2014 Essays

Untangling Vegan Dilemmas

Q & A With Dr. Will Tuttle


Dr. Tuttle, I know you must be very busy, but I have so many questions. I just heard you speak at the World Day of Peace. It was awesome! When you questioned treating people to meat-eating meals, that really struck me. I work for the Catholic Church. So it is not uncommon for me to treat a homeless person to a meal. But I’m stuck. If we order Chinese food, of course I tell the person to order whatever he or she likes. I never say that it must be vegan/vegetarian. I don’t feel that that would be right. What a dilemma. Another question – what do you say to people when they say things like, “Don’t go imposing your values on me or anyone else…” Just wondering how you respond to that. Thank you for all you do! — Joyce

Hi Joyce,

Thanks for your interest in being a voice for compassion and justice – I think these questions will clarify as your vegan path develops and matures authentically in your life. That’s how it’s been for me over the years. The dilemmas diminish as I get more clarity, but the underlying dilemma for us is that it’s essentially not possible to live a completely ethical life in a profoundly unethical society. So we do the best we can.

I would not knowingly pay for someone to buy & eat a piece of horse, dog, human, or cat flesh if they’re hungry, nor would I similarly pay someone to buy & eat a piece of cow, pig, chicken, or fish flesh, or the stolen mothers’ milk of an enslaved and tortured cow or other animal. I do my best to ensure that I’m not relieving suffering for one being but at the same time directly causing suffering for another being. In the case of feeding animal-sourced food to the hungry, I would be actually causing abuse not just to the animal enslaved, mutilated, and killed to proved the flesh or secretions posing as food, I would also be causing abuse to many other beings as well: paying workers to harden their hearts and stab, shock, and mutilate animals, and traumatize their families and neighborhoods; stealing grain and legumes that could feed hungry and malnourished people, and feeding it instead in massive quantities to imprisoned animals; exterminating free-living animals who are targeted and killed as pests, and forced into extinction by animal agriculture; devastating oceans, rivers, forests, aquifers, and other vital elements of our planetary ecosystem that are destroyed by the inherent waste and violence of animal agriculture; and harming future generations who will inherit an Earth that can no longer celebrate and support bountiful life because of the war, disease, social injustice, and inner and outer devastation caused by animal agriculture.

As far as imposing values, we would never say that someone who argues and works against rape, murder, and stealing is imposing their values on rapists, murderers, and thieves, and shouldn’t do such a thing! We would naturally be grateful for their efforts, because this is the best not only for those who commit these offenses and their victims, but also for the entire society. It is of course similarly true with our abuse of animals. Just because our abuse of animals is culturally-approved and mandated (as was human slavery for many centuries for example), this in no way makes it acceptable.

Also, the only reason anyone is paying for killing, raping, and stealing from nonhuman animals is that their cultural programming has imposed these values on them. The primary reason anyone eats animal-sourced foods is that they’re simply following orders, and doing what they’ve been told to do since infancy by every institution in our culture. How ironic for such a person to say to a vegan, “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to eat.” The only reason they’re eating and doing what they’re eating and doing is because they’ve been told to eat and do that by pervasive damaging indoctrination. The vegan is actually helping them to question the fact that they’ve been told what to eat their entire lives, and to become aware of and question the negative effects of this. In this the vegan is acting as the most kind and helpful friend and ally. As vegans living our lives, we encourage people in their natural quest to be more healthy, happy, and free, and to live in a world that is more healthy, just, and sustainable.

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Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the Amazon best-seller, “The World Peace Diet,” is a recipient of the Courage of Conscience Award and the Empty Cages Award. A vegan since 1980 and former Zen monk, he is the creator of several wellness and advocacy training programs.

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