Should a vegan consume bugs?
January 12, 2010 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Should a vegan consume bugs?

I finally want to go back into uni. I have completed my application, and was about to send it when I noticed the logo on the site, which is UCAS. The logo is red, which means that they will send me letters using inks which probably have carmine in, a product of a beetle.

Question: I am a vegan, and was wondering: is it okay to kill bugs or consume things with carmine in? I know I'm a vegan, but surely bugs should go in the same catagory as trees or plants, or am I wrong? Do they feel pain? How so? Should I still apply? If possible, could you post links to back up? I'm sorry I'm being demanding, but I'm kinda stressed.

posted by Jazzwick to Religion & Philosophy (67 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
So much of being vegetarian or vegan is based on personal choices and matters of degree, and I think this is really a choice that you need to make for yourself, and depends upon your own comfort level. I'm vegetarian, and I don't eat some things (like marshmallows) that other vegetarians think are fine to eat, and I consume some things (stout beers from the UK) that other vegetarians have blocked from their diet.

Now, if your question were something along the lines of "How sure can I be that they're using non-beetle-friendly ink?", then it would be easier to answer. Instead, you're asking if it's okay, which is a whole different issue.

What are you comfortable with?
posted by scarykarrey at 7:34 AM on January 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Avoid deliberately eating whole bugs all you want, but carmine is the least of your problems -- there is a certain federally acceptable percentage of insect parts in every can of vegetables.
posted by hermitosis at 7:36 AM on January 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Do insects feel pain?

There is a ton of information out there about this. Do a little research and make up your own mind on the issue.
posted by Loto at 7:37 AM on January 12, 2010

Organizations like PETA include insects. Their taxonomic classification is within the Kingdom Animalia.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:38 AM on January 12, 2010

The logo is red, which means that they will send me letters using inks which probably have carmine in

Why do you assume this is the case? Carmine is used primarily in food and jewelry, where material trumps cost. Mass-printed stationary would probably have a cheaper synthetic ink.
posted by mkultra at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2010 [11 favorites]

is it okay to kill bugs or consume things with carmine in?

That is a personal decision that you need to make for yourself, in line with your own ethical standards.

surely bugs should go in the same catagory as trees or plants

Um, no. "Bugs" are, absolutely, animals. On a basic, cellular level, bugs are animals. They are in class Animalia. Heck, mushrooms are closer, and genetically, to humans than they are to trees and grass.

So make up your mind about how you feel about bugs and veganism, and then decide. But don't try to convince yourself that bugs are vegetable, not animal, because you'd be wrong.
posted by amelioration at 7:40 AM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]

This all depends on your level of comfort. As a vegan, you can clearly control what you eat but you cannot control what others do. Unless you limit all contact with other vegans, you will have to interact with non-vegan people at uni (professors, admissions officers, TAs) who all had to consume some form of non-vegan food in order to have the energy to interact with you.
posted by special-k at 7:41 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was a vegetarian/vegan for three years straight. Seeing as how I used the word "was," you can take my advice with a grain of salt.

Though I do think bugs/insects should go in the same category as other living beings, I really think you should still apply.

And perhaps, separate from your application, inquire about the use of carmine in their logo, and if used, send a letter expressing your concerns.
posted by DeltaForce at 7:42 AM on January 12, 2010

There's no carmine in red printer's ink. It's really, really expensive and there are cheaper and more stable reds. (There is carmine in some brands of illustrator's ink, so that's something to consider if that's work you do.)

Going to that university isn't going to cause you to kill cochineal insects, or cause anyone to do it on your behalf.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:43 AM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, most vegans don't consume honey. Which is made by bees. Which is an insect.
posted by DeltaForce at 7:44 AM on January 12, 2010

Anxiety manifests itself in a lot of different ways. A vegan stance always involves choices, deciding how far is too far. At some level, however, regardless of whether bugs feel pain, you're not going to be able to keep people from sending you stuff with carmine pigments in them. This is actually the point at which a preference, veganism, becomes something like a phobia "I did not apply to uni because they used red in their logo...."

So, yes, PETA classifies bugs as animals which is probably the citation you want. That said, I think you should still apply because most interpretations of vegan tenets do not extend to refusing to accept products that have certain ink used in them. Not buying cosmetics with carmine? Certainly. Not interacting with retailers who may use carmine to make the red letters in their magazines? Less likely.

If this is truly an issue that concerns you, I'd apply to the uni and mitigate your contact somewhat.

- ascertain whether they are even using carmine, first
- ask for notices to be delivered electronically
- if you get in and attend, start an awareness campaign about the use of carmine, if that's something that's important to you [and if the uni is really doing it]

So I think even if you decide that vegans don't consume bugs, you're still a few steps from "... therefore I shouldn't aply to uni" which is sort of your secondary question.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Meanwhile, I would expect that many insects were killed in the processing of lumber into paper (termites, e.g.). I think if your concern for causing the death of animals is limited to the use vel non of carmine in red ink, you're not thinking expansively enough.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hey Sid, do you have any links to back that up? Sorry.

But then even if insects didn't feel pain, there's some people who can't either, so what makes it okay to kill a bug but not a human wihout a decent nervous system (again, really sorry but I am very stressed)
posted by Jazzwick at 7:47 AM on January 12, 2010

If you were to avoid all actions that are likely to result in the death of bugs, you'd probably have nothing left to eat. In order to eat plant products, you are in direct competition with a lot of bugs who also want to eat those plants, and even organic farming has to address this issue - there are plenty of "natural" pesticides that are used to kill bugs that want to eat your dinner.

Therefore, just for practical reasons, I would avoid getting too worried about the fate of bugs.
posted by emilyw at 7:49 AM on January 12, 2010 [12 favorites]

In some googling about this, I noticed some vegan sites that sell t-shirts that have red ink on them. It's probably not made from bugs (as others have noted, there are cheaper inks for stuff like this), but no one on those sites seems concerned about the red ink. I've seen discussions on tattoo sites about vegan inks, so if you're going to get tattooed, that might be a concern. But otherwise, yes, you need to draw the line yourself.
posted by rtha at 7:50 AM on January 12, 2010

For me the short answer is "no." Insects fall into the category of "animal," so vegans do not consume/use products that are made from them.

The long answer is more like "well ..."

To me, veganism isn't all or nothing. There are going to be times that you may end up buying something that has carmine in it, or even honey (not to mention that you probably are stepping on ants when you go for a walk, or smashing a fly on your windshield). Does that mean you should go chow down on a steak and still call yourself vegan? No, not at all. Basically for me, being vegan is doing what you can, being aware of what you're consuming and buying.

Animal products are sadly ubiquitous and unless you're making everything yourself, despite your best efforts, you're probably going to end up purchasing something that was made with some animal biproduct. But to me, "best efforts" is what it's all about.

If the university is using carmine in their ink, that's their choice. You can seek out ink that doesn't use animal products.

(I say this in just about every vegan/vegetarian thread, but for me, it's about living a more peaceful life and avoiding inflicting conflict and pain. That extends to myself, too. That involves not freaking out if I maybe ate something that had cheese and not starting fights with people over these issues. It's about not worrying what other people do. But people become vegan for different reasons. What works for me may not work for you.)
posted by darksong at 7:51 AM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

From Peter Singer, who you've probably heard of if you're interested in animal rights: "Well, what I’m really concerned with is the capacity to suffer and of course it’s difficult to say where to draw the line between beings who can suffer and beings who can’t. My belief, but I can’t say that I know this, is that insects are not conscious beings, not really capable of suffering, but I will still give them the benefit of the doubt when I can. I would rather brush away an insect than kill it and I would rather not use fly spray if there are other ways of keeping flies out of the place and out of our food and so on. So, give them the benefit of the doubt where you can, but in the end I’m not as concerned about insects as I am about vertebrates who I’m sure can suffer"

But I will second jessamyn in saying that it sounds like you are funneling anxiety from other issues into this. You might find it helpful to take a walk, not think about this for a few hours, and come back later.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:56 AM on January 12, 2010

All vegans need to draw the line somewhere. For instance, the film used to project movies is made with gelatin, which is an animal product. So, going to the movies isn't vegan. Does that mean you can watch movies only on DVD? Ah, but then you're still supporting the filmmakers and industry that profited from the film (even assuming the physical DVD was made with no animal products). So, you can't watch movies at all. Now, few if any vegans will take things this far.

But let's say you did take things that far. On one hand, that'd be very impressive -- good for you. But on the other hand, would that be so great? Or could it actually be counterproductive by convincing lots of people around you that veganism is an unworkable lifestyle that leads to more harm than good?

You could do a Google search -- [vegan bugs] or [vegan carmine beetles] -- to find out what other people have thought about this from a vegan perspective.

But you seem to think that vegans have some kind of pope. They don't. You have to use your own individual reasoning.

Also, I recommend calming down.

(Caveat: I'm a vegetarian, not a vegan.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:56 AM on January 12, 2010

Thanks for your input guys. One last thing, I found a really good article on pain and invertebrates:
posted by Jazzwick at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2010

Seconding what jessamyn wrote about anxiety and using the red ink as a possible excuse to not apply for university; if that's what's happening here, it might be useful to speak to a counselor for an unbiased opinion on your choices.

But as far as being vegan goes...I am, and my stance is -- you do what you can.

So for me, that means I check every ingredient label, don't buy or eat things with animal products in, and if there's a spider in the house I put it outside instead of squishing it.

If the cat kills a spider, or if someone sends me something with bug ink...well, there's not really anything that can be done about that. For example, my Mom gave me a leather jacket as a travel souvenir. I gave it to a coworker and later casually mentioned that I would prefer leather-free products in the future.

I read a Zen koan once that I have always remembered as being particularly relevant and in line with my own personal beliefs, and which seems to apply here as well:

While practicing his walking meditation, the blind monk would inadvertently step on ants, killing them. Seeing the blind monk causing the ants harm, a group of monks became upset & went to the Buddha. They asked him how this monk could be allowed to practice when he was breaking the first precept of nonharming. The Buddha pointed out the difference between a person who deliberately steps on ants, and a blind monk who simply cannot see them. The distinction lay in the intention.
posted by lhall at 8:05 AM on January 12, 2010

Hey Sid, do you have any links to back that up? Sorry.

Call the people who almost certainly made the ink for the stationery (as they do for most if not all business stationery in the UK)--the Flint Group and ask them directly.

Seriously, do this. The university isn't going to know, and the printer probably isn't going to know. But the Flint Group knows. They make the ink.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

It may be worth noting that beetles and other insects are arthropods, and have similar nervous systems to other arthropods, which include shrimp, lobsters, and crabs.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:20 AM on January 12, 2010

How many letters will you get from UCAS? I suspect it will not be many. The initial application is online. I am uncertain as to whether you get an overall offer letter physically or whether this is online or not. My understanding is that you get a snailmail offer letter from the individual university (ie not UCAS) with your institutional offer (for example, post A levels) and this will have that institution's logo on it (ours is blue and black, *hint, hint*).

Talk to someone about whether uni is right for you, or whether it is right for you, right now. I have plenty of students who benefit from coming to uni direct from their A levels, both in allowing them to get more idea of what they really want to do and in shaping their attitude to work generally and the academic work they do at uni.
posted by biffa at 8:35 AM on January 12, 2010

Have you read up on the Jain belief? They address this issue.
posted by Aquaman at 8:37 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, not to open another can of bugs, but Shellac: Natural/organic product, or animal product?
posted by SpecialK at 8:39 AM on January 12, 2010

You may want to think of it this way: can the animal suffer? Pain is one thing, but suffering (ie thinking and being stressed about that pain) can be argued to be the thing that gives pain meaning. While it's hard to know these things conclusively, it's most likely that insects respond to sensations (including pain) in a rather mechanical, rote manner, similar to a computer program or a machine.

A human who can't feel pain can still suffer. If you were to hurt someone he loved or to cut off a limb, he'd feel a great deal of anxiety. That's why we still bestow consideration on the rare person with CIPA.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:39 AM on January 12, 2010

To advocate: Does this mean that if they're related, they're more likely to feel pain? Cause some studys seem to show that lobsters and that feel pain.
posted by Jazzwick at 8:41 AM on January 12, 2010

Chances are very good that foods you eat, particularly grains and legumes, do contain some bug parts due to harvesting and storage.
posted by mareli at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

To take this to an extreme, since you mentioned "consuming bugs" in your headline, probably any vegetable you buy in any store has been treated with substances that killed plenty of insects. The ink used to print a logo on company letterhead probably killed fewer insects than the apple orchard that made your afternoon snack.
posted by carlh at 9:06 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all your replies. Unfortunaltely, I don't think this is likely to be resolved. If beetles are related to lobsters and crabs, and lobsters and crabs seem to feel pain (this and this), then by comparimng, shouldn't the beetles feel pain? F**k.
posted by Jazzwick at 9:09 AM on January 12, 2010

Lobsters do feel pain. Bugs probably do too.

Apply to university anyway.
posted by lhall at 9:17 AM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Bugs are definetly animals so I don't think vegans should be eating them.

More concerning is letting the possibility that the university's logo might be colored with something derived from beetles affect your choice of whether or not to apply to it.

If you follow this line of thinking, you shouldn't be doing business with anyone wearing leather shoes or who eats meat. That kind of adherence could be crippling in this world. Don't stress about the choices of others when it comes to their lifestyle/purchases/whatever.

Its not like the university manufactures the insect based inks.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 9:22 AM on January 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think the difference between "pain" and "suffering" ought to be considered where moral issues like these are concerned. Pain is an unavoidable experience for every single organism able to sense it.
posted by hermitosis at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're overthinking a plate of bugs. I think most vegans would consider bugs animals, but differences of opinion are common and there's no real consensus. It's ultimately your decision.

If you're basing your university choice on how vegan they are, or how many bugs they may or may not kill, you might have a tough time. I don't think there are any universities (and not many, if any, potential employers) who are vegan down to their choice of printing supplies. (Consider also that the school probably uses an outside company for most of their print literature and letterhead.) I think even serious vegans have a difficult time finding products/companies/organizations that have the same level of commitment, and at some point they have to draw a line.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2010

Therefore, just for practical reasons, I would avoid getting too worried about the fate of bugs.

I have to agree with those who say that you just need to accept the imperfection of the vegan quest. Even if you eat only fruits and vegetables, the reality is that farming kills a lot of bugs and animals, directly (through pest control, even organic pest control, and through the inherent violence of all harvesting mechanisms) and indirectly (through runoff, environmental damage, and competition for habitat and food resources). It is impossible to eat without using resources and impacting the Earth's energy systems, including its living creatures, in one way or another. You are doing a lot to minimize your harm, but you can never make it disappear completely - and it certainly shouldn't stop you from doing something, like getting a degree, which may make you more stable and powerful and better able to advocate for yourself and represent the issues you care about more effectively to others.
posted by Miko at 9:25 AM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, I don't think this is likely to be resolved.

I think you need to find a way to reconcile being a vegan with living in a non-vegan world. Specifically, I think you need to find a way to accept that non-vegan people and organizations will occasionally give or offer non-vegan things to you, and it doesn't make you a bad person or a bad vegan if you don't completely isolate yourself from those people and organizations.

Going by your current logic, even if the ink on the acceptance letter is beetle-free, you'll have to decline their offer because in all likelihood, their "Welcome new students!" luncheon will serve non-vegan food (though likely with vegan options available). Their dining halls, snack shops, and vending machines--all provided for your as well as other students' benefit--will be non-vegan. Their maintenance staff will trap and kill mice and bugs in university buildings so that you and other students don't have infested classrooms.

What if, instead of worrying about the ways in which you might indirectly benefit from the possible suffering of beetles and other creatures, you focused on ways in which you might bring your unique perspective of deep care and concern for animals to those non-vegan people and organizations who use carmine dye, etc.?
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2010 [15 favorites]

It's one thing to make your own choices when it comes to the ethics of killing animals. It's another to expect every institution that you participate in to conform to your principles, down to the smallest iota (i.e. whether they may OR MAY NOT use ink that has bugs in it).

The latter seems like a course that will create a lot of angst and unhappiness for you over things that you cannot control. Is this really how you want to spend your life energy?

Honestly, this seems to me like it has more to do with your anxiety about returning to school than it does about hypothetical bugs.

I suggest you look at that, and figure out some more direct ways of handling your anxiety. Such as taking a nice walk or something.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:53 AM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

As many others have said you have to draw the line somewhere. If you really wanted to be super-extra-sauce-vegan you couldn't eat almost any commercially grown vegetables.

Because vegetables, even all-natural organic ones, are grown with fertilizer and that's made from animal product. If you object to the enslavement of cows and chickens for their milk and eggs, those same cows and chickens poop is used to make most industrial fertilizer.

You have to do what you can and not sweat the small stuff. Unless you want to commit to growing all you own food, and not living in modern commercial society.
posted by French Fry at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2010

This is a slight derail, but is relevant to the discussion.

Pain is an evolved response to certain stimuli. It evolved as a way to motivate organisms to avoid damaging situations and protect the body in order to survive, reproduce, and transmit their genes to the next generation. As humans we perceive it as an unpleasant experience because we want (or, I suppose, our genes want) to avoid the damaging situations. If we didn't feel pain we'd be in trouble (consider the leper). We can never now whether other animals that respond to similar stimuli feel it in exactly the same way as us: even within humans, there's plenty of variation in the way we respond to the same stimulus. (I'm not a philosopher but I suppose this is a kind of subjectivism).

My view is that all animals that respond to stimuli that are damaging (by running away or whatever) feel pain of some sort. If they didn't perceive it as "unpleasant" and "pain-like" then they wouldn't respond in the same way. However, since the pain response is uber important, evolved a long time ago, and seems to be conserved across the animal kingdom, I would conclude that all animals feel pain in a similar way. This is why I think all animals should be treated humanely, and one of the reasons I think that the stupid bush-tucker challenges on the show "I'm a Celebrity..." are immoral (do you have that in the US?).

FWIW, I don't think you should worry about the red ink in this case, but I applaud the fact that it was something you thought about.

Oh, and definitely don't let this put you off applying to the university in question.
posted by jonesor at 9:58 AM on January 12, 2010

Jazzwick, you might want to take a look at this short video referenced over in the blue. Short version: your life is filled with things made from animals that not even vegans can avoid.
posted by jdfan at 10:03 AM on January 12, 2010

Yeah, thing is though I have major OCD and I think I could be punished if I stopped becoming one.
posted by Jazzwick at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2010

I am a vegan, and was wondering: is it okay to kill bugs or consume things with carmine in? I know I'm a vegan, but surely bugs should go in the same catagory as trees or plants, or am I wrong? Do they feel pain? How so?

I suppose my first question to you would be, why would you be asking someone else whether or not it is okay to do something? If you are looking to be told what it okay, you come off as trying to rid yourself of the consideration entirely and offload it onto some governing body--but you can't have it both ways. You can't be a living being dedicated to not causing other living being pain (and based on your reply, pain seems to be the deciding factor) without spending time actually making a choice about what is or is not "okay." You are the arbiter of your own moral code; anyone else that claims to be is lying to you, and by choosing someone else you lie to yourself.

My take? You are not an organism that is capable of living in a vaccuum. As a living being, you must consume organic substances that are the product of life--you must consume life to survive. You emerged from cutthroat competition between organisms who happily consumed each other to survive. If you believe that receiving letters with red ink which might or might not have come from bugs is morally negative, surely you ignore that life itself is based on pain and death? On consumption of resources? That at every step, an available resource will end up getting eaten by something else? Obviously only you can draw the line, but it sounds like you have drawn the line at an impossible point for anyone living in a modern society. I'm sure that must be distressing for you, and I'm hoping you can find a place for your line that is morally acceptable to you and possible in general.
posted by Phyltre at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you are trying to solve the wrong problem.

Incidentally I studied the printing industry from the point of view of product chemistry for a think tank many years ago and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the majority of industrial red pigments are purely synthetic organic chemicals.
posted by nanojath at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

OK, at this point you're clearly looking more for therapy than for guidelines on veganism. So, I recommend therapy.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2010 [13 favorites]

Unfortunaltely, I don't think this is likely to be resolved.

Here's the short version of what I'm about to say: If this is really, genuinely an ethical problem for you, then you will be unable to live life in society, and you would not have been able to use a computer to ask your question on MetaFilter. Therefore, it's not a problem for you and you should get over it.

Your dilemma can very easily be resolved by you deciding, on an ethical level, what sort of life you want to live. If you don't want to eat bugs for ethical reasons, then that aspect is resolved and very easily livable. If you don't want to personally and intentionally be responsible for the death of a bug, then that aspect is resolved and fairly easily livable, as well.

But if you want to live in such a way that you are never the recipient of mail from another party that has a logo printed using ink with an insect byproduct or component as an ingredient, living that way might be possible, but it will be extraordinarily difficult and will take you way outside what any reasonable person considers to be described as "vegan." If that's the path you choose, you'll probably need to pick a word other than "vegan" to describe yourself, because it really doesn't capture the sort of lifestyle that such a choice would lead to.

Indeed, unless you are willing to take yourself off the grid completely and live with almost no contact with society - and particularly to avoid technology of almost any kind, you will never be able to even approach the level of isolation that would be consistent with a decision not to apply to a university based on its use of the color red in the logo on its letterhead.

In using a computer to ask a question on MetaFilter, you put yourself far closer to the killing of bugs and other animals than you would by applying to a university with the color red in its letterhead. Given that you did use a computer to ask your question, and that you presumably don't refuse myriad other aspects of modern society, such as paying for a service that might send you a letter sealed in an envelope with an unidentified adhesive, riding in vehicles (including bicycles and public transportation) unless you can determine the origin of every material, adhesive, and substance used in the vehicle's manufacture, and that you don't essentially forego any sort of interaction with nearly every product of every kind unless you made it yourself, I'm guessing that you're not really the sort of person who has an ethical problem with a lifestyle that includes computer usage, vehicle ridership, and interaction with products not of your own manufacture.

The answer, therefore, is that, because you have no ethical problem fitting computer usage and participation in society generally into your personal conception of "vegan," the receipt of university correspondence with red in the letterhead also poses no ethical problem as to your personal conception of "vegan."

You're feeling anxiety for some other reason and you are using an invented construction of veganism inconsistent with your own actual practice as a scapegoat for your genuine and understandable anxiety about returning to university. I would feel anxiety, too, and I don't blame you. But fight through that -- you'll be glad you did. If professional help is necessary to help you to overcome the anxiety of a red logo in letterhead that you receive, then you should seek such professional help. In fact, there are so many thousands of bug-killing things at every university on Earth that are so much more obvious than a red logo that I suspect you're either having a serious beanplate deflection or you have issues that need to be addressed by a professional.

[Full disclosure: My graduate school's colors were cream and crimson. But I don't eat bugs.]
posted by The World Famous at 10:12 AM on January 12, 2010 [12 favorites]

"Carmine is today primarily used as a food coloring and for cosmetics."

You will note also from that article that synthetic reds started to displace carmine starting in the 19th century. Seriously, friend: you are throwing this up as an obstacle because this issue of returning to school is pushing you out of your comfort zone.
posted by nanojath at 10:15 AM on January 12, 2010

Thanks to all the people who replied, I appreciate it.
posted by Jazzwick at 10:27 AM on January 12, 2010

Let me be the severalth person to say that carmine isn't used in printer's ink. So your question as originally asked is answered. Trying to reconcile veganism with the rest of the world is boiling the ocean.
posted by GuyZero at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2010

the majority of industrial red pigments are purely synthetic organic chemicals.

Maybe beside the point by now but I should note (because I forget this is basically lingo) that "purely synthetic organic chemicals" in this context means completely man-made chemicals that are derived from petroleum or other fossil-fuel byproducts (ah chemistry, where "organic" means totally the opposite of what you'd think it would).
posted by nanojath at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2010

The university might be using carmine made from bugs in their ink. But even more likely than them using carmine in their ink, they probably drove animals of some sort, and bugs, out from their homes in order to build the campus, right?

For this one tiny issue, there's probably a thousand others in the same category that you do every day without a second thought. As others have said, if you really want to live a "vegan life" where you have zero impact on animals and bugs, you're probably going to have to go live naked in the wilderness somewhere.

But, to answer your main question... yes, serious vegans should not eat bugs or use insect-based products. And if you're still concerned about the carmine in the ink, you're going to need to call the ink manufacturer as Sid suggested.
posted by joshrholloway at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2010

> Yeah, thing is though I have major OCD and I think I could be punished if I stopped becoming one.

You are getting muddled between what YOU want to do, as an ethical person, and what the OCD wants you to do.

You're not going to be able to happily live your life by your own principles until you somehow manage to separate out your ethics from your OCD. Trying to be a PERFECT vegan because the OCD tells you to is going to cause you so much difficulty. You're already considering not applying to university because of it! That's such an enormous step! Letting your ethical principles run your life is one thing, but letting your OCD run your life is quite another.

Therefore, get yourself urgently to a specialist in OCD who can help you sort this out and make sure you make important decisions based on what you really want for yourself and the world around you - not based on the thoughts in your head telling you that you will be punished.

P.S. Nobody will punish you over the matter of the red ink, I promise. Fill in the application form and say "screw you" to the OCD.
posted by emilyw at 10:41 AM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

A Hindustani friend looked at me with pity when I tried to mock him in this regard. "You eat strawberry yogurt don't you?" He just shook his said and said, "you are so far from understanding."

I think what he meant was, live your life the best you can according to your moral compass, but don't go around with a microscope counting fragments of insect wings.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:42 AM on January 12, 2010

Contrary to the other people above me, I agree with the poster (and it seems his mind is made up): I think you should not go to that school. Here's why: As far as I can tell, you have not contacted the ink manufacturer, and yet when faced with even the unproved possibility that a bug might be killed in the process of making ink that may or may not be used in the few printed items you receive from a university, which you may or may not be able to get electronically, you still contend that it is not a good idea to even apply.

That, to me, is a strong indication that you don't belong in that school. If you are a wreck thinking about this, going to a 4-year university will just be too difficult.
posted by Houstonian at 10:58 AM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

A Hindustani friend looked at me with pity

This word... I do not think it means what you think it means. Are you making some reference to the Hindu practice of Ahimsa as it relates to dietary choices? Because it is much more complicated in practice than "vegetarianism" as we use that term in the West.
posted by rkent at 11:04 AM on January 12, 2010

Asking about pain is really asking about the question of experience. General anesthetics don't keep your nerves from "feeling" pain, they prevent your experience of it. If you're going to start asking whether bugs have experience, you're not going to find a verifiable answer. If you decide that bugs (tapeworms? dust mites? bacteria?) might have experience, then why wouldn't plants have experience? They respond to stimulus in at least as complicated a fashion as a worm. Some communicate with specific, flexible chemical vocabulary. So you're a Jain? How can you hope to interpret the desires of a plant?

In short: Fucking please.
posted by cmoj at 11:12 AM on January 12, 2010

The red ink will not be made of insect parts. It will be made of manufactured chemicals, so that it will spread, dry, last, and be cheap enough to use by the barrel full.

If you attend this University, your red problems with be these: Do you get a school symbol painted on your face? No, because it is likely to have insect parts as pigment. Do you get a diploma, with the red logo printed? No, because it might be an actual sheep skin. At some institutions of higher learning, there is a choice of material for the diploma, however.

Good luck with your OCD, and your school choice. I admire your concern for the suffering of animals.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:45 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think eating bugs or using their bodies for anything useful is not where you need to start worrying. Think about all those bugs that you murder every time you're in a motor vehicle. Do you check your foot placement every time you're walking down the side walk so as not to crush a bug. Heaven help you if you're walking in a natural surface, you're like a roving bug holocaust at that point. How many moths do you cruelly starve to death by having lights on a night? Not to mention the bugs that innocently wander into your mouth while you sleep only to be destroyed by your unconscious sallow murder reflex.

Or life feeds on life.
posted by betaray at 11:58 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dear Jazzwick, I think you should consult a therapist.

Humans kill bugs by hundreds daily. For instance Acari live all around you and are destroyed when they enter your body as you breath. You crush ants, spiders, millipedes and many others whenever you take a walk or worse, use a wheeled device such as a bike, train or car. If you take planes, their engines kill many more insects as they take off or land. The insect processing industry is negligible compared to these fatalities.

On a more personal note, if you were to empathize with every life that goes away due to human action, you would soon go crazy. There is no way you can hold these millions of lives in your heart, it will destroy you.

Also, I'd like to bring your attention to the following: while you may consider OK to eat a plant's fruits because that is the very way plants have evolved to propagate their seeds, any uprooting of a vegetable is actually a loss of life for good. Also, while plants do not have a nervous system they have other sensory paths that allow them to "feel" distress:
while plants probably can't "feel pain" (as defined
in human dictionaries), plants can certainly sense their environment
and react in ways that are clearly intended to minimize threats to
life and/or reproduction: threats that humans would interpret as
painful.  In other words, whatever one chooses to call it, plants
certainly experience the *functional equivalent* of that which we
humans call "pain", as do essentially all other organisms.
So why limit your concerns to members of the kingdom "animalia"? Surely, being vegan is not only about the *pain* of other living beings. Otherwise, if you are consistent it would weed you out of existence.

posted by knz at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2010

Knz, people have tried to prove that plants can feel pain, and they've failed dismally. Saying that plants don't feel pain (since, as you're aware, they don't have a nervous system) but have the "functional equivalent" of pain is an excuse to sweep cruelty to animals under the rug. The OP has made it clear that his concern is about animals. "What about the poor plants?" is a cute debating trick but not particularly helpful here.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:53 PM on January 12, 2010

Do you eat lobsters and shellfish? They're invertebrates, just like those bugs you're worried about and with the same overall kind of nervous system. If you draw the line at one, you draw it at the other. The ethics are actually pretty straightforward I think.

Even if you choose a university with a different coloured logo are you going to shun every class that gives coloured hand outs or uses red in their text books? You either need to learn in a way that satisfies you how unlikely it is that any of this has carmine in it (contact the university, talk with a printer, read the answers above, whatever) so you can let this go or get help to deal with whatever the red ink is triggering, because this goes beyond trying to be a good vegan.
posted by shelleycat at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2010

Apply to the school. Or don't. It has nothing to do with bugs or being vegan.

This is not what veganism is about. Or rather, it's only about that to people who don't bother to try to understand reality. Reality is that just by being alive you are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands if not millions of animals. This is unavoidable. Bugs are animals, true. Maybe they experience pain, maybe not. If you want to, give them the benefit of the doubt and don't eat huge fistfulls of them. But don't pretend that red ink is a big problem.
posted by beerbajay at 2:42 PM on January 12, 2010

Just as a note to people who think UCAS is a university, it is not. It's the administrative body in this country through which one applies to university. As far as I know, it's impossible to get into any university in the UK without applying through UCAS.

I think I had eight letters in total from UCAS when I was applying, one confirmation of acceptance or rejection for each uni I applied to and two at either end of the process. But that was 10 years ago, and it looks like a lot of their stuff might be online these days, so receiving letters might be avoidable. But it is only part of one letter in the logo.

Please see your GP and get a referral for your OCD.
posted by featherboa at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2010

Do you eat lobsters and shellfish? They're invertebrates, just like those bugs you're worried about and with the same overall kind of nervous system. If you draw the line at one, you draw it at the other. The ethics are actually pretty straightforward I think.

No, it isn't that simple. You need to also consider the manner in which they're kept and killed.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:33 PM on January 12, 2010

You need to also consider the manner in which they're kept and killed.

The crayfish and shellfish I eat are collected straight from the sea and killed humanely. The few vegans I know still don't eat them. It's still meat, just like a wild deer killed humanely is also meat and doesn't get eaten.

Or you can draw the line the other side, invertebrates aren't subject to animal welfare laws in my country as they are not considered highly developed enough. There are plenty of places to draw your own line, it's a personal decision with a million ways to justify it. And also has nothing to do with what's going on with the OP, that level of stress and fear over one logo (particularly given they aren't following the next logical step which is confirming what kind of ink was used) is not a reasonable reaction. Which is why do many people are suggesting a Drs visit to deal with the OCD and other things going on here.
posted by shelleycat at 6:20 PM on January 12, 2010

Which is why do many people are suggesting a Drs visit to deal with the OCD and other things going on here.

Yes, I was one of those people.

I was just responding to the statement that we can simply, automatically equate shellfish killed for meat and bugs killed for ink once we've established that those animals all have equivalent capacities for pain/suffering. It is not that simple. That is all I'm saying. I know nothing about what's done to bugs for ink, and I don't even know if it's true that shellfish are neurologically identical to bugs. Therefore, I have no opinion on whether lobster is more or less humane than certain kinds of ink.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2010

Just to drag the issue further towards the ridiculous, I think it's highly unlikely that there is actually "red ink" on printed matter that you will receive, since red is mixed as a combination of CMYK ink or toners.

Were it not for that, replacing carmine dye with synthetics was a really early success of industrial chemistry. Alizarin was patented in 1869. So, the price of carmine dye is about 20 times the price of synthetic red dyes, which is the reason why nobody uses it to make printer ink (or anything that doesn't benefit from glassy-eyed "ooh, natural" reactions).
posted by themel at 1:07 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you remember, Sidhedevil recommended contacting the ink manufacturer. I did this for you, via the Contact form on their website. (You can do it too, to double-check the response.)

I got a response: They do not use carmine for their red ink. I hope this helps you, and perhaps you now know two things: If carmine are used in their ink, and if the problem is really about the carmine.
posted by Houstonian at 1:38 PM on January 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

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