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Trish Roberts, Steve Grumbine and Keith Berger Discuss Veganism on Real Progressives

Here is the audio and video of the Real Progressives livestream on Facebook that took place on 5/26/17.   Please listen and share!

 

Thank you to Steve Grumbine of Real Progressives for inviting me and Trish Roberts of HowToGoVegan.org and VeganTrove.com for a lively discussion on veganism with particular focus on its ethical implications.

Please note that, during the show, I lost my Internet connection for roughly ten minutes around the 38-minute mark but was able to return before the close of the program.

We hope to be invited back again for more opportunities to speak with Steve and further discuss veganism on Real Progressives!

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

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

Briefly – “But If The Whole World Went Vegan…”

“…what would happen to all the farmed animals?  Wouldn’t they overrun the planet and cause havoc???”

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.

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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.

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Excuses, Excuses

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.

vegan argument new 11.13.16

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

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

 

Briefly – “Don’t You Miss…?”

 

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I frequently hear some version of the question, “Since you’re vegan, don’t you miss meat/cheese/eggs/milk/honey/leather/wool (or other products of animal exploitation)?”

No, I don’t.  Once I knew how those products were obtained and what my part was in making that happen, my decision to cease my complicity in that violent and deadly system was immediate and unwavering.  My only choice was to start living vegan.
 

The way I understand it, there’s nothing to “miss” about causing unnecessary harm and death to innocent, vulnerable individuals.

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

On Vegan Advocacy and The Socratic Method

 

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Tabling at the SFVEG Vegan Education Station – Tamarac FL, Earth Day event 4/24/2016

I recently shared the following experience on Facebook:

Vegan Education Moment of the Day

Whole Foods Checkout Person (WFCP) seeing my purchases: Are you vegetarian… or are you vegan?
Me: Vegan.
WFCP: How long?
Me: 12 years-ish.
WFCP: Why did you go vegan?
Me: Ethical reasons. I don’t believe my life is more important than someone else’s and won’t participate in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of innocent beings just to satisfy my pleasure.  Are you vegan?
WFCP: No…  I was pescetarian, then I was vegetarian.  I was almost vegan, but then one Thanksgiving…
Me: You decided that it was ok to have others die for you  ?
WFCP: Kind of.  I feel guilty a lot of the time.
Me: Of course you do.  If you want to stop feeling guilty, you can make different choices and choose to live vegan.

There wasn’t any more time to talk in the checkout line, but I went to the car and brought her back an Embracing Veganism, our business card and a Respecting Animals brochure from International Vegan Association and told her that we’re available to answer any questions and offer her any support she needs in living vegan.

Considering the short amount of time allowed in this situation, I felt this was a good way to answer her question and give her information.  Shortly afterward, however, a sense of dissatisfaction began to creep in at how I handle such interactions generally and I began asking myself how I might better answer the often-asked question, “Why did you go vegan?”  My usual impulse has been to make some grand proclamation and hope that it will somehow be relatable and make an impact on my interlocutor… but I’m rethinking this strategy.

Since I’m finding it very effective lately to use a version of the Socratic method (a dialogue technique that “uses creative questioning to dismantle and discard preexisting ideas and thereby allows the respondent to rethink the primary question under discussion”) in some areas of my vegan advocacy, I asked myself whether the same method might be equally effective here.  The answer seems to be, it would.  After all, human nature seems to dictate that people will believe the words coming out of their own mouths before trusting and believing information presented by strangers, especially when that information appears on the surface to run counter to their established beliefs.  Consider this encounter I had a while back with a non-vegan who expressed all-too-familiar protein “concerns”:

Non-vegan: I could never be vegan – I need protein.
Me: Where do you think you get your protein now?
Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Animals…
Me: Right!!!  Now, considering that the animals humans eat for protein are largely herbivores and exclusively eat plants, where do they get their protein?
Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Plants…?
Me: Right!!!   Soooooo…
Non-vegan: I… could just eat… plants
Me: Right!!!  You get your needs met and the best part is, no one has to die!

In the past, I would have heard the protein question and took it as an invitation to leap into a verbal dissertation involving everything I know about protein, amino acids and human health, which might serve to either educate or confuse the listener or, worse, trigger a defensive cognitive dissonance response since the barrage of information I’d be presenting would most likely fly in the face of everything they’d been taught by people and organizations they trust.  In this case, instead, I chose to ask the questions that led my interlocutor to draw her own conclusions and find her own answers (which were, of course, the ones I’d hoped she’d come to!) and, once that had happened, I gave a brief Protein 101 discourse just to reinforce matters.  As I strongly believe should be the case with every discussion about veganism, I brought the idea of ethics into the conversation to avoid reinforcing the erroneous idea that veganism is merely a diet as opposed to a fundamental matter of justice.

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What If…?

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite comic book series was called “What If?”  Each issue would present “…an event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, then introducing a point of divergence in that event and then describing the consequences of the divergence.”  So, imagine if my interaction with the Whole Foods Checkout Person had gone like this:

WFCP: Why did you go vegan?
Me: Great question!  To best answer it, let me ask you three questions: do you believe it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm and death to animals?
WFCP: [likely response] Yes.*
Me: Great!  So do I.  Did you know that eating and otherwise using animals and animal products causes unnecessary harm and death to animals?
WFCP: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, that makes sense.*
Me: And that’s why I’m vegan – because it’s wrong to enslave, exploit and execute vulnerable individuals, regardless of species membership, race, gender, age or any other arbitrary criterion, to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience and all of that involves unnecessary harm.
WFCP: Thanks!  So, what’s the third question?
Me: Glad you asked!  Did you know that the answer you gave to the first question indicates you already agree with the principles of veganism?
WFCP: Huh.  I guess I do!
*

*Of course, this is an oversimplified example showing the best possible responses to our questions and will not always be the ones given since people tend to want to debate these issues due to deeply held beliefs born of a lifetime of cultural indoctrination into speciesism.  Vegan advocates should always be prepared to explore related topics that arise in conversation such as “How do you define ‘unnecessary‘?” and “What constitutes ‘harm‘?”.  There are excellent and informative abolitionist vegan websites listed at the end of this essay (more can be found in the Online Vegan Resources section of our main website at www.VeganEducationGroup.com) that can help us educate ourselves and to which we can direct both non-vegans and vegans for solid, unequivocal vegan information.

(the questions in the above scenario were adapted from vegan advocate Chris Petty’s questionnaire shown below)

Vegan questionnaire courtesy of Chris Petty

By going this route and asking specific questions, the non-vegans with whom I speak (and this includes vegetarians and other fill-in-the-blank-atarians) not only hear my reasoning for why I live vegan, but in the process also explore their own beliefs and come to understand that they, too, tend to agree with the ethical and moral principles of veganism.  The idea that they are curious enough to ask such a question indicates a willingness to learn, at the very least, one person’s reason(s) for living vegan and, better yet, may indicate their own willingness to explore these ideas further and hopefully incorporate them into their lives by making the choice to live vegan.

Sadly, there is a plethora of individuals and groups that, intentionally or not, dilute and confuse the meaning of veganism to the point that it is often mistaken for a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a trend.  For those of us who take unequivocal vegan advocacy and education seriously, it is imperative that we properly define veganism for those who don’t understand what it is, and it makes sense to keep questioning our advocacy methods and adapting where necessary to steadily evolve into the most effective agents of change we are capable of being.

[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:

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

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

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:

On Fear, Non-Vegans and Cognitive Dissonance

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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.

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Just another day at the office…

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:

They’re afraid, just as I was.

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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, information and support if 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:

A Message to My Fellow Vegans: We’re All Adults Here, Baby Steps Are For Babies

 

“Become vegan and the world says you’re extreme.   Become abolitionist vegan and vegans say you’re extreme” – Keith Berger

When I began living vegan in 2004, I immediately began involving myself in every bit of animal rights activism I could find, feeling a passionate, desperate need to “do something” about the horrors and injustices I suddenly understood were taking place all around me and all around the world.  I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t see where or how it all might end – all I knew is that I had to get involved and start making a difference.  I continued engaging in various avenues of activism, hoping to educate people that, for example, to attend animal circuses is to directly support slavery and abuse.  I wrote letters to editors and was published.  I took part in city council meetings to have circuses banned.  I removed countless discount circus coupons from local businesses and took down circus advertisements.  I attended demonstrations, held signs, passed out leaflets and engaged circus-goers in groups and one-to-one on their way in and out of the arena, giving them the best I had in what little time was available, which was often no longer than a few seconds.  I stood and watched, with tears in my eyes, the Parade of Slaves as burly men armed with bullhooks marched dispirited elephants through parking lots and into the next performance.  Was this effective?  Possibly, but if the effect was merely to open a person’s eyes to one specific type of abuse and convince her/him to tear up their tickets and take the kids home only so they could get to their neighbor’s barbecue and eat the burnt corpses of dead animals or stop at McDonald’s a few hours earlier, then my definition of “effective” needed an overhaul.  Where was the message that making the choice to live vegan was the real answer to ending animal exploitation?  Were we all hoping the people we challenged outside the circus (including the circus employees themselves) would go home, research these issues and be moved to change their lives and, in doing so, change the world?  That was doubtful, especially considering that, as I looked around at my fellow activists, very few were vegan and many didn’t even seem open to the message of living vegan when we brought it up.  They were “just here to help the poor elephants”.

When I began reading Professor Gary Francione’s* work regarding the abolitionist approach to animal rights, my eyes, mind and heart opened even wider and my definition of “effective” did indeed begin to change.

[*please read our Disclaimer regarding the mention of individuals and/or groups not necessarily endorsed by or affiliated with this site, our group or its members.]

The animal rights movement abounds with myriad single-issue campaigns (SICs) – circuses, gestation crates, fur farms, vivisection, “humane” slaughter methods, whales, orcas, dolphins, cat and dog meat… the list is endless – that serve to be most effective at doing one thing: reducing the effectiveness of our movement by sending us scurrying in a thousand (a conservative estimate) different directions and thereby preventing us from presenting a unified, unequivocal message that, if we truly believe in and desire liberty and justice for all, veganism must be the moral baseline for our behavior toward non-human animals.  Start there, and the rest of the issues will begin to fall away.  Continue on the present course and be divided and conquered.  Giving support to welfarist organizations that treat veganism like an afterthought or a nice, but unattainable, ideal (or worse – denigrate it as a quest for “personal purity”) is a misuse of valuable time, energy, money and resources.

This essay deals with one such SIC I see every week and the speciesism behind it: Meatless Monday.

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The problem is not how we exploit animals – the problem is that we exploit animals in the first place, so  the solution is not to reduce animal abuse; it’s to eliminate animal use… and that solution lies in educating people to live vegan.

If you’re a bank robber and one day realize that robbing banks is morally wrong, you don’t seek better ways to rob banks – you just stop robbing them (unless you’re determined to be a criminal and are willing to pay the consequences if caught, or a sociopath and can’t determine right from wrong).  To paraphrase the Roman philosopher Seneca’s wise words, there’s no point in trying to find the right way to do a wrong thing.

According to my research, the idea of Meatless Monday began nearly 100 years in the United States as a way to ration food to help with the war effort.  It was revived in 2003, according to www.meatlessmonday.com, as a “public health awareness campaign” in order to address “…the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption.”  On their “Why Meatless?” page, in 11 paragraphs and 796 words, there is nothing that speaks about the suffering, confinement, enslavement and slaughter of the non-human animals the campaign is suggesting people abstain from eating one day a week.  This campaign is clearly not part of any social justice movement intended to help abolish the property status of animals, nor to help any animal in any way – unless that animal is of the human variety and wants to optimize her/his health, as its stated aim is to help humans lower their risk of contracting preventable chronic diseases linked with the consumption of animal products (heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, to name a few).  In short, Meatless Monday is rooted in the same self-centered egotism, speciesism and myth of human supremacy that allows humans the self-proclaimed “right” to destroy the lives of non-human animals wantonly and with no regard to their well-being or feelings.

Even though it’s clear that the Meatless Monday campaign has nothing to do with helping to bring an end to the exploitation of non-human animals (even though some people claim every meatless meal “saves” x-number of animals, as if skipping a hamburger results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary) , many vegans and high-profile celebrity vegans lend their name to and continue to support this campaign, rationalizing that it is “part of the journey” toward veganism.  Some seem to believe it’s necessary to encourage non-vegans to take “baby steps” and that “every little bit helps”.  It’s my contention that one does not encourage another to practice ethical behavior only when personally convenient or in accordance with some arbitrary set of rules.  Coddling those who continue to exploit others when they are well aware that their choices and behaviors condemn individuals to miserable lives and horrific deaths is simply unacceptable.  We would never suggest that serial killers take “baby steps” and observe Murder-Free Mondays, would we?  Of course not.  We would explain to them why their behavior is wrong (assuming they didn’t already know) and demand they stop at once or face dire consequences.  What consequences do we impose on those who pay others to do their killing for them so they can dine on the carcasses of animals?  None… but Nature does (see preventable chronic diseases listed above).

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While people are taking “baby steps” toward living vegan, billions of innocent babies continue to suffer and die each year.  Given the opportunity, would those baby-steppers be willing to baby-step through a slaughterhouse and look those suffering individuals on Death Row in their haunted eyes and tell them “Gee, I think living vegan is a great idea for some people, I’m working on going vegan but I need more time, I’m just not ready, it’s such a big change to make, my family wouldn’t understand, I’m really sorry but you’ll be dead and eaten by the time I make a commitment to justice instead of my own selfishness”?  Would anyone be willing to take that kind of personal responsibility for their unwillingness to spare someone’s life at the expense of their own palate pleasure?  Supporting animal exploitation 6 days a week instead of 7 is like supporting spousal abuse 85% of the time instead of 100%.  Who does that??

Perpetrators who want to get away with what they can whenever they can, that’s who.

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There are those who support the baby-step “journeys” of non-vegans to become vegan – some of which take 2-3 decades – and suggest we should “give them a break, they will eventually arrive”.  While I understand that not every person will go vegan overnight (though many of us have), we vegans must remain clear that this is their choice and not our suggestion, remaining unequivocal that anything less than embracing veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species is to continue being complicit in animal exploitation and needless death.  For the animals who suffer and die waiting for “eventually” to happen, “eventually” is unacceptable and arrives much too late.  If we see a woman being raped, we don’t go help her “eventually”, nor do we wait for the rapist to complete his “journey” to living a rape-free life, asking him to maybe rape a little less every day and applauding him when he goes a whole day without raping anyone.  What drives some people to accept such an unacceptable double-standard when the victims are non-human animals?  The answer is speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of racism in existence on our planet today.

Veganism should be the starting point on a journey to live as ethically as possible, not some future goal to attain when one is finally ready to live nonviolently.

Some ask why this same debate repeats every “Meatless” Monday, so here’s why – because every Monday, some people take a mere 16 hours off from participating in an endless worldwide animal holocaust and actually seem to believe this is somehow commendable and effective.  During the Holocaust, I’m sure all the Nazis took naps now and then.  That didn’t help their victims at all because, after nap time was over, the terrorism and killing continued.  The sad reality of this ineffectual campaign is that every Meaningless Monday is immediately followed by a Return to Terrorism Tuesday and a We Keep Killing Wednesday.  Imagine if there were campaigns for Rape-Free Fridays or Child Abuse-Free Thursdays.  Should we applaud those well-intentioned baby steps too, or shouldn’t we base our work on creating Exploitation-Free EveryDay?

If we, as vegans, can’t commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education, how do we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when, by engaging in and promoting SICs, we’re essentially giving them permission to exploit animals most, but not all, of the time?  Would you tell a heroin addict to only shoot dope every other day (and thereby continue to cause himself harm and support the livelihood of his drug dealer and his dealer’s dealer), or would you suggest total abstinence?

Baby steps are for babies.  I challenge my fellow vegans to be the adults we are and stop making the unacceptable seem acceptable.  This is known as enabling and, the sooner it stops, the sooner real change begins.  If you’re already vegan, please stop making it OK for others to continue destroying the lives of non-human animals by lending your support to half-measures like Meatless Monday and the other useless, ineffective and counter-productive single-issue campaigns promoted by animal welfarist organizations that treat “vegan” like a dirty word.  Instead, let’s focus our efforts on clear, consistent vegan education wherever and whenever we can, being unequivocal about the idea of veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of the animals with whom we share this small planet.

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

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

No More “Putting Ethics Aside”, Please

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Image courtesy of VeganTrove.com
I want to briefly discuss my thoughts about a disturbing phrase I’ve been hearing far too frequently in conversations about veganism.                                                                                                                                                                
I’d like to see those on both sides of the conversation stop saying “putting ethics aside” when the primary and truly critical issue at hand is an ethical one.  When used by vegans (probably at the point that they feel they are losing the ethical argument and need to hurriedly switch gears), this imprudent tactic derails any opportunity to drive home the only argument for veganism that truly matters – if one believes that non-human individuals matter morally and that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on them, then the only logical response is to start living vegan immediately.  Once this primary area of concern has been temporarily dismissed so as to focus on secondary and tertiary matters (examples of which are named below), it is extremely difficult and highly unlikely that it can be revisited with the same power it would have had prior to it being, in effect, intentionally minimized.  When used by non-vegans, it’s an indication that they are experiencing cognitive dissonance triggered by the ethical dilemma being brought to their attention – namely that their behaviors are incongruous with their beliefs – and it is employed as an avoidance mechanism.  It is tantamount to saying, “I don’t want to look at that… so let’s look at this instead while I conveniently forget what it is we were looking at.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
When we “put ethics aside” in almost any situation, we open the door to a myriad of problems, and one need only look at modern political systems to see examples of this in abundance and to observe the negative consequences of taking such an action.  The “putting ethics aside” point in the vegan conversation is usually followed by some discussion about diet, personal health and/or the environment.  Specific to veganism and animal rights, “putting ethics aside” trivializes the injustices inherent in animal exploitation by intentionally overlooking them and starts to frame animal exploitation as a matter of personal choice, which it is not.  Any choice ceases to be “personal” once that choice involves a victim.  This is precisely why laws protect victims of crimes (ostensibly, anyway) and disallow “It was my personal choice to kill that guy, so I’m not guilty!” as a valid legal defense.
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I couldn’t imagine, in situations where the victims were human, anyone saying, “Putting ethics aside, it’s better not to intentionally run someone over with your car because that would cause your insurance to go up and you’d have to pay for some costly auto repairs, not to mention the personal inconvenience of having to clean blood off your bumper.  On the other hand, putting ethics aside again, you could always rob a bank to get the money to pay for all that, provided you don’t get caught, and maybe get rich in the process!”  Such statements shift the focus from an examination of the harm that would befall the potential victim(s) in favor of focusing on the benefits that stand to be gained by the potential perpetrator (in this case, the benefits include the avoidance of negative consequences and a potential financial windfall at the expense of others).  Sadly, when the victims are non-human individuals, speciesism tends to be the 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.                                                                                                                                                                                      
For those of you who are vegan and choose the “putting ethics aside” angle in your advocacy, please ask yourself why you do that.  Why would one make the choice to forego one powerful argument in favor of several weaker ones?  My guess is it’s due to a lack of information, confidence or experience.  I would like to offer the following suggestions to assist with these issues.
  • Please don’t promote, follow or support the large, self-serving, donation-based animal welfare organizations (Vegan Outreach, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, H$U$, PeTA and the like) that purport to have the best interests of animal in mind yet make their livings by creating and supporting speciesist single-issue campaigns that intentionally put ethical veganism last in favor of diet, harm reduction and other issues that muddy the waters.  They will sell the idea that clear, consistent vegan education is a less effective advocacy tool than the ones their brand offers, just as any company marketing their wares will sell the idea that their product is the best and all others are obviously inferior, with charts and graphs to back up their assertions.  The world is full of con artists, and the animal welfare organizations certainly seem to have more than their fair share in key public outreach positions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  • Since, as mentioned previously, the ethical argument is the only argument for veganism that truly matters, please do all you can to strengthen your working knowledge of the ethical reasons for living vegan.  Join an upcoming online reading group offered by International Vegan Association, an invaluable resource for any vegan advocate of any experience level.  Read abolitionist vegan essays here (and here and here – if you need more and can’t find them, contact me and I’ll guide you), listen to abolitionist vegan podcasts and find other experienced abolitionists with whom you can share advocacy tips and ideas.  This will strengthen your ability to confidently advocate in unequivocal terms for veganism, rather than having to sidetrack both yourself and the non-vegans to whom you’re speaking with tangential matters like diet, health and the environment.  People who “go” vegan for dietary or health reasons tend to “go” back to their old eating habits once they’ve met their weight-loss goals or their health issues have resolved, while those who live vegan for ethical reasons tend to continue living vegan, as personal ethics are not normally subject to change on a whim.  I can’t think of anyone I know who’s truly “vegan for the environment” (plant-based maybe, but not vegan by definition) and if I did, my guess is they’d cheerfully go back to consuming products of animal exploitation if there were a way to do so in an ecologically-conscious manner.  George Carlin, not vegan but a person of masterful insight into human nature, spoke eloquently of such individuals:                                                                                                                                                                             “I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths.  People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos.  Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet.  They don’t care about the planet.  Not in the abstract they don’t.  You know what they’re interested in?  A clean place to live.  Their own habitat.  They’re worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced.  Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
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“Putting ethics aside” is a step onto a very slippery slope that inevitably leads to tragic ends.  Let’s stay on solid ground and keep our ethics where they need to be – in front of our behaviors, not put aside where they can be mislaid or forgotten about altogether.

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

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