Four Seats and Four Questions

Higher Ground

Four Seats and Four Questions

Apr 25, 2023

I want to share one of my favorite stories with all of you.

In 2005, my wife and I had the opportunity to go to dinner with Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose. I had long admired Milton’s work and was excited to enjoy what I thought would be a delicious meal filled with a lively discussion and debate of Libertarian economics – but it became so much more.

Once arriving at Milton’s home, we engaged in small talk and he suddenly asked me, “John, why are you vegan?” Instead of simply just answering him, I proposed a challenge that consisted of four questions. I pledged to stop being vegan if he could answer all four, but if he couldn’t answer them, Milton would have to become a vegan himself. After a long pause, he accepted my challenge and listened to my four questions:

  1. If you eat animals yourself, not only are you killing that animal, but there’s a 99% chance that the animal spent their life suffering in a system that prioritizes productivity over quality of life. Are you okay with that?
  2. You don’t need to eat animals to be healthy and live a long life. In fact, I would argue that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the single healthiest diet you can eat. So, why do we eat animals at all?
  3. There’s no denying that we don’t need to eat meat, but that we’ve evolved to enjoy eating meat. It’s a part of our culture. Is it okay to kill innocent animals just because it’s a part of your culture?
  4.  Acknowledging that eating meat is not necessary for your health and well-being, can you justify causing the death and suffering of thousands of animals just because it tastes good?

His reaction was silence – I could see this brilliant man’s brain puzzled. He’d clearly never heard this argument before.

The entire car ride to dinner we discussed directions and our mutual love for the restaurant where we were dining. There was no mention of my challenge or any form of response the entire ride. I assumed the topic wouldn’t be revisited. But to my surprise, Milton stood up in the middle of dinner, slammed his menu on the table, looked at his wife, and said “Rose, I can’t answer John’s argument. From this moment forward, I am a vegan.” What happened next was an even bigger surprise! In response, Rose stood up, slammed her menu on the table, and said “Milton! Don’t be ridiculous. We are 92 years old – it’s too late for us to become vegans!”

To this day, I still don’t know if Milton kept his part of the deal, but I never forgot how much impact these four simple questions can have.

Can you answer these questions?