Overheard: “How about taking a stand against the murder of unborn children through abortion? When I see you joining that cause perhaps I will listen to the rest of your moral outrage and the weeping for sheep…”
The above is an actual quote I saw recently from a pastor in response to a conversation about veganism. [Please note that this essay does not attempt to make a correlation between abortion and animal rights. The example used by the pastor might well have involved any human rights issue or plight – natural disaster, genocide, famine, etc. – involving humans]
Yes, people say things like this. It’s a version of one of the archetypical arguments against veganism that usually goes like this: “Humans come first. Once we get human problems sorted out, then I’ll worry about non-humans “.
Let’s apply a bit of critical thinking to these ideas by putting them in the Reality Machine.
Aside from being a blatantly speciesistposition (simply substitute the words “non-human” and “human” with different human races or genders and the unjust bias is immediately clear), this justification for continuing to engage in the exploitation of vulnerable individuals hasn’t a leg to stand on, and here’s why:
Livingvegan (eschewing the use of all products and forms of animal exploitation wherever possible and practicable) takes zero energy, resources, time or effort away from advocating for any other cause, whether human rights-related or otherwise. One can live vegan and still engage in any activity one chooses, probably with even more energythan when living non-vegan!
To further examine the fallaciousness of the argument, the idea that there will come a day when humanity’s myriad problems are finally put to rest is, in a word, preposterous. Therefore, to claim that one will gladly engage in working for animal rights once all human rights have been permanently secured is nothing more than a lie based on an impossible premise designed to derail the animal rights conversation and justify one’s continued use of products of animal exploitation. It is a disingenuous position designed to obfuscate the underlying selfishness motivating the argument, and it by no means presupposes that one is spending one’s days and nights engaged in any form of advocacy or activism whatsoever. It’s a bluff that is easily called and checkmate is soon to follow.
In and of itself, veganism is passive – it doesn’t require one to do anything but rather to not do certain things (i.e., not eat, wear or otherwise use and/or objectify non-human animals for one’s personal benefit). From there, if one chooses to spend one’s time, energy and resources engaging in animal rights advocacy through clear, consistent vegan education, that is one’s choice (and one we highly recommend) but again not a requirement.
Armed with the knowledge that one can live vegan and continue to participate passionately in whatever activities or advocacy one feels compelled to participate in, why – other than for purely selfish reasons of pleasure, comfort and convenience – would anyone not choose to do so?
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimerregarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]
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What could possibly follow “but” in any of the above statements that would morally justify making an exception to the ideas as presented? The answer is simple: nothing.
Imagine hearing someone say, “I agree that racism is wrong, but the Ku Klux Klan is having a bake sale fundraiser this weekend and they make delicious cupcakes, so I’ll be buying some!” The moral inconsistency in such a situation would be glaring, and yet people routinely say they disagree with specific injustices while participating in and supporting, sometimes without realizing it, those same injustices.
Speciesism 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. To disagree with speciesism is to agree with veganism, 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
I’ve had countless conversations with people who said they agreed it’s wrong to hurt and kill animals unnecessarily… and then the “but”s came – “But I love eating my meat/chicken/fish/steak/bacon”, “But I could never give up my dairy/eggs/cheese/honey”, “But I need my protein”, “But my leather shoes are so comfortable”, “But I don’t eat much red meat” and on and on. It should be noted that referring to “my meat”, “my dairy”, “my leather”, etc. (which seems to happen more often than not) overlooks and negates the fact that these “products” were once the bodies, skins and secretions of autonomous individuals and are therefore stolen property. It exposes the underlying selfishness that drives speciesist behavior. When framed in this way, might those same people counter with, “I agree that stealing is wrong, but…”?
Interestingly, the problem in examples like this doesn’t lie after the “but”.
In all of the example statements above, the reality is that everything before the “but” is an untruth. Here is what’s really being said:
“I agree that [fill-in-the-blank form of oppression] is wrong, but since I’m personally benefitting from it in some way, I’ll just look the other way and pretend nothing’s happening and that I’m not participating in something I say I find morally reprehensible even though my actions tell an entirely different story.”
When one truly agrees that a form of oppression is fundamentally wrong, one does not equivocate or make exceptions in order to satisfy one’s desires for personal pleasure, comfort and convenience. Being morally consistent means not engaging in, supporting and/or promoting racism, sexism, heterosexism, speciesism or other forms of oppression because one finds it inconvenient not to. One simply stands in one’s truth and follows where one’s moral compass points, making course corrections along the way wherever necessary.
Since most people believe it’s wrong to hurt and kill vulnerable sentient beings for no justifiable reason, living vegan gives every individual the opportunity to be true to themselves, to live honestly and to live in congruence with their moral values and in harmony with their fellow travelers on this planet we all share.
One final statement to consider:
I agree that the simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan. There are no valid reasons not to; there are only morally unjustifiable excuses to hide behind.
There is no “but” here. There is only truth.
[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.]
Despite some technical difficulties with the audio, on Friday 6/16/17, Trish Roberts of HowToGoVegan.org and VeganTrove.comand I discussed several aspects of veganism and its relation to other social justice issues. Here is the link to the video of the livestream:
I received a call today about participating in a marketing focus group on auto care and the caller asked me as part of the questionnaire, “If money wasn’t an object, what would you love to spend your life doing?” I immediately replied, “Educating people about a social justice issue near to my heart – veganism.”
My friend and fellow vegan educator Colin Wright wrote an essay about engaging in vegan advocacy over the phone and I thought about his ideas at the moment I decided to shift the conversation into a potential vegan education experience (please read Colin’s excellent essay hereand consider perusing the rest of his site for more information and ideas).
The caller (a 51-year-old gentleman named John) and I ended up talking for over 20 minutes and, in that time, he asked and I answered questions about plant-based nutrition – protein, B12… the usual – and I explained the ethical reasons for veganism to him, to which he said he agreed. His questions were insightful and he seemed interested in and agreeable to the answers I provided. It turns out he’d had a couple of close relationships with vegans in the past, so he wasn’t a total stranger to what I was presenting. I was sure to direct him to VeganEducationGroup.com and HowToGoVegan.org as resources for further information.
When the call was coming to an end, I thanked him for taking the time to speak with me and to ask me the questions he didn’t have to ask, as well as for listening thoughtfully to the answers. I ended by stating, “If you believe that causing unnecessary harm and death to innocent, vulnerable beings is wrong, then you stop engaging in behaviors that bring those results. To do that, you begin by living vegan.” He said, “I agree!” and thanked me for the conversation.
Slightly tangential note: There’s nothing “scary” or “off-putting” about the word vegan or the idea of veganism, despite what some large animal welfare corporations would want people to believe (and they propagate that myth to further their own ends and increase their profitability at the expense of the animals they purport to be “helping”). When presented in a calm, rational and respectful manner, there is nothing about veganism that drives people away. On the contrary, these ideas of nonviolence, fairness and true justice for all resonate deeply with those who hear them and frequently foster internal and external changes that can and will shift the current speciesist paradigm that demands the enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals.
[I encourage all readers to click theblue linksembedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]
Although the scenario of all humanity becoming vegan overnight does not seem feasible, even if that were to happen, is the answer to a potential animal overpopulation problem to continue forcibly breeding them into existence for the sole purpose of killing them for human pleasure, comfort and convenience? It takes some serious, Olympic-gold-medal-worthy mental and ethical gymnastics to get to “Yes” as the answer to that question and to use it as justification for continuing animal exploitation and slaughter.
Our Own Devices
Considering I have a device I’m able to carry in my pocket that can, with the flick of a finger, connect me to the entire repository of human knowledge, allow me to speak with friends who are 9,600 miles away as if we were in the same room (hello Tasmania!) AND help me locate the nearest public toilet (quite possibly the most important app ever invented… but I digress), I’m fairly certain that with a minimally concerted effort across humanity we can find a suitable, nonviolent solution to where all the cows, pigs, chickens, fish and other non-human refugees of animal agriculture will go once they’re no longer seen and treated as mere commodities and are finally afforded the one basic, fundamental right that ought never be withheld from any sentient being – the right not to be used as the property of more powerful others.
The simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of billions of innocent, vulnerable individuals is to start living vegan. There are no valid reasons not to; there are only morally unjustifiable excuses to hide behind.
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]
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 canbe 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 abolitionof 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.
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”?
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. Abolitionismis 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!”
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, speciesismbecomes 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?
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:
To take a stand against one form of oppression while willingly participating in another shows a lack of integrity and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. All one needs to do is engage in a little bit of critical thinking to see this.
It’s always sad to see the anger that comes out in people when their entrenched beliefs are challenged as their participation in the oppression of the mostvulnerable members of our global society — non-human animals — is exposed.
When one agrees to participate in the oppression and exploitation of one vulnerable group, it opens the door to further oppression and exploitation of other groups. The myth of human supremacy begets speciesism, which in turn begets racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like. If one feels “superior” to a particular group and gives oneself permission to bully and oppress them at will (to the point of killing and eating them by the billions, in the case of non-human individuals), why should another group be expected not to do that to them? How is that fair in any way?
You can’t demand justice while committing injustices.
A non-vegan once asked me, “Isn’t it hard being vegan?”
OK, it wasn’t “once” and it wasn’t “a” non-vegan – I’ve been asked many times by many non-vegans, some out of well-meaning curiosity and some who were looking to poke holes in the foundation of my ethical stance to abstain, wherever possible, from meat, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool and all other products of animal exploitation. My answer always starts with “No”. Sometimes it ends there and we go our separate ways, but more often than not I will take the time to explain just how easy it was (and still is) for me to choose to live vegan once I understood the injustices involved in turning a cow into a steak, a chicken into a cutlet, a pig into bacon and a baby calf into a suede jacket, to list but a few examples of the tyrannies humans force on vulnerable individuals of other species.
A good question to ask non-vegans who believe living vegan is “hard” is, “Who told you that?” In my experience, it’s never a vegan who tells someone that living vegan is hard… because it isn’t. It’s usually someone or some company with a product to sell that counts on such misinformation to keep consumers from thinking critically about veganism and the moral obligation it entails. Stretching one’s arm 6 inches beyond the cow’s milk to reach the almond milk, for example, is not a difficulty – it’s a minor inconvenience and slight change in a habit pattern that will become a new habit when practiced for a short while. Shopping for affordable non-leather shoes may take a little more time that simply buying ones made from the skins of dead animals, but this is again only a minor inconvenience and one easily overcome. In my experience, this is true of nearly all shifts from using products of animal exploitation to living vegan and, once new habits are in place, everything is easy again.
If there is anything “hard” about living vegan, it’s dealing with the cognitive dissonance of non-vegans.
Non-vegans. They come one at a time. They come in groups. Sometimes I feel like Bruce Lee entering a room full of black belt warriors and having to defend myself against their simultaneous assaults. They come online, at work, at the grocery store, in restaurants… sometimes I’m surprised they don’t come knocking on my door when passing my house and spying the vegan bumper stickers on my car (usually, those random doorknockers are Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to share their “good news” with me. Want to know my definition of fair trade? Graciously accepting some of their literature and handing them some clear, consistent vegan information in return after discussing why veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of all sentient beings. That’s the best news I know).
As a recovering non-vegan (more of an anti-vegan when I really think about it), I get it. I was the classic, stereotypical animal product consumer, waving hamburgers under my vegetarian friends’ noses, snarkily asking my PeTA-supporting former boss where the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans” pamphlets were and thinking up clever ways to derail their veg-trains. I understand where non-vegans are coming from and why many, but by no means all, behave as they do toward vegans:
I was unable to diagnose, recognize and deal with my fears back then. Instead, I acted out in denial and avoidance of those uncomfortable feelings. Somewhere inside, probably near the pounds of undigested red meat rotting in my intestines, I understood that every hamburger begins with a cow begging for her life. I knew something dreadfully awful was happening to veal calves and it wasn’t, as I so cleverly rationalized (and I’m not proud of this, though I was at the time), “the only life they know anyway so, since they have no frame of reference for what a happy life is, why does it matter? And if their lives are so bad, it’s actually merciful that we slaughter them so young and put them out of their misery. We’re doing them a favor!” I knew that chickens didn’t “sacrifice” themselves to become the nuggets I was eating twenty at a sitting. I knew… and I denied. And I defended. And I attacked. Those were the methods I employed to keep from hearing, understanding and – worse – feeling the truth about animal exploitation and my complicity in it. I kept the truth a comfortable distance away and drowned out the voice of my conscience with pseudo-intellectual rationalizations and justifications that, as I now know, were mere fabrications of my frightened ego.
When I deal with non-vegans now, especially in terms of vegan education, I try to meet them where they are, remembering that I once stood where they stand – blinded and misguided by a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have us believe we need to eat animals to survive (false), that we would suffer and maybe die if we didn’t (false), that animals were put on Earth to serve us – the “superior race/top of the food chain/most advanced species” in the history of the planet (false) and on and on. I remember that I too was once afraid to take a stand for my ethical beliefs in a society that marginalizes, ridicules, bullies and berates those who swim against the current of cruelty and go against the grain of gluttony, afraid to be looked at as “abnormal”, afraid to no longer be accepted by those who engage in behaviors I now consider morally unacceptable…
So I do my best to let them know how it was for me, what happened to cause me to change and what it’s like for me now. I let them know that making the choice to live vegan is the single best choice I’ve ever made and that living vegan is the best action I’ve ever taken. I let them know that it’s best to follow one’s ethics instead of one’s palate. I let them know that veganism is not a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a phase – it is one’s personal commitment to a social justice movement that seeks to dismantle speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet today. I let them know that every argument against veganism is an argument in favor of slavery, bullying, misery and horrible, needless death. I let them know that if they believe animals matter morally at all, then living vegan is the only rational response. I let them know that living vegan is as easy as making the decision to withdraw support from and cease complicity in a worldwide system of animal exploitation. I let them know that vegan food is nutritious, delicious and all one needs to survive and thrive in optimum health.
And I let them know that I, and millions of other vegans, are here to offer education, informationand supportif they are willing to put their fears aside and embrace that which they already believe in – justice for all.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
One common argument against veganism is, “I like eating meat, cheese, eggs and milk. They taste good!” While that may be the case for some people (I certainly felt that way in my pre-vegan days), personal taste preference is irrelevant in matters of fundamental justice and here’s what this argument really means:
“The satisfaction of my personal pleasure is more important than another individual’s right to have their body treated with respect and not be used as an object.”
Essentially, this same argument could be used by a rapist to justify rape, or by a human trafficker to justify commercial sexual exploitation. If such analogies seem off the mark or offensive, consider that the non-human animals used by humans to provide food are routinely sexually abused by their human “caretakers” through, among other things, non-consensual, forced penetration and manipulation of their reproductive organs under the euphemism of “animal husbandry” (even this term has the ring of bestiality to it…).
The ability to take something from someone else (property, sex, children, money) does not mean we should take those things from them. On the contrary, it means that we, as the more powerful entities in the situation, have a moral obligation to do what is right and not take that which does not rightfully belong to us. To proceed otherwise is to act unethically, unjustly and immorally. It is to act as a bully, an oppressor and a tyrant.
Is that the best we can aspire to, or can we make the simple decision to remove ourselves from the violent oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – and start living vegan, right here and right now?
The choice is clear.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: