Bugging the Strict Vegan


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.

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    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.

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    I use the terms “sentient” and “conscious” as synonyms, but as far as I can see, nothing substantive turns on that.

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    Davis writes for a North American audience. For a similar argument in an Australian context, see Archer (2011).

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    Sebo uses different numbers, but this formulation makes the point clearer.

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    See http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/cropan15.pdf.

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    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.


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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.

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Correspondence to Bob Fischer.

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Fischer, B. Bugging the Strict Vegan. J Agric Environ Ethics 29, 255–263 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-015-9599-y

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  • Entomophagy
  • Insects
  • Veganism
  • Precautionary principle