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Whether you’ve read some enlightening books or watched some vegan documentaries, making the decision to go vegan is something you’re likely pretty passionate about!

But as much as you know your own mind, one of the most challenging things can be finding yourself stuck in the middle of a debate on veganism, fielding questions from your meat-eating friends and family.

Rather than getting angry and defensive (which is tempting, but only going to get peoples’ backs up), the other option is to coolly and calmly counter any argument that is presented to you.

After a couple of years of being vegan, I’ve noticed that the same arguments crop up again and again. So I hope that by discussing these, it’ll help you to be more effective when arguing the case for veganism with others. 💪

Here are 25+ main arguments against veganism – and why they simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

#1 “It’s what we’ve always done”

The appeal to tradition is regularly rolled out to defend our meat-eating ways. Our ancestors farmed livestock for millennia, therefore it’s part of our culture and an inevitable aspect of life. Right?

Well, the argument runs into dodgy territory when we consider other practices that have persisted throughout history, only to be recognised as unethical in hindsight.

Take slavery, for instance, which was once widely accepted. Similarly, it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have the right to vote and homophobia was completely normal. When you examine any social justice movement of the last century, it’s clear that just because a practice is historical doesn’t inherently make it ethical or justifiable.

In the context of animal rights, it’s unsurprising that progress follows human social justice movements, since animals lack a voice to advocate for themselves, unlike marginalised human groups.

I am certain that it is only a matter of time until we progress to the next enlightened milestone on our human journey – giving animals basic rights to life and freedom. So let’s make sure we’re on the right side of history.

#3 “Meat consumption fuelled evolution”

Another historical argument levelled against veganism is that eating meat played an essential role in human evolution. It has been suggested by scientists that eating meat provided essential nutrients for human brain development, leading to increased cognitive abilities.

However, recent findings challenge this idea. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which analysed archaeological data from eastern Africa, discovered that meat consumption didn’t increase over time as once believed. This research also suggests that other factors contributed to the anatomical and behavioural changes in early Homo erectus, contradicting the long-held belief that meat consumption was a driving force in human evolution.

#4 “Animals eat other animals”

Lion hunting gazelle

If you eat one another, I don’t see why we may not eat you.

Benjamin Franklin

After some years as a vegetarian, Franklin was watching his friends fishing, and noticed that some of the fish they caught had eaten other fish. He therefore concluded that it was okay to eat animals.

Aside: he did also admit that he reached this conclusion whilst smelling the fish sizzling in a frying pan, and added that one of the advantages of being human is that you can find excuses for anything you want to do (I mean, at least he was honest).

More commonly, this argument comes up in the form of the lion and the gazelle. If animals eat other animals, we reason, why can’t we eat them?

Seeing as we regularly put ourselves on a pedestal above animals as possessing reasoning, rationale and logic (see #13), it’s convenient to suddenly start using the argument that we’re nothing more than animals and should look to them for instruction as to how we conduct ourselves.

In the natural world, some animals may also commit infanticide, rape and even cannibalism. As a civilised society, this doesn’t mean that we should be lining up to do these things. We can use our morality as human beings to determine what is right and wrong.

#5 “The natural world is cruel”

Animals face threats from predators in the wild, meat eaters protest, whereas humans provide them with safety in controlled environments.

However, I’d argue that this isn’t an entirely altruistic endeavour when we’re farming them to kill and eat them… Besides which, whilst the natural world can be harsh, animals deserve to live freely in their natural habitats, experiencing life with autonomy.

Farming animals, even if it keeps them safe from predators, is a violation of their fundamental rights to live unconfined and free from human exploitation.

#6 “It’s the circle of life”

You’ll hear it argued that consuming animals is part of the natural ecosystem, whereby organisms are interconnected and rely on one another for survival. It’s something that’s regularly taught in biology lessons, and conjures up a rather Lion King-esque vision where we’re all part of a balanced, symbiotic relationship singing ‘Kumbaya’ around a campfire.

Of course, modern industrial agriculture is so far removed from a harmonious ecosystem, that making this argument is frankly an insult to animals and the environment. It’s totally inapplicable to today’s food production practices.

To sustain meat eating as we know it, we must rely on unnatural methods of farming – with complete disregard for animals and the natural world we share this planet with.

Plus, in the absence of necessity (see #10), humans can make different choices as conscious, ethical beings, that go beyond purely ‘natural instincts’ and work to protect other sentient beings.

#7 “Our canines are designed for tearing meat”

Meat eaters will often point to their teeth when defending meat eating, arguing that our canines are designed for tearing flesh, thus implying that humans are naturally designed to consume animals.

The issue with this argument is that human jaws and teeth are much more closely aligned with herbivorous species like apes. Carnivorous jaws are constructed differently from human jaws, allowing them to efficiently consume and digest animals. We also have molars for grinding up plants.

If you’ve never hunted a live animal and torn it apart with your teeth, then suffice it to say that… you’re not a carnivore.

Also, if we really want to dig down into anatomy, then it’s worth pointing out that our digestive systems aren’t optimised for meat consumption. Unlike true carnivores, humans have longer digestive tracts designed to break down complex carbohydrates (i.e. plants).

The consumption of meat is increasingly being linked to chronic health issues, causing inflammation and increasing the risk of certain types of cancers. This indicates that humans have never fully adapted to a meat-based diet.

#8 “How do you know plants don’t feel pain?”

​​It surprises me how often you hear meat eaters (quite literally) clutch at straws, trying to seriously argue that plants may also feel pain, thereby implying that veganism doesn’t necessarily minimise suffering.

Whilst the natural world is amazing in and of itself and we shouldn’t go around deforesting the Amazon, it’s mind-boggling to me that this is used as a serious argument to defend meat eating.

Suffice it to say that scientific evidence shows that plants lack a brain or central nervous system, rendering them incapable of experiencing pain or having sentience. Whilst they may react to stimuli, it’s fundamentally different from animals, who have a subjective experience of the world and possess complex emotional lives, form relationships, and are capable of experiencing emotions such as joy, suffering, and fear.

I mean, if this is something you truly believe to be a possibility, then in the event of a house fire, you’d be going back in for your dog… and your peace lily, right?

Besides which, if we’re playing devil’s advocate and one day find out that plants really do experience pain, we still need to eat to survive, so it would be about minimising suffering as much as possible. By going vegan, we would require less plants because we wouldn’t be feeding them all to animals, so less plants would suffer as a result.

#9 “Plant-based agriculture still causes harm to animals”

Ah, a favourite topic of our old friend, Piers Morgan.

Piers often argues that vegans are hypocrites, because by opting for vegan alternatives, plant-based agriculture still harms animals. Oft-quoted practices include exploiting bees for pollination of avocados, or causing deaths of field animals during harvesting.

Whilst vegans acknowledge these issues, it’s important to keep sight of the bigger picture. A plant-based diet causes significantly less harm compared to animal agriculture, which is inherently exploitative. Plus, veganism encourages more sustainable farming practices, and supports progress towards a less harmful food system overall.

It’s also an appeal to futility. This is because it implies that since some harm is inevitable, attempting to reduce harm by adopting a plant-based diet is pointless. However, this argument ignores the fact that a vegan lifestyle significantly minimises harm and promotes a more compassionate, sustainable world, even if it doesn’t entirely eliminate all negative impacts.

Oh, and for the record, I don’t think for one minute that Piers actually cares about the bees. If he was being morally consistent, then he’d be vegan PLUS stop eating almonds and avocados (or source them more consciously).

#10 “Animal products are part of a balanced diet”

A meal consisting of meat and vegetables

We’ve all grown up in a society that normalises meat eating, with leading health organisations telling us that animal products form part of a healthy, balanced diet. So it’s no surprise that health is regularly brought up in discussions of veganism, with the belief that eating meat is a necessity.

It’s important not to lean on studies funded by the meat and dairy industries in discussions of health. Remember that, in the past, smoking was also regularly promoted as being good for you. In fact, many studies were commissioned by the tobacco industry to try and prove this. This is not because it was in the best interests of your health (as we now know) – it’s because there were vested interests and profits to be made.

Similarly, we shouldn’t rely on anecdotal evidence or personal opinion. Instead, we should look at the growing body of scientific literature.

Numerous recent studies indicate that a vegan diet is one of the healthiest in the world, disproving commonly touted myths about protein and calcium deficiency. For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – a professional organisation representing over 112,000 registered dietitians and nutritionists – suggests that a plant-based diet can not only provide comprehensive nutrition, but also contribute to overall health and wellbeing.

Even the NHS now states that by following a well-planned vegan diet, you can meet all of your nutritional needs.

In fact, scientific evidence shows that consuming meat and dairy actually increases the risk of serious health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, challenging the notion that animal products are essential for a balanced diet. The World Health Organisation has even gone so far as to classify processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, indicating strong evidence that it causes cancer.

#11 “But vegans are deficient in Vitamin B12”

When it comes to nutrition, meat-eaters will invariably also point out that vegan diets lack B12, a nutrient essential for healthy nerve and blood cell function. Because vegans have to supplement B12, they argue, a vegan diet isn’t natural.

I’ll just preface this by saying that it’s really important to consider where you’re getting your B12 as a vegan, as deficiency can cause long-term repercussions when it comes to your health.

However, discussions criticising vegan nutrition are often pretty hypocritical, as many meat-eaters are also unaware of their own nutritional requirements. It’s easy to spout nutritional advice whilst relying on a diet primarily consisting of McDonalds and junk food.

In truth, B​​12 is naturally produced by bacteria in soil, and because the world’s soil is becoming more and more depleted, it has been found to be low in both meat-eaters and vegans. Since B12 is typically unnaturally supplemented to animals anyway, vegans can simply cut out the middle man by taking a supplement themselves. This approach ultimately makes little difference in terms of nutritional needs. What it does mean is that there’s no need to kill animals to get B12.

Check out these posts for more on vegan nutrition and multivitamin recommendations.

#12 “Some indigenous cultures rely on meat for survival”

Arctic camp and community

Meat-eaters often argue that in certain indigenous cultures, people rely on meat for survival. For example, some Arctic communities need to hunt and fish due to the harsh climate and limited plant-based food sources. In this sense, it could even be suggested that veganism is elitist or only accessible to the privileged.

I don’t think any vegans are seriously saying that in a situation of necessity, they would rather starve than kill an animal. In situations where survival depends on animal consumption, it may be justified.

However, context is important. In developed nations, where a plant-based diet is easily accessible, choosing not to consume factory-farmed products is an ethical decision that can be made to reduce animal suffering and environmental harm.

To go a step further, I’d argue that consuming animals is inherently more elitist, due to the inefficient use of resources involved in animal agriculture. The grains grown in third-world countries are used to feed livestock, whose flesh is then consumed by wealthy Westerners. These grains could instead be used to feed the global population, potentially eradicating world hunger.

By advocating for plant-based diets, vegans are actually striving towards a more equitable world where food resources are allocated in a fairer and more sustainable way.

#13 “Humans are special”

For intelligent beings that are blessed with higher levels of consciousness than animals, it never ceases to amaze me how selfish and egocentric humans can be.

The idea that humans are special goes right back to the dawn of Christianity, bringing with it the concept of the sanctity of life and the human soul. This notion that human beings are ‘special’ or in some way ‘above’ animals has continued to be peddled throughout history.

However, just because human beings are unarguably more intelligent than animals, doesn’t mean that other living beings don’t possess inherent value or deserve respect in their own right. Human uniqueness shouldn’t exempt us from ethical considerations concerning our treatment of animals.

#14 "It’s what animals were put on this Earth for"

Noah's Ark scene

Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

God to Noah

The argument that animals exist for human consumption often stems from religious beliefs, such as the biblical notion that God created animals for humans to have dominion over.

I don’t follow any kind of organised religion, but I would emphasise that animals have their own intrinsic value and right to life without exploitation. Applying religious justifications in this context doesn’t align with modern ethical considerations, and can lead to harmful consequences for both animals and the environment.

After all, various religious texts appear to condone slavery and the subjugation of women. This makes it dangerous if we don’t view them as products of their time and culture.

#15 “It’s better these animals exist than not at all"

I often hear it argued that farmed animals wouldn’t exist if we didn’t raise them as livestock. Surely it’s better these animals have a subjective experience of life, rather than never having been born at all?

However, would it be morally justifiable to bring a child into the world if only to exploit them? I think we’d all agree that the kinder option would be to not have the child in the first place.

Breeding animals for the sole purpose of exploitation in industrialised agriculture is ethically questionable. To vegans, preventing suffering and promoting animal welfare is more important than ensuring the continued existence of a species in inherently harmful systems.

#16 “Farm animals would become extinct”

A fossil

Meat-eaters will often continue on from the last point to argue that without animal agriculture, farm animals as we know them wo​​uld face extinction.

And honestly? This is probably true.

However, bear in mind that these animals have been selectively bred in harmful ways for increased productivity, leading to health issues such as egg overproduction in hens or rapid growth in broiler chickens. As a result, allowing these breeds to phase out wouldn’t be inherently negative, as we would shift towards healthier, more natural species and wild breeds.

Also, I just want to point out that I don’t think anyone saying this is genuinely worried about the continued existence of these animals beyond their tastebuds. If they truthfully cared, then they wouldn’t be slaughtering them at a fraction of their natural lifespan in the first place.

#17 “What would we do with all the animals?"

Meat-eaters often question what would happen to all the animals if everyone went vegan. This implies that we need to be worried about a snap global decision to transition to veganism overnight.

The reality is that this is highly unlikely and impractical. Instead, a gradual decrease in demand for animal products would likely occur, allowing farmers to reduce breeding and manage animal populations accordingly. This gradual shift would ensure that animal welfare and environmental concerns are addressed, without a sudden influx of farm animals needing immediate rehoming.

#18 "We need to protect farmers’ livelihoods"

Farmer ploughing field

I think everyone assumes that vegans hate farmers and want them out of jobs, but this isn’t true. Rather, vegans hate the system and understand that just like everyone else, farmers are caught up in widely held belief systems that allow meat eating to continue as normalised. A farmer is no worse than a consumer who continues to pay for the supply and demand of meat products.

Instead, vegans advocate for a transition to plant-based farming. This shift, coupled with government subsidies, would help farmers adapt to a new industry whilst preserving their livelihoods.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that ethical considerations shouldn’t be overshadowed by the practicalities of job security. It’s a crude example, but arguably shutting down Auschwitz caused job losses. No one is under any illusions that this would justify protecting jobs in concentration camps. The same holds true of slaughterhouses.

#19 “Dairy and eggs are by-products"

Even when people have a problem with eating animal flesh, they often justify consuming dairy and eggs as ‘by-products’ that don’t involve the slaughter of an animal, making vegetarianism appear ethically acceptable.

However, these are much-misunderstood industries. Well-intentioned vegetarians who believe in avoiding animal exploitation may be unaware of the cruelty they unintentionally support.

Dairy cows undergo repeated forced pregnancies and have their calves taken away hours after birth so that we can drink their milk. And hens have been selectively bred to pump out 300+ eggs per year, compared to 10-15 in the wild. Ultimately, all dairy cows and laying hens are treated as units of production, facing premature slaughter when their productivity declines.

Whilst females’ bodies are exploited in these industries, males also have little use. For instance, male chicks are ground up in macerators or gassed. Male calves, on the other hand, are sold for beef or else used in the veal industry.

Whilst vegetarianism may seem like an ethical choice, a deeper understanding of these industries demonstrates a fundamental cycle of exploitation and slaughter. You can learn more about eggs and dairy here.

#20 “Animals don’t understand”

A pig in a field

Non-vegans will often argue that animals don’t have the self-awareness or cognitive ability to understand that they have a past or a future, so don’t comprehend their situation or feel the same level of emotional distress as humans, thus making their exploitation justifiable.

However, just because animals aren’t as intelligent as us and may not fully comprehend their circumstances, they are still capable of experiencing fear, pain, and suffering.

As philanthropist Jeremy Bentham argued in 1789:

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?

#21 “Animals aren’t sentient"

When people aren’t arguing for the sentience of plants (see #8), they’re making the rather more worrying assertion that animals aren’t sentient or capable of feeling.

Popularised by Descartes, the argument that animals aren’t sentient posits that animals are machine-like, devoid of a soul and unable to feel pain or emotions. Instead, they are believed to merely react to stimuli in a mechanical fashion, similar to plants.

However, scientific studies have increasingly demonstrated that animals possess complex emotional lives, exhibiting traits such as empathy, grief, and cooperation. This evidence directly challenges the outdated Cartesian view, suggesting that animals are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain and emotions.

If you’ve ever had a dog and recognised that they are an individual with their own experience of the world, then you probably already have a sense that this argument doesn’t bear up to scrutiny.

#22 “Veganism is extreme”

Group of protestors

Veganism is regularly labelled as an ‘extreme’ or ‘fringe’ lifestyle, fueled by sensationalist media portrayals of vegans giving death threats to farmers.

However, when you really look at the issue at hand, the slaughter of animals is a far more extreme and violent act than anything vegans are doing. Labelling veganism as extreme is a convenient tactic that allows people to dismiss and avoid engaging with the actual arguments at hand.

This not only stifles productive dialogue but also perpetuates the view that veganism is unreasonable or radical, rather than a compassionate and environmentally sustainable lifestyle choice.

#23 “I like the taste"

Once all of the arguments above have been discussed, we start to get to the crux of the issue. Generally, underlying any argument for meat eating is the slightly embarrassing reason that no one wants to admit to – animal products taste good.

Many people hold vegans up as paragons of virtue and sympathise with the cause, but continue to trot out phrases like: “I couldn’t live without [insert: steak, KFC, cheese].” The thing is, we can enjoy many things but recognise that they’re immoral and not act on these impulses. A man might naturally enjoy sex, but that doesn’t mean he’d be justified in raping a woman.

In short, we shouldn’t be basing our morality on sensory pleasure. When it comes down to it, a meal lasts for 15-30 minutes – it’s fleeting sensory gratification. When an animal is reduced to a snack or a meal, it shows just how little regard we have for them.

As a vegan, I can’t justify an animal losing its life (a major interest) vs enjoying a burger or a piece of steak (a minor interest). And I’m saying that as someone who loved steak! When we don’t need to eat animals (see #10), can we really justify killing them simply in the interests of our tastebuds?

#24 "It’s my personal choice"

Person facing a decision to go in different directions

“I don’t push my meat-eating views onto you, so what right do you have to tell me how to live my life?” a meat-eater will protest, arguing for their own freedom and autonomy when making life choices.

In general, I am all for this. I know that meat-eating is bad for your health, but ultimately it’s your body and your decision – you’re only harming yourself in the long run.

However, there is a crucial distinction when a victim is involved. It might be your personal choice, but where is the animal’s choice to live being factored into the equation?

To take my previous example, a man could say that it’s his personal choice to rape a woman. But I think we’d all agree that just because you can do something… doesn’t mean you should. It certainly doesn’t make it ethical, and people shouldn’t sit back and allow victims to be exploited.

Personal choices are just that – personal choices that don’t affect anyone else. A choice isn’t personal when it infringes on someone else’s basic rights (animals included).

#25 “Nothing's perfect"

Some people will just try to completely change the subject altogether. They’ll ask you whether you drive a car, buy clothing made in China, or own a TV (surprisingly, screens often use animal-derived ingredients).

The notion that “nothing is perfect” is frequently employed as a justification for consuming animal products. It also disregards the efforts of vegans to reduce suffering wherever possible in their lives.

Whilst it’s true that perfection is unattainable in a non-vegan world – for instance, some medicines and housing materials may involve animal cruelty – this doesn’t diminish the value of striving to make ethical choices. Veganism, as defined by the Vegan Society, is:

A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Veganism has never been about achieving perfection. It’s about making conscious choices in all areas of life, from diet to fashion and beyond.

Ethics aside, if we’re adhering to the 80/20 rule, veganism has been proven to be the best thing you can do for environment as an individual, which means it should at least be our number one priority with regards to sustainable living.

#26 "It’s not going to make a difference anyway"

A droplet falling

Many people simply feel hopeless in the face of huge industries, arguing that their individual choice to go vegan is insignificant – a drop in the ocean that won’t substantially impact the planet or animal welfare.

However, this is another appeal to futility, rather depressingly suggesting that humans don’t have any agency or power in the world.

We know from history that this simply isn’t true. Whilst change takes time, any social movement begins with individuals, and each person’s decisions contribute to collective shifts in demand and societal norms.

By living in alignment with your ethical values, you can also inspire others to consider veganism and contribute towards a growing movement for positive change.

#27 “It's okay if animals are treated with respect"

I thought I’d leave my biggest bugbear to the end. Whilst most people won’t try to defend factory farming, you’ll regularly hear people say things like “as long as animals are treated with respect and their death is humane, slaughtering animals for meat is fine.”

Firstly, I’ll just point out that the vast, vast majority of meat sold in first-world countries comes from factory farms, which means mutilation, confinement, and immense suffering for animals before an unceremonious death. It often also involves inhumane methods. For instance, over 90% of pigs are legally killed in excruciating CO2 gas chambers.

The nostalgic myth of happy British farmyard animals in green pastures doesn’t exist in large-scale industrial systems that treat animals like units of production. When animals are a means to an end, they’re part of a system in which suffering and cruelty is inherent.

However, if we go a step further and think about animals outside of factory farms that may have had kinder lives, it’s still interesting to look at the phrase ‘humane slaughter’ semantically. A quick glance at a dictionary will give you synonyms for ‘humane’ such as ‘kind’ and ‘benevolent’, and synonyms for ‘slaughter’ such as ‘kill’, ‘butcher’ or ‘murder’.

I think that, in most peoples’ worlds, these terms don’t harmoniously sit side by side.

The only time I can think that slaughter might be humane is in the case of euthanasia, i.e. if a dog is coming to the end of their life and in terrible pain. However, in the scenario of meat eating, we’re slaughtering animals at a fraction of their natural lifespan solely for our own benefit – nothing about this is in the best interest of the animal. In other words, ‘humane slaughter’ is a complete oxymoron.

If you’ve ever watched animals frantically try to escape a stun box or fight for their lives in a gas chamber, then it should be abundantly clear that no animal wants to die. The term ‘humane slaughter’ simply allows people to ease their conscience whilst continuing to exploit animals.

Denying an animal’s right to life and freedom is surely the ultimate act of cruelty. After all, ask yourself what you value more than anything else. The answer, I’d imagine, is your life.

Having a debate

We Should All Be Arguing That Animals’ Lives Matter

Whether you’re a vegan looking to engage more effectively in debates or you’re a non-vegan wanting to understand more about your choices, I hope that this article has been helpful in addressing the various arguments that commonly arise against veganism.

To go more in-depth on the subject, I’d highly recommend Ed Winter’s new book How To Argue With a Meat Eater (and Win Every Time). In it, he addresses many of these points, as well as providing helpful tips on how to argue more effectively and engage in productive conversations.

If you’re interested to learn more about veganism after reading this article, check out my post on where to start as a new vegan, as well as how to create your vegan meal plan and transition to a plant-based diet.

Oh, and if you’ve come across any arguments that I haven’t addressed in this post, then do let me know!

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