Stoics should be vegetarian

Summer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Vegetarianism is a big deal, ethically speaking. It was put on the map in terms of public philosophy by utilitarian Peter Singer, with his landmark Animal Liberation, published back in 1975. In truth, utilitarians have been very clear on the subject from the beginning. The founder of the approach, Jeremy Bentham, famously said that when it comes to the treatment of animals “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” (in: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789).

What about Stoicism? A recent article by Jeremy Corter over at Modern Stoicism summarizes the situation as far as the ancient texts are concerned. I will not repeat Jeremy’s points here, since he does a superb job of it. After parsing several quotes from Zeno, Chrysippus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, he concludes (correctly, in my view): “Stoicism and vegetarianism are two separate philosophies. Stoic teachings never denounced eating animals and, in fact, often stated that animals were there for us to use. Musonius and Seneca are the only two Stoics we know of that were vegetarians, but neither cite any Stoic arguments for being so. Seneca cites Pythagoras and it would be safe to think that Musonius would have been aware of the same reasons.”

So why am I not ending the post here? Because of this, one of my favorite quotes from Seneca:

“Will I not walk in the footsteps of my predecessors? I will indeed use the ancient road — but if I find another route that is more direct and has fewer ups and downs, I will stake out that one. Those who advanced these doctrines before us are not our masters but our guides. The truth lies open to all; it has not yet been taken over. Much is left also for those yet to come.” (Letters to Lucilius, XXXIII.11)

I think vegetarianism is, in fact, one of those cases where the ancient road is not the best one, and we need to revise it. Full disclosure here: I am not a complete vegetarian, though I heavily lean that way. My eating habits can best be described as vegetarianism with the addition of occasional wild caught fish thrown into the mix (paying attention to whether the species in question is being overfished). I have never considered veganism seriously, even though the ethical argument there is at least as strong as the one for vegetarianism (though it’s not easy to be a healthy vegan, an issue I don’t want to get into here because it would distract from the main point). You could accuse me of hypocrisy, and I will respond that I’m trying to do my best, and that at any rate I’m doing more than a lot of other people. Never claimed to be a sage, never will.

As Corter himself recognizes near the end of his essay, this is of course a variation of the somewhat annoying generic question: “is X Stoic?” He is somewhat dismissive of the question itself, which — to be sure — is often abused on social media. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a sensible question. Jeremy says “the Stoics don’t ‘approve’ of anything besides virtue … In short, it’s all indifferent.” Well, not exactly.

To begin with, virtue means nothing in a vacuum. Virtue is a propensity to engage in certain behaviors because that’s the right thing to do (as oppose to a vice, which is a propensity to engage in the wrong sort of behavior). One cannot be courageous, or just, or temperate, or prudent (phronesis) in the abstract. Virtue is considered by the Stoics the chief good because it can never, by definition, be used for ill. But it needs to be used for something nonetheless!

For what? Well, for handling the indifferents, which as we know come in two categories: preferred and dispreferred. This means that it is a bit too reductive and glib to say that the Stoics approve only of virtue because the rest is indifferent. The Stoics, for instance, opposed tyranny, and several of them lost their lives fighting it. Clearly, that means they disapproved of it! Seneca even approved of something as apparently neutral as rest and relaxation, as he makes clear in On Tranquillity of Mind, XVII.

So “is vegetarianism Stoic?” is a real question, and we need to find the answer not in the specifics of what the ancient said (since they are our guides, not our masters), but in the resources offered by the Stoic philosophical system as a whole. This approach is not unusual, being the same sort of exercise that modern Buddhists, say, or Christians, or Jews, engage in whenever looking at their own tradition for guidance concerning modern issues.

Indeed, the likely answer (in the affirmative) to the question of whether vegetarianism is Stoic is hinted at by Jeremy himself, near the end of his essay. He writes: “The Stoics felt that animals were there for human use, including for the use of food. This isn’t to say that the Stoics would have been in favor of factory farming or animal abuse. The Stoics thought that animals had souls, not like a human’s, but a soul nonetheless. Maybe I’m overthinking this part, but I’m suspecting that if they truly thought this, a Stoic would lean towards, if not protecting animals, at the very least not abusing and exploiting them.”

Corter is not overthinking at all. He just should have pursued that line of thinking a bit further. We know a lot more nowadays about animal suffering than the Stoics did two millennia ago. Moreover, we have developed truly horrific standardized practices for the treatment of animals in quantities that the Stoics could not have imagined.

Just to give you an idea, these are the USDA statistics of slaughtered animals for the year 2008, obviously limited to the USA only:

Cattle: 35,507,500
Pigs: 116,558,900
Chickens: 9,075,261,000
Layer hens: 69,683,000
Turkeys: 271,245,000

I strongly suggest these numbers ought to disturb you, especially if you know anything about how all of this is actually done. And that’s without bringing into consideration additional factors that the ancient Stoics were not concerned with, like labor practices (generally speaking, horrible) and environmental impact (not at all good, to put it very mildly).

Given all this, I strongly suggest that modern Stoics should lean heavily toward vegetarianism, or at the very least endorse only humane practices of raising and killing animals, as it is done in a number of small, independently owned farms. The problem is that that model simply does not scale up to feeding billions of human beings, which means that, for practical purposes, Stoics should indeed be vegetarian.

But what about the idea — which the ancient Stoics surely did have — that animals and plants are here to satisfy human needs? That idea stemmed from the Stoic concept of a providential universe, understood as a living organism itself, endowed with the Logos, the capacity for rationality.

The problem is that modern science very clearly tells us that that’s not the kind of universe we exist in. Plants and other animals are the product of billions of years of evolution, just like ourselves, and so in no rational way can they be said to be here “for” us. Seneca, above, said that the truth lies open to all; it has not yet been taken over, as much is left for those yet to come. Well, two thousand years later we are still searching for a lot of truths, but we have found out a few more than in Seneca’s time. It is our ethical duty, therefore, to update our practices accordingly. Remember that one of the pillars of Stoic philosophy is precisely that the “physics” (i.e., all of natural science) should inform our ethics, so better knowledge of biology in particular should redirect the way we think about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to eating habits.

Jeremy argues that vegetarianism is an indifferent, and that “like any indifferent, it doesn’t make you a good or bad person.” I think that’s not the right way to look at it. Our diet is more properly referred to as the indifferent, but deciding what we eat and why is very much a reflection of our character, and therefore a function of how we exercise the virtues. As Epictetus put it in a different context:

“What decides whether a sum of money is good? The money is not going to tell you; it must be the faculty that makes use of such impressions — reason.” (Discourses I, 1.5)

Substitute “diet” for “money” and you can answer in the same way: reason. And reason — given contemporary scientific knowledge — very much tells us that we, as Stoics, ought to be vegetarians. Therefore, I’m going to redouble my personal efforts to follow this path and further reduce my intake of other foodstuff. I hope you will join me, to reduce both suffering in the world and our carbon footprint as a species. And Seneca adds, you’ll also feel better and think more clearly.

_____

P.S.: very likely, there will be people who will read the above and argue the facts. I have neither time nor inclination to debate the science, so I will not respond. I have looked long and hard, as a biologist, into the various issues surrounding vegetarianism, and I have concluded to my own satisfaction that a vegetarian diet is: (i) better in terms of the ethics of animal suffering (though not as good as a vegan one); (ii) better for the environment; (iii) not supportive of horrible labor practices that are commonly engaged in by large agricultural corporations; and (iv) better for your health. If you are not convinced, that’s your prerogative, and clearly outside my control.

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37 thoughts on “Stoics should be vegetarian

  1. elquanah

    So sad we have turned to this way of life. Just reducing meat in ones diet will help the planet if it is difficult to go Vegetarian. Great article. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Robin Luethe

    One of the ironies is that McDonald’s (and others) have market power, but as retailers have to respond to public opinion. Much of the improvements in the ethical treatment of animals has come as a result. Temple Grandin, of course, speaks with particular force on this subject. Her observations on being human and being an animal have a unique insight. Ethical treatment of animals (including humans) is a (the?) central question. Carl Sagan was particularly offended at the institution of slavery in the classical world, particularly the inhuman conditions of slaves in Greece. It all brings out the pessimistic misanthropic sector tucked away somewhere inside my head.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. montanawildlives

    Right on Massimo! Surely, the stoics did not proscribe meat eating or the use of animals, but I find vegetarianism and especially veganism perfectly consistent with the core principles. I’d like nothing more than to go through your essay, complimenting you on almost every sentence, and pushing you further on the few remainders. Instead, I’ll just note two things. First, one health-related problem with vegetarianism is that you are retaining two of the most damaging things: cholesterol-laden eggs and health-crushing milk/milk products. The egg industry and the dairy industry are also arguably worse for the planet than the meat industry and the treatment of egg chickens and dairy cows is just as horrific if not more so than animals used for meat (and they all end up in the same place anyway….the slaughterhouse). Second, the few health issue that vegans have to attend to (things like B12) are not really problematic…in our evolutionary past we got all the B12 we needed from dirty water, bugs, and unclean vegetables; now everything is sterilized so unless you like untreated well water and unwashed carrots, yes, vegans have to supplement (maybe worth noting that beef cattle are injected with B12, so why not cut out “the middle-cow” and pop a B12 pill occasionally, as Dr. Gregor says). Every vegan hears “but where to you get your protein?” a few times a day, but protein deficiencies are extraordinarily rare unless one is heavily calorie restricting. Animal protein (including that from dairy and eggs) is a killer for your kidneys, and studies have shown that vegans have not only adequate protein levels but often levels exceeding that of meat eaters. And even with the few things (like B12) that vegans have to attend to, this pales in comparison that the dozens or hundreds of dietary problems experienced by those eating the standard western diet.

    Love the Bentham quote, and I’ll add this:

    “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women made for men.” –Alice Walker.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. d y

    Thank you so much for this post! If only more people were aware of how horrific the lives are of the animals they so casually throw on the grill perhaps they would think twice about that BBQ.

    Alas, some don’t want to know. I tried explaining to a friend and she became surprisingly defensive. Apparently she likes her steak too much to risk feeling guilty while eating it. To be honest, I’m not entirely vegetarian either but I do feel guilty as hell when I eat anything animal related. (I’ve caught myself apologizing to the chicken – which is not only utterly pointless but idiotic as well.) As elquanah, said, if we’d only cut back, we’d could make a profound difference.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Karen R.

    I think that vegetarianism and veganism is one of the next big moral or cultural shifts for humanity to tackle. We managed it with abolition of slavery from the nineteenth century, recognition of women’s, children’s, gay and transgender rights from the twentieth century (if not everywhere yet). It would be great if the modern Stoics joined the vanguard!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. jmyers8888

    I see no way out of the, to me, indisputable conclusion that veganism is the correct moral choice for many reasons. Perhaps it is a choice that rises above the status of preferred indifferent, or perhaps our responses to various preferred indifferents shape the moral persons we become. (I would love to read an essay of yours that clarified the relationship between preferred indifferents and Stoic ethics.) That said, however, I am not a vegan or even a vegetarian.

    Some years ago, I was a vegan for about 6 months, and I enjoyed it. I had no trouble sticking to the diet, and I felt better physically and emotionally than I did before becoming vegan.

    The problem was living with and cooking for a family of meat-eaters. As I cooked less and less meat for them, they became more and more pissed at me. Finally, on an extended Christmas holiday visit at her house, my mother-in-law got really pissed at me for not eating the salmon and steaks she had bought (even though I cooked them for everyone else). I guess that was the last straw because I decided that being a vegan was not worth the familial hostility.

    In the meantime, I developed diabetes years ago but have been able to control it through diet and exercise without medications, which have, according to my doctor, some dangerous side-effects. Unfortunately, that diet means avoiding carbs like pasta, potatoes, rice, sugar, etc. Since the diet has been working for so many years, I am hesitant to change it. So, I have chosen my own health over what I believe to be the ethical choice. For most people, however, veganism is the healthy choice, and I wonder if I would have ever developed diabetes had I remained a vegan.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Massimo Post author

    Mauricio,

    The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet

    I looked at that argument, and I don’t find it convincing. The numbers are very hypothethical, do not take into account suffering (which is the most relevant ethical criterion here, not sheer number of deaths), and are not in line with basic principles of ecology, according to which eathing herbivores is 90% less efficient than eating plants, energy wise.

    That said, there is no way to feed a population of billions without harming the environment. Which is why I think (long-term, drastic) population reduction should also be a goal.

    jmyers,

    I make exceptions in order to minimize pissing off relatives and hosts, though within limits. And yes, health is another reasonable exception. Besides, as another commenter pointed out, even simply reducing meat consumption would improve things dramatically. Not to mention passing laws against the mistreatment of animals and stopping the insane protection of the meat industry at the legislative level.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Steve Olson

    Massimo,
    You have said many times that Stoicism is an open philosophy with room for many different beliefs and points of view. And you state that you agree that Stoicism and vegetarianism are two separate philosophies.
    “Life in agreement with nature” would seem to allow a reasonable Stoic to use their practical wisdom to conclude that humans are omnivores by nature and that if meat is a preferred indifferent, that would be acceptable within the discipline if you are active in support of the humane treatment of animals in accordance with principles of justice.
    Personally, I do not and could not hunt and kill an animal if there was any other option. And I could make a philosophical argument that all animals should be allowed to live a full life and die a natural death. But that’s not Stoicism.
    You make many good points here in support of a vegetarian lifestyle, but it’s not an open and shut case. I think, as one of the leading spokespersons for Modern Stoicism, you need to be a little careful about stating that “Stoics should be __________”, the implication being that they should adhere to another particular philosophy or they are not really Stoics.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Massimo Post author

    Steve,

    the post does not simply make a case for vegetarianism (that’s easy), it makes a Stoic case for vegetarianism. So yes, I think Stoics should be vegetarians if they wish to be logically coherent with their own philosophy. But I’m not the Pope of Stoicism, so it’s not like people are going to be kicked out of the Church if they disagree with me.

    As for living according to nature, if you check the posts on that topic on this blog you will see that we should not confuse it with a straightforward appeal to nature, which is a logical fallacy. The Stoics were careful logicians, they never said that whatever is natural is acceptable. They appealed to what they saw as the best and most universal aspects of human nature: sociability and reason. Nothing else.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Mark Egan

    I’m sorry Massimo, I’m having difficulty following a couple of links in the logical chain here.

    You then state that Corter should have carried his thoughts about animals having souls further, presumably to a similar conclusion as you in proscribing the consumption of flesh. But there are many conclusions a modern stoic could come to that are in line with sociability and reason besides a prescription of vegetarianism.

    For example, the chain of logic may be thrown out altogether because a modern stoic doesn’t believe in souls in the first place. Or, recognizing that animal suffering appears contrary to a compassionate, sociable human’s nature regardless of whether animals have souls, one may vow to eat only ethically raised meat, say, at a nice, open farm where the cattle are grass fed without antibiotics. Perhaps one could feel more justified in eating chickens, who suffer less than cattle because their brains are vastly inferior and incapable of emotion nearly as complex. Or mussels, which don’t have central nervous systems at all. The fact that the animal is killed in an instant at the end of a peaceful life certainly doesn’t mean its life was conducted contrary to nature, does it? Or is the implicit argument that killing of any kind is contrary to nature? Marcus Aurelius didn’t seem to lament killing all those Germans. In fact it kind of seems like he viewed it as his duty.

    If the ethical argument for vegetarianism is one of environmental impact on the world, why not take an all-things-considered approach and address airplane flights, automobile ownership, and number of children as part of what a stoic should be? In many cases these things constitute a larger portion of carbon output (and thus present and future damage to the cosmopolis) than whether I eat chicken or lentils for dinner.

    I’m not trying to be combative, I really would like to understand what’s at the root of your ethical argument. Because what’s written here leaves a lot of room for alternative conclusions. For what it’s worth I largely agree that we should eat less meat – I was vegan for ~1 year, vegetarian for ~5 years, and these days eat meat far less than the average American. But I would never go so far as to say anyone “should” abstain from meat altogether.

    Fairly longtime lurker, thanks for this blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Massimo Post author

    Mark,

    thanks for the comments. Let me try to sharpen my thinking here.

    the chain of logic may be thrown out altogether because a modern stoic doesn’t believe in souls in the first place

    One does not have to believe in souls (I don’t), the relevant metric, as Bentham pointed out, is suffering. I believe that imposing unnecessary suffering on any sentient being is not in line with Stoic philosophy.

    one may vow to eat only ethically raised meat, say, at a nice, open farm where the cattle are grass fed without antibiotics

    Yes, one may do that, I sometimes do. My main argument is against large scale farming based on inhumane practices. That said, there is an ecological argument against eating any meat, given the inefficiency of the process, but that’s a bit further from Stoic philosophy and would require additional arguments.

    Perhaps one could feel more justified in eating chickens, who suffer less than cattle because their brains are vastly inferior and incapable of emotion nearly as complex

    That’s actually debatable (the bit about less suffering), and at any rate there are orders of magnitude more chickens being slaughtered every day, so that needs to be factored in as well.

    Or mussels, which don’t have central nervous systems at all.

    Not even Peter Singer has an argument against eating muscles, or oysters, or similar organisms. I checked with him.

    If the ethical argument for vegetarianism is one of environmental impact on the world, why not take an all-things-considered approach

    Because I find all-things-considered approaches are often used as a copout. People decide that “it’s too complicated” and simply give up. One issue at a time, please.

    I would never go so far as to say anyone “should” abstain from meat altogether

    I honestly don’t see the problem with using “should.” We are talking ethics. Ethics is prescriptive. Then again, I’m not the Pope of Stoicism, it’s not like if someone disagrees with me he’s going to be thrown out of the church…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. sweethotdm

    Setting aside the question of whether we should ever kill animals for food, I’m confused about the idea that we shouldn’t bother buying from small farms that raise their animals on pasture with an eye to both animal welfare and environmental impact because it’s not scalable. Raising healthy pasture and practicing rotational grazing contribute to carbon sequestration, and have become a priority for many small farms. More studies need to be done but it looks like those farms could be carbon neutral or better. Should we not accept a virtuous option just because not everyone has equal access to that option? It probably means only eating meat when you know who farmed it but that’s a very practical possibility in a state like NY, which is packed with farmers markets.

    Like

  13. Massimo Post author

    sweethotdm,

    Raising healthy pasture and practicing rotational grazing contribute to carbon sequestration, and have become a priority for many small farms

    Sure, and that’s nice. But it will be forever a tiny fraction of meat production, precisely because it isn’t scalable. There just isn’t enough land ad resources to feed 6 billion people that way. So I fear that the focus on small farming gives us an excuse to think we are doing just fine, while we are not. By a long, long shot.

    Also, it’s still farming. It still means to kill an animal for pleasure when it isn’t actually necessary to do so. I wouldn’t call it virtuous, just a lesser vice. Which is fine, since it’s better than the alternative.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Simon Whyatt

    I converted from vegetarianism/veganism to including small amounts of pasture raised meat around 10 years ago, after deciding that the argument for it is logically flawed.

    Obviously, factory farming is abhorrent, and excessive meat consumption is untenable, but going to the opposite extreme of zero livestock is not the answer either.

    If we look at the argument from a purely utilitarian perspective, livestock from well manged farms have much better lives, and experience less suffering than do most wild animals. They are well fed, protected from (other) predators and disease, and receive a fast painless death. Wild animals on the other hand regularly suffer hunger, high infant mortality, and death is usually slow and painful.

    Currently, raising animals on pasture allows us to produce food on non arable land, with very low inputs or environmental costs. If we stop this, what happens to the land?

    There’s an argument for re-wilding, which I am open to. This will require the introduction of wild herbivores. Their numbers will need to be controlled however – either by introducing natural predators such as wolves and bears, or by hunting. Is being ripped apart by a bear a better ending than being stun and stuck by a human because “it’s more natural”?

    An important part of stoicism is acknowledging that death is an inevitability. This is as true for other animals as it is for us. Attempting to avoid causing animal deaths directly and not have blood on or hands, simply shifts the cause elsewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. derekmiddletonblog

    Hi Massimo, good for you spreading the word. It’s a no brainer for any thinking human being.

    A hundred years on from the end of the First World War we look back and wonder how it was possible that for year after year men were sent mindlessly and needlessly into a hopeless mega slaughter, just to satisfy the frustrations of a nationalistic imperialist elite.

    A hundred years from now we will look back and wonder how it was possible that we were so stupid as to treat sentient animals so cruelly and disgustingly in factory farms to satisfy a mindless desire to fry their flesh, while wilfully ignoring the huge environmental and health impacts.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Victoria

    Hi Jmyers,

    I can completely relate to the problem with family not willing /be able to participate in vegetarianism. I was in similar troubles and ended up having to cook 3 different meals for 3 people at one point. 😑 it was too exhausting.

    Like

  17. Jason Malfatto

    Massimo: I’m sympathetic to arguments like these, evidenced by prior personal experiments with various degrees of vegetarian diets, only to wind up in a similar place to Simon Whyatt, which Michael Pollan summed up as the maxim: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    In practice, following the path of an ethical omnivore may indeed favor a vegetarian diet, given the difficulties of checking one’s sources at markets & restaurants. However, I would hesitate to call it “vegetarian” in the ideological sense, given its acceptance of animal farming & slaughter (albeit, humanely certified) in principle, and also given its recognition that there are big ecological gains to be made by other behavioral shifts besides adopting a plant-based diet (e.g. traveling less, investing in green energy, and most of all planning smaller families). It does help to adopt a plant-based diet or one very close to it, but it helps even more to consider all options on the table and to act accordingly (e.g. to “offset” impacts that are harder to avoid), based on one’s values, priorities, and interests.

    I’m not sure I’d call this approach “Stoic”, but I think it’s fair to say that its driven by a combination of reason and compassion, makes judgments about virtue and vice, and is contingent upon relevant facts.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Will Lorca

    Wow, folks.

    The article is much more sophisticated than good-bad and dumb-smart. Good for the first world and city folks but the dumb and poor third-word people who can’t afford to be vegetarian and be B-12 pill-popping vegans who have never heard of Stoicism, converting to some “diet” is almost a death sentence when prices of vegetables (plus milk and dairy for an ovo-lacto vegetarianism or without them for vegans) are higher than cheap meat and grains (grown in a mono-crop manner which is also ‘harmful’ to the environment; i.e. rice production and methane).

    Also, please don’t confuse philosophy with ideology and read between the lines (plus the title and through the article) before launching into ideological diatribes generalizing moral “truths” through confirming prior biases.The article is apt within a first-world context having just industrial farming and such but let us remember that this is for Modern Stoics not ideologues. There are people that would not think twice in killing 10,000 chickens just to send their sole kid to school if it was the only way they know how to do so. Should people fault them for that?

    If people (who lean towards some consumption ideology) could just immerse in some homes and communities near me, meet the people, do the math (finances), and try to understand cosmopolitanism (in a descriptive manner before passing Maury-listic judgments) and not confuse it with some messianic drive, I think those who have the heart to learn about and love others (people more than other animals) will appreciate the “spirit” behind their struggle. The people that pity non-human animals more than other people can also start to pony up.

    Like

  19. Massimo Post author

    Will,

    Good for the first world and city folks but the dumb and poor third-word people who can’t afford to be vegetarian

    I’m sorry you think this post is an attack on poor people. The idea is simply that — other things being equal — inflicting suffering on animals when it can be avoided is un-Stoic. If other things are not equal, then the discussion changes. Stoicism is a type of virtue ethics, so its precepts depend on the situation at hand.

    please don’t confuse philosophy with ideology and read between the lines (plus the title and through the article) before launching into ideological diatribes generalizing moral “truths” through confirming prior biases

    I really don’t thin there was anything “ideological” in the OP. I advanced a philosophical argument. If you disagree, you can produce counter-arguments. Just throwing accusations of ideological bias isn’t very helpful. As for biases, it is an empirical fact that we all have them, perhaps even you? That’s why honest discussions are a good thing: we help each other correct our biases.

    There are people that would not think twice in killing 10,000 chickens just to send their sole kid to school if it was the only way they know how to do so. Should people fault them for that?

    Where in the essay do I say anything even remotely close to that?

    not confuse it with some messianic drive

    I never thought of myself as Jesus. But if you say so…

    The people that pity non-human animals more than other people can also start to pony up

    Once more: where, exactly, did you read this in the OP?

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Jason Malfatto

    Massimo: I read Will’s comment (possibly in error) in the spirit of the following disclaimer: a vegetarian diet is all well and good in an advanced market economy, where healthy plant-based alternatives to animal products are readily available and affordable. I reckon those conditions apply to you, me, and most (if not all) of your readers, but still not universally to all humans.

    So, when boiled down, humanity is still at the center of our concentric Hieroclean circles of moral concern, but also expanded to include sentient beings from other species, when human needs are already met without them.

    Like

  21. Jason Malfatto

    Massimo: Maybe it boils down to semantics, as I alluded in an earlier comment. Words like “vegetarian” (let alone “vegan”) imply to some folks a kind of (non-human) animals-first absolutism that’s left a bad taste in their mouths (no pun intended).

    So even though I would agree with you that eating lower on the food chain is a worthy goal, when and where it’s a practical one, I have no plans to identify as a vegetarian: not just for PR purposes, but also because I think it’s a misleading term for the kind of ethical dietary guidelines that I have in mind, which are neither strictly plant-based nor mindlessly hedonistic.

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  22. leonids

    Ever since its 1999 publication, I’ve found Eat, Drink, and Be Merry by Dr. Dean Edell an invaluable source of information on health and nutrition. Although the book has nothing to do with Stoicism (it would have made a good discussion topic on Massimo’s old Rationally Speaking blog), Modern Stoics would recognize in Edell’s observations on vegetarianism themes that align with Stoicism. A staunch critic of health and diet fads, Edell writes, “If you push me, I have to admit that as a diet, I still like vegetarianism. I have a certain affection for it, and I marvel that it still gains converts so many years after its popularization by hippies and baby boomers.” Modern Stoics weighing whether to try vegetarianism but worried they won’t be able to stick to it would do well to remember Edell’s next observations: “The moral, animal friendly part will keep you motivated to stick to it. It offers a graceful simplicity—there’s no eat-this-in-the-morning-eat-that-at-noon dogma. In a flash, you know what to eat and what not to eat. It’s adaptable to all cuisines.” Since Stoics must be willing to risk friends over their choices, Edell’s next observations aren’t alarming: “Of course, it also separates you from your social network and can be isolating. Some people like that; some don’t.”

    And per Massimo’s OP (“My eating habits can best be described as vegetarianism with the addition of occasional wild caught fish thrown into the mix (paying attention to whether the species in question is being overfished”), I’ll add that Edell goes on to write, “Several studies have confirmed that by adding one fish meal to your weekly menu, you can cut your risk of sudden death by a whopping 50 percent. That’s a huge reduction. You choose—fish once a week or rice cakes every day. Better yet, fish really may be brain food after all—dementia appears less commonly among those who eat more fish.”

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Will Lorca

    Massimo,

    I apologize that I wasn’t clear and was probably livid. I should have exercised more patience. I was not reacting to your OP (something that is not clear) as it did come across that I was.

    I was badly reacting to a comment that I saw stating “It’s a no brainer for any thinking human being”. For this too, I apologize.

    It is a “no brainer” when we are in the position or have the luxury to do such that. I usually am in the position to be more conscientious of what I consume than others. I also lucky that a farmer’s market is but a short walk from where I stay. I eat once a day preferably freshly caught fish and vegetables. I also source my protein and cheeses locally. But this costs more and others who do not share this little comfort are thinking people as well.

    The cost of that one meal could feed a family of three with unhealthy canned goods (processed meat) with rice or corn (planted and harvested by below minimum wage paid people who sometimes can’t afford to buy rice or corn). These are thinking people. It is a no brainer for them to consume what is affordable.

    I also badly reacted to a vegan commenter talking about cholesterol-laden eggs and B-12 deficiency. I was exasperated that philosophy (especially virtue ethics) will likely be used for some ideology, confirm prior biases (against eggs and dairy, etc.) and for recruitment for some moralistic and messianic campaign.

    I have no qualms with the OP or with you. Your one of my favorite scholars: EES, philosophy of science, and, lately, modern Stoicism. I learned more from your works than I will ever from Jesus. I admit that I did react badly and I was not clear. Again, I apologize.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Massimo Post author

    Will,

    ah, that makes perfect sense! It really was not clear to me at all that you were referring to comments rather than the OP. And in fact I wholehertedly agree with all your comments here, for precisely the same reasons.

    See? Interesting experience. We had a misundertanding, we cleared it, and we’re good to go! I wish more online interactions were like this one…

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Rudolph Masers (@PracticalStoic)

    I posted this comment on the Modern Stoicism blog, but it seems like my comments are automatically flagged and don’t show up.

    Some very goods points, Massimo. Thank you, you give me something to reflect on.

    I have been torn for a while now. About 18 months ago I changed my diet to a primarily meat based one. This for weight and overall health reasons, as I have noticed that my body best reacts to grass fed beef (yes, I am aware of the cliché).

    However, because of my reflections on vegetarianism, and the lacto-vegetarianism as proposed by Musionius Rufus, I cannot really enjoy eating steaks that much anymore. I have been experimenting with switching to fish (as if they suffer less? I don’t know), eggs and some more dairy (as far as my body accepts it).

    It is interesting how reflecting on the whole nature can drive one to change their behavior. I am not the center of importance, although I do try to find a balance between taking the best care of my body while causing the least amount of suffering.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Victoria

    Hi Massimo,

    Thanks for this article and thanks for quoting the statistics.

    I live in a place that meat (especially beef and lamb) one gets from a supermarket is significantly more expensive than vegetables. It’s much cheaper to be on a vegetarian diet here lol 😂 . In fact, a friend of mine managed to reduce his grocery bill to almost zero by having a chicken barn and a small vegetables garden in his backyard.

    It makes sense right? I mean, theoretically meat should cost much more energy to produce, right? Everytime I drive between cities, I’d see cows and sheep roaming on farmlands, and thinking how many square meters of grass they’d be consuming and how much energy is lost when that animal is growing, and why don’t we just eat more plants and grains 😑.

    Liked by 3 people

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