Anyone who has been vegan for more than a few months is probably familiar with what I call “The Inuit Defense.” When presented with an argument for veganism, it’s common for people to bring up the diet of some remote indigenous population (usually the Inuit) as justification for why they should continue consuming animal products. “Well, the Inuit must hunt and fish in order to survive,” they say. The implication being that if the Inuit cannot be vegan, they shouldn’t be expected to be vegan either.
In other words, if everyone can’t be vegan, no one should even try.
It may be true that there are still people in extreme parts of the world who, due to circumstances beyond their control, must kill animals to survive. But does that mean we should get a free-pass, too? We, who by comparison, live lives of abundance and comfort? We, who do not eat animal products out of necessity, but rather out of desire?
Does one person’s need excuse another’s greed? Or does our relative good-fortune and luxury of choice obligate us to do better — to act more ethically and responsibly?
Necessity and desperation, while not necessarily excuses for violent actions, certainly make them more understandable, and perhaps even pardonable. It’s easier to understand why a woman would shoot her husband if we know she did so in self-defense. Similarly, it’s easier to understand why a man would resort to stealing if we know he did so in order to obtain life-saving medication for his child.
But who among us would argue that because a battered woman shoots her husband, we should feel free to go out and shoot anyone we please?
Who would argue that because a desperate father steals medication for his child, we should feel justified stealing that BMW we wish to drive, or those diamond earrings we admire?
So why is it acceptable to argue that because an indigenous person somewhere in the world may be forced to hunt in order to feed his family, we should feel entitled to throw another steak on the grill?
It just doesn’t make any sense.
If we are fortunate enough to be able to live without causing violence and harm to others, shouldn’t we do so…and do so with gratitude? To use the desperate or necessary actions of the less-advantaged as an attempt to justify our needless participation in animal abuse is shameful. It seems to me that those of us who can be vegan, should, regardless of whether or not there are people out there (real or hypothetical) for whom veganism is not yet a possibility.