Reader Mailbag: Rain

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Capital One and ING Direct
2. Increased used car prices
3. Freelancing for a college student
4. Advance baby planning
5. The optimal mortgage size
6. Eating what you believe
7. Roth 401(k)?
8. Dealing with student loans
9. Bankruptcy and divorce
10. Saving or debt repayment?

The upper Midwest has been drenched with rain lately. It seems like every day seems to alternate between quick torrential downpours, cloudy, sunny, and back around. Over and over again.

This is the strangest June I’ve seen in a long while when it comes to weather.

Q1: Capital One and ING Direct
I am certain you have heard the news ING Direct Bank is being acquired by Capitol One. Are you planning to remain a customer of this bank? What are some other good companies you can recommend for competitive interest rates and no fees?

- Jeff

For those unaware, earlier this week, the online bank ING Direct was purchased by the large American bank Capital One.

For me, this means very little unless there are changes to how ING Direct operates. If there are no changes to how ING Direct works, I see no reason to change banks.

My expectation is that little will change. The only new thing I would expect is an ING Direct-branded credit card with some sort of cash back directly into an ING Direct savings account. Depending on the cashback rate, this is something I may use. I would also expect that Capital One ATMs will soon allow ING Direct cards to be used with no fees. In other words, the immediate changes I see are nothing but positives for ING Direct users.

Over the long term, who knows? All I can say is I’m not going to make changes without a real reason.

Q2: Increased used car prices
Check out this article at CNN Money about the increase in used car prices.

If the price of used cars increase, is there a point at which you think it would make sense to buy a new car instead of a late model used?
- Amanda

Even right now, buying a late model used car is just a good rule of thumb to operate by. It’s not true in all situations, particularly when you’re buying with a loan rather than buying with cash (because new cars often have much better financing than used cars). Also, a new car with great reliability and fuel economy numbers is probably a better deal than a used gas guzzler that breaks down regularly.

What this article indicates is that there are going to be more situations where a new car is a better buy than a late model used car – or any used car.

Simply put, the rule of thumb that used is always the best bet will have to start being calculated on a case-by-case basis. Now more than ever, it makes sense to do the research and know exactly what you’re buying and what you should be paying for it. Don’t go onto a car lot without the knowledge you need to make a good buy.

Q3: Freelancing for a college student
Recently, government funding has cut my hours at work (from full-time with benefits and a set schedule to hardly part-time…). I’m a college student with one semester left, currently interning for a local restaurant. I am in charge of their marketing. I have plenty of ideas, and although I am a Communication Studies major, I found that I am enjoying the work and that this has potential to turn into something profitable. I’m interested in starting to freelance, but that’s also where my problem lies. How does one start to freelance? I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. Thank you for your time, and for all the work you do.

- Andrew

Freelancing, honestly, usually begins with relationships. You’ve done something that makes a connection to someone else, either through who you are or through your work. Because of that, they want to hire you to fulfill a need.

If you’re starting from scratch and don’t really have a portfolio of successful marketing campaigns to show off, then you’re going to have to work for your connections. Your first step would be to really make the marketing for the restaurant you’re working for shine, and try to gather data on the results generated by your marketing.

While building that, don’t be afraid to beat the pavement. Get to know lots of small business owners in your area. Chat with the owner of every small business you can, just so they know who you are. Keep a copy of the work you’re doing in your car or in your bag so you can show it off if it naturally comes up (don’t force it into anyone’s face, though).

If your work is good and your relationships are solid, you’ll start finding opportunities. It may take a while. Once the opportunities start coming in, they tend to snowball from there. Almost always, it’s the first few clients that are the toughest to reel in – and they’re the ones you really need to hit a home run with to make that snowball start rolling down the mountain.

Q4: Advance baby planning
My husband and I have been married for 10 months now and are 23 years old. He has been working full time ($63,000/yr) for a major corporation and I part-time (about $15,000/yr) for a church since our marriage. During this time, we’ve been living only on the income from his job. All of the income from my paycheck (along with any savings we had) went straight to first paying off the $20,000 in student loans (we did this 4 months ago) and then funding an $11,000 (3 months post-tax) emergency fund as well as starting to put 4% of his income into retirement (which his company matches). I am currently three months pregnant and have to leave my job at the end of the month (staff positions run July-June only). We have been living on the income from his job thus far because we plan on me staying at home full-time with the baby. While we can continue living without issue, the cost of living here is extremely high, there is not much left over after expenses for savings to come from his paycheck. We will need to replace my husband’s car in the next few years and would like to also save money for the down payment on a house (though we’re not sure we can even afford a house in this area without living farther away from my husband’s job than we would like, so this is may not be a possibility). We could probably reduce our spending a little and have an extra $100 left over each paycheck, but can’t really cut much more than that (our rent, which is fairly cheap for this area is 40% of his take home pay). I am trying to find work that I can do until the baby comes, and possibly afterward, but it is not looking hopeful. It really worries us that we will have so little for savings and were wondering what sort of advice you had. It is a very wide open question, but figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask!

- Erin

The first comment I’d make is that, although the expenses of young children are often loudly touted, they’re often absorbed in large part by lifestyle changes of the parents. Having a baby makes the things that you once easily did into a much greater logistical challenge. You can’t just hop into the car and go out – it doesn’t work like that any more. Because of that, people often end up spending far less after the birth of a child, more than enough to take care of the cost of diapers and so forth.

I’m not clear on whether you’re choosing to go the stay-at-home mom route for a while, but if you are, you’ll also have a strong ability to take advantage of home economics. Take charge of meal preparation, for example, and put in the time to find low-cost things for you and your husband and your baby to do on the weekends. There are lots of things out there – you just have to find them.

Unless you have a route to employment that will earn significantly more money than the cost of child care, I would forego it at first. Infant child care is far more expensive than child care for older children.

Erin has another somewhat related question.

Q5: The optimal mortgage size
I was also wondering how you suggest is the best way to figure out how big of a mortgage we could actually afford. There are calculators online, but they usually assume people are willing to pay a much higher percentage of their income towards a house than we are willing to (we’d like to keep payments under 25% of our income, or at least 1/3). We would like to get a 15yr. mortgage. I have very good credit (don’t know exact numbers, the estimators say I’m somewhere between 720 & 780) and my husband has no credit (never had any credit cards & student loans were all mine). I just want to know if you know of any way for us to calculate how much mortgage we can afford based on how much we would pay per month, rather than going the reverse?

- Erin

The easiest way is to just use a normal mortgage calculator and plug in numbers until you find payments that match what you’re looking for.

Your first step is to figure out what payments you’re shooting for. If you’re bringing in $63,000 per year, a monthly payment that amounts to 25% of that salary is about $1,300 per month.

Then, you might use Bankrate’s mortgage calculator and put in a loan for $150,000 at 15 years and 3.75% interest. This would give you a monthly payment of $1,090.83. You could then adjust upwards and find that you could get a mortgage for $180,000 and still be below your target payment amount.

Q6: Eating what you believe
I have struggled with how I should express one of my only strong beliefs.

I am a vegetarian edging towards veganism. Whilst I am aware of the health benefits that come with this life choice I am motivated only by trying to minimize animal cruelty and exploitation. Almost none of my friends or family are vegetarian and neither is my partner whom I live with. I have never forced this belief onto anyone but sometimes when I think about it I wonder if this is morally ok.

I know that people are less likely to listen to somebody who judges others for not sharing their beliefs but I wonder, if I was an animal being exploited, would I forgive somebody who knew what was happening yet kept my mouth shut and even socialized with those who were funding my exploitation?

I’m sure many are against murder and child abuse and would have no qualms about telling somebody who did either of those that they are wrong, the only difference I can see is that murder and child abuse are already commonly accepted as being wrong. If this were not the case do you believe it would be right to live your life not murdering or abusing children in the hopes that others might follow your ideals?
- Ben

Clearly, your diet is something you believe in from a moral standpoint and you have solid reasons for doing so. The question is whether the costs of evaneglizing your beliefs is worth the potential benefit. Moving from living your beliefs to evangelizing your beliefs means moving from telling people about why you’re eating a particular way when they ask to telling people about it regardless of whether they want to know.

In other words, is it worth it for you to annoy and create some negative sentiment from, say, ten people in order to convince one person to change their diet? Are you willing to use this moral stance of yours as a “filter” for the people around you, likely driving away some of the people who don’t agree with you?

That’s the cost of moving from living what you believe (something everyone usually respects) to evangelizing what you belief (something a lot of people dislike). Some will disagree with you and will end up being confrontational. Others won’t care and will dislike having your views pushed upon them.

If your belief in the issue is strong enough and that central to you, then you should go that route. It’s really up to you and what you value. Are you willing to drive away some people in order to convert a few?

Q7: Roth 401(k)?
My employer brought back 401k matching this year after a two-year hiatus. Recently, they announced that they were going to begin offering something called a Roth 401k. I know what a 401k is and I know what a Roth IRA is, but what is a Roth 401k? Is it better than a regular 401k?

- Tasha

A Roth 401(k) combines features of the normal 401(k) and the Roth IRA. It works like a 401(k), except you can put in post-tax money instead of pre-tax money, which means that you’ll pay income tax on it this year but the money will be tax free when you withdraw it at retirement (matching funds from your employer are pre-tax dollars).

So, is it a good deal? It’s basically the same deal as a Roth IRA with three differences, two of them positive. One, you can contribute far more to a Roth 401(k) than to a Roth IRA in a given year – $16,500 to $5,500 as of this year. Two, a Roth 401(k) can get matching funds from an employer, while a Roth IRA cannot. Three, with a Roth IRA, you can choose the investing house you want to deal with, while a Roth 401(k) locks you into whatever investing house is running the program.

My opinion is that if you have a Roth 401(k) available to you, you should contribute enough to it to get every dime of matching funds from your employer. If you wish to save more for retirement, I would open a Roth IRA and contribute to that. This will allow you to have more control over the investments (and almost always wind up with a lower-cost investment, meaning more returns for you).

Q8: Dealing with student loans
I am 25 and earn approximately $2460 net per month; I’m paid bi-weekly so twice a year, I earn an additional paycheck meaning $3690 for each of those months. I have $60k in student loans (approximately $30k in federal loans at 6.675% and approximately $30k in private loans at 3.5-4.5%). My living expenses are approximately $460 per month (I barely drive, my car was a gift, I take the bus to work for free or ride my bike, I split the rent with my boyfriend, we don’t pay for utilities, etc.), leaving $2000. Each month, I pay $1400 ($1100 for federal, $300 for private) for student loans, $300 for savings, and then keep the remaining $300 for miscellaneous expenses during the month. I actually make a loan payment each pay period so sometimes I pay $2100 in one month and the same goes for savings- sometimes I put $600 into savings.

My e-fund is currently at $3,000 but I would like to double it. I have no consumer debt but the student loans are terrifying. I would also like to start saving for retirement but just started a new job and I am ineligible for employer contributions until a year from now. I realize that I could start a Roth or traditional IRA but am thinking that maybe I should pay more money on the loans if I have money remaining each month. I am conflicted because the interest rates are relatively low for the student loans and I would likely get a higher return were the money to be invested. However, paying off the loans quickly would give me great peace of mind. At this current rate of savings and payments, I anticipate that the loans will be paid off by the end of 2014 and I would hit the $6,000 mark in savings sometime at the end of next year. Do you have any suggestions or does this seem on track?
- Peggy

First of all, your student loans are large, but not bone-crushing. There are people that have student loans that reach well into six figures and are jobless to boot. Your situation is manageable.

As for whether you could beat the interest rate on the loans with investments, I would say you would be able to beat the private loans but not the public ones. I’m not clear on whether any of those loans are adjustable, but a 6.675% loan should definitely be your focus given your financial situation. I would throw all of my extra payments at that loan and make the minimum payments on other loans.

In your situation, I would probably hammer away at the debts for the next year, then sign up for your employer’s retirement plan and get all the matching you can from it. If you want a bigger emergency fund, by all means spend a few months building it up. I don’t think it’s necessary, but if it’s making you nervous, make yourself feel safe.

Q9: Bankruptcy and divorce
Under mounting debt pressure I was convinced to apply for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2003 with my now ex-husband. It was discharged in Dec. 2003 but I am still seeing some of those debts on my credit report. How long am I going to see those? Also, after the divorce I agreed to deed the house we bought back to my husband, we did the proper paperwork through the court in 2006. Now my ex-husband is in serious arrears with the mortgage on the house. The house is still being reported on my credit report. How do I fix this? I have the deed indicating the home is his, do I contact the loan company? I’m afraid I may have messed up somewhere and now I have this nearly repossessed home on my credit!

- Ellen

Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for ten years. I would expect that those debts, at this point, are having only a small impact on your credit score and they’ll disappear entirely in a couple of years. I wouldn’t sweat it.

If the 2006 mortgage appears on your credit report and the mortgage company reports that your name isn’t on the loan, you’re going to have to contact the credit agency and see why this is appearing. It shouldn’t be.

If you think that your name should not be on this mortgage and you can’t get any attention from the mortgage holder, it’s time to contact your lawyer. You need to be sure that your name is no longer on the mortgage or the title.

Q10: Saving or debt repayment?
As of this month (June 2011), my husband and I will have no more credit card debt. We’ve been paying $300 – $500 a month toward paying down our credit cards for the last 14 months.

We still have a car loan of $16,000 (at 8.5% APR) that was going to be the next target of our debt repayment effort, using the debt snowball idea to pay $580 toward that debt every month. After that, we have (combined) $45,000 in student loan debt. Hence my inclination not to accrue more student debt.

I am hoping to go back to school in January of 2012, to start a Masters in Accounting. If I attend the State University, and we start saving $500 a month next month (July 2011), and continue to save that amount every month I am in school (until June 2014), I will be able to graduate with my Master having accrued no further debt, but it would mean not paying any extra toward our car payment.

A possible solution I have read about (on your site and others) is to sell the car that we owe $16,000 and get a less expensive one. That idea is hampered by the fact that we’re about $2,000 underwater on the car loan and the fact that my husband has absolutely no interest in selling the car, no matter how much I try to convince him that it would be better for us financially in the long-run.

Given those variables, what would you suggest? Should I stop paying off our debt in order to keep from accruing more over the next two and a half years, or should I get a student loan (usually have a lower APR than 8.5%) and pay off the car loan? Or is the some other, better option?
- Megan

If I were you, I’d focus on getting rid of the car loan as fast as possible, then see what happens with regard to your education and the need for loans. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a paid-off car loan at that interest rate is definitely a bird in the hand.

This might result in you having to take out a small student loan when you go back to school, but your monthly cash flow will be far better without that loan and you should be able to keep the loan amount small and pay it off quickly.

There’s also the fact that you might not necessarily go back to school in January, in which case you’ll be glad that you have that car loan out of the way with minimal interest paid.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Peggy says:

    To #9 — I am not a lawyer, but as I understand it the names on the title to the house have nothing to do with the names on the mortgage.

    If you signed the mortgage contract, you are still obligated for the amount, even if you deeded the house back to your ex. A deed only transfers title; it doesn’t transfer the mortgage obligation.

    Talk to an attorney versed in real estate matters; I doubt the credit bureau can help you if your name’s still on the mortgage contract.

  2. Allie says:

    “You can’t just hop into the car and go out – it doesn’t work like that any more. Because of that, people often end up spending far less after the birth of a child”

    Trent, that only works if one was hopping into the car and going out a lot before the child’s birth. For people who already stay at home in the evenings before children, there is no savings – theoretical or actual – to be had by continuing to not go out after children.

  3. Tracy says:

    @Q3

    While I think Trent’s ideas are good, he is missed one of the major components of modern freelance work – an online presence. Create a website for yourself, find out what, if any, online networking sites relate to what exactly you want to do (there are several for marketing copywriting and design, I’m less sure how many exist if you’re more interested in campaigns but I wouldn’t be surprised) and heavily search the internet for opportunities (people even post on Craig’s List for freelance work)

  4. Michelle says:

    Q6, what’s “evaneglizing”?

  5. Matt says:

    Re Q4/Q5:

    I find it difficult to believe that you would be able to get a house for under $180k if you’re living in an area where your rent is over $2000/month (40% of a 63k salary). Seems to me that it’s more likely what’s available would be in the $250-300k+ range – which you could do, but only if you’re willing to maintain the housing expense and forget about the 15-year mortgage.

    Also – I’m surprised Trent didn’t mention this – homeowners insurance and taxes need to be added to the cost of a mortgage (and, if applicable, HOA fees – which can be very large!). Yes, you’ll get tax money back because of the interest payments – but you need to be able to afford to pay it first.

    Regarding the baby: Kids do add costs – you can minimize them, but they still to go to the doctor sometimes, they need diapers (cloth or disposable, both cost some money) they will increase the amount of food you need to buy (even if you breastfeed, because then YOU are eating more!), etc.
    Clothes, toys, and furniture – often touted as big expenses – have actually been among our lower expenses, since we’ve gotten so many things as gifts or really cheap at yard sales or consignment sales.

  6. Tracy says:

    @Q5

    @Erin

    The bankrate calculator will NOT give you the full story – it ONLY computes the principal and interest for various amounts, it doesn’t reflect what your actual mortgage payment will be.

    The more important thing to remember is the mortage principal and interest portion is only the BEGINNING of your interest payment. If you don’t put at least 20% down (which I dont’ see happening with the numbers you’ve already given us) you’re going to be paying PMI. And you’re going to have to find out the property taxes in your area. (Just as an example, I don’t have PMI, but only 2/3 of my mortgage payment is principal and interest, the other 1/3 goes to property taxes – if I had PMI, I would have another hundred or so on top every month)

    The other thing is, if inexpensive rent in your area is 40% of take home pay, I really doubt you’re going to be able to buy for 25% of take home pay, particularly once you had in property taxes. Now if you’re contrasting 40% net with 25-33% gross, it *might* be possible with the 33% gross figure. (Unless, of course, you find a house that is inexpensive because it needs a lot of work – and you’re both willing and able to do that work)

    Also, a 15 year mortgage is absolutely great but it makes it even more unlikely that you’ll find it at a low price.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    Q3 – I would take Trent’s statement farther – you MUST pound the pavement and market yourself. Join local professional or business associations, have good-looking professionally printed business cards readily available, etc. If you market yourself well (and #3 Tracy has a good point about the website), I, for one, would be more likely to trust you to market my business. If you are a reader, there are a lot of books at the library about entrepreneurship, marketing your home business, etc.

  8. Tracy says:

    @Q6

    Trent says, are you willing to drive some people away in order to convert a few. I say, are you willing to drive everyone away and most likely not convert ANYONE?

    Because that is most likely what will happen if you seem to be planning – speaking up and forcing your views about ethical eating on others. Because it IS a complex issue and many people will fundamentally disagree with you – and even those open will be turned off.

    It’s far more effective to just let it be known that you’re open to talking about why you feel what you feel and making it clear that it’s important to you, but that you don’t plan to force your beliefs on them. If that’s not possible, you’re better off just re-evaluating your social circle than trying to convert the people that are already there.

  9. Johanna says:

    Q6, Ben: That’s a really tough question, and good for you for thinking about it. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have thought about it a lot myself. So, for what it’s worth:

    First of all, keep the murder/rape/child abuse analogies to yourself. They do nothing but put people on the defensive, and they can be triggering for people whose lives have been affected by those crimes. That’s not an impression you want to make.

    Second, focus on the facts. Many people don’t realize just how bad life is for the animals that end up on their plate, and might not have a clear idea of what a veggie/vegan diet looks like. You can’t blame them for not acting on knowledge that they don’t have. So focus on getting that knowledge out there in a non-judgemental way. Use “I” statements, such as “When I learned how the animals are treated on factory farms, I decided that I couldn’t support that.” Don’t bring up the topic while people are eating, unless you’re directly asked – then it’s OK to answer.

    Finally, you could consider “evangelizing” to people with whom you don’t have pre-existing relationships. You could hand out leaflets on the street, if you’re comfortable with that (I’m not). You could get involved with campaigns that target specific businesses like supermarket chains (from your letter, it sounds like you’re in the UK – I think there’s a lot of this sort of thing going on there). Or you could be an outspoken commenter on internet sites like this one. :)

  10. Jessica says:

    #4: Look into doing something from home. Sell on ebay, become an Amazon affiliate, set up an Etsy shop if you are crafty, do freelance writing, watch another child, take in sewing, clean / companion to the elderly when your husband is home or even bring your baby with you– old people love babies.

  11. Johanna says:

    Re Q6: “from your letter, it sounds like you’re in the UK”

    I take this back. “Whilst” stuck out at me, but I missed “minimize” and “socialize.” So, I give up.

  12. Kim says:

    I’m noticing the same thing about the weather here in Maine. Crazy strong thunderstorms…with hail. As a general rule it doesn’t hail in Maine. We’ve been getting hail in my town on a weekly basis along with tornado warnings. It feels more like the weather I had when I lived in Illinois. Makes me think that the climate change folks are really on to something.

  13. Tracy says:

    Re: Q10

    Maybe this is just me, but it’s been nagging me for a while and so I thought I’d throw it out there – does it bug anybody else when people say they’re ‘underwater’ on a car?

    It feels like it’s only started recently (about when the mortgage crisis really hit so the term underwater was in the news a lot) and it just feels weird and wrong to me. The house value/mortgage/appreciation relationship is VERY different than the car value/loan/depreciation relationship.

  14. Kim says:

    Erin- Over at money saving mom, there has just been a lengthy discussion on how to bring in an extra $1000 a month from home. There are many very good ideas there. Way too many for me to restate. The blog is listed on Trent’s blog roll. What ever you decide to do, I would strongly advise giving yourself a good three months after your child born to get used to your new life as a mom before you take on any new challenges.

  15. Josh says:

    Q6: I don’t like how many animals are raised today and don’t buy from companies like that.

    I hunt and fish for as much as my meat as possible, and support farmers that I know raise their animals as humanely as possible. This is my choice and it does not make one of us right and the other wrong, we are both entitled to our own views, and can both be right.

  16. Johanna says:

    Q4/Q5: If your husband is the only one with income and you’re the only one with a credit score, I don’t think that’s going to work as far as getting a mortgage goes. I agree with the other commenters that you probably can’t afford to buy a home in your area right now anyway, but if you want to buy one at some point in the future, start planning ahead now: Your husband should get a credit card, start using it for small purchases, pay off the balance every month, and never let the balance rise above 20-30% of the credit limit.

  17. Brianne says:

    Q7 – You are very fortunate to be offered the Roth 401K. I would look quite closely at your investing options before deciding if you really need a separate Roth IRA. Some companies offer very good investing options.

  18. Eden says:

    Nitpicky point here about the Roth 401k. The employer match portion goes into a regular 401 when you contribute to a Roth 401k, NOT the Roth portion. Otherwise the advantage would be even greater (i.e. your employer would effectively be paying those taxes for you). I still use the Roth401k option for its other advantages.

  19. Sara A. says:

    Q6 – I have been a vegetarian/vegan for a total of 14 years now and I can tell you that “evangelizing” will bring you nothing but tears. It will not cause anyone to change their minds or their habits… just invite constant harassment from meat eaters. Save yourself the heartache… people do not care about animals unless they are “pets” and they do not care about doing the right thing. They just want to keep their heads in the sand and will get nasty to defend that ignorance.

  20. Lisa says:

    Regarding comment #15 Josh, I don’t think you are the type of person Ben is talking about. I think it’s great that you made the choice to get your food from non-factory sources. I think he’s most concerned about people who eat factory farmed animal products (which is the majority of non-vegans in the US).

    Just some advice for Ben (if you read this), please talk about this stuff if it’s relevant to the conversation. Maybe also talk about the other negatives of factory farming, because I know some people don’t care about animal cruelty if it’s livestock animals (only cats and dogs it seems). But if you bring it up all the time, unsolicited, you could end up not having any friends and your coworkers would probably avoid you if they can. Basically, people don’t want to be lectured about why they should change their eating habits. From my experience, most people don’t want to stop eating meat and non-factory farmed can be very difficult to find.

    Maybe you could join a group of people who share your passion and then use some of your free time to try to push for this cause. That way you’re not just suppressing the issue inside of you so that you’ll feel guilty about it.

  21. marta says:

    Q6: I don’t think it does a lot of good trying to convert people to most causes. They don’t like the implicit judgement and they will get defensive.

    I am a pescetarian, not a full fledged vegetarian. I live in a coastal area in a country with the highest fish consumption per capita in Europe, and you’d think people wouldn’t ask many questions when they learn I don’t eat meat. But they sometimes do, and I just say that I had been having a harder time conciliating my love of animals (I have pets) with the occasional meat consumption.
    And I leave it at that, I don’t comment on *their* dietary choices. It’s as Johanna said above, stick to “I” statements.

    There is something to be said about leading by example, though — I have noticed that my parents don’t eat as much meat as they did before, and I think that being exposed to alternative recipes (many people have no idea how to cook vegetarian/vegan) helped a lot.

  22. Monica says:

    Q6 – To me, evangelizing about the ethics of eating meat seems similar to evangenlizing about relgion, akin to telling someone that “you’re going to Hell if you haven’t been saved.” Regardless of how I feel about eating meat, that would be very offensive to me and would make me unlikely to listen to what you have to say.

    Have you considered starting a blog or website where you can post research you’ve found and share your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism? That might be a constructive way of spreading your viewpoint without being “in your face” about it.

    RE: #19 Sara A. – I disagree with your statement about people not caring about doing the “right” thing. Eating humanely-raised meat is expensive and not always easy to come by depending on your income and/or where you live.

  23. Sara A. says:

    @ #22 Monica – So if you don’t have access to humanely raised meat or you can’t afford it, wouldn’t the right thing be to eat vegetarian?

    See, this just backs up my argument… people don’t care. Their lifestyle and personal pleasure are more important than the suffering they cause. And those meat eaters will give all kinds of excuses and rationalizations to support what they want to do.

    If you can’t afford to eat humanely raised meat, maybe you can’t afford to eat meat at all. But no one wants to hear that and they will attack and harass anyone who says it.

  24. CMT says:

    Q7:

    This is at least the third time I’ve seen Trent cite $5500 as the Roth Ira contribution limit, which is incorrect.

    If you are under 50, the 2011 limit is $5000, and if you are 50 or over, the limit is increased to $6000. The extra grand is considered catch-up money.

  25. Tom says:

    Q5: Are you familiar with using formulas in Excel? Use the PV function to figure out the mortgage you want. you’ll type =PV(rate,nper,pmt)
    where:
    * rate is the current interest rate on a 15 year mortgage, divided by 180 months. From Trent’s example, you would type 3.75%/180
    * nper is number of payments, in your situation it is 180.
    * PMT is the amount you’d be comfortable paying for a mortgage. type it in as a negative number. again from Trent’s example -1300
    So putting it all together you would type in any cell,” =PV(3.75%/180,180,-1300) “and it would tell you $229k for your loan.
    In this equation, the 1300 only covers the mortgage payment, not the other things you will likely pay on a monthly basis like property tax, home insurance, and maybe other costs (PMI, HOA?). You can get a Good Faith Estimate from a mortgage company with an explanation of these additional costs. With that estimate, adjust the PMT number lower. Let’s say its $250/month for the other stuff, now your PMT should be -1050 (you’ll still pay 1300 a month, 1050 towards the loan, 250 to the other stuff), and the loan you can afford would be $185K, @ 15 years and 3.75% APY
    If any of that was unclear, use the Help in Excel. It is actually pretty well explained.

  26. Tracy says:

    @23 Sara

    The problem is, you see it as an excuse or a rationalization, they see it as a reason or an explanation. The fact that they don’t necessarily share the same values you do does not make their value system wrong.

  27. Amanda says:

    Q5, it’s not that easy. From experience it’d be nice if you could keep your mortgage payment plus insurance and taxes at 25%. The formula given to help you calculate this is not accurate. For example, to have an $800/month payment in our area around $500 goes to principal/interest, while $300 goes to taxes/insurance. Depending on how much you put down you could also have PMI.

  28. Katie says:

    See, this just backs up my argument… people don’t care. Their lifestyle and personal pleasure are more important than the suffering they cause. And those meat eaters will give all kinds of excuses and rationalizations to support what they want to do.

    I think this is also an illustration of what’s not effective, though. Yeah, people make compromises in their lives based on a sliding scale of how wrong they feel something is (if they feel it’s wrong at all) and how hard it is to avoid. I’d wager nobody lives a completely ideologically pure life, if only because certain values are bound to come into conflict with each other. But telling people that because they make those compromises, they don’t care about what’s right and wrong, you are going to make them defensive. And the reason you’re going to make them defensive is because they know it’s not true, they know they’re making compromises and virtually nobody has an easy time figuring out what compromises to make, and they’re not really interested in engaging with someone who they feel is going to attack them unless they’re a hundred percent perfect.

    Conversely, if you give people tools to change their calculation – e.g., if you educate them about factory farming so they have the knowledge to factor the full impacts of it into their decisions, or provide them with resources about vegetarian and vegan cooking so they know it’s feasible (and, in fact, often cheaper than eating a meat-based diet!), then you’re making a real difference without simply getting people’s entire rational defenses up. No, the end result may not be that they’re living a life you feel is 100% ethical, but you might have at least saved some animals from death or needless suffering as a result.

  29. Monica says:

    @ Sara A.

    Tracy (#26) summed up my thoughts perfectly:
    “The problem is, you see it as an excuse or a rationalization, they see it as a reason or an explanation. The fact that they don’t necessarily share the same values you do does not make their value system wrong.”

  30. Rap says:

    *They just want to keep their heads in the sand and will get nasty to defend that ignorance*

    Yes, this makes me want to listen to your views. ;)

    Speaking as a lacto-ovo vegatarian, who admittedly wavers at a steak on occasion, its the “if you can’t afford to eat humanely raised meat then you shouldn’t eat meat at all” attitude that rings bells. Sara A – I get it, you have strong beliefs – but all you do when you point that judgemental “only evil people who don’t care and are *ignorant* eat meat” attitude is convince people that vegatarians look down on non vegatarians and think they’re morally better. If you want to convince people to follow your new path, the best way to start is to not be insulting and abusive and “Eating meat is wrong and you’re ignorant if you don’t agree with me” leads to a lot of lonely dinners down at The Loving Hut.

  31. Des says:

    Q6 – This is something DH and I have struggled with. For your own emotional well-being, you need to accept that “you can’t win ‘em all”. Some people will listen, and will simply have a different moral standard. Those people are easy to deal with and respect. Most people (that I know, anyway) are not like that. Most people know that animals are not treated well, but just don’t want to think about it. I can respect someone who is willing to watch the horrible PETA videos yet still decides that eating meat is right for them. I cannot respect the people who say “I can’t watch those videos because then I would have to be a vegetarian.” Really? Its just illogical, and that is what bugs me.

    BUT – I have to consciously repress those “bothered” feelings because the fact is you WILL have to interact with those people. It will just make your life easier if you can stay calm about it, answer questions when asked, and be consistent in your own actions.

    You can get creative in your “evangelizing”, too. We offer to provide the meat for all our family gatherings so that we can source it in accordance with our values. Everyone is happy with that arrangement, since we are offering to cover the most expensive part of the meal. We raise our own chickens and offer the eggs to our friends that would otherwise buy them from stores. We try to go in with other families in purchasing whole cows once a year – it is cheaper per pound than the grocery store meat (YMMV) and I can research the supplier. Once my FIL really wanted me to watch this horrible right-wing video touting the end of the world, or somesuch. I agreed, if he would agree to watch my “Meet Your Meat” DVD. We were both happy with that arrangement.

    You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar…

  32. TLS says:

    It is interesting to read all of these comments on the vegetarian ‘evangelizing’. I personally think it is better for the earth for people to eat lower on the food chain. I also care a great deal about the health and welfare of animals.

    I was a vegetarian for nine years, in accordance with these beliefs. I did my research to make sure I was eating a healthy and balanced diet. However, due to my personal constitution, not eating meat for these years did not do me any favors, and led to a chronic health problem. I am now on a special diet (doctor prescribed) where I eat a lot of meat and eggs. I do my best to purchase humanely raised meat and eggs. However, there are times when I just buy what is at the grocery store.

    There are many reasons people eat meat or refrain from eating meat. A vegetarian diet does not work for everyone, and can occasionally be detrimental to one’s health. Maybe the person who asked the quesiton should think about this too, instead of just judging everyone who eats meat so harshly.

  33. mary m says:

    # 13 I think when people say they are underwater on their car it is just shorthand for “if I try to sell my car I would not get as much as I owe the bank for it.”

  34. Johanna says:

    @TLS: I agree that for some specific people, vegetarianism would be much, much more difficult than it is for others. I knew a man once who had multiple food allergies, and meat was one of the few things he could safely eat. I certainly don’t judge him at all for not being vegetarian.

    On the other hand, there are also people who try being vegetarian, eat nothing but salads and plain steamed vegetables for a while, end up feeling hungry and tired all the time (because they’re not getting anywhere near enough calories), and conclude (erroneously) that they need to eat meat in order to feel/be healthy. Often they’ll (erroneously) diagnose themselves with iron-deficiency anemia to boot.

    I don’t judge those people either, because it’s not (usually) their fault that they didn’t know what they were doing. But I do think they illustrate the need for vegetarians to talk more about some of the great vegetarian foods out there that can form the building blocks of a diet that’s perfectly healthy for most people.

  35. Andrew says:

    Sara–so you would restrict eating meat to people who make more than a certain arbitrarily-decided amount of money per year?

    Why stop there? Why not limit bearing children to those who will never need assistance of any kind? Why not limit health care to the upper 10% of the population?

    You are smug and elitist. People who are so absolutely certain that their way is the only way are the types that have been responsible throughout history for most wars and all religious intolerance. A fine club to belong to!

  36. Nick says:

    There’s a problem with Trent’s assumption for ING Direct’s future with Capital One. As far as the press release goes, ING is only granting Capital One the use of the ING Direct name for one year. After that, ING Direct goes bye-bye and is (presumably) subsumed under the Capital One banner.

  37. Steve says:

    Our expenses did NOT go down when we had a baby. We go out about as often as we used to. (Which is to say, out to eat once a week or so, out to bars never, out to movies only when we get free tickets, out to e.g. broadway shows less than once a year.) We did skip one of our semi-annual vacations, but the delievery costs more than made up for that. My wife stopped working during her summers off and we have to pay for day care during the school year. So nothing went down and some things went up. On top of that we are considering moving to a bigger place. Maybe at first a child is break even, but sooner or later the costs are going to be a little more than what you were previously spending on nights on the town.

  38. Lisa says:

    @Des #31
    I agree with you. I have known several people who did not want it talked about that meat comes from animals, because then otherwise they wouldn’t want to eat it. Or what is actually in hot dogs, scrapple or gelatin. I loved in anatomy class when we had to cut open animals, and meat eaters would freak out. Or when our professor pithed frogs for use in class and invited us to come watch his technique and people freaked out about that. I’m also amused by people who are against hunting (especially deer, which we have tons of around here) because they think it’s cruel, but then they eat meat.

  39. Becky says:

    Seems to me that “factory” vegetable farms are not all that kind to animals either. When it comes to protecting their crops, a.k.a. their bottom lines, trapping, shooting, and poisoning animals are all methods employed (deer, raccoons, bears, rabbits, etc.). Farmers are given free range to kill “nuisance” animals and not required to meet license or game count limits. No matter what you eat, animals are dying for your food.

  40. #4: I know it looks daunting, but things usually end up working out when you have a baby. What were you doing at the church? Ask church members if they have any recommendations for places to work if that’s what you want to do.

  41. Telephus44 says:

    #37 Steven – right on! When our son was born, we probably ate out more for the first 6 months or so, we were both exhausted and takeout seemed a lot easier than shopping and cooking, especially when you’re still sleep deprived.

    Also, I think the biggest costs of children are lost opportunities – loss of salary, 401K contributions, work history for SS, etc. And those are tough to quantify.

  42. Johanna says:

    @Becky: Yes, and I step on bugs when I walk down the street. And birds eat worms in the wild. And we have to kill the deer, or else they’d die. I’ve heard it all before. :)

    First of all, many more animals are dying for your food if you eat animals than if you eat vegetables. There was a paper published a while back (that keeps popping up every now and then) that claims to prove otherwise, but it’s BS.

    Second, this is why I think it’s important to focus less on the animal deaths and more on the suffering inflicted on them while they’re alive. The hapless rabbit that wanders into Mr. MacGregor’s garden may be in for an untimely death, but at least it didn’t have to spend its life in a cage the size of a shoebox. (Not to mention that when you focus on deaths, you get into some pretty thorny philosophical questions, since in the case of farmed animals, the alternative to killing them is not allowing them to be born in the first place.)

  43. valleycat1 says:

    Q10 – I’m not sure I am understanding your proposal once the CC debts are paid off. Do you have an emergency fund in place? Is that why you are asking whether to save vs. paying off the car? Or are you saying the $500/month will pay for school without taking out a loan?

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea to work on paying off the car early, but:

    1) the $500 available to you per month isn’t a single lump sum, so you could split it to put some in savings (or toward school) and some toward the car loan.

    2) If your remaining car loan is more than what you can get for the car, you most likely will owe the $2K balance when you sell it.

    3) Given the recent rise in prices for used cars, it might be better for you to hang onto the car for the time being. (see Q 2)

  44. Lindsay says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for almost a year and a half and I’ve made a point of not ever bringing the subject up unless I’m asked. Surprisingly, though, I think almost everyone I know has discovered it on their own. Usually their initial response is to tease me for some reason, but when I keep quiet about it or joke back that I’m not asking them to eat what I’m eating, they seem to take it in stride.

    Then, eventually, sometimes weeks or months later and generally when there aren’t many people eating with us, they’ll cave. They’ll want to know why. For me, it has more to do with the use of water and grain resources to produce meat that could otherwise have produced sustenance for people dying of hunger than it does for animal rights, but the way I phrase it has been pretty effective at planting seeds:

    “Well, when I found out about [fact- and/or data-based reason], I sat with it for awhile, but just couldn’t get it out of my head. I finally decided I didn’t like meat enough to justify being responsible for [negative effect of reason]. That’s just me, though. I wasn’t much of a meat-eater in the first place. Plus, at this point, it’s been so long since I tried to digest the proteins in meat that it makes me really sick if I eat something with meat in it by accident. I’ve found I don’t actually miss it.”

  45. Monica says:

    #44 Lindsay offers a reasoned approach for discussing vegetarianism with others. I would likely listen with interest to what she has to say, as she would be presenting facts and reasons in a non-judgemental way. I would have an open mind.

    I would not listen to someone like Sara A., no matter how sound her research and reasons, due to perceived judgement that I must be a bad and ignorant person because I eat meat. I would have a very closed mind going into that conversation.

    Thus … agreeing with what many others have said today that you get more bees with vinegar than honey. And, when you put someone on the defensive they probably won’t listen to you.

  46. Monica says:

    err … more bees with honey than vinegar … it’s after 5 p.m. and it’s been a busy day :)

  47. em says:

    To #44 Johanna “First of all, many more animals are dying for your food if you eat animals than if you eat vegetables. There was a paper published a while back (that keeps popping up every now and then) that claims to prove otherwise, but it’s BS.”

    This argument is ridiculous because it shouldn’t be the number of animals killed that counts. It should be the fact that animals are killed at all. So to try to dismiss that animals are killed by vegetable farmers because its not as many as are killed for their meat seems illogical. Your other point is a good argument though.

    I only mention that because putting a sound argument after an unsound one made the sound one less sound (if that makes sense.) Just something for everyone to think about while trying to get your point across

  48. em says:

    opps # 42 sorry

  49. kristine says:

    Q%- poor answer. You need to factor in the taxes and mortgage insurance if needed. And homeowner’s insurance too if you can.

    There are about a million better calculators if you do the most cursory google search.

  50. Johanna says:

    @em: “This argument is ridiculous because it shouldn’t be the number of animals killed that counts. It should be the fact that animals are killed at all.”

    I completely and totally disagree. As Becky said, no matter what you eat, some animals are going to be killed in the process of getting that food to your plate – “the fact that animals are killed at all” is a given, and there’s no getting around it. Given that, why shouldn’t we consider how to minimize the number of animals we’re harming? I mean, what would you have us do instead? Stop eating?

  51. Johanna says:

    (I just want to say a quick thanks to my fellow commenters for some really interesting and enjoyable discussion these last couple of days. When I’ve seen this topic discussed elsewhere, it so often devolves into nastiness so quickly. I don’t know what it is about this site that draws such intelligent, articulate, and (mostly) good-natured people, but whatever it is, I’m glad it does.)

  52. em says:

    @Johanna: “the fact that animals are killed at all” is a given, and there’s no getting around it.

    Of course you can get around that. Animals don’t have to get killed, at least not intentionally. You could find a farmer who does not kill the creatures trying to consume his crop and instead either 1. lets them continue to eat the crop or 2. catch them and remove them. If you are doing that then of course you can make the original argument that the number killed is a factor. If you aren’t doing that then your argument is unsound in my opinion.

    I second your thanks for the interesting and enjoyable discussion.

  53. Steve says:

    @em 52 Remove them to where? Someone else’s field? So they can starve to death? Let them eat, so they can breed more and more offspring, until eventually some of them starve to death?

    It seems to me that starting with the axiom killing animals is bad, then by definition killing fewer animals is better than killing more.

  54. em says:

    @Steve: I don’t think its wrong to kill animals. I’m just making a point that there are reasons her argument was unsound in my eyes. And to me making the assumption that this animal might starve so let me kill it before it can starve or can produce offspring that might starve is not something someone who cares about animals should do. Of course if an animal is starving already it is more humane to kill it then let it starve. but to kill it because it MIGHT starve is unhumane.

  55. lurker carl says:

    If I remember my biology correctly, all animals die. Death in the wild tends to be just as inhumane as death at the hand of man. Life in the wild isn’t nearly as tranquil as Walt Disney would have us believe.

    Many fruits and vegetables raise throughout the world are the result of inhumane treatment of humans, adult and children alike. The E. coli outbreaks from eating raw vegetables come directly from the grower’s field, a natural byproduct of the gifts deposited on the fields by agricultural workers. Beware that some rather nasty parasites are spread by the same mechanism.

    Perhaps it would be best to avoid eating all together. No one would ever hear tortured screams from fish or broccoli ever again.

  56. Julie says:

    I agree with you Lurker Carl. It is only in recent history that we have elevated animals to the same status as mankind. The “humanization” of animals is a trend that sometimes I find humorous and sometimes I find scary. That someone could equate the killing of an animal for food to the murder of a child is completely ridiculous. If your philosophy of not eating meat is mainly due to what you consider to be abusive practices, I can understand that somewhat. However if you believe it is wrong to eat an animal…period…because they remind you of your pet, you would not have survived long in virtually most of the recorded history of mankind on this planet.

  57. Johanna says:

    @Julie: Who here is elevating animals to the same status as humankind, equating the killing of an animal for food with the murder of a child, or saying that it’s wrong to eat an animal, period, because they remind you of your pet? I don’t see where anyone is doing that. (When marta mentioned her pets, it sounded like she was saying that *she* personally was uncomfortable eating meat because of her pets, not that she was saying that nobody should eat meat for that reason.)

  58. Julie says:

    Katie #28,

    What an exceptional post!

  59. Julie says:

    I am aware of people that believe killing an animal is murder…period.

  60. Johanna says:

    So am I. I am aware of people who believe a lot of absurd things. I’m not sure what they have to do, though, with the grown-up discussion that the rest of us are having.

  61. Julie says:

    Johanna,

    In fact I would go so far as to say that quite a few of the younger vegetarians that I have met have very poor reasoning as to why they are vegetarians. Many will simply state that they believe it is wrong to kill animals. I will agree that many of the posters above gave very good reasons as to why they are vegetarians. However I can’t help but wonder if they too believe that killing animals at all is morally wrong since they tend to adopt an all or nothing veiwpoint. Why don’t more of them just opt to purchase their meat from sources that don’t treat animals inhumanely?

  62. em says:

    Julie,

    I would agree with you that I’ve noticed younger vegetarians not having good reasoning behind it, but that can be said for most of what young people believe in. Whatever the cause is, it is more likely that a young person will pick it up because its a fad or they have friends that believe in the cause. Many will eventually stray from it but others will realize they don’t actually know why they believe what they believe and will work to educate themselves on the matter. I know thats how I was when I was younger when it came to being prolife.

  63. Julie says:

    #62,

    Not exactly sure what your last comment meant, but the older I get the more pro-life I become. It is almost impossible for me to fathom how anyone could be concerned about how a chicken is treated but have no concern for an unborn human child. But we can leave that topic for another day.

  64. Julie says:

    And to add to my comment above, most (actually I believe all) of the vegetarians that I know that are more mature and are able to clearly articulate their viewpoints regarding the inhumane treatment of animals are also pro abortion. I am not sure if this is the prevailing veiwpoint or if it is limited to the dozen or so that I know.

  65. marta says:

    #57

    Johanna, that was a simplistic reasoning on my part, since there are other factors involved, such as the awfulness of factory farming… and well, it was easy for me to just stop eating meat since I was never a big carnivore. But I don’t like evangelising so yeah, I am not telling people to stop eating meat for these (or any) reasons. I find it easier just to show that it is possible to eat less meat and that vegetarian/vegan recipes don’t have to be boring.

    #63,64

    Julie, maybe it would be better not to bring up that topic in a discussion about vegetarianism… I could explain why being both pro-choice and a vegetarian concerned about the welfare of animals aren’t really mutually exclusive, but I feel it would be both a thread derail and that I’d be wasting my time here.

  66. Julie says:

    Marta,

    I didn’t bring up the topic, #62 did. But the more I think about it, these topics really do go hand in hand and the subject of abortion should have been brought up at the beginning of the posts, not at the end. And it is too bad it was brought up by someone that appears to be pro-abortion, and not a pro-life poster.

    I don’t agree with much of anything that Maya Keyes (the daughter of the Republican presidential hopeful a few years ago) has to say but I do respect the fact that she has properly denounced abortion along with her condemnation of inhuman treatment of animals. Personally I believe that all of the posters above who are championing animal rights would get much further with their cause if they incorporated a pro-life stance into their worldview. I can tell you I personally could become supportive of both causes when combined. But I refuse to be morally condemned nor will I even listen to an animal rights activist who thinks it is morally wrong to treat a chicken inhumanely but believes there is nothing morally wrong with torturing an unborn child by murdering them with a saline solution or a D&C.

  67. kristine says:

    I have never, in my life, ever met anyone who was pro-abortion, but I have met many people who are pro-choice. There is a big difference, and it is not just semantics. The former is meant to portray large sections of our population as inhumane, because they have an opposing opinion on a highly charged and widely debated issue.

    I do not think this blog is the appropriate venue for that debate, AT ALL, but I felt compelled to point out that we should all avoid labeling people with negative generalizations, in the guise of open discussion. Posturing undermines worthwhile communication.

  68. marta says:

    Ditto what Kristine said.

  69. Julie says:

    Kristine,

    Just curious why this blog isn’t the proper venue for “that debate” and why now everyone wants to change the subject. I have seen virtually every other controversial topic discussed here (most started as tangents) and nobody ever holds back. I can’t help but wonder if the reason nobody is really addressing my comment is that there really isn’t a valid argument for defending the life of a chicken but not the life of a baby over the “choice” of the mother.

    My apologies if my use of terminology offended anyone. That truly was NOT my intent. For me it really was just semantics and my poor choice of words doesn’t negate my comments.

  70. Andrea says:

    Very interesting discussion today! #28 – I agree with you about hunting. Many people can be quick to judge hunting as a “cruel” practice. However, as predators have been largely removed from most populated areas, hunting is actually the best thing that could happen to many species, especially whitetail deer. I’m from Wisconsin, and in the the 1950′s (if my memory serves me, it could be slightly earlier) the deer population was out of control in the state, as hunting laws protected does. This led to overpopulation, which actually causes more suffering for the animals. Rather than having the population culled to an acceptable level each year, too many deer made it to winter, and there simply wasn’t enough food to go around. This led to many of the animals suffering long, painful deaths while they starved. I’ve watched a video from this time period where people studying the herd would find the bodies of deer and carry them out of the woods like pieces of cardboard. This is why hunting, especially with so few natural predators, is actually really important when it comes to maintaining a healthy, sustainable herd, especially if the hunting is conducted carefully and cruelty free. I’m not a hunter in any way, but I definitely find it beneficial.

  71. prodgod says:

    In my experience as a vegan for the past 8.5 years, I have found evangelism unnecessary, fortunately. More often than not, once the playful teasing subsides, I’ve found most people have at least a mild curiosity about vegetarianism and this is where the opportunity to spread the word in a positive manner begins. Of course, there are the usual questions, such as: “Where do you get your protein?” and “How could you give up cheese?” and “What DO you eat?” etc. It’s also validating when someone who once derided my decision later contacts me for advice on making healthy lifestyle adjustments. I almost forgot the biggest question people ask me about my choice to be vegan: “WHY? For moral reasons or for health reasons?” My answer is both – primarily for health, but animal welfare is a close secondary reason. I try to respectfully explain that in my quest to show as compassion to all living beings as possible, one of the best ways I feel I can achieve that goal is by not eating any. I’m very careful to paint it as a personal choice that works for me. I’d much rather have people walk away from our conversation thinking I’m a little odd, as opposed to thinking I’m obnoxiously sanctimonious.

  72. David says:

    >Q6, what’s “evaneglizing”?

    From the French “évanouir” (to faint) and “église” (a church), to “evaneglize” is to fall asleep during the sermon.

  73. Julie says:

    Johanna,

    My intent is not to pick on poster #71 because I particularly respect his approach and he/she is free to have his opinions. However what prodgod stated tends to be what I hear from most vegetarians. They give his same two answers, with one being that they don’t believe in the “taking of a life”(murder.) I am not sure what other conclusion I can come to except that they morally equate taking a human life with the taking of an animal life. Does this mean that you consider what #71 wrote to be absurd and not “grown up?”

    This also goes back to the point I made in comment #56 regarding the fact that the veiwpoint held by poster #71 would have been incompatible with human life on earth for the first 5,000 years of our history. Vegetarianism is a fairly recent trend which is currently politically correct in the US and a few other parts of the world and possibly makes sense if you are protesting animal cruelty. However it doesn’t make sense in many other parts of the world and you will starve to death if you don’t take the life of an animal. Thus could it possibly be “morally wrong” for a human to take the life of an animal…or is it just wrong for some?

  74. Mark Gavagan says:

    RE: #15, how Josh eating humanely and sustainably raised food is his “choice and it does not make one of us right and the other wrong, we are both entitled to our own views, and can both be right.”

    While people are entitled to their own views in matters of opinion, most people are completely ignorant of the underlying facts of how truly horrifyingly and inhumanely the cheap food they buy is treated, so they have no informed basis for their opinion.

  75. Mark Gavagan says:

    Q6 – Instead of actively evangelizing, I find the topic arises “organically” (get it?) at shared meals (e.g., someone asking “Why don’t you want a burger?”) and it’s easy to respond with a very short and respectful explanation and suggest or even offer to lend the person an enlightening book like “Fast Food Nation” or a movie like “Food, Inc.”

  76. Kevin says:

    I eat meat. Our bodies evolved to eat meat. The way we treat meat is far, far more humane than the way nature treats it. We kill them quickly and humanely, and use every ounce of the carcass. Animals toy with their kills, and waste an enormous percentage of the body.

    I always laugh at people who try to gross others out about hot dogs and sausages. “Don’t you know what you’re eating? You’re eating cow penis and pig brain!” Um…. so what? There are nutrients in those parts. Would you have me waste those parts of the animal? Why? Because it’s “gross?” It’s “icky?” Get over yourself. I’d rather use every last ounce of the animal and know it death was worthwhile and appreciated, than throw half it away because of some irrational hangup about what is and isn’t “gross.”

  77. Kevin says:

    Oh, and meat is a completely renewable resource. Oil is not. How many of you vegetarians ride bikes everywhere, and how many own cars that burn a dwindling supply of oil (which comes from, ironically dead animals)?

    Thought so.

  78. Riki says:

    In general, the idea that there could be a comparison between the debates over abortion and vegetarianism via animal cruelty is a little bit ridiculous to me.

    Abortion is an incredibly complex issue that amounts to a hell of a lot more than just “torturing innocent babies”. For the record, generally the pro-choice argument is about providing options to women when they need them the most. The fact that we are called “pro-abortion” by the pro-lifers usually indicates that not only do they have their heads buried in the sand regarding the realities of unwanted pregnancies and the reasons a woman might choose to terminate, but they also willfully choose to be ignorant of the real reasoning behind the pro-choice argument.

    Julie — can you not see how somebody could firmly support the rights of a mother to decide what is right for herself while at the same time choosing a vegetarian diet because they don’t want animals to suffer in factory farms? Guess what . . . life is tough and we have to make difficult choices. You’re naive if you think otherwise.

  79. prodgod says:

    @Kevin: Since you asked, I ride my bike most everywhere and rarely use the car. If not for my family, I would not even own one. Not making a judgment of any kind and I’m not trying to sound self-righteous, just answering your question. And getting back to the issue of meat, I personally feel there is overwhelming medical evidence to justify eating less of it, although I sincerely applaud your comments about not wasting any parts of the animal; I think that’s a commendable attitude. Make no mistake, if it came down to survival and I HAD to eat meat, I would. Luckily, most of us have the luxury of being able to choose otherwise and after careful consideration, I do.

  80. Genny says:

    I once attended a philosophy class where the young graduate assistant bemoaned the on-campus presence of a pro-life bus that showed graphic pictures of aborted infants. He stated that he felt the bus display played on human emotions. I kid you not, several weeks later, he brought it pictures of factory farmed animals and talked about his reasons for being vegetarian. He saw absolutely no hypocrisy in his actions. I feel he was being hypocritical. Also, I will paraphrase a previous poster and state that “people do not care about infants unless they are born at the right time, place, of the right race and socieconomic status and they do not care about doing the right thing. They just want to keep their heads in the sand and will get nasty to defend that ignorance.”

  81. valleycat1 says:

    #72 David – Thanks!

    And, if the abortion debate isn’t appropriate for this blog, why is vegetarianism an ok topic?

  82. Johanna says:

    @Julie: “Why don’t more of them just opt to purchase their meat from sources that don’t treat animals inhumanely?”

    Have you tried to do this? It’s actually not easy, especially if you lack the opportunity to raise your own animals for food or form close, trusting relationships with people who do. If, like most people in rich countries, you buy your food at a grocery store, you’ll find yourself faced with a sea of nice-sounding labels that don’t mean very much at all. Some of them (like “cage-free chicken”) mean absolutely nothing (since chickens raised for their meat aren’t kept in cages normally – they’re kept in large, crowded sheds), and others (like “cage-free eggs”) represent conditions that (in my opinion) are a step in the right direction, but are still only slightly less inhumane than the standard practice.

    I’m not opposed, in principle, to the raising of animals for food under truly humane conditions. And I have nothing but respect for people who make every effort to eat meat only when it’s been produced under such conditions. But for me personally, my choice is to avoid meat entirely, because I just think it’s easier. And yes, it’s an “all or nothing” thing, because after eight and a half years of not eating meat on purpose, I just don’t find it appetizing anymore.

    I hope that answers your question.

  83. Johanna says:

    @Julie on abortion: As I understand it, the vast majority of aborted fetuses do not have sufficiently well-developed nervous systems to process pain. (The vast majority of slaughtered chickens, on the other hand, do.) So “torture” would not be an appropriate word to use in this context.

    And as others have said, to talk about abortion as if it were only about the interests of the fetus, disregarding the interests of the pregnant woman completely, is to grossly distort the issue. I am pro-choice because I think people have the right to bodily autonomy. I also don’t think people should be legally compelled to donate their blood, bone marrow, kidneys, or other body parts.

    @Genny: Along the same lines as the above, those “graphic pictures of aborted infants” are not representative of the vast majority of terminated pregnancies. On the other hand, as I understand it, most factory farm pictures are pretty typical of how most animals are actually raised. So that could be a reason for opposing one but not the other.

    @Kevin: Love the straw man arguments! Keep em coming!

  84. Jonathan says:

    I applaud the fact that Ben (Q6) believes so strongly in his cause that he is asking such questions. Too many people hold a belief, yet are afraid to take social risks to actually support that belief.

    I have read many meat-eater vs non-meat-eater debates over the past several years. I find that there are people on both sides of the topic that tend to be negative and like to attack the other side. I’ve also seen that people on both sides of the topic can have logical arguments and be respectful to each other in the discussions. I find myself agreeing with the non-meat-eater argument more often than not. For the record, I am a meat-eater. I am also an animal lover, who understands the conflict between those two things.

    While on the topic of seeming conflict, I’ll respond to Julie’s desire to discuss abortion. I am pro-life and pro-choice. Some people find it hard to understand how one can hold both views, but its very natural to me. I do not support abortion, but I do support an individuals right to choose. I do not support child abuse in any way. Likewise I do not support animal abuse, even though my diet does support an industry that we all know contributes to abuse and mistreatment of animals. I suppose you could say that intellectually I do not support animal abuse, but have not yet changed my actions to back up that belief.

  85. Johanna says:

    Re the “If you’d tried to be a vegetarian 5000 years ago, you would have starved” line, brought up by a couple of different people: Maybe so (although I question how accurate a notion we really have of what life was actually like 5000 years ago). Also, if I’d tried to make a living as a science writer 5000 years ago, I would probably have starved. We have all kinds of options for how we live our lives that were not available to people 5000 years ago, and for that, I am grateful.

  86. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: “I do not support abortion, but I do support an individuals right to choose.”

    I’d say that this makes you pro-choice, full stop. If you support women’s legal right to make their own choices in this matter, regardless of what choice you’d personally prefer that they make, that’s pretty much the definition of pro-choice.

  87. em says:

    @ Julie

    I was referring to the fact that I’ve always been prolife however as a teen/young adult I didn’t know everything about it and my only argument for it was killing is wrong. I was comparing that to your comment about young vegetarians not actually having a good reason for why they are. I was comparing the 2 at all in that comment just using a personal example on how when your younger you may believe something for the wrong reasons or believe it without fully knowing why. I only did this since you criticized younger vegetarian for not having good reasoning behind.

    I do completely agree with you that to care about the treatment of an animal while disregarding a human beings life is unfathomable.

  88. Johanna says:

    @em: Do you believe that a person should be legally required to donate one of his kidneys if it’s necessary to save the life of someone whose kidneys have failed? If not, why don’t you care about the lives of kidney-disease patients?

  89. kristine says:

    Johanna- excellent definition!

    Interestingly, I see the flip side of the abortion/ vegetarian debate.

    The food chain is natural, and to me, sacred, spiritual, and if there is a god: he/she created it. It is the product of millions of years of evolution, and since we have flesh-tearing teeth, eating only veg seems contrary to the natural order of things, and a denial of our natural state. You can make an argument about evolving out of it via intelligence, but I am not buying it- here’s why.

    Human beings are as a species are overpopulating. But since we have no one higher on the food chain…and no hunting season on us, there is no check, and we consume amounts of food and calories that cannot forever be arrived at in an untampered ecological footprint. (Perhaps aggression, war, and food allergies are our check?)

    That said- I eat free range chicken eggs.

    I prefer the native American way- hunting is fine if you use every single bit of the animal, and only kill as necessary to survive. Do I hunt? No. But I sat through fast food nation, and buy as much free range as I can reasonably afford. When I go rural I will hunt, with connection, respect and solemnity, to and for the animals I eat and use.

    The most logical argument for vegetarianism I have ever heard was in my world ecology class- that it takes 10 lb of veg to produce 1lb of meat.

  90. kristine says:

    Hmmm.. need to clarify- the flip side I refer to is being confounded that someone can be pro-life and vegetarian at the same time.

    Wanting to uphold the natural and spiritual order of things would, to me, translate into be omnivorous.

    But I do see and respect the anti-suffering angle. But again, on the veg front- being shot, as hunted animals are, is a helluva lot better than starving to death.

  91. Riki says:

    kristine,

    You make an excellent point about the amount of resources required to produce meat for food. It is an environmentally taxing system when done on a very large scale.

    Vegetarianism is itself a very complicated topic that touches on human health, evolutionary factors, environmental factors, social concerns, emotional concerns . . . In the end it is much more than just “killing animals is bad!” Reducing a complex argument to such a black and white perspective disguises a lot of important-but-subtle factors into the decision to eat meat or eat a vegetarian diet.

  92. Johanna says:

    @kristine: Thank you. I’ll also point out that by that definition, I’m also “pro-choice” with regard to diet, since I don’t think anyone should be legally compelled to be vegetarian (or to be non-vegetarian).

    And I’m sure you realize that there’s a whole lot of stuff in the modern world that’s at least as “contrary to the natural order of things” as vegetarianism is.

  93. kristine says:

    Yes, Riki, it is complicated.

    And this is why it is best left to individual conscience, and the faith that people will “dig deep” and make decisions that leave them with spiritual peace. On both debates, actually.

  94. kristine says:

    Johanna,

    No kidding!

    From my rubber-soled sneakers, to the bananas on my table in the northeast, to the dead dinosaurs in my tank, and the conversations being held by hitting symbols and staring at a lighted screen…we’ve come so far, and it’s always double-edged sword.

    Sometimes I long for Amish simplicity. But I don’t think I could stand the gender restrictions.

  95. Jonathan says:

    @Kristine (#80) “Human beings are as a species are overpopulating. But since we have no one higher on the food chain…and no hunting season on us, there is no check, and we consume amounts of food and calories that cannot forever be arrived at in an untampered ecological footprint. (Perhaps aggression, war, and food allergies are our check?)”

    I would argue that human beings have not always been on the top of the food chain. That, I believe, is a relatively recent development (by recent I mean a few thousand years). I would also argue that even today we are only able to at the top of the food chain because of technology. Take away our weapons, transportation, and other technology that give us this feeling of superiority and I think you’d find that there would be several animals above us on the food chain. My point is that the very fact that we are at the top of the food chain is unnatural.

  96. kristine says:

    Jonathan-interesting! I am going to give this some thought time.

  97. Nancy says:

    My husband raised hogs for 32 years. First, as all his neighbors did, a few hundred at a time, farrow to finish in small buildings or outside. Then, to not spend as much time farrowing, (we hadn’t taken a vacation in 25 years) he got bigger, but only in a larger building, open-ended, allowing purchased small pigs to congregate and socialize and sleep in straw. He was the only one to do this for miles. Everyone else raised pigs for large corporations in pit operations. My husband sold his pigs by himself, without corporate intervention. Most of his meat was exported to Japan at a MUCH higher price.

    He quit raising pigs because he couldn’t find a source of small pigs raised “the old fashioned way”. What caused this? The consumer wants cheap food. Factory farming has evolved over the 32 years we have farmed. We just had a neighbor build 4 factory farm hog buildings for 2 million dollars.

    We raise a few pigs for friends. We have free range chickens and eggs, and a large garden. Yes, we do eat meat. We eat what we produce and know that our previous style of farming is now officially dead.

  98. lurker carl says:

    The old style is now called hobby farming. Some are very profitable in niche markets but most are actually hobbies or a method to reduce taxes via land usage and zoning.

  99. Gretchen says:

    #82: where to buy un factory farmered meat: farmer’s markets. We are lucky to have any options of those around here (I understand a lot of people don’t).

    It’s very expensive :) so we eat less less. I strongly belive, however, in keeping these smaller farmers employed.

  100. Johanna says:

    @Gretchen: I’m a big fan of farmers’ markets too. That’s where I buy most of my vegetables. :)

    However, I don’t think it’s safe to assume that a product (meat or vegetable) was produced under any particular standards (humane, organic, etc.), just because it’s being sold at a farmers’ market. Some of the markets in my area are not even “producer only” – they often sell produce that’s out of season (or not native to this area at all) that has obviously been trucked in from who-knows-where.

    The good news is (at the producer-only markets), you can talk to the vendors and ask them questions about how they produce their wares. The bad news is, you probably have to (if that’s something that’s important to you).

  101. em says:

    @Johanna: “Along the same lines as the above, those “graphic pictures of aborted infants” are not representative of the vast majority of terminated pregnancies.”

    Most of the graphic photos are from 8 weeks on, so the vast majority of terminated pregnancies are represented in them. And of course I care about about kidney diseased patients and if I knew one I would do everything I could to find them a diaper. But an ill person who may die if they don’t get your kidney is very different than an infant who WILL die if their mother wants to KILL them.

  102. kristine says:

    “But an ill person who may die if they don’t get your kidney is very different than an infant who WILL die if their mother wants to KILL them.”

    Some mothers WILL die from carrying- ectopic pregnancies, premature placenta-previa. etc. Preventable. I have never met a pregnant woman/girl who WANTED to kill an infant.

    It depends on when you think the the fetus is alive as a separate entity. That, I believe is, at the heart of the disparity.

  103. prodgod says:

    #102: “It depends on when you think the the fetus is alive as a separate entity. That, I believe is, at the heart of the disparity.”

    Bingo, Kristine.

  104. CMT says:

    I am going to assume (fervently hope) that “diaper” in 101 is an autocorrect of a typo for “donor”, and not a misguided attempt at humor.

  105. Johanna says:

    kristine and prodgod: I disagree that that is the heart of the disparity, and I think that framing it that way is conceding far too much ground to the anti-choice camp. I think there’s a case to be made that women should be allowed control over their own reproductive choices even if “the fetus is alive as a separate entity.”

    Here is an explanation I heard once that I think makes a lot of sense:

    (Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.)

    If somebody puts an appendage or other object inside another person, even for a second, without that other person’s consent, that’s rape, and it’s a very serious crime, because we as a society consider bodily autonomy to be an important right. (Note: I know that in a lot of cases in practice, rape is not treated nearly as seriously as it should be, and that’s problematic, and I don’t really want to get into a discussion of that here. Hopefully, though, we can all agree that in principle, it’s a serious crime.)

    In the case of unwanted pregnancy, it’s not just an appendage, but a whole other person (if you want to call it that), and it’s not just for a second, but for nine months. I know that the parallel is not exact, and I certainly don’t want to equate the fetus with a rapist, but the principle of bodily autonomy is the same.

    So to me, “My body, my choice” doesn’t mean “The fetus is just another part of my body, so I can do whatever I want with it” – rather, it means “I have the right not to have anyone else’s body inside my body unless I want for it to be there.”

  106. Gretchen says:

    Every market I go to is grower/producer only.

    I’ve been to some of the farms and I know what happens in the whole process.

    You can know what meat is and still want to eat it.

  107. em says:

    @kristine and prodgod: Johanna is right, that isn’t the heart of the disparity. The popular consensus among prolife and prochoice alike is that “the fetus is alive as a separate entity” as Johanna says. People who argue that it isn’t as a defense for prochoice are behind on their research of the discussion and should do some deep soul searching to decide whether they are actually care about their supposed belief. That being said…

    Johanna: You give the woman the choice to kill a living being because she doesn’t want it in her body yet disregard the fetuses choice to survive. The fetus somehow gets stuck chanting “my body, no choice,” since of course the fetus can’t say, “don’t poke that instrument into or on MY body.” Just because its not another body being forced upon the fetus its ok?

  108. em says:

    @CMT: completely a slip, no joke intended. I was having a convo about cloth diapers as i was typing so I must have typed what i was saying.

  109. em says:

    @kristine: “Some mothers WILL die from carrying- ectopic pregnancies, premature placenta-previa. etc. Preventable. I have never met a pregnant woman/girl who WANTED to kill an infant”

    don’t give everyone the right to kill a fetus because some will die, rather give those who will die if they don’t have one the choice to choose abortion (thats a start.) Those reasons for abortions are not the main reason women have them. then you haven’t met many pregnant women who have had an abortion. having an abortion because you will die if you don’t is one thing. Having an abortion cause you don’t want a baby and couldn’t bare to give it up for adoption if you did have it is another thing. In that case they want to kill the infant, whether they say it out loud or not.

  110. Riki says:

    @em

    “In that case, they want to kill the infant, whether they say it out loud or not.”

    No, no, no, no, no. That point of view is so skewed I find it comical. And, as another poster said previously, we’re not just talking semantics here. Context is vitally important in these discussions and please, let me assure you, that women DO NOT have abortions to kill infants. It’s not about the fetus. It’s about allowing a woman to determine the path of her own life.

    Obviously, I am pro-choice. Does that mean I would automatically have an abortion if I found myself pregnant? No. Does that mean I believe every single woman has the right to make that decision for herself? Hell yes.

    This means the life of the woman is prioritized over the live of a developing fetus. And that’s the way it should be.

  111. Johanna says:

    @em: “You give the woman the choice to kill a living being because she doesn’t want it in her body yet disregard the fetuses choice to survive.”

    I feel that we are going around in circles here.

    To the extent that I am “disregarding the fetus’s choice,” it’s because the fetus isn’t capable of making choices, or understanding the concept of a choice. A fetus cannot even feel pain until at least 20 weeks. I imagine that its brain has to reach a much later stage of development even than that before it’s capable of formulating preferences (although I’m unaware of any studies that have been done on this question).

    And to the (limited) extent that a fetus is capable of making choices, I am not disregarding that choice. I’m saying that the woman’s choice matters more.

  112. em says:

    @Johanna:

    Of course we are going around in circles. Thats what happens when two people who fully understand why they support opposing beliefs. Thank you for keeping it a peaceful and respectful discussion. I hope you feel that I have done the same.

    And since the fetus can’t make that choice yet, I fight for it to reach an age where it can make its own choices, rather then having that choice taken away from it before it has any say. In regards to the woman’s choice mattering more, it saddens me to hear that people think one person is more important or valuable than another. I think all life is precious and no life is more important than another so to end one life because it makes anothers ‘better’ is wrong.

  113. prodgod says:

    @Johanna & em: With all due respect, I believe that is indeed at the heart of the disparity as far as the “killing” argument is concerned.

    @em: “I think all life is precious and no life is more important than another so to end one life because it makes anothers ‘better’ is wrong.”

    That’s one of my arguments for choosing vegetarianism.

    This has been a great discussion!

  114. em says:

    @prodgod: In your mind it may be at the heart of the disparity but the prochoice movement as a whole has made the consensus that life starts at conception, so it is no longer the main argument. Well I should have said no human life is more important than any other. that was what i was referring to.

  115. prodgod says:

    @em: I must have missed that consensus statistic somewhere over the years, as I’ve never known many (if any) in the pro-choice camp to hold the belief that life begins at conception. And in regards to no human life being more important than any other, we could go on all day about humans like Charles Manson vs. Mother Teresa, etc., but that would just be argumentative on my part.

  116. Tom says:

    “Take away our weapons, transportation, and other technology that give us this feeling of superiority and I think you’d find that there would be several animals above us on the food chain.”

    I would imagine a species of plodding, unsocial lions without claws would be taken down a few notches on the food chain too.

  117. Johanna says:

    The whole notion of “the top of the food chain” is a bit silly, in my opinion. There is no single species at the top of the food chain – there are many species with no natural predators. Which one of them is at the “top”?

    Often, the same people who say “This is just our rightful place at the top of the food chain” will also say “Animals will eat us if they get the chance, so why shouldn’t we eat them?” But if they would eat us, we’re not at the top of the food chain, are we?

    (Also, the animals that humans are most likely to eat – chickens, cattle, pigs, small fish – are *not* the same ones that would eat us if they got the chance.)

    And to respond to whoever wrote that bumper sticker that says “I didn’t claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat plants”: *You* didn’t claw your way anywhere. Get over yourself.

  118. Jonathan says:

    “I would imagine a species of plodding, unsocial lions without claws would be taken down a few notches on the food chain too.”

    Sure, but you can’t equate a lion’s claws with the weapons that humans use to hunt and/or kill animals. A lion’s claws are natural, whereas any tools a human uses it “man-made”. In hand-to-hand combat (meaning without any outside tools/weapons) there are few if any humans who could kill a lion, bear, or other top predator. In fact, I suspect there are few humans who could manage to even kill a cow or pig with his/her bare hands/nails/teeth.

  119. AnnJo says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on this topic, but there’s one thing I got from Ben’s question that people haven’t commented on:

    He has equated eating the meat of livestock with murder, child abuse, and exploitation. And he is considering severing some of the most important human relationships in his life based on his conviction that people who disagree with him are so morally repugnant he should not willingly associate with them.

    I have no quarrel with choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet for health reasons, economy (both personal and national), or even distaste for the mechanics of getting your dinner on the table. The first two are rational grounds and the latter is a matter of temperament, I suppose. But Ben is elevating his choice to something much more grandiose.

    Ben says: “I wonder, if I was an animal being exploited, would I forgive somebody who knew what was happening yet kept my (sic) mouth shut and even socialized with those who were funding my exploitation?” For Ben, this does not seem to be just metaphor. This is delusional thinking. It is assigning human attributes (cognition, blame, forgiveness) to species that do not share those attributes.

    His willingness to consider casting off human relationships that conflict with his idee fixe is troubling and may indicate some form of mental illness.

    As for Sara A., although I’m cutting back on meat for reasons of health and personal economy, she makes me want to go throw a big steak on the grill. (Of course, it doesn’t take much to make me want to do that!)

  120. Johanna says:

    Um…wow. So you’re diagnosing people with mental illness now, AnnJo?

    You know, I’m happy to socialize with non-vegetarians, but there are other values that I hold sufficiently dear that I’d seriously consider severing relationships over them (or, more likely, not forming the relationships in the first place). Does that make me mentally ill too?

  121. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, I’m not diagnosing Ben with mental illness, and I agree that there are values that would cause any of us to sever relationships.

    But if someone said they were willing to sever their closest relationships and isolate themselves from the vast majority of their society over a value, it should raise a red flag. When that value seems to depend on a delusion (animals are capable of making judgments about whether to forgive someone for hypocrisy), then yes, I would be concerned about the possibility of mental illness. Does Ben have to end up in an isolated cabin in the woods, like the Unabomber, or isolated by thought processes incomprehensible to the rest of us, like Jared Laughner, before we can question whether mental illness may be at play? (Ben hasn’t threatened anyone, so I’m not saying his value would necessarily lead to violence, but he is asking whether it should lead to serious social isolation.)

    Honestly I don’t know where the boundary lines are between idiosyncracy and mental illness. But most mental illnesses have as a diagnostic factor that they substantially impair family and social relationships, and that is what Ben says he’s considering. Over a value that makes eating meat equivalent in wrongfulness to murder and child abuse.

    If I said I needed to cut off ties to my famly and society because I have become convinced that bipedalism is evil and they’re all bipeds, I assume you’d have no reservations about questioning my sanity. Just because a belief is adopted as a “value” doesn’t shield it from being a delusion.

  122. Jonathan says:

    I’m glad there are people like Ben who feel so strongly for a cause that they are willing to sacrifice. I’m also saddened to know that such sacrifice is viewed by some as delusional. If everyone was afraid to go against social norms or risk alienation from their social circle would we ever seen any meaningful change in society?

  123. Johanna says:

    Every so often (fairly often, I think, although I haven’t kept up with this for a while) there comes a study of animal cognition that makes everybody go “Whoa, I had no idea animals could do that!” Clearly, there’s a lot more going on in animals’ minds than most of us give them credit for. So I’m really skeptical of any claim that it’s so obvious that animals can’t comprehend some concept (forgiveness, hypocrisy, etc.) that any suggestion that they might must obviously be a delusion. And I wonder if you might want to re-examine why you’re so quick to make such a claim.

    Anyway, I doubt that Ben is actually saying that he thinks animals think about these things in exactly the same way humans do. As previous commenters have pointed out, the whole matter of the ethics of the way we treat other species is philosophically very complicated. And it’s not at all unusual for new veg*ns (or even long-time veg*ns who haven’t spent much time reading, thinking about, and discussing philosophy) to talk about the issue in fairly unnuanced ways. Discussions of the form “If I were that animal, how would I feel?” are really very common (since that’s a fairly basic starting point for having compassion for another being). Most of those people probably realize that they can’t actually know *exactly* how it would feel to be that animal – but they haven’t reached the level of philosophical sophistication where they can put the distinction into words. I’m inclined to cut them a little slack – and to encourage them to keep thinking about this.

    Also, at least one commenter in this thread has attributed full-grown-human attributes to undeveloped fetuses that do not share those attributes. Interesting that you didn’t “question whether mental illness may be in play” there.

  124. AnnJo says:

    Jonathan, much meaningful change in society comes from appealing TO socially accepted aspirational values and engaging one’s social circle, as the civil rights movements of the last century did. Those who strive to reduce unnecessary suffering by animals in the meat processing industry are doing exactly that, and their cause doesn’t require them to repudiate their families and friends as evil, as Ben’s does.

    My appreciation of people who feel so strongly for a cause they are willing to sacrifice for it is strictly conditioned on whether I approve of their cause. I can acknowledge that the 9/11 bombers were truly devoted to their principles but that doesn’t make me the least bit glad. Personal courage and commitment are put to the service of appalling causes all the time.

  125. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, Ben has not “repudiated his family and friends as evil.” He specifically says that he hasn’t “forced (his) belief onto anyone.” He’s *asking* how to function in a world where all the people he knows and cares about are doing something that he’s come to believe is wrong. And as I said way up in comment #9, that’s not an easy question.

  126. Jonathan says:

    AnnJo,

    I think that you and I view the civil rights movement very differently. You say that the civil rights movement came from appealing to socially accepted aspirational values and engaging one’s social circle. I, on the other hand, believe that the civil rights movement came from people willing to go against the accepted social exepectations and willing to risk alienation. If the social norm was equal rights, then the civil rights movement would not have been needed. It was needed, however, because society accepted and expected that some people would be treated differently because of their race.

    Yes, I will admit that there were likely people involved in the movement whose social circles were primarily of like-minded individuals who wanted to see the same sort of changes. That was not, however, the norm. If everyone had gone along with what was accepted, the civil rights movement would never have occurred. On the other hand, there were a lot of people who had to risk alienation from their social circle by supporting the civil rights movement. Growing up in an area that still has a lot of racism, homophobia, etc I see how hard it is for some people to show support for such causes when surrounded by people who hold to very different beliefs.

  127. Johanna says:

    Also, AnnJo, do you think you could come up with an analogy that *doesn’t* involve likening veg*ns to murderers and terrorists? You’ve got the Unabomber, Jared Loughner, and now the 9/11 hijackers. I know you said you’re not saying that Ben’s value “would necessarily lead to violence” (how…gracious of you?) but I’d say you’re drawing at least as strong a connection between veg*nism and murder as Ben ever drew between meat eating and murder. Please knock it off.

  128. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, to be honest I skipped past a lot of the abortion comments. I happen to believe that abortion in almost all cases is immoral but should remain legal, so I’m not going to win any friends on either side of that argument.

    Regardless of whether Ben meant literally his projection of human attributes to animals, the whole point of his question to Trent was to ask whether he should sever ties with his partner and friends because he believes that, by eating meat, they are condoning and participating in evils equivalent to murder and child abuse.

    Seriously, you don’t see anything troubling about that? He hasn’t drunk the Kool-aid yet, but to me it sounds like he’s bought his ticket to Guyana and is asking if he should board the plane.

  129. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, as you well know, I am not likening veg*ns (I guess that means vegetarians and vegans?) to anything, I’m likening zealots to zealots. Since you brought up the abortion issue, have you never considered that the zealots of the anti-abortion movement who call abortion doctors baby-killers and murderers are not inciting to violent action or at least justifying it? I suspect you have.

    When someone likens eating meat to “murder and child abuse” and wonders whether he is morally obligated to “force that belief” onto others, I would categorize that as zealotry.

  130. AnnJo says:

    Jonathan, social norms always fall short of socially accepted aspirational values. The civil rights movement appealed to the latter in order to change the former.

  131. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, if I may ask, how many veg*ns (yes, that’s short for “vegetarians and vegans”) do you know, who are veg*n for ethical reasons? I’ve known a lot of them, and I’m telling you, the kind of soul-searching Ben is doing is totally normal. Many veg*ns (I suspect most of them, but I haven’t kept count) go through a phase of wondering, “How am I supposed to deal with all these people around me when I now see the world totally differently than they do?” They phrase that question in all different ways, but I suspect you’d find something to pick apart with each of them. For most of us, this is a passing phase, and we get on with our lives. Some people do end up isolated – meaning that they socialize mostly with other veg*ns, not that they live alone in rural Montana – but Ben’s question gives me no reason to think that he’s one of them. Just the fact that he’s asking the question of a forum that’s not specifically for veg*ns, I think is a good sign.

    I *am* troubled by some of Ben’s specific language (the murder and child abuse analogies), for the reasons I explained in my first comment here, but I don’t think it’s symptomatic of any deeper troubles. Again, it’s normal for people who are just starting to think about this stuff to think in terms of analogies between violence against animals and violence against humans. Most of us get over it, some don’t; I hope Ben will.

    As for whether making the analogy to murder is implicitly justifying violence: No. It is not. Most veg*ns abhor violence in all forms, including (in my case anyway) the death penalty for murderers. A few – who, it is said, are veg*n not because they love animals, but because they hate people – have been known to advocate or threaten violence (usually against vivisectors, not meat eaters). I think these people are abominable, and what they’re doing is a form of terrorism. However, of all the cases of animal-rights terrorism I’ve heard of, I’ve never heard of any in which actual bodily harm was inflicted on anyone.

    Compare that to the anti-abortion zealots, who have multiple assaults and murders to their names, and who take pride in that record. How very “pro-life” of them.

  132. jackie says:

    #77, so if I start eating meat my car won’t need gas anymore?

  133. Tom says:

    sorry to interject about my clawless lions again, but it is not like humans stumbled upon advanced weaponry. One of our competitive advantages over potential predators is the ability to build and use tools and introduce them into society, teaching others to use them. Removing the claws from the lion is an allegory to disallowing invention and tool use for humans.

  134. Johanna says:

    If you’re going to say that humans are part of nature, so everything humans do is “natural” (and that’s certainly one way to define it), then that makes vegetarianism “natural” too, since that’s a thing that (some) humans do. If you’re going to “allow” invention and tool use, then you have to “allow” the capacity to reason about ethics, it seems to me.

  135. Jonathan says:

    “My appreciation of people who feel so strongly for a cause they are willing to sacrifice for it is strictly conditioned on whether I approve of their cause.”

    “I have no quarrel with choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet for health reasons, economy (both personal and national), or even distaste for the mechanics of getting your dinner on the table. The first two are rational grounds and the latter is a matter of temperament, I suppose. But Ben is elevating his choice to something much more grandiose.”

    AnnJo,

    Its apparent that because you disapprove of Ben’s cause (not vegetarianism/veganism itself, but his reasoning) you are unable to appreciate his sacrifice. I doubt that any amount of debating is going to change your mind. Surely, however, you can accept that others do appreciate his sacrifice (and that of others like him) and not simply write his beliefs off as delusional. I understand that you disagree with the strength of his conviction, but having a difference of opinion does not make one delusional. I disagree with your assessment of Ben, yet I don’t think you are delusional. Can you at least grant him the same consideration?

  136. Tom says:

    I have no problems with vegetarians or vegans or ethical philosophy. My point was a bit outside the discussion.

  137. AnnJo says:

    Well, Jonathan, let’s see. . . . How about I grant Ben the consideration of not thinking he’s delusional for believing killing animals for food is equivalent to murdering humans and abusing children, if he’ll grant me the consideration of not thinking I’m as bad as a murderer and child abuser because I had pepperoni on my pizza last night?

    I’m aware of very few options to “writing his beliefs off as delusional.” “Evil” is much harsher than “delusional” while “misguided” just seems too wimpy a response to someone calling me a murderer and child abuser. Is there an option I’m overlooking?

    (I considered and discarded the currently popular option of “non-judgmentalism.” A mind that refuses to make judgments about ideas might as well be switched off. I can at least appreciate that Ben hasn’t done that.)

  138. Jonathan says:

    Ah, I think we may be at the heart of the disagreement here. Your perception is that Ben is saying that meat-eaters are as bad as murders and child abusers. I am a meat-eater myself, yet do not read his letter that way. I read his statement as comparing the act of stating ones opposition to those acts, not as a comparison of those acts themselves.

    Also, even if Ben did mean that eating meat is as bad as murder or child abuse, he would still be casting judgement on the action, not the person committing the action. On the other hand, you are directly calling him delusional and suggesting he may have a mental illness.

    Having said all of that, if Ben approached me directly and told me that by eating meat I was as bad as a murderer and child abuser (which he has not said), I would accept his statement as being his opinion. I’m sure there are people who disagree with most every action I take. There are also people who agree with my actions/beliefs.

  139. Johanna says:

    Thank you, Jonathan. That was a whole lot more eloquent than what I was about to say.

  140. AnnJo says:

    Jonathan, having re-read Ben’s post, I see that it is open to more than one interpretation, and yours is perfectly reasonable.

    I do want to point out that not everyone sees mental illness as a moral flaw; I don’t, and my concern was mostly about the suggestion in Ben’s letter that his beliefs about animal rights might lead him to damage his important relationships.

    I don’t get your statement about “casting judgment on the action, not the person committing the action.” It seems to me that if an action is wrong, it necessarily follows that the actor who knowingly and intentionally engages in it is morally culpable. In fact, the wrongfulness of an action is often measured in the first place by the knowledge and intention of the actor. Besides, my tentative premise that Ben might be suffering from a mental illness actually absolves him of culpability.

    It’s curious that you would “accept” it if Ben’s opinion was that you are a murderer for eating meat, but instead of accepting it, you urged me to abandon my opinion that Ben might be operating under a delusion.

  141. Johanna says:

    “I do want to point out that not everyone sees mental illness as a moral flaw”

    True enough. However, it seems to me that people who don’t see mental illness as a moral flaw would be unlikely to put “delusional” on the continuum between “misguided” and “evil.”

    What exactly are you saying Ben’s delusion is again? Earlier, you were claiming that he was attributing human mental processes to animals, but then it seemed that you’d dropped that claim.

  142. AnnJo says:

    Jonathan, I should have mentioned that I have worked with a number of people over the years who have been diagnosed with delusional disorders (by psychiatrists, not by me) and have one such person in my family. The damage such disorders do to the affected individuals, especially in their family and social relationships, is severe. Whether that leads me to see a possible disorder where there is none or to see one that is there but not obvious to others – who knows?

  143. Johanna says:

    Was that addressed to me? I’m Johanna, not Jonathan. I know our names look similar at a glance.

    It sounds like what you’re saying is the mental-health equivalent of “I can’t be racist because some of my best friends are black” (or “I can’t be misogynist because I love my wife”) – if you meant something else, then I haven’t grasped it.

    And again, what are you saying Ben’s delusion/illness/disorder is? I would really like to know.

  144. Jonathan says:

    AnnJo,

    I’m not sure I can clearly explain my meaning about the difference between judging an action and the person, but I will try. Maybe someone who is better with words than I can chime in with a good explanation.

    I’ll use an example to try to explain. You’ve probably heard or seen the question posted before, is it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to keep from starving. My take on this is that, yes, it is morally wrong to take something that isn’t yours, thereby depriving the rightful owner of its use or benefit. However, if a person steals only to avoid starving I would not say that makes them a bad person. So here I judge the action to be bad, without judging the person to be bad.

    “It’s curious that you would “accept” it if Ben’s opinion was that you are a murderer for eating meat, but instead of accepting it, you urged me to abandon my opinion that Ben might be operating under a delusion.”

    You make a valid point here, which I’ll try to address. First, let me say that I didn’t urge you to abandon your opinion of Ben. I don’t think that anyone should deny his/herself the option of having his/her own opinion. My complaint was with the level of negativity and judgement that I perceived from your posts. Especially since it is entirely possibly that Ben has read the comments. Having gotten caught up in the debate, however, its possible that I’ve crossed the line to being judgemental myself, which could see hypocritical.

    Second, I tend to be more accepting of what people say to me than what people say about others. I think this is probably because I know that I am capable of dealing with such comments without being negatively affected. I don’t, however, know if others have the same ability, so tend to want to stick up for people in the same situation.

  145. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: “I’m not sure I can clearly explain my meaning about the difference between judging an action and the person, but I will try. Maybe someone who is better with words than I can chime in with a good explanation.”

    I don’t know if I’m any better with words than you are, but here’s another example that may be more relevant to the matter at hand:

    (Trigger warning for racism and human trafficking.)

    Is it wrong to buy, own, and sell human beings like they’re pieces of property? Of course it is. Was it just as wrong to do so, say, 250 years ago? I would say yes. People 250 years ago were people too, after all.

    But I, for one, am not prepared to say that all the people who bought, owned, and sold slaves 250 years ago were bad people. They were a product of a different time, and they were brought up to believe (I imagine) that slavery was normal and acceptable. Certainly some of them were bad people (to the extent that it makes sense to call anyone a “bad person”), but I won’t dismiss any historical person from that era as a bad person merely because he or she owned slaves, without knowing anything else about him or her.

    On the other hand, I’m much less inclined to be forgiving of people who engage in human trafficking today. They know (or rather, have no excuse not to know) that what they’re doing is wrong. So I do think it makes sense to judge human traffickers today as “bad people,” even if their actions aren’t objectively any worse than those of the slave owners/traders 250 years ago.

  146. David says:

    I confess that Trent’s headline for Ben’s question, “Eating what you believe”, caused me some alarm. I believe the Oxford English Dictionary, but I have never seriously considered eating it. Should I have done? Or should I have objected on moral grounds, because it contains “meat” and “eggs”? (To forestall the inevitable suggestion from de Ruiter, I should add here that if I ever do decide to eat the OED, I will of course caramelize the onions for the sauce.)

    Meanwhile, here is Ben who wants to know not whether eating meat is wrong (his mind is already made up about that), but whether it is wrong merely to refrain from eating meat himself while not attempting to convince others, including his nearest and dearest, that eating meat is wrong.

    And here is AnnJo, whose mind is already made up that eating meat is not wrong, and that Ben’s reasons for thinking that it is are based on delusions, so that Ben may be in need of psychiatric help. The kindest thing one can say about this is that it is completely unresponsive.

    The way in which vast numbers of animals are treated so that people may eat them could easily appear to a rational, non-deluded mind to be very wrong indeed. Certain behaviours could easily convince a rational, non-deluded mind that animals do not want to be tortured and killed, and that they possess a consciousness sufficiently similar to human consciousness that the right of a human not to be tortured and killed should in some cases be extended to an animal. A rational, non-deluded mind could at the very least take the view that even if eating animals is not morally wrong, environmental and economic factors mean that the world would be a much better place if people didn’t raise animals for food on a global scale.

    We imagine on the one hand a Ben who asked whether he should try to convince his loved ones that eating bananas was fundamentally wrong, given that they believed otherwise. We would,I trust, try to persuade him not to – his loved ones would either shun his society or send for the men in white coats, a sacrifice on Ben’s part that would seem to us absurd.

    And we imagine on the one hand a Ben who asked whether he should try to convince his loved ones that eating people was fundamentally wrong, given that they believed otherwise. We would, I trust, urge him to use every means of persuasion in his power – but at the slightest sign that these were unavailing, to take to his heels in the general direction of the horizon lest his disjecta membra end up among the caramelized onions, a sacrifice that we should also consider absurd.

    But here is Ben still, who believes something that those around him do not believe but that many rational, non-deluded minds elsewhere in the world do believe. It isn’t for us to tell him that his beliefs are wrong, but to provide what help we can with his true predicament. Many here have done that, and I have nothing to add to their thoughtful contributions.

  147. prodgod says:

    Food for thought: I suspect if we treated our pets the same way that we treat our livestock, we would be sentenced to some hard prison time. Why are we okay with this discrepancy, I wonder.

  148. Johanna says:

    I suspect you’re right, prodgod. I’m not sure about the penalties (whether “hard prison time” is involved or not), but most (if not all) animal cruelty laws on the books specifically do not apply to farmed animals. If we could at least make it so that anything that’s illegal (or unconscionable) to do to a dog or a cat is also illegal to do to a pig or a chicken, that would be a huge step in the right direction.

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