Environmental journalist George Monbiot is right: Veganism is not free from the exploitation or killing of other sentient beings — it merely shifts the suffering onto other creatures. (“I shot a deer – and I still believe it was the ethical thing to do“, The Guardian.)
One study from Australia, for example, found that producing wheat and other grains kills up to 25 times more sentient animals (e.g. small mammals, snakes and lizards) per kilogram of useable protein compared to rangelands beef. In the United States, many of the most popular fruits and vegetables could never be harvested without “migratory beekeeping” methods that unnecessary exploit and kill millions of bees.
This isn’t to denigrate anyone’s dietary choices. But it does suggest that the ethics of food is not so black and white. As Monbiot concludes: “Between these poles – kill nothing and kill almost everything – lies the pragmatic aim of maximising the diversity and abundance of non-human life on Earth, while securing our own survival.” We should seek to minimise unnecessary suffering as much as pragmatically possible.
To exist is to eat, and to eat is to inflict suffering (directly or indirectly) on other sentient beings. This is an inconvenient truth — even for vegans.