Olivia C. Hamblin
Professor Ayla Moore
21 November 2014
You Are What You Eat: A Definitional Argument Comparing Veganism to Agape Love
Everybody eats. To eat is to sustain life and energy for oneself; eating is essential to survival and thus is part of the daily routine for any typical human being. Without eating we could not function properly, therefore the desire and need to eat is imprinted in our minds, consciously and subconsciously, in order to ensure our existence. Because eating is so normal and standard, it is easy to see it on a somewhat shallow and basic level, as simple and ordinary. But what if we chose to look for a deeper meaning in our consumption of food? Perhaps we unknowingly underestimate its significance. Perhaps the frequent occurrence of the action is causing us to overlook its value, when that frequent occurrence is actually what makes it so special. The fact that we eat often and habitually, and that meals are ritualistic and fundamental aspects to our everyday lives, means that one’s decisions about eating, for both health and ethical reasons, are going to represent a great portion of his or her belief system. The choosing, preparing, presenting, smelling, tasting, chewing, swallowing, and digesting of food makes eating an intimate and personal process. We all take part in this process, but how we do it and why we do it that way is what differentiates us by demonstrating particular feelings, principles and desires in relation to food. Our diet, because it reveals what we choose to take from this earth and assimilate on a cellular level within our own bodies, has the possibility to define a considerable amount of our passion or lack of passion for this world.
In this paper I am specifically analyzing the vegan diet and how its benefits of restricting consumption of animals and animal products and strictly eating only plant-based foods portray love for other beings, the planet and oneself. The breakdown of veganism has promising similarities to the all-giving and all adoring, charitable, agape love. Comparing and contrasting the two may help us to see how diet choice may unveil one’s affections for themself and others, and on a more particular level, how choosing to take part in veganism is choosing to support and care for the greater good of all who exist.
Review of Literature
A vegan is a person who does not eat any food that comes from animals and who often also does not use animal products (Merriam-Webster.com, “vegan”), therefore veganism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption and use of animal products. These products include any portion of the actual animal (meat, skin, blood, etc.) as well as any creation from the animal (dairy, eggs, honey, silk, etc.). Typically, vegans have been sub-grouped as either “health” vegans or “ethical” vegans, depending on their reasons to practice veganism. Though it should be possible to identify, as a vegan, with both groups, most research has methodically categorized and separated the two. Health vegans are known to be more concerned about the well being of themselves rather than the well-being of animals, while ethical vegans are more interested in animal rights and welfare (Greenebaum 136). Limited research has found a horizontal hostility between the two minority sub-groups, where ethical vegans relate with and prefer each other, seeing themselves as more genuine and compassionate than health vegans (Rothgerber 2). Despite ethical vegans’ unfavorable evaluation of health vegans, the two groups may still be able to identify with each other simply through their actual choices and actions regarding their diet in comparison to vegetarians or omnivores, ignoring their motivation. However, intergroup horizontally hostility may contradict the idea that veganism only renders love and care, and expose possibility that it can create negative emotional outcomes as well. Further understanding of how the two sub-groups may both have an over-all positive affect through their diet, regardless of incentive, may be able to decrease this horizontal activity examined by Hank Rothgerber and expand on the beneficial outcomes they create simply as vegans. Hostility also expands outside of veganism to other dietary practices, where vegans may even exclude meat eaters from their sexual preference (Potts 54).
Slightly contradictory to Rothberger’s findings, Massimo Filippi and his neurology team, although they initially separated vegans by health and ethics, found a noticeable difference in frontal lobe activity of the brain between all vegans in comparison to vegetarians and omnivores when shown pictured of mutilated and murdered animals and humans inside and MRI; suggesting increased empathy for other life in correspondence with veganism (Filippi 4). This supports the idea that veganism may be beneficial on many levels without any need for separation due to justification for diet practices. Though Filippi’s experiment was extremely detailed and well controlled, additional testing between those of different diets with the use of and MRI would offer more in-depth looks into the psychology of vegans, vegetarians and omnivores for a greater understanding of how they perceive and approach the world around them. This understanding might further prove that vegans do have more empathy and therefore are less likely to harm other life.
As far as effects due to veganism there seems to be a shortcoming of research regarding veganism’s effect on the planet, where most research about the diet seems to point towards its effect directly on people incorporating veganism into their lives. Deeper knowledge of the effect on the planet through less meat consumption and evidence of it helping the environment may establish more power in shifting views to be more supportive, constructive and optimistic on veganism. Mass consumption of animals is a primary reason why humans are hungry, fat, or sick and is a leading cause of the depletion and pollution of waterways, the degradation and deforestation of the land, the extinction of species, and the warming of the planet (Henning 63). Choosing to limit ones diet to avoid these negative impacts, both personal and public, may allow us to steer in the direction of greater health for our world and us. Veganism being such an unpopular consumption pattern in the United States, as only 0.5% of the country is vegan (Greenebaum 130), if it were able to be promoted, may be able to be a lifestyle choice accommodating a greater good as a large act of agape love by many people.
Agape Love. Today exists copious versions and descriptions of love, however philosophers have been able to group love into primary and secondary love types: Eros, Ludus, Storge, Mania, Pragma, and Agape. Agape, the type of love that is most commonly talked about in love scholarship, can be dated back to biblical Christian scriptures and is widely known as the divine, selfless and righteous love. However, Thomas Jay Oord, a theologian for the Institute of Unlimited Love, who has carefully taken time to define agape love and love in general, warns that due to a great variety of descriptions and uses for agape love, one must follow three rules when using the term, “(1) define clearly what they mean by it and then employ that meaning consistently, (2) show how this meaning differs from the meanings of other love forms…and (3) show how their definition of agape fits with and does not contradict their definition of love in general” (932). For this paper and application of agape love, I have chosen to follow Oord’s lead, as his definition of agape love is well thought out, ideal and meets all three demands.
To meet the first requirement, agape is defined as “Intentional response to promote wellbeing when confronted by that which generates ill-being” (Oord 934). In response to the second requirement, according to Oord, this meaning differs from two other significant types of love, Philia and Eros, by its unique portion being in response to “ill-being,” where Eros would be promoting well-being to establish deeper levels of cooperation and Philia would be promoting well-being to affirm what is valuable (935). Oord compares agape to Philia and Eros because the two are other popular terms in the exploration and research of love, however I believe his argument weakens in not expanding on the second requirement as there are many more forms or types of love to compare agape to. Finally, in response to Oord’s third requirement, using also his general definition of love, “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote well-being” (924), it is to be known that his definition of agape refers to a type of love and does not define love itself (935). Thus, following all obligations when defining agape, Oord’s definition will be used thoroughly in response and comparison to veganism.
Veganism as Agape Love. In order to show the resemblances and parallels between veganism and agape love (as defined by Oord), I have broken up the definition of agape into humble portions in which to examine and evaluate the likeness of veganism.
Intentional Response. Although eating is a basic instinct for every properly functioning human being, in this day and age, the average American will face choices in what they can eat. His or her decisions about what to eat and why to eat or not eat something is their intension in response to food due to hunger and need for nourishment. In veganism, the intentional response is their purposeful decision to only eat plant-based foods for health or ethical reasons, or both.
…to promote well-being. Well-being can be put in terms of benefiting either oneself (the eater), others (humans and animals), and/or the earth. Benefits for oneself often comes in the package of satisfying health and morals. Eating a plant-based diet has numerous proven health benefits. Dr. Douglas Graham, a participant and coach of a 100% raw and vegan diet lifestyle, advocates, “Our anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and psychology all indicate that we are not carnivores” (15). Thus, not eating meat is going to benefit humans both physically and mentally. Evidence shows major differences between the make up of humans and known carnivorous creatures such as dogs, cougars, etc., including the following: we do not have claws meant for ripping flesh, we have opposable thumbs for effortless collecting of fruit, we usually have one child at a time unlike carnivores who give birth to litters therefore needing more fat and substance, and also, our intestines are twelve times the length of our torso for slow absorption of sugars and water-borne nutrients from fruit or vegetables while carnivores’ intestines are only three times as long as their torso for quicker digestion to avoid rotting and decomposition of flesh inside the body (Graham 17). Through this evidence, avoiding meat is loving the self in one’s true, meant to be state. In adjunction, the most common research done on veganism is regarding healthful results and prevention of disease from practicing the diet. Predominant diseases known to be prevented through removing meat from the diet and in taking nutrients through fresh, whole vegan foods are coronary heart disease, cancer and diabetes (McEvoy, Temple, Woodside 2291). Prevention and protection through veganism is not limited to these diseases. Eating a plant-based diet is also known to improve hair, skin, nails, and other bodily tissues, as well as organ function and available energy to the body (Graham 71).
Veganism promotes well-being of other living beings, mainly as animals, for the obvious reasons of not killing and consuming them against their own will. The care and concern for animals, even without the ability to communicate with them, is a gesture of agape, intentionally promoting life in spite of ill-being, the widespread standard of eating plentiful amounts of meat and animal products.
In 2007, enough meat was produced worldwide to give every human 92 pounds of meat for the year (Henning 63), and with improving industrialization, it’s no doubt that such proportions are growing. This increased industrialization has allowed for assembly line production of meats in few huge factories that provide for the market, making the process easier and less expensive, therefore making meat more available and easier to buy than fruits and vegetables. Consequentially, Brian G. Henning, who has a PhD in philosophy and environmental sciences, explains:
We will find that, considering both the direct and indirect effects, the overconsumption of animal meat is now a (if not the) leading cause of or contributor to both malnourishment and obesity, chronic disease, antibiotic resistance, and the spread of infectious disease; the livestock sector may now be the single greatest source of freshwater use and pollution, the leading cause of rainforest deforestation, and the driving force behind spiraling species extinction; finally, livestock production is among the largest sectorial sources of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change. (64)
Thus, choosing not to support the consumption of meat directly interrupts the perpetration of these hurtful outcomes, and promotes well-being for both the self, other humans, animals, and the planet.
…when confronted by that which generates ill-being. The ill-being in the case of veganism is the temptation to eat and expend animal products. And that which generates the ill-being may be a combination of western society, capitalism, and ignorance which promotes the consumption of animal products without notice of unintentional consequences.
Although it is easy to categorize aspects of veganism within a definition of agape love, there are many holes due to the inability to find plentiful secondary research regarding positive effects of veganism. While there is sufficient evidence providing health reasons to choose veganism, this can also be contradicted by a huge discussion of B-12 deficiency amongst vegans. B-12 is a necessary vitamin for optimal human health and it cannot be absorbed by vegans because of a significant decrease of fat in the diet (Graham 256). Naturally not being able to absorb an essential nutrient can work against veganism as an ideal diet to promote one’s well-being.
Also, there is not much information that explains positive outcomes of eating vegan amongst human interaction. There is more evidence showing hostility amongst humans due to veganism.
Lastly, there are still questions about whether eating strictly vegan or significantly decreasing meat in the diet is the best course of direction. It is possible that optimum health may come from increased fruits and vegetables and decreased animal product, rather than eliminating consumption of animal product all together. Not to mention, everybody’s genetic make up and bodily situations are different and it may not be possible to refer to all people similarly.
After careful analysis, it can be said that veganism is alike agape love on a definitional basis, where agape is defined as “Intentional response to promote well-being when confronted by that which generates ill-being.” This deduction can add to the general conversations of both veganism and scholarship of love. The thesis that veganism is a form of agape can specifically contribute to information regarding what type of people partake in agape love, and how veganism can help to develop a more loving world by promoting well-being of oneself, others, and the planet.
Graham, Douglas N., Dr. The 80/10/10 Diet. N.p.: FoodnSport, 2010. Print.
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McEvoy, Claire T., Norman Temple, and Jayne V. Woodside. “Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review.” Public health nutrition 15.12 (2012): 2287-2294.
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