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I appreciate your clearly honest and thoughtful appraisal of the situation, Jess. I have a few remarks that I hope you and others might find useful. The central issue can be framed with this question: Should we inflict unnecessary suffering upon nonhuman creatures?

The "unnecessary" qualifier can be backed with evidence that vegan diets are suitable for humans at all stages of life (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12826028) and healthier when measured by almost all relevant information concerning health, and are cheaper, more environmentally sustainable, and better for humans in almost every other conceivable way. Therefore, there is no sound argument to be made that humans benefit from consuming animal products.

Now, it remains to question whether producing animal products actually causes suffering. I am not keen on measuring suffering in numbers - I think that we should be very quick to recognize it and try to do everything possible to alleviate it. Specifically, when I see videos of hundreds of chickens crammed into tiny cages on a truck in which they haven't had access to water in for days on end, I'm not very interested in statistics. Among our species, we recognize such behaviors as murder, slavery, and rape to be fundamentally wrong acts, regardless of their context and consequences. I believe this is a useful belief to hold, and we should be rightfully wary of someone that raises arguments defending them. However, the three aformentioned actions are central to producing animal products. All animals used for food are enslaved by humans for the entirety of their existence, cows must be raped to produce milk for babies that are forcefully taken from them, and of course producing meat requires the life of an innocent animal to be forcefully taken from it.

So the question now becomes, do we extend the morals which govern human interactions to all creatures that can feel pain? As Jeremy Bentham says, the question is not whether they can talk, nor reason, but can they suffer? One would be hard pressed to answer negatively to that question, and if we agree that suffering is bad and we should avoid it, then I believe we should take the project of veganism very seriously.