The strict vegan might think that these considerations about community are all beside the point. Why can’t Donaldson and Kymlicka simply reject the consumption of all corpses, whatever their origin? On this view, meat-eating would run up against one of the ‘ways in which we should never treat a corpse’ (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2011, p. 151), regardless of societal membership.
This line is indeed available, but we think it ought to be resisted. Presumably, it’s motivated by the idea that there’s something objectively wrong with corpse consumption: not eating corpses isn’t just good ‘manners’; it’s demanded by a universal duty. This is implausible. The consumption of corpses as a part of a funerary rite is uncommon in the twenty-first century, though it was certainly practiced by some human communities into the twentieth century.Footnote 15 There’s no good reason to think that there’s anything inherently wrong with what those people did. What’s more, there’s no good reason to think that attitudes towards the consumption of human flesh couldn’t change, meaning that the consumption of the flesh of nonhuman citizens would become less problematic.Footnote 16 Indeed, perhaps cannibalism isn’t as alien to Western practices as we might assume. The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation holds that believers eat the literal body and blood of Christ when receiving the Eucharist. If there is nothing wrong with that practice, which is certainly one that occurs in Western culture, then we have no basis for denying that our eating (parts of some) dead humans is perfectly consistent with respecting said humans. Perhaps a change in our attitudes to animals will itself prompt a change in norms about how corpses are treated. The animal ethicist Bernice Bovenkerk, for example, has said that she would prefer for her body to be fed to wild animals after her death (van Dinther, 2020). (This is something practiced in certain non-western contexts.) We have no great quarrel with Bovenkerk’s position, and do not envisage that Donaldson and Kymlicka would, either. The point (indeed, Bovenkerk’s own point) is that the corpses of animals and humans should not be treated in some grossly different way purely because of species membership. Whether we should persist with our current norms of corpse treatment or seek to change them is a separate question—though one surely worth asking.
Second, there is something presumptuous about taking our norms of respect and treating them as sacrosanct for interactions with those outside our culture, even if we regard them as sacrosanct for those within. If you come from a culture that buries its dead, and you find the body of a person from a culture that cremates its dead, then it seems very plausible that it’s permissible for you to cremate the body, even if your culture normally condemns such behaviour. Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to bodies of those from communities (including wild animal sovereign communities) where corpse consumption is a considered a respectful or unobjectionable practice. So again, there’s no reason to think that this is something ‘we’ ought always to avoid. As a result, Donaldson and Kymlicka aren’t going to be able to rule out the consumption of all animal flesh.
There is one more strategy that the strict vegan might try to employ here. To see this possibility, it will help to disentangle two lines of reasoning that Kymlicka and Donaldson offer for their view. On the one hand, they think that the political status of animals is one that simply needs to be recognized; it doesn’t need to be created based on a mixture of practical and moral considerations. Animal ethicists, they argue, have tended to view animals as part of an ‘expanding circles’ model of society, according to which a history of moral inclusion begins with the self, and then expands to the family, the neighbourhood, the nation, humanity, and—eventually—to an ‘interspecies cosmos’ (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2016, pp. 693–4). This, they say, is mistaken:
Animals are alongside us at every stage of these expanding circles. The vast majority of people in North America with companion animals insist that their companion dogs and cats are ‘members of the family’: we are born into interspecies families and learn our concept of ‘family’ in this context. (2016, p. 694, emphasis in original)
We might say the same of our wider community. The process of domestication itself is one of humans and animals coming to live together, which Donaldson and Kymlicka compare to the North-Atlantic slave trade. Slavery was unjust, but the solution to that injustice cannot be the extinction of African Americans or their repatriation to Africa: people held as slaves were, effectively, made into marginalized citizens through their enslavement, and are now owed recognition as full citizens (Donaldson & Kymlicka, 2011, p. 79). Likewise, Donaldson and Kymlicka argue, domesticated animals should be recognized as full citizens.
On the other hand, there is a more interest-oriented line of reasoning. Donaldson and Kymlicka claim that it is in the interests of some animals (particularly domesticated animals) to continue to have a close relationship with humans, though in a heavily modified form. This is complicated, because the close relationships that human communities have had with certain animals have usually been extremely harmful. They’ve involved the confinement of animals, infliction of violence upon them, the exploitation of their labour and bodies, and so forth. Given this history, it’s an open question as to the kinds of connections we should have with animals going forward.Footnote 17
Now, in a standard situation of historical abuse, we might think that it would be the decision of the victim whether a relationship continues once the abuse has been eradicated. And a recognition of animal agency is crucial for Donaldson and Kymlicka: ‘given a range of non-coercive alternatives, animals can express preferences (i.e., “vote with their feet”) about how to live their lives, and under what circumstances, if any, to engage with humans’ (2011, p. 66). But this can only take us so far; at some level, humans must make a choice on animals’ behalf. This is going to include choices on the macro scale between continued co-relationships or extinction, and on the micro scale as to which ‘group’—domestic, wild, liminal—a given animal belongs.
Donaldson and Kymlicka see these two lines of reasoning—historical and interest-based—as two sides of the same coin. Together, they form the basis of their claim about the compulsory nature of our having a certain kind of relationship with domesticated animals. Crucially, for current purposes, this relationship is one that demands that domesticated animals’ bodies be treated with the kind of respect that would be afforded to the bodies of other co-citizens.
How could the strict vegan use these observations to ground a ‘zoopolitical’ case against (restricted) freeganism? First, they might observe that we live in the Anthropocene, an age defined by ubiquitous human influence on the natural world. When we recognize the complex historical relationship that we have with animals, our influence clearly doesn’t end at domesticated beings, or even at the liminal ones. We have done so much to reshape the environment in which animals live that if our influence—particularly our negative influence—is enough to generate a citizenship claim for those animals with whom we are entangled, then (nearly) all wild animals have some such claim. Second, when we consider the degree to which animals have an interest in being treated as citizens, it may not be obvious why denizenship and sovereignty would actually be preferable to citizenship. After all, that could only mean less aid in circumstances where it would be advantageous to have it, and less representation in circumstances where they would benefit from having an advocate in the decision being made. Plainly, there is much more to say here, and we don’t want to suggest that Donaldson and Kymlicka have no resources for replying to these objections. Instead, we simply want to note that the strict vegan has the resources to criticize even a restricted freeganism if she can make these objections stick.
After all, if it’s indeed the case that all animals have a claim to citizenship, then all animal bodies are protected by the ‘respect for corpses’ norm. So rather than our limited critique of freeganism, we get closer to the wide-ranging one that our hypothetical strict vegan wanted. In all likelihood, this means that Donaldson and Kymlicka’s zoopolis has turned into some kind of cosmozoopolis. This is a term we borrow from Cochrane (2013; cf. Cochrane, 2018), with the caveat that it isn’t clear that his cosmozoopolitics carries these consequences. Opening up society this far, however, may come with costs, such as highly implausible implications about our duties concerning the corpses of wild animals. Must all be respectfully buried? Strict veganism may be appealing, but it isn’t worth any cost whatsoever. If we would have to take on such counterintuitive consequences to salvage it, then it may not be worth salvaging.