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Vegan Outreach is a 501(c)(3)
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reducing the suffering of farmed animals
by promoting informed, ethical eating.

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Are Vegans Closed-Minded Hypocrites?

How can Vegans use electricity since animals (fish) are killed at dams that generate electricity? Seems a bit hypocritical to use electricity at the same time you eschew products that have come in contact with surfaces that have been used to cook beef?!? Just curious.

I’ve also seen a lot of reference to Vegans being “open minded.” I can’t for the life of me see any open mindedness in such an extreme World View. Thanks for any enlightenment you can pass my way.

These are really great questions, which, as you point out, go a long way towards exposing the hypocrisy of vegans who present themselves as somehow “pure.” Other examples are listed here and here.

At Vegan Outreach, however, our view is that being vegan isn’t about being pure, but about doing our best to avoid supporting cruelty towards animals. I'm sure that you agree that the suffering of factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses today is morally repellent; you can see some of the typical practices here and here. As summarized by animal scientist Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, in his textbook Farm Animal Welfare (Iowa St U. Press, 1995), “U.S. society is extremely naive about the nature of agricultural production. [I]f the public knew more about the way in which agricultural and animal production infringes on animal welfare, the outcry would be louder.”

Given the reality of today’s animal agriculture, we believe that anyone who is open-minded will choose not to support these practices. In this sense, we define "open-minded" as, in part, being willing to face the reality of food production today – e.g., “It is all very well to say that individuals must wrestle with their consciences – but only if their consciences are awake and informed. Industrial society, alas, hides animals’ suffering. Few people would themselves keep a hen in a shoebox for her egg-laying life; but practically everyone will eat smartly packaged, ‘farm fresh’ eggs from battery hens.” The Economist, "What Humans Owe to Animals," 8/19/95.

As important as that is, being open-minded means more than having open eyes. Truly open-minded people question the status quo and, instead of making decisions based on habit or convenience or convention, make decisions from ethical first principles. (You can read a first-principle theory here.)

Of course, relative to the current status of humanity's ethical evolution, giving consideration to the suffering of non-human animals leads to "extreme" conclusions -- that causing unnecessary suffering to any creature is ethically indefensible. But what seems extreme relative to today's consensus view always changes over time. As pointed out by The Economist (also 8/19/95):

Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, as ignorance and want have receded, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation. To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, decades or centuries hence, it may seem no more than 'civilized' behavior requires.

Or, as put in Practical Ethics:

It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.

I hope this explains why we pursue veganism as part of a consistent ethical world view, in order to lessen the amount of suffering in the world. You can see some other relevant quotes and learn more about Vegan Outreach here.

Thanks so much for writing and taking the time to read this.

All the best!

Matt Ball
Vegan Outreach