Eating meat for money, the sequel

My post “Would you eat a steak for a lot of money?” created quite some controversy on multiple Facebook walls and groups. Most people didn’t bother to read my text before answering the question, and were very proud to say things like “No! Never!” Most of those apparently didn’t consider the idea that you could do a lot of good with that money. I started to wonder if maybe thinking is not vegan?

The fact that many people wouldn’t eat a steak for even a million euro, which they could spend on saving many more animals, shows in my view that there’s something seriously weird about many people’s take on veganism/vegetarianism. It looks like being vegan-without-exceptions is for some people a dogma, and that following it has become much more important than what veganism actually stands for, which is reducing suffering. Matt Ball put it this way: “is veganism more important than helping animals?

Of course there’s all kinds of very principled arguments that people bring up to NOT eat the steak. It’s wrong. It could lead to corruption. Money can’t save the animals (huh?). People giving those kind of answers often are very impatient with utilitarian arguments and apparently consider them the root of all evil, if I read their posts. Anyway, I haven’t read any single deontological argument that seemed convincing to me (but am not a moral philosopher).

The very worst answer you can give to my dilemma, I think, is saying that the question is stupid. Sometimes I think the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who want and can take hypotheticals seriously, and those who can’t or won’t. The latter should really refrain, in my humble opinion, from discussing them.

To be fair, there were also quite a few more thoughtful replies. I was glad to see some people actually refer to webpages that try to calculate effectiveness. Someone pointed out, for instance, that according to this link, with 10.000 € you can save about 30.000 animals.

At the core of the discussion lies the question of what’s more important: purity or pragmatism. I plan to explore that question in other posts.

10 thoughts on “Eating meat for money, the sequel

  1. Similar question: Would you eat meat for a year, if in exchange someone else pledged to abstain from meat for ten years?

    Isn’t our obligation to get others to stop eating animals as strong as for not eating them ourselves?

  2. Many humans would lie, pay a ransom, etc to save the life of a human hostage yet when your hypothetical question is asked a sort of double standard emerges and non human animals are denied the same consideration given to humans. We see most would make an exception/compromise their ethical principles to save a human but not so for the non human animal.

  3. The fact that people respond “irrationally” to utilitarist thought experiments is not peculiar to the community of vegans. For a billion dollars, would you rape and burn alive a child of 5 years of age? If not, you are being irrational because with the money you could save millions of children from horrible deaths (see effective altruism sites for estimates on cost of saving a human life). However, I think almost no one except for silly consequentslists would suggest “yes” to be a reasonable answer. To make this more pressing, for USD 7.01 you should be willing to kill a child if you are serious about this, because in actual fact the computational cost of saving a life is only 7 USD afaik (donating to malaria prevention is that cost efficient). To me this is a reductio ad absurdum for strong consequentalism, how about you?

  4. Ooooh – what a good question. Guaranteed to get the conversation going again at a boring party!

    Tough call. Personally, i have never been fond of meat, so it wasn’t hard to give it up and I have no desire to eat fake meat either. In fact, it has been so long now that my poor stomach wouldn’t know how to cope.
    But if the money was guaranteed to go on towards a good cause… stomach’s can recover, and maybe your sacrifice will go to the greater good of a far larger number of animals than just your one self….

    What springs to mind is that expose documentary “Supersize Me”, whereby a vegetarian in the USA conducted an experiment using ONLY MacDonald’s food as their diet for 30 days. At that time, staff would ask if the customer wanted Supersize – an even more offensive meal option that a usual Maccas. The person conducting the experiment was not allowed to refuse, if offered. His health was recorded constantly and he was advised by a doctor to give up the challenge after only a week or so. He said he was at first sickened, but then started to show signs of addiction until he got his Maccas. Having completed all this, his vegan chef partner took weeks of caring for him to get him back to his usual healthy state of being.

    Now THAT is a challenge I think even less would take on than eating a steak for money,

    You set a good challenge question. 🙂

  5. Correction: Spurlock (the man conducting the experiment) at ate a varied diet but always ate vegan evening meals with his vegan chef girlfriend.

    And the experiment was conducted due to the amount of obesity in the States, not to do with vegetarianism or veganism.

    🙂

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