“Vague-an” Outreach? Never. Abolitionism? Always.

I have come to believe that, when it comes to veganism and animal rights, anything less than clear, consistent abolitionist vegan education fails to carry the message I find more important than any other – that living vegan is the simple action every individual can take right now to take a powerful and unequivocal stand against society’s continued commodification and exploitation of individuals of other species.  To take a welfarist approach – engaging in single-issue campaigns designed to lessen and regulate abuse rather than abolishing use – is, in my opinion, misguided and counter-productive to the achievement of the goal everyone in our “movement” purports to share: the end of animal exploitation.

Now, I know this can be an unpopular position to take amongst vegans and other animal rights activists, but try to bear with me for a few minutes if you will. Since this makes sense to me, it stands to reason it may make sense to some of you as well.
Mercy For Animals litter-ature at an animal adoption event

Prior to having this realization and still firmly believing I was doing what was best for the animals, I engaged in a host of 
animal welfare activities, including but not limited to: creating and signing petitions, attending demonstrations and protests, writing letters to editors, publishing articles and, perhaps most of all, public leafleting (or, as I now think of it, public littering.  As comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “When someone hands you a flyer, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Here, you throw this away’.”).  
I’d like to discuss one particular piece of welfarist litter-ature: 
Compassionate Choices from Veg(etari)an Outreach (to understand why even the title is problematic and misleading, please read Colin Wright’s enlightening essay Why We Need Less Compassion in the Animal Rights Movement And Why Decreasing Cruelty and Suffering Is Not the Point of Veganism).

Lest anyone come under (or continue under) the false belief that this intentionally confusing and speciesist booklet espouses veganism or animal “rights”, please have a look at why that couldn’t be further from the truth. Feel free to read along here: 
  • On page 2, the first page of text: “Of course, the choice is up to you. Whether you decide to cut out meat entirely or just cut back, you can make a big difference for the world at every meal.” – presenting people with the “choice” to cut out/cut back on meat reinforces the speciesist ideas that a) exploiting animals is a personal choice (a choice ceases to be personal when said choice involves a victim, and the choice to exploit animals involves countless victims), so whatever one chooses is ok and b) there is a morally relevant difference between meat and other products of animal exploitation, which there is not.
  • Page 3: “When I learned how the animals suffer, I went vegetarian.” – why is “Vegan” Outreach promoting vegetarianism? Either they don’t understand the difference between the two or it’s time for a name change.
  • Page 4 contains a quote from a representative of the Humane Society of the United States, a self-proclaimed animal “protection” organization that sponsors events such as Hoofin’ It, which involved the slaughter and consumption of various species of animals. As the Denver Post reported, “A different hooved (sic) animal will be showcased each evening.”   Yes, this is the same H$U$ that also offered coupons for bacon on their Facebook page:


  • Page 6: “when people eat less meat, producers raise and kill fewer animals.” – again, they are promoting “less meat”, which is far different than seeking an end to animal exploitation.
  • Page 9: “it became an easy choice for me. If you choose to educate yourself, it’ll be an easy choice for you, too.” (a quote from Ellen DeGeneres, who is not vegan based on her self-reports that she eats secretions from “happy” chickens) – what is this vague “it”? Is “Vegan” Outreach afraid to use the word vegan in its own publication for fear that they may alienate their largely non-vegan donor base and lose their donor dollars (see below for more information on that topic)?
  • Page 10: “eating vegetarian or vegan” – even when they do use the word vegan, it is relegated to a subordinate position behind vegetarian. Perhaps they should rename the booklet “Vegan: The Second Best Choice”.
  • Also on page 10: “Many elite athletes and bodybuilders are vegetarian or vegan.” – again, vegan is the second choice behind vegetarian and offered as one of two dietary options, rather than as a moral obligation.
  • Page 11: “plant-based diet(s)” is mentioned twice, furthering the common misinterpretation of veganism as a dietary choice. Once again, meat is singled out: “…when I stopped eating meat” leaves dairy, eggs, honey and other products of animal exploitation out of the conversation and essentially speaks of a vegetarian diet as opposed to veganism.
  • Page 12: “Ask your server what dishes they could prepare for you without meat”, “Ask to substitute vegetables for meat in your favorite dishes” and “Order a few side dishes if there are no meatless meals” are among the list of restaurant ordering tips. Nowhere are dairy, eggs, honey or other animal products and secretions mentioned.
  • Page 15: The header reads “IT’S YOUR CHOICE” (see previous paragraph discussing page 2 and “choice”).
  • Also on page 15: Promotion of a “gradual transition to eliminating animal products” based on “research” is coupled with the speciesist idea that one should start by eliminating one type of animal (chickens) from one’s diet before eliminating others (cows and pigs) based on the idea that “many more chickens are killed to produce the same amount of meat as from cows and pigs”.  The reasoning behind this – to “prevent more animal suffering”.  This reinforces the notion that we should be concerned primarily about reducing suffering rather than ending the unjust use of non-human animals entirely, missing the point that veganism is about ending animal use, not reducing animal abuse.  Having met many people who have been “vegetarian” (by their own widely varying definitions) for anywhere from 20 to 40 years, it would seem that a “gradual transition” might keep one complicit in animal exploitation – and therefore directly responsible for continued animal suffering and death – for up to 4 decades, whereas a person who starts living vegan ends their complicity that day.

It is shameful that an organization calling itself “Vegan” Outreach would shy away from asking people to live vegan in a clear and coherent manner.  Instead, their literature reinforces the ideas that eating vegetarian is enough and that slavery is a personal choice.  If one’s goal is to convince people to take a strong and unyielding moral stance against the exploitation of vulnerable sentient individuals, it’s hardly a good idea to cater to and enable the inherent laziness and selfishness of the general public in an effort to achieve that goal.  Such a strategy is in itself lazy and disingenuous and simply will not work.  Conversely, if one’s goal is to maintain the status quo so the donor dollars keep rolling in, this strategy should be wildly successful – and it is: according to the most recent data available on Pro Publica’s Nonprofit Explorer, Vegan Outreach received contributions of $891,216 in 2013.  That’s nearly a million dollars that could have been used to engage the public in unequivocal vegan education… but was not.
In total, the word “vegetarian” appears 6 times in Compassionate Choices while “vegan” appears 11 times – twice as subordinate to vegetarian, four times on its own and five times simply in the name of the organization and a website they run (this is Marketing 101).  As a committed abolitionist vegan, not only will I never hand a Compassionate Choices (or other Vague-an Outreach) booklet to another human being again in my life, but I would rather not hold such a piece of purposeful disinformation in my own hand ever again… unless on my way to a shredder.
The literature I believe in and give to others today when I engage with them in one-on-one vegan education carries an unequivocal vegan message and can be found here:
If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan and staying there.  It is the single best decision I ever made in my life, and my only regret is that I didn’t understand enough to make that decision sooner.  If you are vegan, please eschew participation with and support for animal welfare organizations and campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own ends through self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while ignoring the larger source of the fire.  Instead, please engage in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education that promotes veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.
As always, thank you for listening.
Keith Berger

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

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

There Is Nothing So Stable As Change

I caught a bit of an interview with comedian Cameron Esposito on NPR in March 2016.  I don’t know and therefore have no opinion on this person’s work, but something they said in relation to same-sex marriage really struck me.  Here’s the quote:


“The thing that I protest against the most or that upsets me the most is people that are unable to change.  I mean, we’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have up until that point, but when you’re given opposite information and you refuse to change or adjust, then I think that is a real problem…  It infuriates me because I believe that adults should be able to look at evidence and adjust their perspective.”
I can relate to this on several levels.  Here are two:

When I explain to non-vegans that there is no moral justification for using sentient individuals for reasons of pleasure, fashion, entertainment or other human conveniences and they proceed to either ignore the information, try to find holes in the logic or – worst of all – create bizarre counter-arguments to defend continuing their habits and traditions of unjustifiable animal exploitation, it is, to borrow Ms. Esposito’s phrase, “a real problem” and can at times be infuriating.

Similarly, in over 20 years of working professionally to help people who suffer from addictions understand the benefits of living a clean/sober/recovering life (as opposed to living a life wherein one descends into an ever-deeper and ever-darker hell of one’s own construction) and offering them the tools they’ll need to build such a life 
and instructing them in how to use those tools, it can be frustrating to see them choose to continue using their old tools rather than the new tools while knowing full well that their “best” thinking got them into the terrible trouble they’re now in and that to keep moving in that direction will have potentially deadly consequences.  One of the most brilliant therapists I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, the late Angelo Castiglione, used to say, “Addiction is a disease that resists its own recovery”.  Sadly, I’ve found this to be the truth.

I’ve long noticed a correlation between the defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors (y’know, those quirky li’l behaviors they exhibit like, say, coping with “stress” by shooting heroin in their neck – that falls under “recreational use”, right? – or drinking three bottles of wine in one evening to “take the edge off” – believe me, somewhere in the middle of the first bottle, those edges are as smooth as a cue ball) and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation.  These include, but are not limited to: rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, intellectualizing, blaming, shaming, deflecting, avoiding and the granddaddy of them all, DENIAL (here’s my favorite acronym for denial: 
Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying).  I see them all used by members of both groups all the time.   Am I saying that those who consume animals and their secretions are addicted to those substances?  Not necessarily, as I don’t definitively know that to be the case, but when confronted with the idea that what they’ve been doing all their lives – engaging in behaviors taught to them by their well-meaning parents and viewed as “normal” (which we all know is just a setting on a washing machine) by the society in which they live – cannot be morally justified, their first instinctive response to the cognitive dissonance they now feel is to fight to protect themselves from what they perceive to be an attack on their character and an attempt to cause them shame and to… (gulp!) … change.

When I engage in vegan education, it is not my intention to shame anyone about their behavior.  In my opinion, there should be no shame in engaging in behaviors one truly does not know are wrong or harmful to others or themselves.  That is simple ignorance born of a lack of education in a particular area and aided by ongoing campaigns of targeted misinformation designed to maintain and deepen such ignorance on a mass scale.  When this happens, one is, in a sense, a victim.  However, when one engages in 
willful ignorance – learning the truth about one’s complicity in the exploitation of the vulnerable and purposely choosing to ignore it and take no meaningful action to change – I believe that a feeling of guilt is appropriate and necessary because, when one does this, one is indeed guilty of victimizing others.  Brené Brown, Ph.D. and other psychologists have shown that feelings of guilt can and often do lead to positive changes in behaviors and attitudes and that guilt is actually a healthy emotion: “I now know I’ve been behaving in ways that conflict with my core values and beliefs and feel badly about my behavior.  From now on, I will behave differently and live, as best I can, in congruence with my morals and ethics.”  Cessation of guilt-inducing behavior leads to, as you might imagine, a reduction in guilt and, as an added bonus, increased self-esteem.  Plus, to put it bluntly, when individuals start living vegan, they stop paying people to kill innocent beings.  What could ease one’s guilt and restore one’s self-esteem better than ceasing to hire hit men to kill babies (yes, most of the animals used by humans for food are killed within the first months of their lives) and adults and entire families for no good reason?

The night I made the decision to start living vegan, I experienced that same moment of cognitive dissonance that others feel, and I chose what I felt, and still feel, is the only acceptable path.  Here is an excerpt about that very moment from another essay of mine:


“At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was.  It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice.  I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.”


Ms. Esposito said that what is most upsetting is “people that are unable to change”, however for me it is people who are unwilling to change. We all have the capacity to change; some of us simply refuse to do so, even when presented with evidence that change is, if not required, then certainly a really, really good idea.  Changing from using vulnerable beings for one’s own selfish pleasures as a non-vegan to living vegan spares the lives of others, improves one’s own life and make the world in general a better place.  These are not opinions – these are immutable facts that it makes no sense to deny.  But, as is the case with addiction, denial is not about what makes sense.  It is about what makes us comfortable, or at least not uncomfortable, and there is a sad comfort in that which we know and have gotten used to.

Do I find this, as Ms. Esposito does, infuriating?  I have, but it’s rare that I feel such exasperation these days.  Instead, I make a point of remembering that I, too, have had plenty of personal experience with being unwilling to act appropriately on new information, which makes it difficult for me to resent others when they act as I did.  I have at times been unwilling to change, but more than willing to keep myself in the dark and refuse to see the light for fear that facing the truth might hurt me in some way… because being non-vegan is “all about me” and living vegan is all about them, the non-human victims of human violence and oppression.  Admitting to and reminding myself that I was among the unwilling allows me to remain (somewhat) calm and rational when discussing veganism with non-vegans, an approach I find to be much better received and far more effective than any vitriolic rant, verbal fisticuffs or fusillade of finger-pointing.

I’d like to say I wish everyone would live vegan, as I believe it’s the key to a better, healthier, more peaceful world, but wishing won’t get us there.  As I first heard via Stephen King, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other.  See which one fills up first.”  On the other (non-shit-filled) hand, what will get us there is clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL vegan education.

Things have gotten shitty enough in our global society, so I’m not content to simply wish for this critical paradigm shift to happen.  I and my organization, South Florida Vegan Education Group, will continue to engage in abolitionist vegan education and ask that you join us.

From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.

Keith Berger


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

Photo courtesy of 

Open Minds, Open Hearts – An Open Letter To Non-Vegans

My name is Keith and I hope you’ll read this essay.

You are not here by accident, mistake or coincidence.  There is a reason you have found this page.  I’m asking your attention for only a few minutes and hoping you’ll seek to answer the three questions at the end of this essay.

What is it that opens a closed mind and lets in the light?  What image, word or sound softens a heart hardened by societal norms, traditions and expectations and allows fairness and justice to flow?  What is the catalyst for one person to change?

I’d like to tell you mine.

I was a staunch meat, dairy, egg and honey eater from as far back as I can remember.  I wore leather, wool, silk and used other products derived from the bodies of animals.  I used products that involved animal testing and contained animal secretions.  I enjoyed various forms of entertainment that involved the use of animals.  In short, I did what it seemed everyone around me did – the things society taught me were acceptable – and I did these things without a second thought.  When I was too ignorant to know that McDonald’s “food” ought to have quote marks around it, I would routinely order 2 Big Macs, a 20-piece McNugget and a chocolate milkshake and have one Big Mac devoured by the time my lunch companions reached the table with their orders.  I ate at every steakhouse I could find, identified my mom’s pork chops as my favorite food on the planet and greedily consumed every type of animal flesh that came my way, from alligator to ostrich, never once giving a second thought to what the consequences of this type of blind consumption were to my health, the health of the planet and – least of all but most importantly – the freedom and lives of the animals I was eating.  After all, they were already dead, so I had no part to play in any of that… right?

I mean, it’s not as if my consumption of and demand for animal products for eating, wearing and other uses was a direct contributing factor in supporting a worldwide system of unjust animal enslavement, abuse, torture, suffering, neglect, indignity and, ultimately, the mercilessly brutal taking of their lives… right?


In 2004 when my cousins sat me down to eat a delicious home-cooked vegan meal and watch Peaceable Kingdom, a beautiful documentary that gently challenged me to examine my beliefs about animals – only hours before which I had defiantly declared, “I’m not drinking your vegan Kool-Aid, so don’t get your hopes up” – I became aware in 70 minutes of what I’d been blind to my entire life: I was complicit in a well-hidden, cruelly concealed worldwide atrocity that was, to my mind and the minds of many others, nothing short of an animal holocaust (similar to the human Holocaust right down to the stark, overcrowded housing conditions, merciless brutality and the increasingly efficient methods of killing, but differing wildly in terms of sheer numbers.  In fact, there are six million animals slaughtered for food globally every hour of every day.  Six million per hour, the equivalent of a Holocaust every… sixty…minutes).  I had no idea, on any conscious level, that nearly 10 billion land animals and countless sea animals are killed for food every year in the country I call home and in even greater numbers abroad.  I had no conscious awareness that my choices about the food I ate, the clothes I wore and the products I used were directly responsible for the unimaginable suffering and death of countless individuals of other species.  At the end of the film, I had cried more than once and could only sit and mutter, “I had no idea… I had no idea…” and desperately wonder what I could do to stop supporting this nightmare.  The answer was simple – start living vegan.  Change what I can where I stand, right now.

In truth, it wasn’t the sheer numbers that affected me – it was the individuals.  I can’t imagine what six million or ten billion of anything actually looks like, but looking into the terrified eyes of one calf being torn away forever from her mother, one pig in the slaughter line watching his companions hung by their feet and having their throats slit, one baby chick having her beak seared off with a hot blade, one dog being skinned – ALIVE – and thrown in a pile of dying, mutilated dogs, one cow struggling valiantly to evade the man trying to shoot her in the head with the captive bolt gun… that’s what haunted me.  The eyes.


Eyes like yours and mine.  Eyes that rolled in their sockets in pain and anguish.  Eyes that screamed and cried and pleaded.  Eyes that, if they could speak in words, would say, “Why are you doing this to me?  What have I done?  I don’t understand.  Please stop.  You don’t have to do this”.  And though there were no words, I understood the language conveyed by those eyes and I could not pretend to not understand.  I saw the pain, I saw the fear, I saw the misery, I saw the hope and the life drain from those eyes, I saw defeat… and I was affected.


At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was.  It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible and practicable, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice.  I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.

This footage is not graphic, but it tells a haunting story in three and a half minutes:

My only regret about living vegan is that I didn’t have – or didn’t pay attention to – information that would have gotten me there sooner.

Veganism is a way of living that affords other individuals the dignity, freedom and right to live their lives free from intentional harm and from being treated as the property of others.  It is the spiritual principle of Live and Let Live extended beyond one’s own species.  It is a selfless act in a world overrun with selfishness.  It is putting aside one’s entitlement in favor of allowing other individuals to enjoy life in their own ways.  It is stepping out of an ego-driven, fear-based life into the light of Love.  It is the conscious choice to stop hurting others and, in so doing, to stop hurting oneself and the world we all share.  It is a social justice movement that aims to bring an end to the most violent, egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet: speciesism.

Speciesism, analogous with racism and sexism, can be defined as a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.

vegan-superior-michele-mccowanVeganism is not some sort of moral “high ground”, but rather a recognition of and respect for equality between individuals.  As my friend Michele McCowan so eloquently put it, “I don’t feel superior because I’m vegan.  The truth is I am vegan because I don’t feel superior to others.”

To define veganism as simply as possible, I take you to the source:

“The word ‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — 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

Now that you’ve read what might be some new information (or had some existing information reinforced), I ask you to answer the following three questions:

What is it that might open your mind and let in the light?  What image, word or sound might soften your heart and allow fairness and justice to flow?  What might be your catalyst for change?

If you have even the slightest interest in living vegan or learning more about veganism, here are great places to start:

From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.


Keith Berger

Co-founder, South Florida Vegan Education Group

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

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

Essay – I’m An Abolitionist Vegan

This is a slightly edited version of my submission in 2015 for a collection of essays being compiled and edited for publication by my friend and long-time vegan Butterflies Katz.  The topic I chose is I’m An Abolitionist Vegan.

I’m an abolitionist vegan , but that wasn’t always the case.

For the first 36 years of my life, I did as those around me did – I engaged in the daily consumption of products of animal exploitation.  I thought nothing of eating dead and dismembered animals, swallowing their secretions, wearing their skins and enjoying various forms of entertainment their use provided.  I mean, it wasn’t as if my demand for animal products was a direct contributing factor in supporting a worldwide system of animal enslavement, injustice, suffering, neglect and, ultimately, the mercilessly brutal taking of their lives… right?



Once exposed to the truth of the system I’ve just described, I was horrified and desperately wanted to “do something” to end these horrors, so I engaged in what I thought was effective animal “rights” activism through animal welfare organizations and their single-issue campaigns.  I was unknowingly caught in a wave of welfarism that often had little or nothing to do with promoting veganism.  Organizations spoke about compassion and I couldn’t articulate then that the problem isn’t a lack of compassion but rather the presence of injustice.  They promoted “incremental changes” and said “every little bit helps”, so I bought into the defeatist attitude that “the world will never go vegan, so let’s make the cages more comfortable”.  I know now that when we advocate for anything less than living vegan, we engender, foster and promote speciesism.


After a decade of welfarism, I learned of the abolitionist approach to animal rights and my entire perspective changed.  The unassailable logic and clarity of Professor Gary L. Francione’s ideas rang true and helped me understand that clear, consistent vegan education is the most effective way to bring justice to animals by working to give them the right not to be used or abused by humans as disposable, replaceable resources and commodities.

[It is important to note that, while it’s true that my first exposure to abolitionism was through Francione’s work from the 1990s to present, the idea of nonviolent abolitionism, as directly opposed to welfarism, was being developed in relation to veganism and animal rights as far back as 1967 with the publication of Out of the Jungle by H. Jay Dinshah, founder of the American Vegan Society.]


(please see our disclaimer about the mention of groups, individuals and organizations)

When we have the opportunity to educate people about veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species, then as vegans I feel it is incumbent upon us to do so, unflinchingly and unequivocally, and here’s why:  Convince one person to become vegan and you immediately eliminate support for dozens of animal exploitation issues.  Convince ten and you multiply the effect accordingly.  Conversely, convince one person that, for example, circuses are cruel (but not discuss veganism) and s/he may leave the circus… only to arrive two hours earlier at the neighbor’s barbecue and feast on slaughtered animals, never making the connection between the elephant under the big top and the burger on their plate.  Which approach sounds more effective?  Which approach leads to an internal ethical shift?  Which approach leads us in the direction in which we want to go?


I choose the abolitionist approach.  I am an abolitionist vegan.

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