A Revised Look at Vegetarianism

Previously, I wrote a post on why you should not discount vegetarianism as a viable option (Click Here). However, I argued that there is little evidence that refraining from eating meat from a particular store can actually result in a noticeable decline in production (or reduction in suffering).

The responses to this previous post expressed this same opinion by and large. After countless talks with roommates, friends, and others, I’ve found this position to be the most mainstream. Being that, sure, the way factory farms treat the animals we consume is bad, but my refraining to eat at particular restaurants would have no impact other than feeling good about myself.

My goal is to extinguish the previous notion that you can’t make a sizable impact with regard to animal suffering, at a low cost to yourself, by simply not buying the next hamburger or chicken-based meal.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Stuart Rachels’ paper titled “Vegetarianism” (Click Here).

“Assume that I normally eat twenty chickens per year, and let’s try out different assumptions about how sensitive the meat industry is to changes in demand. Suppose, first, that they are maximally sensitive, or sensitive to differences of one: for every chicken consumed this year, there will be one additional chicken grown next year. If so, then my decision not to eat chicken is fully rational: it is guaranteed to reduce the suffering of twenty chickens at very little cost. Or rather, for economic reasons, other people might eat more chicken if I eat less, so let’s say instead that I would reduce the suffering of ten chickens at very little cost. Next, suppose that the meat industry is sensitive only to differences of 10,000: it will increase next year’s supply only when the number of chickens consumed this year reaches a multiple of 10,000. So, for example, when the millionth chicken is sold this year, this will ensure greater production next year because 1,000,000 is a multiple of 10,000. However, the sale of additional chickens won’t affect production until 1,010,000 chickens are sold. Now the question is whether my chicken boycott will determine whether some multiple of 10,000 is reached. If so, then the odds of my boycott mattering are merely 10 in 10,000 or 1 in 1,000. However, when a multiple of 10,000 is reached, the industry will increase production by 10,000. So, I now have a 1 in 1,000 chance of eliminating the suffering of 10,000 chickens, rather than a 1 in 1 chance of eliminating the suffering of 10 chickens. Each action has the same expected utility; both are fully rational. Finally, assume that the industry is sensitive only to multiples of 100,000. Now the odds of my boycott mattering dip down to 10 in 100,000, or 1 in 10,000. However, the payoff would be a world in which 100,000 fewer chickens suffer. Again, my action would be fully rational.”

For me, this is compelling evidence of the meat industries sensitivities to changes in demand. A sizable impact can be made in effort to reduce the suffering of conscious creatures, so why not leave your mark?




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