In a world where compassion, justice and equality have become common motivators for how responsible members of society should act, do our food choices need to be included in the conversation?
This is the question that Ed Winters, a popular vegan YouTuber with over 160,000 subscribers, aimed to answer in a talk in Kennedy Hall’s Call Auditorium on Monday entitled “Should We All Be Vegan?”
Winters, who works under the moniker “Earthling Ed,” primarily creates content about vegan education and peaceful activism aimed at vegans and non-vegans alike, with the goal of promoting veganism for its large-scale benefits to the environment, animals and human health.
Originally from the U.K., Winters recently embarked on a tour around the U.S. east coast to spread his message, with speeches at Cornell as well as Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Yale and Rutgers.
In his talk, Winters focused on the moral and philosophical implications of eating meat and animal products, and how this highlights the inconsistencies of society’s collective ethics.
According to Winters, it is morally inconsistent of people to love some species, such as dogs and cats, but systematically slaughter others, such as pigs and cows.
“We have to understand that the distinction between animals that we value within our families, such as dogs and cats, and the animals that we exploit, such as pigs, chickens and cows, is arbitrary in that they all feel pain and are conscious and are sentient,” he explained.
Winters argued that people consider eating animal products normal because of societal conventions, and they should be questioning those norms.
“If we can’t watch slaughterhouse footage, if it’s not good enough for our eyes, then the question is, why on earth is it good enough for our stomachs?” he asked of his audience. “And if we can’t watch it, can we ever claim that it is humane?”
Ed spent a portion of his time focusing on the dairy industry, and explained the vegan perspective as to why dairy is considered to be as unethical, or even more unethical, than meat consumption.
“In the dairy industry, all the animals are still sent to the slaughterhouse,” Winters said. “But we can argue that dairy is even worse than meat because the cows are forcibly impregnated through a process called artificial insemination, have their babies stolen from them so that the mother’s milk can be given to humans instead of their own calves, and this is a cycle that happens year by year.”
Ed’s talk also focused on the environmental implications of the meat and dairy industries as well as the large subsidies that are given to these industries for them to be upheld.
He provided statistics on the environmental harm of beef and dairy products. “It takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk,” Winters said.
He related this back to the ethics of supporting animal agriculture industries, which require massive amounts of freshwater to support, in the face of socioeconomically disadvantaged people and minority groups who live in impoverished areas that have no clean drinking water.
“Environmentalism is also a manner of social justice, so to really be intersectional, we have to consider how morally inconsistent it is of us to support the animal agriculture industries when they require one-third of the world’s drinkable water. There are so many people living in such impoverishment that they have no clean drinking water,” Winters argued.
There was a 50-minute question-and-answer session at the end of the talk, in which members could challenge, question or simply express concern or support on the topic of veganism itself.
“A lot of people see veganism as an elite way of eating,” Emma Smith ’22 said, mentioning the existence of food deserts and systematic poverty which makes health, environment, and ethics a low priority for many people in underprivileged communities when making food choices.
Ed acknowledged that veganism is not always a possibility for people in tough circumstances, but elaborated further on why it was necessary to make veganism more accessible and how he believed that this could be achieved.
“It seems morally questionable that people find it right to use the suffering of others to justify the actions of themselves. Why are you using the impoverishment of others to justify your own immorality?” he asked.
He stated that, especially on the Cornell campus, there are many students who are certainly capable of supporting a vegan lifestyle, and so if they used their privilege to support more vegan foods, then vegan foods would eventually become more competitive in price to non-vegan foods.
Ed argued that doing so would have domino effects of lowering the prices of plant-based products, which would make these products more accessible to low-income communities.
“If you look at impoverished third-world countries, most of the foods they eat are plant-based because meat is considered a luxury,” Winters said. “Plants are the cheapest foods they can buy.”
Ed made a point to focus on the power of the individual consumer, and the importance of having one’s morals line up with their actions.
“If we can acknowledge that unnecessary suffering is wrong … we have to avoid inflicting suffering on others whenever we can,” he said. “So if we want to live in a civilized society and claim to be moral beings, we have to exhibit that in our behaviors. [Veganism] is better for the environment, it’s better for our health, and morally, it’s the only logical, consistent way of acting.”