On Moral Value, Objectification and Integrity

Two Scenarios – What Would You Do?

1) If you saw an obviously distressed barking dog locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do?  Would you look away and walk by as if nothing was happening?  Perhaps.  Or would you try the doors to see if you could open one and help the dog?  Would you look around for the owner of the car, perhaps going inside nearby stores and asking for help?  Or would you think about or even go as far as breaking a window to get the dog to safety?  After all, there’s a life at stake and you have the ability to save that life.

Still photo from 9/13/10 ABC News story of a potbellied pig rescued from a hot car. Not surprisingly, the news story used the word "sizzles", which is often used in conjunction with bacon.
Not surprisingly, this ABC News story from 2010 used the word “sizzles”, often used in conjunction with bacon, in this piece about a potbellied pig rescued from a hot car.

2) If you saw an obviously distressed squealing pig locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do?  Would you think, “Mmm!  Bacon!” and wait for him or her to cook to death, hoping the owner might share some of their carcass with you?  Would you look away and walk by as if nothing was happening?  Perhaps.  Or would you try the doors to see if you could open one and help the pig?  Would you look around for the owner of the car, perhaps going inside nearby stores and asking for help?  Or would you think about or even go as far as breaking a window to get the pig to safety?  After all, there’s a life at stake and you have the ability to save that life.

Moral Value

Pigs are not “bacon” any more than calves are “veal” or chickens are “drumsticks” or any other animal is only the parts humans deem useful – they are sentient beings and that fact does not change simply because some want to believe and behave as if the converse were true.  When societal “norms” allow for the devaluing of non-human animals to the point of no longer being viewed, treated and respected as living, breathing, feeling individuals deserving of autonomous lives free from being used as “things” merely to satisfy the fleeting pleasures of humans, an injustice is being perpetrated.

By analogy, women are not “pieces of ass”  – they are individuals and that fact does not change simply because some want to believe and behave as if the converse were true.  When societal “norms” allow for the devaluing of women to the point of no longer being viewed, treated and respected as living, breathing, feeling individuals deserving of autonomous lives free from being used merely to satisfy the fleeting pleasures of men, an injustice is being perpetrated.

If you agree that it is sexist and therefore wrong to objectify women (or children, or any humans) by using their bodies for one’s own purposes and find such behavior distasteful and unacceptable, then it only makes sense to agree that it is speciesist and therefore wrong to objectify non-humans by using their bodies, secretions and offspring for one’s own purposes and to find such behavior distasteful and unacceptable.  The fact that there is a difference in species does not indicate a difference in moral value between the two groups as they both share (at least) the common trait of sentience.

If one opposes at least one form of violent oppression because it is morally wrong, then to live in integrity requires opposing all forms of violent oppression because they are all morally wrong no matter who the victim is, regardless of (in no particular order) race, gender identity, species, sexual preference, age, physical ability or any other arbitrary criterion.

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Another Scenario – What Would You Do?

hot car baby

If you saw an obviously distressed screaming human baby locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do?   For most (if not all) people, there is only one answer – you do anything you’re able to do to help.  If your answer was not as clear and immediate in those scenarios in which the species of the trapped individual was other than human, perhaps it’s time to deeply explore how you have been indoctrinated into a society built on speciesism, blinded, misguided and conditioned by a lifetime of daily exposure to a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have humans believe all other species are subordinate to our own and exist merely to satisfy our pleasure, comfort and convenience… and then explore how living vegan dismantles speciesism, realigns your morals and behaviors and restores your personal integrity.

One Final Scenario – What WILL You Do?

Knowing that living non-vegan means you are directly complicit in the violent oppression, enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human animals – and that living vegan is the simplest and most immediate action you can take to end that oppression (and your part in it)… what will you do? 

Here is what I hope you will do –

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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Challenging Our Complacency, Vol. 1

It’s not just “meat” that’s at issue – ALL animal use for the satisfaction of human pleasure, comfort and convenience is morally unjustifiable.

“Unfortunately, the world will never become vegan.  We can only keep pushing forward for the humane treatment of animals.

I’ve heard versions of this comment frequently from vegans who believe in supporting single-issue animal welfare campaigns because they’re “the best we can do” and I feel compelled to respond.

I respectfully disagree with this shortsighted belief.  There was a time when the world was believed to be flat, humans couldn’t imagine traveling thousands of miles in a few hours inside a flying tube (with beverage service and bathrooms!!!), women were never going to have the right to vote and whites people were always going to enslave people of color.  There have been manned space flights, lunar landings and interplanetary exploration, all of which were unthinkable and deemed “impossible” not so long ago, all of which became reality* because people believed they could achieve them and worked to see those achievements come to fruition (*and all of which some would argue never happened at all, but that is another conversation entirely).  Complacency, laziness and blind acceptance of the unacceptable impede real progress.  Since we are always standing on the edge of our own understanding, both individually and collectively, it is imperative that we look toward what can be and move forward rather than stare back at what has been and remain stuck where we are, or worse, slip backward down a slippery slope of regression.  To simply settle for picking low-hanging fruit is indicative of a poverty of ambition on the part of vegan advocates, and such a position is, or at least should be, unacceptable in any social justice movement – especially one where billions of lives are at stake every year.

Even if one cannot be shaken from the belief that the world will never become vegan, how does that give us permission, as individuals or as a collective, to continue engaging in and supporting a worldwide system of violent exploitation and oppression of the most vulnerable group in our global society – non-human individuals?  The simple answer is, it doesn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that humans will always rape and murder other humans as they have since the beginning of time, but it’s not likely that anyone is going to advocate for “gentler” rape and “kinder” murder based on that terrible likelihood.  When we believe a behavior is morally unjustifiable, we advocate for the abolition of said behavior rather than “nicer” ways to continue propagating the same injustice.  To do the latter only helps the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the injustice feel comfortable about continuing to reap the benefits of their oppression-of-choice.

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Know this – any use of animals that has been given the feel-good label “humane” and involves any form of enslavement resulting in the taking of those animals’ lives has been purposely misidentified through a marketing device designed to separate consumers from their money and their morals.  It is, in short, a lie.  Even the kindest slave owner was still a slave owner, and slavery is always wrong.  The only people who argue to the contrary are those who personally benefit from slavery.  One doesn’t advocate for “better” slavery conditions – one advocates and fights to end slavery because, as a saying dating back to at least the 1800s goes,  there’s no right way to do the wrong thing.

How Can We Create A Vegan World?

When we engage in clear, consistent, unequivocal abolitionist vegan education either one-on-one or in groups, we work toward dismantling speciesism and this gives us a blueprint for treating all individuals as we ourselves wish to be treated – with fairness, justice and the right to live as autonomous individuals, free from the enslavement of more powerful “others”.  This is far more effective than engaging in campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own interests through endless self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while purposefully ignoring the larger source of the blaze that’s been burning the world to the ground for centuries.  Consider this:

“Because we so often hear rhetoric and hyperbole about ‘Success!’ and ‘Victory!’ in connection with the treatment of our nonhuman victims, assumptions are made that animal use is ‘not that bad’ and that those who promote a complete end to it are exaggerating, ‘extreme’ or ‘crazy’.

When we allow ourselves to think this way, we are playing directly into the hands of the death industries and the many ‘welfare’ groups who make money from causing, promoting and endorsing harm and bloodshed.  We are allowing ourselves to be lulled into believing that ‘everything is regulated’, ‘it’s all done humanely’, ‘Think of all our victories!’, ‘Donate to us and then carry on as usual’.

As a consequence, we feel much better about our use and consumption of sentient individuals as commodities and resources; we feel comforted by the soothing assurances that our donations mean we’re doing all we can; any uneasy conscience we might have had is soothed and quieted.” excerpted from There’s an Elephant in the Room blog (click the blue link to read the rest of this compelling essay)

Sadly, when we work to reduce animal suffering rather than eliminate animal use (as is the trademark of the animal welfare/protection organizations), there’s an unintended consequence — non-vegans (make no mistake, this includes vegetarians) keep eating, wearing and otherwise using animals, only now with clearer consciences and no reason nor desire to ever stop.  And why would they stop when, rather than being honestly depicted as the injustices they are, the atrocities of animal agriculture are presented as “humane” and the animal victims are presented as “happy”?

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Welfarism = Enabling

I once heard a recovering alcoholic share their life story, stating that prior to getting sober, their drinking years had progressed through three stages:

  • Stage I – Fun
  • Stage II – Fun with consequences
  • Stage III – Nothing but consequences

If one wants their alcoholic loved one to stop drinking, it is counterproductive to clear a safe path for them to continue their self-destructive behavior by easing the pain and emotional discomfort associated with their drinking and giving them a soft place to land.  Why would any alcoholic stop drinking when it feels good and has no negative consequences?  The net result of such enabling: a continuation of and increase in the alcoholic’s behaviors.

Animal welfarism is enabling on a grand scale, and the welfare/protection corporations are making true unequivocal vegan advocacy very difficult through their intentional dishonesty, distortions and deceptiveness.  Abolitionism is the intervention that a) challenges the complacency of vegans who align themselves with welfarism and b) exposes the blatant hypocrisy of the welfare corporations who lie to everyone, vegan and non-vegan alike.

“Vegans Think They’re So Special!”

vegan-superior-michele-mccowan

Living vegan doesn’t make one “special” – it simply means that those who live vegan don’t pay people to hurt and kill others for their pleasure, comfort and convenience…  the same way most non-vegans live in every instance imaginable except where the victims are other than human.  When that’s the case, speciesism becomes the default position and non-vegans do a complete about-face by turning their backs on their moral and ethical principles, all for the sake of self-satisfaction.

You Say You Want A Vegan Revolution?

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If we want a vegan world, we need to work for it, and here is the blueprint:

The sooner vegans commit to engaging in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education with the non-vegan public, the sooner we can create what we all want – a vegan world.  Consider some simple math – right now there are millions of vegans worldwide, and if those millions would educate just one other person to embrace veganism who would then educate just one other person to embrace veganism, the number of vegans would grow exponentially and a critical tipping point would be reached.

[the purple links in the paragraph above lead to downloadable vegan literature that presents an unequivocal view of veganism and can be used free of charge for tabling, discussion groups, events and other educational opportunities]

I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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Humane Sell-Out-Bration!

Humane-League-South-Florida-Gala-800x544
A Sell-out-bration of the animals!

Can someone explain to me why The Humane League, an animal welfare group that received a ONE MILLION DOLLAR GRANT a year ago, needs to put on a $50.00-per-ticket fundraising gala 20 miles from my house today???  Have they fallen on hard times already?  Did they accidentally drop the million down a sewer or leave it on a bus?  They certainly didn’t spend it on educating people about veganism, as that would conflict with their stated speciesist purposes (more about that below).

With any luck and by keeping our windows closed, we won’t be able to smell the plant-based hypocrisy wafting in from Ft. Lauderdale this evening.

[WARNING: this essay contains pockets of sarcasm (from the Greek word sarkasmos, meaning “to tear flesh” – not very vegan of me, I know, but it’s metaphorical so I’m going with it).   If my frustration with animal welfare organizations’ humaneshit were radioactive, I’d be melting Geiger counters right now]

Marketing – lies designed to separate you from your money and your morals

One would think that an organization with at least a cool million in the bank and that ended 2014 with $968,246.00 in total revenue might throw a sell-out-bration on their own dime rather than acting like they need a handout…

…but that would presuppose that such a speciesist organization (they focus exclusively on farm animals to the exclusion of other exploited non-humans) is interested in more than self-branding and maximizing donations by working extremely hard to convince donors and the world at large that they are “making a difference for animals” through their “online and community-based vegetarian advocacy programs”.  Sadly, it’s a very profitable farce that moves us no closer to ending animal use as their campaigns stay stuck in the same old “cage-free-by-2025-but-still-exploited (-and-ultimately-killed) -every-day-until-and-after-that-time” mentality.  That’s what they call a “victory” – eight years from now, chickens will still be exploited and killed… but at least they won’t be in cages when it happens.  Since the average life span of egg-laying hens is 2 years, that “victory” will happen 4 generations of chickens from now.  Another shining “victory” from The Humane League was convincing United Egg Producers to utilize “in-ovo egg sexing technology” to “enable the termination of all male-identified eggs from the hatchery, preventing them from ever being hatched and culled”, as male chicks are useless (read: profitless) by-products of the egg industry and are currently either ground alive or left to suffocate to death on the first – and only – day of their lives.  Unless I’m missing something, this sounds perversely like chicken abortions.  And unless I’m missing something else, it seems that The Humane League is overlooking the fact that if it’s wrong to kill male chickens, it’s equally wrong to kill female chickens, and yet their campaigns regarding those individuals seem to end at ensuring cage-free executions.

I’m baffled that so many people are either unwilling or unable to see that when a group such as this (and all the other large animal welfare corporations) partners with institutional animal exploiters to create and promote “humane” ways to use animals rather than actually working to end animal use, that is still a very clear and direct promotion of animal use…  and that use is funded by donations from galas like the one here on February 4 and others around the country.

Denial of reality never changes reality.  It only leads to a state of willful ignorance.

Can You Say “Conflict of Interest”?

Some would undoubtedly point out that The Humane League was “Named ‘Top Charity ‘by Animal Charity Evaluators 4 years in a row”, however it is a dubious honor for several reasons, most notably due to the fact that THL’s founder, Nick Cooney, “…has been the main person responsible for producing the pseudoscientific research that ACE relies upon to justify its belief in the effectiveness of interventions, which is the allegedly objective basis for its unfailingly consistent recommendation of Cooney’s charities [which include the speciesist and profit-motivated Mercy for Animals and the Good Food Institute – Editor]; and moreover, when Cooney became involved in a new charity lacking any track record, ACE suspended its normal criteria in order to recommend it.  At the very minimum, Cooney’s thinking has had a great degree of influence on ACE’s thinking.” – Re-evaluating Animal Charity Evaluators, 12/22/2016

So, this means this “top charity” was chosen by ACE based on criteria designed and presented by… [drum roll] …the head of the charity they’re supposedly “objectively evaluating”???  The stacking of that deck is higher than H$U$ President and CEO Wayne Pacelle’s salary (a paltry $392,107 in 2015).

The sad and certain bottom line is this:

A donation to The Humane League (or any other animal “welfare”/”protection” organization) represents direct financial complicity in institutionalized animal exploitation.  Tragically, through clever and deceptive marketing, animal welfare organizations have convinced vegans to fund the exact injustices they stridently oppose.  I speak from personal experience because I fell victim to this trap for years and when I learned the truth, I felt betrayed.  What I know today is that with awareness comes responsibility and that, once aware, continuing down the same path makes me not a victim but a volunteer.

I can only imagine the good The Humane League could do if they were to focus their time, energy, wealth and considerable marketing acumen on engaging in clear, consistent vegan education, but to do so would risk alienating their non-vegan donor base so it’s simply not an option.

I see that the gala has sold out.  That makes sense since The Humane League has already sold out the animals.

I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

 

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Dr. Oz Gets Real – Real Wrong – About Veganism

Dr Oz gets it wrong
Q: what’s wrong with this picture? A: “Plant protein” isn’t a separate category – all on the list are sources of protein!

Leave it to mainstream media to provide a continuous stream of misinformation about veganism.

Enter Dr. Oz.

[The segment can be viewed here: The Beginner’s Guide To Going Vegan Without Going Crazy – Originally aired on 1/26/2017]

Before I go further, I would like to state that there is a distinction between simply being critical for criticism’s sake (which I am not) and employing critical thinking and then responding appropriately (which I am).  In situations where erroneous ideas that further a particular injustice are presented as facts, it is incumbent upon individuals who see this to call attention to it and make clear to as many people as possible that what’s been presented is not as it may appear on its glossy surface.  It is crucial that we examine the information we’re given to determine its veracity and legitimacy, and to speak out when we find that it lacks credibility.  To do otherwise is to give tacit acceptance to the unacceptable and allow propaganda to flourish unchallenged.  I do not have a problem with Dr. Oz, as I’m not aware of his work (except for this) – I have a problem with his misrepresentation of veganism and would hope that other vegans would take issue, as well.

Dr Oz gets it wrong 002 missed steak
From the segment, a failed attempt at a clever animal exploitation-themed pun…

Programming

Having canceled our cable subscription over a year ago (just Interwebs and Netflix for us now), there is very little in the way of TV viewing in our home, so our exposure to much of what America is being programmed to watch is quite limited.  Of course, we still see people posting and sharing content online, so when I recently saw a slew of vegans sharing and resharing this segment from Dr. Oz (I’m only vaguely aware of who he is and had actually never seen his face or heard his voice prior to last week and am not surprised to learn that he was spawned into prominence by the never-vegan-and-never-miss-an-opportunity-to-be-an-opportunist Oprah), I took some time to watch it and see what the fuss was all about.  After all, everyone seemed excited that he was talking about veganism… or was he?

The answer, as we can see, is no.

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In 13-ish minutes of erroneously conflating the consumption of plant-based foods with veganism, there were ZERO mentions of the injustice of animal use as the primary reason for living vegan (“reasons” given included “eat cleaner, greener and lose weight” and other personal, humancentric concerns about “how you look and how you feel” – there was absolutely no discussion about animals).  Here are some other issues that make the segment problematic in its inaccurate portrayal of veganism:

  • The segment title suggests that living vegan is so difficult, it could drive a person “crazy”.  In reality, living vegan presents minor inconveniences that are easily adapted to and overcome once one realizes the ethical issues at stake and the ramifications of not expending the minor extra effort of, say, reaching six inches past the cow milk to the almond milk.
  • Four statements were made indicating non-vegan food is “real” food, thus insinuating plant-based food is “not real”.  Two statements were made indicating the plant-based food on set “doesn’t taste fake” and one comment was made upon tasting a plant-based option that “it’s good but it’s vegan”.
  • “Vegan” is disparagingly referred to by Dr. Oz as “the V-word”.
  • During the introduction of the “Gradual Meat Stepdown”, Dr. Oz stated “it’s hard to stop all at once”,  his guest agreed, “It is, it is!” and said she stopped eating bacon because “I learned how bad it is for us”.   She goes on to say that dairy/cheese and eggs “are the last one(s) that people play with” as they’re cutting out animal products.  I find it difficult and disrespectful to hear someone blithely refer to products born of the slavery and death of vulnerable individuals as things “people play with”.
  • Dr. Oz offered the following “definition” for “what it really means to go vegan – well, simply put, nothing from an animal – nothing with a face is going in your mouth.  There’s no meat, there’s no fish, there’s no dairy or eggs”… but there’s also no mention of honey or any of the myriad other ways animal are exploited such as wearing leather, wool or silk or supporting animal-based entertainment, etc.  [for more information on these issues, please visit the What’s Wrong With… section of HowToGoVegan.org].  Once again, veganism is misidentified as being only one of its components and wrongly defined, which only helps further public confusion about what veganism truly is:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”Vegan Society 1979

  • Dr. Oz went on to further the erroneous idea that living vegan is something to be feared rather than a personal ethic to embrace by saying, “You can actually mimic these tastes so you don’t actually feel like you’re going meatless, which is what people fear the most.”
  • Dr. Oz also glibly referred to the non-vegan taste tester as the “victim”, when in reality the body parts of the true victims of exploitation and oppression were spread out on the table and eaten by this person.  I found it personally unsettling  and unnecessary that there were slabs and piles of dead animal parts and secretions on set for people to taste-test alongside plant-based options.  This has the effect of further normalizing the consumption of products of animal exploitation and presents “vegan” (read: plant-based) foods as just another set of options.

13 seconds into the segment, Dr. Oz says “Let’s be real”.  Yes Dr. Oz, let’s.  Veganism is not a diet, a lifestyle (as he calls it in the first 3 minutes), a fad or a phase – it’s a personal commitment to stop participating in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human animals.

When talking about a plant-based diet, call it what it is and, of course, provide facts, tips and ideas to help people understand its benefits – just don’t call it veganism, because it’s not.

Like many I see on social media, I used to excitedly share every incident of the word “vegan” being used in any context just to “get the idea out there”, but not anymore.  I have come to understand that when the word is coupled with an unclear message that distorts the true meaning of veganism (or one that promotes speciesism, racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, classism or any other form of oppression), it is better that it not be shared so that I don’t act irresponsibly by adding to the confusion and misinformation that unfortunately already follows the word wherever it goes.  I hope others will come to do the same.

If we’re going to be real, we need to offer real information about veganism as our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species, sticking to the real definition of veganism and taking real action to dismantle speciesism through educating non-vegans about veganism.  When we do, we will start making real change and saving real lives.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

www.HowToGoVegan.org
www.VeganEducationGroup.com
www.BeFairBeVegan.com

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On Defining Veganism

Vegan Musings - defining veganism
Image shared with kind permission of Vegan Musings – www.facebook.com/ThoughtsPicturesPoems

What is veganism?

A wise person once said, “It is what it is… and it’s not what it’s not.”  In the interest of dispelling some common myths and misconceptions, let’s begin with what veganism is not.

Veganism is not:

  •  a vague concept open to a vast array of interpretations that has “as many definitions as there are vegans”.
  • It is not a “diet”, a “lifestyle”, a “fad” or a “phase”.
  • It is not a lofty, seemingly unattainable goal at the end of a long and arduous “journey” (if veganism is any part of a journey, it’s the first step on the path toward living a life where justice is a priority and morals matter, not the last step).
  • It is not some “moral high ground” or a (faux) ivory tower from which one claims superiority over those who are non-vegan.
  • It is not a game where one makes up one’s own rules and “cheats” when the mood strikes.
  • It is not a “menu choice” or cuisine option.
  • Veganism is not the same as vegetarianism, which is the arbitrary exclusion of one or more animal products from one’s diet while continuing to consume other animal products and/or secretions  (thereby promoting some animal exploitation rather than all animal exploitation) and there is no such creature as a “vegan-vegetarian” or “vegetarian-vegan”.  To refer to oneself (or someone else, or a diet) as such would be like saying, “I flew here in an airplane-helicopter” or “Look at that beautiful elephant-walrus!”.  The fact that the two may have similarities does not make them synonymous or interchangeable.  Just ask any walrus who’s had an unwanted encounter with an overstimulated elephant…

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To treat veganism as anything other than the definition that follows is to confuse some very important matters and is a tremendous disservice to the non-human individuals whose lives depend on presenting and maintaining a clear, consistent vegan message.

Veganism is:

  • “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”Vegan Society 1979

Please note that, in the definition, the dietary aspect of veganism is mentioned secondary to the ethical aspect.  This is not an accident or an oversight.  It is intentional and for good reason.  While there is an obvious and important dietary component to living vegan, it goes much deeper than mere food choices.

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If we are to educate others about veganism, it’s incumbent upon us to not only have a clear understanding of what veganism is, but to make sure we’re able to convey that message clearly and consistently by not intentionally or tactily promoting what veganism is not.  We need to say what we mean and mean what we say (and not say it mean!) if people are to understand the information we’re trying to give them because, again, billions of innocent lives are at stake.

The simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan, as this is the primary means of dismantling speciesism and moves us toward achieving the abolition of animal enslavement and exploitation for human pleasure, tradition and convenience.  If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism.  If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.

I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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An Open Letter to Sir Paul McCartney

Dear Sir Paul McCartney,

I’ve got a feeling my words have as much chance of reaching you directly as might a letter addressed to Santa Claus, but I thought I might try anyway…

As a lifelong fan of your work, I have found you to be an inspiration from as far back as I can remember.  Your words and music have provided the larger part of the soundtrack of my life, carrying me through all that I have experienced, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Having lived vegan since 2004, I would like to share something I find unsettling about a piece of your work, something that has the potential to live in people’s memories – and on YouTube – for years to come.

Upon watching a rebroadcast of your performance of “Scrambled Eggs” (above) with Jimmy Fallon from December 2010, I was struck with the following thoughts:

Part of the Fallon bit involved you taking a “vegetarian” stand against singing “chicken wings,” yet you appeared perfectly comfortable singing a song about scrambled eggs (and yes, I’m aware of the origin of that lyric and how it eventually became Yesterday.  The joke is not lost on me; I just don’t find allusions to animal exploitation funny).  Surely you’re aware of the horrible conditions and miserably short lives laying hens suffer through as they are forced to produce unnatural quantities of eggs for human consumption.  Statistically, chickens are the most exploited and abused animals on the planet, and the retirement plan for all these individuals  – and all non-humans used for their bodies and secretions to satisfy human pleasures and conveniences (be they “free range”, “cage-free”, “humanely”-raised, etc.) – is a trip to the slaughterhouse and a sharp blade across the throat.

Initially, I found your performance delightful and, probably because of its charm, I nearly missed the subtext that it’s not ok to eat chickens but it is ok to enslave them and eat their eggs.  By extension, this message further implies that some forms of animal exploitation are acceptable while others are not.  I find this message baffling and inconsistent.

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To paraphrase Voltaire (by way of Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee above), “With great power comes great responsibility.”  I submit that your words and actions have the power to influence countless numbers of people worldwide for generations to come, and I respectfully ask that you be mindful and sing responsibly.

I once applauded your long-time commitment to vegetarianism and your work in bringing the idea of Meat Free Mondays to a world audience.  Today I fully understand that vegetarians, by abstaining from some arbitrarily-chosen animal products while continuing to consume others, remain complicit in all other forms of animal exploitation except the one or two they’ve given up.  I used to involve myself in “vegan” outreach in South Florida utilizing the Glass Walls video you narrate and handing out what I now know to be speciesist litter-ature to educate passersby as to the horrors of the animal agriculture industry and specifically factory farming.  Today I believe that, by failing to engage the public in true, unequivocal vegan education focusing on the idea that all animal use, no matter how much “cruelty” is involved, is morally unjustifiable, wrong and needs to be abolished, we did a great disservice to the animals we thought we were trying to help.  By focusing heavily on factory farms, we may well have been tacitly promoting small farms while the truth is that every animal on every farm, regardless of size (and this includes backyard animal exploiters), is treated as property, is denied the right to a free and autonomous life and will live and die solely for purposes deemed important and profitable by humans.  Slavery is always wrong, and even the “kindest” slave owner is still a slave owner.  This is the difference between promoting animal “welfare” and the abolition of animal use.

Sir Paul, I can’t help but wonder why, with the knowledge and resources at your disposal, you would remain vegetarian and welfarist all these years rather than taking a stand for social justice and animal rights by making the firm commitment to live vegan and eschewing the consumption of all products of animal exploitation.  Can you imagine the difference you would make by publicly taking that simple step and helping educate the world that veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of non-human individuals?  After all, it’s not how we use animals that’s at issue – it’s that we use them for our own gains in the first place.  There’s a paradigm waiting to be shifted, and this is the kind of action that can move that process along.

Vegetarianism is a journey going nowhere, man.  It’s a long and winding road that leads individuals of other species to the same place all non-vegan roads lead – the slaughterhouse door.

My hope is that my words reach you as yours have reached me, and that the ideas I’ve presented reach even further to your mind, your sense of justice and your heart.

Sir Paul, please please live vegan and use your voice to educate others.  Don’t let me – and the animals – down.

Wishing you peace, love and continued success,

Keith Berger

Co-founder, South Florida Vegan Education Group

Boca Raton, Florida, USA (phone number available upon request if you wanna ring me up!)

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

www.BeFairBeVegan.com

Edited from an earlier version first published on Facebook on 9/9/2015

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Carrying the Message

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A conversation starter!

 Mom Never Taught Me Not to Talk to Strangers

The t-shirt I wore recently when Elena and I were in Lake Worth sparked a nice conversation with a stranger.  As we passed a gentleman on the street, he smiled and commented, “Love your shirt!”.  I thanked him and we continued on.

On our way back, we decided to give him our Embracing Veganism pamphlet and our card.  We ended up talking with him and his companion about veganism for about 15 minutes.  As it turns out, our new friend Alex has been vegan for a year and is currently studying plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.  Although he said he’s vegan for ethical reasons and seems to understand the fundamental issues of justice involved, he stated, “Even if people reduce their meat consumption, that helps… although I hate even saying that.”  My reply was, “Then don’t say it!  When we make statements like that and encourage people to ‘reduce’, we’re tacitly implying that some animal exploitation is still acceptable.  Would you suggest to anyone that some use of child pornography is ok as long as they take weekends off and treat the kids ‘humanely’?”  He laughed and said, “No, of course not. Thanks, that makes so much sense!”

I assured him we’re not in the habit of just handing literature to random people in the street and hoping something in the content will get them to make the connection that all animal use is morally unjustifiable and start living vegan, but that we had done quite a bit of that in the past in support of various animal welfare organizations and ultimately found it ineffective and counterproductive (especially considering such literature intentionally fails to focus on animal use as opposed to abuse).  I asked him to consider whether,  if I were an astrophysics professor who really wanted people to become astrophysicists, he felt it would be reasonable to expect that, by standing in the street and handing out astrophysics textbooks to passersby (“Go astrophysicist…?”), those people would go home, read the books, have epiphanies and suddenly decide to become astrophysicists.  Alex replied, “No”.  I said, “That’s why there are classes on that subject – because some things require education – and that’s why we created a vegan education group.”  He agreed and complimented me for “…not just randomly handing information to people, but having an educational platform to back it up.”

Choosing the Message We Carry, and Carrying the Message We Choose

I used to wear rock-n-roll t-shirts every chance I got and have always had a knack for picking out a shirt in the morning that would prompt a conversation sometime that day, so I would inevitably end up talking with people about Paul McCartney, or Elvis Costello, or Fountains of Wayne and so on… and as much as I love those shirts, I’ve retired them all to the closet.  Here’s why – while those conversations can be fun (“You like Utopia Parkway too?  Let’s chat!”), I’d much rather talk about, educate about and inspire veganism.  I still have that knack for picking the right shirt and the conversations still happen, only now they’re meaningful in a way that matters deeply to me and makes real change in the world.  Whenever I’m at a concert (and I am a confirmed concert junkie…), the people behind me will be seeing a vegan message for about three hours – rather than, say, a list of Counting Crows 2003 tour dates – and I’m more than willing to discuss their thoughts on it once the show’s over.  If that opportunity doesn’t present, at the very least I’ve given them something to think about.

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“Hey Elvis, you like Paul McCartney too?? Oh, right – you’ve worked with him numerous times… never mind.”

Similarly, since the subject in which I want to engage people is veganism, I no longer wear shirts that promote single-issue campaigns like circuses, rodeos, etc. or the animal welfare organizations behind such campaigns (I’ve donated quite a few to the homeless).  Also, I no longer wear shirts that talk about going “veg” or anything other than vegan, as such vague terminology leads us away from being clear and consistent in our efforts to end the injustice of animal exploitation.  As it’s been difficult to find shirts with uncompromising vegan messages (aside from the one pictured above), I’ve begun designing my own for personal use.  That way, I can be sure the message I carry is one in which I wholeheartedly believe.

The Theory of Positive, Neutral and Negative

I’ve found that when interacting with a stranger, the usual outcome falls into one of three categories:  Positive, Neutral and Negative.  Positive means that something positive transpires during or as a result of the interaction (i.e.; a friend or connection is made, pleasantries and/or ideas are exchanged); Neutral means nothing notable happens (though one never can tell how a seemingly random encounter may profoundly alter one’s life, which may indicate a 4th category – Neutral-Positive); Negative means something unpleasant resulted from the interaction (i.e.; harsh words are exchanged, disagreement or worse happens).  For me, this means there’s at least a 66% chance (2/3 or better) that speaking with a stranger will result in either a positive or neutral/neutral-positive outcome and only a 33% or less chance that it will result in a negative outcome.

Considering those odds, in the interest of engaging in and enjoying life – and creating opportunities for dismantling speciesism through vegan education – I’ll keep talking to strangers!

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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Why “Every Little Bit Helps” Isn’t Helping A Bit

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If you’re vegan, chances are you can identify with the following statements:

“I find it frustrating that non-vegans are either unable or unwilling to understand and agree with the simple concept that, if one believes it’s wrong to harm and kill animals unnecessarily, then the only sensible solution is to start living vegan.  Logic proves this while profit-driven marketing propaganda claims there are ‘humane’ ways to exploit and kill innocent, vulnerable beings.  If only non-vegans would listen to the facts!”

If you’re abolitionist vegan, chances are you can identify with the following statements:

“I find it frustrating that vegans who support animal welfare ideology are either unable or unwilling to understand and agree with the simple concept that welfarism – despite seeming to be well-intentioned – has not worked, is not working and will not work as a means of dismantling speciesism and ending the use of animals for the satisfaction of fleeting human pleasures and conveniences.  Empirical evidence proves this while self-serving pseudoscience claims the opposite is true.  If only welfarists would listen to the facts!”

[Note: identifying as an abolitionist vegan does not necessitate aligning oneself with, interacting with, promoting or otherwise supporting any particular individual, group, community, website or social media page(s).  SFVEG does, however, find great benefit in sharing ideas, advocacy strategies and support with other abolitionist vegans whose approaches and sensibilities resonate with our own.  Let’s talk!]

In both of the above cases, the innate human characteristics of selfishness (“What’s in it for me?”), laziness (“How much energy am I going to have to spend on this?”) and a desire to be right at all costs (“I’m right, you’re wrong… and I’m also right!”) set up stumbling blocks to accepting new and vital information.  The result is defensiveness born of cognitive dissonance (“If what you’re telling me is true, that means my firmly-held beliefs are wrong and I’ll need to make significant changes… and that can’t be simply because it can’t be, so clearly you’re wrong and I’m right because I believe I’m right!”) and an almost impenetrable wall of denial is immediately constructed.

What do we do when we encounter seemingly insurmountable resistance to our vegan message?  Do we tell ourselves the cause is lost, let it go and move on to someone more receptive to the message we’re carrying?  Sure, that’s tempting – we only have so many hours in the day, so many ways to say what we want to say and so much energy to put forth… or do we try to remember that, in both cases, the lives of vulnerable sentient beings hang in the balance and rise to this challenge by doing our level best to present our case, knowing that we must advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves just as we would want others to do for us were we in a similarly vulnerable position?  In each and every situation in which we have the opportunity to talk about veganism with others, we have a choice to make – educate or retreat.


As you listen to those who support animal welfare ideology, you will hear some frequently repeated phrases, all of which seem to have merit on the surface:

“It’s a start.”

“Every little bit helps.”

“It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re doing something.”

“We don’t have to use the word ‘vegan‘ to get a vegan message across.”

“If we ask people to go vegan, we’ll push them away.”

“We’re all abolitionists, but people won’t go vegan overnight.  Welfare will get us there faster.”

“The best way to get people to go vegan is to cook them a yummy vegan meal.  Don’t talk to them about the animals.”


Here is one generally accepted definition of the word “insanity”:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Where do these ideas intersect?

Our Best Thinking Got Us Here

“It’s a start”, “Every little bit helps” and similar sentiments have been among the rallying cries of the animal welfare movement since it began over 200 years ago.  Despite recent pseudoscientific “studies” by welfare organizations that intentionally distort reality by skewing their own data to support their own specious claims that “X-million fewer animals were killed” and “suffering has been greatly reduced” by promoting Meatless Monday, distributing speciesist literature and other single-issue animal welfare campaigns or SICs (many of which are of their own creation), here is where the greatest minds and intentions of the “leaders” and “fathers” of the animal welfare movement have gotten us: today, an ever-increasing number of non-human individuals (now in the trillions each year) are being enslaved, exploited and executed for the satisfaction of human pleasure and convenience.

If it’s true that “every little bit helps”, shouldn’t that number be decreasing rather than increasing?  If fill-in-the-blank is a “start”, shouldn’t two centuries have been sufficient to see at least some forward movement rather than what appears to be momentum in the opposite direction?

Experience Counts

A decade of promoting, engaging in and supporting welfarist single-issue campaigns left me with me ten years’ worth of firsthand experience in just how ineffective and counterproductive they are – Lolita the killer whale is now in her 45th year of captivity, Ringling and other circuses continue to use animals (and pimp their enslaved elephants into medical “research” and zoo breeding programs), people still wear fur and buy puppies from puppy mills and grocery stores continue to sell live lobsters to people they know are going to brutally kill them.  These are just some of the failed campaigns to which I and numerous others devoted our time and energy.  I deeply regret not having allowed myself to realize sooner that this simply does not work.  The photo of me below neatly illustrates the ineffectiveness of such “advocacy” (see photo caption for details):

me-ringling-demo-edited
Taken in 2009, Keith is pictured holding two signs that speak of animal *treatment*, rather than *use*, and promoting three welfarist organizations simultaneously. Note the two individuals walking past while Keith poses for his photo op rather than engaging with them. Also, note that not even a broken right hand could keep him from participating in one of his favorite speciesist events.

Veganism Is Not A “Goal” To Be Reached – It’s The Starting Point Of A New Life

Convincing a non-vegan to choose a vegan option (garden salad vs. cottage cheese, for example) is not a “start” – it’s a momentary food choice that makes zero impact in how that person views the exploitation of non-human animals.  It moves them no closer to wanting an end to speciesist injustices than does taking a chicken wing out of their hand and replacing it with an apple (because it does not explain anything about the underlying issues), nor does it instill in them the idea that “Vegan food is awesome – I probably could do this vegan thing after all!”  Like nearly everyone, they’ve been eating “vegan” (in reality, “plant-based” is the more accurate term) food their whole lives – fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, etc. – and yet remain non-vegan because they’ve yet to be educated about the moral and ethical reasons for living vegan.

“It’s a start” gets us nowhere.  Getting in a car and turning the key in the ignition is a “start”, but unless one has a clear direction and goal, the car and those in it go nowhere or, at best, end up driving around aimlessly.  If we were to put all the large animal welfare/protection corporations in a bus and then told them the destination is “the end of animal use” (one they would hopefully, but not definitely, all agree on), each of them would suggest a different route to get there, and each of them would want to drive their way based on their belief that theirs is the best and fastest route… and the one that brings each of their organizations the most donations.

Like It Or Not, Animal Welfare Ideologies Reinforce Speciesism

When the victims of a particular injustice are non-human individuals, speciesism is usually the unconscious default position.  For those unfamiliar with the word, here’s a definition:

Speciesism (spe·cies·ism) – noun – by analogy with racism and sexism, an unjust double standard placing higher moral value on some individual animals over others, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.

Second only to non-humans, children are the most vulnerable societal group.  Even though many people may be uncomfortable with the idea of equating humans and non-humans in any way, drawing parallels here is appropriate and necessary to the discussion.  That very discomfort alone exposes the speciesism pervasive in our society, just as discomfort with equating white people and people of color would expose underlying racism.

Knowing that the creation, possession, use and other consumption of child pornography is always wrong, morally unacceptable and represents a grievous oppressive injustice toward a vulnerable group (except, of course, in the minds of those who benefit either personally or professionally from it), we would NEVER take the position that child pornography creators, purveyors or consumers should “cut back” on their consumption, create/sell/purchase/obtain “less” of it, use “less explicit” images/videos, consume it only 6 days a week instead of 7, only view images and videos of certain races, ages or genders of children rather than all or engage in some but not all consumption of it on one’s “journey” to becoming ready to make a full commitment to stopping.  We would NEVER petition for more “humane” working conditions for the child victims of the pornography industry, thereby making a concession that supports the continuation of the oppression as long as it’s done “humanely”.  And we would NEVER display child pornography in public places, on the street or post it on social media in order to show people just how horrible it is… [Warning – Speciesism Ahead!]…

…and yet, because this is animal exploitation and not human exploitation, we set up different sets of standards and engage in everything we would find unacceptable if the victims were human, conveniently overlooking the fact that exploitation is exploitation irrespective of species and that, in the interests of fairness and justice, the same standards ought to apply.

Why Not Apply Animal Welfare Ideologies To Racism?

Speciesism, rooted in the myth of human superiority, begets racism (and other forms of oppression).  Imagine how one might react to the following line of thinking:

“Yes, we believe that all racial discrimination is wrong, but let’s just start with helping end injustices toward African-Americans since they are, in our opinion, the ‘most oppressed’ [insert “facts” and “figures” to support this argument].  We’ll obviously mention Asians, Latinos and other oppressed groups so they’re not entirely left out of the conversation, but we won’t focus on them right now because it’s ‘asking too much’ and we don’t want to push people away by being too ‘demanding’ and asking for an end to all racial discrimination.   Remember, every little bit helps.”

If you think this sounds unacceptable (which it is), consider this statement from animal “protection” group Mercy for Animals from July 2016:

“Because chickens are much smaller than pigs or cows, many more of them need to be killed to get the same poundage of meat.  Comprising 95 percent of the land animals raised and killed for food in the U.S., chickens also lead some of the most miserable lives of all farmed animals.

But that’s just the beginning.”

Interestingly, the last phrase bears a striking resemblance to “It’s a start”.

The MFA Vegetarian Starter Guide (why would an organization that wants people to live vegan put out anything but a vegan starter guide?) states that “The truly humane choice is to cut out or cut back on (italics added for emphasis) chicken, fish, and other animal products”, fostering the idea that some animal use is ok as long as one “cuts back”.  It goes on: “Start by cutting out the foods that harm the most animals… By simply replacing chicken, eggs, and fish with other options (like beef, pork, turkey and lamb?  You didn’t specify “plant-based” options), you can prevent a tremendous amount of animal abuse.”  MFA also makes the following encouraging statements:  “If you give in to a craving for meat, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Remember that perfection isn’t the goal here—none of us is perfect.  It’s far better to eat mostly vegetarian [<—how is “mostly vegetarian” defined?  Perhaps the publication should be retitled “Mostly Vegetarian Starter Guide”] than to do nothing at all.  Show yourself compassion if you have a setback…”  This guide is one of the most speciesist pieces of litter-ature I’ve ever had the displeasure to read and, as such, I will not link to it here.

Would anyone support such a stance if the victims of one’s cravings-induced “setback” were human?  Consider:

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Mr. Serial Killer.  After all, you used to kill 12 people per year at a rate of one per month and now you’ve nearly ditched killing altogether since you only kill one person every three months!  Quarterly killing is far more acceptable than monthly killing, and we all know just how difficult those cravings to kill can be, so go easy on yourself.  It’s progress, not perfection!”

Our Responsibility

If we claim to work for social justice but refuse to use clear and morally consistent messaging to indicate we want a full end to the oppression of non-humans, our lack of clarity becomes a tacit (and sometimes overt) message that some oppression is acceptable while some is not, and the failure of others to hear a clear, consistent, honest message becomes our responsibility because we are choosing not to provide one.  Hence, the continuation of animal exploitation becomes our responsibility since we’re essentially giving people permission to continue oppressing the vulnerable rather than seizing the opportunity to make our case clear from the outset and ongoing that all animal use is wrong and all animal use needs to end.  Delivering a deliberately dishonest message brings one’s integrity into question and runs parallel to the dishonest marketing messages used by animal agriculture and other oppressive industries, which puts one squarely on the same level as them.  I can’t imagine any vegan advocate wants that.

What We’re Doing Matters

Finally, remember this statement from the beginning of the essay?

“It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re doing something.”

What we do as vegan advocates matters a great deal, as it is an indicator of who we are.  If we choose to engage in animal welfare campaigns – or promote and support the groups who design them – that are speciesist, racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic, ableist, heterosexist, classist, body-shaming, violent, disrespectful to the victims of oppression, misinforming, misleading or blatantly dishonest because we feel the end (abolition of animal use) justifies the means (anything goes as long as we get there), then we are supporting one or more forms of oppression while advocating against another, and that calls into question the integrity of those who do so.  This weakens our power to effect change and reinforces the mythology that vegans are unreasonable, fanatical extremists who should be either avoided at all costs or mercilessly mocked.  When this happens, the message is lost.

“It’s a start” gets us nowhere.  If animal welfare were the Olympics, these million false starts would result in disqualifications, and they have gotten us no closer to the finish line of abolishing animal use.  If you want to be an effective vegan advocate, there is only one truly effective start:

Start engaging in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education to dismantle speciesism and abolish animal use, and don’t stop.

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Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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The Deadly Sound of Silence

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As 2016 comes to a close after a seemingly endless series of notable deaths beginning with Robert Stigwood and David Bowie only days apart and ending with George Michael (so far, anyway – let’s hope the Reaper retires his blade for a while), I was struck by this thought:

One celebrity dies, everybody cries.
Slaughter billion of animals, no one bats an eye.

If we all observed just one second of silence to honor each animal needlessly slaughtered for human pleasure today (estimates range from 123 million to 153 million per day – that’s a minimum of roughly 45 BILLION per year), no one on Earth would speak again until at least 2020.

Personally I like that idea, however it’s simply not practical.  Here’s an idea that is practical and achievable:
 
Refuse to be silent about speciesism, the most egregious form of oppression and injustice on this planet, and work to dismantle it through unequiVOCAL vegan education.   This is the only clear path toward the abolition of animal use and exploitation.
By educating people about veganism, we help them understand that if they believe – as nearly everyone does – that oppression of the vulnerable is unjust (and no members of our global community are more vulnerable than non-human individuals), then they have an immediate moral obligation to disengage from participation in their enslavement, exploitation and execution.  This is achieved by living vegan which is defined as “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979 (please see our disclaimer about groups, individuals and organizations).  
Simply put, living vegan involves no longer using animals for one’s pleasure, habits, entertainment or conveniences nor paying others to enslave them for any reason.  If one believes slavery is wrong, then it is wrong no matter the race, gender, age, religion, species or other arbitrary characteristics of the victim(s).
 
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If you have the ability to speak, then you have the ability to speak for those individuals whose voices are routinely ignored and violently silenced for no better reason than the satisfaction of fleeting human pleasures.   If you have the ability to speak, then please speak to those who need to hear why this is wrong, why this needs to end and what they can do, simply and immediately, to bring about that end.  Don’t be silent – be vocal about injustice to achieve justice for all.  Be vocal about oppression to achieve freedom for the oppressed.  Be unequiVOCAL about veganism to create a peaceful, fair and just world for all sentient beings.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

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12 Years a Vegan (and counting)

2017 is quickly approaching and with it, my twelfth veganniversary. 🙂

Living vegan was never something I had thought about, planned for or aspired to but, from the moment I made that seismic shift in my thinking and behavior toward individuals of other species that instantly led me to veganism, I knew that returning to living a non-vegan life was not an option.

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Before going further, at the risk of offending those who self-identify as some version of “vegetarian” — Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Reducetarian, LactoOvo-Bilbo-Frodo-Groucho-Chico-Harpo-Zeppo-Marco-Polo-I-Dunno-No-tarian — it needs to be understood that when one is vegetarian (i.e., still consumes some animal parts or secretions), one continues to directly participate in animal exploitation.  Arbitrarily excluding certain products of animal exploitation, like veal or other “meats”, from one’s diet does nothing to reduce animal suffering or help change the current paradigm that allows and demands that non-human individuals to be used as disposable, replaceable human resources/property.  Vegetarianism may seem on the surface to be helpful, but one need only look a little deeper to realize that, sadly, this is simply not the case.  The tacit message of vegetarianism is that “some violence and exploitation is not ok, but some is ok”.  When put in a human context (child or spousal abuse, for example), we clearly see the problem and immediately take appropriate action to a) cease our complicity in such morally unjustifiable activities and b) advocate for a full stop to all such activities.

Solving a Mystery – When Did I Start Living Vegan?

For years I’ve wondered exactly when it was that I made the ethical decision to live vegan, as opposed to the mostly arbitrary decision I’d made some months earlier to “become a vegetarian”.

I mean, I knew it was late in 2004 and certainly know the circumstances (I’ll never forget…) but I couldn’t recall the date and always wished I could.  Earlier this year, I was leafing through an old journal (from back in the days when people actually wrote privately in journals rather than blogging, tweeting and Facebooking every thought in their head, a behavior of which I’m certainly guilty) and was excited to find some entries that have essentially solved the mystery for me.

From what I can deduce from the third entry below, it was within a few days of New Year’s Eve 2004 while my cousin Scott and his future wife Laura were visiting Florida on vacation.

Entry 1 is the first indication that I had gone vegetarian, which we can see was not based on any ethical considerations; it was all about me.  I had simply eaten so much meat over one particular weekend that I felt I’d “eaten all the meat I’ll ever need to eat” (I actually said something very similar at the time):

[Keith's Journal Entry #1] 8/21/04 - I haven’t checked in here in quite a while.  I’ve decided to become a vegetarian and have been eating strictly veg (OK, lacto-ovo veg, as this morning’s omelette would suggest) since March 19th (2004), immediately following the Grilled Meat-Fest at Rudy’s [my now ex-father-in-law].  Don’t worry Rudy - it’s not you, it’s me.

Note my use of the term “veg” (above) which is pretty meaningless as it lacks any real definition.  That morning, “veg” included eggs (and very likely cheese) which are not, to my knowledge, “veg”etables.

Entry 2, paragraph 1 shows a glimmer of awareness – albeit wrapped in self-righteousness – that laziness and selfishness are two qualities inherent in (most? all?) humans that can make it challenging for one to take a stand against any societal norm, even when that norm requires the egregious and morally indefensible enslavement, exploitation and execution of trillions of innocent non-human individuals every year for no better reason than “they taste good”.

[Keith's Journal Entry #2] 12/8/04 - [in an Asian-fusion restaurant] - The college-age kid seated to my right commented to his dinner date that, “I think I could be vegetarian”.  My first thought was to tell him he’s right and just how easily he could make that transition [but] simply put, vegetarianism is NOT the easier, softer way.  Culturally, in this country, meat is easier.  You don’t have to look deep into a menu to find chicken and burgers and steak.  But a vegetarian dish that’s more than just a side of something?  Often, this requires effort, and Americans don’t want to put in effort.  After all, this is the society that invented fast food and the drive-thru.  

I love when non-vegetarians (y’know - flesh-eaters) find out I’m vegetarian!  The #1 question - right out of the box, within seconds - is “How do you get your protein?”  I have to remember to write up some index cards to carry around explaining how it’s done and debunking the protein myth.  I could just go with, “Well, I still eat human flesh.  I don’t think that counts as meat... Human is a vegetable, right”?

Paragraph 2 (above) shows – once again wrapped in self-righteousness – the spark of my desire to educate others (or just be a pain in their ass).  Unformed and without direction, it was there nonetheless.  Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see.  A fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred – I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.

Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see – a fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred.  I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.

[Keith's Journal Entry #3] 1/7/05 - I’m at Sublime [vegan restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, FL], waiting for a table.  I was here New Year’s Eve with Cousin Scott and his girlfriend Laura.  They’re both vegan and just wonderful, spiritual people.  They didn’t give me the vegan hard-sell, but I’ve decided to go that direction.  I’ve already bought two belts made from man-made-materials to replace my leather ones.  I’ve gone online in search of non-leather shoes, sneakers and wallets as well.  I’ll need to get past my sentimental attachments to my leather stuff because I really don’t like the idea that someone died and, prior to that, lived miserably to produce them.  I watched Peaceable Kingdom with Scott and Laura and saw the unbelievably wretched conditions food animals “live” in.  I came away feeling... haunted.  It was like watching footage of Nazi concentration camps.  There should be an animal holocaust museum.

After seeing how dairy cows are mistreated, I’ve realized they are nothing more than slaves.  I don’t want to be a part of the slave ‘n slaughter culture anymore.  Scott and Laura simply refer to all animal products as “death”.  Couldn’t be more accurate.  My death-free entree has arrived - seitan with mashed potatoes and veggies.  It’s one of the best things I’ve EVER tasted. 

I find it notable that my earlier entry stating I’d “decided to become a vegetarian” went no further or deeper, except to show just how non-committal I really was about the whole thing.  I was even jokey about it.  Going “veg” was no more significant a life choice than, say, making the decision to wear khakis more often or take up cross-country skiing or mahjongg (or cross-country mahjongg while wearing khakis… whatever).  It was just another thing to do, a whim subject to change at a moment’s notice.  I recall that, along with that decision, I also very loudly “reserved my right” to eat fish and eggs “if I need to”.  I’ve since learned that a) no human “needs” to eat fish or eggs for any reason and b) when the “right” I’m reserving denies another sentient being his or her right to live freely, it’s not a right I’m reserving – it’s a morally unjustifiable wrong.

By contrast, in discussing my decision to start living vegan in Entry #3, I included some of my feelings and reasoning for making that decision (including identifying animal use as slavery, a fundamental injustice I oppose, which was the catalyst for my decision to live vegan), action I’d taken and plans for further action in the same direction.  Put another way, this was not some spur of the moment whim.  I was serious.

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When it comes to veganism and animal rights, I’m still serious and that’s how I’ll remain.  It’s no laughing matter that trillions of land and sea animals – non-human individuals who think, feel and have the same basic right as any human animal to live life freely and autonomously – are killed every year for human pleasure, entertainment and convenience.  It’s the shame of our species that the majority of us continue to support, condone, promote and actively engage in such horrific and barbaric practices.  Living vegan is the very least we can do for the animals and, secondarily, for ourselves and this small planet we all share.

Veganism should be our global society’s moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species and fortunately, for many of us and more every day, it already is.  Is it yours?  If not, why not?

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