarm deodorant and toothpaste that are not tested on animals, it takes no more time to be vegan than to not be vegan.
Vegan activism does benefit humans.
Animal rights and vegan activists do spend time helping animals, but that time is also helping humans, as well as helping the earth that sustains both human and non-human animals. To the extent that vegan activism succeeds, humans benefit in some significant ways. There is perhaps no other cause that embodies so many benefits on so many fronts.
It offers peace of mind. By embracing veganism, you gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are living your life in accordance with your own values of justice, fairness, and compassion.
It benefits human health. The suffering and expense humans encounter due to health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and early mortality, can be mitigated and sometimes eliminated by a whole-foods, plant-based vegan diet.
It addresses human equity and impoverishment. Because animals are so inefficient at converting the calories in plant feed to calories in meat, dairy, and eggs, many times fewer impoverished people can be fed by animal-based agriculture than by plant-based agriculture.
It prevents violence. Educating others, especially children, to show civility toward animals can help in preventing violence to humans. Studies show an undeniable link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans.
It helps the environment. We should do all we can to minimize harming the environment that sustains us all. The significant contributions of animal agriculture to climate change, depletion of fish, destruction of wildlife, deforestation, water depletion, and other environmental issues would all be eliminated.
All oppression has the same roots.
One of the problems plaguing the world is the oppression of others based on color, gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity. These problems are all rooted in the indefensible notion that others are less valuable because they differ in some way that is not pertinent. It’s the same with our exploitation of animals.
All forms of oppression are interconnected. If we taught our children at an early age to value the lives of all sentient beings, it is unlikely they would grow up to hate and oppress other humans because of these irrelevant differences.
The objection is disingenuous.
The people who raise this objection would not raise the same objection to people who volunteer at the local humane society for the benefit of companion animals—or to people who volunteer to organize purely gratuitous events, such as a game-day tailgating party.
The objection presents a false choice.
There is no reason why one cannot work both for humanitarian causes and for animal rights causes. Many vegan and animal rights activists, if not most, are engaged in other causes that directly help humans.
They volunteer to feed the homeless, deliver meals to the elderly, work with drug addicts, and work with a variety of issues, such as civil rights, women's rights, and other causes of which humans, not animals, are the beneficiaries.
- Tuso, Philip J, Mohamed H Ismail, Benjamin P Ha, and Carole Bartolotto. “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.” The Permanente Journal 17, no. 2 (2013): 61–66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085
- Cassidy, Emily S., Paul C. West, James S. Gerber, and Jonathan A. Foley. “Redefining Agricultural Yields: From Tonnes to People Nourished per Hectare.” Environmental Research Letters 8, no. 3 (2013): 034015. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015
- Siebert, Charles. “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome.” The New York Times, June 11, 2010, sec. Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/magazine/13dogfighting-t.html
- Hyner, Christopher, and J.D. Candidate. “A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It.” Stanford Environmental Law Journal (SELJ). Accessed September 23, 2017. https://journals.law.stanford.edu/stanford-environmental-law-journal-elj/blog/leading-cause-everything-one-industry-destroying-our-planet-and-our-ability-thrive-it
- “Archive:Tom Regan Speech at the Royal Institute of Great Britain in 1989.” The Justice for Animals (JFA) Wiki. Accessed August 28, 2019. https://justiceforanimals.org/?curid=267.
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.