I am convinced that dairy is cruel. I am convinced that dairy is unenvironmental. I am pretty convinced that it is probably significantly unhealthy, especially if you are not a baby cow.
In many ways, in terms of mean suffering, Dairy has a higher negative moral payload than eating face. I would love to be proven wrong on these points. I love cheese. I love butter. I love yoghurt and kefir. But, I believe that the reality is, that if meat is murder, then milk is murder and rape and tortureous exploitation.
It’s easy to deny-up and dial-up the cognitive dissonance on this, but it doesn't change the fact that it just is what it is: cruel.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t drink milk or eat meat. I am saying that if you decide that your life direction is towards the lowering of suffering (In my country, we call this “trying to be a good person”) then it’s irrational to eat flesh or consume dairy. When we say a choice is “rational” what we really mean that it is “value preserving.” In this case, it’s irrational to say, “I want to do everything I can to reduce suffering, but, I eat baby mammals, for mouth pleasure”.
For me, on this, the case is closed. I love eating meat and am in a constant holding pattern of holding out for some surprise roadkill. Or maybe an ibex that slipped on some wet moss. If I found a lonly nanny who needed a milking, why, I’d probably get on my knees and get teat to teat, in the middle of the street. But other than these kinds of improbable situations, the case is closed; I’m vegan:
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” The Official Definition of Veganism.
But there is a mycoprotein-faux-fly in the ointment of my veganism: Eggs.
Eggs. You beauties! I’m not talking eggs produced, en mass, in a horrific henitentiary. But small scale, local, very free range, cruelty free eggs. The moral payload seems to me to be a radically different kind and degree to that of milk and meat. The kind of eggs that I grew up with. The kind produced on most of the farms and smallholdings in rural areas - at least those that pride themselves in producing cruelty free eggs.
Is eating eggs cruel?
The chickens and cockerels my mum and dad have in their garden could run away into the woods if they wanted. They are locked up at night to protect against foxes, and roam freely in the day.I don’t see suffering anywhere in their lives, at least any more than the wild animals, like the panthers and seagulls, that have made my parent’s garden their home. The eggs from these hens are cruelty free, and the ones from the cocks are not bad either, if not a bit gloopy-salty.
So why would a vegan say that eggs from super-happy hens like this should not be eaten?
Here are the three arguments that I am aware of:
Theft: One argument vegans use against eggs is that it is immoral to steal their eggs. The hens do not lay the eggs for humans, they do not consent to them being taken, and therefore it is theft to eat eggs. I get where this is coming from, but it doesn’t have the kind of knock-down nobraineryness that I, personally, need in any moral conclusion I am going to adhere to.
Is it not analogous to stealing apples from a tree? Do the hens miss their unfertilized eggs in any sense? It seems to be different to what is involved in the theft of milk from mother and calf. I don't think the argument that eggs are theft is easy to refute, either, I just am not yet persuaded enough by it, yet.
Cockicide: Another argument is that the male birds are often killed as soon as they are hatched, and thus, consuming eggs is supporting this process. There are many videos online about this process, it’s certainly seems barbaric to me. However, assuming that the newborn male chickens are killed quickly, without consciousness or suffering, I am not sure how it can be thought to be cruel. Gross and barbaric, but not really cruel. I think it is certainly not cruel in the sense of what happens to male dairy calves is cruel.
Nonetheless, let’s assume that the cockicide cruelty is a clear and unquestionable case of cruelty. This doesn't mean that all eggs are tainted by this negativity. For example, there are egg producers who go to great lengths to see that the male chicks are not treated cruelly for their long and noisy lives. There are hens that are rescued from battery hens, the eggs of these seems profoundly unconnected to the apparent cruelty of the cockiside issues.
Enforced Laying: The final argument I am aware of is that taking the eggs from a laying hen means that she is just going to keep on laying, and this is somehow cruel or at least wrong in some other sense. To my mind, this is the least weighty of the arguments. Firstly, naturally kept hens are not forced to lay, they lay seasonally and when unstressed. They have a finite but abundant amount of eggs and it is their evolved biology to just keep on laying, whether they have been taken out for dinner by a rooster or not.
So I just don’t really get why the actual effect of taking the eggs would make the hen suffer anymore than the contrary, and so I don’t see why some people think this is a reason to not eat eggs. I am open to having my view changed on this (or any) point, but currently it doesn’t have much persuasive power with me.
Is it rational to eat eggs?
I currently believe that eating eggs can be cruelty free and that, with the right choices, it can have a negligible moral and ethical payload. Because of this, I currently don’t see why vegans don't eat eggs when it seems rational to eat eggs because:
Eggs are so healthy. In the sometimes sparse landscape of what vegans can eat, eggs stand out, like hard boiled stupas of hypernutrition. Cruelty free eggs solve many of the nutritional problems faced by vegans, like protein, choline, vitamins and good cholesterol. So if you want to be rational about your nutrition it is irrational to not eat eggs, in doing so you are forcing yourself to eat junky, processed and pricey vegan alternatives, like vegan cheese. Yuck.
Cruelty free eggs reduce the mean suffering in the world. The final argument I would like to put forward is that if you are a vegan, or anyone who wants to reduce suffering in the world, then by eating cruelty free eggs you are sending out a message to the industrial egg producers that you will not tolerate their barbaric battery ways. In other words, by not eating cruelty free eggs, you are tacitly supporting the hellish industrial food system to continue enslaving hens in torture, the very thing that makes vegans go vegan! This point might be controversial, and I am not sure it is a water-tight argument, but, as the old saying goes:
“If you want to make an omelette, you need to heat the pan up to a sufficient temperature to coagulate the proteins.“
A Sad Hen