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Why Meatless Monday Does More Harm Than Good

In addition to new content, this essay contains previously published material in examining a controversial animal welfare single-issue campaign I see promoted weekly and exploring the speciesism behind it:

Meatless Monday

vegan-use-not-abuse

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.

Meatless Monday – A Toothless Campaign

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 for their well-being, feelings or right to live autonomous lives without human interference.

Meatless Monday tries to be clever
There is nothing funny about the killing of vulnerable individuals… except if you’re MeatlessMonday.com, that is. The text reads: “Do you have the day off from work tomorrow? You’re not the only one… ~wink~ “.

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 – including high-profile celebrity “vegans” – lend their names to and continue to support this campaign, rationalizing that it is “part of a journey” toward veganism – even though it promotes a version of vegetarianism rather than veganism.  Some seem to believe it’s necessary to encourage non-vegans to take “baby steps” and that “every little bit helps”.

baby-steps-001

It’s my contention that one does not encourage people 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, unnecessary 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 vulnerable animals?  None… but Nature does (see preventable chronic diseases listed above).

“Meatless” Does More Harm Than Good – From the Industry’s Own Mouth

Below in red is an excerpt from my essay Compassion Over Killing and Their Timeshare Approach to Animal Rights:

Further, asking non-vegans to go “meat-free” may do more harm than good as it has been shown that people who give up meat for a short time tend to increase their consumption of animal secretions such as dairy and eggs to offset their deprivation of meat through that time period.  Here is a quote connecting “meatless” campaigns and rises in egg demand and consumption from a 2015 interview on the Diane Rehm show (the specific audio clip comes at about 43:23, a courtesy for those who don’t want to sit through listening to rationalizations and justifications about eggs and “welfare”):

“Just back to that other question about the ‘Meatless’.  One of the reasons why the egg industry and demand is (sic) going up is because a lot of the families, like one day a week, are having meatless dinners and they’re substituting eggs for that meatless meal, so that’s another good reason why the egg consumption is going up in this country.” –  Paul Sauder, president of Sauder Eggs, chairman of the American Egg Board and a board member of United Egg Producers

Interestingly, if that’s the effect of only one meatless meal per week, the net effect of an entire meatless day (3-5 meals?) such as on Meatless Monday or an entire meatless week would be to cause an even greater increase in egg consumption.

By encouraging non-vegans to take just one day off per week from a particular form of animal use, tacit permission and support are given for them to continue their use unabated the rest of the week.  Is that really the message we want to give, whether directly or indirectly?  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??  Answer:

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

There are those who support the baby-step “journeys” of non-vegans to become vegan – some of which take 2-3 decades or longer – 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 billions of non-human 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 oppression 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:

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 Meatless Meaningless Monday is immediately followed by Return to Terrorism Tuesday and We Keep Killing Wednesday (and on through the week).  Imagine if there were campaigns for Rape-Free Fridays or Child Abuse-Free Thursdays – would we applaud those well-intentioned baby steps too?  Isn’t it a better use of our limited time, energy and resources to work on creating Exploitation-Free EveryDay by consistently promoting veganism?

If we as vegans refuse to commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education, how can we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when, by engaging in and promoting speciesist single-issue campaigns, we’re essentially giving them permission to exploit animals most, but not all, of the time?

Baby steps are for babies.  I challenge my fellow vegans to be the adults we are and stop promoting reduction over abolition, which only makes the unacceptable seem acceptable and maintains the speciesist status quo.  This behavior 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 Meaningless Monday and the other useless, ineffective and counter-productive single-issue campaigns promoted by animal welfare 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.

[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.]

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

 

(Twelve?) Stepping into Veganism

vegan-journey-002
For many, the “journey” may take several decades…

It was recently suggested to me, once again, that vegans ought to “encourage and support incremental changes made by non-vegans on their journey to becoming vegan”.  In something of a new slant on the idea, this individual likened the situation to alcoholics becoming and hopefully remaining sober in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and finding support from other AA members during that process.  They said, “AA has Twelve Steps and that’s ok, so why should it be different with non-vegans?”

It was immediately clear that this individual had little if any understanding of how 12-Step support groups function, nor much understanding of just how far short their “non-veganism-is-like-alcoholism” analogy fell.

[This essay briefly discusses correlations between defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation.  From that perspective, non-veganism can be compared with alcoholism.]

Having had over two decades of experience both professionally and personally with many facets of substance abuse recovery, I have come to understand that the 12-Step process in AA and similar recovery fellowships doesn’t lead to sobriety as an end goal to be achieved, but rather presents sobriety (or at least abstinence from addictive mood-and-mind altering chemicals) as a starting point on a path of recovery that will hopefully last a lifetime.  In order to fully benefit from and move through the Steps, one must cease the maladaptive, self-destructive behavior of substance abuse at the onset of the 12-Step journey of honest introspection, internal moral inventory, spiritual housecleaning and daily behavior maintenance.  Otherwise, if one continues their chemical use, one’s chances of growing, healing and recovering from the damage done by one’s addiction(s) diminish by the day.  As it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text (commonly known as the Big Book), “Half measures availed us nothing.”

I’m not opposed to encouraging and supporting any individual who wishes to stop abusing themselves no matter how quickly or slowly they cease their self-destructive behaviors nor how many times they relapse and resume damaging themselves.  I’m firmly in support of self-improvement.  However, here is a key distinction between alcoholism (and other manifestations of addiction) and the consumption of animal products – alcoholics who drink (and addicts who use) primarily victimize themselves* through engaging in active addiction while non-vegans primarily victimize innocent, vulnerable individuals through the consumption and use of products of animal exploitation to satisfy their pleasure, comfort and convenience.  Of course, mountains of scientific evidence make it abundantly clear that non-vegans also compromise their own health by consuming animal flesh and secretions, so they can also be counted among their own victims.

[*it should not be discounted that alcoholics and other addicts do harm others, including but not limited to family members, loved ones, employers/employees, co-workers and friends, both directly and indirectly through their self-destructive behaviors, however those others, in many cases, have choices as to how much abuse they are willing to take and have the ability to set boundaries to limit their exposure to the damaging behaviors of the alcoholic/addict in their lives.  Conversely, the animals who are unnecessarily harmed and killed for use by non-vegans have absolutely no choice nor ability to take action to seek safety on their own behalf.  They are, in the purest sense, defenseless innocent victims who are powerless over our relentless oppression.]

Encouraging and supporting people as they strive to stop hurting themselves and become physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy is appropriate and acceptable.  Encouraging and supporting people to take their time (sometimes for decades) in ceasing their complicity in the morally unjustifiable exploitation, enslavement and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is inappropriate and unacceptable.  The transition timeline for anyone to embrace veganism is up to each individual who moves in that direction (for many of us, the transition was instantaneous once we understood the fundamental injustices in which we were participating and knew immediately we had to stop).  What is up to us, as vegan advocates, is to present a clear and morally consistent message that anything less than veganism means a person is still engaging in violent, unacceptable, oppressive exploitation of the vulnerable and to encourage the fastest transition possible.  To think and behave otherwise is to engage in and reinforce the current cultural paradigm of speciesism, as one would never take such a laissez-faire position if the victims of any oppressive situation were human.

journey lao tzu

Is Veganism “Difficult”?

When we clearly define an idea or concept, especially one that is routinely misunderstood, misinterpreted and mischaracterized, it becomes easier to understand and identify whether it is something with which one resonates ethically.  Veganism is:

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

There is a difference between something being “difficult” and something being “inconvenient”.  To many, the prospect of living vegan can seem daunting at first, as it is a way of living that goes far beyond mere dietary choices and extends into most aspects of life and the choices we make on a daily basis (clothing, cosmetics, body care products, home cleaning products, furniture, automobile upholstery, etc.).  I have found, as have many other vegans with whom I’ve spoken, that the changes I once may have thought of as “difficulties” turned out to be “inconveniences”.  For example, it was never actually “difficult” to reach ten inches past the cow’s milk to pick up the almond milk – it was merely inconvenient.  In reality, any perceived inconveniences I have ever faced in living vegan pale in comparison to the actual difficulties (which is far too weak a word to adequately describe a lifetime of horrific and perverse agonies) suffered by every animal used to satisfy human pleasure.

Hi.  My Name is Keith, I’m a Recovering Non-Vegan

Does making the commitment to live vegan require a Twelve Step process?  No.  The only Twelve Steps I know that relate to veganism are the twelve steps it takes to walk past the meat/dairy department to the produce department in my local supermarket, and I find those are twelve incredibly easy steps to take!

Here are the Two Steps we suggest when it comes to veganism:

  1.  Live vegan.
  2.  Educate others about veganism as our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species.

Why waste time – and continue causing unnecessary suffering and death to others – by intentionally putting roadblocks in our own way?  Perhaps it’s better to heed AA’s popular slogan, “Keep It Simple”.

If you are already vegan, please educate others about veganism.  If you are not vegan and believe that animals matter morally at all, please consider living vegan as it is the choice that matches your morals.

Here are some excellent places to start:

www.BeFairBeVegan.com

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

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

10/14/2016

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

Photo courtesy of 
www.VeganTrove.com