Tag Archives: animal abuse


Hello, friends!

If you’re like us at South Florida Vegan Education Group (SFVEG) – eager to see true change in the world and help shift the current paradigm that allows and demands the use of non-human animals as disposable, replaceable commodities to serve and satisfy human pleasures and conveniences – then we ask that you please consider making a safe, secure tax-deductible donation via our YouCaring page (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) to further our vegan education efforts.  All donations are tax deductible and are used to cover ongoing printing, travel and entry costs for participation in upcoming events which will help us provide important education to people across Florida and beyond.

***To understand how contributions are allocated, please see list of upcoming events and breakdown of costs below

We feel it is crucial at events such as these that there be a clear, consistent abolitionist vegan message that all animal use is morally unjustifiable and find that such a message is rarely, if ever, presented amidst the cacophony of animal welfare groups and their pleas of reducing animal “cruelty” and “suffering” (rather than ending animal use) and other unclear, confusing and often confrontational “harm reduction” rhetoric.  By directly engaging with the public in an educative fashion, our group provides a true vegan message in an unequivocal, straightforward and non-threatening manner.

SFVEG cover3

We are passionate about empowering individuals with the knowledge that veganism is the primary means of dismantling speciesism and achieving the abolition of animal enslavement, exploitation and execution for human pleasure and convenience, and we do this in a unique way that challenges the status quo of the animal “welfare” movement (and the animal exploiters with whom they purposely partner) as it continues to focus on everything but veganism in order to maximize each other’s profits and keep the wheels of animal agriculture turning.

We are eager to bring our Vegan Education Station everywhere we can and are asking for your support in making that happen.   Please donate if you are able and also share our campaign (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) far and wide to give others the opportunity to join our support network!

As of today, here are the upcoming local events in which we plan to participate (in addition to ongoing tabling and other advocacy efforts):

September 9, 2017
Organic Beauty & Wellness Fest
– nonprofit vendor participation fee = $300.00

October 29, 2017
Palm Beach Vegfest at Meyer Amphitheatre – nonprofit vendor participation fee = $250.00

January 20, 2018
Palm Beach Vegfest at MiznerAmphitheatre – nonprofit vendor participation fee = $250.00

Vendor fees = $800.00
Printing costs (Embracing Veganism, SFVEG Starter Guide to Veganism, recipes and information on identifying and avoiding animal ingredients ) = $550.00
Travel, gas, food = $65.00

Total costs for 3 events = $1415.00

With gratitude,


Keith Berger & Elena Brodskaya
Co-founders, SFVEG

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

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


South Florida Vegan Education Group is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  All donations are tax-deductible.


On Rationalizations and Awareness

If we are appalled at the idea of eating human babies but accepting of the idea of eating non-human babies, then we need to examine our speciesism.

Rational Lies Cause Mythunderstandings

When it comes to the use and exploitation of animals for reasons of palate pleasure, comfort and convenience, I’m not proud of how I used to think, but it’s part of my story and may be relatable to others who live in a society where speciesism is currently the norm.

In my denial, I used to rationalize that it’s a good thing we kill “food” animals when they’re young so they don’t endure prolonged suffering (slaughter age for most non-human animals used for food is between 1-6 months.  If you’re not yet vegan, take a moment to consider that those are babies on your plate and that the age of the victim is, in the end, irrelevant…).

baby oven

Through my own extravagant mental gymnastics, I found ways to justify my use of animals and had crafted a comforting myth for myself that went like this:

“Yes, I’m aware that veal calves are traumatically separated from their mothers shortly after birth, confined and chained by their necks in crates, fed a nutrient-poor diet that causes them health problems like anemia and then killed within a few months, but here’s why that’s ok: they’re not really ‘suffering‘ because they’ve never experienced a ‘good’ life and therefore have no frame of reference for what pleasure and comfort feel like.  To them, this is just ‘life’, much as when someone is born without legs, they never ‘miss’ their legs since they don’t know what it is to have legs.  They just adapt and deal with life as they know it.  And, if by some chance I’m wrong and the calves actually are suffering, it’s certainly better to kill them and put them out of their misery as soon as possible.  Either way, there’s no problem that I can see.”

Yes, I actually said that.  More than once.  To anyone who’d listen.

I must have believed, in some misguided utilitarian fantasy, that we were being “humane“, merciful and doing non-human individuals a favor by slaughtering them to avoid prolonging their miserable lives.  I conveniently overlooked the obvious fact that we are the ones causing their misery in the first place by forcibly breeding them into existence for the express purpose of killing them and that the only way to stop all of what’s deemed as “misery”, “abuse”, “suffering” and “cruelty” is to stop behaving as if non-human individuals are objects, things and replaceable, disposable resources to be used to satisfy our trivial desires.  

In short, when we understand that it’s wrong to hurt and kill innocent, vulnerable individuals irrespective of species membership, age, gender identity, class, race or any other arbitrary criterion, we have a moral obligation to live vegan.

Rational Eyes See the Truth

I’m glad that when my mind and heart woke up to reality and I became aware of the consequences of my behavior, I began living vegan that same day.

The best amends I can make for the horrific and irreparable damage I used to cause non-human individuals by supporting a system that demands their enslavement, exploitation and execution is to live differently, to live ethically, to live vegan… and to carry a clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan message to others.

I’m asking you to do the same, starting today.  Live vegan and advocate veganism.  It’s a choice you will never regret.

[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:

Challenging Our Complacency, Vol. 1

It’s not just “meat” that’s at issue – ALL animal use for the satisfaction of human pleasure, comfort and convenience is morally unjustifiable.

“Unfortunately, the world will never become vegan.  We can only keep pushing forward for the humane treatment of animals.

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 can be 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 abolition of 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.

humane 001

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”?

humane 002

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.  Abolitionism is 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, speciesism becomes 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:

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.


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).


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.


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:


Yes, “Cruelty” is the Problem, But Not In the Way You Might Be Thinking

[Updated 8/8/2017]

If you’re of the opinion that we need to hammer home the gruesome details of animal “cruelty” in order to be effective in our vegan advocacy, I’d like to offer a different opinion.

Taking the road less traveled

On August 14, 2016 at the Fort Lauderdale Animal Adoption Fair, a young man named Celso approached me at the SFVEG Vegan Education Station and asked,

“So, can you educate me?”  I said, “Sure!  What would you like me to educate you about?”  He replied, “Dairy” and, rather than launching into a blood-and-guts crash course about the horrors of the dairy industry, I asked him, “Why don’t you tell me what you think you know about dairy production?”  He began to explain to me, quite accurately, about some of those horrors, indicating he was already aware of the standard abuses inherent in dairy production and went on to tell me he was still unwilling to give up consuming dairy due to “personal pleasure preferences” (his term).  This indicated to me that he was unmoved by what he already knew about the “cruelty” he was supporting and was able to compartmentalize this knowledge and justify that it wasn’t an important situation he needed to address and take a stand against – just as countless other non-vegans do every single day.  Does this make him a “bad” person, a sociopath or a psychopath?  No, at least not by that benchmark.  This makes him “normal” by society’s standards… and it also makes him reachable.

SFVEG Vegan Education Station – Fort Lauderdale Animal Adoption Fair 8/14/16

This is the point in many conversations between vegans and non-vegans where vegans will dig their heels in and try to drive the “cruelty” argument deeper, sharing gory details and horrific stories, often backing these up with graphic images and terrifying videos while overlooking the reality that this person already knows and hasn’t stopped despite that knowledge, so heading down that path will likely be ineffective.  Many times in many conversations when I used the approach of, “I know you think you know, but you really have no idea – here, let me show you what’s really going on”, I’m met with a dismissive “I don’t wanna know” and it’s game over.  It’s very hard to win someone back when they’ve been driven away, and I feel we need to engage, not outrage, those we wish to educate about veganism.  Here’s how I reached Celso:

I validated that what he knew about dairy was accurate and briefly touched on a couple of pieces he didn’t know (the fate of dairy calves and their permanent separation from their mothers shortly after birth) but I quickly steered the conversation to animal use rather than abuse to refocus on justice.  I guided him to find his own answers by helping him make the ethical connection between veganism and fundamental justice.  I could see the switches switch and the light go on when I pointed to a nearby person and asked Celso, “If that person had something you wanted because it would give you pleasure, would it be ok for you to just take it from her?”  He answered, “No”.  I asked whether it would be ok to take her children from her and he answered, “No” again.  I explained that the only difference between the woman in question and a non-human individual is an arbitrary distinction based on species membership and that these situations represent equal injustices for both groups.  By the end of our conversation (15 minutes or less), he had fist-bumped me twice and thanked me three times “for educating me and taking the time to give me information that is more valuable than I can tell you”.  I gave him information to take with him that will help reinforce our conversation.  Another new vegan is born through clear, consistent vegan education!

Changing the conversation

When we talk about “cruelty”, the conversation becomes about treatment and abuse, rather than use which ultimately is the issue that needs addressing.  I stay away from the word “cruelty” in my vegan advocacy for the simple reason that people will define the word in whatever way they see fit in order to justify their continued use of products of animal exploitation.  One person’s definition of “cruelty” often differs from the next, which leads to the ideas of “humane” treatment, “humane” slaughter, “free range” and other fantasies the animal agriculture marketing machine foists on the public as some sort of reality.

HowToGoVegan.org – A Comprehensive Vegan Podcast

From the episode entitled “Humane”: What’s In a Word? on the excellent podcast site How To Go Vegan:

We tend to only talk about ‘humane’ in relation to humans when we talk about imprisonment, euthanasia, solitary confinement, detention, or killing people.  When we hear the word ‘humane’, we should expect that the outcome for those involved will, no matter what transpires, be less than desirable and will involve some suffering and injustice at best. In the case of sentient animals, our application of what we believe is ‘humane’ for them, if applied to humans, would be considered torture.  In other words, any time that word humane is uttered, it’s almost always the case that something morally questionable and possibly unjust is going to follow, whether it’s execution, refugees, interrogation techniques, asylum seeker detention centres, industrial prisons, or in this case, the animal industry and regulation of animal exploitation.  We know that it will ultimately mean suffering for someone.”

I can’t count the number of times people have said to me, “As long as the animals are slaughtered ‘humanely’, I have no problem eating them, but some of what I’ve seen in those videos is really cruel, so we should at least stop that“, strongly indicating they believe there are acceptable levels of what some might call “cruelty”.  This plays directly into animal welfare campaigns such as Whole Foods’ “5-STEP® ANIMAL WELFARE RATING – Your way of knowing how the animals were raised for the meat you are buying”, which reinforces the “acceptable cruelty” idea and the myth that there is such a thing as “humane” slaughter.  When I make the statement to a non-vegan that it is morally unjustifiable to use any sentient individual, be they human or non-human, as a disposable, replaceable commodity/thing/resource for someone else’s pleasure, entertainment, comfort or convenience, (which covers about 99.9% of all animal use by humans) and demonstrate that this is analogous to racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in which one group dominates, devalues and disenfranchises another to the benefit of the victimizers and the detriment of the victims, they seem to grasp and understand the idea quickly and clearly.  When I further explain to non-vegans that if they believe these forms of oppression are wrong and don’t support them when the victims are humans, they are demonstrating a lack of integrity – and engaging in speciesism – by supporting the same oppressions when the victims are non-human, they begin to understand that to live in integrity is to live vegan.

I believe the word “cruelty” is too broad and subjective a word to use in a vegan advocacy context and therefore causes unnecessary confusion.  When lives are at stake, which they are here by the trillions, I feel we all need to be as clear and consistent as possible in conveying the message of veganism so we maximize the impact we desire to make while using the least amount of time, energy and resources as possible.

A word from our President


Elena Brodskaya, co-founder and President of South Florida Vegan Education Group says:

“Talking about cruelty in one’s advocacy is irrelevant because it is synced to emotion, a dangerous territory evoking words like ‘compassion’ and ‘kindness’ in its wake.  An emotional approach has never helped the animals (nor people, for that matter) and never turned anyone vegan, including myself.  Animal rights are about justice, not compassion.   Compassionate people who oppose cruelty are the ones who will sooner donate to a welfare organization than make the connection and change their belief system.   ‘Cruelty’ implies that we ‘need to do something’ to better the industry practices and not go vegan in order to abolish the industry altogether.   Just yesterday I was witness to someone who said he will never, ever go vegan because it’s not a moral issue, however he agrees that we shouldn’t treat animals with cruelty.  Such a backward stance in one’s morals indicates that as Animal Rights Advocates we are not focused on full abolition, but just on eliminating cruelty, thus subliminally giving a green light to everyone to still kill and eat flesh and rape juice.  Abolition seeks to eliminate the use of animals, not to treat them nicely until they are killed.

The operative words in unequivocal vegan advocacy should not be “cruel” and “cruelty” but “unjust” and “injustice”.  Even if the non-consensual uses of vulnerable individuals in question were devoid of discomfort and injury, they remain unjust.  This is why veganism is indeed a social justice movement and not, as it is often mislabeled, a diet, lifestyle, trend or cult.

Experience matters

Drawing from my own experiences, I will say that it was a combination of logic and emotion that compelled me to start living vegan: I saw horrific atrocities in a semi-graphic video depicting animal abuse on factory farms —> I realized my complicity in said atrocities —> I realized that I don’t support human slavery, so it makes no sense for me to continue supporting non-human slavery now that I know this is what I’m doing, and I began living vegan right then and there.  The entire experience occurred over 70 minutes, but the logical piece took mere seconds: “This is slavery… I don’t support slavery… I’m done.”

From there, I firmly believed that any and every person to whom I showed the same video would begin living vegan immediately afterward, just as I had, because they would have the same emotional/logical response to the information that I’d had.  I mean, how couldn’t they, right?


Here’s the empirical evidence from my experience: not one person I showed the video to (without any accompanying education) decided to live vegan.  Not one.  In fact, to my knowledge, none of them have changed anything about their attitudes and habits when it comes to animal exploitation.  The appeal to emotion simply didn’t cut it, as each person comes from their own perspective on what’s “cruel” and what’s “not so bad”, and what’s unacceptable to one person is acceptable to another.

For the next ten years, fueled mainly by my emotional response to what I’d seen, the focus of my advocacy efforts was on anti-cruelty campaigns and I missed many opportunities to engage the public in direct, honest, unequivocal vegan education because such campaigns, by their very design, avoid focusing on veganism.  When I finally came to understand how ineffective, counterproductive and speciesist these campaigns and the organizations that create them are, my focus shifted to where it would have been best all along.

[A brief side note on the use of graphic imagery in vegan advocacy: “Cruelty” videos and images are certainly compelling and can drive people to action, but humans have built-in forgetters for trauma, so those images and the feelings they elicit in those moments can and often do fade… and when they fade, there’s not much to stop them from going back to consuming non-human animals and their secretions unless they’ve come to believe that it is fundamentally morally unjust to use non-human animals for one’s pleasure.  Once a person understands that it’s our moral obligation to not treat individuals of other species as human property and that to do so is to engage in and support slavery, there’s an internal shift that generally doesn’t un-shift.  Conversely, when people convince themselves that somehow, somewhere, things in the animal agriculture industry are nicer than the graphic images they’ve been shown (which they may believe are anomalies at the extreme end of the “cruelty spectrum”), they will seek out “humane” animal products.  “The reason that cruelty videos can be detrimental to an animal rights organization’s mission is that such videos inherently focus on treatment, not use, even though the cruel treatment is an inevitable symptom of the disease of use.  By focusing on treatment, such videos do not suggest that use ought to end, but that use ought to be regulated.” UVE Archives, On Cruelty Videos ]


In my experience, the logical appeal is a different story with a different ending .  Most people have at least a rudimentary understanding (if not more) that something horrific has to happen for a vibrant, living individual to end up drained of blood and life and cut into pieces to be eaten, and yet they continue to consume these individuals with no apparent emotional distress (when confronted with this in my pre-vegan days, I used to rationalize “This cow’s already dead, so what’s the problem?” and devour my steak, etc.).  When individuals are presented with the simple, logical question “Do you believe it’s wrong to cause unnecessary suffering and death to animals for reasons of pleasure, entertainment, comfort or convenience?” (almost all will agree that this is wrong) and then informed that these uses, which are tantamount to slavery (something they would never support were the enslaved individuals human), account for nearly 100% of our society’s animal use, they get the point fairly quickly and start to understand the issue on a level deeper than fleeting emotion.

When we focus on specific cruelties and treatment, this leads to more campaigns for animal welfare rather than the abolition of animal use and a call to justice.

One need only look at the past 200+ years of animal welfare and the infinitesimal “gains” that have been made at that glacial pace (if the fact that more animals are dying in more horrific ways at the hands of humans than ever before in human history can be called a “gain”) to see that the welfare approach to harm reduction simply isn’t going to achieve the goal of ending animal use.  One need only look at the large, donation-based animal welfare organizations and the verbiage they use, even in their names – mercy, compassion, treatment, cruelty, humane – to see how such words again lead down the road to welfare and harm reduction rather than to justice and an end to use.


All of these organizations appeal to emotions with undercover videos, exposés of “cruelty” and so on, and claim “victory” whenever they and some animal exploiters join forces to compromise on a supposed “improvement” in conditions for those they enslave, i.e.: going “cage-free” nine years down the road. That may arguably reduce the “cruelty”, but it doesn’t lead toward the necessary paradigm shift to abolish the property status of animals.  Rather, the idea that it’s ok to use animals so long as it’s done “less cruelly” is reinforced and driven deeper into the public psyche.


If the change we wish to see is merely harm reduction, then appeals to emotion will certainly achieve that limited goal, as history has taught us since this has been the case for as long as animal welfare campaigns have been happening (two centuries and counting is a long time to keep advocating for incremental changes).

If our goal is to change the current paradigm so that non-humans cease to be treated as disposable objects for humans to use, then we must appeal to people’s sense of justice through clear, consistent education focusing on veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.

Tugging at heartstrings, while effective on some levels, is ultimately a manipulative device.  Solid, direct vegan education is a much more honest approach that leads to a deep and lasting change.

The bottom line needs to be that if we believe it’s wrong/morally unjustifiable to cause unnecessary suffering and death to non-humans for reasons of pleasure, entertainment, comfort and convenience (I frequently  remind non-vegans that even the “kindest” slave owner is still a slave owner), then the right thing to do – the morally just thing to do – is to start living vegan and stop being complicit in all forms of animal exploitation, not just the ones some people define as “cruel”.  Not everyone agrees on what constitutes cruelty and many people see it as a matter of degrees (horribly cruel, really cruel, somewhat cruel, kinda cruel, not all that cruel so therefore acceptable), and this leads to “humane” this and “cage-free” that and we’re right back to the oumoded, counterproductive 19th-century animal welfare model.


Humans have an uncanny ability to turn off and/or compartmentalize their emotions whenever those emotions run counter to them getting their desires met, whether it be in the consumption of animal products, or rape, or war, or most any violent act.  Unless one is socio- or psychopathic (or severely cognitively impaired), everyone knows all those acts of violence constitute “cruelty”, and yet they continue to happen because humans find ways to minimize, justify, rationalize and deny the consequences of their actions to suit their perceived “needs”.

Logic over emotion

Here’s an unflinchingly honest account of one person’s commitment to the ethical principles of veganism, from my friend and fellow vegan advocate Andy Williams:

“Emotions are fickle things.  If one bases their actions on an emotion, those actions will change when the the emotion fades.  Think back to your first love.  Think of how strong those emotions were.  Are you still in love with that person?  How many people stay with their first love their entire lives?
Sadly, I’ve seen so many people enter into the world of veganism all fired up and filled with enthusiasm.  These people had a true feeling of concern, based on their emotional reaction to the plight of animals.  They were charged up.  They were going to change the world!  However, once the practical implications set in, many found it difficult to maintain their original vigor.  Eventually, one discovers that you actually have to exert a small amount of effort in the process of obtaining your daily food.  One discovers that you can no longer purchase your favorite and familiar products.  One discovers that friends and family will do everything possible to shun you and discourage your actions.  These setbacks have an enormous emotional impact, and many times this is where the cracks start to form.
A person beset with a whirlwind of mixed emotion has no choice but to start bargaining.  Something inevitably has to go.  Will it be the comfort of friends and family?  Will it be the convenience of brain-dead living?  Or will it be this new flame?  In far too many cases, I’ve seen an untempered leap into veganism eventually melt into mere welfarism.  “I really care about these animals, so I’m only going to eat cage free eggs” and “it’s a step in the right direction at least”, and all of the other rationalizations that I’m sure you’ve heard countless times.  People can satisfy their cloying emotional states by taking actions that offer little to no material relief to the animals that they claim to carry so much concern for.
Without the clear understanding of basic concepts like justice and autonomy, then anything goes.  Conversely, when one internalizes the fact that any and all use of animals by humans is wrong, then nothing can shake that foundation.
I myself suffered enormously when first going vegan.  I was still living at home.  My parents saw my decision as a fundamental attack against everything they believed in.  One day, I came home to find the locks changed and all of my possessions on the porch.  I was shocked.  I really had nowhere to go.  I had nowhere to store my belongings.  I lost everything.  I had to drop out of school.  I became homeless.  This was an extremely emotionally devastating experience, but even then, I knew that our actions toward non-human animals should not be based on emotion, but on logical principles.  Animals deserve justice regardless of how it affects us emotionally, and regardless of how difficult it may be.  I was looking at death straight in the face and never compromised an inch.  I can’t say the same for all the sad souls who have come and gone because they did not understand that all use is abuse and our own personal circumstances should not dictate our actions toward animals.”

Like it or not, each of us has a finite amount of time, energy and resources to spend on our advocacy efforts.  Let’s employ those resources in the most effective way we can by engaging in direct, honest vegan education focusing on the fact that all animal use for human gain is exploitative no matter the perceived level of “cruelty” in any particular form of use.  Let’s stay away from confusing words like “cruelty”, “humane”, “treatment” and “abuse” and remember that what we’re working for are justice and an end to use.

[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.]

Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya – co-founders, SFVEG

***A note from Keith and Elena – before you go, please consider making a safe, secure tax-deductible donation via our YouCaring page (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) to support South Florida Vegan Education Group’s advocacy efforts.  Contributions of any amount are received with equal gratitude and go directly to fund our vegan public education work.  And whether or not you can contribute, please share our fundraising campaign with friends and associates!  Thank you!

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Cultured Meat Club (Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?)

cultured meat 005 question mark

A friend recently suggested I might like a Facebook page devoted to an organization whose goal is to create lab-grown, or cultured, meat.  That friend was wrong.

Because I do not support this idea, I won’t link to that page lest anyone think I’m in favor of it (there are several players in that market – my opposition is not to any specific organization but to the idea itself as I will make clear in this essay).  However, I would like to share my thoughts on lab-grown/cultured/“clean” meat and welcome comments and conversation on the subject.  For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to this product throughout as “cultured meat”.

I see the cultured meat endeavor as problematic in several ways (this is not a comprehensive list by any means).

  1. The current process for creating cultured meat involves the use of fetal calf serum, a product obtained by sticking a needle in the still-beating heart of calf fetuses removed from cows who were pregnant at slaughter (though one potential manufacturer says they’re seeking plant-based alternatives to this gruesomeness).  Therefore, this is just another by-product of the exploitative dairy industry and not something I would remotely support.  Also, if some companies eventually use plant-based sources but others continue using fetal calf serum, there’s really no telling which cultured meat is ending up on the consumer’s plate.
  2. While it’s true that cultured meat could become an available alternative to the traditional consumption of animal corpses (once it passes the point of being a mere novelty item, if that even happens), this a) does nothing to educate the public that meat and all other animal flesh and secretions are an unnecessary inclusion in human diets and b) helps maintain the status quo and reinforces the paradigm that sees non-human individuals as “things” (objectification) and demands they be enslaved and used as human resources for their bodies and secretions.
  3. The availability of cultured meat does not mean that people will automatically choose to consume it and eschew traditionally-obtained meat just because it’s there.  Non-vegans already look askance at vegan food – fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, legumes – and think what we eat is weird even though it’s the most natural stuff in the world.  Do we really think these same people who handle tofu like they’re trying to defuse a bomb are going to embrace “meat” made in a laboratory or some other industrial setting?  As far back as 2013, the animal agriculture industry was already coming up with propaganda designed to shame “real men” into continuing to eat yummy slaughtered animals and not something grown in a Petri dish (the linked article contains the first use I’ve ever seen of the euphemism “live beef animal”.  They could’ve saved keystrokes and some of my brain cells by simply saying “cow”.  Talk about the language of denial…).
  4. For those non-vegan consumers who do decide they enjoy cultured meat because its texture and taste are similar to traditional meat, what happens when they go shopping or out to eat and the establishments are fresh out of cultured meat, as is bound to frequently happen?  Do you think they’re going to order a nice vegan entree instead… or will they opt for a traditional hamburger, steak, pork chop or chicken breast since this is what they’re used to?  Because no one educated them about veganism since organizations were too busy trying to make the unacceptable acceptable by creating meat-that-isn’t-meat-but-is-really-meat-but-sorta-isn’t-really-meat-but-is-just-like-meat-but-oh-I-give-up, these consumers will continue purchasing someone’s slaughtered remains and again create demand for the continued exploitation and execution of vulnerable individuals of other species.

cultured meat 004

The image above illustrates two problems with cultured meat.  One is that without a change in the public mindset and attitude toward the use of non-human individuals as “things” to satisfy their desires (said change can be achieved through vegan education), cultured meat will often be passed up in favor of society’s traditional consumption of animal flesh.  Another is evident in the “How It Works” diagram in which we see that “Tissue is taken from animal’s muscle”, reinforcing the idea yet again that it is morally acceptable to take that which does not belong to us, in this case a part (size notwithstanding) of a nonconsenting individual’s body to serve our own purposes.  Even young children understand intuitively that when something of theirs is taken without their consent, something unfair has happened.  It is a sad indictment of our society that when the majority of these children become adults, they will not only accept larger injustices but promote, condone and profit from them despite intuitively knowing that such actions are morally unjustifiable.

In a sense, cultured meat is to traditional meat what methadone is to heroin – a healthier-seeming (on the surface, anyway) alternative promoted as a harm-reduction solution while in reality just creating its own new set of problems.  As anyone who’s detoxed from both heroin and methadone will attest, methadone is harder to kick by far (with nearly 40 known withdrawal symptoms that last… and last… and last…) and just another substance on which to form a dependency.  Doesn’t it seem logical to avoid the potential negative consequences of both by not using either when there’s absolutely no reason to have them in one’s body in the first place?

There is one particular organization promoting cultured meat (again, I refuse to post a link here and risk even inadvertently promoting such a thing, but feel free to contact me for details if you’d like) co-founded by silver-tongued, supposedly “vegan” hucksters whose combined resumes offer a road map through the very heart of Animal Welfareland, if such organizations even have hearts.  These individuals are standing on the ground floor of what may end up being a very lucrative venture, one that will at best do absolutely nothing to further the cause of justice for non-human animals and at worst set the cause back immeasurably.  Where it will be productive  is in lining their pockets, as they seem to have found a way to become rich(er) at the expense of the animals they purport to want to help.  Here’s what one of the co-founders had to say on the subject:

“…we don’t necessarily need to convince people to make decisions based on ethics if we can simply make products that taste as good, cost less, and are equally convenient.”

Uh… I’m sorry… what???  Are you saying we need to put ethics last behind trivial desires like palate pleasure, personal finances and convenience?  Why, that sounds a lot like the reasons people choose to consume products of animal exploitation in the first place!  And if you believe that people are going to start living vegan simply because you provide them with great tasting alternatives, you’re in denial so deep you’re drowning in it.  So, where do the animals figure into this agenda of yours?

“…making a positive difference for the environment, their own health, and animals.” “…a big win for consumers, for our planet, and for animals.” “…people who are devoting their entire lives to alleviating global poverty or saving the world from the effects of climate change or helping animals.”

Ah, I see – the animals come last, as I would expect from someone whose behavior has reeked of speciesism for as long as I can remember.  Tell me – since you’ve spent decades working for organizations that are supposedly devoted to animal rights, wouldn’t you agree that the animals’ need for justice is of paramount importance and the rewards we receive by abstaining from animal exploitation are simply positive side effects of finally doing the right thing and not a goal in and of themselves?

“…if we don’t eat animals, we’re likely to live longer and better lives…” “…not eating animals, which is good for their health, will have an immediate and positive effect on our health, too.”

Hmm, guess not. That’s an amazing piece of understatement, by the way, that “…not eating animals… is good for their health”.  If anything ever went without saying, it would be that.  Alright then, what exactly is your focus?

“The [organization] is focused on using markets and technology to compete with animal-based meat, dairy, and eggs.”
“Perhaps most critically, I believe that compassion for other animals, which is perhaps best exhibited by refusing to consume them, will lead to a deeper spiritual health and a clearer conscience, which will also improve our mental and emotional health.”

“Perhaps” twice in the same sentence?  That’s equivocation followed by equivocation.  If you were on trial and refused to take a stand twice, I believe you’d be held in contempt of court.  As for the “clearer conscience”, I have to wonder how clear one’s conscience could be when one purposely chooses personal profit over ethics.  I do understand how you, as a career speciesist, would mistake injustice for a lack of compassion and how that would leave you confused as to what a refusal to consume animals (and their secretions, which you seem to have overlooked) signifies.  The welfarist statement you’ve made that “compassion for other animals… is perhaps best exhibited by refusing to consume them” would indicate that you believe there is a spectrum of other, not-quite-best-but-still-acceptable methods of showing “compassion”, such as increasing the size of cages in which non-human individuals are confined against their wills, more “humane” slaughter techniques and other “improvements” (alterations, really) in animal slavery that simultaneously help maximize profits for suppliers and maximize donations for animal welfare groups.  Not unexpectedly, these are the types of campaigns in which the groups for whom you’ve worked specialize.  Statements like this clearly identify the problem with focusing on compassion” and animal abuse rather than justice and animal use, and equivocation naturally follows.  What also naturally follows is that individuals with such attitudes would gravitate toward, work for and create organizations that reflect a similar misunderstanding of the problem and its solution.  After all, water seeks its own level and like attracts like.

It’s well past time we stopped looking for every way in the world to get people to stop exploiting non-human animals a little bit at a time (a position and strategy that would rightly be seen as completely unacceptable if the exploited victims were human) and discounting the one that’s actually most effective – clear, consistent, non-violent vegan education.  It works.

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.

Here are links to a two-part podcast (approximate duration 23 minutes) and one other from Vegan Trove that delves deeper into the problems with this idea:

 Clean Meat” Part 1: Some Ethical Considerations

Clean Meat” Part 2: Some Practical Implications and Unforeseen Outcomes

The Science of “SuperMeat” : If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is | Vegan Trove

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