Usually, when chatting with non-vegans, we hear justifications for eating meat that people don’t actually believe if they give it some thought (Eating meat is natural, so it is moral. Eating meat is legal, so it is moral. Eating meat has helped us evolve, so it is moral. Etc). Sometimes, however, people question the moral value of a cow/ pig/ chicken/ fish, or say they don’t care about them. I’ve found this to be a great response:
Would you be okay with causing more harm to animals (causing more suffering/ torture/ deaths) if there was no benefit to you?
If someone doesn’t understand the question, you can present this hypothetical (from a Vegan Gains debate): let’s say that machines are responsible for slaughtering animals for food and it’s fully autonomous. If these machines were designed to badly torture animals before they were killed, would you rather that, or rather that they were killed more quickly and with less suffering?
Most people would say that they would obviously want animals to be treated better. I can’t imagine anyone being okay with animals being tortured for literally no reason or benefit.
If someone agrees with this, the next question that can be asked is:
Would you be okay with causing more harm to animals (causing more suffering/ torture/ deaths) if it’s only for personal pleasure and no other benefit?
If the person you’re speaking to is being intellectually honest and willing to answer your questions, I think most people will agree that it’s wrong to harm other sentient life for your own personal pleasure. Some people might agree with this, but still not be vegan because they think that animal products are necessary for some nutrient or some health outcome, so that opens up that discussion.
What I really like about these questions is that if someone honestly engages and answers the questions directly, you can see exactly why they are not vegan, and challenge that. Now of course, you might get people talking about plants feeling pain, our canine teeth, our ancestors, or the legality of meat making it ethical, and these are all valid concerns, but I hope these questions help lead to more constructive conversations.
At the end of the day, maybe some of these people who say they “don’t care about animals” actually wouldn’t care if someone tortured a dog for no reason, or had a monkey farm where they ate monkey meat, but you can probably get a lot of people who say they “don’t care about animals” to consider at least some compassion to more animals.
This idea comes from a recent YouTube video here, with similar questions and a similar thought experiment: