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?


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

  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 ra
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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.

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?

What I meant is that birds' programming doesn't feature advanced mental concepts like "care", but simple instinctive responses (that can be easily triggered with false stimuli) take their place. However, I see now that this was not important to my point, and I could have left it out, in place of "don't care whether other species live or die". What's so inherently bad about pain? Is it morally questionable to run a piece of control software for a cleaning robot, that has a "const bool in_pain = true;"? 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. However, if he was born with no mental facilities outside of those of a chicken, my foremost reason for keeping him alive would be to prevent an emotional impact for other people.
9Scott Alexander13y
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). 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". 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.
Hmm. Methinks this strategy could make debating female creationists somewhat problematic.
I already agree that (involuntary) pain for humans is bad, but I don't think it's bad in general, i.e. applied to any entity. 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. They don't have my sympathy, although I am grateful. I am a consequentialist. However, if I see someone returning good favors with torture, I would not have any dealings with that person, since it would seem like a really bad investment.
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.
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?
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.
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).

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.

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. 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.
5Scott Alexander13y
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.
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. 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?
4Scott Alexander13y
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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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
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. 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. 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.
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?

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 giv

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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.

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.

Hear hear. Lifeforms that can't think are munchies unless inedible or icky.
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!)
Bah, anyone could do that - venison is delicious.

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... (read more)

I base my opinion about the health benefits on anecdotal evidence and this study [http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/70/3/516S]. I have never heard of a study advising a diet high in non-lean red meat and would be interested to read one.
I've mentioned Good Calories, Bad Calories [http://www.amazon.com/Good-Calories-Bad-Controversial-Science/dp/1400033462/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241380734&sr=8-1] 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.
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).
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.
Aren't the highly touted Omega-3 fats polyunsaturated?
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.
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://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-3_fatty_acids#Meat] http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/omega-3-omega-6.html [http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/omega-3-omega-6.html]
Quite possibly, but I don't eat fish that often, and most of what I do eat is very low-fat tuna.
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.
  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
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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?

4Scott Alexander13y
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.
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.
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.
Assuming I felt like it, it would depend significantly on the efficiency (particularly energy efficiency) of the production process.
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.)
Here's an ethical issue: what happens to all the cows, pigs, chickens, etc? (Consider what happened to the horses.)
Number of a species existing isn't an additional terminal value to me on top of aggregated experiences (except maybe for very small numbers), and it seems pretty likely that the average animal life on a factory farm isn't worth living.
Why, what happened to the horses? We still have horses.
Now think how many horses there were in 1900. Hint: at roughly the same time, canned dog food was invented.
I found this page really interesting: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=144565 [http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=144565] How many people would've guessed that there are ~twice more horses in Europe as of a few years ago than in 1900? Or that current US horse population is ~30% of its historical peak?
I think vat meat would take long enough to catch on that the decline in the meat animal population could be accounted for by slowing the breeding rate.
I agree, that is a possibility.
Regardless, the current population of livestock accounts for a tiny share of the total over time so what happens to the animals currently alive is less important than the long-term effects of a change in people's diets.
  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

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See Michael Anissimov, Free Range is Bullshit [http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2010/02/free-range-is-bullshit/] .
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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_range#European_Union].

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.
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".
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
If animals in nature lead lives that are worth not living, is there a case here for somehow making sure that if humanity goes extinct, the rest of the biosphere goes with it (think doomsday device with ten thousand year timer, or some other more serious way)? Also depends on whether we'd expect any intelligent species arising after humanity to evolve into a better or worse than average (or than zero) civilization, I guess.
5Scott Alexander13y
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.
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.
As an aside, what you're describing here would be (to my mind) ethically indistinguishable from vat-grown meat.
This isn't obvious to me at all. Can you explain? Pain is not the only form of suffering. Temple Grandin [http://www.templegrandin.com/templehome.html] has suggested that animals are worse off when they are afraid than when they are in pain.
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.
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.
This suggests that the consequentialist vs. non-consequentialist distinction might actually the right one after all. (Of course, the claim that only consequentialists act in ways that are broadly consistent with their values is still, er... contentious, to say the least.)
Not at all! Consequentialists can get doing-allowing distinctions via self-other asymmetries or agent relativization, and non-consequentialists don't have to embrace the distinction.
Fair enough. I tend to code self-other asymmetry and agent-relativization as non-consequentialist, even though they can be formally treated as such; but that's admittedly a matter of (potentially idiosyncratic) taste. (I worry that otherwise consequentialism doesn't uniquely identify anything; perhaps such fears are unwarranted.) Your second point is of course valid either way.
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 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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/dr/generalizing_from_one_example/].* I'm afraid this example is anything but clear to me. Could you perhaps explain why you think this in more detail? 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.
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.
That's a shame. I actually kind of fancied aretaic (used as a noun in the same sense as stoic/Stoic).
I agree completely. There's a phrase we use, "aretaic turn", which describes the move towards consideration of virtue in all philosophical fields in the mid-to-late 20th century. I like it.
The issue is not "being used as food", but being raised in a particularly unpleasant way, much worse than would be experienced in a nature reserve. How many vegetarians have you actually asked this one? I think you'd find many who would be happy with that; I know many say they would eat vat-grown meat.
"Ideologically-driven avoidance of foods feels like a disturbing pseudo-religion to me." Hm, can you explain this? I roughly follow a paleo diet as well, and generally think that meat is more healthy than commonly perceived. For me, the only good reasons for avoiding meat are the ideologically-driven ones.
In a moment of honesty I will admit I don't have strong evidence against the null hypothesis that my dislike of veganism and related is primarily due to their association with radical green movement, and New Age style fringe, both which I strongly dislike for quite rational reasons. I can obviously say "meet is healthy", "humans are omnivores", and the ever popular "think of the children" (by the way if you haven't read Eliezer's Three World Collide, do it now, it's awesome) - but I think they're all rationalizations for my dislike I developed after being exposed to too many meat-avoiding freaks, and not primary reasons.
I appreciate this admission, almost as much as your many excellent comments on LW. I also have strong disagreements, though seemingly less emotional ones, with the radical green movement and New Age style fringe.

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 ... (read more)

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.
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
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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/19d/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.
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?
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.
[-][anonymous]10y 3

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

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


  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.
  1. 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 disappeare
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[-][anonymous]12y 3
  1. Any animal part.

  2. To prevent animals from suffering or dying. Vegetarianism seems inevitable to me as I work to bring my behavior in line with my values.

  3. Very strictly; I won't eat it as a guest, if hungry, or by not checking questionable dishes.

  4. Yes.

  5. Very rarely, and with limited success. I do encourage my friends to think about it if they're receptive, and I'll certainly talk about it if they want to, but I ultimately think that outside help can only go so far, and people need to reach conclusions on their own if they're going to stick.

  6. I'm not as s

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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. 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?
This action would do good. But maybe there's an action that would do even more good! Therefore I'll do nothing.
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.
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.
Perhaps my social circles are unusual, but in my experience smug self-righteousness tends to have some stigma associated with it.
"Lets me" was shorthand for "gives me social leeway to be". This leeway must of course be exercised judiciously.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.)
So your argument, if I understand it correctly, is this: 1. Cheap meat comes from farms that treat their animals badly. 2. More expensive meat comes from farms that treat their animals better. Your conclusion is then that we shouldn't force farms into financial trouble, because then the second type turns into the first type due to needing to cut costs. Here is my view of things: 1. Farms that treat their animals badly are large, cost-efficiënt farms, solely focused on profit. The only reason their meat is cheap is because that's the optimal sales/price ratio. 2. Farms that want to treat their animals better produce inherently more expensive meat. For your view, the causal relation is from the meatprice to the animal welfare. For me it's the other way around: the animal welfare causes the meatprice. Current fairtrade farms aren't fairtrade because they want to sell expensive meat. Instead, they want to treat their animals well, which means they're fairtrade and which results in higher meat prices. Now, to tie this worldview back into the argument we were having: If 1000 people who previously bought from the supermarket stop buying, megafarms won't start treating their animals worse. After a while, they would reduce their chicken output over time in order to minimize leftover chickens. If 1000 people who previously bought locally decide to stop doing that, it might increase cost for the rest of the fairtrade buyers, reducing their motivation for buying fairtrade. However, it wouldn't make the fairtrade farmers promptly drop their fairtrade motivations. It also wouldn't suddenly turn them into megafarms, since they don't have the volume for that.
I'm going to tap out at this point. First, this subthread revives a conversation that died eighteen months ago. Second, I don't hold out much hope of its generating new insight. Last but not least, I started it [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ei/essayquestion_poll_dietary_choices/2j5r] out of curiosity, in order to obtain answers to specific questions about vegetarians' decision procedures; that's what I'm still interested in learning about, vs. defending my own (at the risk of coming up with weak rationalizations).
If you're really still interested in this... I started my vegetarian diet shortly after I decided to adopt some definite policy in terms of which kinds of meat were ok to eat and which were not, because the common policy of excluding all meat from domesticated animals such as cats and dogs was too fuzzy for me. I experimented with different schelling points for a while, but it all seemed very arbitrary, even the schelling point right between humans and non-human animals, so I decided I had to either taboo all kinds of meat, or none. Then it occured to me that there were some people around me I quite liked and really wouldn't want to eat or seen eaten, so I'd have needed a schelling point anyway to determine which humans were fair game and which were not, and a very subjective one at that, and that was when I settled on vegetarianism. A year or so thereafter I was considering veganism for a while, but it restricted my options too much and I was actually quite happy with the schelling point I had established, so that experiment was abandoned quickly. Perhaps the whole thing becomes more understandable if I say that at the time I was generally aiming for more intrinsic consistency, and I was also regarding religious people who were actually living their lives according to their beliefs much more highly than lukewarm atheists who read horoscopes. In a way, my switch to vegetarianism was a side effect of my effort to develop a unified personal system of ethics. None of this is related to human or animal suffering in any way, I'm afraid.
I think the word you're looking for is pet [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet] -- the standard meaning of domesticated [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestication] also includes livestock [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock], whose meat, if anything, I guess is seen as less ethically problematic than game [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_%28food%29] by many people. (From your username, I'm guessing you're not a native speaker. FWIW, neither am I.)You know, you could decide not to eat certain kinds of meat for reasons other than “taboo”; for example, that it's too expensive (either in terms of money or of energy [http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/flex-fuel-humans/]) or that you don't like the way it tastes or for signalling reasons or for health reasons or because you'd be uncomfortable with the idea of eating it for purely emotional reasons or whatever. Just because oysters don't feel pain [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyster#Ethical_considerations] doesn't mean I'm obligated to eat them, if I know better ways to spend my money or if I prefer the taste of different food.
You're right, it's not exactly a matter of domestication, but it's not only pets, either; horses fall into that category just as well. As I said, it's too fuzzy and arbitrary. But that's exactly the point, I was deliberately looking to find some general system that would allow me to classify food into two categories. Of course I don't eat something I don't like or that's otherwise undesirable if it can be avoided, that's not the issue here. This is purely about the moral part, and the problem is that there's some meat I have moral obejctions to eating, and other meat I don't, and there's a very slippery slope in between. If I object to eating human meat, where's the watershed? How about the homo sapiens species in general, such as the extinct subspecies h. sapiens idaltu? How about other species of the homo genus? Apes? Monkeys? Aliens? A collection of ad-hoc rules isn't a system of ethics.
On Lesswrong there's no real objection against reviving old posts, which I think is a good thing. Your second point surprises me. As a rational vegan, the animal suffering is the direct reason I don't eat meat or eggs, via Alicorn's expected animal suffering hypothesis: You seem to disagree about that, and after writing and deleting a full post, I think I understood where our differences came from, and wrote the new reply above. Those two things are related, in the sense that if your own conflicts with a vegetarian's procedure, then one of them is wrong and both should be argued. Nevertheless, I respect tapping out, and would like to thank you for the discussion so far. Feel free to reply anyway if you change your mind!
Does this argument imply a preference for eating larger animals?
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 [http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/vegetarianism.html] 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.
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 [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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_size#Intelligence]
If going veg indeed has negative expected utility for you, my paraphrase indeed was a wrong strawman. I guess I found this hard to accept. Here's the argument against it. [http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/vegetarianism.html]
The actual story: I was talking to a friend about the fact that meat eating, as a practice, inevitably causes animal suffering, and I realized that the benefit to humanity can't possibly outweigh the suffering caused, so I decided to stop participating in the practice. I didn't do either of the two things you asked (act on emotion or on expected-utility calculation from my direct action), instead I tried to defend animal consumption as a general practice, failed, and concluded that I should stop. Vegetarianism (if you share my values) is a collective action problem, similar (but not identical) to the prisoners' dilemma. I use rule-utilitarian-like reasoning to try for the double-cooperation payoff. I've heard rumors around here that Timeless Decision Theory could help us understand these kinds of problems rationally in the future, and that sounds great to me! I'm currently looking for a vegan charity to donate [http://lesswrong.com/lw/65/money_the_unit_of_caring/] to. I donate to SIAI because they're specialists who can tackle the big, hairy problem of FAI better than I could, and I want to donate to a vegan charity so that they can tackle the big, hairy problem of moving society away from meat. Becoming an advocate full-time would just make me miserable and probably be less effective. Beyond donation and vegetarianism (and someday maybe veganism), I don't know what else I can do. I try to be nice to animals day-to-day, and I awkwardly raise animal awareness in circles I run in, but I suspect that these are way less effective than the first two :)
  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

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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.

By: Do you mean the rationalist community or the human community at large?
I meant humanity at large, and I expect the rationalist community to follow suit.

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 con... (read more)

  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 frien

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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 fro... (read more)

  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.
  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
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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.

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.

Exactly right. Alan Dawrst's essay "Does Vegetarianism Make a Difference?" [http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/vegetarianism.html] goes into further detail.
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.

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.

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.

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.
1Paul Crowley12y
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.
Is that a named bias?
False dilemma [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma], specifically black-and-white thinking.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
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.
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.)
Found it! Perfect solution fallacy. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_solution_fallacy] And you'll never guess what site [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouFailLogicForever] linked me to it...
For anyone wondering how this turned out, I haven't bought meat at the grocery store in the last two and a half months. I still order meat at restaurants. My original analysis still holds. I just don't care (in the aggregate) about the life of one or two or ten animals. I don't think my marginal impact as a fair weather vegetarian is meaningful. Regardless, I have lost much of my taste for meat. I still have a lot of meat sitting in my freezer.
It might be easier to simply stop caring altogether than to take half-measures.
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.
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...
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.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
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.
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...
Thank you, "eat less meat" was the obvious answer I was missing.
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.
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. 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.
You can also make a big impact by donating to animal-welfare causes like Vegan Outreach [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegan_Outreach]. In fact, if you think the numbers in this piece [http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/dollar-worth.pdf] 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 [http://www.veganoutreach.org/EIYLM.pdf]."
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.
2Paul Crowley12y
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.
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.

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 ... (read more)

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.
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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ei/essayquestion_poll_dietary_choices/b1g] why I make the distinction.
[-][anonymous]13y 1
  1. I avoid foods with certain preservatives and flavourings (aspartame and MSG). I avoid foods high in carbohydrate. I moderate my red meat intake.

  2. Health. (I take it that 'general' health concerns are acceptable?)

  3. I don't make a fuss about it.

  4. I'll explain the health benefits and influence them somewhat.

  5. On occasion, sometimes.

  6. Ortho Core multivitamin supplement.

  7. They'll lose some expected life span and quality of life but there are dumber things to do.

  8. Somewhat recent.

  9. I am still tempted.

These surveys are fun!

  1. Fast food e.g. McDonalds
    1. Concerns about low nutritional value and food safety.
    2. If I have been drinking I will happily enjoy a fast food burger
    3. My son is going to be one of those kids who never gets to go to McDonalds unless its for a birthday party.
    4. No.
    5. N/A
    6. 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.
    7. Friday nights are the killer, see question 2.
    8. Warm cheeseburgers taste good.
  2. I enjoy organic and free range animals, especial
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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 ... (read more)

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.
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.
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 [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/01/the-intuitions.html] 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.
  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
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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?
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.
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.
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 [http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutriEI.pdf]) . 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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_offset#Controversies]. 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?
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'. It's a data point for others to consider, sure. 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.
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: 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, a
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.
Given that vegetarianism doesn't exclude other strategies for emissions reduction, I'm unclear why you think it's relevant whether or not it's the single best strategy. Surely all that's required is that it have a net positive effect?
Net positive taking into account all of the personal costs, yes. It's not enough that it merely reduces emissions, it needs to reduce emissions more effectively than other equally costly options. I get the sense that we're largely in agreement there though. My original question was an attempt to ascertain whether the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was truly your primary reason for choosing vegetarianism (with the choice made by weighing up the costs and benefits of various ways of reducing emissions) or whether it was a convenient 'added benefit' given a choice that was made partly or wholly for other reasons. The (seemingly) more common animal welfare justification for vegetarianism seems more directly linked to the particular decision to not eat meat than does a carbon emissions argument.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but this still seems inaccurate to me. If there is a more effective yet equally costly option O, but the total benefit of O+Vegetarian is still greater than the total cost of O+Vegetarian, then Vegetarian is still worth it (as is O). Your framing seems to deny this. Yes. It was, and is. I guess there's an added benefit in terms of cost, but given that I don't care about the animals themselves, I really don't have any other reasons for it. Sure. But it would hard to get a more direct link than the animal welfare argument, so that's not saying much. Something in the order of 20% of global GHG emissions can be attributed to livestock, so it's not like the link between meat and emissions is weak. I guess the complication is that there's a reasonable amount of variation in emissions depending on what meat you're talking about. Ruminants (cows, sheep) are especially bad (because of the methane), as is dairy (for the same reason). Farmed and deep sea fish are pretty bad too, but other fish are probably OK. Chicken (and especially eggs) aren't so bad either (and are probably better the worse you treat the chickens). Ultimately, I figured that it would be easier (and therefore more effective) to have a clear no meat rule than to try to make too many case-by-case calls that I might then be tempted to weasel out of. Nonetheless, in an effort to become slightly more consistent, I've made a deal with myself that I can start eating (OK) fish again if/when I manage to completely ditch the dairy (given that the latter is almost certainly worse from a GHG perspective). Haven't quite managed it yet though.
You've got to consider opportunity cost and marginal utility. If you valued reducing carbon emissions above all else then your best course of action would probably be suicide. Assuming some upper limit on the cost you're willing to pay to reduce carbon emissions, your best strategy is to choose the option that provides the greatest reduction for the least personal cost. If given your preferences and available options, buying some carbon offsets is your most cost effective option and becoming vegetarian is your second most cost effective option, it does not follow that you should do both. While the benefits can be seen as fixed for the purposes of your decision (since whatever you do will have such little impact that you can sum them without worrying about diminishing marginal utility) the costs cannot, if they are significant relative to your total resources. This is more easily seen when you're talking about choices that can directly be represented with money but is still true when the costs are not purely financial. Assuming the costs can simply be summed you would have to conclude that you should spend all your money on carbon offsets if you thought it was wise to spend any of your money on them (since if the benefit of O is greater than the cost of O then the benefit of 100xO should be greater than the cost of 100xO).
I'm sorry, but this argument seems rather confused to me. No, it's to choose the best n options, up to the point at which you reach your cost limit. Depending on the limit, and the options you face, n could be 0, or 20, or 100; but there's no particular reason to think it should be 1. Of course, assuming a fixed upper bound on willingness to sacrifice runs counter to the idea that the sacrifices you're willing to bear should depend on the benefits obtained. There are two alternative perspectives you could take here: 1. From the perspective of what's best for human welfare generally (which was the basis of my original claim) you simply shouldn't have such a limit. If the net effect of an option (taking into account opportunity costs) is positive, you should just do it (This applies even if the option is suicide, though the opportunity cost of suicide is probably quite high compared with other ways of promoting human welfare.) 2. From the perspective of an imperfect altruist, a better way to think about it is in terms of the marginal rate of substitution that you're willing to accept between your own welfare and others'. This will presumably increase as your own welfare decreases (and is probably the real reason we wouldn't commit suicide to reduce emissions, even if the benefits to others did outweigh the personal and opportunity costs). Agreed. The thing is, the opportunity cost of becoming vegetarian isn't like the opportunity cost of $5. If I spend $5 on carbon offsets, that's $5 I can't spend on something else. If I become vegetarian, I haven't really used up a resource that I could have done something else with; in fact I've probably saved money (maybe I've used up a bit of willpower in the process, I'm gonna say the effect is minimal). The opportunity cost of vegetarianism is my direct loss of utility minus whatever utility I can get from the money I've saved. They can be, if you denominate th
I guess I wasn't sufficiently clear there. My point is that you need to do a cost-benefit analysis, pick your best choice and then do a new cost-benefit analysis rather than just follow through with your 2nd and 3rd best choice from your original analysis. You can't assume that your 2nd best choice becomes your new best choice after taking your best choice. If you're hungry and you decide your first choice is to buy a mars bar and your second choice a snickers and you buy and eat the mars bar you can't assume that your next action should be to buy and eat the snickers - the situation has changed and you need to re-evaluate. Not a fixed upper bound, just a limit. Anyone who cares about reducing their carbon footprint will reach a point where they are not currently willing to make any further sacrifices for a further carbon emissions reduction because to do so would conflict with their other goals. What I'm saying is that each choice you make changes the calculation a little when considering future choices. Not exactly no. The thing is that one might be willing to pay more than one currently does to continue eating meat. If the cost of meat doubled for example I would not reduce my consumption by 50%, I'd cut back elsewhere. I choose to spend a certain amount of money on meat because it represents better value than my next best opportunity. The reason I currently spend money on meat is that I value the meat more than the money (or other alternate uses of the money). You have to take that into account when considering the opportunity cost of becoming vegetarian. No, the benefits can be denominated in (general) human welfare. The costs are denominated in your own personal welfare. Money can serve as a convenient proxy for that to aid in calculation but I'm not sure you can give any direct measure, the best you can do may be a preference ordering.
I think we're pretty much in agreement. Any remaining differences are either trivial, semantic, or (at the risk of angering the Aumann Gods) "things reasonable people can disagree about".
I think we're pretty much in agreement. Any remaining differences we have seem either trivial, semantic, or (at the risk of angering the Aumann-gods) things reasonable people can disagree about.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but this still seems inaccurate to me. If there is a more effective yet equally costly option O, but the total benefit of O+Vegetarian is still greater than the total cost of O+Vegetarian, then Vegetarian is still worth it (as is O). Yes. It was, and is. I guess there's an added benefit in terms of cost, but given that I don't care about the animals themselves I really don't have any other reason for it. Sure. But it would hard to get a more direct link than the animal welfare argument, so that's not saying much. Something in the order of 20% of global GHG emissions can be attributed to livestock, so it's not like the link is weak, but there's a sense in which your scepticism is probably justified. There's actually a lot of variation in emissions depending on what meat you're talking about. Ruminants (cows, sheep) are especially bad (because of the methane emissions), as is dairy (for the same reason). Farmed and deep sea fish are pretty bad too, but other fish are probably OK. Chicken (and especially eggs) are actually reasonably energy efficient (and probably more so the worse you treat the chickens). The only real reason I gave up chicken was because I figured I would be less tempted overall if I made a clean break with meat altogether. I've also made a deal with myself that I can start eating (good) fish again if/when I manage to completely ditch the dairy. So there are points where my dietary restrictions don't entirely mesh with my reasons, based on the fact that I'm imperfect, and that as a result I would probably be doing worse if I aimed explicitly for consistency.
Forced to give a number, I would say it is 1/3 of my moral motivation for eating mostly vegetarian. Your impression is wrong. See: http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutri3.pdf [http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutri3.pdf] and http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16573-eating-less-meat-could-cut-climate-costs.html [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 [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/27/opinion/27wed4.html?em&ex=1167368400&en=819c6a4e381eeb26&ei=5087%0A]
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'.
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.
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.
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.
The UK has a Quality Assurance Scheme [http://offsetting.defra.gov.uk/] 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 [http://offsetting.defra.gov.uk/cms/approved-offsets/] (there are currently only 5).
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.
Seconded. We're also helping to create a larger market for vegetarian food or vat meat and reducing stigma against vegetarians.

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.

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

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

  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.

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.

Humans are an interesting special case: they can consent.
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.
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.

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.

Edited, thanks.
  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 m
... (read more)

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.

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

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 stoc
... (read more)
I have the impression that the environmental impact of fishing is pretty huge. If you don't mind me asking, what's your seafood rationale?
1. It's easier for me to be consistent about not eating other meat when I can fall back on fish (especially at restaurants - it's hard enough to find places where I can have a nice meal out with friends, since I don't like salad. If I couldn't just order the salmon at a steakhouse it would be harder.) 2. My objections to meat-eating on the basis of health and animal suffering are greatly diminished in strength when I take the case of fish and clams and the like: they're healthful (omega-3 fatty acids and that sort of thing) and not cognitively sophisticated enough to make me worry very much about hurting them. For many species, efficiency is also not a concern (for instance, tilapia can be raised in rice paddies eating waste vegetable matter - they aren't eating food that could be used to feed people directly). The environmental impact of the fishing industry is acknowledged, but alone isn't strong enough to make me stop eating fish. 3. I enjoy fish (and clams in clam chowder) a great deal more than I ever enjoyed other meat.

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

[-][anonymous]10y 0

(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 avoide... (read more)

I'm a vegan. I have not yet considered fully whether or not the beliefs behind it, and this specific course of action based upon those beliefs, are rational.

It seems to me that it would be against my personal morals to assume that I have the right to enslave or take effort from a creature whose intelligence I cannot, at present, measure or determine. I'm not sure if intelligence should be the basis for this decision.

From what I've seen and read of the meat industry, it does seem that this specific industry and way of doing things is one I wish to avoid... (read more)

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
... (read more)
  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

... (read more)
  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.
Shouldn't that change your answer to #1?
No, since people aren't considered edible in my culture.
  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
... (read more)

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

... (read more)
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.
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. ;-)
You can't smell liver flukes.
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.
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? 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. 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.

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.

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?
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.

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.

I was inclined to agree with pjeby, but JGWeissman's comment changed my mind.
Same here.
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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ei/essayquestion_poll_dietary_choices/b5q] 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.
Well that's constructive.

1: None.

2-4: -

5: Only when it impinges on health effects.

6: -

7: Shrug?

8-9: -

10: Yes.

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.
0Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
Fixed, I hope, by using 10: instead of 10.

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 ... (read more)

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

AFAIK, most factory-farmed animals are grain-fed, so this actually multiplies the harm of meat-eating.
Indeed. Gaverick Matheny and Kai M. A. Chan have formalized that point in an excellent paper, "The Illogic of the Larder [http://www.qalys.org/animal-welfare.pdf]."
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 [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/09/the-bottom-line.html], and worked up. My favourite parts: 1. 2. 3. 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.
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?
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.)
Right. What do you think of this essay [http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhanson.gmu.edu%2Fmeat.html&ei=fvsBSq7oJKWUtgPf6NHxBQ&usg=AFQjCNEBBLwEHbv8Y99_GxyN-Jfr01xWWA&sig2=zDNv6DrOqg7UeUrIg9AaGA] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eQQQBn4dlo&feature=channel]Note, I do not endorse everything PETA does.
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 [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4844523918499827668] doesn't say much about the inherent moral value of Britney Spears.
I absolutely agree that being bothered by watching something is a weak guide to morality. I wish I'd mentioned that with my first link. Sometimes such exposure can worsen moral judgments. That said, it seems better to have spent some time watching things like this rather than no time. Given how strongly our self-interest can structure our judgments of morality, we should be quite a bit more suspicious of our moral conclusions when they justify what we wanted to do. (Yes, some vegetarians surely take some satisfaction from being part of a "morally superior" minority.) But honestly, to create a toy problem, would you really refuse to pinch yourself or make a friend 60 seconds late for a dentist appointment if it could relieve 10/100/1000 animals in extreme pain? Do you oppose every conceivable law that regulate the treatment of animals? Note, answering "No," to the above questions certainly doesn't imply that vegetarianism is mandatory. Something about animals' minds... their ability to experience pleasure and pain, their ability to have simple ideas, etc. makes me feel that they deserve non-zero moral weight. Gore, for those who are interested and willing [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbOQU4RI-Ws&feature=related] Cats and dogs [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apXs4eHWKy0&feature=related]
At this point, I think I'm going to refrain from answering your question directly, but rest assured I'm not ignoring it. I'm in the interesting (and somewhat surprising) position that my intuitions may have shifted somewhat since last I thought about these matters in depth. I'm not quite sure what to do about that yet. Either in terms of my general thoughts about how to respond to changes in intuitions, or in terms of how I would update if I decided to run with the new ones. I worry that trying to answer immediately could bias my response towards rationalizing my existing set of beliefs, and I don't want to do that, so I'm going to take some more time to think through things.
Lexicographic ordering is zero weight outside of toy problems, since even the smallest possibility of making a difference at the highest order will exclude even the greatest possibility of making a difference at lower orders from attention – but this may have been the point of your previous comment.
Agreed. (And, yes, that was the point of my earlier comment. ;)) In this case it basically allows you to be a heartless b*****d without admitting to actually being a heartless b*****d.