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Essay-Question Poll: Dietary Choices

12 Post author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 03:27PM

I have noticed that among philosophers, vegetarianism of one form or another is quite common.  In fact, I became a vegetarian (technically a pescetarian) myself partly out of respect for an undergraduate philosophy professor.  I am interested in finding out if there is a similar disproportion in the Less Wrong community.

I didn't request that this go into Yvain's survey because I want more information than just what animal products you do or don't eat; I'd also like to see nuances of the reasons behind your diet.  There are a lot more shades than carnivore/vegetarian/vegan - if you want to be a vegetarian but are allergic to soy and gluten, that's a compelling reason to diversify protein sources, for instance.  I'd also like to hear about if you avoid any plant foods (if you think they're farmed in a way that's environmentally destructive or that hurts people or if you have warm fuzzy feelings for plants, maybe).  Here are some questions that come to mind:

  1. What foods, if any, do you normally avoid for reasons other than pure culinary taste, cost, individual health concerns (allergies, diabetes, etc.) or ease of preparation?  (Avoiding foods that are considered revolting or just non-food in your culture of origin, like balut or fried locusts, counts as "culinary taste".)
  2. What are your reasons for avoiding those foods?
  3. How strictly do you avoid them?  For instance, will you eat them if you are served them while a guest at a meal, or if you are hungry and there is nothing else available?  Do you check to see if they're in potentially questionable dishes at restaurants (and if so, do you trust what the server says?)
  4. If you have children or plan to have children, will you expect or encourage them to avoid the same foods?
  5. Do you try to convince your friends and family members to make dietary choices similar to yours?  If so, have you ever succeeded?
  6. If you avoid a class of foods with valuable nutritive content (as opposed to Twinkies), what do you replace it with to get complete nutrition?
  7. What are your attitudes to people who are more restrictive in their diets than you are?  Less restrictive?
  8. What is the timeline of your dietary restrictions?  (Transitions, lapses, increases or decreases in restrictiveness, etc.)
  9. If you have not avoided these foods for your entire life, how much did you enjoy them when you ate them, and do you still sometimes want to eat them?
  10. Is there anything else about your choice of diet that might be relevant or interesting?

Comments (234)

Comment author: Nominull 03 May 2009 06:18:37PM 11 points [-]

I'm here to strike a blow against selection bias: I eat anything.

Comment author: ata 27 February 2010 01:54:03PM *  6 points [-]

Interesting thread. Looks like people are still responding to it from time to time, so here are my long-winded (sorry, can't help it :P) answers.

  1. I do not eat any animal products other than honey (which I don't use much, but don't morally object to in the same way that I do other animal products). I also don't usually use animal-based materials like wool or leather, with some minor exceptions (see my answer to #2). On that basis, some would call me a vegan and others would not. I do call myself a vegan.

    There are probably some plant foods that I should give up (or only buy domestically/locally), in order to avoid contributing to anything that harms the environment or workers, but I don't know enough about this issue to be able to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable plant foods.

  2. I want to avoid causing suffering in entities that can reasonably be said to suffer. I feel pretty confident about mammals and birds; not quite as much about fish, but enough that I don't want to take the chance.

    Having been raised vegetarian, all of my justifications (for vegetarianism at least, not veganism) necessarily came after the fact; my first attempt, as a small child, was deciding to believe that all animals were exactly like humans (in intelligence, emotional depth, social organization, etc.) but different in physical form and without speech, and were therefore deserving of all the same rights and protections as humans. I'd like to think I've come a long way since then — I'm fairly convinced of my current rationale based on the idea that different kinds and sizes of animal brains have the capacity for varying degrees of suffering and other emotional experience — but I have worried at times that I'm just getting better at coming up with less-stupid-sounding rationalizations for an ultimately arational belief.

    But I've done my best to honestly probe at the underlying values that make me care about this, plus the factual reasoning about degrees of capacity for suffering, and I think it holds up about as well as it should. (I felt a little bit validated when I read about Douglas Hofstadter's transition to veganism for very similar reasons.) In any case, I would bet my life that a mushroom or a soybean or a carrot does not experience anything we would call suffering — I'd be nearly as confident that they don't have anything we'd call experience in the first place — but I'd be significantly less confident making those assertions about fish. I'll do my best to be open to the possibility of evidence that should make me change my mind.

    That also leads me to why I don't avoid honey or silk, and why I don't mind swatting flies and ants. I wouldn't say I'm life-bettingly confident that insects do not suffer in any way worth empathizing with, but in that case, I easily find it unlikely enough that I don't feel bad about exploiting or killing them.

  3. I will not make an exception if I'm served any of those foods as a guest, so I try to let the host know in advance.

    It is arguable, I suppose, that if I'm already being served something with meat, eggs, or dairy in it, rejecting it will not prevent any suffering, as it'll either be eaten by someone else or thrown away. My rationale there is that I don't want to give myself advance permission to break my rules, because then that exception becomes part of the rules; I don't want to get used to making exceptions like that. And I don't want people to think I'm the sort of person who is willing to accept those foods for free or when I have already paid, because then they may take that into account when deciding what to serve me in the future, possibly leading to preventable demand on my behalf for those foods.

    I must admit that on the rare occasion that it comes up, if I'm really, really hungry, and I'm at a restaurant or some other public place serving food, and the only things available are likely to have eggs or dairy, I'll choose not to ask. I usually regret it afterwards, but I would probably regret starving myself even more. However, when I already know for sure that something has eggs or dairy (or especially meat) in it, I haven't been able to (nor have I desired to) put that knowledge out of my mind, no matter how hungry I am. (And if I'm not starving or if there are other options, I'll always ask before ordering or eating something.)

    If I were stranded with absolutely no other way to survive, I would eat animals, assuming I could figure out how to kill and cook them before starving to death. I would try my best to minimize any suffering I might cause them, but ultimately I care more about humans than about animals.

  4. If I ever have children, I expect I will impart my values to them as much as any parent would, but I would not resort to coercion. I would not pay for or cook with non-vegan foods for them, but I would let them try it elsewhere if they chose to. (I'm hoping that meat from animal sources is obsolete by then anyway. Research into growing meat in petri dishes appears to be going well.)

  5. Everyone in my immediate family is vegan. (Including my cat! Don't worry, it's a specially formulated expensive vegan cat food, which we've been feeding her for about 7 years, and she's very happy and healthy (not to mention cuter than babies). You're still free to laugh at me for bothering with that, though.) I have some vegetarians and vegans in my extended family, and in my circle of friends, but to those who aren't, I don't try to evangelize anymore. It's not that I don't care about it — I do, I really would prefer if everyone were vegan when possible — I've just found that it's too easy to come off as annoying and presumptuous, and there's the usual difficulty with persuading people to change their values.

  6. I take a few vitamin supplements. I eat a lot of soy and legumes and gluten as sources of protein and deliciousness; thankfully I don't have any allergies to those. (Except for lentils. I was pissed when I found out I was allergic to them. Lentils rock.)

  7. I don't hold fruitarianism, etc. in very high regard, because the only justifications for it (unless there are nutritional or environmental reasons I haven't heard about) seem to be new-age concepts or other nonsense. That goes doubly so for the people who anthropomorphize trees to the point where they'll only eat fruit that has naturally fallen off. (Apparently some people actually do that, wtf.) I feel the same way about vegans who have similar rationales, actually. I'm certainly glad when I hear that someone is a vegan, but if they go on to say that it's because all animals have metaphysical souls, bestowing upon them the same absolute and universal rights that we humans have, or if they say it's because Adam and Eve and all the animals in the Garden of Eden were vegetarians before the Fall, then I have to judge their rationality negatively, even if I approve of their actions. I'm a little bit more sympathetic to raw-foodists, though the appeal to nature fallacy still seems to rank highly among the usual justifications for it. Meanwhilst, there are also the "freegans", who, if I understand correctly, only eat non-vegan food when they feel there is no chance of it contributing economically to the industries in question. I guess I have no moral objections to that, if they're really careful not to indirectly create any demand, but that can lead to an odd primitivistic lifestyle that can be immoral in its own ways. I once knew a freegan who subsisted mainly on theft and dumpster-diving. I didn't doubt her good intentions, but I found the whole thing to be too weird for me to respect.

    In the other direction: I have to admit that, yes, I judge meat-eating to be less moral than vegetarianism. That seems to cause a bit of indignation when I mention it (so I don't usually mention it), but it doesn't seem like it should be surprising. I'm not saying that meat-eaters are Innately Evil, but there's nothing in my own values that says that it's wrong for me to do it but okay for others. That would be a weird value system. Still, since meat-eating is still the unquestioned norm in most of the world, I don't judge individuals on that basis, and I'm usually quiet about it.

  8. I was raised vegetarian (both of my parents had been for many years), and I went vegan some time around 2002 or 2003, I believe. A few years later I decided I didn't care about avoiding honey, which made almost no difference in practice.

  9. I miss egg dishes sometimes. I miss not having to worry about whether things have eggs or dairy in them before ordering. I miss not knowing that a lot of Thai dishes are made with fish sauce that they don't mention on the menu.

    I was once accidentally served bacon at a restaurant. I liked the taste (had a few bites before I noticed it didn't taste like tempeh), but didn't see what all the fuss was about.

  10. Growing up vegetarian was very easy for me, because I happened to be born with a vegetarian cookbook author for a mother. So I never felt deprived or forced or jealous; good food was always in abundant supply. (My parents actually used the same strategy that I described in my response to #4, but I never had any desire to try meat anyway. There's probably an element of reverse psychology in there.) It's been a little harder now that I'm living on my own — I never really learned to cook, and I don't have enough money to eat out as often as I'd like — but I've not been tempted to give up any aspect of my veganism. I have, however, stopped bothering with organic ingredients (which my parents used, so I was used to them when I lived at home). I'm not convinced that their alleged benefits have enough evidence to justify the added cost.

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 07:28:17PM 6 points [-]

Several vegetarians have mentioned health benefits as a reason for choosing a vegetarian diet. I'd be interested to know what the health benefits they have in mind are. I've been adjusting my diet recently to incorporate more red meat and saturated animal fats because of the increasing evidence that they are beneficial (I was previously eating less than I would choose to on taste grounds because of a belief that they were unhealthy).

The claimed health benefits of vegetarianism that I'm aware of seem to be based on the low-fat/high-carb theory of a healthy diet which is increasingly discredited by the research. I'm curious if vegetarians dispute the newer research, are unaware of it, or have other health reasons that I'm not aware of.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 07:50:25PM 1 point [-]

I base my opinion about the health benefits on anecdotal evidence and this study. I have never heard of a study advising a diet high in non-lean red meat and would be interested to read one.

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 08:58:05PM 5 points [-]

I've mentioned Good Calories, Bad Calories here before and it is a pretty comprehensive overview of the research. It's also an interesting read as an example of how science and rationality can go wrong when politics and special interests get involved.

I'm not aware of any large scale studies that have done direct controlled studies of the kind of diet I'm describing. Dietary studies are notoriously difficult and expensive which is one of the problems with dietary research discussed in the book. The results from a variety of different studies and nutritional research are persuasive though. I'd suggest reading the book for far more detail than I can give here.

Dietary choices are generally trade offs - if you reduce calorie intake from one source you generally have to substitute calories from elsewhere. There is evidence that polyunsaturated fats from many vegetable oils can lead to higher incidences of cancer. Studies have failed to confirm the hypothesis that saturated fats cause heart disease. There is increasing evidence that sugar and refined carbohydrates are primary factors in obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Substituting refined carbohydrates for fats seems to be a bad idea from a health perspective and it is difficult to obtain adequate calories from unrefined carbohydrates alone. Given that some level of fat intake seems necessary to achieve adequate calories, I'm persuaded that increasing the relative proportion of animal fats to vegetable oils in my diet is beneficial. The fact that that balance better fits my personal taste preferences means that my evidence threshold to make that change is lower than it might be for others.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 09:36:00PM *  3 points [-]

Polyunsaturated fats aren't great, but monosaturated fats, like olive or canola oils, are healthful. Those two oils and animal-derived milkfat and fat from eggs constitute about 90% of the fat in my diet (the rest is incidental, like the fat in avocados, or shortening in some baked goods).

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 10:09:56PM 1 point [-]

I primarily use olive and canola oil for cooking at home. I'm fairly confident that olive oil is a healthy choice, I'm a little less so for canola oil but it seems like the the best widely available option. I use butter for some recipes and I've been intending to experiment with lard but it's not available where I usually do my grocery shopping.

Most vegetable derived oils are relatively recent additions to the human diet though and one of the principles of paleo type diets is to prefer foods closer to the hunter gatherer staples and to limit intake of foods that require agriculture, and especially of those that require industrial agriculture (a principle that would have led one to avoid trans-fats even before their negative health effects were studied). On that basis I'm inclined to favour animal derived fats until more conclusive evidence of the relative health implications is available.

Plus, I enjoy the flavour of fatty red meats so I will tend to err in that direction given inconclusive evidence on the nutritional science.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 04 May 2009 01:07:35PM 0 points [-]

Aren't the highly touted Omega-3 fats polyunsaturated?

Comment author: mattnewport 07 May 2009 08:48:26AM 0 points [-]

Yes, but the current consensus seems to be that the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is an important measure. Most vegetable derived oils are much higher in Omega-6. Oily fish and grass-fed beef have a higher proportion of Omega-3 fatty acids which research suggests is healthier.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 04:54:35PM 0 points [-]

I believe that eating the right amount of essential fatty acids is almost orthogonal to the issue of eating animal products. (Again, for the record, I eat some)

Though grass fed beef has a much better Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio (2:1) than grain fed beef (4:1), and it may have other benefits, there are many dietary switches that make a bigger difference in your diets overall ratio.

Flax seed and salmon oil have a far superior ratio, approximately 1:4.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acids#Meat http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/omega-3-omega-6.html

Comment author: Alicorn 04 May 2009 02:45:11PM 0 points [-]

Quite possibly, but I don't eat fish that often, and most of what I do eat is very low-fat tuna.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 04 May 2009 04:55:05AM 0 points [-]

There are very serious problems with causation in diet. There are robust correlations between, for example, eating meat, cholesterol, and heart disease, but they are definitely not causal. It is difficult to change cholesterol levels by changing diet and even harder to affect heart disease. It's not even clear that cholesterol levels cause heart disease. It's pretty clear that statins reduce cholesterol and reduce heart disease, but it's not clear that these are related.

Comment author: badger 03 May 2009 07:10:42PM 5 points [-]

Inspired by mattnewport's comment, here are additional questions for any vegetarians: if vat-grown meat were developed, would you eat it? Would there be any ethical issues with eating it?

Comment author: Yvain 03 May 2009 09:15:15PM 4 points [-]

I would happily eat vat meat without a single pang of conscience.

Possible exception: if it was getting to the point where farm animals were becoming endangered, I would expect a movement supporting traditional farms to arise, and for this movement to place a high priority on animal welfare. If this happened, I would support this movement by buying farm-grown meat, but this would be a personal preference and I would not recognize a moral obligation to do so.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 04 May 2009 03:35:02AM *  2 points [-]

I would eat vat-grown meat. In addition to solving the animal suffering problem it would probably have less impact on the environment as well.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 07:30:42PM 2 points [-]

I might eat vat-grown chicken on an irregular basis, if I were sure that it had no bizarre side effects and that it really was from a vat. Other meat no longer appeals to me enough that I would choose to eat it in a non-emergency situation. I don't think there would be ethical issues with it unless it was staggeringly inefficient to grow.

Comment author: meh 04 May 2009 03:24:05PM 1 point [-]

Assuming I felt like it, it would depend significantly on the efficiency (particularly energy efficiency) of the production process.

Comment author: Emily 04 May 2009 02:17:49PM 1 point [-]

I would have no qualms about eating it if I liked it. (I'm not sure whether I would because I don't like meat all that much.)

Comment author: phane 05 May 2009 06:59:56PM 3 points [-]
  1. I try to cut down on the meat of mammals. The few times it's come up, I've refused to eat octopus.

  2. I find that if I eat beef without concern, I start eating it all the damn time. Like, multiple times a day. So, partly out of concern for my health, and partly out of a personal-bordering-on-ethical decision.

  3. Not very strictly at all. I'll eat what I feel like, although I make a mild conscious effort.

  4. I don't know that I'll have children, but if I do, they can eat what they please. Not that it'll be on the dinner table very often if it's not my thing.

  5. I think that's sort of rude. My mother is a vegetarian and so are many of my friends, and I don't like it when they proselytise to me.

  6. There's nothing I outright avoid that I especially need to eat for health reasons.

  7. I think there's something a little disingenuous about ethical vegetarianism. I don't believe for a minute that our global food industry causes less suffering to animals due to vegetarians, and our society and culture treat animals pretty poorly whether we're eating them or not. It seems to me like a form of 'signaling', as the lingo around here goes. But, the signal it seems to send is "I disapprove of your lifestyle, meat-eater, so feel free to ask me annoying questions about why I think you're evil."

  8. I only started thinking about my worrying meat-eating habits maybe three years ago. I've taken the issue semi-seriously ever since, although there was a time when I'd explicitly tell people my intentions not to eat beef; these days I don't bother.

  9. I never liked pork anyway, so that was pretty easy to give up. I still gravitate towards beef when presented with a menu, and I like it as much as I ever did. I have eaten cephalopod a couple of times, and I don't think I'll miss it significantly.

  10. Hanging around so many vegetarians, I end up eating vegetarian a lot, and it's not bad. I could manage a vegetarian life, if I were committed to it.

Comment author: badger 03 May 2009 05:56:57PM *  6 points [-]
  1. I'm trying to cut back on sugar and refined or processed foods.
  2. Health reasons
  3. Not very strict.
  4. Yes, hopefully by the time I have kids, I'll have moved away from the crappy college student diet.
  5. Most of the pressure with regards to vegetarianism has been in the reverse direction. All three girls I seriously dated are vegetarian, so I've had serious discussions about the subject (this also created a weird subconscious expectation that all women are vegetarian by default).
  6. NA
  7. I have no issues with what other people eat. I happily eat meat (though wondering about its moral status), but I wouldn't question someone else's choice.
  8. Diet became substantially worse when I moved to college; slowly getting better.
  9. I'll reverse the question. How much would I miss animal products if I stopped eating them? Some, but I could easily do it. Right now, I am a vegetarian six days out of the week. Since my wife is vegetarian (out of preference, not for ethical reasons), it's easier to cook what we'll both eat.
  10. I don't think there is anything wrong with eating animal products per se. I don't even have ethical qualms with cannibalism, assuming the meat were procured consensually. I do wonder whether animals experience substantial suffering when raised on farms or killed. Fish do not have the mental capacity to experience pain, so I see not problem there. Fish react to harm, and even remember it, but I don't think they are even conscious enough to call this pain. On the other hand, most mammals, some birds, and possibly cephalopods probably do consciously feel pain. The amount of suffering these animals feel should be minimized. However, aside from dolphins, apes, and elephants, these animals lack a long-term conception of self. As such, I don't think it is wrong for them to be humanely killed. Feedlots and factory farms do cause unjustified suffering, but otherwise, I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong with the meat industry.

For background, I was raised on a cattle ranch. I might be biased in support of my parents livelihood, but I did experience ranching first hand. At least on our ranch, I don't think the cows lived that bad of lives. They would spend half the year on open range in a forest and the other half in pasture at our home. Once a year, they'd clearly suffer as we corralled them to vaccinate, brand, and tag them. Otherwise, they had plenty of space, food, and medical treatment. The end result is the year-old calves being sold for slaughter of course. Any comment by vegetarians on beef raised like this?

I also hunted as a teenager, shooting an elk, an antelope, and some game birds. I definitely don't think sport hunting should be encouraged, and will never do it again, but don't think it is that bad for similar reasons. If a freezer full of elk steaks trades off against a feedlot raised cow, that's probably an improvement.

Comment author: jimrandomh 03 May 2009 05:03:58PM *  8 points [-]

Well, you're certainly going to get some selective reporting from this poll. Personally, I love eating meat. If it isn't sentient now, isn't going to become sentient in the foreseeable future, and is owned by me, then I have no moral problem with killing it. In fact, I think I could eat venison while watching Disney's film Bambi, without it bothering me.

Comment author: billswift 03 May 2009 08:55:01PM 12 points [-]

The word is "sapient". Animals are sentient - which refers to their "experiencing sensation or feeling" [American Heritage Dictionary]; although I admit this is an increasingly common confusion.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 03 May 2009 08:10:45PM 1 point [-]

Hear hear. Lifeforms that can't think are munchies unless inedible or icky.

Comment author: gwern 06 August 2009 07:00:55PM 1 point [-]

In fact, I think I could eat venison while watching Disney's film Bambi, without it bothering me.

Bah, anyone could do that - venison is delicious.

Comment author: rwallace 03 May 2009 08:09:07PM 1 point [-]

I feel the same way, though I do find it a little odd that so many people believe animals are sentient, and yet are not vegetarians. (I wouldn't eat Soylent Green even if the victims had been killed humanely!)

Comment author: Yvain 03 May 2009 09:12:49PM 6 points [-]
  1. I don't eat meat.
  2. Ethical. If I wouldn't want people torturing dogs, I have no justification to be okay with people torturing cows, pigs, and chickens, and from what I've seen conditions in a lot of farms and slaughterhouses are tantamount to torture. Even though animals can't think verbally, they still have some level of awareness and the ability to feel pain, so causing them suffering is verboten. I am kind of sympathetic to the argument that free range meat raised with the animals' welfare in mind isn't so bad, and to the argument that if we weren't raising these animals for food they'd probably be endangered or extinct. But free range is only a small percent of meat products, and there are major environmental costs anyway, and the meat-farming industry just does so much damage in so many ways that I feel I need to do my part to discourage it. Right now my goal is to aim for zero meat and accept the inevitable lapses when they come as not being an ethical disaster.
  3. I'm not too strict about it. When I'm traveling or a guest somewhere it's pretty tough to avoid meat, so I let myself get away with it.
  4. Hard to tell. I think I'd at least share my reasons with them, but if they didn't want to that's their choice. As long as they can provide a rational explanation, of course :)
  5. Never tried.
  6. I eat a lot of Quorn when I'm in the British Isles, and soy products when I'm elsewhere. Quorn is better, but I haven't been able to find it outside Britain and Ireland.
  7. I'm pretty live-and-let-live about this.
  8. Became a vegetarian in elementary school, I think, maybe middle school. Gave it up on three or four occasions for a few months, usually after moving and not being able to find good vegetarian foods there, but always went back. Sometimes give it up for a few months when I go back to my parents' place, because the food there is too good and I don't have as much control over my diet.
  9. I love meat and I want it all the time.
  10. I don't really eat many fruits or vegetables. I hate them to the point where I have trouble keeping them down. This doesn't apply as much to salads. So I kind of live off of grain products, with some milk and eggs and Quorn thrown in. There are a lot of diet theories that suggest I should be very fat right now, but I'm actually pretty thin. Go figure.
Comment author: MorganHouse 03 May 2009 10:39:32PM *  9 points [-]

Ethical. If I wouldn't want people torturing dogs, I have no justification to be okay with people torturing cows, pigs, and chickens

Dogs are genetically selected for living together with humans. As such, and unlike their wolf predecessors, dogs are friendly towards us. In many cases, care is reciprocal, in that we more often care about people who care about us. I propose that chickens don't have even the slightest sense of morality, and don't care whether their siblings live or die. With this in mind, I think it's a somewhat justified to torture birds and low mammals, since they don't care about our or their families' well-being to begin with.

However, I would never torture a chicken unless I was at least 99% sure it had valuable information, and the future of the farm was at stake.

Comment author: Yvain 03 May 2009 11:06:49PM 8 points [-]

Kin selection suggests that chickens may care about their siblings, and general evolution suggests they definitely care about their children.

...which is exactly the problem. You sound like you're holding a grudge against chickens for not being evolutionarily programmed in a certain way. Let it go. If you set some criteria for "deserving" our respect, of course a lot of animals can't live up to it. But it doesn't seem right to use that as justification for hurting them.

Thought experiment: I take Bob and cut out the part of his brain involved in empathy. Now he can't care about other people, but his thought and emotions are otherwise intact. Is it now okay to torture Bob?

Comment deleted 04 May 2009 12:05:41AM [-]
Comment author: Yvain 04 May 2009 12:16:14AM 7 points [-]

What's so inherently bad about pain?

The proper way to prove that pain is bad is proof by induction: specifically, hook an electric wire to the testicles of the person who doesn't think pain is bad, induce a current, and continue it until the person admits that pain is bad (this is also the proper way to prove that creationism is false, or at least the most fun).

Is it morally questionable to run a piece of control software for a cleaning robot, that has a "const bool in_pain = true;"?

This is getting into the subject of qualia, which I freely admit to not understanding. But I'm pretty sure I have some, and I'm pretty sure they're harder to produce than a variable with the label "pain".

With his intelligence intact, he can still be valuable to us, and depending on what he did in the past, we may be in moral debt to him.

I'd guess from this statement that you're either not a consequentialist, or you're some exotic type of consequentialist straight out of Alicorn's syllabus. If you clarify exactly what your moral theory is, I can give you a better estimate on how likely we are to be talking past each other because we have completely different premises.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 04 May 2009 12:56:24AM 4 points [-]

specifically, hook an electric wire to the testicles of the person who doesn't think pain is bad, induce a current, and continue it until the person admits that pain is bad (this is also the proper way to prove that creationism is false, or at least the most fun).

Hmm. Methinks this strategy could make debating female creationists somewhat problematic.

Comment deleted 04 May 2009 12:45:00AM *  [-]
Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 04 May 2009 12:52:17AM 6 points [-]

For example, the cells in my brain registering pain will experience lots of pain in their lives, and probably little else, for the benefit of the body as a whole.

I don't think it's obvious that individual cells meaningfully experience pain, in the qualia-type sense we seem to be talking about. Qualia are a function of minds, not brains, or brain-pieces.

Comment author: MixedNuts 22 July 2011 11:48:14AM 2 points [-]

Objecting to the living conditions of farm animals seems only compatible with veganism, not vegetarianism. (Though "I should, but can't be bothered" is a fair reply.) Unless you think slaughter is by far the worst part, but it doesn't seem that way to me - especially since egg farms kill male chicks. Yet you seem fine with milk and eggs. Why?

Comment author: Alicorn 22 July 2011 07:30:40PM -1 points [-]

I'm not Yvain, but I do eat milk and eggs and not beef and chicken. (I also do not go particularly out of my way to eschew leather objects, although when aware of equivalent options, I prefer faux items or ones of other materials, and I don't buy that many things firsthand anyway.) Part of it is a matter of quantity. Avoiding actual meat draws a bright line I can toe easily, and surely reduces the number of animals mistreated on my behalf. And part of it is that, in principle, eggs and milk can be obtained without particularly mistreating the creatures that produce them. This isn't how it's generally done, mostly for cost reasons, and to be honest I don't incentivize doing it that way by doing research on which sources are closer to that ideal and paying more to buy from them, but in theory farms could work out how to sex-select their chickens in the first place and how to make cows produce milk without repeatedly impregnating them only to yield veal calves, and then treat their layers and milkers nicely.

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 09:35:08PM 2 points [-]

If I wouldn't want people torturing dogs, I have no justification to be okay with people torturing cows, pigs, and chickens, and from what I've seen conditions in a lot of farms and slaughterhouses are tantamount to torture.

Do you place equal value on the wellbeing of all animals? This sounds like the same kind of dogmatic adherence to equal weighting that I have a problem with in utilitarianism. I don't want people torturing dogs, I'm less concerned about people torturing chickens. I value the wellbeing of dogs more than the well-being of chickens. I value both considerably less than the wellbeing of humans and considerably more than the wellbeing of HIV viruses.

All else being equal, I'd prefer less rather than more chicken-suffering. If however I have a choice between a $5 chicken breast that caused X chicken-suffering and a $6 chicken breast that caused 0.5X chicken-suffering I'll save the extra dollar and apply it to something I consider more important than chicken-suffering. A donation to a puppy rescue shelter for example (though that would be low on my overall list of priorities).

Comment author: Yvain 03 May 2009 11:00:05PM 10 points [-]

I weight the well-being of animals in proportion to what I would call for lack of a better word their consciousness. I think dolphins are probably self-aware, capable of reflection, and have strong senses of pain and pleasure. I think ants are probably much less so, although still nonzero. So I place much less emphasis upon the well-being of ants than upon the well-being of dolphins. Since viruses have no nervous system and no brain, I'm prepared to give them zero value.

However, I have no evidence that dogs are more aware than pigs are. Any personal preference I have for dogs is because they're cuter than pigs are, which seems like a bad way to make moral decisions. So I am not prepared to make pigs less valuable than dogs.

I never thought about it in terms of your two-different-kinds-of-chicken-breast problem, but I would agree that this would require an actual calculation to see whether the money saved could prevent more suffering than was caused to the chicken. Given the low probability of me actually going through with donating $1 more to charity just because I bought a $1 cheaper chicken, I'd probably take the more expensive one, though.

Comment author: mattnewport 06 May 2009 09:33:43PM 1 point [-]

Any personal preference I have for dogs is because they're cuter than pigs are, which seems like a bad way to make moral decisions.

I think you've deliberately muddied the waters by throwing in the word 'cute' there. You justify your general rule for preferring some lifeforms to others by saying you value 'consciousness' but then say that preferring dogs over pigs for 'cuteness' is not a good way to make moral decisions. If you take away the loaded words all you're really saying in both cases is that you value animal A more than animal B because it has more of property X. When X is consciousness that's a good justification, when it's cuteness it's a bad justification.

I'm quite happy to just say that I prefer some animals to others and I value them accordingly. That preference is a combination of factors which I couldn't give you a formula for but I don't feel I need to do so to justify following my preference. In the case of dogs I think it's more than cuteness - they are pack hunting animals that have been bred over many generations to live with humans as companions (rather than as livestock) and so it is not unsurprising that we should have affinity for them. Preferring them over pigs seems no more problematic than preferring a friendly AI over a paperclip maximizer - they share more common goals with us than pigs do.

Given the low probability of me actually going through with donating $1 more to charity just because I bought a $1 cheaper chicken, I'd probably take the more expensive one, though.

That's not a very rational approach. If it's easier, think of it as $150 a year (probably ballpark for me based on my own chicken consumption) and consider what charity you could donate $150 extra to. In my opinion being rational about personal finances is a pretty good starting place for an aspiring rationalist.

Comment author: Yvain 06 May 2009 10:15:25PM *  3 points [-]

I don't interpret "consciousness" as a preference giving some animals more value to me than others. I interpret it as a multiplier that needs to be used in order to even out preferences.

Let's say I want to minimize suffering in a target-independent way, but I need to divide X units of torture between a human and an ant. I would choose to apply all X units to the ant, not just because I like humans more than ants, but because that decision actually minimizes total suffering. My wild guess is that ants can't really suffer all that much; they probably get some vague negative feeling but it's (again, I am guessing wildly) nothing like as strong or as painful as the pain that a human, with their million times more neurons, feels.

In contrast, obviously cuteness has no effect on level of suffering. If I want to divide up X units of torture between two animals, one of which is cuter than the other, from a purely consequentialist position there's no reason to prefer one to the other.

It might help if you think of me as trying to minimize the number of suffering*consciousness units. That's why I wouldn't care about eating TAW's genetically engineered neuronless cow, and it's why I care less about ants than humans.

(or a metaphor: let's say a hospital administrator has to distribute X organs among needy transplant patients. Even if the hospital administrator chooses to be unbiased regarding the patients' social value - ie not prefer a millionaire to a bum - the administrator still has a good case for giving the organ to someone for whom it will bring them 50 more years of life rather than 6 more months. That's a completely different kind of preference than 'I like this guy better'. The administrator is trying to impartially maximize lives saved*years)

Hopefully that makes it clear what the difference between this theory and "preferring" cute animals is.

Comment author: mattnewport 06 May 2009 10:35:57PM 0 points [-]

If I want to divide up X units of torture between two animals, one of which is cuter than the other, from a purely consequentialist position there's no reason to prefer one to the other.

Well, humans seem to be more upset by images of baby seals being clubbed than by the death of less cute but similarly 'conscious' creatures so that might factor into your total suffering calculation but that aside this does seem to follow from your premises.

It might help if you think of me as trying to minimize the number of suffering*consciousness units.

Why is that preference uniquely privileged though? What justifies it over preferring to minimize the number of suffering*(value I assign to animal) units? If I value something about dogs over pigs (lets call it 'empathy units' because that is something like a description of the source of my preference) why is that a less justified choice of preference than 'consciousness'?

If you just genuinely value what you're calling 'consciousness' here over any other measure of value that's a perfectly reasonable position to take. You seem to want to universalize the preference though and I get the impression that you recognize that it goes against most people's instinctive preferences. If you want to persuade others to accept your preference ranking (maybe you don't - it's not clear to me) then I think you need to come up with a better justification. You should also bear in mind you may find yourself arguing to sacrifice humanity for a super-conscious paperclip maximizer - is that really a position you want to take?

Comment author: Yvain 06 May 2009 11:02:38PM 3 points [-]

Well, I admit to being one of the approximately seven billion humans who can't prove their utility functions from first principles. But I think there's a very convincing argument that consciousness is in fact what we're actually looking for and naturally taking into account.

Happiness only is happiness, and pain only is pain, insofar as it is perceived by awareness. If a scientist took a nerve cell with a pain receptor, put it in a Petri dish, and stimulated it for a while, I wouldn't consider this a morally evil act.

I find in my own life that different levels of awareness correspond to different levels of suffering. Although something bad happening to me in a dream is bad, I don't worry about it nearly as much as I would if it happened when I was awake and fully aware. Likewise, if I'm zonked out on sedatives, I tend to pay less attention to my own pain.

I hypothesize that different animals have different levels of awareness, based on intuition and my knowledge of their nervous systems. In this case, they would be able to experience different levels of suffering. What I meant by saying my utility function multiplied suffering by awareness would have been better phrased as:

Suffering = bad things*awareness

while trying to minimize suffering. This is why, for example, doing all sorts of horrible things to a rock is a morally neutral act, doing them to an insect is probably bad but not anything to lose sleep over, and doing them to a human is a moral problem even if it's a human I don't personally like.

Your paperclip example is a classical problem called the utility monster. I don't really have any especially brilliant solution beyond what has already been said about the issue. To some degree I bite the bullet: if there was some entity whose nervous system was so acute that causing it the slightest amount of pain would correspond to 3^^^3 years of torture for a human being, I'd place high priority on keeping that entity happy.

Comment author: mattnewport 06 May 2009 11:39:08PM 0 points [-]

Well, I admit to being one of the approximately seven billion humans who can't prove their utility functions from first principles.

But you seem to think (and correct me if I'm misinterpreting) that it would be better if we could. I'm not so sure. And further you seem to think that given that we can't, it's still better to override our felt/intrinsic preferences that are hard to fully justify with unnatural preferences that have the sole advantage of being easier to express in simple sentences.

Now I'm not sure you're actually claiming this but with the pig/dog comparison you seem to be acknowledging that many people value dogs more than pigs (I'm not clear if you have this instinctive preference yourself or not) but that based on some abstract concept of levels of consciousness (that is itself subjective given our current knowledge) we should override our instincts and judge them as of equal value. I'm saying "screw the abstract theory, I value dogs over pigs and that's sufficient moral justification for me". I can give you rationalizations for my preference - the idea that dogs have been bred to live with humans for example - but ultimately I don't think the rationalization is required for moral justification.

But I think there's a very convincing argument that consciousness is in fact what we're actually looking for and naturally taking into account.

If this is true, then we should prefer our natural judgements (we value cute baby seals highly, that's fine - what we're really valuing is consciousness, not the fact that they share facial features with human babies and so trigger protective instincts). You can't have it both ways - either we prefer dogs to pigs because they really are 'more conscious' or we should fight our instincts and value them equally because our instincts mislead us. I'd agree that what you call 'consciousness' or 'awareness' is a factor but I don't think it's the most important feature influencing our judgements. And I don't see why it should be.

To some degree I bite the bullet: if there was some entity whose nervous system was so acute that causing it the slightest amount of pain would correspond to 3^^^3 years of torture for a human being, I'd place high priority on keeping that entity happy.

And it's exactly this sort of thing that makes me inclined to reject utilitarian ethics. If following utilitarian ethics leads to morally objectionable outcomes I see no good reason to think the utilitarian position is right.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 09:31:47PM *  0 points [-]

I've found Quorn in the United States in several grocery stores, in the frozen food. Possibly it's regionally unavailable where you live? Or is the US not the "elsewhere" in question?

Comment author: MichaelBishop 03 May 2009 05:41:45PM *  4 points [-]

1 and 3). I'm mostly vegetarian. I eat fish about once a week. I eat air breathing animals' flesh when I think it is otherwise going to waste or (very rarely) when it is merely very inconvenient to be vegetarian. On the margin, I make a small attempt to reduce my intake of dairy and eggs. I eat refined carbohydrates, and quite a bit of soy, but try to avoid eating extreme amounts for health reasons.

2) I do this to prevent, and to signal concern about, unnecessary animal suffering. I would have no qualms about eating animals if they were certifiably raised and slaughtered under ideal conditions.

4) I will raise my children to eat similarly but let them make their own choices.

5) I gently push meat reduction rather than abstinence. Limited success.

6) I make an effort to get protein from many sources. I take supplements, flax seed and calcium daily, somewhat less frequently: glucosamine-chondroiton, multivitamin, b-12, fish oil, creatine, resveratrol.

7) I respect people who are more strict vegetarians if their reasoning is similar to mine.

8) I gradually became more and more vegetarian after choosing to live with vegetarians four years ago.

9) I loved meat, but it turns out I don't miss it much.

Comment author: Jordan 03 May 2009 06:27:57PM 4 points [-]

Agree with #1.

I apply the Golden Rule: I personally would rather live a good life into my prime and be humanely slaughtered and fed to some higher life form, than never exist at all. For the most part, the animals I eat would not have ever existed had the demand for meat not existed as well. To this end I prefer Kosher and free range animal products.

However, I don't eat, for instance, monkeys or octopi. Both are highly intelligent and currently live lives that don't depend on a market for their meat.

Comment author: algekalipso 26 April 2011 06:36:31AM 2 points [-]

I personally would rather live a good life into my prime and be humanely >slaughtered and fed to some higher life form, than never exist at all. For the most part, the >animals I eat would not have ever existed had the demand for meat not existed as well.

It seems to me that when you say 'never exist at all' you are bringing a mystic notion of identity into conscious experience. A lot has been written about personal identity and the like, and I would argue that the notion of one's identity tied to genetic makeup or historical origin is not the most relevant way of approaching the matter. In this way, when you say "I'd prefer to have existed in any case" I ask "point to me who existed". When you reference the life-path of the animal in question I would point out that you are showing me a collection of conscious experiences. What, if any, distinguish these experiences in a fundamental way from other experiences alike but originated in other similar animals? I don't think anything of real relevance.

The idea that somehow whenever you add another animal into the equation you are multiplying the number of entities brought into existence is questionable. It does have moral consequences, however. For instance, if multiplying entities was a real possibility, such that giving birth to animals brought into existence new 'beings', it could be argued that it is preferable to bring two animals to the world, each living 25 years, than bringing only one that lives 50. Assuming that each conscious moment is qualitatively similar in this animals, if you don't believe in the multiplicity of entities, the two scenarios are completely equivalent.

I think that the confusion I point is very prevalent in animal welfare talk, and I think it contaminates rationality for that matter. I have heard people who put a lot of value in the multiplication of entities argue that massive factory farming is desirable precisely for this reason. They reason that, precisely because you are bringing more 'distinct' life into being, even if in deplorable sates, chicken farms are doing something good. If you look at it from a reductionist perspective, you are merely making little brains play again and again the same old plot with slight variations. And the worst is that the plot is actually painful.

Comment author: Jordan 27 April 2011 06:18:05PM *  0 points [-]

You're getting into dangerous philosophical territory here, which is not at all easy to resolve. If there are two animals with very similar brain states are they distinct animals? If not, have we doubled the subjective chance of an animal experiencing the state of the doubled animal? These aren't straightforward questions at all. See the Anthropic Trilemma.

I'm not sure how anyone could argue that bringing more suffering animals into the world is good. I support humane treatment of livestock, which I think makes for a net positive regardless of how the Anthropic Trilemma pans out:

If it turns out that most animals are so similar as to not count for distinct entities, but subjective probabilities still exist, so that increasing the percentage of animals in one state increases the chances of experiencing that state for an animal, then it is a good thing to raise lots of animals in a humane fashion.

If it turns out that animals aren't distinct and subjective probabilities can't be affected, then it seems the entire moral quandary disappears. The subjective experience of animals is forever fixed, regardless of our actions, so even factory farming wouldn't be unethical (although I would still support humane treatment of animals because I believe it makes for a healthier meal for me).

If it turns out that every animal is a unique entity, then the moral question must come down to individual cases. Should I bring this potential animal into existence? In this case I believe a close proxy for this question is: if this animal already exists, is it worse for it to have never existed? In the case of a humanely raised animal, I believe the answer is 'yes' to both of these questions.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 06:37:01PM *  1 point [-]

Out of curiosity, what qualifies as a "higher life form" in comparison to a human for you? Or did you mean that in this hypothetical situation where your choices are to be raised for food or not exist, you would not be a human?

Comment author: Jordan 03 May 2009 08:55:01PM 4 points [-]

For the Golden Rule to apply I think I would have to imagine a higher life form relative to myself, rather than pretending I was a cow or a pig. Really though, I'd take the deal even if the "higher life form" were replaced with any meat eating entity, even other humans. That's not to say I wouldn't be outraged by the situation I'd find myself in, just that I'd prefer that existence to none at all.

Comment author: paper-machine 24 November 2011 06:28:09AM 2 points [-]

Did any useful knowledge come out of this survey? Is it summarized anywhere?

Comment author: Curiouskid 24 November 2011 06:24:02AM 2 points [-]

First thing you need to know as a vegetarian rationalist is that you need to supplement with creatine.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691485/

Comment author: cousin_it 22 July 2011 01:52:23PM *  2 points [-]
  1. None
  2. N/A
  3. N/A
  4. No
  5. No
  6. N/A
  7. I'm okay with all of them as long as they're okay with me!
  8. N/A
  9. N/A
  10. I tried to be vegetarian for several months at the suggestion of a friend. Went back because I felt "meh" about the whole endeavor and it wasn't making me better off in any perceivable way. Also I'm very picky with regard to food: when I go to a new country, I often find that I cannot eat any local food there, and have to survive on familiar processed food from stores. Later I find a couple dishes that I'm okay with, and stick with those forever.
Comment author: MartinB 30 August 2010 12:21:23PM *  2 points [-]
  1. Vegetarian. There are some plants I do not like, but I do not remember which. At home i mostly cook/eat vegan. To list it out: no meat for me - that includes fish, and also chicken. (The mental images some folks have about vegetarians are odd.) I do not by any pure dairy products, but consume them as part of meals while eating out, or buy some products that contain them like pizza.

  2. I became a vegetarian in about '94 due to ethical reasoning and the scare of madcow disease that was rampant in the German media back then. Both reasons have since disappeared. I stayed a vegetarian out of habit and taste. in 2009 I learned about the health effects of the diet, and switched to a more healthy and more vegan leaning style.

  3. Strict about the vegetarian part. Except for rare occasions about once or twice a year.

  4. Yes and no. There are benefits to a general healthy diet. But as far as I know the occasional sinning is not that bad. Not being used to the current amounts of sugar in products might lead to some bad side effects. In general I want my kids to eat the same diet I consider healthy, but if they choose to do otherwise thats up to them.

  5. Tried and failed and gave up. I managed to get convinced of a healthy diet myself - which was hard enough. In general dieting is subject to the same mental processes as arguments about all other topics are.

  6. I take B12 supplements - which seems to be good for everyone.

  7. I do not see strictness as that important anymore. If you eat 80% healthy or 98% or 99,5% or 100% thats almost the same. I noticed the amounts of different views and reasons for nutritional choices and collected them for a while. Animal rights activists can be annoying at times. But I am happy that there is some infrastructure to provide vegan food - even if they do it for very different reasons than me.

  8. birth-94 normal local food, 94-09 desert vegetarian with no meat, but also no interest in healthy foods. My main dish was pizza yogurt and cheese. In 2009 that changed to my current mostly vegan one with the occasional bit of other stuff. I still enjoy fast food a lot!

  9. I forgot the taste of meat. I could not ever imagine to give up on yogurt, but forming a mental image of what it does to me helped a lot. I have not bought any in about a year. The same process seemed to also have worked for sweets more recently. I remember hating the taste of liver, and enjoying to eat the stomachs of chickens. (home slaughtering).

  10. I will write up an LW article on what I learned. Nutrition is a highly loaded topic where very little reasoning happens. But it is possible to find some good information and apply it.

Comment deleted 30 August 2010 11:33:56AM [-]
Comment author: Morendil 30 August 2010 12:29:20PM 3 points [-]

Since you said you welcomed discussion, I have a few questions. I've been thinking about this topic occasionally, with some curiosity and some (mild) moral concern.

To prevent animals from suffering or dying.

It's not clear to me that my deciding to switch to a purely vegetarian diet would have the consequence of preventing the suffering or delaying the death of even one animal. (I can even think of relatively likely scenarios where it would make matters worse.)

How did you arrive at your decision? (To put it somewhat bluntly, did you first decide for emotional reasons to stop eating meat, and later rationalized it on grounds of alleviating the suffering of animals, or did you first work out that the decision would have effects of this kind and then implement it?)

I am horrified, when I think about it (which is not too often), by the conditions in which some "factory farm" animals are bred, raised and slaughtered. The suffering inflicted on e.g. pigs seems uncalled for, and other things equal I would prefer that they not suffer as much. I do try to buy free range when that choice is available, so to some extent that knowledge does affect my behaviour.

On the other hand, I suspect that "bringing my behaviour in line with my values" would call, if I really cared, for something more than only a change in my own dietary preferences. If I carefully worked out all the actions available to me that might have an effect on the situation, and ranked them by effectiveness, I'd be surprised if a change of diet came first.

Do you see that as the only option, or are there other things you do, besides not eating meat, directed at alleviating the suffering of animals?

Comment author: Bongo 30 August 2010 12:43:01PM 5 points [-]

On the other hand, I suspect that "bringing my behaviour in line with my values" would call, if I really cared, for something more than only a change in my own dietary preferences. If I carefully worked out all the actions available to me that might have an effect on the situation, and ranked them by effectiveness, I'd be surprised if a change of diet came first.

This action would do good. But maybe there's an action that would do even more good! Therefore I'll do nothing.

Comment author: Morendil 30 August 2010 01:08:39PM 4 points [-]

Even granting that it has some positive effect on the suffering of animals (which I've said I'm skeptical of), eliminating meat from my diet is not an unalloyed benefit to the world: it has a cost to me (inconvenience, social stigma, and so on).

So, it's possible that the net benefit of that change in my diet is negative (very small positive effect on the rest of the world, noticeable negative effect on me).

It's more like, "this action does not obviously do good, but I won't rule out that there is a bundle of actions including it that does good in aggregate".

I'm not too surprised the parent got (at least) one upvote, and I will refrain from downvoting it as I'm involved in the discussion; but I think setting up a straw-man from a bad paraphrase of your interlocutor's argument should be frowned upon.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 August 2010 01:22:28PM 5 points [-]

You will save an expected number of animals equal to the number of animals you don't eat that you would otherwise have eaten. You might not personally tip any balances, because factory farms operate on large scales; but you might be the Nth vegetarian whose decision justifies shutting down a factory farm full of suffering animals. The utility of the latter counterbalances its small likelihood.

Also, stigma? Where do you live? If anything, being a vegetarian lets me be smug and self-righteous in social situations.

Comment author: WrongBot 30 August 2010 09:42:04PM *  3 points [-]

Perhaps my social circles are unusual, but in my experience smug self-righteousness tends to have some stigma associated with it.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 August 2010 10:06:33PM 3 points [-]

"Lets me" was shorthand for "gives me social leeway to be". This leeway must of course be exercised judiciously.

Comment author: Morendil 30 August 2010 02:11:02PM 1 point [-]

You will save an expected number of animals

Is that "expected" in the mathematical sense? As in, probability of my actions having the consequence that N animals are saved, times N? How do you work out that the numbers work out in such a way that N equals the number of animals I would have eaten? That strikes me as an unlikely coincidence.

As a rough basis for back-of-the-envelope calculation, assume I eat 200g of meat per day. I estimate one cow provides about 250Kg of the type of cuts I eat. That means I have so far in my life eaten about 4 cows. (Simplifying assumptions: I eat only cow meat, have eaten the same amount constantly for 40 years. We could work this out in more detail but I'm interested in orders of magniture here.) Perhaps five to ten times as many hogs.

Cows don't seem to lead a particularly horrible life. True, this life is cut short at a fraction of their natural lifespan, but on the other hand cows don't seem to form explicit life plans or intense emotional attachments to other members of their species beyond rearing. I worry about the hogs a little more, but it's also the more affordable meat (the disutility of not eating them is larger).

So, we're talking about a major lifestyle change, traded for a reduction in animal suffering which is only probable, not certain, and which tops out at a small number of individual animals.

Comment author: Alicorn 30 August 2010 02:24:24PM 8 points [-]

Is that "expected" in the mathematical sense? As in, probability of my actions having the consequence that N animals are saved, times N? How do you work out that the numbers work out in such a way that N equals the number of animals I would have eaten? That strikes me as an unlikely coincidence.

It's not a coincidence. People farming meat animals do so because they expect to be able to sell the meat. If they consistently find that they can't sell it all, or have enough surplus floating around that the price drops and underperforming farms can no longer economically stay in the business, then some farms will shut down. If you've eaten 40 hogs in your life, then you have generated demand for 40 hogs. If there's a farm that had produced 40,000 hogs' worth of meat in your lifetime, then it takes 1,000 people like you to support that farm. It's a problem of collective action to get the necessary number of people to quit patronizing it, but that sort of thing is relatively elementary for LW.

Comment author: Morendil 30 August 2010 02:35:08PM 4 points [-]

You seem to be assuming that meat farming scales linearly in most respects with the number of people consuming the meat. I'd question that assumption, and assume instead that there are marked threshold effects.

Possibly 1000 people swearing off pork would instead have the effect of driving that same farm to a ruthless cost-cutting program, so that it could keep up its volume by selling at lower prices; this would likely be to the hogs' detriment, since they are the "stakeholders" least likely to raise a politically effective complaint about such changes. And frankly, given what I know of the industry, this is a scarily plausible scenario.

Comment author: Mqrius 30 January 2013 01:36:36PM 1 point [-]

Possibly 1000 people swearing off pork would instead have the effect of driving that same farm to a ruthless cost-cutting program

Quite frankly, I don't think this argument makes sense. Meat factories are already ruthless cost-cutting programs, and hogs "complaints" are already not taken into account.

What you seem to be implying here is that if meat farming is bad, we should better give them money so they don't make it even worse.

Comment author: Morendil 30 January 2013 02:22:28PM 1 point [-]

What you seem to be implying here is that if meat farming is bad, we should better give them money so they don't make it even worse.

Not so far off the mark, I guess. You might call that a "fair trade meat" argument.

I prefer to buy my meat at a local butcher's, where it's slightly more expensive but is sourced from a smallish factory 125km away; when I buy it at supermarket chain, my assumption is that the meat has traveled more miles and comes from a larger factory which treats animals worse. (The butcher advertises where the meat comes from, the supermarket doesn't.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 August 2010 03:30:46PM 5 points [-]

Does this argument imply a preference for eating larger animals?

Comment author: Morendil 30 August 2010 03:47:39PM *  3 points [-]

Yes, though depending on your (definitive or provisional) conclusions about how much sapience matters, there may be an inflection point.

At the bottom of that scale, I wouldn't worry about eating very small animals because very small brains seem to make for negligible amounts of moral concern. At the higher end, and as this link from elsewhere in this thread suggests, larger animals are more "suffering efficient" to coin a phrase both horrible and awkard, but also suggestive.

I don't think an oyster suffers in any meaningful sense, and I don't worry a whole lot about fish. I worry more about chickens and hogs than about cows because it takes a larger number of them to yield an equivalent mass of meat.

Comment author: Mqrius 30 January 2013 01:43:44PM *  0 points [-]

Oh nice, I had never considered that! Thanks for this new conclusion that flows naturally from two of my beliefs: Brain size differences between species don't correlate strongly with intelligence differences*, and suffering is bad.

*It's mostly brain-to-body mass ratio that seems to correlate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain-to-body_mass_ratio
Within 1 species, there seems to be correlation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_size#Intelligence

Comment author: Bongo 30 August 2010 01:31:01PM *  1 point [-]

it has some positive effect on the suffering of animals (which I've said I'm skeptical of)

If going veg indeed has negative expected utility for you, my paraphrase indeed was a wrong strawman.

I guess I found this

It's not clear to me that my deciding to switch to a purely vegetarian diet would have the consequence of preventing the suffering or delaying the death of even one animal.

hard to accept. Here's the argument against it.

Comment author: andrewc 04 May 2009 03:17:37AM 2 points [-]

These surveys are fun! 1. Fast food e.g. McDonalds 2. Concerns about low nutritional value and food safety. 3. If I have been drinking I will happily enjoy a fast food burger 4. My son is going to be one of those kids who never gets to go to McDonalds unless its for a birthday party. 5. No. 6. N/A 7. If their reasons seem rational I think that's cool. If their reasons seem to be founded on a selective evidence and hippy crap I think they are stupid. 8. Friday nights are the killer, see question 2. 9. Warm cheeseburgers taste good. 10. I enjoy organic and free range animals, especially pest game like wild pigs and rabbits. It seems more noble to take animals randomly from the wild like natural predators do. I'm ok with non-cruel farming though.

Comment author: saturn 03 May 2009 10:18:12PM 2 points [-]

As a general rule I try to avoid foods made with additives or processes that originated from modern science, because I think overall the selection of cultural traditions over human history is more effective at eliminating non-obvious harmful practices.

I'm not strict about this, I only apply it to things I eat regularly. I don't try to convince anyone and I only mention it if it comes up. If I have children I'll feed them the same way and explain why, but I won't pressure them about it once they get old enough to procure their own food.

In most cases I have no opinion about other people's diets.

I dislike excessively cruel animal raising practices such as packing live chickens together so tightly that they can't move, but I'm not willing to devote my life to stopping it and anything less would have negligible effects in the absence of mainstream concern.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 04 May 2009 12:58:30PM 5 points [-]

Even with the present, limited, state of knowledge about nutrition and health it seems to me that we can do significantly better than just avoid all additives or modern foods. I don't have much faith that traditional diets are optimized for long-term health. That said, I agree that this is not a bad heuristic to use on the margin.

Does your being honest have anything more than negligible effects on the amount of honesty in the world? It is not at all obvious to me that the marginal benefit of more vegetarianism is increasing in the number of people who shift towards it.

Comment author: saturn 05 May 2009 05:44:15AM 0 points [-]

I probably should have clarified that my actual heuristic is more complex than what I said, for example I do trust science's advice on how to avoid nutrient deficiency and infectious disease.

I can think of reasons to be honest that have nothing to do with the total amount of honesty in the world, but I don't see any reasons to prevent animal cruelty that are unrelated to the amount of animal cruelty in the world. Mostly because I don't see instances as distinguishable and my utility function over the number of "bad things where each instance is indistinguishable" seems to be roughly hyperbolic.

If you think this position is wrong I'd be interested to hear why.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 05 May 2009 03:00:56PM 1 point [-]

I can think of reasons to be honest that have nothing to do with the total amount of honesty in the world, but I don't see any reasons to prevent animal cruelty that are unrelated to the amount of animal cruelty in the world.

Actually I agree. But what we eat does affect the amount of animal cruelty in the world, albeit a very small amount (I should have avoided the term negligible) compared to the sum of animal cruelty, or per capita animal cruelty.

Furthermore, my experienced utility function is quite a bit like yours, where we appear to differ is that I consider mine flawed and I'm working to change it. Therefore I shut up and multiply

I am only mostly vegetarian, and I probably never would have come that far if I didn't fall into a social circle which had a lot of vegetarians. My guess is that the marginal benefit of two randomly selected people cutting half the meat from their diet is slightly greater than one person becoming strictly vegetarian. I think there are many things which are more important than choice of diet, but this does not mean we should ignore the effects of our diet.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 May 2009 06:31:29PM *  2 points [-]

1. None. There are animals I wouldn't care to eat (e.g. primates), but none of them are on offer where I live.

2, 3, 4: N/A. On (3), though, when I have to avoid things that personally disagree with me, I don't expect a waiter to be able to definitively answer questions about the precise ingredients of a dish. I guess conservatively from the menu description.

5. No, I don't try to persuade anyone to omnivorousness.

6. N/A.

7. I might ask them why. Or not.

8. Brought up as an omnivore.

9. N/A.

10. My metabolism appears to be several standard deviations removed from the norm in several ways, so I pretty much ignore all dietary advice beyond "a little of what you fancy". It works, so I don't fix it. No strong moral attitude.

Comment author: taw 03 May 2009 06:04:12PM 4 points [-]

I guess most people who will bother to speak out are those who do avoid some categories of food for ideological reasons. So here I'm speaking as a member of majority who doesn't do anything of the kind.

  • For reasons of both taste and health I generally steer towards paleo or at least traditionally agricultural foods as opposed to modern industrial foods as basis for my diet. I'm not too serious about it.
  • I understand that some people might not like meat due to taste concerns or (in my opinion misguided) health concerns. Ideologically-driven avoidance of foods feels like a disturbing pseudo-religion to me.
Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 10:11:03AM *  5 points [-]

Can we taboo ideological? The word has a valid and specific meaning in some contexts, but it's too often used as a pejorative stand-in for "stuff-I-don't-agree-with-for-reasons-I-can't-be-bothered-to-explain".

Comment author: taw 04 May 2009 11:05:20AM 0 points [-]

I don't like concept bans unless we have better and more accurate replacement concepts and words. I think there's an useful distinction between hard reasons like health/taste/affordability/etc. and fuzzy "reasons" like divine prohibition/animal suffering/evils of modern agriculture/etc.

In the hard class disagreement is a matter of probabilities - I might believe there's a chance that you'd like some food if you tried, or we might assign different weights to different research, and so have different ideas what's healthy or not.

All disagreements from the fuzzy class are about values not about reality - to me divine prohibition against pork argument and animal suffering argument are wrong not by being highly unlikely, but wrong by coming from an incompatible value system.

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 11:35:40AM *  2 points [-]

I completely agree that this is a useful distinction.

Would "values-based" therefore be an accurate (and less ambiguous/pejorative) substitute for "ideologically-driven" in your original statement?

P.S. Would concern with GHGs, and/or other sustainability concerns fall into your "ideological" category? It doesn't seem to be based on incompatible values (at least not necessarily), but maybe I'm missing something.

Comment author: taw 04 May 2009 03:32:50PM 2 points [-]

If patterns of avoidance looked like what reasonable science-based consequentialist GHG/sustainability concerns would look like, I would be fine with it.

But what I found is that universally people who talk about sustainability make decisions that are worse or orthogonal to the issue, like buying expensive, organic, and low yield crops (fancy fruits and vegetables) etc., instead of cheapest, highest yield, and most mainstream crops and meat from grass-fed animals. And they're very rarely genuinely interested in science behind nutrition, agriculture, energy etc.

What all makes me believe that they just pretend to be concerned about GHG and sustainability.

Actually, how about consequentialist vs non-consequentialist as labels? Wouldn't that be even more accurate?

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 04:31:41PM *  3 points [-]

But what I found is that universally people who talk about sustainability make decisions that are worse or orthogonal to the issue...

Sorry, but I'm calling bullshit. I agree that there's a lot of inconsistent posing that goes on around these issues, and it frustrates the hell out of me too. But claiming it's universal is just inaccurate. (At best it's a sloppy exaggeration.)

  1. There are vegetarians whose primary or only concern is sustainability, and who try to make food choices that reflect this. I know some of them personally.

  2. To infer that anyone who makes decisions that don't exactly mesh with "reasonable science-based consequentialist GHG/sustainability concerns" are "just pretend[ing] to be concerned about GHG and sustainability" is unjustified. As I've noted elsewhere, there are a often tensions between the various rationales for restricted diets. Which means that if you buy into more than one of these rationales, you'll sometimes end up having to make awkward compromises between them. That doesn't mean that you don't really care about any of them; it just means that the world isn't conveniently designed to let you have everything you want.

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 05:04:53PM *  1 point [-]

Actually, how about consequentialist vs non-consequentialist as labels? Wouldn't that be even more accurate?

Do you mean labels to distinguish the people you have values-disagreements with vs. people you broadly agree with on values but may have empirical disagreements with? I don't think the consequentialist/non-consequentialist distinction will do that.

Many of the animal-welfare types that I presume you would disagree with are actually pretty hardcore utilitarians (and a fortiori consequentialists). Peter Singer would be a good example. Your difference with them lies in what entities each of you take to fall within the sphere of moral concern: they think animals count; you don't. It doesn't have much to do with consequentialism per se.

EDIT: To be slightly more constructive, anthropocentric consequentialist vs. non-(anthropocentric consequentialist) may capture what you want to express.

Comment author: taw 04 May 2009 07:48:03PM 4 points [-]

I don't see this as a value-disagreement case. Someone who has different values, and behaves in a way that's broadly consistent with these values, is on the consequentialist side. People who just follow certain rituals (like not eating meat), and claim to have some values but don't act in a way consistent with them, are on non-consequentialist side.

I've never seen anybody who was vegetarian because of value disagreements, and was behaving consistently with their alleged values.

For example if you claim to prefer non-existence of animals to them being used as food, then you clearly must support destruction of all nature reserves, as that's exactly the same choice. And if you're against animal suffering, you'd be totally happy to eat cows genetically modified not to have pain receptors. And so on. All positions never taken by any vegetarians.

Comment author: Utilitarian 05 May 2009 10:44:17PM *  6 points [-]

For example if you claim to prefer non-existence of animals to them being used as food, then you clearly must support destruction of all nature reserves, as that's exactly the same choice. And if you're against animal suffering, you'd be totally happy to eat cows genetically modified not to have pain receptors. And so on. All positions never taken by any vegetarians.

I think most animal-welfare researchers would agree that animals on the nature reserve suffer less than those in factory farms, where conditions run contrary to the animals' evolved instincts. As far as consistent vegetarians, I know at least 5-10 people (including myself) who are very concerned about the suffering of animals in the wild and who would strongly support genetically modified cows without pain receptors. (Indeed, one of my acquaintances has actually toyed with the idea of promoting the use of anencephalic farm animals.) Still, I sympathize with your frustration about the dearth of consequentialist thinking among animal advocates.

Comment author: Yvain 05 May 2009 10:56:01PM 4 points [-]

For example if you claim to prefer non-existence of animals to them being used as food, then you clearly must support destruction of all nature reserves, as that's exactly the same choice. And if you're against animal suffering, you'd be totally happy to eat cows genetically modified not to have pain receptors. And so on. All positions never taken by any vegetarians.

I don't agree with the premise of the first position, but I agree wholeheartedly with the second (well, replacing "pain receptors" with a complete rework of the mammalian brain and nervous system, since just removing pain receptors is a very limited kind of alleviation of suffering. After all, I could remove your literal pain receptors and lock you in a 6x6 cell for your whole life, and you'd still be suffering.)

I hope now you'll never again have to say it's a position never taken by any vegetarian.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 07:15:36AM 0 points [-]

I second Yvain on both. Besides, even if taw's claim that vegetarians never take those positions were true, it would not imply that none of them is behaving consistently with their alleged values. It could simply be that some vegetarians decisions were over-determined. In other words, a person could have two reasons not to eat meat, each of which was sufficient.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 06 May 2009 01:03:10AM 0 points [-]

well, replacing "pain receptors" with a complete rework of the mammalian brain and nervous system, since just removing pain receptors is a very limited kind of alleviation of suffering. After all, I could remove your literal pain receptors and lock you in a 6x6 cell for your whole life, and you'd still be suffering.)

As an aside, what you're describing here would be (to my mind) ethically indistinguishable from vat-grown meat.

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 08:35:39PM *  2 points [-]

Someone who has different values, and behaves in a way that's broadly consistent with these values, is on the consequentialist side.

This seems like a highly non-standard use of the word consequentialist. Deontologists and virtue types (what are they called anyway? "virtue ethicists" seems too cerebral/theoretical... aretaics? aretaists?) seem generally capable or acting in accordance with their values.

If this is what you're trying to capture, then "value-consistent" and "non-value consistent" would possibly be more accurate. (More simply: consistent, and hypocritical, though I'd personally avoid the latter.)

I've never seen anybody who was vegetarian because of value disagreements, and was behaving consistently with their alleged values.

I assume you don't mean this in the trivial sense that none of us act in absolute concordance with our alleged values. Given that, all I can say is that you must be particularly unfortunate in the subset of vegetarians you've "seen", and that you might want to be wary of generalizing from one example.*

For example if you claim to prefer non-existence of animals to them being used as food, then you clearly must support destruction of all nature reserves, as that's exactly the same choice.

I'm afraid this example is anything but clear to me. Could you perhaps explain why you think this in more detail?

And if you're against animal suffering, you'd be totally happy to eat cows genetically modified not to have pain receptors. And so on. All positions never taken by any vegetarians.

Depends how you define suffering. In any event, I would have thought that the general willingness of vegetarians on this thread to eat vat-grown meat would serve as a pretty clear counter-example to the sort of claim that you're making here.

* I guess you could think that they're behaving inconsistently with their stated values because they hold factual beliefs with which you disagree. However you examples suggest that this isn't the source of the conflict. And calling them non-consequentialist for that reason would certainly be misleading.

Comment author: thomblake 07 May 2009 05:35:29PM 0 points [-]

what are they called anyway? "virtue ethicists" seems too cerebral/theoretical... aretaics? aretaists?

This is one of those problems that everybody sees immediately but nobody can do anything about it without more effort than it's worth. We've been called "virtue ethicists" for at least 30 years, and it's sticking.

"Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics" seems like everybody involved is violating some sort of naming convention. It should be "Utilitarianism, Deontism, and Virtuism" or "Utility Ethics, Deontic Ethics, and Virtue Ethics", or something.

Comment author: conchis 07 May 2009 06:04:46PM *  1 point [-]

That's a shame. I actually kind of fancied aretaic (used as a noun in the same sense as stoic/Stoic).

Comment author: Alicorn 04 May 2009 07:53:14PM 3 points [-]

For example if you claim to prefer non-existence of animals to them being used as food, then you clearly must support destruction of all nature reserves, as that's exactly the same choice.

This isn't obvious to me at all. Can you explain?

And if you're against animal suffering, you'd be totally happy to eat cows genetically modified not to have pain receptors.

Pain is not the only form of suffering. Temple Grandin has suggested that animals are worse off when they are afraid than when they are in pain.

Comment author: MBlume 04 May 2009 09:37:32PM 3 points [-]

This isn't obvious to me at all. Can you explain?

I think he means that since the animals on the preserve will eat one another, if you think they'd be better off not existing than living to one day be eaten, you should destroy the preserve.

Comment author: Alicorn 04 May 2009 09:44:23PM 1 point [-]

Oh. If that's what it means, then it's only equivalent for someone who rejects the doing-allowing distinction to an extreme degree and considers destroying the preserve in the first place a neutral act, rather than an act which would have an impact on other valuable things like biodiversity and make a lot of humans angry.

Comment author: Cosmos 03 May 2009 08:43:07PM 3 points [-]

I'm another paleo dieter. It seems like that diet is overrepresented among rationalists and individualists from my experience, but that is just personal empiricism.

I take a positive view towards the morality of meat consumption. We are doing it because it is practical and delicious - we simply have a weaker preference for not doing unnecessary harm to animals. Once vat-grown meat becomes widely available, I predict that our cultural sentiments surrounding meat consumption will rapidly change such that only vat-grown meat will be acceptable to eat.

Comment author: Davorak 23 July 2011 08:17:11AM 0 points [-]

By:

our cultural sentiments surrounding meat consumption

Do you mean the rationalist community or the human community at large?

Comment author: Cosmos 23 July 2011 06:09:59PM 0 points [-]

I meant humanity at large, and I expect the rationalist community to follow suit.

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 06:44:05PM *  3 points [-]

Not a vegetarian. Eat and enjoy most types of meat and seafood (and would have no problem trying fried locusts). I don't think animals have rights but I do have a preference, all else being equal, not to cause them unnecessary suffering so if vat grown meat is ever developed that is demonstrated to have the same nutritional value and texture, flavour and appearance as real meat then I would probably consume it in favour of the real thing.

1) I try to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar. Generally try to eat along the lines of the paleo diet.

2) Health concerns.

3) Currently, not very strictly. More strictly when I was actively trying to lose weight. I would eat them if they were served while I was a guest. In a restaurant I will try to choose menu options that don't contain such foods and will sometimes ask to substitute them for an alternative (e.g. switch mashed potato with green vegetables).

4) I would encourage my children to eat healthily.

5) No, but I have given details of my dietary choices when people have asked (as quite a few did when I lost a lot of weight when I started eating this way).

6) Don't avoid any foods with valuable nutritive content.

7) I think people's dietary choices are their own business. I do find it a little irritating if someone tries to proselytize though. I also have a pet peeve about 'fussy eaters' - by this I mean people who are very picky about what they eat for reasons other than health or ideological choices. I recognize that as just a personal quirk however.

8) I originally started eating like this in an attempt to lose weight. After dropping about 45lbs I started to be a bit less strict. In the last 18 months I've regained about 10lbs and am currently attempting to tighten up again.

9) I did enjoy foods containing sugar and refined carbohydrates. I've never had a particularly sweet tooth though and would rarely eat a dessert after a meal or snack on chocolate or other sweets. I got into the habit of drinking a lot of Coke at work which was quite difficult to give up.

10) I'm skeptical of the health benefits of organic food and don't tend to buy organic, although many variants of the paleo diet suggest preferring organic.

Comment author: Emily 04 May 2009 01:33:32PM 2 points [-]
  1. I don't eat meat (including fish). I also try to avoid eggs that are not free-range wherever possible.

  2. I think that while it's possible to live perfectly happily and healthily off plants, there's just no need to inflict pain and death on animals. There are other factors (most of them on your don't-include list) that are not reasons per se for vegetarianism but do contribute to making it an easier choice for me: the fact that I don't like meat all that much anyway, and the fact that vegetarian food is generally cheaper than meat.

  3. These days (see question 8) I avoid them fairly strictly. I've had the odd lapse by accident, for example eating a chocolate mousse that I didn't realise contained gelatine after not checking the ingredients thoroughly enough, but nothing more than that in recent times. I'm less strict on the eggs thing: if I'm buying eggs, they are always free range, but if I'm buying an egg sandwich (for example) that doesn't indicate whether the eggs are free range or not, I don't let it worry me too much.

  4. I don't have children and don't plan to.

  5. My sister has been vegetarian far longer than I have (she was vegan for a while) and my mother has been a pescatarian for about equally long, so you might imagine they would be the ones convincing me rather than the other way round; it didn't really happen like that, although I'm sure the usual absence of meat from our meals contributed to my going off it somewhat. I've never tried to persuade anyone else to become veggie, although I will happily extol the virtues of veggie food (rather than vegetarianism per se) when asked about it.

  6. There are various meat replacement products that I like -- quorn, tofu, soy. All are pretty readily available here in the UK. Can't stand lentils and other pulses, which is slightly unfortunate.

  7. Pretty laissez-faire. I admire the vegans: not sure that I could ever manage that! But nor do I see much of an ethical impulse to. I also particularly appreciate the attitudes of meat-eaters who go out of their way to source meat from animals that have been treated well, etc.

  8. Most of my family went mostly-veggie when I was about nine or ten, so after that I ate a lot less meat (it was still available at home sometimes, and I would sometimes have it outside home). Between the ages of about fifteen and seventeen I gradually found myself eating less and less meat, and virtually never selecting it when given a choice. I finally decided to "officially" call myself vegetarian last year, when I was eighteen, and start additionally avoiding "non-obvious" meat-containing things like sweets with gelatine in. Since then I've had the odd accidental lapse, but nothing more than that.

  9. As a kid I used to really like chicken, bacon and little mini-sausages, but had a pretty ambivalent attitude to most other types of meat. I would probably still enjoy chicken once I could got over the initial oh-meat-I-don't-eat-that-yuck impulse that I now have, but I really don't have any desire at all to actually eat some. The thought of red meat makes me feel slightly nauseous now (although weirdly, the smell of bacon is still really good!).

  10. I'm a competitive swimmer, so I really do have to watch the protein intake and make sure I'm keeping it high enough. The only time I've found that to be a problem was on a training camp in Italy, where the catering for veggies was fairly poor. There was plenty of pasta and so on, but almost no protein, and doing that much swimming meant I really really needed it. That may have been one of very few occasions on which I came relatively close to eating some meat. I could feel that my body needed it, but I didn't really get close to actually having some because my brain still didn't want it at all.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 26 December 2010 12:12:27PM -1 points [-]

I also try to avoid eggs that are not free-range wherever possible.

See Michael Anissimov, Free Range is Bullshit.

Comment author: David_Gerard 26 December 2010 12:50:15PM *  3 points [-]

Anissimov is in the US and is speaking of the legal definition (or lack of one) there; the definition in the UK, which is where Emily says she is in the comment you are directly responding to, is rather more restrictive.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 03 May 2009 09:02:17PM *  2 points [-]

1. None.
8. Went vegetarian for two months last summer to see what it's like. Conclusion: it's considerably cheaper than meat, but lower calorie density means I have to eat and poop more stuff. I ate little meat while I was unemployed. Now I eat extra meat because I'm weightlifting.

Comment author: AlexU 03 May 2009 07:59:47PM 0 points [-]

I eat anything. Make a conscious choice to eat healthy stuff and avoid junk food and simple carbs when convenient. Preferred eating pattern is to basically graze all day long. That, as well as a general indifference toward food (I find eating to be a bit of an irritating necessity, and never have cravings for anything) are enough to keep me trim. Probably worth noting that I wasn't always this way; up through college, I loved eating crap foods, sweets, carbs, soda, etc. Permanent preference changes take time, but can happen.

Most vegetarians/vegans strike me as sanctimonious twits, who are more often than not no healthier than anyone else.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 04 May 2009 04:16:04AM 7 points [-]

Most vegetarians/vegans strike me as sanctimonious twits

Can we please have a norm of not doing this?

Comment author: pjeby 04 May 2009 04:24:28AM 1 point [-]

Can we please have a norm of not doing this?

The poll did actually ask for people's attitudes about others with different dietary policies. Are we trying to discourage people from answering honestly?

Comment author: orthonormal 04 May 2009 04:26:30PM 4 points [-]

No, we're encouraging people to express their opinions civilly rather than stick to cached insults. There are ways to criticize that actually contain information.

Comment author: pjeby 04 May 2009 04:55:01PM 2 points [-]

No, we're encouraging people to express their opinions civilly rather than stick to cached insults. There are ways to criticize that actually contain information.

The survey asked for one's attitude and opinion. If that's AlexU's actual attitude and opinion, watering it down conveys less information, since all answers will now be skewed towards some socially-acceptable mean. Bias towards "nice" is still bias.

Comment author: JGWeissman 04 May 2009 07:05:08PM 14 points [-]

Being civil does not mean watering down. It does involve specifying the actual problem one has rather than use a general insult like "twit". The word "sanctimonious" is not helpful either, if the meaning is that vegetarians/vegans try to impose arbitrary moral standards on others, it is better to say so explicitly, so we know what the actual position is, and can respond to it. (It's been my experience that vegetarians/vegans I read about in the news fit this description, but those I meet in person generally do not, and it is likely a minority of activists get most of the press.)

Being civil should convey more information. It communicates what in particular you don't like rather than general contempt.

Comment author: Cyan 04 May 2009 07:59:01PM 1 point [-]

I was inclined to agree with pjeby, but JGWeissman's comment changed my mind.

Comment author: Emile 05 May 2009 08:25:46PM 0 points [-]

Same here.

Comment author: zipadee 04 May 2009 07:36:31PM 1 point [-]

I don't know what AlexU meant by "sanctimonious twits"... Like others on this thread, I have not encountered evangelical vegetarians. In fact, a lot of vegetarians don't want to talk about it, for fear of getting criticized.

But consider what Emily said

I admire the vegans: not sure that I could ever manage that! But nor do I see much of an ethical impulse to.

A lot of why people are vegetarians is to be admired for doing something difficult. It's important that they have some kind of reason as an excuse for doing it--they can't admit to showing off--but it's impressive and admirable to people who think that it is pointless.

Comment author: komponisto 13 May 2009 07:41:10AM *  1 point [-]

I evidently missed this post when it appeared. Nonetheless I'll put some thoughts on the record:

#7. Although AlexU expressed it a bit more rudely than I would have, I basically share his opinion. This is somewhat delicate, because, as you can see, I do move in circles where vegetarians are not uncommon. Nevertheless, I am allergic to sanctimony in all its forms, and vegetarianism does strike me as a form of sanctimony. In particular, even quietly practiced private vegetarianism seems more effective as a social signaling device than as a means of actually relieving any animal suffering. (Compare with personal conservation as a form of environmentalism: it simply doesn't make enough of a difference.)

My feelings on this are somewhat complex, to be sure. I'm certainly not unmoved by the plight of suffering animals, and I have to admit that contact with vegetarians probably brings this issue to a more prominent position in my consciousness than it would otherwise have occupied. (Though I still occasionally eat veal, I don't do so without a momentary twinge as I think of the horrid conditions of the veal calf.) But I can't help thinking that the efforts of my vegetarian friends would be better spent directly lobbying the meat industry to change its ways, or supporting the development of synthetic meat. This is not to say that some don't already do these things, of course. But these are in any case the things that really matter; personally abstaining from meat "on ethical grounds" is hardly more than a feel-good gesture.

As a side note, where do some people (including, apparently, the author of the post) get the idea that fish meat somehow isn't really meat? It's one thing for Christian churches to make such a mistake, seeing as how their traditions were established in times of utter zoological ignorance; but surely we here are capable of recognizing that the morally relevant category here is not the nature of an animal's habitat (terrestrial versus aquatic) but rather that of its nervous system (whether it is capable of "suffering" as we humans would understand it). On this score, fish, being vertebrates, would seem to fall into a similar classification to that of many land animals considered morally problematic.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 13 May 2009 03:02:16PM 4 points [-]

Sanctimony is feigned or hypocritical righteousness or piety. Could you explain why this describes vegetarianism? Of course some individual vegetarians are sanctimonious, but you seem to be generalizing to the practice of vegetarianism.

You suggest "lobbying the meat industry to change its ways, or supporting the development of synthetic meat." Could you tell me more specifically how to do that? I might try it. Regardless, I don't see how that makes it a worse idea to reduce my meat consumption.

Comment author: Alicorn 13 May 2009 01:52:35PM 3 points [-]

I don't think anyone's claiming that fish meat isn't really meat. It's just a kind of meat I eat. I explained in the thread of my data point why I make the distinction.

Comment author: pjeby 03 May 2009 04:27:00PM 1 point [-]

Do you want any information on other unusual diets? (I consume raw meat and eggs, for example.) Your post title implies that you're only looking for information from vegetarians.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 05:15:27PM 1 point [-]

I'd like to hear about other unconventional food choices. Title edited, thanks :)

Comment author: pjeby 03 May 2009 08:42:26PM *  1 point [-]

Hmmm.... I just noticed that these questions are all about dietary restrictions, as though a normal diet is unrestricted. But in my case, my dietary distinction is that I eat things that "normal" people don't, not so much a restriction from the normal diet. But oh well, here goes:

  1. I don't avoid anything for reasons other than taste, cost, health, or convenience. Cooked meat I avoid for both "health" and "taste"; I can eat it, but mostly prefer raw or seared just enough to warm and soften the fat. Highly-processed foods I also consider less-than-tasty most of the time.

  2. Answered above

  3. Answered above

  4. No plans, but if I did, I would.

  5. Not really.

  6. I don't really avoid any class of foods.

  7. I think they're either missing out on tasty things (raw meat) or eating crap (over-processed foods).

  8. Restrictions not relevant.

  9. I sometimes like cooked or processed food, but I nearly always regret the sluggishness the day after.

  10. Eating raw meat put me more in touch with my inner animal. ;-) There's nothing quite like grabbing a piece of it with your bare hands and tearing off chunks with your teeth. Also, based on taste my guess is that early humans wound up cooking when they tried to warm up their cold leftovers, or to improve the taste of rotting meat. (Most meat I see in the supermarket gets too rotten to eat raw a few days before its official expiration date.)

Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 09:10:33PM 3 points [-]

Do you have any pointers to how to prepare/select raw meat so that it is safe to eat? I like my steak and other red meats rare and I'm a fan of sushi but when preparing my own food I tend to err on the side of caution for fear of food poisoning.

Comment author: pjeby 03 May 2009 11:19:21PM 3 points [-]

Do you have any pointers to how to prepare/select raw meat so that it is safe to eat?

Yes: smell and taste it. If it smells good, eat it. If it doesn't smell good, or if you find yourself wanting to spit it back out (either before or after you swallow), it's bad.

My wife and I have both found that ours bodies are quite sensitive to the scent and taste of raw food; it's easy to tell if something is bad or not. I seem to remember reading somewhere that bacterial counts can be 26 times higher in cooked food than raw, before it's detectable by taste or smell; evidently evolution hasn't had enough time to tune our senses for detecting the quality of cooked proteins!

One other interesting phenomenon I've never seen mentioned anywhere: for lack of anything else to call it, I call it the throat sense. After you swallow something that passes the smell and taste test, but which isn't quite good enough, you'll find an urge to hack it back up from your throat, even though you've already swallowed it.

It's not like throwing up, exactly; it's as if the food just doesn't go all the way down, and you can just spit it right back out again. I think that babies and circus regurgitators make use of the same machinery. But I wasn't aware that I had such a thing, personally, until the first time I swallowed a bad egg that I didn't smell first. (Nowadays, I smell every egg after opening, and I don't refrigerate them. Refrigeration makes them harder to smell, and kept out of the sun, they keep for 2-3 weeks.)

As far as I know, I've never gotten sick from eating a raw protein gone bad, because they don't stay down long enough to reach my stomach. (I did get sick the first time I ate a bad avocado, but I didn't realize yet that it wasn't supposed to taste like that!)

So, as long as you aren't disguising the taste and smell of your food, I wouldn't worry too much about safety. When it comes to raw, if it tastes good, it is good. You can at least trust evolution to get this bit correct. ;-)

Comment author: JulianMorrison 03 May 2009 11:29:12PM 5 points [-]

You can't smell liver flukes.

Comment author: andrewc 04 May 2009 03:06:29AM 1 point [-]

I seem to remember reading somewhere that bacterial counts can be 26 times higher in cooked food than raw, before it's detectable by taste or smell; evidently evolution hasn't had enough time to tune our senses for detecting the quality of cooked proteins!

Sounds suspicious to me. OK, so maybe if you cook your meat in spices, you can't smell the bugs as easily. But cooking kills bugs, most spices kill bugs, salt stops bugs growing and you don't keep cooked meat for long enough for the surviving, or new bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels. If you had a credible reference for the claim I wouldn't be as suspicious.

Comment author: pjeby 04 May 2009 04:37:11AM 2 points [-]

you don't keep cooked meat for long enough for the surviving, or new bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels

Then why, when I was growing up, did they have all those "you'll be sorry" commercials about not leaving your cooked food out on the counter for more than a couple hours?

OK, so maybe if you cook your meat in spices, you can't smell the bugs as easily.

It's got nothing to do with spices. Compare the smell of room temperature raw meat and cooked meat, left out for a couple hours: the cooked meat emits very little scent, period, while the raw meat still smells good. Just the fact that there's more scent means you can detect a finer-grained change in the scent... and the same thing goes for the flavor.

So as long as the bacteria in question are changing the scent, you're going to be able to detect it more easily in the raw.

It's pretty reasonable to assume that somewhere in our evolutionary ancestry, it was advantageous to be able to tell whether some borderline raw meat was safe for eating or not. Whereas, the opportunity for selection on detecting the safety of borderline cooked flesh has been somewhat more limited in scope, as well as being a more difficult task just due to the destruction of some of the meat's scent-producing capacity.

If you had a credible reference for the claim I wouldn't be as suspicious.

I'm not clear on what you mean by "suspicious". I'm certainly not trying to persuade anyone to follow my dietary choices, here. I was just answering somebody else's question.

Comment author: knb 03 May 2009 04:33:16PM *  1 point [-]
  1. I don't eat any kind of meat.
  2. I avoid meat because I suspect that even most animals have a capacity to suffer. [Edit: or more directly because I experience pangs of guilt when I consider eating meat.]
  3. I would eat meat if I had a plausible reason to fear that I would starve to death or go hungry for long enough that I would suffer greatly.
  4. I don't want children (this would be an interesting survey too btw). If I did, I would explain to them why I don't eat meat, but leave it up to them.
  5. I never talk about it with my family. They know, but for some reason my mom still insists on serving me meat when I visit. She always pretended she didn't hear me when I told her I don't eat meat. I no longer mention it.
  6. I get protein from other sources, plus I take a multivitamin.
  7. I don't really care what other people eat.
  8. I stopped eating meat when I was 18. (3 years ago) I have had some meat since then, but not intentionally/consciously.
  9. I loved processed meat but couldn't eat anything like lobster or whole turkeys.
  10. I don't think so.
Comment author: Desrtopa 02 January 2011 01:19:43AM *  1 point [-]
  1. I avoid the meat of any sort of mammal

  2. Moral and ecological. I may eventually also give up all fish save for those that are sustainably farmed, although I do not have much regard for the welfare of fish. Giving up sushi would be a hell of a wrench though.

  3. Very strictly. I will sooner go hungry or offend a host than eat red meat in any quantity.

  4. If I had children, I might suggest that they follow similar restrictions, and would probably not prepare such foods for them.

  5. I haven't pressured them, but I've made suggestions to that effect. Many of my friends are vegetarians or vegans, and some adopted their restrictions after I did, but I don't know how much influence I had.

  6. It's not hard to get complete protein from an entirely vegetarian diet, but I still eat poultry, and do not intend to give it up. Chicken is more ecologically sustainable than red meat or fish, as well as being so witless that they don't get any dumber when you cut their heads off

  7. Mostly positive, but I find it silly when full vegans refuse to "exploit" animals such as bees, which hardly even have basic self preservation instincts.

  8. Hasn't changed since I adopted my restrictions about four years ago.

  9. I enjoyed red meat quite a lot, and occasionally still regret not having tried a number of types before I gave it up.

  10. I support research into the development of in vitro meat, and would at least try any type of meat tissue cultured in such a way, including human.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 August 2009 10:09:33PM 1 point [-]

1: None.

2-4: -

5: Only when it impinges on health effects.

6: -

7: Shrug?

8-9: -

10: Yes.

Comment author: thomblake 05 August 2009 01:02:12AM *  1 point [-]

I think you typed '1' at the end instead of '10'. Also, that answer sucks.

ETA: Actually it looks like your comment got auto-formatted so the list numbering is all wrong.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 August 2009 02:06:52AM 0 points [-]

Fixed, I hope, by using 10: instead of 10.

Comment author: Rune 03 May 2009 05:52:17PM *  1 point [-]
  1. I don't eat: All sorts of meat, including seafood.
  2. It's healthier. Also, eating animals sounds disgusting.
  3. Very very strictly. Never eaten meat in my life.
  4. I might encourage it.
  5. Never tried.
  6. I think my diet gives me complete nutrition.
  7. Don't care.
  8. Always the same. Since the beginning.
  9. Doesn't apply.
  10. Nope.
Comment author: loqi 03 May 2009 05:41:47PM 1 point [-]

Avoiding creepy foods like balut or fried locusts counts as "culinary taste".

I'm a lifelong vegetarian, raised by non-vegetarians, but my "rationale" falls squarely into this category, so I guess I can't answer these usefully. I don't see what's so creepy about eating fried locusts compared to eating flesh. Or, for that matter, what's so creepy about eating human flesh compared to the flesh of other mammals.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 03 May 2009 07:58:47PM 2 points [-]

Humans are an interesting special case: they can consent.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 05:45:21PM *  1 point [-]

I was mostly trying to control for cultural bias. People who grew up in southeast Asia wouldn't be averse to locusts or balut; the fact that I wouldn't eat a locust doesn't reflect a considered decision, it reflects the fact that I'm from the United States. I'm still interested in your answers if you find foods creepy that your culture of origin does not. I'll revise the wording of the question.

Comment author: loqi 03 May 2009 07:02:16PM 2 points [-]
  1. Animal parts.
  2. I find the smell, taste, texture, and concept repulsive. I consider "fake meat" products intended to simulate the first three just about as bad as the real thing.
  3. Very strictly. I don't order things at restaurants that I could reasonably expect a dishonest answer from the server wrt meat content.
  4. If I had children, I would certainly try to ensure that their diet was less meat-heavy than average, but that's mostly for health reasons. I would probably not encourage them to emulate my diet for at least a couple reasons. One, there are minor social disadvantages that would no longer have a preference to weigh against them. Two, I wouldn't want to go out of my way to deprive my child's developing digestive system from valuable experience before they have a chance to make up their minds for themselves as an adult.
  5. No.
  6. B12 and protein coverage are my main concerns, which I try to compensate for with spirulina and multivitamins.
  7. Neutral, although I'm suspicious of the consistency of most restrictive rationales I encounter.
  8. Lifelong. I can't remember anything before age 5, but am told that by then I was already firm in my intolerance for meat.
  9. N/A
  10. On the occasions that I have accidentally ingested meat (in small amounts), my digestive response has been... unfavorable. Nausea, upset stomach, intestinal cramps. Vegetarians who can otherwise "stomach" meat may want to consider doing so every now and then, if they value the ability to usefully digest it. I'll just cross my fingers and hope I don't ever need to.
Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 04:07:45PM *  0 points [-]

My own data point:

  1. I don't eat any air-breathing animals or cephalopods; I still eat non-cephalopod seafood.
  2. I am concerned about animal suffering, environmental impact, food efficiency, and health. (Cost and ease of preparation are also factors.) I can enjoy an excellent quality of life with this restricted diet.
  3. I do not eat meat when it's offered to me, and so far have not been hungry enough to eat it for that reason. (If I were stranded on a desert island, I would eat animals.) I sometimes order soup in restaurants without asking what kind of stock it was made with.
  4. I hope to have children and would attempt to raise them pescetarians, although I would not object if they wanted to try out meat once or twice after they got old enough to understand the reasons not to.
  5. I occasionally make attempts to convince others to cut down on meat consumption, but have met with no success.
  6. I eat an assortment of soy products, other legumes, eggs, and dairy to get my protein, and take iron supplements.
  7. I have considerable respect for people who are more restrictive than I am, until you get as far as fruitarians and the like who don't seem able to get adequate nutrition. My reasons for being a pescetarian allow that many less restrictive individuals wouldn't be well-served by changing to a diet more like mine, although I do think there isn't enough thought about the possibilities among meat-eaters.
  8. I became a pescetarian when I was seventeen, and decided a few months ago to stop eating cephalopods (although I haven't, since that decision, been presented with an opportunity to eat squid or octopus).
  9. I was never a big fan of meat in general, although I enjoyed certain dishes. The only meat that still even looks like food to me, much less appealing food, is chicken fingers.
  10. I tried to become a vegetarian when I was sixteen, but found that my limited range of tastes and reliance on school cafeteria food had me eating very poorly; this lasted only a few days. My more permanent switch came when I developed a taste for vegetables and started to learn to cook.
Comment author: [deleted] 06 January 2012 09:55:47PM *  1 point [-]

(Avoiding foods that are considered revolting or just non-food in your culture of origin, like balut or fried locusts, counts as "culinary taste".)

With such a broad definition of "culinary taste", my answer is “None”; but I think it is way too broad. (Do you really want to consider --say-- a Saudi Muslim's refusal of eating pork if she's never met anyone who eats pork to count as a culinary taste?)

Hence, questions 2), 3), 4), 6), and 9) are N/A, 5) in my case would mean “have you tried to convince someone to eat food they have avoided so far?“ and the answer is “no”; 7) That's their own freaking business, excepting extreme cases such as cannibalism (and in cases such as coprophagia, I'd rather they didn't do it in front of me) -- I'd like my severely obese grandmother followed a weight-loss diet but I know there's no way I could convince her so I no longer even try; 8) I used to avoid meat from land animals on Lent Fridays; 9) I agree with A Hacker's Diet that so long as you're eating the right number of calories per day and you don't have a deficiency or excess of any particular nutrient or any significant health issue, what you eat is not that important -- and given that I take a multivitamin a day, I don't think I'm likely to have a deficiency any time soon.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 26 December 2010 12:10:15PM *  1 point [-]
  1. I avoid unergonomic / "low-usability" food, that is, anything with inedible elements like bones, cartilage, shells, scales or fruit stones, or just hard eat. Examples include chicken, bony fish, shrimps, cherry, watermelon (though I've recently found a way to deal with watermelons safely), and generally unwieldy food like this hamburger.

  2. Why? Because I just want to eat the food, not to "deal with" it. Also, when I eat, I prefer my hands to be dry and clean, so when I deal with messy food, it is not uncommon for me to go wash my hands in the middle of a meal.

  3. Not very strictly. I'll eat such food if it's served by my host or when I'm hungry -- though I won't order it at a restaurant if an ergonomically-safe alternative is available.

  4. Speaking of children, the only thing I'm really concerned about is safety -- e.g. I avoid giving my four-year-old daughter bony fish unless I pre-process it myself.

  5. No, never tried.

  6. In my case it's easy -- I just replace it with a less messy / higher-usability dish.

  7. Indifferent.

  8. I've had these restrictions since childhood.

  9. I do enjoy the taste, I just don't like the process.

  10. I'm a meat eater, but I'll switch to in-vitro meat as soon as it becomes available.

Comment author: Vaniver 26 December 2010 10:36:35AM *  1 point [-]
  1. None. I'm ~vegan mostly for amoral reasons- I love wheat, am somewhat miserly, am lactose intolerant, live alone and so prefer to cook smaller meals, and so on. I get a bit of warm fuzzies from the trophic level of my food- but that's a tertiary reason, at best.
  2. Not really relevant.
  3. I will eat meat at most restaurants because it's the menu item I like the most. (Not a fan of salads, restaurant pasta tends to be terrible, and so it's pizza or chicken.)
  4. Not sure. It seems easier to switch to meat for developmental reasons and ensure they get everything they need to (I'd probably go with fish for the other benefits), but I might just stick with my normal diet.
  5. I have gotten a few people to try the weird flavor combinations I've preferred. Mixed results. I haven't done any evangelizing.
  6. Mostly hope. I've started turning to more and more varieties of grain and branching out when it comes to vegetables (the addition of sweet potatoes to my diet ~4 months ago was a great plan, and now cucumbers are moving in), but I've always had a long history of ignoring dietary concerns and remaining healthy. I live a sedentary lifestyle, which most likely helps reduce my various protein needs.
  7. I prefer not to judge people based on their dietary preferences.
  8. My diet contracted when I started cooking for myself (and meat went from a daily thing to a monthly thing), and has slowly expanded since as I've found more things I enjoy eating.
  9. I have a poor sense of smell; I cannot tell much difference between steak and chicken. I vaguely enjoyed them, and I do not miss them.
  10. In food science there's something called the "triple point," if I remember correctly, which is the right balance of salt, sugar, and fat. People will eat foods at the triple point until they are physically incapable of eating more. I have that response to the bread that I bake, which is just King Arthur Bread Flour + yeast + salt + water + time + heat. I don't know how to explain this, especially since varying the flour (adding whole wheat flour, quinoa flour, etc.) will put the flavor off a bit and it'll just be good instead of "yeah, I think I'll eat 3/4ths of the loaf instead of the half that would fill me up."
Comment author: Kevin 25 January 2010 08:02:19AM *  1 point [-]

I very much enjoy eating meat. However, animal suffering concerns me. Pigs pass a variation of the mirror test.

But I don't see any incentive to become a vegetarian when my decision will not change aggregate animal suffering or even prevent a single pig from being born into an existence of pure suffering. Their existence is so bad it's almost like they're not even alive. In the documentary Food Inc, the farmers refer to "growing" chickens, never raising chickens.

Is there any logical inconsistency here? It seems oddly convenient to be able to accept animal suffering yet be able to completely ignore it.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 January 2010 04:54:36PM 15 points [-]

Your decision may or may not noticeably impact demand for meat; however, in aggregate with others making the same decision, it certainly does. You could be one of the hundreds of people who doesn't change anything; or you could be the one person on the tipping point whose decision prevents a new factory farm from opening, or shuts one down. The expected utility works out to saving or preventing the birth of as many animals as you don't eat.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 25 January 2010 05:10:38PM *  5 points [-]

Exactly right. Alan Dawrst's essay "Does Vegetarianism Make a Difference?" goes into further detail.

Comment author: Kevin 26 January 2010 06:07:40AM 2 points [-]

I guess the inconsistency that I still can't resolve is:

We agree that animal suffering is bad and I accept the point about the expected utility of one person becoming a vegetarian.

Why is animal suffering just bad enough that you are willing to settle for the expected utility of saving the lives of the number of animals you yourself do not eat? I think my problem is that I have convinced myself that the animal suffering problem is bad enough that I should be an animal rights campaigner or something. I'm not going to do that, and the marginal impact of me becoming a vegetarian still just seems so marginal compared to the impact I could have if I actually focused my energy on activism.

Or, if I become a vegetarian for reasons mostly related to animal suffering, I would want to judge others more harshly for not being vegetarians, which is very poor form in conventional social interactions.

If a shift away from factory farming does occur, I don't think it's going to come from more people like me becoming vegetarians. Cheap, delicious meat grown in vats will have a much greater social effect. Once that happens, I'll become a vegetarian, maybe an annual or semi-annual eater of premium, non-factory farmed meat.

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 26 January 2010 06:41:44AM 25 points [-]

Consistency is what we build into FAIs, not what we require of ourselves before changing what we would do. If animal suffering is bad enough that we should be an animal rights campaigner, but we nevertheless unethically choose to not become a campaigner, that does not make the decision to eat exactly as much meat as always suddenly an ethical decision.

Is it futile to eat a side of asparagus with your steak rather than a side of calamari? Not at all, we have still saved expected squid equivalent to one side of calamari. Would it be better to not have the steak? Sure, maybe, but the squid doesn't actually care about our inconsistency.

I recently (gradually over the last half-year or so) became a fair-weather vegetarian. I ate pepperoni pizza today, and it would have been more than negligible cost to do otherwise. But the last time I bought groceries I did not purchase any meat. I find that I can forgo something like 90% of the meat I used to eat with positive marginal happiness, since most of the time it's fairly trivial to switch to a non-meat idea instead and I still get more pleasure from the decision to switch than unpleasantness from the switching costs.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 January 2010 07:34:10AM 21 points [-]

became a fair-weather vegetarian

This is... an interesting approach. I wonder how many opportunities for marginal improvement we miss, because to admit there's a problem at all would seem to demand complete action by the bright lines of morality and guilt.

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 26 January 2010 09:01:10AM 2 points [-]

There is definitely a cost in cycles which I glossed over. My guess is there are tons of missed opportunities for marginal improvement, but that there's just no way we have enough brain time to focus on each of them and figure out they're marginal improvements and figure out how to implement them without taking undue effort.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 January 2010 08:20:33AM 1 point [-]

It's difficult to do because in the absence of a bright clear line, we experience preference reversals when close up to the decision, which we rationalize.

Alicorn's "not all therefore not some" is definitely along the right lines as a name for this failing.

Comment author: Kevin 27 January 2010 01:27:16AM 1 point [-]

Is that a named bias?

Comment author: Blueberry 27 January 2010 01:31:39AM 3 points [-]

False dilemma, specifically black-and-white thinking.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 January 2010 02:59:42AM 5 points [-]

Seems a bit more than False Dilemma, though. More like Can't Admit Any Problem Exists Because The Minimum "Morally" Acceptable Response Would Be Too High.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 January 2010 03:26:40AM 4 points [-]

That's rather clunky; how about "blame denial" or whatever Latin is for "not all, therefore not some"? ("Non omnes, ergo non aliquot"? I have almost no Latin and filled in the gaps with an online dictionary; I probably needed to decline something.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 26 January 2010 11:14:39AM *  1 point [-]

It might be easier to simply stop caring altogether than to take half-measures.

Comment author: Jordan 26 January 2010 07:49:07AM 3 points [-]

This is exactly where I'm at with regards to SIAI and singularity issues in general. I haven't been able to convince myself to devote my life to the cause, despite thinking it unethical not to do so, nonetheless I've decided to at least start donating, even if it is inconsistent.

Comment author: Kevin 27 January 2010 08:41:21AM *  3 points [-]

Your mental calculus on that issue is probably different from mine assuming you make more money than I do. I'm 23, just graduated from college, and make subsistence wages via a small business, but I'm somewhat confident that my income is going to rise rapidly -- so this year I donated $10, but I hope to make enough money that it really will be like I have dedicated my life to the cause of existential risk. Or at least as much as Peter Thiel has done.

If you're a programmer, your greatest expected value for earnings is biting the bullet and starting a startup...

Comment author: Jordan 29 January 2010 07:41:52PM 2 points [-]

Similar calculus.

I just turned 24. I'm a graduate student and make subsistence wages. I'm moonlighting as an indie game developer. If my studio takes off I'll be able to donate much more to SIAI. But, even if I knew I'd be a millionaire next year, I'd still forgo some small luxuries (by subsistence standards) to make a donation this year.

We definitely need more programmers with enough chutzpah to found a startup, and who are willing to donate substantially if they make it big.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 January 2010 08:24:49PM 2 points [-]

Both voted up for making small donations this year. I am much more optimistic about someone who says that they plan to do a startup and donate some of the money to SIAI if they have previously donated $10 rather than $0.

Comment author: Kevin 29 January 2010 09:53:22PM *  1 point [-]

For what it's worth, the best returns right now for game development are on Facebook. It's something of a secret; developing games for the iPhone is almost a trap compared to developing games for Facebook. That's what I'm working on right now. Happy to discuss this via PM/email...

Comment author: Kevin 26 January 2010 06:52:58AM 1 point [-]

Thank you, "eat less meat" was the obvious answer I was missing.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 December 2010 08:35:00PM 3 points [-]

I know it's been pointed out elsewhere, but it's also possible to make a commitment to only eat meat that has been raised humanely. This is what I do. I only buy grass-fed beef and cage-free chickens and eggs. "Organic" labels on meat include some animal welfare protections as well (for example, ruminants must be allowed access to pasture in order to be labeled organic) so this is a good thing to look for.

This kind of meat is more expensive, which means I eat less of it, but I can still have a hamburger if I really want it and enjoy it pretty much guilt-free. An animal has still died, but I'm okay with that.

Comment author: kaiokan12 02 April 2010 03:20:48PM 0 points [-]

Same here.

If im out with friends, and they buy something with meat, I will usually eat it. It tastes allright, and I dont want to inconvenient them.

When im at home, I wont buy cow or chicken, but something that seems justified on a utilitarian basis, like fish.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 January 2010 06:15:37AM 7 points [-]

I think my problem is that I have convinced myself that the animal suffering problem is bad enough that I should be an animal rights campaigner or something. I'm not going to do that, and the marginal impact of me becoming a vegetarian still just seems so marginal compared to the impact I could have if I actually focused my energy on activism.

Conditional on the fact that you will never become an animal rights campaigner, the largest impact you can make would be to simply become a vegetarian yourself. Neglecting that because another, in-practice unavailable behavior would be dramatically superior is foolish.

Or, if I become a vegetarian for reasons mostly related to animal suffering, I would want to judge others more harshly for not being vegetarians, which is very poor form in conventional social interactions.

Yes, it is advisable not to be a jerk about it. I manage this temptation by making liberal allowances for the fact that people in general do not have the force of personality to make an unconventional self-restricting choice. By ought-implies-can, those people do not in fact have a moral obligation to become vegetarians.

Comment author: Utilitarian 29 January 2010 05:25:01AM 4 points [-]

the largest impact you can make would be to simply become a vegetarian yourself.

You can also make a big impact by donating to animal-welfare causes like Vegan Outreach. In fact, if you think the numbers in this piece are within an order of magnitude of correct, then you could prevent the 3 or 4 life-years of animal suffering that your meat-eating would cause this year by donating at most $15 to Vegan Outreach. For many people, it's probably a lot easier to offset their personal contribution to animal suffering by donating than by going vegetarian.

Of course, the idea of "offsetting your personal contribution" is a very non-utilitarian one, because if it's good to donate at all, then you should have been doing that already and should almost certainly do so at an amount higher than $15. But from the perspective of behavior hacks that motivate people in the real world, this may not be a bad strategy.

By the way, Vegan Outreach -- despite the organization's name -- is a big advocate of the "flexitarian" approach. One of their booklets is called, "Even if You Like Meat."

Comment author: Larks 02 January 2011 01:10:47AM 2 points [-]

One of their booklets is called, "Even if You Like Meat."

I wish they would make editions available without the horrible pictures; I'm already aware conditions are bad, and I neither want the pictures to hijack my decision making process while reading, nor to experience the neg-utils from seeing them.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 January 2010 08:42:53AM 2 points [-]

Or, if I become a vegetarian for reasons mostly related to animal suffering, I would want to judge others more harshly for not being vegetarians, which is very poor form in conventional social interactions.

Judging others is about making predictions on their future actions in morally challenging situations. If they eat meat, it's a good predictor that they will eat meat in future, but it doesn't say much about whether they'll jump into the canal to save a drowning child.

Comment author: simplicio 10 April 2011 09:34:21PM 1 point [-]

That's true as far as it goes, but it seems to me that jumping into a canal to rescue a drowning child is as morally easy as it gets: your explicit beliefs are nicely lining up with your intuitions and emotions.

Eating ethically is much harder; it involves the ability to make some sacrifices without the benefit of strong emotional spurs. Vegetarianism/veganism, assuming it's based on essentially consequentialist reasoning (not all of it is), is basically a real-world application of "shut up & multiply," which I find admirable.

Comment author: prase 05 August 2009 03:41:49PM *  1 point [-]
  1. None.
  2. -
  3. -
  4. -
  5. No.
  6. -
  7. From neutral to slightly negative, depending on degree. If somebody restricts herself/himself strongly enough to have difficulties in maintaining these restrictions regularly, or negative health effects thereof, I consider that irrational. On the other hand, cannibals are barbarians to me.
  8. -
  9. -
  10. No.
Comment author: thomblake 05 August 2009 04:01:20PM 0 points [-]

On the other hand, cannibals are barbarians to me.

Shouldn't that change your answer to #1?

Comment author: prase 06 August 2009 06:38:11PM 2 points [-]

No, since people aren't considered edible in my culture.

Comment author: Emile 03 May 2009 09:00:56PM 1 point [-]

I eat anything too. I know a few vegeterians (including my dad), and don't mind them.

Comment author: dclayh 03 May 2009 08:47:52PM 1 point [-]

I'm fairly militant about eating anything that's tasty. (I suppose I'd draw the line at chimpanzee or nonconsensually-killed human.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 May 2009 04:37:10PM 1 point [-]

In (1), did you intend not to exclude things like allergies? Questions 4, 5, and 7 suggest that you are asking about dietary restrictions that one thinks a good idea for people in general.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 May 2009 05:13:50PM 0 points [-]

Edited, thanks.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 May 2009 01:14:30AM -2 points [-]

I thought I was just being evil by eating meat until I started reading this. Hat tip to PJ Eby.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 04 May 2009 04:11:02AM 8 points [-]

AFAIK, most factory-farmed animals are grain-fed, so this actually multiplies the harm of meat-eating.

Comment author: Utilitarian 05 May 2009 10:53:15PM 0 points [-]

Indeed. Gaverick Matheny and Kai M. A. Chan have formalized that point in an excellent paper, "The Illogic of the Larder."

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 10:42:45AM *  5 points [-]

There is some interesting information in amongst all the loaded language, straw men, naturalistic fallacies, and failure to think at the margin, but that piece largely comes off as a hack job, where the author started with their bottom line, and worked up.

My favourite parts:

  1. Vegetarianism is unnatural. This is not a modern finding. The Bible gives us evidence of this, and clues that vegetarianism was not regarded with favour. In Genesis , Chapter Four, Eve bears Cain and Abel. 'And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.' That 'but' in the middle of the sentence is the first clue to disapproval. This disapproval is confirmed by verses three to five. Abel and Cain bring offerings to God: Abel of his sheep and Cain, the fruits of the ground. God, we are told, had respect for Abel's carnivorous offering, but He had no respect for Cain's vegetarian one. [To be fair, the next paragraph then admits that this is not really evidence of anything; which raises the question of why it was included at all.]

  2. Have you noticed the increasing numbers of occasions when small groups of very militant people demonstrate against all sorts of things: animal experiments, butchers' shops, new roads, footpaths, nuclear power stations, civil rights, homosexuals' rights or anybody else's rights. The odds are that the majority are vegetarians... Meat is the best source of several nutrients. When our bodies are deficient in these, we become irritable and aggressive. ...This is why strict vegetarians tend to be so vociferous. It is a trait that was recognised long ago; it was, after all, the vegetarian Cain who killed the carnivorous Abel, not the other way round. [I somehow missed the all the vegetarians demonstrating against people's civil rights, but whatever.]

  3. Vegetarianism — a form of child abuse...

There are certainly tensions between the various goals that many vegetarians have (both between health, animal welfare and environmental goals, and e.g. between different sets of environmental concerns). Many of these tensions aren't always given the attention they deserve. But this article doesn't really advance our understanding of them much.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 May 2009 08:13:37PM -1 points [-]

OK, like I said, I didn't read the entire thing. I'm gonna keep on eating meat though, because it's tasty and I'm not sure killing animals is that bad. The lives of animals are certainly worth less than human lives, aren't they?

Comment author: conchis 05 May 2009 08:50:09AM *  3 points [-]

The lives of animals are certainly worth less than human lives

Most people would agree with this. I'm not sure they would agree that vegetarianism puts your life at stake though. The relevant trade-off is animal lives vs. human well-being. (How much human well-being is up for debate.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 May 2009 09:06:05PM 1 point [-]

Right.

What do you think of this essay by Robin Hanson? Here in California we just enacted some sort of legislation that prevents people from keeping animals in cages too long, or something like that. It's my only hope.

Comment author: conchis 07 May 2009 01:15:54AM *  3 points [-]

Disclaimer: I don't personally think animal welfare matters, so I'm playing devil's advocate here. The views of people who actually do care about animal welfare may differ. (I do believe there are other good reasons to reduce meat consumption, but that's a separate matter.)

  1. Robin's claim that pretty much the same amount of land will be devoted to farming regardless of demand for meat seems unjustified, given (a) the massive scale of deforestation going on to make way for livestock, and (b) the generally higher yield of plant crops. (Nick's point about animals being fed plant crops is relevant here too.) In addition to the carbon impact (the UN estimates that such deforestation accounts for 6% of global GHG emissions) this means that, contra Robin, demand for meat is likely to result in animal deaths.

  2. That said, I think Robin is still correct to argue that the main impact of reducing meat consumption will not be to save animal lives, but rather to result in fewer animals being reared. The question then becomes whether the lives of such animals are so bad that they're not worth living. Robin asserts that they're not that bad, without really arguing for the conclusion. People have written books detailing how bad the lives of factory farmed animals are, and I buy their story more than Robin's lack of story.

  3. It nonetheless seems plausible that the lives of non-factory-farmed animals are worth living, despite their eventually being killed for food. I agree with Robin that this would make eating them OK from the perspective of animal welfare.* However, in contrast to Robin, I don't think that we're making the world a better place by bringing them into existence.

* Which is to say, OK if you ignore the environmental costs.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 07:41:54AM *  0 points [-]

Well argued conchis! The fact that you have been so thoughtful throughout this discussion makes me quite curious why you don't think animal welfare matters.

I think it does (somewhat) and the points you make against Robin were the same ones that jumped to my mind.

One minor additional point, I hope that reducing my consumption of animals and raising public awareness and concern about animal suffering, will result in the creation of a larger market for "humanely" raised and slaughtered animals.

Comment author: conchis 07 May 2009 10:23:48AM 1 point [-]

I'm afraid I don't really have a good answer. I think that where we draw our sphere of moral concern is basically arbitrary; I just happen to find the idea of sacrificing human welfare for non-human animals deeply unattractive. I might be willing to accept a lexicographic ordering that took other animals' welfare into account only when human well-being was unaffected, but I doubt that adopting such an view would have (m)any practical consequences.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 04:19:05PM 1 point [-]

I agree with everything you said, except that I believe non-human animals deserve non-zero moral weight.

Do you believe infants, or people with dementia, or severe mental disabilities deserve non-zero moral weight? Independent, of course, of how their welfare effects the welfare of mature intelligent humans who care about them.

Does witnessing animal torture not bother you?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eQQQBn4dlo&feature=channel Note, I do not endorse everything PETA does.

Comment author: conchis 07 May 2009 05:45:55PM 1 point [-]
  1. Lexicographic ordering is non-zero weight. (Well, sort of. You can't represent a lexicographic ordering with a real-valued social welfare function, so nothing will have "weight" in that sense, but you get the point.)

  2. Yes to all three limbs of your first question, with a possible reservation depending on what exactly falls within the sphere of "severe mental disability".

  3. Oddly enough, before actually clicking through to the link, I was quite expecting to be bothered. As it turned out, I wasn't bothered much at all, I think largely due to the lack of gore. I'm not sure what this says about me, but it does tend to reinforce my view that "being bothered by watching something" is a weak guide to morality. My lack of bother at that video doesn't say much about the inherent moral status of pigs, much as my distress at this video doesn't say much about the inherent moral value of Britney Spears.

Comment author: MAVIS 04 May 2009 11:57:35PM -3 points [-]

isn't it funny how often we vegetarians get asked this question? i have a hard time even answering people anymore b/c i am bored of my own story. my standard answer is that i am just about as laid-back-a vegetarian as can be - ovo/lacto/pesca, whatever. lard in the refried beans, chicken stock in the rice, etc, when served to me in a restaurant or at someone's house is totally acceptable, although i'd rather not know about it and when presented with vegetarian options instead, i'll take it/them. my vegetarianism started when a peta representative spoke to my sociology class at the university of texas (modern protest movements) and made the environmental/food efficiency argument, which made a lot of sense to me, so i decided to cut back on meat. after a couple of months i found myself eating no meat at all...then one day on the way to work, i saw a possum smashed on the side of the road and its flesh splayed out just like the way meat looks at the store. my stomach turned, and from then on i decided that i didn't want that nasty stuff in my mouth. and chickens are ugly and dirty and stuff. however, i know i'm not going to die or get sick if some meat or meat products become a part of my meal, which i why i'm laid-back about it. i also know i'm not going to change anyone else's mind about this since it's mostly an emotional thing for me now. it's less like i "love animals" and more like i think animals are dirty and you shouldn't eat them. it's like eating a scab or something. i think picky eaters are annoying...also annoying are people who think that i have no idea about alternative sources of protein. i'm very irritated by people who get excited and think that i am picky and need a "special' plate or dish at a party. worst case, i skip a meal, no big deal, although i've never had to do that, even when going to a barbeque joint. they have beans and potato salad, or i can fashion a tomato sandwich or something. finally, although i know it's crazy, i have this idea in my head that eating meat is for boys and is therefore un-lady-like. overall, i just think meat is gross like some people think broccoli is gross. it's dead flesh. i also don't think that other animals should eat meat, like squirrels or raccoons or birds. that is also gross. if i had a hankerin' for a beef burger, i would totally just go for it...but i don't see that happening. lakshmi's carl'sjr ad is really gross.

Comment author: jooyous 31 January 2013 04:05:09AM *  0 points [-]

What are people's reasons for not eating eggs and would you eat the eggs of your own pet chickens that you were raising?

Comment author: KPier 22 July 2011 09:23:06PM 0 points [-]

No one has described my particular situation yet, so I'll give it a shot:

  1. I do not eat junk food. No potato chips, cookies, desserts, candy, ect.
  2. I do this primarily for health reasons, but also just to prove I can.
  3. I will occasionally eat pizza and other borderline-junk food if there is no alternative. (I'll drink Gatorade if there's no water, or order a breakfast pastry if fruit isn't an option). I won't eat candy, desserts, or anything with trans-fats regardless of whether there are alternatives.
  4. I know a few people whose parents prohibited them from having sweets as kids, and they ended up with cravings for sugar, a habit of deceiving people about their eating habits,, and no willpower. I think I'll let my kids have desserts in moderation, and keep junk out of our house but let them have it when we're out.
  5. Most people who hear this think I'm insane; one friend attempted it for a week and gave up. I've never tried to convince anyone beyond describing how i did it.
  6. N/A
  7. I also don't eat meat from mammals, for moral reasons, but there's no moral judgment attached to this diet, so i can't say I've ever had any attitude towards people who are less restrictive.
  8. I started this in 2009 for Lent (I had a friend who tried to convince me that non-Catholics just didn't have the willpower to give something up for all of Lent), and kept going after Lent through the next 18 months. I quit briefly at the beginning of this year, feeling I'd proved my point to him. Eventually I decided to start again for the health benefits, but allowing myself home-baked 5-ingredient cookies occasionally. That's where I'm at now.
  9. I loved chocolate when I ate it. Loved it. Addicted to it. I also ate lots of other candy, but mostly because ti was there rather than because I liked it. The first few months I missed things all the time; now it doesn't bother me.
  10. Having religious people bet you that you can't have willpower without God is an immense willpower boost. I highly recommend it.
Comment author: thomblake 07 May 2009 05:06:32PM *  0 points [-]
  1. I avoid eating human, dog, cat, horse, dolphin, and anything cute. Otherwise, my policy is "I'll try anything twice", especially while traveling.
  2. I avoid eating things that humans can regard as friends. (dolphins are in the 'gray area' here.)
  3. I would avoid them even as a guest or if hungry (if literally starving, though, all bets are off)
  4. Yes.
  5. only when it comes up. No, I don't think I've ever succeeded.
  6. not an issue - cow is a fine substitute.
  7. folks with more restrictive diets are silly. Less restrictive are gross. That's about it.
  8. Pretty much forever.
  9. n/a
  10. 'cute' is a relative term that I expect to shift over time. Bunnies are definitely off the menu.
Comment author: meh 03 May 2009 10:14:28PM *  0 points [-]
  1. I avoid all meat, as well as milk. I'm working to reduce other dairy products, but cheese is proving stubborn.
  2. Environmental and efficiency concerns are my main motivation, particularly GHG emissions. I have no particular concern for animal welfare.
  3. I have three general exceptions. The first is that I'll try types of food that I've never eaten before if offered the opportunity. (I would totally try fried locusts.) The second is that I'll eat things that I or a close friend or family member has caught/killed (non-farmed). The third is that I'll eat meat to avoid serious social awkwardness. I've also thought about making an exception for food that would otherwise go to waste, but decided that it could create bad incentives.
  4. Any kids would presumably be raised as practical vegetarians, because that's what I (and my partner) cook.
  5. I've encouraged others, with some success, to reduce and/or change the mix of meats they eat. (I've not really tried to convince anyone to become totally vegetarian.) I've found that non-vegetarians tend to be more open to my reasons for being vegetarian (which are fundamentally anthropocentric) than to concerns about animal welfare.
  6. I do the standard stuff to keep up proteins: legumes, soy products etc.
  7. My attitude to others doesn't depend much on their dietary choices. (Some of my best friends are omnivores.) My attitude to others' dietary choices depends on their reasons for doing whatever it is they do. Difficult to give a general answer.
  8. I've been vegetarian for a little over two years. I've had three "lapses", one for each of the exceptions listed in 3.
  9. I used to enjoy meat a lot, but except for seafood, don't really miss it at all. In fact, the longer I go without eating it, the less appealing it seems. I really enjoy good vegetarian food.
Comment author: mattnewport 03 May 2009 10:49:26PM 2 points [-]

Environmental and efficiency concerns are my main motivation, particularly GHG emissions.

Would it be accurate to say that your primary concern is that there are negative externalities involved in meat production that are not reflected in the price of meat products? If the largest negative externality that concerns you is GHG emissions do you feel that your reasons for not eating meat would be eliminated if the negative externalities were priced in through some kind of energy tax or cap and trade system? Did you ever consider eating meat and purchasing carbon offsets to make up for the unpaid negative externality? It sounds like you don't miss meat much any more but you say that you used to enjoy it so presumably there would have been some additional price you would have been willing to pay in the form of a carbon offset or perhaps a charitable donation of some kind?

Comment author: MichaelBishop 04 May 2009 12:45:19PM 2 points [-]

Question: Given current regulatory regimes, how effective is buying carbon offsets? My impression is "not particularly."

Furthermore, eating a more vegetarian diet does not compete with buying offsets. One could do both. In fact, because vegetarian food is often cheaper (and would be relatively cheaper still if wasteful agricultural subsidies were eliminated), eating more vegetarian leaves people more money for good causes.

Comment author: conchis 04 May 2009 01:03:09PM 0 points [-]

The UK has a Quality Assurance Scheme for carbon offsets, which shows some promise, though I confess I don't know much about the details. Offsets must meet a variety of criteria, and approved providers are listed here (there are currently only 5).

Comment author: mattnewport 06 May 2009 08:37:56PM 0 points [-]

If your main reason for eating a vegetarian diet is to reduce your carbon footprint, how effective is your dietary choice? My impression is "not particularly".

Implicit in my question was an assumption that the person making the choice places some inherent value on meat consumption (they like the taste, or they believe it has health benefits for example). If that is not the case then the question of environmental justifications is irrelevant if it is in fact true that eating vegetarian is cheaper.

Vegetarians who do not feel they are giving anything up by not eating meat and are indeed saving money have already adequately explained their choice. Bringing additional justifications related to environmental benefits is only relevant if they wish to persuade others who do feel they would be giving something up by giving up meat to become vegetarian.

The original poster seemed to be saying that giving up meat was originally motivated by environmental concerns and that it was initially a sacrifice ("I used to enjoy meat a lot") but that he doesn't really miss it any more so he didn't appear to be attempting to persuade anybody. My question was whether he considered alternative ways to alleviate the environmental concerns without paying the perceived cost of giving up a food that he enjoyed.

Comment author: meh 06 May 2009 09:21:30PM *  2 points [-]

If your main reason for eating a vegetarian diet is to reduce your carbon footprint, how effective is your dietary choice? My impression is "not particularly".

Is that impression based on anything in particular? The evidence that it will reduce one's individual carbon footprint seems fairly solid (see e.g. here) . The extent to which that translates, via reduced demand, into actual emission reductions is perhaps more arguable, but that doesn't seem to be what you're getting at. Conversely, there are rather more serious, and well-recognised concerns about the efficacy of offsets.

he doesn't really miss it any more so he didn't appear to be attempting to persuade anybody.

Actually, I think the fact that it's possible to adapt pretty easily to a meat-free diet strengthens the case for others doing (or at least trying) it.

P.S. What makes you assume I'm male?

Comment author: mattnewport 06 May 2009 09:48:40PM 0 points [-]

Is that impression based on anything in particular?

Not really, I just suspect that if one's primary concern is reducing one's carbon footprint, it seems like it would be a bit too convenient if a comprehensive cost benefit analysis came out with the answer 'become a vegetarian'. That seems like an overly simple answer to a very complex question. All else being equal, eating less meat is probably going to reduce carbon emissions but were you to take into account the full picture (perhaps preferring locally sourced produce over imported, preferring food that you can walk to the store to buy over food that you have to drive to a specialty store to purchase, taking overall nutritional content into account, etc.) and consider other lifestyle changes in addition to dietary then I just find it unlikely that 'stop eating meat' is the uncomplicated best course of action.

I am prepared to believe that the answer to the question 'Will eating less meat tend to lower my carbon footprint?' is yes. I am very skeptical that the answer to the question 'All things considered, what is the best way for me to lower my carbon footprint?' is a simple 'Become a vegetarian'.

I think the fact that it's possible to adapt pretty easily to a meat-free diet strengthens the case for others doing (or at least trying) it.

It's a data point for others to consider, sure.

P.S. What makes you assume I'm male?

Given the male/female ratio here (discussed at length elsewhere) it's my default assumption unless a username seems obviously male or female. In the absence of a good gender neutral pronoun I tend to use he, though in this case I did assume you were male.

Comment author: meh 07 May 2009 12:02:31AM *  1 point [-]

it seems like it would be a bit too convenient if a comprehensive cost benefit analysis came out with the answer 'become a vegetarian'

Convenient for people who are vegetarians on other grounds, perhaps; not so much for me.

In any event, I don't think anyone was suggesting that vegetarianism is the single best way to reduce your carbon footprint. (The specific suggestion being made was presumably that becoming vegetarian was likely to be more effective than buying an equivalent tonnage of offsets. I think this was true when I became vegetarian, but perhaps the certification mechanisms for offsets have now improved enough that the real issue is cost.)

Whether vegetarianism could be the single best way for any given individual to reduce their carbon footprint will depend heavily on: (a) what margin you're working at (e.g. if you already don't drive or fly much, but eat a lot of red meat and dairy then it's more likely to have a large percentage impact); and (b) the relative value you place on the activities that you could scale back on (which will also vary from person to person).

To get somewhat more precise, the paper I linked to in my previous comment concludes:

a person consuming a mixed diet with the mean American caloric content and composition causes the emissions of 1485 kg CO2-equivalent above the emissions associated with consuming the same number of calories, but from plant sources. Far from trivial, nationally this difference amounts to over 6% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Individual mileage will vary of course. Because my carbon footprint was already pretty low (around 1/4 to 1/3 of the US average), I estimated the reductions I could achieve by eliminating meat and dairy at somewhere around 20%. (Which pretty much did make it the best single option I had.)

FWIW, I'm a little unsure about the value of buying local for a couple of reasons.

  1. Variation in production efficiency can swamp transport costs. The classic example here is that it's apparently more energy efficient to ship lamb from New Zealand than to produce it in the UK. (Though much of this apparently comes down to coal vs. hydro electricity generation, and won't apply to all forms of production.) More broadly, I worry that increasing demand for local products because they are local could incentivise inefficient production.

  2. Large supermarket chains actually have pretty efficient distribution systems, and, as I understand it, most of the emissions from food transport tend to enter at the point-of-sale to front-door stage anyway.

(Not convinced it's bad, either. Just unsure about the size of the benefits.)

Comment author: mattnewport 07 May 2009 12:23:38AM 1 point [-]

FWIW, I'm a little unsure about the value of buying local for a couple of reasons.

I'm not particularly advocating buying local as a better option, it was just an example of the kinds of factors that one might need to consider.

I tend to think that if there is a significant negative externality to carbon emissions that is not currently reflected in prices, the optimal solution would be to impose some kind of carbon tax to reflect that hidden cost. This would avoid the need for individuals to try and make complex cost benefit calculations for themselves on optimal carbon reducing choices.

I don't think it's very likely that it is politically feasible to implement such a tax though so if I considered the issue important I might attempt to make lifestyle choices that reduced my own personal impact. Under those circumstances I'd want to make choices efficiently. It's not clear to me that vegetarianism would be the best choice but since I don't consider reducing my own carbon footprint a priority I haven't done a lot of research on the issue.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 06:46:55AM *  0 points [-]

If your main reason for eating a vegetarian diet is to reduce your carbon footprint,

Forced to give a number, I would say it is 1/3 of my moral motivation for eating mostly vegetarian.

how effective is your dietary choice? My impression is "not particularly".

Your impression is wrong. See: http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutri3.pdf and http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16573-eating-less-meat-could-cut-climate-costs.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/27/opinion/27wed4.html?em&ex=1167368400&en=819c6a4e381eeb26&ei=5087%0A

Comment author: mattnewport 07 May 2009 07:43:13AM *  0 points [-]

Those links seem to address the question 'does a vegetarian diet reduce carbon emissions?' which is not quite the question I was asking. The relevant question is 'what is the most cost effective way for me to reduce my carbon emissions?'. A 'yes' answer to question 1 does not necessarily imply an 'eat a vegetarian diet' answer to question 2.

As an alternative example of the same kind of distinction, a 'yes' answer to the question 'does a Prius have lower emissions than my current car?' does not necessarily imply that the answer to the question 'what is the most cost effective way for me to reduce my carbon emissions?' is 'buy a Prius'.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 08:14:01AM 0 points [-]

I agree, of course, that we must take costs into accounts. Comments by meh basically explain how to think about that.

You said, in what I consider an unjustified mocking tone, that my dietary choice was "not particularly" effective in reducing my carbon footprint. This is wrong.

For the record, I never claimed, implied, or believed, it was the most efficient thing for every single person concerned about global warming to do. I believe my writing is very clear. I feel you are being an uncharitable discussion partner. At this rate, I will not continue discussing the issue with you.

Comment author: mattnewport 07 May 2009 08:36:46AM 2 points [-]

I feel you misinterpreted my tone. When I said 'your' dietary choice I wasn't specifically addressing you - the thread was in response to meh's survey answers and you didn't mention your own diet in the comment I was responding to. I did realize in a later reply to meh that 'your' made the discussion sound unintentionally personal and so started using 'one's dietary choices' in place of 'your dietary choices'. If you re-read my comment with that substitution perhaps the tone comes across differently?

By echoing your use of the phrase "not particularly" I was trying to make a point that in the context of the thread your 'impression' that carbon offsets were not very effective carried no greater weight than my 'impression' that a vegetarian diet was not very effective. You've subsequently provided links to evidence that a vegetarian diet may be effective and so rebutted my point.

To be clear, the intent behind my questions is to elucidate to what extent people are choosing vegetarianism as a carefully thought out consequence of prior values (reduced environmental impact, minimizing harm to animals, etc.) and to what extent these are rationalizations for a choice made for other reasons.

Comment author: MichaelBishop 07 May 2009 05:09:24PM *  0 points [-]

I appreciate that you are making some adjustment to new evidence and therefore vote you up.

I acknowledge that the my moral calculations are far from the only thing driving my dietary decisions, the social motivations are interesting, and cut both ways. The fact that I have been exposed to, and learned how to cook, a delicious variety of vegetarian food certainly lessens the sacrifice I make. This is worthy of more discussion, though I may have to excuse myself from it at this point.

That said, I do believe I am, compared to the vast majority of people - even, I imagine, people on LW: 1. making better moral calculations regarding my dietary choices, 2. acting more in accordance with my moral calculations than other people.

Of course, most people probably believe those things about themselves.

Comment author: meh 04 May 2009 09:18:02AM *  1 point [-]

I think that's an accurate characterization of my concerns. I didn't take the offset route for three main reasons.

  1. I do have other concerns besides GHG emissions, which offsets wouldn't address.
  2. In general I prefer to reduce where I can, and save offsets for things I struggle more to do without (necessary plane trips being the main one). Which is another way of saying that I'm not willing to pay the increased (offset inclusive) price. I guess I was also banking on adapting to meat-avoidance fairly well; perhaps if I'd ended up finding it more difficult, I would then have considered offsets more seriously. Also, offsets are still somewhat difficult to verify; my own meat consumption isn't.
  3. The impact of my own reduced meat consumption is relatively minimal. However, if my example convinces one other person to reduce their consumption similarly, then that's doubled it's effectiveness. Perhaps I'm wrong, but offsets don't seem to have the same example value.
Comment author: MichaelBishop 04 May 2009 12:49:06PM 1 point [-]

The impact of my own reduced meat consumption is relatively minimal. However, if my example convinces one other person to reduce their consumption similarly, then that's doubled it's effectiveness.

Seconded. We're also helping to create a larger market for vegetarian food or vat meat and reducing stigma against vegetarians.