Answering the Tough Questions

Fragment from Effective Advocacy of Animal Rights
by Bruce Friedrich

If you’ve spent any time talking about veganism or animal rights, you know that people ask the same questions over and over again. The key is, every time, to validate the person asking the question—say that you used to feel the same way (if you did). Tell the person that you hear the question a lot, if you do (to show that he or she is just like so many others, who wonder the same thing). Try to ask a clarifying question—this will make the other person feel heard and will help you to construct your reply. Force the other person to think about the conversation, rather than to just listen to you passively! And remember, no matter what their question, your basic argument for vegetarianism—that eating meat is unnecessarily cruel—will not be challenged by their question; you can help them to realize that by asking leading questions.

Below are reflections and responses on the most common sorts of questions. Visit the FAQ section of this site to read more.
“Why are you wasting your time worrying about this? Don’t you have something better to do? People are starving in Africa!”

The first category of question basically expresses the other person’s sense that there are more important things that you could be doing with your time. They might ask explicitly, “Can’t you find something better to do with your energy?” or “Why don’t you work on fighting global poverty or child abuse or abortion?”

Remember that your goal is not to win this argument . Of course, the people who ask this question are probably not spending their own time fighting global poverty, so you could easily win the argument by pointing out that the person is a complete hypocrite. But however tempting and fun that might be, that’s really not an effective way of bringing this person around to your way of thinking. Instead, acknowledge that it’s a good question. Point out that you care about humans, too. And bring them around to an understanding that you are simply asking them to live up to their own ethical standards, which will include opposing cruelty to animals.

You may choose to say, “I see what you’re saying, and I do support groups such as Amnesty International and Oxfam that fight for human rights as well. But don’t you agree that cruelty to animals should be opposed?” Once they agree, you might continue by pointing out, “One of the great aspects of helping prevent cruelty to farmed animals is that it takes no extra time. We can continue our activism against AIDS or child abuse while simply choosing a veggie burger instead of chicken flesh at lunch. Of course, if we eat the veggie burger, we will likely be around a lot longer to fight for human rights, because vegetarians are less likely to suffer from heart disease, strokes, and colon cancer. Plus, because meat is so wasteful of fuel, grain, and water, you will be helping prevent global hunger by going vegetarian. It’s a win-win decision for both animals and people. Here, won’t you please read this brochure? I think that it will help explain why this issue is so important to me.”
“But I really just don’t care about chickens. I don’t care if they are boiled alive—they’re only chickens. Why should I care?”

The next type of frequently asked question involves the rationalization of the person’s desire to eat flesh. These questions try to divert the issue to something that is really beside the point.

Remember to think about motivation and to grant that the other person is reachable. It then becomes easier to construct a reply. Resonate with what they say—maybe you used to be that way and can understand the sentiment. People like to feel heard. And ask for more information rather than just launching into a monologue.

You may choose to say, “Well, I know what you mean. I didn’t used to care about chickens either. Do you care about cruelty to dogs and cats?” After they reply, you’ll be able to explain how farmed animals are the same as cats and dogs in their ability to feel pain and to suffer, and that they are individuals who don’t want to be intensively confined and violently killed.

But let’s say they continue with, “No, I really don’t care about animals at all.”

You may choose to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but for me, it’s not about that. I have some friends who aren’t animal lovers, but they have adopted a vegetarian diet anyway, simply because they’re opposed to violence and cruelty. Animals on factory farms have their bodies mutilated, they’re never able to do anything that is natural to them, and they’re cooped up in their own waste for their entire lives. Chickens are bred and drugged to grow so quickly that they become crippled under their own weight. I think that if you could see how bad it is, you wouldn’t want to support it. I know this may seem like an odd question, but why do you eat meat?”
Other common rationalizations:

* “Animals eat one another in nature, so why shouldn't we eat them?”
* “Aren't humans at the top of the food chain?”
* “Aren't humans omnivores?”

You may choose to say, “I hear what you’re saying, and I used to feel that way, too. But then I realized that in all other aspects of our lives, we don’t rely on the law of the jungle, the idea that ‘might makes right,’ to determine our moral values. Wouldn’t you agree that we should have laws to protect dogs and cats from being abused?” Once you get their assent on that point, you can point out that farmed animals have no legal protection, that what happens to them would be illegal if they were dogs or cats, and move on, perhaps, to say something like, “Like you, I don’t support murder, even though animals do fight territorial battles to the death. And no ethical person endorses rape, even though some animals rape as a method of procreation. As humans, we have the ability to be kind, rather than cruel. And of course, there is nothing natural about factory farming; these places are about as unnatural as you can get—mass cruelty, mass abuse, mass torture. Chickens are bred and drugged to grow so quickly that their legs become crippled beneath them—talk about unnatural! Does that make sense to you?”

Here you grant that the question makes sense, find some common ground in combating the argument with things that the other person will resonate with, and then steer the discussion back to cruelty.
“But God put animals here for humans to use as we see fit, didn’t He?”

Please know that people don’t say this to be callous. They say it because they honestly believe that it justifies their meat-eating.

You may choose to say, “Yes, I hear that a lot, and religion is of course very important in this debate. Would you agree that God opposes cruelty to animals, that God approves of laws to protect dogs from being beaten to death or cats from being poisoned?” Of course, they will agree, and then you can continue with something like this: “Actually, some of my closest friends are Jewish and Christian [or “I am Christian …”], and they are vegetarians because they’re horrified by how badly God’s animals are treated. From their perspective, God designed chickens to build nests and raise their families; God designed pigs to root in the soil; God designed all animals to breathe fresh air, to play with one another, and so on. But today, animals are denied everything that God designed them to be and to do, and they’re horribly abused—they are God’s creatures, but we’re treating them like they’re rocks or dirt or something. We’re playing God, really. And of course, the horrible cruelty, even as the Bible teaches compassion for animals—it really does deserve condemnation. Don’t you agree that cruelty to animals is wrong?”

Don’t argue about whether or not God exists or whether the person’s religion is valid. Begin by acknowledging that it’s a good question. Get them to agree with you that cruelty to animals is ungodly. Don’t try to convince them that they should have a new interpretation of the Bible, Koran, or Torah, or that Jesus was a vegetarian, however strong the arguments for these points are. Meet them on their terms. Raise issues that they will understand and resonate with and, as always, bring it back to cruelty.
“But we’ve been eating animals for thousands of years, right?”

You may choose to say, “Yeah, we have been eating meat for a long time, but I’m not sure that’s a good excuse for continuing to do so. Up until 100 years ago, you could legally beat a dog to death, but now that’s illegal. Would you agree that making cruelty to dogs and cats illegal was a good idea?” They will, of course, agree with that, and then perhaps you can move on in the discussion to say something like this: “We held slaves for most of our existence as a species; we treated women and children as property, and so on, but of course, that didn’t make it right. One thing to realize, though, is that it’s only the past 100 years that we’ve been able to treat animals as badly as we do now. It used to be that animals had to be treated at least well enough so that they would grow and not die, but we don’t even do that now because of all the drugs. It’s just so horribly cruel and so unnecessary. That we’ve been doing something bad for a very long time isn’t a reason to stop doing something bad, I don’t think. Do you?”

Validate the question, make a solid moral argument, and steer them back to a discussion of cruelty. Ask them a question to keep the discussion going.

Some guy at work was telling me over lunch that being vegan was a bit “extreme,” and asked me what was wrong with drinking milk.

So I suggested hooking his wife (who’d recently given birth) up to a mechanical milking machine, and packing his beloved newborn daughter in a veal crate and sending her to a french slaughterhouse. :bom:

Although I was joking (kind of…) he stopped eating. I think it put a metaphorical banana up his tailpipe! :laughing: