Animal Welfare, Zero-Sum Games, and Our Food Choices

Image via NPR

I stumbled across an NPR article recently, intrigued not because of its seemingly veganism/vegetarianism commentary, but becausethe human psychology component of goodliness as something other than zero-sum.  The author cites that the most common argument she encounters is the “there are so many other human issues in this world for me to care about to also get all up in caring about factory animals” statement.  In so many of my conversations with friends, co-workers, yoga students, sometimes even strangers, about food consumption and unhealthy food choices, I encounter similar arguments attempting to evade the personal responsibility that surrounds unhealthy or environmentally unfriendly food choices.

Similarities can be drawn between Tania Lombrozo’s article and personal consumption choices in the food industry as a whole.  As Lombrozo states, sometimes goodliness is in fact zero-sum, especially in the case of amount of time, money, and resources you may have.  However, when it comes to the choice between consuming free-range chicken or caged and antibiotic-fed chicken, or local organic vegetables instead of a bag of Doritos, or a diet soda riddled with refined and artificial sugar instead of water, are we actually limited in caring about the issues surrounding these products?

I have to agree with Lombrozo, that while the zero-sum argument may afford us a sense of security and ongoing goodliness in the face of so many issues to care about, it is actually a fallacy. When we have the option between foods that are organic/local/vegan/vegetarian/pesticide-free/antibiotic-free/cage-free etc., does it really take up that much of our mental capacity to make a conscious effort towards goods that are better for our environment, better for our own health, or better for animal welfare?  No, it really doesn’t.  We can make the choice between regular and diet soda, so why should the decision between better products and poor products be any more difficult?

As intelligent beings, we are able to consider multiple issues before we choose to consume a product.  Cell phones and their corresponding contracts are riddled with options, add-ons, and benefits and we seemingly are able to handle the onslaught of those options.  The same should apply to food and what we choose to consume.  Perhaps we are so intelligent that we have tricked ourselves, as Lombrozo hints at, into devising elaborate arguments justifying our lack of caring.  Instead of crafting arguments to protect our aura of goodliness, it might just be easier to consider our willpower to be an unlimited resource.  As Lombrozo states, “there is some evidence that willpower is a limited resource, at least when people think that it’s a limited resource.”  I argue that perhaps it might be time to let go of limiting our willpower and to stop playing the goodliness as zero-sum game in favor of making more conscious food choices.

The full NPR article can be found here.

Things to think about the next time you go grocery shopping.