Tag Archives: change

Vegan Outreach – Proudly Creating… Vegetarians?!?

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The purpose of this essay is to apply critical thinking to how one large animal welfare corporation consistently engages in advocacy that is ineffective, purposely disingenuous and ultimately counterproductive to creating the only change for animals (to borrow a vague phrase they often use) that matters – a vegan world in which non-human individuals are not considered the property of humans.  If you are vegan and support/promote this or other large animal welfare corporations that employ similar speciesist tactics, I would ask that you research and reconsider whether you agree that we cannot hope to dismantle speciesism (or oppose any form of oppression) while continuing to engage in it.  If you agree, then the most sensible next step is to remove your support from such organizations and commit to unequivocal vegan advocacy.  A good place to start researching is by reading the informative articles on UVE Archives, many of which have been audio podcasted on How To Go Vegan.

On June 8, 2017, I received an email from Vegan Outreach entitled “You have to hear about Israel!”  Interested to see what VO was so eager to tell me, I opened the email and read their heartwarming tale (<–click here to read Israel’s story in its entirety) of a young man named Israel who was so “inspired… to change” by their compelling information that, two years after receiving their leaflet and having distributed 4000(!) leaflets to fellow students…

…he’s STILL not vegan.

Please note –  I do not view Israel’s choice to be vegetarian rather than vegan as a failing of any sort on his part.  He may well be doing the best he knows to do considering the information he’s been given.  After all, who could blame any individual for adopting a vegetarian diet after receiving VO’s blessing right there in their literature?  I do, however, see it as indicative of “Vegan” Outreach’s consistent failure to engage in anything that bears more than a passing resemblance to clear, consistent vegan education.

World-record-setting leafleter STILL not convinced to live vegan. Good work, "Vegan" Outreach!
World-record-setting leafleter STILL not convinced to live vegan. Good work, “Vegan” Outreach!

The Problem

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It’s hard to make a compelling case for veganism when you haven’t found compelling enough reasons to live vegan yourself.

As I explained in detail in my previous essay regarding Vague-an Outreach, their literature* is problematic in that it, among other things, promotes vegetarianism, contains information that misrepresents what veganism is (a “trend”, a diet) and does not promote veganism as what it truly is – our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species [*the booklet critiqued in that essay, Compassionate Choices, has since been revised and remains speciesist in much the same way as the previous version.  I plan to critique the new version in the near future].  Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

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 the enslavement of non-humans 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.

With that in mind, I can’t say I’m surprised to learn that even Israel, their volunteer who helped them set “a new world record” (I’m sure the good people from the Guinness Book were on hand to authenticate that historic moment…) remains non-vegan two years after receiving his first pamphlet and after over 4000 more have passed through his hands.

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What are these “positive changes for animals”? Surely “Vegan” Outreach knows better than to believe vegetarianism falls in that category.

 

When a “vegan” organization that brings in nearly a million dollars a year in donations can’t/won’t produce literature with a clear enough message to convince their own star volunteer to live vegan (not to mention the conversations that one would assume have gone on between Israel and other VO personnel over those two years),  it’s hard to find faith that their efforts are very successful in convincing other less receptive members of the public to live vegan.

If, as the email says, every dollar donated “has the potential to create another story like this one” which means, in effect, that every dollar donated may result in a failure to educate another non-vegan to live vegan, then such donations only serve to exacerbate the problem of animal exploitation Vegan Outreach and other large, donation-based animal welfare corporations pretend to be working to solve.

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When non-vegans aren’t properly educated to make the one commitment that truly matters – to live vegan – then “change for animals” is not “slow”.  It’s nonexistent.  “Vegan” Outreach knows this, which makes their self-serving pleas for more donations to effect unspecified “change”, speed up “progress” and help reach mysterious and vague “tipping points” both manipulative and hypocritical.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that, while I’ve never come close to setting any leafleting world records, I am guilty of having handed out many pieces of “Vegan” Outreach litter-ature in my first ten years of living vegan and engaging in what I mistakenly believed to be effective vegan advocacy.  Once I finally read the material and applied critical thinking to what I’d read, I was appalled at what I’d been foisting on the public and made the following vow:

 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 Solution

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

If we want people to live vegan, we have to promote veganism clearly and consistently, being careful not to equivocate, give mixed messages or enable the continuation of animal use in any other way.  The dismantling of speciesism, through living vegan and educating others to live vegan, gives us a blueprint for treating all individuals as we ourselves wish to be treated – with fairness, justice and the right to live autonomous lives, free from the enslavement of more powerful “others”.

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If you oppose at least one form of violent oppression because you recognize it is morally wrong, then to live in integrity requires opposing all forms of violent oppression because they are all morally wrong.  Speciesism, simply by virtue of having the largest number of victims and the highest death toll worldwide, is the most egregious form of violent oppression our world has ever known.  It’s time to dismantle speciesism, and the way to do that, again, is through living vegan and educating others to live vegan.

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On Rationalizations and Awareness

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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…).

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

On Honesty and Consistency In Vegan Advocacy

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If you don’t ask, the answer is always “No”

When we as vegan advocates dilute what veganism is by wrongly conflating it with vegetarianism, we are a) being dishonest, b) misleading the public in a way that costs the lives of non-human individuals and c) missing a key opportunity to educate people about the ethical and moral reasons to live vegan and end their participation in the fundamental injustice of animal use.

Here is a widely accepted definition (arguably, it’s the definition) of veganism:

  • “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

But isn’t vegetarianism a good thing?

I’ve observed many people and groups extolling the virtues of vegetarianism, calling it an “ethical” and “compassionate” choice that “reduces cruelty”, however when one applies a modicum of critical thinking and takes a closer look, one quickly arrives at a far different conclusion.  An excerpt from What Is Wrong With Vegetarianism? from UVE Archives (I encourage everyone to read the entire essay linked above):

“The Moral Problems with Vegetarianism

Many people are vegetarians for ethical reasons.  They object to either the treatment of animals in animal agriculture or the intentional killing of animals, or both.  Paradoxically, despite their objections to the treatment or intentional killing of animals, they continue to consume dairy products and eggs, which… certainly contribute more to the suffering and arguably as much to the intentional killing of animals than the consumption of meat products.  In fact, to the extent that a vegetarian replaces calories from flesh with calories from dairy and egg products, the vegetarian has increased his or her contribution to animal suffering.”

It is important to note here that “cruelty”, “abuse” and “suffering” are merely symptoms of the problem  – animal use – and even if the non-consensual uses of vulnerable individuals in question were devoid of discomfort and injury, they remain unjust.  When we focus on specific cruelties and treatment, this leads to more ineffective and counterproductive campaigns for animal welfare rather than the abolition of animal use and a call to justice.

An excerpt from Vegetarianism – a step in the wrong direction for me from There’s An Elephant In The Room (again, I encourage everyone to read the entire essay linked above):

“Potential confusion is not in any way helped when so many groups and organisations conflate the words ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’, implying that they are similar. The standard definition has become so accepted here in the UK that the supermarkets all stock huge ranges of products defined as ‘vegetarian’, all supported by skilful marketing strategies that promote them as everything from ‘healthy’ to ‘humane’ with few exceptions, each of which contains animal milk in some form – frequently as cheese – and eggs which are often described as ‘free range’.

Many of us – and I was one – mistakenly assume that ‘vegetarian’ is synonymous with ‘cruelty free’ when nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Yes, I had stopped eating the obvious slabs of bloodied flesh. But what I did not realise was that my dietary consumption was continuing to supply the market with dead flesh, even though I did not consume it directly. And as for my non-food choices…”

I was once under the erroneous impression that vegans were simply vegetarians whose diet also excluded dairy, eggs and honey.  This seemed to me to be an extreme position to take, but then, so did vegetarianism as I was indoctrinated to fall in line with the common societal belief that humans need to eat (and otherwise use) animals to survive.  I believed vegetarianism and veganism to be aberrant dietary choices and had no real understanding of either as having any sort of ethical underpinnings.  I do recall being aware of certain animal “rights” groups promoting vegetarian diets but I wrote those groups off as “extremists” and paid no attention to their antics and promotions (which, ironically, I would later take part in myself for a regrettable decade).

On the evening that veganism was explained to me in a calm and rational manner, I understood that it went far beyond mere dietary choices and found that what is truly “extreme” is the injustice of enslaving, exploiting and executing innocent, vulnerable sentient beings to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience.  In that moment, I experienced a fundamental internal shift and made the decision to bring my morals and actions into congruence by living vegan.

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If we, as vegan individuals and groups, are afraid to commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education because “vegetarian sounds better” and is “more marketable” (as I was told by a representative of a speciesist animal welfare group), how do we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when we’re afraid to say what we really mean and ask for what we really want?

If you want less than veganism, then ask for it and that’s what you’ll get.  After all, it doesn’t require any real change to move from one form of non-veganism to another, and make no mistake that “vegetarian” in all its guises and with all its prefixes and hyphenations is anything other than animal exploitation.  Each new permutation is just a new coat of blood-red paint on the same old abattoir.

lacto-ovo-tarianConversely, if you want people to take a firm stand against injustice and oppression toward vulnerable sentient beings by first ending their participation in it, educate them about veganism as our minimum moral obligation toward the non-humans with whom we share this planet.  In this way, we move closer to dismantling speciesism, which can be defined as “a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership“.  The fundamental injustice of speciesism begets all other forms of oppression toward vulnerable individuals and groups that we see running rampant on our planet today.  We believe the dismantling and abolition of speciesism are integral in starting the chain of conscious evolution that will lead to the end of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like.

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Doesn’t that sound like the kind of world in which you’d like to live?  Let’s make it happen, one new vegan at a time!

[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.
 
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Briefly – “Don’t You Miss…?”

 

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

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

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

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Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
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12 Years a Vegan (and counting)

2017 is quickly approaching and with it, my twelfth veganniversary. 🙂

Living vegan was never something I had thought about, planned for or aspired to but, from the moment I made that seismic shift in my thinking and behavior toward individuals of other species that instantly led me to veganism, I knew that returning to living a non-vegan life was not an option.

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Before going further, at the risk of offending those who self-identify as some version of “vegetarian” — Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Reducetarian, LactoOvo-Bilbo-Frodo-Groucho-Chico-Harpo-Zeppo-Marco-Polo-I-Dunno-No-tarian — it needs to be understood that when one is vegetarian (i.e., still consumes some animal parts or secretions), one continues to directly participate in animal exploitation.  Arbitrarily excluding certain products of animal exploitation, like veal or other “meats”, from one’s diet does nothing to reduce animal suffering or help change the current paradigm that allows and demands that non-human individuals to be used as disposable, replaceable human resources/property.  Vegetarianism may seem on the surface to be helpful, but one need only look a little deeper to realize that, sadly, this is simply not the case.  The tacit message of vegetarianism is that “some violence and exploitation is not ok, but some is ok”.  When put in a human context (child or spousal abuse, for example), we clearly see the problem and immediately take appropriate action to a) cease our complicity in such morally unjustifiable activities and b) advocate for a full stop to all such activities.

Solving a Mystery – When Did I Start Living Vegan?

For years I’ve wondered exactly when it was that I made the ethical decision to live vegan, as opposed to the mostly arbitrary decision I’d made some months earlier to “become a vegetarian”.

I mean, I knew it was late in 2004 and certainly know the circumstances (I’ll never forget…) but I couldn’t recall the date and always wished I could.  Earlier this year, I was leafing through an old journal (from back in the days when people actually wrote privately in journals rather than blogging, tweeting and Facebooking every thought in their head, a behavior of which I’m certainly guilty) and was excited to find some entries that have essentially solved the mystery for me.

From what I can deduce from the third entry below, it was within a few days of New Year’s Eve 2004 while my cousin Scott and his future wife Laura were visiting Florida on vacation.

Entry 1 is the first indication that I had gone vegetarian, which we can see was not based on any ethical considerations; it was all about me.  I had simply eaten so much meat over one particular weekend that I felt I’d “eaten all the meat I’ll ever need to eat” (I actually said something very similar at the time):

[Keith's Journal Entry #1] 8/21/04 - I haven’t checked in here in quite a while.  I’ve decided to become a vegetarian and have been eating strictly veg (OK, lacto-ovo veg, as this morning’s omelette would suggest) since March 19th (2004), immediately following the Grilled Meat-Fest at Rudy’s [my now ex-father-in-law].  Don’t worry Rudy - it’s not you, it’s me.

Note my use of the term “veg” (above) which is pretty meaningless as it lacks any real definition.  That morning, “veg” included eggs (and very likely cheese) which are not, to my knowledge, “veg”etables.

Entry 2, paragraph 1 shows a glimmer of awareness – albeit wrapped in self-righteousness – that laziness and selfishness are two qualities inherent in (most? all?) humans that can make it challenging for one to take a stand against any societal norm, even when that norm requires the egregious and morally indefensible enslavement, exploitation and execution of trillions of innocent non-human individuals every year for no better reason than “they taste good”.

[Keith's Journal Entry #2] 12/8/04 - [in an Asian-fusion restaurant] - The college-age kid seated to my right commented to his dinner date that, “I think I could be vegetarian”.  My first thought was to tell him he’s right and just how easily he could make that transition [but] simply put, vegetarianism is NOT the easier, softer way.  Culturally, in this country, meat is easier.  You don’t have to look deep into a menu to find chicken and burgers and steak.  But a vegetarian dish that’s more than just a side of something?  Often, this requires effort, and Americans don’t want to put in effort.  After all, this is the society that invented fast food and the drive-thru.  

I love when non-vegetarians (y’know - flesh-eaters) find out I’m vegetarian!  The #1 question - right out of the box, within seconds - is “How do you get your protein?”  I have to remember to write up some index cards to carry around explaining how it’s done and debunking the protein myth.  I could just go with, “Well, I still eat human flesh.  I don’t think that counts as meat... Human is a vegetable, right”?

Paragraph 2 (above) shows – once again wrapped in self-righteousness – the spark of my desire to educate others (or just be a pain in their ass).  Unformed and without direction, it was there nonetheless.  Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see.  A fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred – I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.

Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see – a fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred.  I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.

[Keith's Journal Entry #3] 1/7/05 - I’m at Sublime [vegan restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, FL], waiting for a table.  I was here New Year’s Eve with Cousin Scott and his girlfriend Laura.  They’re both vegan and just wonderful, spiritual people.  They didn’t give me the vegan hard-sell, but I’ve decided to go that direction.  I’ve already bought two belts made from man-made-materials to replace my leather ones.  I’ve gone online in search of non-leather shoes, sneakers and wallets as well.  I’ll need to get past my sentimental attachments to my leather stuff because I really don’t like the idea that someone died and, prior to that, lived miserably to produce them.  I watched Peaceable Kingdom with Scott and Laura and saw the unbelievably wretched conditions food animals “live” in.  I came away feeling... haunted.  It was like watching footage of Nazi concentration camps.  There should be an animal holocaust museum.

After seeing how dairy cows are mistreated, I’ve realized they are nothing more than slaves.  I don’t want to be a part of the slave ‘n slaughter culture anymore.  Scott and Laura simply refer to all animal products as “death”.  Couldn’t be more accurate.  My death-free entree has arrived - seitan with mashed potatoes and veggies.  It’s one of the best things I’ve EVER tasted. 

I find it notable that my earlier entry stating I’d “decided to become a vegetarian” went no further or deeper, except to show just how non-committal I really was about the whole thing.  I was even jokey about it.  Going “veg” was no more significant a life choice than, say, making the decision to wear khakis more often or take up cross-country skiing or mahjongg (or cross-country mahjongg while wearing khakis… whatever).  It was just another thing to do, a whim subject to change at a moment’s notice.  I recall that, along with that decision, I also very loudly “reserved my right” to eat fish and eggs “if I need to”.  I’ve since learned that a) no human “needs” to eat fish or eggs for any reason and b) when the “right” I’m reserving denies another sentient being his or her right to live freely, it’s not a right I’m reserving – it’s a morally unjustifiable wrong.

By contrast, in discussing my decision to start living vegan in Entry #3, I included some of my feelings and reasoning for making that decision (including identifying animal use as slavery, a fundamental injustice I oppose, which was the catalyst for my decision to live vegan), action I’d taken and plans for further action in the same direction.  Put another way, this was not some spur of the moment whim.  I was serious.

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When it comes to veganism and animal rights, I’m still serious and that’s how I’ll remain.  It’s no laughing matter that trillions of land and sea animals – non-human individuals who think, feel and have the same basic right as any human animal to live life freely and autonomously – are killed every year for human pleasure, entertainment and convenience.  It’s the shame of our species that the majority of us continue to support, condone, promote and actively engage in such horrific and barbaric practices.  Living vegan is the very least we can do for the animals and, secondarily, for ourselves and this small planet we all share.

Veganism should be our global society’s moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species and fortunately, for many of us and more every day, it already is.  Is it yours?  If not, why not?

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

Be Fair, Be Vegan

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To take a stand against one form of oppression while willingly participating in another shows a lack of integrity and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions.  All one needs to do is engage in a little bit of critical thinking to see this.

It’s always sad to see the anger that comes out in people when their entrenched beliefs are challenged as their participation in the oppression of the most vulnerable members of our global society — non-human animals — is exposed.

When one agrees to participate in the oppression and exploitation of one vulnerable group, it opens the door to further oppression and exploitation of other groups. The myth of human supremacy begets speciesism, which in turn begets racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like.  If one feels “superior” to a particular group and gives oneself permission to bully and oppress them at will (to the point of killing and eating them by the billions, in the case of non-human individuals), why should another group be expected not to do that to them?  How is that fair in any way?

You can’t demand justice while committing injustices.

For those who truly believe in justice for all, it’s time to Be Fair Be Vegan.

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

www.BeFairBeVegan.com

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Courtesy of Michele McCowan

On Fear, Non-Vegans and Cognitive Dissonance

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A non-vegan once asked me, “Isn’t it hard being vegan?”

OK, it wasn’t “once” and it wasn’t “a” non-vegan – I’ve been asked many times by many non-vegans, some out of well-meaning curiosity and some who were looking to poke holes in the foundation of my ethical stance to abstain, wherever possible, from meat, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool and all other products of animal exploitation.  My answer always starts with “No”.  Sometimes it ends there and we go our separate ways, but more often than not I will take the time to explain just how easy it was (and still is) for me to choose to live vegan once I understood the injustices involved in turning a cow into a steak, a chicken into a cutlet, a pig into bacon and a baby calf into a suede jacket, to list but a few examples of the tyrannies humans force on vulnerable individuals of other species.

A good question to ask non-vegans who believe living vegan is “hard” is, “Who told you that?”  In my experience, it’s never a vegan who tells someone that living vegan is hard… because it isn’t.  It’s usually someone or some company with a product to sell that counts on such misinformation to keep consumers from thinking critically about veganism and the moral obligation it entails.  Stretching one’s arm 6 inches beyond the cow’s milk to reach the almond milk, for example, is not a difficulty – it’s a minor inconvenience and slight change in a habit pattern that will become a new habit when practiced for a short while.  Shopping for affordable non-leather shoes may take a little more time that simply buying ones made from the skins of dead animals, but this is again only a minor inconvenience and one easily overcome.  In my experience, this is true of nearly all shifts from using products of animal exploitation to living vegan and, once new habits are in place, everything is easy again.

If there is anything “hard” about living vegan, it’s dealing with the cognitive dissonance of non-vegans.

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Just another day at the office…

Non-vegans.  They come one at a time.  They come in groups.  Sometimes I feel like Bruce Lee entering a room full of black belt warriors and having to defend myself against their simultaneous assaults.  They come online, at work, at the grocery store, in restaurants… sometimes I’m surprised they don’t come knocking on my door when passing my house and spying the vegan bumper stickers on my car (usually, those random doorknockers are Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to share their “good news” with me.  Want to know my definition of fair trade?  Graciously accepting some of their literature and handing them some clear, consistent vegan information in return after discussing why veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of all sentient beings.  That’s the best news I know).

As a recovering non-vegan (more of an anti-vegan when I really think about it), I get it.  I was the classic, stereotypical animal product consumer, waving hamburgers under my vegetarian friends’ noses, snarkily asking my PeTA-supporting former boss where the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans” pamphlets were and thinking up clever ways to derail their veg-trains.  I understand where non-vegans are coming from and why many, but by no means all, behave as they do toward vegans:

They’re afraid, just as I was.

cognitive-dissonance-006

I was unable to diagnose, recognize and deal with my fears back then.  Instead, I acted out in denial and avoidance of those uncomfortable feelings.  Somewhere inside, probably near the pounds of undigested red meat rotting in my intestines, I understood that every hamburger begins with a cow begging for her life.  I knew something dreadfully awful was happening to veal calves and it wasn’t, as I so cleverly rationalized (and I’m not proud of this, though I was at the time), “the only life they know anyway so, since they have no frame of reference for what a happy life is, why does it matter?  And if their lives are so bad, it’s actually merciful that we slaughter them so young and put them out of their misery.  We’re doing them a favor!”  I knew that chickens didn’t “sacrifice” themselves to become the nuggets I was eating twenty at a sitting.  I knew… and I denied.  And I defended.  And I attacked.  Those were the methods I employed to keep from hearing, understanding and – worse – feeling the truth about animal exploitation and my complicity in it.  I kept the truth a comfortable distance away and drowned out the voice of my conscience with pseudo-intellectual rationalizations and justifications that, as I now know, were mere fabrications of my frightened ego.

When I deal with non-vegans now, especially in terms of vegan education, I try to meet them where they are, remembering that I once stood where they stand – blinded and misguided by a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have us believe we need to eat animals to survive (false), that we would suffer and maybe die if we didn’t (false), that animals were put on Earth to serve us – the “superior race/top of the food chain/most advanced species” in the history of the planet (false) and on and on.  I remember that I too was once afraid to take a stand for my ethical beliefs in a society that marginalizes, ridicules, bullies and berates those who swim against the current of cruelty and go against the grain of gluttony, afraid to be looked at as “abnormal”, afraid to no longer be accepted by those who engage in behaviors I now consider morally unacceptable…

So I do my best to let them know how it was for me, what happened to cause me to change and what it’s like for me now.  I let them know that making the choice to live vegan is the single best choice I’ve ever made and that living vegan is the best action I’ve ever taken.  I let them know that it’s best to follow one’s ethics instead of one’s palate.  I let them know that veganism is not a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a phase – it is one’s personal commitment to a social justice movement that seeks to dismantle speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet today.  I let them know that every argument against veganism is an argument in favor of slavery, bullying, misery and horrible, needless death.  I let them know that if they believe animals matter morally at all, then living vegan is the only rational response.  I let them know that living vegan is as easy as making the decision to withdraw support from and cease complicity in a worldwide system of animal exploitation.  I let them know that vegan food is nutritious, delicious and all one needs to survive and thrive in optimum health.

And I let them know that I, and millions of other vegans, are here to offer education, information and support if they are willing to put their fears aside and embrace that which they already believe in – justice for all.

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

There Is Nothing So Stable As Change

I caught a bit of an interview with comedian Cameron Esposito on NPR in March 2016.  I don’t know and therefore have no opinion on this person’s work, but something they said in relation to same-sex marriage really struck me.  Here’s the quote:

 

“The thing that I protest against the most or that upsets me the most is people that are unable to change.  I mean, we’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have up until that point, but when you’re given opposite information and you refuse to change or adjust, then I think that is a real problem…  It infuriates me because I believe that adults should be able to look at evidence and adjust their perspective.”
I can relate to this on several levels.  Here are two:

When I explain to non-vegans that there is no moral justification for using sentient individuals for reasons of pleasure, fashion, entertainment or other human conveniences and they proceed to either ignore the information, try to find holes in the logic or – worst of all – create bizarre counter-arguments to defend continuing their habits and traditions of unjustifiable animal exploitation, it is, to borrow Ms. Esposito’s phrase, “a real problem” and can at times be infuriating.

Similarly, in over 20 years of working professionally to help people who suffer from addictions understand the benefits of living a clean/sober/recovering life (as opposed to living a life wherein one descends into an ever-deeper and ever-darker hell of one’s own construction) and offering them the tools they’ll need to build such a life 
and instructing them in how to use those tools, it can be frustrating to see them choose to continue using their old tools rather than the new tools while knowing full well that their “best” thinking got them into the terrible trouble they’re now in and that to keep moving in that direction will have potentially deadly consequences.  One of the most brilliant therapists I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, the late Angelo Castiglione, used to say, “Addiction is a disease that resists its own recovery”.  Sadly, I’ve found this to be the truth.

I’ve long noticed a correlation between the defense mechanisms used by addicts to protect their maladaptive behaviors (y’know, those quirky li’l behaviors they exhibit like, say, coping with “stress” by shooting heroin in their neck – that falls under “recreational use”, right? – or drinking three bottles of wine in one evening to “take the edge off” – believe me, somewhere in the middle of the first bottle, those edges are as smooth as a cue ball) and those used by non-vegans to protect their use of products of animal exploitation.  These include, but are not limited to: rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, intellectualizing, blaming, shaming, deflecting, avoiding and the granddaddy of them all, DENIAL (here’s my favorite acronym for denial: 
Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying).  I see them all used by members of both groups all the time.   Am I saying that those who consume animals and their secretions are addicted to those substances?  Not necessarily, as I don’t definitively know that to be the case, but when confronted with the idea that what they’ve been doing all their lives – engaging in behaviors taught to them by their well-meaning parents and viewed as “normal” (which we all know is just a setting on a washing machine) by the society in which they live – cannot be morally justified, their first instinctive response to the cognitive dissonance they now feel is to fight to protect themselves from what they perceive to be an attack on their character and an attempt to cause them shame and to… (gulp!) … change.

When I engage in vegan education, it is not my intention to shame anyone about their behavior.  In my opinion, there should be no shame in engaging in behaviors one truly does not know are wrong or harmful to others or themselves.  That is simple ignorance born of a lack of education in a particular area and aided by ongoing campaigns of targeted misinformation designed to maintain and deepen such ignorance on a mass scale.  When this happens, one is, in a sense, a victim.  However, when one engages in 
willful ignorance – learning the truth about one’s complicity in the exploitation of the vulnerable and purposely choosing to ignore it and take no meaningful action to change – I believe that a feeling of guilt is appropriate and necessary because, when one does this, one is indeed guilty of victimizing others.  Brené Brown, Ph.D. and other psychologists have shown that feelings of guilt can and often do lead to positive changes in behaviors and attitudes and that guilt is actually a healthy emotion: “I now know I’ve been behaving in ways that conflict with my core values and beliefs and feel badly about my behavior.  From now on, I will behave differently and live, as best I can, in congruence with my morals and ethics.”  Cessation of guilt-inducing behavior leads to, as you might imagine, a reduction in guilt and, as an added bonus, increased self-esteem.  Plus, to put it bluntly, when individuals start living vegan, they stop paying people to kill innocent beings.  What could ease one’s guilt and restore one’s self-esteem better than ceasing to hire hit men to kill babies (yes, most of the animals used by humans for food are killed within the first months of their lives) and adults and entire families for no good reason?

The night I made the decision to start living vegan, I experienced that same moment of cognitive dissonance that others feel, and I chose what I felt, and still feel, is the only acceptable path.  Here is an excerpt about that very moment from another essay of mine:

 

“At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was.  It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice.  I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.”

 

Ms. Esposito said that what is most upsetting is “people that are unable to change”, however for me it is people who are unwilling to change. We all have the capacity to change; some of us simply refuse to do so, even when presented with evidence that change is, if not required, then certainly a really, really good idea.  Changing from using vulnerable beings for one’s own selfish pleasures as a non-vegan to living vegan spares the lives of others, improves one’s own life and make the world in general a better place.  These are not opinions – these are immutable facts that it makes no sense to deny.  But, as is the case with addiction, denial is not about what makes sense.  It is about what makes us comfortable, or at least not uncomfortable, and there is a sad comfort in that which we know and have gotten used to.

Do I find this, as Ms. Esposito does, infuriating?  I have, but it’s rare that I feel such exasperation these days.  Instead, I make a point of remembering that I, too, have had plenty of personal experience with being unwilling to act appropriately on new information, which makes it difficult for me to resent others when they act as I did.  I have at times been unwilling to change, but more than willing to keep myself in the dark and refuse to see the light for fear that facing the truth might hurt me in some way… because being non-vegan is “all about me” and living vegan is all about them, the non-human victims of human violence and oppression.  Admitting to and reminding myself that I was among the unwilling allows me to remain (somewhat) calm and rational when discussing veganism with non-vegans, an approach I find to be much better received and far more effective than any vitriolic rant, verbal fisticuffs or fusillade of finger-pointing.

I’d like to say I wish everyone would live vegan, as I believe it’s the key to a better, healthier, more peaceful world, but wishing won’t get us there.  As I first heard via Stephen King, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other.  See which one fills up first.”  On the other (non-shit-filled) hand, what will get us there is clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL vegan education.

Things have gotten shitty enough in our global society, so I’m not content to simply wish for this critical paradigm shift to happen.  I and my organization, South Florida Vegan Education Group, will continue to engage in abolitionist vegan education and ask that you join us.

From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.

Keith Berger

10/14/2016

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

Photo courtesy of 
www.VeganTrove.com

Open Minds, Open Hearts – An Open Letter To Non-Vegans

If you see this essay, I hope you’ll read it.  You are not here by accident, mistake or coincidence.  There is a reason you have found this page.  I’m asking your attention for only a few minutes and hoping you’ll seek to answer the three questions at the end of this essay.

What is it that opens a closed mind and lets in the light?  What image, word or sound softens a heart hardened by societal norms, traditions and expectations and allows fairness and justice to flow?  What is the catalyst for one person to change?

I’d like to tell you mine.

I was a staunch meat, dairy, egg and honey eater from as far back as I can remember.  I wore leather, wool, silk and used other products derived from animals.  I used products that involved animal testing and contained animal secretions.  I enjoyed various forms of entertainment that involved the use of animals.  In short, I did what it seemed everyone around me did – the things society taught me were acceptable – and I did these things without a second thought.  When I was too ignorant to know that McDonald’s “food” ought to have quote marks around it, I would routinely order 2 Big Macs, a 20-piece McNugget and a chocolate milkshake and have one Big Mac devoured by the time my companions reached the table with their orders.  I ate at every steakhouse I could find, identified my mom’s pork chops as my favorite food on the planet and greedily consumed every type of animal flesh that came my way, from alligator to ostrich, never once giving a second thought to what the consequences of this type of blind consumption were to my health, the health of the planet and – least of all but most importantly – the freedom and lives of the animals I was eating.  After all, they were already dead, so I had no part to play in any of that… right?
I mean, it’s not as if my consumption of and demand for animal products was a direct contributing factor in supporting a worldwide system of unjust animal enslavement, abuse, torture, suffering, neglect, indignity and, ultimately, the mercilessly brutal taking of their lives… right?

Wrong.

In 2004 when my cousins sat me down to eat a delicious home-cooked vegan meal and watch Peaceable Kingdom, a beautiful documentary that gently challenged me to examine my beliefs about animals – immediately before which I had defiantly declared, “I’m not drinking your vegan Kool-Aid, so don’t get your hopes up” – I became aware in 70 minutes of what I’d been blind to my entire life: I was complicit in a well-hidden, cruelly concealed worldwide atrocity that was, to my mind and the minds of many others, nothing short of an animal holocaust (similar to the human Holocaust right down to the stark, overcrowded housing conditions, merciless brutality and the increasingly efficient methods of killing, but differing wildly in terms of sheer numbers.  In fact, there are six million animals slaughtered for food globally every hour of every day.  Six million per hour, the equivalent of a Holocaust every… sixty…minutes).  I had no idea, on any conscious level, that nearly 10 billion land animals and countless sea animals are killed for food every year in the country I call home and in even greater numbers abroad.  I had no conscious awareness that my choices about the food I ate, the clothes I wore and the products I used were directly responsible for the unimaginable suffering and death of countless individuals of other species.  At the end of the film, I had cried more than once and could only sit and mutter, “I had no idea… I had no idea…” and desperately wonder what I could do to stop supporting this nightmare.  The answer was simple – start living vegan.  Change what I can where I stand, right now.
In truth, it wasn’t the sheer numbers that affected me – it was the individuals.  I can’t imagine what six million or ten billion of anything actually looks like, but looking into the terrified eyes of one calf being torn away forever from her mother, one pig in the slaughter line watching his companions hung by their feet and having their throats slit, one baby chick having her beak seared off with a hot blade, one dog being skinned – ALIVE – and thrown in a pile of dying, mutilated dogs, one cow struggling valiantly to evade the man trying to shoot her in the head with the captive bolt gun… that’s what haunted me.  The eyes.

cow-eye

Eyes like yours and mine.  Eyes that rolled in their sockets in pain and anguish.  Eyes that screamed and cried and pleaded.  Eyes that, if they could speak in words, would say, “Why are you doing this to me?  What have I done?  I don’t understand.  Please stop.  You don’t have to do this”.  And though there were no words, I understood the language conveyed by those eyes and I could not pretend to not understand.  I saw the pain, I saw the fear, I saw the misery, I saw the hope and the life drain from those eyes, I saw defeat… and I was affected.cow-eye-youre-forgetting-someone

At that moment, when my closed mind opened, the light inside turned on and my heart spoke louder than my stomach, I knew I had been changed forever and that I could no longer participate in the system I now understood for what it was.  It was then that I began to live vegan – to eschew, wherever possible and praticable, the use of products of animal exploitation and to educate others where and when I could about how they too could stop promoting this injustice.  I hadn’t known till then that there was another choice available – a choice to live a vegan life – and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.

This footage is not graphic, but it tells a haunting story in three and a half minutes:


My only regret about living vegan is that I didn’t get there sooner.

 Veganism is a way of living that affords other individuals the dignity, freedom and right to live their lives free from intentional harm and from being treated as the property of others.  It is the spiritual principle of Live and Let Live extended beyond one’s own species.  It is a selfless act in a world overrun with selfishness.  It is putting aside one’s entitlement in favor of allowing other individuals to enjoy life in their own ways.  It is stepping out of an ego-driven, fear-based life into the light of Love.  It is the conscious choice to stop hurting others and, in so doing, to stop hurting oneself and the world we all share.  It is a social justice movement that aims to bring an end to the most violent, egregious and deadly form of racism on the planet: speciesism, defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy as “By analogy with racism and sexism, the improper stance of refusing respect to the lives, dignity, or needs of animals of other than the human species.”

 

vegan-superior-michele-mccowanVeganism is not some sort of moral “high ground”, but rather a recognition of and respect for equality between individuals.  As my friend Michele McCowan so eloquently put it, “I don’t feel superior because I’m vegan.  The truth is I am vegan because I don’t feel superior to others.”

To define veganism as simply as possible, I take you to the source:

 

“The word ‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — 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

What is it that might open your mind and let in the light?  What image, word or sound might soften your heart and allow fairness and justice to flow?  What might be your catalyst for change?

If you have even the slightest interest in living vegan or learning more about veganism, here are great places to start:


From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.

Peacelovevegan,

Keith Berger

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