My new favourite book about vegetarianism is Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism by the philosopher Michael Huemer, published in 2019. I think it should be the new standard text in effective altruism fellowships and discussion groups to introduce issues surrounding eating meat. Ending factory farming is only one part of animal advocacy, but I am dissatisfied with the existing treatment of animal experimentation in Animal Liberation. And wild animal welfare as a field of study is too new to have had a go-to book written about it. The main advantages of the book are, as I see it:
- Dialogues is only 135 pages long (including notes), so it’s totally reasonable to assume someone can read it in a week or two.
- The book is written in dialogue format, which reads nicely (I love dialogues so much I wrote one myself). It does a good job anticipating the reader’s objections. And it illustrates the process of how people’s minds get changed about meat-eating.
- Animal Liberation, being written in 1975, is outdated. The section about animal experimentation has aged particularly poorly. Ethics review has tightened significantly since then (perhaps too much). As I recall, Singer argued that animal experimentation is not particularly useful to science, which came across to me as simply naive. I am not aware of any scientist who would make this claim.
- Huemer is good at not telling you his unrelated opinions. He is an anarchist, but you would never know that from the book. Most writing about animal welfare in the popular press features the author giving their tangentially related left-of-centre takes about society (including Eating Animals).
- Huemer is far from utilitarian, which is a good rejoinder to those who believe that eating meat is only wrong if utilitarianism is true (or some weaker version of that claim). In fact, the protagonist of the dialogue at one point says something that implies that the imperative not to eat animal products is strongest under the non-consequentialist moral theories.
- Dialogues was boringly titled and marketed, so people are unlikely to read it unless they are prompted through their local effective altruism group. This raises the value of assigning the book because people are likely to passively encounter the memes from the more popular animal welfare writings.
- Peter Singer himself in the preface says that when people ask him about why he is vegan, he recommends they read this book and not Animal Liberation!
- The book has an annotated bibliography which is a good jumping-off point for anyone that wants to read more.
And the main disadvantages are:
- Relative to how short it is, the book is expensive (€18 paperback, €15 Kindle).
- Nutrition, or how to cook veggie/vegan, is not dealt with.
- The book doesn’t seriously discuss wild animal welfare at any length. However, the topic is sufficiently new that I’m not aware of any books that cover it. Animal experimentation is not dealt with.
I haven’t seen any discussion of this book in EA circles, which is a shame, as I thought it was pretty neat. I hope to see it assigned as reading by EA groups in the future.
Thanks to Sydney for reading a draft of this post.