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‘Zero-Compromise Veganism’: Should vegan parents raise their children as vegans?

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It is incumbent upon would-be vegan parents to be clear from the start that they are not prepared to raise non-vegan children. As (near) veganism is, for them, a matter of justice. Steps should be taken to avoid such disputes altogether. These steps might mean that some parents do not have the children they may have wanted, or that some would-be parental relationships break down before a child comes to be. But perhaps this is for the best.

JOSH MILBURN: Should vegan parents raise their children as vegans? In a recent paper, Marcus William Hunt contends that there are good reasons not to raise children as vegans grounded in concerns about the impact of veganism on children’s wellbeing. Carlo Alvaro, in response, contends that parents should raise their children as vegans. This debate is interesting, important, and worth attending to.1 In this paper, I want to focus on a specific and novel contribution Hunt makes concerning vegan parenting. In a separate piece, Hunt argues that when parents disagree about whether to raise children as vegans, they should aim to reach a compromise. This is simply an example, he argues, of a wider obligation that parents have to compromise when facing disagreement. Parents, Hunt acknowledges, do not have an obligation to compromise with coparents over just anything. Parents should not compromise with ‘pro-murder’ co-parents, commanding their child to engage in ‘the occasional savage beating’. Such ‘extreme’ commitments should not be compromised over. A commitment to not raise a child as a vegan, however, does not – he argues – fall into that camp.

There have been two responses to Hunt’s pro-compromise argument. First, I have argued that the pro-compromise position is incompatible with animal rights. This is because animal rights are a matter of justice, not a matter of ‘mere’ morality. While it may be appropriate to compromise with a co-parent with whom one has a merely moral disagreement, it is not appropriate to compromise with a co-parent who has unjust commitments. This is what justifies, I suggest, non-compromise with pro-murder parents. It is not that their commitments are ‘extreme’, but that they are unjust. There may nonetheless, I argue, be room for compromise at the edges.

While animal rights may be a matter of justice, veganism is not, if it can be shown that there is the possibility of non-vegan, but nonetheless animal-rights-respecting, sources of food. I thus defend the possibility of compromise over ‘unusual eating’, such as the eating of non-sentient animals (unthinking, unfeeling – non-rights-bearing – animals), the consumption of the products of ‘cellular agriculture’ (like in vitro meat), and the consumption of animal products that would otherwise go to waste. While there could be moral reasons to oppose these, it is not clear that they violate animals’ rights. They thus might be things that coparents may compromise over, even if animals have rights. Let us call this part of my position the Unusual Eating Thesis, or UET.

The second response comes, again, from Alvaro. He objects to both Hunt’s pro-compromise position and my response to Hunt. Instead, he forwards what he calls a ‘zero compromise’ position. In this paper, I will show that the philosophical basis of Alvaro’s zero-compromise position is flawed. I will do this by demonstrating that, first, Alvaro’s challenge to Hunt’s pro-compromise position is under-motivated, and, second, that his objection to my rightist approach and the UET does not establish that rights views or the UET should be abandoned. I thus conclude that if one seeks to reject Hunt’s pro-compromise position, one should favour my approach, rather than Alvaro’s…

Hunt argues that when parents disagree about whether to raise a child as a vegan, they should compromise. Alvaro challenges this, arguing that veganism is not the sort of thing that should be compromised over, because it is akin to religion. However, his arguments are under-motivated, and should be rejected for that reason. There is another argument that challenges the pro-compromise position. This one, my own, argues that (on an animal-rights view) veganism is largely a matter of justice, and justice should not be compromised over. There may, however, be room for compromise at the margins. Alvaro challenges this position, too, but these challenges also fail. They rest upon some questionable intuitions and empirical observations, a too-loose reading of Regan, and a misunderstanding of the aims and purposes of rights theory. Thus, resistance to Hunt’s pro-compromise position is possible – but it is far better grounded in the minimal-compromise veganism of rights theory than Alvaro’s zero-compromise veganism. What does this mean in practice? Or, to ask a bolder question, what does this mean for the raising and education of children? Here, we can only gesture towards the complete answer.

The idea that animals matter is not an alien one for many children. In the words of Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, children already live in ‘an interspecies social world’… Might the unnecessary rupture of a child’s worldview be harmful, all else equal? Might this specific rupture – ‘indoctrination’ of children to accept acts of ‘normal’ animal exploitation – be harmful, much as the exposure of children to acts of ‘abnormal’ animal cruelty (such as the torture of animal companions) is? Might pushback against the rights of animals have spill-over effects on ideas of human rights and human equality? And, we might add, is there a wrong in raising children with a warped moral compass? From an animal-rights perspective, this is precisely what we do when we inculcate the belief that inflicting suffering upon, and killing, animals for comparatively trivial reasons (taste, convenience, cultural conformity . . .) is acceptable…

But let us return to our central question. This article has focussed on how vegan parents should respond when faced with a co-parent who does not wish to raise a child as vegan. It has argued that we should not compromise over matters of justice, such as animal rights, but that there may be ways that we can eat unusually – ways we can source animal products without violating animal rights. These might be a legitimate area of compromise. For some parents, a compromise over unusual eating will be feasible. In 10 (20? 50?) years, the products of cellular agriculture may be widely available, meaning that such a compromise would be easy. At the time of writing, such products are emerging. Restaurants serving in vitro meat can be found in Israel and Singapore. Ice cream made with real milk proteins that were never inside a cow can be purchased in the United States. No doubt more products will launch in the months and years to follow.

Perhaps this conclusion is the most straightforward practical consequence of the present arguments: even if vegan parents should not be prepared to compromise on meat-eating as it is generally understood today, they should be prepared to compromise on cellular agriculture. Let us not forget that even Alvaro – a self-professed advocate of zero-compromise veganism – allows for such compromise. This is a compromise likely unavailable right now. But it will be available soon: in decades to follow, perhaps, many children will be vegan but for the products of cellular agriculture.

In the present, and for some parents, concessions on (say) dumpster diving or shellfish will not be enough, and disputes between pro-vegan and anti-vegan parents will remain. In those cases, less desirable options are available. One is what Hunt calls a ‘grand compromise’. Vegan parents might be able to convince non-vegan co-parents to raise a child as vegan by giving up on some other matter. The child, say, is raised with the vegan parent’s veganism, but in the non-vegan parent’s church. (This outcome is regrettable, as it has forced compromise over injustice – even if, in non-ideal circumstances, such compromise is the best way to minimise injustice.)

But perhaps the clearer take-home is that would-be vegan parents should be very cautious about co-parenting with non-vegans, or at least with parents who are not prepared to raise children as vegans. It is incumbent upon would-be vegan parents to be clear from the start that they are not prepared to raise non-vegan children, as (near) veganism is, for them, a matter of justice. What this means, of course, is that the best thing to do about disputes between a parent who wishes to raise a child vegan and a co-parent who does not is to take steps to avoid such disputes altogether. These steps might mean that some parents do not have the children they may have wanted, or that some would-be parental relationships break down before a child comes to be. But perhaps this is for the best. SOURCE…

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