19 Apr 2015

A Vegan Moral Dilemma: Should We Eat Non-Vegan Food If It'll Otherwise Be Thrown Away?

I work in hospitality, at a non-vegan restaurant, so I spend a lot of time around non-vegan products. Of course, I'd rather be working with vegan food, but since I'm studying full-time and there aren't many jobs going around, I don't have much choice.

Until you work in the food industry (speaking from personal experience), you really have no idea just how much food gets thrown away. It's ridiculous, and it's very wasteful. My workplace, for example, throws away around seventy baked goods every morning, because we can't sell anything prepared the day before. The food is still completely edible.

By law, we're not allowed to give the food to homeless shelters. That's what I wanted to do at first, and I was really disappointed when I found out we can't. It's physically painful to have to throw all of that perfectly edible food away when there are so many starving people in the world - not to mention all of the cows and chickens who gave their lives only for this food to end up in a dumpster.

Lately, I've started to think a lot about wastefulness. If a non-vegan food product is just going to be thrown away, wouldn't it be better if someone ate it? And, if no-one is around to eat it except you... should you eat it? Would that mean you're not vegan anymore?

"If a non-vegan food product is just going to be thrown away, wouldn't it be better if someone ate it? And, if no-one is around to eat it except you... should you eat it? Would that mean you're not vegan anymore?"

The same applies to other non-vegan products, such as wool blankets and leather shoes. If you've owned these products all your life, and they've already been paid for, is there any sense in throwing them away once you become vegan? Does it make any difference if you wear them or not?

Wastefulness is an enormous issue in today's world, and its effect on the environment has been described as catastrophic. To me, veganism goes beyond denying the commodity status of animals - it also extends to the environment and other humans. To me, it's a philosophy of all-around compassion and care. That's why I think it's important for vegans to think deeply about their own environmental impact and consider ways to reduce it. I ask myself: why should I buy more food, creating demand for more production, when there's plenty that's already been made going to waste? 

I've noticed two main perspectives on this issue, and I'm still not entirely sure where I stand, but my opinion does tend to lean towards one side. On one hand, most vegans think it's morally wrong to be wasteful. We shouldn't throw anything away when it could be used by somebody.

On the other hand, vegans also believe it's morally wrong to use and exploit animals for our own benefit. This applies to eating and wearing animal products, as well as using them in any other way. When we use animal products (especially in front of other people), we actively promote the idea that it's okay to use animals for our own benefit. This is one of the most common arguments I've seen coming from people who think it's better to throw a non-vegan product away than to eat it. Others think human usage is just as bad as human wastage, i.e. humans have no right to use animal products, therefore it's just as bad for them to use them as it is for them to throw them away.

What's worse: using a non-vegan product, or letting it go to landfill?

So, who is correct? Is using animal products worse than throwing them away, or is it the other way round? Is there any middle ground, or is it a black-or-white question?

Personally, I haven't found my side of the fence yet, but I do tend to lean towards the idea that wastage is very, very bad; and, because of this, it's better to use an animal product than to waste it. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to use the product other than consuming it yourself. If there's a way to give the product back to animals, or to someone who really needs it, I think it's best to choose that option.

"[Some] vegans don't like wastefulness, but to them, animal product use is just as bad."

Of course, other vegans will disagree with me. Other vegans don't like wastefulness, but to them, animal product use is just as bad. They have every right to this opinion and I can totally understand their point of view.

My veganism is based around the concept of supply and demand. Whether we eat an animal product or throw it away, the result will be the same. The animal has already suffered and their product has already been paid for. If you eat the otherwise wasted animal product, you won't be giving money to the animal product industries. In that sense, it'll make no difference at all. So, in essence, to decide whether or not to eat the product, you must take your personal moral boundaries into account.

In terms of eating meat that'll otherwise go to waste, I don't think I could do it. Meat is disgusting to me and the two occasions I accidentally ate it resulted in persistent vomiting. To me, flesh isn't food. I won't put my body through harm to avoid wastage, but I'd probably be okay with something containing small amounts of dairy, egg, honey, wool, and so on. Maybe. As I said, I'm not really sure yet.

Animal products - better here, or in your stomach?

I can understand where opponents of this idea are coming from. If we use an animal product in front of another person, regardless of our waste avoidance, we might give the impression that it's okay to use animals. This, obviously, isn't an ideology vegans want to promote. But what if no one else is around to see you use the product? Personally, I'm not certain how I feel about that, and I'll need to do some more research.

So, in summary, I think I'd rather use an animal product than let it go to waste, but I'm going to keep researching the issue until I'm 100% certain of what's right. I might change my mind. I should add that all of this is only my opinion, and it doesn't reflect on the beliefs of all vegans. Choose your own path and decide what's right for you (as long as you don't judge other vegans who think differently: remember, we're all in this together!)