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WHY (NOT) VEGAN?: What philosopher Peter Singer has learned in 45 years of advocating for animals

Is Singer vegan? He says: Strictly speaking, no. For example, I don’t think that mussels and clams can suffer, so I eat them. And I’m not really strict about avoiding free-range eggs.

KELSEY PIPER: Forty-five years ago, Australian philosopher Peter Singer published the book Animal Liberation. The arguments it made — that animals can suffer; that it is morally wrong to inflict extraordinary suffering upon them; and that we consequently have to rethink our farming and food systems — are ones that many consumers today will have heard. At the time, however, Singer’s perspective was a deeply unusual one. There were animal advocacy groups, certainly, but they tended to focus on the plight of abandoned pet animals, like cats and dogs, with no major organization working on the plight of farmed animals…

Singer’s book, activist Ingrid Newkirk wrote, “was a philosophical bombshell. It forever changed the conversation about our treatment of animals. It made people — myself included — change what we ate, what we wore, and how we perceived animals.” Simply put, the animal welfare movement would not be where it is today without Singer and his book… Now, 45 years later, he’s revisiting the topic in a new book — a collection of his essays called Why Vegan?, released for sale in the US last week. I spoke with Singer about the history of the animal welfare movement, what progress we’ve made since Animal Liberation came out, and what it will take to change the world he’s been criticizing for nearly half a century now…

Singer was asked: You first wrote about the case for caring about animals 45 years ago. What has changed? He says: A lot has changed, really. There has been a huge amount of change in awareness. Quite frankly, there is an animal movement now, which is concerned about all animals, not just about dogs and cats and horses… Now, the entire European Union has prohibited some of the worst forms of confinement that I described in Animal Liberation. And so has the state of California. And I think six or seven other states in the US also have legislation protecting farm animals. So that’s a big change. Then there’s a huge change in the availability of vegetarian and vegan food. Nobody would have known what vegan meant in 1975… But there hasn’t been nearly enough change in the way we treat animals…

Singer was asked: Are you personally vegan? He replies:“Strictly speaking, no. For example, I don’t think that bivalves — mussels and clams — I don’t think they can suffer, so I eat them. I would certainly eat cellular-based meat, once it was available. And I’m not really strict about avoiding free-range eggs. That’s been one of the struggles in our family, finding eggs that we are confident come from chickens who were well-treated.”



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