Would you eat meat for a lot of money?

The other day I asked strict vegetarians/vegans the following question on my Facebook wall: if you would receive 10.000 €, would you eat a steak? With almost 200 replies, it was one of the most liveliest discussions on my otherwise pretty lively wall.

As could be expected, a lot of replies were along the lines of “never! for no money in the world!” I could feel the pride and the confidence in those answers. No, of course they would not sell out! Of course these people wouldn’t betray their principles for money! Fortunately, pretty early in the discussion was an in my view more thoughtful reply: someone found it worth considering, since she could use the money to save animals.

That was also my view, and honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’m not vegan for the sake of being vegan. My main reason to be vegan is to help animals and do my thing to make the world a better place in general, for all beings. If someone offers me a good amount of money to eat a steak (which is not the same as offering me money to kill an animal, which I wouldn’t do), I would take it. More than that: I would feel guilty if I didn’t. I would not want to put my own ideological or physical purity above the practical implications of accepting that sum.

I kept the amount offered purposely low, because I thought that for say one million euros the question would definitely be a no-brainer. But even then, apparently, many people wouldn’t have a bite. To be honest, I have difficulty understanding this attitude. I value pragmatism and actual change above anything else, and certainly above dogmatic principles. If this means that, as someone put it “there is something wrong with my veganism”, then so be it. I believe the vegan movement, like many other ideological movements, suffers from too much ideology and is in more need of pragmatism.

Does it make a difference whether people, or maybe a mass audience, would know about my “betrayal”? I think it does. If I would need to do this on TV, I would think harder, but I’d probably do it. I think that giving the message in itself that not all veg*ns are dogmatic and impractical ideologists is valuable in itself. Many veg*ns and animal rights activists would of course say that the audience would value consistency more. Maybe that is so, but I worry that the concern for coherence and consistency lives much more in their minds than in the omnivore’s, and that the premium we put on our exceptionless consistency turns more people off than it turns on.

It’s not that I can’t understand any counterarguments at all, but I haven’t come across one that I personally find valid. Feel free to try to change my mind with your comment… And please vote 🙂

Also read the follow up: Eating meat for money, the sequel.

27 thoughts on “Would you eat meat for a lot of money?

  1. Thank you for this opinion Tobias. To be honest, I got a little bit scared reading the comments on your FB page. I like people with strong opinions. I like people looking for the right thing to do. I like people consequently doing what they believe is right. But I’m afraid of people that don’t notice that their conviction becomes a dogma. Of people that cannot put things into perspective. That cannot relativize when needed. People that got emotionally stuck in their thinking. I know that the line lies somewhere else for everybody, and we should respect this. But with your opinion you show the importance of being able to put thing into perspective (relativize) and to put yourself into perspective. I personally think that it is mentally healthier to be able to cross your limits once in a while rather than to meticulously and fanatically stay on one side. A good portion of pragmatism as you call it. Great ! BTW maybe next time you can ask your question differently: what would you do if you find yourself in a poor family in a foreign country, where they killed the pig especially to give you a warm welcome. This is in their tradition, and it would be also quite impolite to refuse their hospitality … ?

    1. jan, thanks. you more or less say what i think, though as you also say, we all draw the line somewhere else, and to be clear, I wouldn’t eat meat for reasons of politeness (even though i can imagine that even that might in some circumstances bring some or even more good than refusing it).
      i think basically (i’ll write about that) many veg*ns (including myself) are all so sad and angry with animal abuse and suffering, that we really need some people around us who definitely and radically say no, and we need to believe that there are others like us who will never break their principles. I can understand that desire. I just trust that serving your highest principles by being pragmatic won’t mean you stray “off the path”.

  2. Jan, the definitions of ‘dogmatism’ and ‘pragmatism’ are ‘essentially contested concepts’. This means that from my vegan point of view i consider vegetarians and flexitarians as dogmatic; idem for the people who say, “well i can use the 10.000 euro to help animals, so yes i will eat the steak!” from my point of view this is dogmatic too! and so on. the point is however that the question Tobias asked cannot be answered in a social vacuum, hence as soon as you say YES i would eat the steak, you put a whole set of social and ideological problems in motion which will be worse for the animals! me too i am vegan for the animals, this means once and for all the USE of animal products, for whatever purpose, has become a non item for me. So Tobias’ question is answered by NO as it doesn’t matter if it there is money involved or another coercion: the question is: would you eat a steak under some conditions. For vegans there is only one answer, else they are not convinced of veganism!
    Mandela, to name but one example, stood up for his principles: if you want to call it dogmatic! so beit; i rather follow Mandela than a pragmatic person as the latter is unstable and unpredictable! Besides, pragmatism is always a human issue, never an issue in favour of the animals! you don’t fight fire with fire; you don’t fight slavery by accepting some slavery in exchange for money! if you call it dogmatic, fine, bui again i rather will stand by the ‘dogmatic’ in case of crisis! what alot of vegetarians and (pre)vegans don’t seem to understand is that there is whole history of social struggles (involving human topics) which shows only oen outcome: society has always improved in a better way through ‘abolitionism’ (call it ‘dogmatism’) and never through pragmatism (which is only a strategy to alter the wrapping rather than the content). So why is it that when animal rights are at stake, suddenly pragmatism would help ? yes, it helps people feel better without changing anything for the animals!
    Moreover when you call ‘consequent vegans’ ‘dogmatists’ then you literally say: “I don’t have any problems with the animal (entertainment) industry spreading their dogmatic approach of animas as ‘objects’, or with the vegetarians spreading their dogma of ‘no meat is the solution’, but thso evegans have to shut up”. Guess what: in name of the animals vegans will never allow to be silenced, especially ot by so-called animal lovers who only look at the human part of the equation!

    1. Dear Jean,

      > I agree with you that dogmatism and pragmatism are contested concepts, and that it is hard to state what is dogmatic and what is not, as you explain by numerous examples. But I suppose that the semantics of the two words are quite clear to us both. The thing is that I do not want to discuss about what I consider to be dogmatic or not. My point is that we have to avoid being dogmatic, in the meaning of the word, that is considering any opinion incontrovertibly true. Doubt and openness to being wrong are the basis for all science and knowledge. This idea should introduce a certain amount of relativity to all one’s ideas and convictions.

      > What I like about pragmatism is that it goes beyond the emotional or the pure moral. It looks at the reality, at the figures, and put things into that perspective. Pragmatism is not disconnected from the social context we are living in (as you state yourself). And the social reality of today is that countless amounts of animals are killed every second. Although I do not agree with this, this is the unfortunate truth. If I would eat one time a steak, this event wouldn’t change anything at all to that reality. And it won’t change my conviction either.

      > I think it is very important to make a distinction between a negligible one-time event and a general attitude. I’m talking about a negligible event in the social context as described here above. Imagine that our society is evolving into the good direction, and that in the future we’ll live in a meatless society. We’ll look at killing animals just like we look at slavery, colonization, etc. today. In THAT society, the question would be different. Eating a steak would require the killing of an animal, and the one-time event would NOT be negligible. It’s important to me to see this difference. Besides, THINGS DO NOT FALL OR STAND WITH THE EXCEPTION, BUT WITH THE GENERAL PICTURE.

      > I’m quite surprised about your example about all the social struggles that already lie (partially) behind us (abolition, feminism, apartheid, environmentalism, secularism, etc. ). They are all born thanks to anti-dogmatism !! And of course there was also a certain portion of pragmatism needed in order to make those changes happen. You should never fight a dogma with another dogma (as you say yourself, you should not fight fire with fire). And anti-dogmatisme or anti status quo and pragmatism go perfectly together. Pragmatism is looking at where you can have an impact. Concentrating on the essential and forgetting about the negligible. So yes, I think that you might have more impact being pragmatic than by loosing yourself in the details.

      > In the examples you give, the inspiring persons are not dogmatic. They are anti-dogmatic, and they are convinced that things can be better. There is nothing wrong with having a conviction. There is nothing wrong with trying to convince people about your own conviction. But I don’t think it’s good to think that your conviction is the only truth. I wouldn’t try to force people to follow the same conviction. I do my best not to think that people without the same conviction are morally less. You can figure it out for yourself, have your opinion, and you can explain it to other people, but do not lose yourself in feelings of superiority. Not towards vegetarians as a vegan, not towards flexitarians as a vegetarian. History shows too much examples about people believing that their conviction is the only truth, that all the others are less, and that people have to be forced toward this only conviction (inquisition, IS now, etc. ). I really do not believe that if I eat meat once, I’ll be able to convince less people about the importance of vegetarism/veganism. I rather believe that the more fanatic you are, the less understanding, the less flexible, the less impact you’ll have in your social struggle. You CAN (and should in my opinion) defend your conviction without being dogmatic.

      > To summarize: I believe it is healthy to be able to make exceptions. Being consequent does not mean to me that you ALWAYS make the same choice, without exception. No, that, to me, is fanaticism. And I’m against every form of fanaticism. Being consequent means to me that you have a clear line in making your decisions, but also able to make exceptions. Able to be flexible and to put things into perspective. To me, the person eating 355 times a year vegetables and one time a year eggs or even meat, is as much a vegans as the one who hasn’t touched anything of animal origin for 20 years. And I believe that I have more impact being consequent, than being fanatic 🙂

  3. Hi Tobias,

    I’m glad you put this topic to discussion. I for one would agree with Jean Blancquart in responding with a resounding “NO”, and would like to add my own take to some of the arguments Jean puts forward, albeit peppered with my own experiences. Let me start with some more clarification on my position regarding your moral query.

    I consider myself a pragmatic vegan, in the sense that I live a life that is quite similar to what is mostly expected of a vegan lifestyle while doing “whatever I can to a reasonable extent” throughout the day. I still wear leather shoes I bought a few months before “going vegan”, as I rather wear them out and don’t have another pair, but gave away a leather shoulderbag I carried as I can’t bring myself to use it and have a perfectly suitable backpack to use in its stead.

    I make explicit note of my own situation (while hopefully not sparing everyone bothersome details) because, as Jean Blancquart mentioned, I find it crucial to take note of the social and political contexts that surround a person, objects and words. Moreover, I’d like to add that my definition of what it actually “means” to “be vegan” does not necessarily coincide with yours or someone else’s. Indeed, one could argue there are countless ways of “being vegan”.

    Returning to the original quandary, as a pragmatic vegan, I would firstly look to what I, myself, can do in any given situation. Let’s look at the hypothetical situation of being offered to eat a steak in return for a given sum of money.

    You mention that the 10.000 euros in question could be used to save animal lives, henceforth making it a thoughtful consideration for any vegan or vegetarian putting the lives of animals before their own moral principles. Your logic is sound, and I can see what you’re getting at, but I fail to see how your solution to the problem would be “less dogmatic”, or “more pragmatic”, than the approach I would take.

    I reject the sum of money being offered, and don’t eat the steak. And here’s why: Firstly, at any given time, I try to look at what I can do in a given situation. Here, I can only directly influence one thing (I will go into this in more detail), whether to eat the steak or not. Therefore, I don’t eat it, as I don’t wish to partake in any production chain containing animal products if I can do something about it.

    Moreover, I choose to reject the sum of money on the grounds of its uncertain nature and impact. If I choose to accept the sum, how do I know how to spend it in order to save animals? If I do, in some way, manage to identify any or many courses of action to take, how do I judge the impact the money will have, and how do I choose the cause to spend it on? What I’m trying to underline is that, even if you accept a sum of money, spending it to further a certain cause is very abstract, while the choice whether or not to eat the meat is highly concrete. I choose not to eat, and in (not) doing so, don’t partake in a system of animal abuse. In this case, I neither win nor lose. If I would, however, choose to accept the sum of money, I’d be taking a risk since I’d infringe on what I think is morally right in order to “possibly” have a higher impact in the future. While this might garner the desired effect, this to me doesn’t seem to be the pragmatic choice in this regard.

    What influenced my way of approaching this problem was a similar moral problem. “You find yourself in an empty room. On the other side of the room is a small helpless child. In the middle is a pedestal with a button on it. If you push the button you eradicate sickness from the world, helping billions of people. However, you also kill the helpless child you are in the room with. What do you do?”

    Again, I would not push the button. I think the person who influenced me most with regard to this question was the person who posed it to me, who stated that “the helpless child in the room is your direct responsibility. I don’t know all those other people in the world. But I can see this child.”

    I find this a very fruitful way to approach similar problems. Given the close proximity to the child, and the direct result of your action (pushing the button), you are responsible for the life or death of this child.

    While you might influence the billions of people outside of the room’s walls, the impact your actions might have on their lives is much more hypothetical or abstract. Who is to say that the next day, those diseases aren’t cured anyway? Effectively causing you to kill an innocent child in vain? Maybe a cure will be discovered in due time, and are the lives and deaths of all those other people entirely your responsibility?

    Indeed, pragmatism, I think, would lead us to save the child, which would mean no loss nor gain, in favor of a highly uncertain result, should we risk to sacrifice a helpless child.

    I think I, and many others voting no, unconsciously see our beliefs and values as that helpless child, and would stubbornly refuse to sacrifice it on the altar of a highly uncertain and hypothetical result.

    1. thanks for your thoughtful reply, Ruben. There’s several points I could make to it:

      – first of all, the hypothesis is meant to investigate what you think is important. I could put it all much more explicit and sharp. Suppose we put in the hypothesis that you KNOW some good use of the money that would have an impact (let’s face it, if we didn’t have at least some educated guesses about that, what use would collecting donations and activism be? we can never be sure of the impact of any action.
      – if you want an even clearer dilemma: suppose a man is killing animals and he says he will stop only when you eat a steak (absurd yes, but it’s still a thought experiment)
      – there IS a difference between the steak being from an already dead body, and the child in your example being alive. Like i said, I wouldn’t kill for money.

    1. That’s a very good question, Andreas. I think from the beginning the real question here was: how far would you go for 10.000€ (which you would use to save animals)? Would you eat a dead person? Would you eat your dead dog? Would you eat someone else’s poo? I mean, everyone must have her/his limits. I don’t really see the point in criticising the people whose limits are eating that steak.

      If only one person in Belgium would be vegan, that person wouldn’t save a single animal. It’s only once a lot of people start changing their consumption pattern that eventually less animals will be killed or abused. Being a vegan is, I think, in most situations a mostly symbolic thing. You’re a vegan because you hope it will inspire other people to be vegan as well, show them it’s easy etc. Because you are doing your part of the job, still knowing the job requires a lot of other people to get done.

      Not eating the steak can be a strong symbolic act. It shows people that even for a lot of money you’re not going to do something you find immoral (i.e. eating the product of death and suffering), thus showing them you are very convinced of the moral principles behind veganism and hoping to inspire them to do the same. Because only if you can convince other people will veganism succeed in its purpose.

      Eating the steak is also a symbolic act. You show people that veganism is not as effective as money for saving animals (even though I personally don’t believe that is a given fact). Given the choice you believe every human being should choose the most effective way to achieve her/his goal, even if that means committing an immoral act. But not any immoral act, so you admit there is a completely subjective element here as well: killing one to save thousands is not okay, eating one who is already dead on the other hand is fine.

      It is not because you personally choose the second option and that your subjective barrier lies elsewhere that you can depict people making other choices as dogmatic non-thinkers.

  4. This scenario is ridiculous. Who or what organisation would offer money in return for causing the death of another animal? What kind of organisation would pick such a sadistic situation as to offer money to someone who cares about justice for other animals in return for causing harm to one of those animals. Someone working for that kind of justice would not pose such a question in the first place. Eating other animals is a moral issue that affects their entitlement to justice. Vegans claim to be for animal equality. Where issues of justice and morality are concerned that affect humans, such as murder, rape, and assault, we do not regard a person as a good or just or moral person if they murder, rape or assault someone, albeit only once a year. Those of us who work in the fields of justice or the helping professions would never countenance asking people to reduce their violent behaviour towards others to once a year. We help them to realise that their behaviour is absolutely unacceptable and to find ways to completely stop it.

    If we are to accord other animals the same justice that we accord humans, then we cannot say that someone is vegan if they are responsible for the murder, rape and assault of another animal by eating them, even if they are only responsible for these acts on one occasion per annum. Of course, people who only eat animal products once a year cause less suffering than people who eat them more frequently. But striving to cause less suffering rather than no suffering is part of the same speciesist psyche or mindset that justifies the infliction of unnecessary suffering on others due to their species membership. It is a mindset that characterises non-vegan omnivores and vegetarians.

    There is no need to eat or use other animals at all. Why not abstain abstain from animal use and embrace the non-violence inherent in abolishing all exploitation from our consciousness? Why would anyone dilute this idea of peace and lack of suffering for everyone when there is no reason to? If people fully emobody the sentience, personhood and individuaity of the animals we eat, they could not countenance eating those beings once a year. Good vegan education does not entice people with these compromises: instead it teaches people about the animals we harm with our compromises. It teaches us to evolve to a new way of life that views all sentient life as equally entitled to freedom from exploitation, harm, and death

  5. “If someone offers me a good amount of money to eat a steak (which is not the same as offering me money to kill an animal, which I wouldn’t do), I would take it.”

    Hi Tobias,
    I can’t understand the difference you make here between killing an animal yourself and having someone killing it for you. If you believe in utilitarianism, sacrifice of 1 to save 10 is okay, so you should kill it yourself if you are asked to. If on the contrary you don’t believe in utilitarianism, I think you should just reject the offer.

    1. Nicolas, i am not thinking about this as “having someone kill an animal for me” but as “eating a piece of meat that is already there”. Of course i do know that the “the animal was already dead anyway”- argument that meat eaters make makes no sense, but in this case it is not about a rule that can or cannot be generalized but the idea is just to demonstrate pragmatism. Not sure if u can follow 🙂

      1. Pragmatism may be a nice idea but the point you are trying to make is weakened by your unwillingness to kill an animal yourself for the same €10,000. Your demonstration would be more powerful if you acknowledged that eating or killing+eating is exactly the same for the animal.
        The only difference is that in one situation you get your own hands dirty, and in the other one someone else does your dirty work.
        If pragmatism is the best choice according to you, why not fully embracing it? You’ll still be criticised but at least you’ll be honest.

        1. you are right that by acknowledging that i wouldn’t kill an animal for that money may be inconsistent with a pragmatic/consequentialist approach, but this is where my pragmatism ends and where i become more of a deontologist (i think there’s few people who are entirely one or the other). in any case, the difference here is the fact that an animal has already been killed, so that’s not the same as killing one.
          btw there’s no need to accuse me of not being honest, we try to keep things friendly here. thanks

          1. Sorry for the roughness of my words. I think the disagreement came from the grey area over the animal’s death that you accepted as part of the exercise, while I tried to make sense of it in a concrete context.
            If we consider this purely as a thought experiment in which the death circumstances are not informed and don’t matter and we want to show the world that all vegans are not so dogmatic… I might agree with your stance.
            Otherwise, in real world conditions, I can’t think of many scenarios in which the killing would be acceptable.

            Also, I would like to take this experiment a bit further: would you eat a human being that has already been killed for €10,000? 🙂

            1. it’s hard to expain exactly what i mean, arthur, i will think about it a bit more, but basically i believe that meat eating, especiallywhere it would concern a single exception, is still a whole lot different than killing, at least in this day and age, and at least in the perception of the general public. but again, this is not clear, i’ll write about it someday
              re your question of eating a bit of human corpse: let me explain my feeling like this: i don’t want to do that of course, it would kind of disgust me. but it would not, i think,disgust me much *morally*. on the contrary, i fear that, being prone to feeling guilty and responsible for things as i do, that i would feel i would have the moral *duty* to eat it if i can spare a lot of suffering with it. i have this book “the book of horrible questions”, where you are asked to the most disgusting things (not always immoral things) for money, and each time i think of who i could help with that money, i feel sadly morally obliged to do those disgusting things even though i don’t want to at all. don’t know if that makes any sense 🙂

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