For me, palatability is about texture at least as much as taste. What I've found, unfortunately, is that even the best imitation meats, like beyond burgers, certain vegan sausages, and chick'n, are in the uncanny valley of meatlike textures. I agree with you that chicken is rather bland on its own, and if an imitation chicken could nail the texture, I would probably be fine crossing over. Red meat supplies much of its own flavor, and beyond burger and its similars have yet to really approach either the texture or flavor.
I think vegan sausage might be approachable, and have the added benefit that, AFAIK, vegan sausage has no need to contain carcinogenic nitrates. Also, since a lot of sausage is either chicken or pig based, which I believe have the worst factory farming, it would be nice to eliminate meat based sausage and replace it with a vegetarian/vegan alternative. I haven't put much effort into locating the best vegan sausage, or heard much hype about it.
I'm sure that it would be difficult to eliminate all unethical meat consumption, and I applaud you for trying before you went entirely veg*an. I don't have a very absolutist take on it. "Morally safe" is a relative term to me, and I don't feel like a moral disaster has occurred if I eat factory farmed meat once in a while. It's a bit like how I approached COVID safety: I will accept greater levels of harm/risk in order to enjoy a socially meaningful experience than I will in circumstances that are less meaningful. Similarly, I'll eat ethical meat at home and not worry about the origin of the meat when eating out or at a restaurant. I think that if everybody followed this policy, that would represent a radical improvement in the way we treat animals.
I guess on a broader level, I'm interested in small dietary interventions that still make a big difference in terms of decreasing one's marginal contribution to animal cruelty. It's way easier for some people to reduce meat consumption and shift toward pasture-raised meat and home-layed eggs in their home cooking than it is for them to become vegetarian/vegan or to rigorously check the origins of all meat consumed at restaurants and social occasions. That doesn't apply to everybody, of course - for some, it's more straightforward to cut out meat entirely, others are more committed to eliminating meat on ethical or compassion grounds, and still others simply can't afford meat unless it's factory-farmed, enforcing a binary choice between veg*ism or unethical meat consumption.
A third aspect is social and signaling considerations. I have a lot of respect for veg*ans such as yourself who took a principled ethical stand and fought for it despite social pressure and inconvenience. I think that can be very persuasive to some people, although unfortunately as you may have experienced, some people will be rude or frustrated by it. I think there is room for modeling multiple approaches to reducing unethical meat consumption, and one of them is the "80% is good enough" approach that I'm trying to practice. Big tent meat reduction?
Based on your intro, I take it that you are one of the authors of the pain scale. It's been a while since I thought about this post, but I appreciate your info-dense comment, and given your apparent background I will take some time to read and think about it over the next week. It might be a bit before I can offer a substantive reply, but thank you for chiming in!
Overall I have been pleasantly surprised at how constructive this conversation has been, thanks to OP for creating space for it. Generally I find ethical discussion with EAs to be pleasant, but I had anticipated there might be an exception where veg*ism is concerned.
I would add one extra point, which is that while I do think that all of life's activities come into the scope of ethics, I think it's important to preserve space to make meaningful decisions without subjecting each one to conscious ethical deliberation. By analogy, sometimes we scrutinize all the available data before we make a decision; other times, we ask an expert or a friend for their opinion and defer; and still other times, we just go with our gut. I think this also applies to ethical quesitons.
There's a perfectly good reason to elevate meat and animal product consumption to a higher level of ethical attention. But what ought our total "ethics budget" be, and what would an appropriate allocation of ethical attention be, considering all the many problems in the world? My ethics budget is relatively small, and mainly reserved for issues related to my professional work and expertise - I am interested in issues related to biomedicine because I am a professional biomedical researcher, and spend considerable time on the ethics of organ sales because that is a particularly important, tractable and neglected question to interrogate.
It seems to me that the idea that all our personal life decisions ought to be the subject of continuous moral scrutiny, or that we ought to be making "morally safe choices" in all areas of life all the time, is an overly restrictive and not very "ethically efficient" rule. So partly based on that idea, I see dietary ethics as being in the reference class of "personal life ethics," which I downweight in my ethical calculus. That's counterbalanced by the high level of suffering I have witnessed when I've watched factory farming videos, and counterbalanced again by the heavy integration into my culture and diet of meat consumption. And my current pattern of meat consumption - eating it, enjoying it, not feeling particularly guilty, but making gradual steps to phase out factory farmed meat - is the result of that balancing act.
But I would also add that I approve of people who are passionate about an ethical stance and take action to implement it in their lives, and so I applaud vegans and vegetarians, even though I do not join them. To me, it seems like there are many ways to be more virtuous in one's live, and veganism and vegetarianism are two good examples but not mandatory for everyone.
Thanks for the information!
I'm curious, do you consider veganism more than "morally safe" if the meat-eater takes scrupulous care to source pasture raised and what we might call "artisanally slaughtered" meat and other animal products?
It kind of makes sense to me that veganism and being anti-abortion would go together - the points of view harmonize well. I personally have the opposite view, and think that both abortion and eating ethically raised meat are basically fine, even though many factory farming practices are apalling and there are probably some cases in which I would be disturbed by how a particular abortion played out.
I tend to think that it's a combination of extended pain, awareness of death, and a principle of granting individual liberty to a conscious, aware individual that makes it impermissible to kill, and these don't apply in the case of abortion or in the case of ethical animal farming and slaughter. However, I personally fail routinely to take fully scrupulous care to avoid factory farmed meat (although I have plans to do better starting in the fall, when that will become more logistically possible), and I also acknowledge that it's hard to be sure of where your animal products come from. Furthermore, I could be wrong about the extent of the distress of consciousness-level of even putatively ethically farmed livestock, and for these reasons, despite me thinking meat-eating is theoretically fine, I think that in practice, uncertainty makes veganism "morally safe."
Yes, my partner keeps chickens in the backyard, so that's the only eggs I typically eat, and we are considering buying a meat freezer and ordering shares of pasture-raised livestock instead of buying at the supermarket. I tend to think that eating meat is more or less perfectly fine as long as the animal didn't suffer excessively during its life. I think that's less of a morally safe position than not eating meat at all. I'd personally like to see more consideration (not necessarily endorsement, just consideration) within the EA movement of pasture-raised/low-meat diets as an alternative to vegetarianism and veganism. Right now I feel like there's a lot of guidance available for people going vegan/vegetarian, but not much for people trying to do ethical/low-meat diets.
Good information and worth sharing.
I'm going to share some information about my meat-heavy diet, not because I'm trying to troll or distract from this post, but because I think there is value in trying to triangulate between the experiences of successful vegans and continued meat-eaters. The theme here is "refuting anti-vegan myths," and, on reflection, my resistance to becoming vegan comes from a different source, which I'll share in case anybody else has information that might be relevant.
I eat meat, and am currently dieting for the first time after ballooning to a near-obese 210 lbs, 5'11" during a sedentary two years in grad school eating far too much pizza. My diet essentially involves replacing grains and cheese with meat, vegetables, fruit, and low-fat yoghurt. I don't have anything like your exercise routine, so my aim has been to target high protein, low calories, and fillingness while making what food I do consume palatable and very simple.
I do think that it would be possible to get enough protein in my diet by swapping out meat for beans, tofu/seitan, and protein powder. Unfortunately, I have never eaten anything based on tofu/seitan/protein powder that's better than "edible," and it would take a lot more patience with cooking to make beans consistently delicious-enough to form the basis of a palatable diet.
When meat eaters are trolling vegans, they sometimes justify their meat consumption by saying "meat is delicious!" On reflection, I actually do think that's the explanation for why I continue to eat it - food's one of the few hedonic pleasures I can access regularly in my otherwise spartan and sober lifestyle, I hate cooking, and it's easy to make meat taste delicious while using it as the primary protein source in a healthy, balanced diet.
I also don't share the intuitive impulse to not eat meat. I've owned pets, I've watched the documentaries about factory farming, I've worked with animals on farms, I've read the essays about animal cognition, and none of that has sparked a particular intellectual or emotional impulse to not eat meat. I recognize veganism as a morally safe choice. I just viscerally care about my diet and my enjoyment of food and shared eating experiences much more.
What I've rarely or never seen are anecdotes from "reluctant vegans" - people who, despite hating vegan food, not particularly feeling passionate about veganism, not having vegan friends, and missing on the easy sharing of meat-based meals with friends and family, nevertheless have made a principled choice to be vegan over the long-term purely on the grounds that it's a morally safe choice. If I did see such anecdotes, I think that understanding why and how they made the switch might be helpful in making the switch myself. Unfortunately, I fear that promoting messages of "being vegan sucks - here's why I do it anyway" might attract fewer vegans than it drives away, if there are even any vegans who feel this way.
Thanks for your thoughts!
I agree that more refined metrics would allow a better comparison between deaths from malaria in Africa and deaths from kidney disease in America.
A typical story for the latter is “a Black man close to retirement suddenly develops the symptoms of end-stage kidney disease and is put on dialysis. If he receives a kidney, he lives until his late 70s-early 80s in health comparable to if he hadn’t experienced kidney failure. If not, he declines and dies a few years later.” Kidney transplants typically give about 15 years of extra life but only about a handful of extra QALYs compared to dialysis IIRC, and they are cheaper per QALY.
The tricky part is that GiveWell used their own idiosyncratic in-house version of “moral weights” to evaluate their charities, which precludes comparison using QALYs. Since some people do argue that “lives saved” is an appropriate way to compare interventions and critique QALYs/DALYs as ableist, I think it’s a relevant but not conclusive comparison.
You’re right to point out the carousel of ill-thought-out moral and practical objections to kidney sales that would have to be overcome (or put on firmer epistemic footing). Note that I don’t mean that all of these objections are wrong - just that their supporters have usually put in minimal real thought or research into them and tend to use them to justify a fundamentally emotional reaction. Janet Radcliffe Richards’ book “The Ethics of Transplants” is a great resource on this point (she’s an Oxford moral philosopher and EA). Overcoming with this feeling of repugnance - less widespread than you might think - to effect policy change is the main goal of the altruistic work I would be proposing.
This is excellent, thank you very much for writing this all out. I really appreciate it. I'll reply with questions if they come up.
We can imagine many ways of specifying a pledge that is substantial and targeted at effective charities.
One example might be a pledge for which the fraction of income to be donated is itself a function of income (perhaps a 0% donation is called for if you make < $10,000/year, and a max of 50% is called for if you make > $100 million/year, with the % of income scaling in between these bounds). But that of course is much more than "10% of income."
How do you think on a meta-level about the tension between the need for simplicity and the risk of oversimplification in GWWC's messaging?