Tag Archives: baby steps

Briefly – Meatless Monday Addendum & The Speciesist Comment of the Day

speciesism banner

[This is an addendum to my essay, Why Meatless Monday is Meaningless, published 6/5/17]

Speciesism, analogous with racism and sexism, can be defined as an unjust double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.

Speciesist Comment of the Day
 
Here’s a statement from one of the “superstars” of the animal welfare movement in an article promoting, among other welfarist strategies, Meatless Meaningless Monday: 
 
“It’s not about being perfect, it’s about moving in the right direction,” Nick Cooney, Executive Vice President of the non-profit animal advocacy organization Mercy for Animals and co-founder The Good Food Institute, tells Bustle.  “Keep in mind no one is perfect and change takes time.  If you don’t think you can resist the craving [to eat animal flesh and secretions] right now, it’s much better to have a burger once a week than to give up entirely on your desire to move toward plant-based eating.”
 

[It should be noted that while MFA – and other large animal welfare corporations – lack moral consistency by promoting speciesism on a daily basis, they do maintain consistency in their messaging as versions of Mr. Cooney’s statement can be found in other MFA publications.  This striking similarity in strategy to certain political organizations and individual politicians should not go unnoticed.]

Consider how such a statement would sound if the victims of injustice were human rather than non-human.  For example, what if the issue at hand (no pun intended) were spousal abuse?  It would sound like this:

“If you don’t think you can r̶e̶s̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶r̶a̶v̶i̶n̶g̶  resist the urge to beat your spouse right now, it’s much better to h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶b̶u̶r̶g̶e̶r̶  beat your spouse once a week than to give up entirely on your desire to move toward p̶l̶a̶n̶t̶-̶b̶a̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶e̶a̶t̶i̶n̶g̶  not beating your spouse altogether.”
 
Of course, Mr. Cooney fails to point out (as usual) that plant-based eating” does not equate to living vegan.  A 100% plant-based diet is only one component of a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation/use.
 

When the innocent, vulnerable victims of violent injustices are human, advocates call for an immediate end to said injustices, rather than a gradual shift in a nonviolent direction.  When the victims are non-human, advocates often take a much more relaxed, “take your time” approach.  

Using one set of standards for human victims of injustice and another for non-human victims of injustice is an inherently speciesist position and is fundamentally unjust itself, as it would be if the sets of victims were not of different species but of different races, gender identities, sexual orientations, classes, etc.  One cannot hope to effectively advocate against injustice while participating in injustice.

speciesism-006

[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:
 

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”.

Eating plants won’t save animals.  Dismantling speciesism to abolish animal use will save animals.

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:
 

 

Compassion Over Killing and Their Timeshare Approach To Animal Rights

 

sales COK

Follow Your Morals… For A Few Days A Year

I received a marketing email recently from animal advocacy group Donations Over Animals Compassion Over Killing asking me to “Take the 7-Day VegPledge“.  They state they are “empowering thousands of people to pledge to choose vegetarian foods for at least seven days” (as if anyone needs to be “empowered” to choose to eat vegetables), making the case that, since there are …”52 weeks in a year… Why not make one of them meat-free?” and that “Every time we choose a meat-free meal, we can protect our health, the planet, and animals!”  As usual, the animals have been placed last on the list behind human self-interests.

The Problem

When we put COK’s “VegPledge” message in the Reality Machine, here’s what we see:

Asking people to go “meat-free” one week out of 52 is the equivalent of asking them to cease their complicity in only one form of animal exploitation 1.9% of the year, leaving the door open to continuing to consume animal flesh (and seceretions) the other 98.1% of the year.  I’ve heard of picking low-hanging fruit, but this fruit’s already fallen off the tree and is rotting on the ground.

To the question of “Why not make one [week] meat-free?”, I would answer that COK hasn’t provided a compelling reason to do so.  Positioning VegWeek primarily as “a way to discover the many benefits and flavors of vegetarian eating”, promising enticements like “lots of deals, discounts — and you might win prizes”,  calling it “a simple way each of us could help the protect the planet”, providing a list of celebrities and politicians who are “touting the many benefits of choosing more plant-based meals” and asking people to “Join the Fun” deftly omits the only reason that truly matters: the violent victimization of billions, if not trillions, of sentient beings every year to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience.

Does COK believe that asking non-vegans to go “meat-free” seven days out of the year (which tacitly condones the consumption of animal flesh the other 358 days per year) is bringing us closer to the abolition of animal exploitation?  It’s not as if the animals currently confined and scheduled for execution so that their bodies can be disemboweled, dismembered and distributed for sale in neat packages will be spared that fate when some unknown number of people take a one-week meat vacation this April.  The results will be the same as if it never happened – all those animals will die and be eaten soon enough (and then be replaced by other animals forcibly bred into existence for commodification and consumption), and most likely by the same people who didn’t eat them that week.  To believe otherwise is to employ a form of magical thinking that is counterproductive to the cause of eliminating the violent oppression of non-human animals.

[For a deeper look at the idea of magical thinking as it relates to animal advocacy and vegan education, please read this essay from HumaneMyth.org]

Once again, with this blatantly speciesist campaign (if the victims were human, no advocacy group would dare encourage a 0.019% effort in helping end their oppression), an organization that appears on the surface to have the best interests of non-human animals in mind fails to take into account the myriad ways these individuals are exploited other than for “meat”, such as for clothing, entertainment, medical testing.  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 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.

It’s also interesting to note that the first person to “officially sign up” for COK’s 7-Day Pledge in 2009, US Congressman Jamie Raskin, is still not even vegetarian 8 years later:

“Energized by his now mostly vegetarian diet [italics added], which he refers to as ‘aligning my morals with my menu,’ Rep. Raskin continues to encourage others to make kinder, greener, and healthier food choices — and he’s helped VegWeek expand to reach thousands of people nationwide.”

One has to wonder why it takes 8 years (or longer, based on the many non-vegans I keep meeting who’ve been some version of vegetarian for 2, 3 and 4 decades) to align one’s morals and behaviors and whether the “thousands” who have been reached have embarked on similar glacially-paced “journeys”.  Could part of the problem be COK’s (and the other large animal welfare organizations’) intentional avoidance of promoting a clear, consistent message that veganism is our minimum moral obligation to the non-human individuals with whom we share this planet?  From a business standpoint, such a strategy makes perfect sense as it helps to maximize donations from largely non-vegan donor bases by not asking them to live vegan and allowing them to erroneously feel they’ve discharged their moral responsibilities toward animals by sending money, signing petitions and, in the case of this campaign, taking a week or so off from paying people to exploited and kill vulnerable animals.

In Their Own Words

From the COK website:

“Compassion Over Killing (COK) is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) animal advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC, with an additional office in Los Angeles, CA.  Working to end animal abuse since 1995, COK focuses on cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarian eating as a way to build a kinder world for all of us, both human and nonhuman…”

From my essay on the use of the word “cruelty” in animal advocacy:

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.

Non-Profit ≠ Non-Wealthy

More from the COK website:

“Despite our small staff and limited budget, COK’s innovative, cost-effective campaigns are having a tremendous impact.”

According to readily available information, COK’s average total revenue for 2011-2015 was $920,935.80.  Perhaps we have differing definitions of “limited”, with mine being considerably under a million dollars annually (by contrast, my non-profit vegan education group received $2615.06 in contributions in 2016, a difference of $918,320.74, which must be the price of choosing to carry a morally consistent message).

[For those who would care to donate to our vegan public education work, here are two links where you can do so.  All contributions are tax-deductible and any amount is greatly appreciated!

Our YouCaring page
Our T-shirt Campaign]

Not surprisingly, the metrics for tracking COK’s “tremendous impact” are, well, “not available”, according to their profile page on nonprofit tracker guidestar.org:

2. What are the organization’s key strategies for making this happen?
Not available.
3. What are the organization’s capabilities for doing this?
Not available.
4. How will they know if they are making progress?
Not available.
5. What have and haven’t they accomplished so far?

Not available.

Living Ethically From Weak To Weak(er)

steven wright quote-i-went-down-the-street-to-the-24-hour-grocery-when-i-got-there-the-guy-was-locking-the-front-steven-wright-202303

Perhaps if everyone follows COK’s model and spends each of 52 weeks per year taking one week off from a specific form of animal exploitation (let’s say Meat-Free Week followed by Dairy-Free Week followed by Egg-Free Week followed by Honey-Free Week followed by Leather-Free Week followed by Wool-Free Week followed by Silk-Free Week followed by Zoo-Free Week followed by Circus-Free Week followed by Medical Testing-Free Week… ok, we may need to add more weeks to the year), then each of us can say “I’m vegan… but not all at once”.

And so, a new era begins – the Timeshare Approach to Animal Rights!  Here’s how it works:

Theoretically, if Compassion Over Killing can convince every non-vegan to coordinate with 51 other non-vegans to each take a yearly rotating one-week shift in the specific “Fill-in-the-blank-form-of-animal-oppression-Free Week” in which they feel most comfortable participating (the one that takes the least amount of energy, commitment and inconvenience while bringing them the most personal benefit), it would almost be as if they successfully created one actual full-time vegan*!  Huzzah!

[*I say “as if” because an actual vegan is someone who takes an unwavering ethical stand against the exploitation of non-humans, not someone who takes a few days off here and there as part of someone else’s dilettante effort at “helping animals”]

The Solution

Or we can simply say no to animal exploitation in all its forms and manifestations by making the commitment to live vegan and then educate others clearly, consistently and unequivocally about veganism as the non-negotiable moral baseline for our behaviors toward sentient non-human individuals.  Doesn’t that sound less complicated and far more efficient than making 52 (or more) behavior changes every year and remaining complicit in the oppressions we claim to oppose?

I’ve been living vegan for about 4476 days now, which is the equivalent of about 639 “7-Day” blocks in a row, and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.  I’m fully convinced that if someone had clearly explained the ethical components of veganism to me sooner, I would have.

ethical-position-002-bfbv

[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 about individuals, organizations, groups, external links, opinions, social media groups, products, etc. that may be mentioned in our content.]

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

VeganEducationGroup
BeFairBeVegan.com

HowToGoVegan.org

(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.

[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:
 

Clear, Consistent Vegan Education WORKS!!! Here’s Proof!!!! Ex!Clam!!Ation!!!Points!!!!

[NOTE: I plan to update this essay from time to time to include more feedback from individuals who have responded positively to South Florida Vegan Education Group’s (SFVEG) ongoing public education efforts.  Stay tuned – it’ll be worth it! 🙂 ]

eb-talking
SFVEG President Elena Brodskaya – vegan education in action!

After ten years of engaging in single-issue animal welfare campaigns, I have zero evidence to suggest that any action I took in that time helped influence a single person to begin living vegan.  One reason is that most, if not all, of those campaigns are organized by large donation-based animal welfare charities (you’ve heard of them even if you’re not vegan – their expensive marketing budgets have seen to that) whose primary agenda is not to influence people to live vegan but rather to ensure the continuation of a steady stream of donor dollars from their largely non-vegan donor base by being careful not to alienate them.  This is achieved by actively avoiding using the word “vegan” (or downplaying it, or being vague about its meaning and importance) and certainly not presenting veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.

Since I refocused my advocacy and, with co-founder Elena Brodskaya, that of South Florida Vegan Education Group (SFVEG) and committed to engaging in clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL abolitionist vegan education, we keep receiving feedback that people are committing to living vegan as a direct result of our conversations, presentations and associated work.  I don’t have the words to express how gratifying and humbling it feels to know that what we do actually makes a positive and meaningful difference in the world.
Here are some examples we’ve compiled of feedback we’ve received:
jeffrey-sturgeon-became-a-vegan
Shared with permission

 

jackie-o-goes-vegan
Shared with permission
jackie-o-goes-vegan-update
[here’s an update from 8/10/16] Shared with permission
laura-gs-brother-became-vegan
Shared with permission
going-vegan-marcia-lefkowitz
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Thank you to all who support me and our group in these endeavors, and a special thanks to my friends Ramona Reichert for gently (ok, not so gently 😉 ) shaming me into opening my vegan mouth on Facebook and to Colin Wright for gently (ok, not so gently 😉 ) nudging me out of the black hole of welfarism and being the first to point me toward abolitionism.  I am deeply indebted to you both.

Lastly, but mostly, thank you to my love, Elena Brodskaya, for walking this path hand-in-hand with me and for being my greatest influence and inspiration, my constant sounding board and for gently (yes, so very gently <3 ) letting me know when I need to come back from some tangent I’m on and get back on the path.

If you’re not vegan: please ask yourself why and then ask yourself whether your answer(s) would hold up and be justified if the helpless victims from whom you receive palate pleasure and other benefits were human.  If you feel they would, let’s talk about that.  If you feel they wouldn’t, let’s talk about that, too.  Either way, I’m truly interested to hear your thoughts and have a discussion.  Really.  For realz.  No kiddin’ around.  Mean it.

If you are vegan, I’ll leave you with this: clear, consistent, unequivocal abolitionist vegan education works, and it’s 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 ends through endless self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while ignoring the larger source of the blaze that’s been burning the world to the ground for centuries.  Sadly, when we work to reduce – but not eliminate – animal suffering (as is the hallmark of the welfarist organizations), there’s an unintended consequence — non-vegans keep eating animals, only now with a clearer conscience and no reason nor desire to ever stop.  If you’re afraid to be direct and honest about veganism, I challenge you to move through the fear and do what you know is right.  After all, your “fear” is nothing compared to the real fears being felt right now by the animals we all want to save. To operate from fear in this light helps no one.  In fact, as a form of enabling, it only serves to cause more unnecessary suffering to all involved.

From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.

Peacelovevegan,
Keith

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

www.HowToGoVegan.org
www.VeganEducationGroup.com

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.

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.

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).

baby-steps-001

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.

vegan-journey-002

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

“Vague-an” Outreach? Never. Abolitionism? Always.

I have come to believe that, when it comes to veganism and animal rights, anything less than clear, consistent abolitionist vegan education fails to carry the message I find more important than any other – that living vegan is the simple action every individual can take right now to take a powerful and unequivocal stand against society’s continued commodification and exploitation of individuals of other species.  To take a welfarist approach – engaging in single-issue campaigns designed to lessen and regulate abuse rather than abolishing use – is, in my opinion, misguided and counter-productive to the achievement of the goal everyone in our “movement” purports to share: the end of animal exploitation.

Now, I know this can be an unpopular position to take amongst vegans and other animal rights activists, but try to bear with me for a few minutes if you will. Since this makes sense to me, it stands to reason it may make sense to some of you as well.
litter-ature-animal-adoption-fair-mfa-fresh
Mercy For Animals litter-ature at an animal adoption event

Prior to having this realization and still firmly believing I was doing what was best for the animals, I engaged in a host of 
animal welfare activities, including but not limited to: creating and signing petitions, attending demonstrations and protests, writing letters to editors, publishing articles and, perhaps most of all, public leafleting (or, as I now think of it, public littering.  As comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “When someone hands you a flyer, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Here, you throw this away’.”).  
 
I’d like to discuss one particular piece of welfarist litter-ature: 
Compassionate Choices from Veg(etari)an Outreach (to understand why even the title is problematic and misleading, please read Colin Wright’s enlightening essay Why We Need Less Compassion in the Animal Rights Movement And Why Decreasing Cruelty and Suffering Is Not the Point of Veganism).

Lest anyone come under (or continue under) the false belief that this intentionally confusing and speciesist booklet espouses veganism or animal “rights”, please have a look at why that couldn’t be further from the truth. Feel free to read along here: 
http://www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf
  • On page 2, the first page of text: “Of course, the choice is up to you. Whether you decide to cut out meat entirely or just cut back, you can make a big difference for the world at every meal.” – presenting people with the “choice” to cut out/cut back on meat reinforces the speciesist ideas that a) exploiting animals is a personal choice (a choice ceases to be personal when said choice involves a victim, and the choice to exploit animals involves countless victims), so whatever one chooses is ok and b) there is a morally relevant difference between meat and other products of animal exploitation, which there is not.
  • Page 3: “When I learned how the animals suffer, I went vegetarian.” – why is “Vegan” Outreach promoting vegetarianism? Either they don’t understand the difference between the two or it’s time for a name change.
  • Page 4 contains a quote from a representative of the Humane Society of the United States, a self-proclaimed animal “protection” organization that sponsors events such as Hoofin’ It, which involved the slaughter and consumption of various species of animals. As the Denver Post reported, “A different hooved (sic) animal will be showcased each evening.”   Yes, this is the same H$U$ that also offered coupons for bacon on their Facebook page:

    hsus-bacon-coupon-2015

  • Page 6: “when people eat less meat, producers raise and kill fewer animals.” – again, they are promoting “less meat”, which is far different than seeking an end to animal exploitation.
  • Page 9: “it became an easy choice for me. If you choose to educate yourself, it’ll be an easy choice for you, too.” (a quote from Ellen DeGeneres, who is not vegan based on her self-reports that she eats secretions from “happy” chickens) – what is this vague “it”? Is “Vegan” Outreach afraid to use the word vegan in its own publication for fear that they may alienate their largely non-vegan donor base and lose their donor dollars (see below for more information on that topic)?
  • Page 10: “eating vegetarian or vegan” – even when they do use the word vegan, it is relegated to a subordinate position behind vegetarian. Perhaps they should rename the booklet “Vegan: The Second Best Choice”.
  • Also on page 10: “Many elite athletes and bodybuilders are vegetarian or vegan.” – again, vegan is the second choice behind vegetarian and offered as one of two dietary options, rather than as a moral obligation.
  • Page 11: “plant-based diet(s)” is mentioned twice, furthering the common misinterpretation of veganism as a dietary choice. Once again, meat is singled out: “…when I stopped eating meat” leaves dairy, eggs, honey and other products of animal exploitation out of the conversation and essentially speaks of a vegetarian diet as opposed to veganism.
  • Page 12: “Ask your server what dishes they could prepare for you without meat”, “Ask to substitute vegetables for meat in your favorite dishes” and “Order a few side dishes if there are no meatless meals” are among the list of restaurant ordering tips. Nowhere are dairy, eggs, honey or other animal products and secretions mentioned.
  • Page 15: The header reads “IT’S YOUR CHOICE” (see previous paragraph discussing page 2 and “choice”).
  • Also on page 15: Promotion of a “gradual transition to eliminating animal products” based on “research” is coupled with the speciesist idea that one should start by eliminating one type of animal (chickens) from one’s diet before eliminating others (cows and pigs) based on the idea that “many more chickens are killed to produce the same amount of meat as from cows and pigs”.  The reasoning behind this – to “prevent more animal suffering”.  This reinforces the notion that we should be concerned primarily about reducing suffering rather than ending the unjust use of non-human animals entirely, missing the point that veganism is about ending animal use, not reducing animal abuse.  Having met many people who have been “vegetarian” (by their own widely varying definitions) for anywhere from 20 to 40 years, it would seem that a “gradual transition” might keep one complicit in animal exploitation – and therefore directly responsible for continued animal suffering and death – for up to 4 decades, whereas a person who starts living vegan ends their complicity that day.

It is shameful that an organization calling itself “Vegan” Outreach would shy away from asking people to live vegan in a clear and coherent manner.  Instead, their literature reinforces the ideas that eating vegetarian is enough and that slavery is a personal choice.  If one’s goal is to convince people to take a strong and unyielding moral stance against the exploitation of vulnerable sentient individuals, it’s hardly a good idea to cater to and enable the inherent laziness and selfishness of the general public in an effort to achieve that goal.  Such a strategy is in itself lazy and disingenuous and simply will not work.  Conversely, if one’s goal is to maintain the status quo so the donor dollars keep rolling in, this strategy should be wildly successful – and it is: according to the most recent data available on Pro Publica’s Nonprofit Explorer, Vegan Outreach received contributions of $891,216 in 2013.  That’s nearly a million dollars that could have been used to engage the public in unequivocal vegan education… but was not.
In total, the word “vegetarian” appears 6 times in Compassionate Choices while “vegan” appears 11 times – twice as subordinate to vegetarian, four times on its own and five times simply in the name of the organization and a website they run (this is Marketing 101).  As a committed abolitionist vegan, not only will I never hand a Compassionate Choices (or other Vague-an Outreach) booklet to another human being again in my life, but I would rather not hold such a piece of purposeful disinformation in my own hand ever again… unless on my way to a shredder.
The literature I believe in and give to others today when I engage with them in one-on-one vegan education carries an unequivocal vegan message and can be found here:
 
If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan and staying there.  It is the single best decision I ever made in my life, and my only regret is that I didn’t understand enough to make that decision sooner.  If you are vegan, please eschew participation with and support for animal welfare organizations and campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own ends through self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while ignoring the larger source of the fire.  Instead, please engage in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education that promotes veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.
As always, thank you for listening.
Peacelovevegan,
Keith Berger

[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: