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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading


Each issue the VIP birds will endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment. In this issue we focus on a landmark book that discusses the philosophical aspects of vegetarianism.

Deep Vegetarianism

by Michael Allen Fox

Temple University Press, 1999

$19.95 paper

Deep Vegetarianism By calling his book Deep Vegetarianism, Michael Fox notifies his readers that he is attempting an intensive analysis of his subject. He succeeds in his mission by creating a scholarly work that examines the history and philosophy of vegetarianism as well as its health and environmental aspects.

Fox, a Professor of Philosophy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, has spent five years researching the subject to create this landmark work on vegetarianism. He describes his work by saying, "A philosophical examination of the foundations of vegetarian thought provides an opportunity to assess microscopically the macroscopic problems of the human relationship to nature and non-humans."

The book begins with a historical-philosophic overview designed to link contemporary arguments in support of vegetarianism with ancient views that were not much different than those espoused today. He devotes considerable attention to Western vegetarian philosophers, especially Porphyry (4th Century) who wrote On the Abstinence from Animal Food. In the book Porphyry makes the case for not killing animals and recommends a plant diet for everyone.

In a chapter called, "You Are What You Eat (Almost): The Meaning of Food," the author discusses food symbolism by exploring how meat has been given a number of properties: "strength, aggression, high social status, and identification 'with the very idea of food itself.'" Meat thus becomes a masculine food, a symbol of power and status, while vegetables and vegetarianism are associated with females and feminism. Where the carnivore thinks of eating meat as eating life, the vegetarian regards eating meat as eating death. Meat has become associated with male superiority as part of a system that incorporates man's domination over nature and women.

Fox describes how through compartmentalization of thought and feeling, man is able to kill animals for food. By objectifying animals as things to be transformed into dead objects to be fragmented, man is able to butcher and package them to be eaten. The awareness of the animal suffering to create the meat to be eaten is pushed out of view. Even those who consider themselves highly moral fail to make the connection between meat eating and animal suffering.

Much of the book is devoted to arguments for vegetarianism. He has divided his arguments into ten categories, presenting research to support his theses:

  1. A vegetarian-- even vegan--diet has been shown to be healthier than one that includes meat.
  2. Modern agribusiness with its factory farming methods has caused a great amount of animal suffering and death.
  3. Impartiality of disinterested moral concern implies doing what is right or fair for both animals and humans.
  4. The environmental impact of meat production has led to a host of negative destructive effects including chemical residues in food, deforestation, loss of topsoil, excessive use of water and energy, and extensive use of fossil fuel.
  5. The manipulation of nature occurs with the elimination of the rain forests and the eradication of the plant and animal species of those forests. Efforts to genetically improve animals for food production have led to more pain and suffering of these animals on factory farms.
  6. World hunger and social injustice occur when one third of the world's grain is fed to livestock, while 500 million people are starving.
  7. There is a connection between the domination by humans of nature and other humans. Ecofeminism is an attempt to discover "what has gone wrong in disharmonious relations between humans, and between humans and non-humans, in order to take remedial action."
  8. Throughout history a small minority has espoused a kinship of equality between humans and non-humans. This kinship has both religious and secular bases.
  9. Following a code of universal nonviolence or ahimsa means not killing animals for food and encouraging others peacefully to the same.
  10. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism have a strong connection with vegetarianism, but there
  11. have been some efforts at a vegetarian lifestyle in a few sects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Fox presents almost the same number of arguments against vegetarianism and then proceeds to demolish them.

  • Creating a completely vegetarian economy would result in economic chaos.
  • Man is a natural carnivore.
  • Animals are replaceable.
  • A vegetarian population would be ecologically catastrophic.
  • Humans need to kill to survive.
  • There is no connection between oppression of women and animals.
  • Some indigenous peoples depend upon killed animals to survive.
  • Humans are obligated to prevent non-humans from killing and eating each other.
  • Animals want to be or are indifferent to being eaten.
  • Eating free-range animals is acceptable because these animals are not raised in cruel factory farming conditions.
  • Vegetarians are hypocrites because they use animal products or are not consistent about not using products such as leather for belts and shoes.

    In Deep Vegetarianism Michael Fox has assembled an impressive philosophical defense of the vegetarian lifestyle, a structure of beliefs vegetarians can employ to clarify their own views before they argue them with others. Fox, who was once an ardent advocate of animal experimentation, has reversed direction and is now a committed supporter of vegetarianism and animal rights.

    Deep Vegetarianismis not a book for summer reading at the beach. It is a scholarly presentation, well researched and documented with 40 pages of notes. The author shows that in examining vegetarianism, one must also consider moral philosophy, ethics, religion, comparative cultures, ecology, and feminism. Those who want to delve deeply into the philosophical aspects of vegetarianism will find this book a fulfilling experience.

    Click here for past book reviews

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