Does Eating Animals Make Someone a Bad Person?

What if people know farmed animals are abused, confined, and suffer when they’re killed? What if people know they don’t need to eat animals to be healthy? What if people know eating animals has a more significant negative impact on climate change than eating plant-based food? What if people know these facts, but continue to eat animals? Does it make them bad people?

george clooney
George Clooney donates millions of dollars to stop genocide, support rape victims, and relieve poverty, homelessness, and injustice but he also eats animals. Is he a bad person?

What if people volunteer to save children from the sex slave trade, but also eat animals? Are they bad people? What if dentists and doctors volunteer to provide free medical care in war zones to save the lives of the neediest people on earth, but also eat animals? Are they bad people? What if firefighters risk their lives to rescue people from burning buildings, but also eat animals? Are they bad people? What if a family adopts and raises a child who lost both parents in a car accident, but also eat animals? Are they bad people?

If these people are not bad people, should we treat them like bad people? If they are bad people, despite whatever good they otherwise do, is it possible our neglect of certain issues that negatively impact others could make us bad people too? What if we fail to donate, volunteer, and advocate for other causes that lead to suffering and death? Does our inaction make us complicit? Could others fairly criticize us for bearing some responsibility? Where does our obligation end? Do some people not eat animals but do other things that people might think make them a bad person? Who are the winners in a battle for claiming the moral high ground?

Are people who don’t eat animals absent of all blame for harming animals? If not, where is the line drawn between someone who is doing enough and someone who is not? How do we distinguish between perfection and imperfection? Slight imperfection and more imperfection? Do people who don’t eat animals volunteer and donate as much as they can to help save animals? What if they don’t? Does it make them bad people?

Does thinking people are bad people or making it public that we believe people who eat animals are bad people help animals? Does showing disdain for them inspire those people to stop eating animals? Does it help animals to view people who eat them with contempt? Is that how we affect change? Or might it be more effective to applaud people for all the good they do, admit our own shortcomings, and inspire people to do more good?

What is the definition of bad person? Or is human nature too complex to define a bad person? Who wins these arguments?

34 thoughts on “Does Eating Animals Make Someone a Bad Person?

  1. Here is my take on it. Enforce strict legal rules & regs for each and every company who has a farm that supplies animals for consumption. If someone breaks the rules whether it’s the worker or the owner they need to be held accountable. Keep working on the positive aspect of what they are doing right and make it public via social media, PR and TV spots. Education is key here with the public. It’s a long journey as meat consumption is ingrained in our culture both in North America and abroad. Keep encouraging holistic companies to do their research and create food that tastes and looks just like meat. Especially bacon. I would love to donate money to a company who can recreate this for the consumer market and I can assure you that many others would as well.

    1. If only we could get this part accomplished!
      “Enforce strict legal rules & regs for each and every company who has a farm that supplies animals for consumption.”

  2. Great post with a lot of food for thought (no pun intended), Andrew. It really helps to change your perspective when you realize that just as someone may criticize others for still eating meat, that can be turned around and they can judge you for what you’re not doing.

    1. You got it Christine. If we are all to be judged, we all lose because we can all always be doing more. Would it be fair to say that an animal advocate is a bad person because he or she spends $2,000 on a vacation that could have saved hundreds of animals lives if donated to Mercy for Animals? Is it fair to call that person selfish, misguided, and lacking a sense of urgency? Where does the judging begin and end? And how does judging help the animals we care so much about?

    2. I think about this a lot. I have a lot of friends who save LOTS of dogs and cats (more than I do), yet they eat meat and dairy. I don’t think they’re bad people but sure wish they would stop eating meat and dairy lol. I ate meat and dairy most of my life….

  3. wrong question
    why not ask
    does this make a person a (… now an adjective of your choice …) person

    why do they choose good and bad
    not intelligent and stupid
    aware or half-aware
    or such

    what does the ability to know and to process information have to do with good or bad –
    when you don’t make the „right“ logical conclusions, then that has something to do with intelligence and not morality

  4. Truly excellent post! My initial response, which of course I wouldn’t say out loud or to anyone I know, was “Yes, it does.” But as I continued reading, I saw your point and I agree with it.

  5. My take is that if someone is aware* of the suffering that animals endure from farm to transport to slaughterhouse for meat, dairy and eggs but continues to support such cruelty, then I would say yes.

    *slaughterhouse process
    *no such thing as humane slaughter
    *downers who can’t walk to slaughter & must be pushed, forced or dragged
    *animal cruelty & abuse rampant at slaughterhouses
    *factory farming is also detrimental to the planet & personal health

    In addition, if they share their home with pets, animals whom they protect, love and cherish but continue to eat animals because for some reason they cannot or choose not to see the connection between the two, then I would say yes.

    If you love animals, you don’t eat them. An animal is an animal, it doesn’t matter what they look like–what matters is their ability to suffer. When you choose to protect some animals and subject others to mass scale killing & suffering, this is a form of discrimination. Last I checked, any form of discrimination is wrong. We need to work on making the connection and extend our circle of compassion to include all animals, not just those we share our home with.

    1. Hi Stacey Ann,

      Thank you for sharing your opinion. If someone donates $1 million to Mercy for Animals but eats animals, is that person a bad person? If someone donates $100,000 to The Humane League but also eats animals, is that person a bad person?

      Or is it too difficult to identify good and bad people in a vacuum and therefore futile? Are we all so flawed in ways that negatively impact animals, people, and the planet that our energy could be better spent inspiring rather than judging people for something we used to do?

        1. It doesn’t matter if someone is a hypocrite. All that matters is saving animals’ lives. Someone who donates money to a farm animal advocacy organization and eats animals can save more animals than someone who doesn’t donate and doesn’t eat animals.

          The point is that calling people bad people because they eat animals without knowing what other good they do is a futile exercise that does not help animals. Contempt does not inspire people to change.

        2. I agree that if a person donated $1 million to MFA, but still ate animals, they would be a hypocrite. But I also agree that in the end, that doesn’t matter.

          The animals don’t care about labels. They don’t care if you’re a hypocrite, or if you’re philosophy or actions or stance is “right” or “wrong”; all they care about is tangible results for a more humane life.

          It’s interesting that this is another scenario that can also be turned around…if a someone is a vegan and can afford it, but they don’t donate to MFA or the Humane League (or any other similar organization), does that make them a hypocrite?

          The only labels that matters in the end are “what works” or “what is most effective”, because those are the only labels that are going to help create a more humane world for the animals.

  6. Andrew, just curious…..if I kicked a homeless person but donated more than 20 hours a week of my time to helping out in homeless shelters, would that make me a bad person?

    1. Thank you for your question. I would like to answer your question with another question: Who among us does no harm to animals? We know that many of the things we do from building houses, using gasoline and plastic, and giving money to non-vegan businesses all contribute to animal suffering and killing. Since we are all imperfect and contribute to the killing of animals in some form, under what circumstances do we allow someone to be considered a good person? Or should we simply be encouraging people to do as little harm as possible? More importantly, will calling people “bad people” inspire them to change?

      Please consider reading my article “The Problem with Veganism.”

      1. Well, it comes down to intent doesn’t it? Everything you listed is indirect. The funding of purposeful and premeditated breeding and slaughtering of animals is as direct as it gets. Someone buying a vegan product at a non-vegan store isn’t funding the animal agricultural industry any more than somebody buying a Blu-Ray player isn’t funding the DVD player sector, even though they may be sold in the same store.

        This seems like a tu quoque fallacy. Because it’s impossible to live 100% perfectly in an imperfect world, then anything short of that can be called out. It’s a rigged game.

        I can’t slaughter my neighbor’s dog, and then justify it by saying to my neighbor “yeah…but you own a house and use gasoline……and I also helped an old lady cross the street once, therefore I’m not a bad person.” You can justify literally anything by using this logic.

        The default position should be to cause no harm as much as it is possible in an imperfect world. Being charitable, while wonderful, is an active choice. Simply not causing harm or funding it is a passive choice. You don’t have to go out of your way to not harm an animal (or fund that). If you want to volunteer and be an activist, obviously that’s wonderful, but it’s not the moral baseline. Not actively participating in violence is literally the least somebody could do.

        Although you answered my question with a question…..I didn’t really get an answer. I’ll ask it again:

        “Andrew, just curious…..if I kicked a homeless person but donated more than 20 hours a week of my time to helping out in homeless shelters, would that make me a bad person?”

        1. What’s the definition of a bad person?

          If we know buying gasoline funds companies like BP and Exxon that kill billions of fish and other marine life and we continue to buy it, is our intent not clear? I would never want to get into an argument over defining intent or where personal responsibility begins and ends. Simply arguing that we have no intent to ignore issues while ignoring them or that buying products not made from animals but that harm animals is not intent are not, in my opinion, salient arguments. To the animals killed, our direct or indirect impact does not matter.

          Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I respect your point of view.

        2. You might be, but then again, kicking a homeless person is considered a crime, the majority of our population would consider it a bad thing to do, and there is no economic incentive for them to kick a homeless person. Not so with animal based agriculture and eating animals. I believe if we are trying to create change on a large scale level, we need to allow more people into the movement (which in my mind means welcoming them in for the good they want and/or can do, rather than judging and alienating them).

          1. Great points Dana. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Allowing more people into the movement is the right step. It’s not a club. There should be no minimum membership requirements. All forward progress should be embraced.

  7. It’s very easy to judge people. It’s a much greater challenge to understand people and inspire them to change.

    There are many factors that comprise a person’s decision-making process with food: upbringing, availability, affordability, culture, the state of the part of their brain responsible for empathy, and much more. It is, in my opinion, a futile exercise to judge people who eat animals. It may feel good but I don’t believe it helps animals.

    I spent years working in prisons and jails with people who made a terrible decision but did many other good things in their life. I didn’t judge them because I didn’t believe it would help them and I figured it would disengage them. I taught them to do better. That’s what I believe should be our focus with people who eat animals. Whether or not they’re good or bad people, in my opinion, is immaterial.

  8. Great article and questions, leading to a higher-level perspective.

    I’d say there are two answers. Yes, people who knowingly cause harm to others are bad. It’s an act or omission that’s problematic regardless of other good actions. People can be both good and bad in different spheres of their life.

    Based on my Buddhist bias, however, I’d also say nothing is good or bad. It just is. And the badness we perceive in others is a reflection of our own.

    Practically speaking, I think it’s important and useful to be critical of ourselves, others, and cultural norms — and to encourage positive change and an expansion of our sphere of compassion and love. It’s both simple and complex.

    The winners are those who try to be good. And there are no winners of the argument: it’s just a continual thesis, antithesis, synthesis, sublation, and transcendence. 🙂

    1. So nice hearing from you Erik. I read your comments with great interest.

      Because I can’t definitely define bad, I can’t say who is good and bad. I do, however, believe people make bad decisions — all of us. There are, of course, different levels of bad decisions. I’m also fine with you explanation that things just “are” and beyond definition.

      I agree that it’s important and humbling to explore our own actions and impact, including what we don’t do to help. Many people overlook the impact of complacency.

      Yes, the point of the article is exactly as you say: There are no winners of the argument, thus, we should focus on solutions.

      Thanks again for sharing your point of view. I found it very thought-provoking.

  9. I just saw another instance of this on our local news this morning. A low cost spay & neuter clinic received funding from PetSmart Charities to provides low cost neutering to ~400 dogs & cats this month, and ~400 spays next month. I also know PetSmart’s Rescue Waggin’ has pulled and saved hundreds of animals from our local pound.

    On the flip side, PetSmart still sells animals, and there’s also an undercover investigation that I found out about last week where a supplier of small mammals to PetSmart showed the animals living and dying in horrific and deplorable conditions.

    So, we have PetSmart:
    1) Funding low cost spay & neuter services to ~800 dogs & cats
    and rescuing hundreds from our pound
    2) Selling live animals, and from abusive & neglectful suppliers

    How do we fairly & objectively weigh these against the other?

    I guess you can get into the numbers…how many unwanted animal deaths are prevented if ~800 dogs and cats are fixed? How many animals have suffered & died due to PetSmart still selling live animals? How do you quantify the suffering of the animals?

    I for one, think PetSmart is incredibly hypocritical. I’ve even heard of them putting out bait traps for mice & rats, when they are selling those very same animals as pets. It’s ridiculous in my opinion. And don’t get me started on seeing the Beta fish in the plastic containers.

    And this is the point at where I’ve learned I need to be very careful…are my negative thoughts about PetSmart going to blind me to the good that they are doing? Not that the good at all excuses the bad…but if I want to change the bad…if I want to see an end to the negative aspects of PetSmart….

    Which option do you think will get a better response from PetSmart?
    1) Respectfully let PetSmart know how I feel about them still selling live animals, but also thank them for the help they provide to other animals
    2) Let PetSmart know how I feel about them selling live animals in a disrespectful way and attack them for being hypocritical

    I may be convinced 200% that PetSmart is hypocritical, but which choice is most likely to get a positive response?

    Which choice is most likely to lead to changes, and hopefully the end of them being hypocritical?

    This is how putting labels and categories onto others can blind us to the best and most hopeful ways of actually seeing an end to what makes us want to apply labels and categories in the first place.

  10. This makes me think of “battered women syndrome”. A man beats his wife and then showers her with gifts to make up for the abuse. It is a cycle. Women will mention all of the wonderful things the man does to “balance out” the beatings…… For some women the good outweighs the bad. If eating animals is abuse….and one accepts gifts from the abuser are they tolerating abuse for the gifts they receive? Is it an abusive relationship?

    1. Hi Denise,

      I understand your point of view. My question is, Is there value in labeling people who eat animals “bad people?” If there is value in it, how far does the label extend? Is someone who doesn’t eat animals and has the means to help them further and doesn’t volunteer their time or donate also a bad person? We know that people who don’t eat animals are still responsible for the death of animals by supporting industries that kill animals–less so but still so. Are they bad people?

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