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Utilitarianism of Vegan Diet

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In recent years, the popularity of the vegan diet has skyrocketed, with more people than ever before choosing to adopt a plant-based life. There are countless debates about the vegan diet and its ethical ramifications. Through the lens of utilitarianism, we are ethically and morally bound to eat a vegan diet.

Omera Shells Inc. is a seafood shell recycling facility in Richibucto, New Brunswick, that has received complaints about its odour emissions from nearby residents. PETA, the world’s largest animal rights activist group, leverages this incident to launch a public advertising campaign urging everyone to adopt a healthy, vegan lifestyle (Woodbury, 2018). A vegan diet focuses on plant-based foods and the elimination of all animal products (Jhaveri, 2018). Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to the overall utility in maximizing happiness or pleasure of the greatest number (“Utilitarianism”). In this context, the well-being of all sentient beings deserves equal consideration with that given to human beings (“Utilitarianism”).

PETA spokesperson Amber Canavan argues for animal rights and against eating animals, using lobsters as an example, claiming that “lobsters are intelligent, sensitive people that do not want to be killed and we can get every [nutrition] we need from a healthy vegan diet without killing any other animals.” (Woodbury, 2018) Utilitarians offer an inductive argument that the practice of raising and killing animals for food is inhumane and thus reduces the total amount of happiness in the world. If everyone were to adopt a vegan diet, the demand for meat would collapse; then there is no need to raise and kill animals for food, thereby inhumane practices towards factory-farmed animals will cease. The aggregate happiness will be higher, and therefore everyone should follow a vegan diet.

Critics argue that a vegan diet that excludes meat altogether does not always result in net positive utility. The demand for meat is ever present in our society, making the market for meat undeniably huge. The meat industry is so vast that an individual’s effect on the demand for meat is infinitesimally small. If a meat-loving utilitarian purchases meat, they are not causing much harm, if any at all, because the effect is so small and they derive net pleasure from it. If the meat-loving utilitarian stops eating meat entirely, the loss of an individual consumer will make no difference to the meat industry and there would be a loss in pleasure because they will be eating something they like less than meat. Since an individual's acts do not cause or encourage the wrongdoing to take place, they are not themselves morally wrong.

Animals feel pleasure and pain the same way humans do, and that plays a role in the calculation of utility. For example, humans gain pleasure from the enjoyment of eating

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