If you don’t ask, the answer is always “No”
When we as vegan advocates dilute what veganism is by wrongly conflating it with vegetarianism, we are a) being dishonest, b) misleading the public in a way that costs the lives of non-human individuals and c) missing a key opportunity to educate people about the ethical and moral reasons to live vegan and end their participation in the fundamental injustice of animal use.
Here is a widely accepted definition (arguably, it’s the definition) of veganism:
- “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
But isn’t vegetarianism a good thing?
I’ve observed many people and groups extolling the virtues of vegetarianism, calling it an “ethical” and “compassionate” choice that “reduces cruelty”, however when one applies a modicum of critical thinking and takes a closer look, one quickly arrives at a far different conclusion. An excerpt from What Is Wrong With Vegetarianism? from UVE Archives (I encourage everyone to read the entire essay linked above):
“The Moral Problems with Vegetarianism
Many people are vegetarians for ethical reasons. They object to either the treatment of animals in animal agriculture or the intentional killing of animals, or both. Paradoxically, despite their objections to the treatment or intentional killing of animals, they continue to consume dairy products and eggs, which… certainly contribute more to the suffering and arguably as much to the intentional killing of animals than the consumption of meat products. In fact, to the extent that a vegetarian replaces calories from flesh with calories from dairy and egg products, the vegetarian has increased his or her contribution to animal suffering.”
It is important to note here that “cruelty”, “abuse” and “suffering” are merely symptoms of the problem – animal use – and even if the non-consensual uses of vulnerable individuals in question were devoid of discomfort and injury, they remain unjust. When we focus on specific cruelties and treatment, this leads to more ineffective and counterproductive campaigns for animal welfare rather than the abolition of animal use and a call to justice.
An excerpt from Vegetarianism – a step in the wrong direction for me from There’s An Elephant In The Room (again, I encourage everyone to read the entire essay linked above):
“Potential confusion is not in any way helped when so many groups and organisations conflate the words ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’, implying that they are similar. The standard definition has become so accepted here in the UK that the supermarkets all stock huge ranges of products defined as ‘vegetarian’, all supported by skilful marketing strategies that promote them as everything from ‘healthy’ to ‘humane’ with few exceptions, each of which contains animal milk in some form – frequently as cheese – and eggs which are often described as ‘free range’.
Many of us – and I was one – mistakenly assume that ‘vegetarian’ is synonymous with ‘cruelty free’ when nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Yes, I had stopped eating the obvious slabs of bloodied flesh. But what I did not realise was that my dietary consumption was continuing to supply the market with dead flesh, even though I did not consume it directly. And as for my non-food choices…”
I was once under the erroneous impression that vegans were simply vegetarians whose diet also excluded dairy, eggs and honey. This seemed to me to be an extreme position to take, but then, so did vegetarianism as I was indoctrinated to fall in line with the common societal belief that humans need to eat (and otherwise use) animals to survive. I believed vegetarianism and veganism to be aberrant dietary choices and had no real understanding of either as having any sort of ethical underpinnings. I do recall being aware of certain animal “rights” groups promoting vegetarian diets but I wrote those groups off as “extremists” and paid no attention to their antics and promotions (which, ironically, I would later take part in myself for a regrettable decade).
On the evening that veganism was explained to me in a calm and rational manner, I understood that it went far beyond mere dietary choices and found that what is truly “extreme” is the injustice of enslaving, exploiting and executing innocent, vulnerable sentient beings to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience. In that moment, I experienced a fundamental internal shift and made the decision to bring my morals and actions into congruence by living vegan.
If we, as vegan individuals and groups, are afraid to commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education because “vegetarian sounds better” and is “more marketable” (as I was told by a representative of a speciesist animal welfare group), how do we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when we’re afraid to say what we really mean and ask for what we really want?
If you want less than veganism, then ask for it and that’s what you’ll get. After all, it doesn’t require any real change to move from one form of non-veganism to another, and make no mistake that “vegetarian” in all its guises and with all its prefixes and hyphenations is anything other than animal exploitation. Each new permutation is just a new coat of blood-red paint on the same old abattoir.
Conversely, if you want people to take a firm stand against injustice and oppression toward vulnerable sentient beings by first ending their participation in it, educate them about veganism as our minimum moral obligation toward the non-humans with whom we share this planet. In this way, we move closer to dismantling speciesism, which 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“. The fundamental injustice of speciesism begets all other forms of oppression toward vulnerable individuals and groups that we see running rampant on our planet today. We believe the dismantling and abolition of speciesism are integral in starting the chain of conscious evolution that will lead to the end of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like.
Doesn’t that sound like the kind of world in which you’d like to live? Let’s make it happen, one new vegan at a time!
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]