A colleague of mine is a very devoted vegan. So devoted, in fact, that he argues that it is morally wrong to wear fake fur or fake leather, or to eat any kind of non-meat food that is meant to look or taste like meat. Apparently, doing so symbolically condones tyranny over animals, supports the meat and animal-based fashion industries, and demonstrates disrespect and contempt towards animals. Now, I have nothing against veganism, but this just seems too radical. Is this kind of argumentation sound? Or are there any more sensible arguments against fake fur or leather, or meat-like food items?

Once the premise is accepted that the treatment of animals that is required to make fur or leather goods is cruel, it does seem to follow that we should do everything we reasonably can to stop it, or failing that, we should not support it. I suspect that you are right to call your friend's view "extreme". For one thing, manufacturing fake fur and leather and vegetarian or vegan food that tastes a bit like meat, though it isn't, may actually help the campaign against the cruel treatment of our suffering evolutionary cousins. On the other hand, even if one was attracted to the idea, there is something very wrong with manufacturing handbags to look like human skin, or fake human meat for morally scrupulous cannibals. Why the double standard?

The claim that something "symbolically supports tyranny..." is not a claim about the act in itself, but a claim about the meaning of the act. Your vegan friend may see troublesome meanings in the act of eating artifical bacon flavored chips or wearing fake fur. But not everyone does, and there is much ambiguity and complexity about what things mean. To take another example, I have friends who will not marry because they think that "marrying symbolically supports an institution that oppresses women." I don't doubt that marriage has historically oppressed women, but I think marriage has multiple meanings (commitment, family, for example) and any decision whether to marry or not needs to take all these meanings into account. Back to the fake fur: Personally I prefer fake fur that looks fake, so that I don't make unnecessary enemies or set a bad example. Your friend is so passionate about veganism that he focuses on one set of meanings.

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