I’m sure you’ve come across some variant of “with the amount of grain used to fatten animals for human consumption, we could, if we all became vegetarian, eliminate world hunger.” The “case” for veganism suffers from the same limitations particular to consumer politics. In that it fails to understand capitalist production, the “air tight” arguments are shown to be nothing but non-sequiturs.
First, world hunger has nothing to do with scarcity. We continue to produce enough grain and other foodstuffs for human consumption to feed double the human population. Economists who speak of a “grain glut” mean that literally tons of grain is wasted and unused, not because people aren’t in need of it, but because they can’t afford it. Second, it speaks to incredible naiveté to assume that world agribusiness would give away any excess grain left over if the meat industry suddenly collapsed. When I say political veganism doesn’t understand capitalism, this is what I mean.
While there’s nothing wrong with seeing it as simply a moral issue, there is something incredibly obnoxious and self-aggrandizing about puffing out your chest, believing your diet will change the world. While the number of vegetarians and vegans has grown into sizeable minority, you would think that meat consumption would’ve shown a slight decline. But the opposite is true. Total meat consumption has increased. With food costs rising, meat has become more practical (in terms of calorie intake) and affordable. There is absolutely no substance to the claim that going vegan saves any animals. Capitalism does not plan production based on a one to one correspondence of a supply demand. In fact, its key feature is overproduction. A general lowering of demand will then likely mean two things: 1) animals not consumed will just be wasted 2) the price of meat becomes cheaper, increasing total consumption.
There is also no precedent for a boycott strategy that has shut down an entire industry the way it’s being described (and it would require a boycott of all supermarkets and restaurants). That’s because the consumer has very little power. One can “choose” to drive a fuel-efficient car, but can’t choose why cities lack efficient public transportation. One can choose to buy energy efficient light bulbs, but has no say about planned product obsolescence. No one can dispute that the factory farm model creates tremendous amounts of waste, contributing to environmental catastrophe. It does so because capitalism forces every industry to accumulate and capture as much of the market as it can, in the most cost effective way. It functions to maximize profit, not to meet needs or work rationally. So every industry is structured unsustainably.
But what if for the sake of argument, veganism got what it wanted? The world adopts a vegan diet, the meat industry collapses, then what? This is where their militant rhetoric unravels. The system can shed whatever it needs to, or create a small niche (which it has), but the drive toward exploitation, war, and environmental destruction will always be essential. "Animal Liberation" may sound radical, but instead of challenging the free market, it politically affirms it. Having said that, I find the term “Animal Liberation” to be as meaningless as the politics behind it. That’s not to say that a being’s capacity to suffer is not worth ethical consideration, but that the term literally means and amounts to nothing.
The inevitable charge of “anthropocentrism” or “speciesism” revels in anthropomorphism. This in no way is a claim to superiority, but to accuracy and intellectual seriousness. Human liberation is not abstract. Our species distinguishes itself by organizing into social and productive relations. Liberation is historically conditioned and defined by which social and productive relations are being overturned. The factory farm is part of those productive relations and can be dramatically altered, but animal liberation? Claims to the contrary are nothing but ahistorical nonsense. Rather than pointing to the rise of class society, some AR activists argue the root of human oppression (slavery, sexism, etc) can be traced to the domestication of animals. In Vasu Murti's "Politics of Vegetarianism" he even goes so far as to say that people commit "crime" not because of inequality, but because they never owned a pet. As Murti explains, “none of them had this opportunity to learn respect and care for another creature’s life and to feel valuable in so doing.”
These ideas in no way offer anything useful to the liberation of anyone.