Vegan contention #1

It is, after all, my Year of Animals (and Women).

For me veganism is not about body beautiful, weight or health – it’s about animal rights and sustainability. We are living so well in industrialised places like Britain that to put animals through what animals go through is indefensible.

But I’m not strictly speaking vegan because I sometimes eat food that’s going in the bin. This is not a principle – I’m not a freegan, I don’t dumpster dive, I don’t want to compete with non-vegans for old meat and dairy. I don’t eat left-overs at restaurants because I don’t want to confuse or exascerbate the cynicism of kitchen and waiting staff. And sometimes I don’t do it in front of people who’ve gone out of their way to cook vegan for me if I think they will take veganism less seriously. But I will intercept non-vegan food on its way to a landfill if to do so isn’t more trouble than it’s worth because once it’s dead, prepared and plated, it’s food to me. And although it happens very rarely that I get my hands on some I enjoy it immensely when it does. So, as some vegan friends are at pains to point out, I’m not a vegan at all. It’s just a term I use to help people cater for me or to label my first vegan contention – as follows.

Vegan contention #1: it’s not possible be an animal lover and keep a cat, as in:

Na’ama is a former chairperson of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a strict vegetarian and a lover of animals (especially her cat and dog). (Source: Norm)

Many of my friends know about my opposition to pet-keeping, and since many of them keep cats some of them confuse this with a dislike of cats. I don’t dislike cats – in fact I find cats captivating. But pet-keeping involves capturing and isolating an animal, imposing your will over it, disrupting its social activity and, often, tampering with its sexuality. In the case of cats in particular, it’s about the necessity of feeding it meat of dubious progeny – meat from animals which have surpassed their useful existence to humans elsewhere and may have been horribly abused in the process of getting put into the catfood tin. And – also in the case of cats – an animal which may or may not be predisposed to laying indiscriminate waste to the wildlife in the vicinity of its home, and god knows that many wild species have a hard enough time negotiating their existence where humans are. It’s not an excuse to say “That’s just cats”. You fund the cat breeder, you buy catfood, you effectively sponsor the wildlife killer, you are responsible.

In what way are these things compatible with a love of animals? They aren’t.

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2 thoughts on “Vegan contention #1

  1. Interesting post on the ethics of eating meat otherwise destined for landfill. I’d agree in that a pragmatic approach is not unethical in itself.

    However, it’s not clear if you have much experience in living in close proximity with cats, since you’re apparently unwilling to extend that pragmatic approach to them. I would take issue with the notion that it’s not possible be an animal lover and keep a cat, and argue that it is quite possible to reconcile caring for cats with caring about animal welfare in a wider context.

    First, regarding the assertion that a cat is ‘captured’ and isolated’ when kept as a pet – we (my partner and I) have three cats who hang around us voluntarily and are part of our extended social group. They are very much their own creatures. Like most cats, they have plenty of opportunity to run away should they be uncomfortable with their situation, but judging by their intensely social behaviour appear to much prefer seeking out our company. I actually like this aspect of living with cats quite a lot – it’s impossible to maintain the notion that the cat is a prisoner within your power in the same way a fish in a bowl is. It’s true that we curtail their movements to the point of making sure they are in the house at night, dawn and dusk, the primary feeding times for our local wildlife. However, they don’t appear to be any more distressed by this limit to their routine than we are as humans by the limits applied to us by e.g. road rules.

    Secondly, of course adopting a cat from a shelter and thereby saving it from being killed is compatible with a love for animals. To argue against that might entail being forced into a position that no carnivorous animal deserves to live, lest it kill another animal. While it’s not a happy thought, nature means that only humans can consider ethics and their own behaviour to the point of being able to choose their lifestyle.

    Thirdly, it is actually possible to buy good food for cats that’s sourced in no less ethical a manner than the pragmatic concept of eating meat otherwise destined for the bin. Some research on the part of any well meaning cat owner will provide much better options to the standard over processed and often indeed ethically dubious petfood tins.

    Fourth, the reputation of cats as wildlife killers is not just a very dubious judgement to be rendered by any human, but factually exaggerated. Yes, it happens. Leave a cat alone to fend for itself in the wild and it will take part in nature’s process. On the other hand, our cats are at home with us all day and seem to be very content with their lot in life even though it doesn’t include much more than inspecting the garden, chasing each other, fruitlessly chattering at birds well out of reach in the trees, sunning themselves and – above all – always making sure we’re nearby.

    That may sound like an idyllic naivety, but between the three of them to date they have accounted for less wildlife than I have personally accounted for just by driving my car on public roads. That even leaves aside the wildlife robbed of habitat and life more generally by my partaking in modern life. Even vegan food sources wipe out natural habitat at a rate hugely more important to wildlife than the presence of cats can. Using a term such as ‘wildlife killer’ to describe an animal brings an uniquely human ethical standard to bear on an animal that no human would be able to meet, if measured honestly. Not if you ever use public transport, ride a bike or live in a house or flat.

    Finally, don’t forget that the domestic cat was until relatively recently a valid and natural wild species to be living in most of the world. They are not Frankenstein toys designed by the human commodity market, such as most dog species. They have been largely eradicated in the wild in Britain by human intervention. The only reason the species has survived reasonably well has been that it has adapted so readily to living in a human social setting without upsetting the humans too much. For this species to now also be considered as unworthy of life by some of the same humans who virtually eradicated it from the wild seems to be a deeply flawed notion.

  2. Hello Monkey.

    All pets are not the same. You deal with a number of the problems I have with cat-keeping, or you kind of do. Rescue cats, yes absolutely. And once you have one, you have to let it out. But if your particular cats aren’t ‘wildlife killers’ (I think it’s ok, if ‘uniquely human’ to refer to consider it like that), that’s just lucky.

    Some time ago I wrote a post on the casualties of agriculture. I’m definitely not alright about them but a) they are largely outside my control and b) I do not undertake something non-crucial to my existence (cat-keeping) which simultaneously involves creating a liability to my local wildlife. People don’t have to keep cats. I have to eat, and work etc.

    Actually I’m very pragmatic about cats and cat-keeping. I never said cats were unworthy of life, and I don’t think that either. But people who keep cats are casual with the lives of small animals e.g. frogs, shrews, spiders and aren’t animal lovers although they may be cat lovers.

    Oops, dying battery. Bye.

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