The bias we find in Omnivore’s Dilemma ensures the arguments of vegetarians and vegans will look weak and the carnist omnivores’ positions look strong. For example, we should reject the book’s inference that philosophers Peter Singer and Tom Regan represent all beliefs held by millions of practicing vegans whom Pollan attacks in his imagined “vegan utopia.” Debate is healthy and ongoing in the vegan community.
Philosopher Tom Regan cites in his book, Empty Cages, many compelling examples about the rights of individual domesticated animals, but the closest he comes to including wildlife, and ecosystems not at all, is concern about trapping wildlife for their fur and its undeniable cruelty. Why this gap? Regan deems those species “our moral equality” when they are “subjects-of-a-life.” As a result, there is a vacant sign on ecosystems. This is curious given “subjects-of-a-life” depend upon ecosystems and non-sentient species to live. He allowed “compensatory justice” for endangered species, but that is as good as it got.
It is simply painful to me that some philosophers associated with animal rights do not integrate the worth and rights of sentient species with ecosystems. Their moral reasoning must find a practical way to bridge this fault line.
Josephine Donovan, in Feminism and the Treatment of Animals: From Care to Dialogue, rings most true with me. I found this guiding light from her: “It is not so much, I will argue, a matter of caring for animals as mothers (human and nonhuman) care for their infants as it is one of listening to animals, paying emotional attention, taking seriously— caring about—what they are telling us. As I stated at the conclusion of ‘Animal Rights and Feminist Theory,’ we should not kill, eat, torture, and exploit animals because they do not want to be so treated, and we know that.”
She criticizes both Regan and Singer because “… both rights and utilitarianism dispense with sympathy, empathy, and compassion as relevant ethical and epistemological [the study of human knowledge,including its limits] sources for human treatment of nonhuman animals.”
Why in Omnivore’s Dilemma does Pollan not consider deep ecology philosopher Arne Naess? He and his many advocates acknowledge the intrinsic, biocentric value of individuals from other species with absolutely no requirement for them to jump through the sentience hoop, as some philosophical arguments require. In Naess’ biocentric world, nonhuman life is given intrinsic value, as are ecosystems. They are inseparable from the sacred whole.
I did not come by my own beliefs because philosophers convinced me of one argument or another. They did, however, challenge and help me develop my views. Philosophers never caused me to exclude any being from my orb of compassion even when their arguments would have allowed it had my allegiance been to them instead of nonhuman individuals from other species and ecosystems. Using Peter Singer and Tom Regan as a shield to justify doing unnecessary harm to individuals from other species is something I do not understand about Michael Pollan. He excluded and limited the review of philosophical debate to an extreme on the questions he raises and conveniently avoids evidence that would challenge his beliefs.
Next: Pollanist Destiny