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I made up a diet
What’s an ameliatarian?
An ameliatarian is a person who doesn’t eat eggs, poultry, or farmed seafood. I1 invented the term by combining “ameliorate” and “tarian”: an ameliatarian is someone who is eating in a way that’s better.
Why would you be an ameliatarian?
The average American eats about 400 kilograms of animal products a year. Of these:
58% is milk
14.5% is poultry
9.5% is beef
8% is pork
4% is eggs
3% is wild-caught fish
3% is farmed fish
Now let’s weight the US diet according to a reasonable estimate of how much direct suffering is caused by each food. (The calculator takes into account some animals having more moral weight than others.) Of the direct suffering caused by the US diet:
59% is farmed fish
23% is poultry
13% is eggs
3% is pork
0.9% is beef
0.3% is milk
Approximately zero is wild-caught fish
That is, you can eliminate 95% of the suffering associated with your diet simply by giving up farmed fish, poultry, and eggs. Feel free to poke at the calculator yourself, entering numbers you agree with; it doesn’t change the results much.
In short: you can get the vast majority of the benefits of a vegan diet by eliminating only about a fifth of the foods that Americans regularly eat, one of which has a perfectly good substitute available.
Hey, that’s the Pareto principle.
I know! I did not expect the numbers to come out in a way that memetically convenient.
Why do we need a word for this?
So that you can explain yourself to dinner party hosts and other people who might feed you. If there’s a word for it, it sounds like a real thing that other people are doing and not just you being a picky eater. Eventually, maybe it will catch on and you won’t even have to explain it every time.
I know a lot of people who are like “I’m vegetarian because I don’t really care about eating beef or wild-caught fish that much and I want to be able to easily explain myself to other people.” I assume that there are probably a lot of people who similarly value making sense to others, but really care about eating beef, and so they don’t give up farmed seafood or chicken. This seems bad and I want to help.
If you’re writing articles explaining animal product reduction to people, it’s also easier to say “ameliatarianism” than “not eating farmed fish, poultry, or eggs.”
Why does wild-caught fish cause so little suffering?
In my calculations above, I’m talking about direct suffering—that is, the suffering of the individual you eat. Direct suffering is an okay proxy for the overall suffering caused by a food.2 Wild-caught fish generally die relatively quickly, even though their deaths can be horrific. The effects of eating wild-caught fish are almost all indirect: on the fish’s conspecifics, predators, prey, the overall ecosystem, and so on and so forth. The field of welfare biology is in its infancy and it’s difficult to know what the effects are. I’m not averse to taking indirect effects into account, but I’m not going to recommend not eating wild-caught fish when we don’t even know if doing so is good or bad.
Is ameliatarianism good for the environment?
I selected the “forbidden foods” based exclusively on direct animal suffering. I did not include the effects on the environment. Beef has the highest carbon footprint of any commonly eaten food, because the ruminant digestive system produces a lot of methane. If you remove farmed seafood, eggs, and poultry and replace them with beef, your carbon footprint will go up. If you remove farmed seafood, eggs, and poultry and replace them with tofu, beans, and nuts, your carbon footprint will probably go down.
Personally, I believe that the most important negative consequence of animal agriculture is the suffering caused to farmed animals. If you disagree, you should eat a different diet.
Can an ameliatarian eat unlabeled fish that could be farmed or wild-caught?
No. An ameliatarian should only eat fish specifically labeled as wild-caught. While some fish are fraudulently labeled as wild-caught when they’re actually farmed, requiring a label is a reasonable amount of overhead that reduces the risk of accidentally eating farmed fish while not taxing your memory too much.
Can an ameliatarian eat non-fish seafood, such as shrimp, lobster, or octopus?
An ameliatarian should not eat most farmed nonfish seafood. While we have studied the intelligence of (say) decapod crustaceans far less than we’ve studied most vertebrate taxa, they also tend to be teeny. The average American eats a tenth of a beef cow and 137 shellfish a year. Even if you eat a lot of beef and rather little shellfish, you’re likely to kill far more shellfish individuals—which vastly increases the suffering associated with your diet. Even though we’re uncertain whether they’re sentient and how bad the lives of farmed individuals are, prudence suggests that these should be avoided for now, awaiting future research. Again, wild-caught seafood is permitted.
You can eat bivalves such as clams, oysters, and mussels in good conscience: they’re basically meat plants.
Can an ameliatarian eat “incidental eggs” in baked goods or stir-fries?
Can an ameliatarian eat eggs or meat from their backyard chickens or those of a friend?
Yes—there is very little direct suffering associated with eating these animals or their eggs.
Can an ameliatarian eat humanely raised eggs and chickens?
No. Most animal welfare labels are functionally meaningless. Choosing to only eat Certified Humane eggs and chicken is noble, but is a different practice than ameliatarianism. However, if you choose to eat an ameliatarian diet outside the home and use Certified Humane eggs and chicken for your home cooking, I’m not going to be the poultry police.
Actually my friend Schema when I did a brainstorming session.