Entomophagy—eating insects—is getting a lot of attention these days. However, strict vegans are often uncomfortable with entomophagy based on some version of the precautionary principle: if you aren’t sure that a being isn’t sentient, then you should treat it as though it is. But not only do precautionary principle-based arguments against entomophagy fail, they seem to support the opposite conclusion: strict vegans ought to eat bugs.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Not all vegans will take this line. David DeGrazia, for example, argues for de facto veganism, and yet says that “[h]ighly virtuous people may wish to give [invertebrates] the benefit of the doubt and abstain from eating them. My view does not condemn eating these animals” (DeGrazia 1996, p. 289). However, there are others—like Gary Francione—who are committed to giving insects the benefit of the doubt. See, e.g., what he says here: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/sentience/. In my experience, vegans differ over whether it’s permissible to eat bugs, but virtually all opt not to eat them themselves.
I use the terms “sentient” and “conscious” as synonyms, but as far as I can see, nothing substantive turns on that.
Davis writes for a North American audience. For a similar argument in an Australian context, see Archer (2011).
Sebo uses different numbers, but this formulation makes the point clearer.
The strict vegan might also object that intentionally harming insects is worse than having harm be a unintended, though foreseen, consequence of plant production—a move based on the doctrine of double effect. The main problem with this objection is that it relies on the doctrine of double effect.
Archer, M. (2011). Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands. The Conversation, Dec 15. http://theconversation.edu.au/ordering-the-vegetarian-meal-theres-more-animal-blood-on-your-hands-4659.
Bradshaw, R. H. (1998). Consciousness in non-human animals: Adopting the precautionary principle. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5(1), 108–114.
Carruthers, P. (2007). Invertebrate minds: A challenge for ethical theory. The Journal of Ethics, 11, 275–297.
Carruthers, P. (2011). Animal mentality: Its character, extent, and moral significance. In T. Beauchamp & R. G. Frey (Eds.), The oxford handbook of animal ethics (pp. 373–406). New York: Oxford University Press.
Davis, S. L. (2003). The least harm principle may require that humans consume a diet containing large herbivores, not a vegan diet. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16, 387–394.
DeGrazia, D. (1996). Taking animals seriously: Mental life and moral status. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Huebner, B. (2011). Minimal minds. In T. Beauchamp & R. G. Frey (Eds.), The oxford handbook of animal ethics (pp. 441–468). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lamey, A. (2007). Food fight! Davis versus regan on the ethics of eating beef. Journal of Social Philosophy, 38(2), 331–348.
Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., & Bastian, B. (2010). The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals. Appetite, 55, 156–159.
Matheny, G. (2003). Least harm: A defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s omnivorous proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16, 505–511.
Meyers, C. D. (2013). Why it is morally good to eat (certain kinds of) meat: The case for entomophagy. Southwest Philosophy Review, 29(1), 119–126.
Pearse, A. S. (1946). Observations on the microfauna of the duke forest. Ecological Monographs, 16, 127–150.
Regan, T. (1983). The case for animal rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sabrosky, C. W. (1952). How many insects are there? In Insects: The yearbook of agriculture. Washington, DC: US Dept. of Agriculture.
Sebo, Jeff. ms. Reconsider the Lobster (Unpublished manuscript).
For helpful feedback on earlier versions of this paper, thanks to James McWilliams, Jeff Sebo, and three anonymous reviewers. For a wealth of information about insecticides, thanks to Marvin Harris.
About this article
Cite this article
Fischer, B. Bugging the Strict Vegan. J Agric Environ Ethics 29, 255–263 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-015-9599-y
- Precautionary principle