Vegans are often stereotyped as having a certain smug righteousness about us, constantly looking down on others. We are accused of acting as if we are morally superior to non-vegans. Are we?
To be sure, some vegans do seem to walk around all day unable to shed from their mind the horrors of what countless animals are going through at the moment, and how most people don’t seem to care. If that describes you, you should probably try to change that if you can; it doesn’t help anyone.
In general, however, it’s unfair to generalize all vegans as thinking or behaving this way. Speaking personally, I hardly ever spend any time pondering why those around me consume animal products. I’m too busy thinking about my next meal to concern myself with what other people are going to eat.
But is it true that vegans are morally superior? For one, I don’t like the framing of this question. Someone who is vegan can be a genocidal maniac. Adolf Hitler, for example, may have been a vegetarian, though there is some debate about this (not that it has anything to do with the ethics of vegetarianism or veganism).
People are complex, and someone who demonstrates a remarkable capacity for compassion for others in one context may disturbingly lack it in other domains. The statistical reality is that most social workers, humanitarians, philanthropists, and others who care for humans for a living, still prefer to eat meals created from needless suffering. And many vegans — such as Gary Yourofsky — demonstrate a lack of compassion for fellow humans (Yourofsky is an admitted misanthrope).
So the label of ‘moral superiority’ should not be attached to vegans as people. The alternative is to compare veganism, as a lifestyle, with non-veganism. The appropriate question is whether it is more moral to consume animals or to refrain from consuming animals.
As the landscape of veganism changes with the introduction of animal products sans suffering — such as lab-grown meat — this question will become increasingly complicated. However, right now, it’s fairly straightforward: veganism is a moral imperative.
Now, one could create a vegan dietary plan, consisting purely of foods like palm oil, that features quite a bit of suffering. It may even be possible to craft a meal plan that, at the end of the day, causes more pain to animals than a non-vegan one would. (I am obviously skeptical of the possibility of that.) Nevertheless, sticking to such a diet would be truly arduous and likely terribly unhealthy, so it’s probably not worth considering anyway.
But you shouldn’t let me squirm out of it that easily. I’ve said now that veganism is morally superior to non-veganism. I have not answered the question of whether vegans are morally superior, because I don’t like that it’s about people instead of behavior, and I don’t like the phrase ‘morally superior’ either.
If I had to give an answer to the question, I would say this: it is certainly possible that there are many vegans out there who, if we calculated the amount of suffering they caused throughout their life while they are on their deathbed, have caused more of it than some meat eaters have. However, that is probably the exception rather than the rule. It’s fair to say, I think, that most vegans are ‘morally superior’ (ugh) to most non-vegans. And it is most definitely accurate to say that, all else being equal, vegans are indeed morally superior. That’s what matters, I think.