Vegans get a bad rap. A lot of people really, really don’t like us. Most of the time, it’s completely unwarranted; sometimes, however, I can see where they’re coming from.
Vegans that are morally opposed to breastfeeding are one such group that it makes sense to gawk at. Because milk is an animal product, the thinking goes, a child that drinks his mother’s milk is not vegan. Ergo, vegan children do not breastfeed.
This underscores what we have been talking about for a while: a formidable barrier to veganism is the perception that we are cultish in our adherence to arbitrary moral standards. Veganism is an ethical stance if nothing else, and some animal products are not unethical. The animal products that fall into this category — what we call “the spirit of veganism” — threaten the future of veganism. As we confront truly cruelty-free animal products like cultured meat, we must retain a sensible definition of what it means to be vegan.
Which is why the vegans among us who are opposed to breastfeeding are doing some real harm. For one, it makes no sense. The primary reason drinking cow’s milk is unethical is because that milk is meant for the calf. Are vegans who are against children breastfeeding also against calves drinking their mother’s milk?
There’s also something bigoted about the argument — if there is one to be made at all — that the mother of a child is somehow being exploited through the act of breastfeeding. Women usually agree to have children, and they know what that entails.
In some sense, veganism is about consent. Animals raised on farms certainly wouldn’t consent to being slaughtered at a young age, as they typically are, even if we could ask. But as long as consent is obtained, no one is harmed.
The anti-breastfeeding vegans also miss the importance of evolution, which I’ve argued compels us to recognize that we are not the only species capable of suffering. It is an unspeakable waste to forego the food that evolved over billions of years to provide newborn children crucial nutrients and energy at such a critical period in development.
So not only do vegans against breastfeeding make us all look bad, it’s also a profoundly stupid position to hold, one that needlessly clings to dogma and forgets that the purpose of veganism is reducing harm. We would do well to leave behind such idiotic beliefs as we traverse the bumpy terrain that lies ahead.