McWilliams lecture offers perspective into a more sustainable way of living

I’ve known that I was going to be vegan since I was 13 years old. It took me five years of vegetarianism to stop making excuses and actually get to it, but I am here now and have been vegan for about three months. Although I would not say that this transition has been particularly difficult for me, VARC (Vassar Animal Rights Coalition) meetings and events have definitely bolstered my convictions. On Nov. 7th, James McWilliams came to Vassar and gave a lecture titled, “Veganism for Omnivores.”

I was raised in a part of Wyoming that was very conservative, where I was often ostracized for just being a vegetarian. Not many people asked me about my intentions or tried to understand the issues that eating animals promotes; but when someone did ask me about why I was a vegetarian, the easiest explanation to give them was that I did not support the way animals are raised and treated in factory farms. Even though we were surrounded by local, small-scale farms and ranches, most of the people where I lived ate factory farmed meat, so this explanation sufficed. They did not usually think to ask me what I thought about small scale farms and ranches. The more common responses to my declarations about why I was a vegetarian were things like “vegetables have feelings too” and the classic “I just love meat way too much to be a vegetarian.” People did not often try to discuss the moral complexities right away.

So when I came to Vassar I had almost never thought about how I would respond if someone asked me what I thought about local or small scale farming. I, of course, knew that I believed strongly that eating any animal, no matter how it was raised or how well it was treated during its life, is not okay. However, I knew this would be a relatively hard thing to argue and potentially not the most convincing response.

James McWilliams’ lecture equipped me with some tools to help solve this problem. Arguments about morality are difficult to deliver and generally—at least in my experience—not very well received. James McWilliams recognized this and that is why the majority of his lecture discussed the sustainability and economic problems of small scale farms rather than the ethical problems, although he did talk about those to some extent. He did an excellent job of utilizing empirical evidence as well as evidence from the farms themselves to back up his arguments.

As he pointed out, most of the outside organizations that research issues with animal rights appear to have a bias; even if the information they present is completely legitimate and accurate, people see names like PETA and assume that the information is skewed. This is because people believe organizations that exist to promote animal rights wouldn’t present both sides of the case for veganism equally and would be slanted for the side that suits their mission statement. However, information directly from the farms is less likely to be biased, or if it is biased it will probably be biased toward the farms themselves and therefore not necessarily animal rights. All in all, McWilliams’ lecture convinced me that small-scale farming is not a viable solution for our dependence on factory farming.

I genuinely hope that most Vassar students already know that factory farming is bad. I assume that at least some of us do and that is why the Deece offers free-range eggs and occasionally free range chicken. I hope that the students who do know that factory farming is bad went to that lecture. If they did, I hope that they learned that the “free-range” label doesn’t mean much. Realistically, I know that most of them did not go and did not learn this; as a vegan and as a student at Vassar, this upsets me. I hope there will be a time when there is a line of people outside the auditorium, just hoping to get into a lecture about veganism. I want this because Vassar students are smart and talented and have an amazing opportunity to be well-informed. This is an issue I believe we should all be informed about.

This lecture was a beacon of hope for me. It seems promising to me that there are people who have accepted that factory farming is bad and that all animals deserve to be treated well. It is promising that these people have tried to find a way to treat animals better. And it is promising to me that there are people other than me who believe that these “solutions” are not good enough. I cannot speak for all of VARC, but I would think that our reason for hosting this lecture was to show people that veganism is the best, most sustainable, most compassionate option for animals and the world.

If people have the opportunity (I would argue that most Vassar students do, at least while on campus) to go vegan, they absolutely should. The title of the lecture, “Veganism for Omnivores,” seems absolutely perfect to me. If you do not think that veganism is for you or if you are inclined to be an omnivore, but you feel that all animals should be treated well, please educate yourself on the issues of factory farms as well as local and small-scale farms. You might surprise yourself; your inner vegan might come out.

 

—Brooke Thomas ’17 is a prospective political science major.

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