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…).
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 placeby 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.
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.]
[Author’s note – I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.]
Imagine you’re on a crowded bus and it’s your stop. As you exit, you pass the driver whom you know from previous trips and, as usual, wish him a nice day. As he replies, you clearly smell alcohol on his breath and notice his eyes are red and glassy. What do you do?
Do you leave the bus and go about your day, hoping the driver won’t crash the bus and injure or kill himself, the other passengers and possibly some pedestrians and other drivers? Or do you exit and say a little prayer for them all, sending positive energy their way (“Nama-stay-in-your-lane, Mr. Bus Driver!”)? Do you dive into denial and tell yourself you didn’t see what you saw or smell what you smelled, convincing yourself that it’s just your imagination because, after all, you respect this bus driver and he’s a professional? Do you leave the bus and call the bus company to report the driver? Or do you confront him, alert the other passengers to the situation and call 911?
I hope I’m never in such a situation but, if I am, I hope I’d take the kind of action airport security screeners took in Miami on July 1, 2002 when they smelled alcohol on two America West pilots’ breath – they took a stand and did the right thing by calling TSA, who then called the police and (barely) stopped the plane from taking off for Phoenix with 127 passengers and 3 other crew members on board.
What’s this got to do with veganism?
Imagine you’re vegan and you become aware, as I and many others have, that the animal welfare/protection groups you and others trust to carry an anti-speciesist vegan message and work for animal rights are actually doing quite the opposite. What do you do?
Do you continue to support such organizations, either financially or otherwise, and promote them because “at least they’re doing some good work, right?” while ignoring the moral inconsistency of their campaignsthat a) ask for an end or, more often, only a reduction to some forms of violent oppression toward non-human individuals while doing nothing to stop other forms, all of which are equally unjust and morally unacceptable, b) engage in blatant speciesism by advocating for specific favored species rather than working to end all animal use by promoting veganism through vegan education and c) help animal exploiters streamline their productivity and become more profitable? [the list of ways such organizations betray and fail the animals they purport to help is quite long – these were the first three that came to mind]
Do you “hope” that through the promotion of such ideas as vegetarianism, reducetarianism, “ditching meat”, “ditching fur”, eating “cage-free”, “humanely-raised” or “local” animals and their secretions and the myriad other non-vegan dietary and fashion options offered by these organizations, consumers of animal products will somehow “make the connection” – a common phrase among those who promote welfare – stumble into the decision to live vegan (hopefully within a decade or three…) and embrace the ethical stance that lies at the heart of veganism – despite the intentional absence of a clear, consistent vegan message coming from these organizations (I will provide an example of one such organization’s current campaign below)?
Or do you take a stand for justice by removing your support from such organizations and making public their betrayal of animals while focusing your limited time, energy and other resources on engaging in clear, consistent grassroots vegan education that truly addresses the underlying cause of animal exploitation – the fallacy of human supremacy that has created and fostered a paradigm of globalspeciesism claiming the lives of billions of vulnerable individuals every year?
Here’s an example of one such organization and their unwillingness to provide a vegan message at the risk of losing donations and other funding:
I watched a recent video by The Humane League advertising their new chicken-specific 88% Campaign aimed to “reduce their immense suffering” by campaigning “for companies to make meaningful changes”, “address health issues” of birds who will still be killed, “improve living conditions” of birds who will still be killed and “replace slaughter methods”. They purport that “things are starting to change” (this alleged “start” comes after 200+ years of similar animal welfare campaigns – after a solid two centuries, are we to believe that The Humane League has finally cracked the code and is making substantive change with their repackaging of the same methods that have yet to achieve such change? That’s called branding and marketing) and trumpet “some major victories for chickens”, showing a Huffington Post headline stating “There’s A Major New Effort To Help The Billions Of Chickens We Eat Every Year” and “New protections for farm animals in 2017” from the San Francisco Chronicle. Those are feel-good ideas, but the truth behind them is that the so-called “protections” don’t protect these individuals from being killed nor “help” them in any significant way considering they are still destined to be eaten by the billions every year by a largely non-vegan human population. THL goes on to ask that donors “support the movement to reduce the suffering of billions of chickens” (a focus on abuse rather than use, which is at the core of the welfare movement) and that “Together, we can create the change” (accompanied by footage of a chicken gasping for her last breaths). There is, of course, no definition of what “the change” is, so that is left open to interpretation by the viewer who has now seen images of animals being neglected and abused and will likely take away the idea that animal abuse, rather than use, is the problem that needs addressing. When The Humane League’s logo appears seconds later, the deal is sealed – here the viewer is (mis)led to believe THL is diligently working to make “the change”, whatever that is. With three seconds to go in this one minute and forty-one second video, a tiny message appears:
I’ll enlarge the intentionally minuscule message here:
REMEMBER: THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO REDUCE THE SUFFERING OF FARM ANIMAL IS TO ELIMINATE MEAT, DAIRY AND EGGS FROM YOUR DIET.
How is the viewer supposed to “remember” information that has at no point previously been provided to them? Up until that moment, there is no imagery or verbiage in the video to support or even hint at the information in that statement – it’s all about the suffering of chickens. Moreover, that statement would be easily missed as it appears in tiny font at the bottom of the screen after The Humane League’s logo has disappeared and the screen has faded to black. As the video boasts high production values, it isn’t a stretch to say that this sizing, placement and timing is quite intentional. It’s also not a vegan message by any definition, as it excludes any mention of the myriad non-food-related uses of animals and, interestingly, overlooks honey in its menu of dietary items.
In reading the 88% Campaign White Paper, I was not surprised to find the following passages lamenting how the quality of modern chicken meat has been reduced, discussing how to “improve” slaughter conditions and explaining how the implementation of THL’s recommendations for chicken welfare would help the animal agriculture corporations and the consumers of animal products simultaneously:
“The quality of chicken meat is also substantially affected too (sic), with white striping and wooden breast impacting the texture, fat content and nutritional value”. “Meat that comes from birds suffering from woody breast or from those with both conditions are found to have a harder texture, impaired ability to hold water, and poorer nutritional value… White striping by itself also impacts the general appearance of the breast meat… These conditions are forcing the downgrading of meat due to the lack of aesthetic appeal… There is an alternative; breeds exist that can alleviate many of the negative predispositions we see with the current typical fast-growing breeds. By utilising these higher welfare breeds and giving birds more space, enriching the environment, and improving slaughtering conditions using CAK or LAPS, the industry would see an improvement in meat quality [italics added] and, most importantly, an improved level of welfare for the billions of chickens farmed for meat production every year.”
“Slaughter conditions are improved by the use of controlled atmosphere stunning or killing (CAK) which involves transferring the birds to a controlled atmosphere chamber with gases or gas mixtures (gases permitted are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and inert gases such as argon and nitrogen)… Low atmospheric stunning may also provide a more humane method of slaughter… The birds are thus stunned or killed, depending on the length of exposure to the gases or low pressure. Both methods eliminate the need for live handling, shackling and inversion of conscious chickens, and should ensure chickens are fully unconscious at neck cutting and dead by the time they reach the scald tank.”
This is from a corporation claiming to help animals, yet it sounds eerily like something one would expect to read in an animal agriculture insider publication.
From the SF Chronicle article comes a disturbing quote from THL’s executive director, David Coman-Hidy: “We’re [italics added] looking to raise birds that are not just bred to suffer, that are bred with some consideration to the quality of their lives”. “We’re”?? Does this indicate that The Humane League is now in the business of raising chickens? One has to wonder whether Mr. Coman-Hidy has lost sight of the blurry boundary where his multi-million-dollar corporation and the multi-million-dollar animal agriculture corporations begin and end, or whether he’s simply acknowledging that the two are truly partners in profit. Either way, the quote could just as easily have come from the mouth of any duplicitous farmer seeking to placate animal welfare proponents. I shudder to hear the head of an organization that purports to have the best interests of animals in mind make such a statement.
Sadly, campaigns like this from The Humane League don’t aim to end the use of chickens (or other non-human individuals) for food and other purposes. They simply aim to alter or, to use their marketing terminology, “improve” conditions for chickens that will still be killed for human consumption (their slaughter method improvement recommendations take a page out of PeTA’s book) and, in so doing, increase THL donations, create better and more profitable conditions for the animal suppliers and assure consumers that they can have “higher-welfare” animal products. The one group that loses every time and pays with their lives is the chickens. If this is a “victory”, then it is a victory under some new definition of which I am not aware.
Playing nicely in the sandbox
More often than not, those of us who make the choice to live vegan upon coming to understand, abhor and eschew participation in the injustices being done to non-human individuals tend to speak out against those and other injustices. We carry the message that living vegan is the clearest path toward dismantling speciesism and creating a world in which all sentient beings are given the right to live autonomous lives free from being used without their consent to satisfy the pleasures and conveniences of more powerful others.
When one engages in critical thinking, which is different than being critical and which I believe every social justice advocate ought to do, one can quickly see past the marketing propaganda of the animal welfare corporations (which is similar in form and function to the marketing techniques of the animal exploiters they purport to oppose) and begin to understand just how dishonest they truly are.
I find it interesting and disturbing that, when some of us challenge and call attention to individuals and groups when we see them engaging in intentional deception and manipulation to further their own ends (said deceptions and manipulations resulting in the continued exploitation and needless deaths of animals and increased profits for themselves and animal exploiters), we are told we’re being “divisive” and are rebuked for “not playing well with others”. It’s important to remember that being vegan doesn’t mean one is above reproach nor that one is incapable of being as dishonest, calculating, manipulative and lacking in integrity as any other person, vegan or not. I have observed some of the most “highly regarded” animal advocates engaging in blatantly disingenuous efforts, claiming to be working in the best interests of animals while in reality fostering speciesism and working to advance their careers and make a profit. Examples of this abound in animal welfare corporations and I seem to see more of them by the day. I can think of no reason why I would want to “play” or work with anyone who would choose to behave in such a way, either in vegan advocacy or anywhere else. Boundaries keep individuals and organizations healthy; engaging with toxic individuals and organizations is damaging on many levels.
I recently had the privilege of having a conversation with a paid employee of a multi-million dollar animal welfare organization, though I will not identify that individual or their organization here as I did not ask their permission to do so (it wasn’t my intention to do an interview and exposé) and respect their right to anonymity. Here are the salient points from that discussion:
Despite our obvious philosophical differences when it comes to animal advocacy methodologies (abolitionism vs. utilitarian welfarism), we both agreed that animal exploiters are not the problem and that the real solution lies with educating animal product consumers about veganism. They stated their organization “targets” animal suppliers “but always talks about going veg in our presentations”, and I asked that “veg” be defined, as I found it unclear. They told me “It means vegan”, so I asked why they don’t just say “vegan” if that’s truly what they mean and if it’s because it’s not a “marketable” word, and I was informed that “studies show people respond better to words like veg and vegetarian” (I personally find that approach dishonest – say what you mean and mean what you say – and believe that an organization that asks for one thing when they mean another lacks integrity. I also believe the studies cited are inherently biased and flawed). I asked whether they would agree that, since we as individuals and groups have “limited resources” (their term with which I wholeheartedly agree), a better use of those resources might be to engage the public in clear, consistent vegan education to strike at the root of the problem rather than flailing at the branches that only grow back stronger once they’re pruned. Their answer was a simple “No”.
It was brought to my attention later that this is the only answer one could give to such a question when one’s career depends on a steady stream of income through a steady stream of donations brought in by a steady stream of single-issue campaigns that avoid a clear vegan message in order not to disrupt the status quo of animal use in any meaningful way. After all, the reality is that if animal welfare corporations truly focused their efforts and resources (and hundreds of millions of combined dollars) on getting people to live vegan and brought an end to animal exploitation, they would have to shutter up their businesses and go find other work… and that’s just not something careerists are interested in doing when they’ve carved out a comfortable niche for themselves.
With the current animal welfare movement heading in no discernible direction (backward seems to be the most likely choice), abolitionist vegans face an uphill battle that’s twofold – 1) educate the non-vegan public about veganism and 2) educate fellow vegans about the inherent and systemic hypocrisy of the animal welfare corporations and the single-issue marketing campaigns they frequently design and implement (and recycle and repeat) in order to keep the donor dollars rolling in. If we truly want to create “the change” – changing the animals-as-property paradigm that that allows for and demands the morally unjustifiable enslavement, exploitation and execution of billions of non-human individuals every year for no better reason than to satisfy the fleeting pleasures, comforts and conveniences of humans – this is how we do it:
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
Can someone explain to me why The Humane League, an animal welfare group that received a ONE MILLION DOLLAR GRANT a year ago, needs to put on a $50.00-per-ticket fundraising gala 20 miles from my house today??? Have they fallen on hard times already? Did they accidentally drop the million down a sewer or leave it on a bus? They certainly didn’t spend it on educating people about veganism, as that would conflict with their stated speciesist purposes (more about that below).
With any luck and by keeping our windows closed, we won’t be able to smell the plant-based hypocrisy wafting in from Ft. Lauderdale this evening.
[WARNING: this essay contains pockets of sarcasm (from the Greek word sarkasmos, meaning “to tear flesh” – not very vegan of me, I know, but it’s metaphorical so I’m going with it). If my frustration with animal welfare organizations’ humaneshit were radioactive, I’d be melting Geiger counters right now]
Marketing – lies designed to separate you from your money and your morals
One would think that an organization with at least a cool million in the bank and that ended 2014 with $968,246.00 in total revenue might throw a sell-out-bration on their own dime rather than acting like they need a handout…
…but that would presuppose that such a speciesist organization (they focus exclusively on farm animals to the exclusion of other exploited non-humans) is interested in more than self-branding and maximizing donations by working extremely hard to convince donors and the world at large that they are “making a difference for animals” through their “online and community-based vegetarianadvocacy programs”. Sadly, it’s a very profitable farce that moves us no closer to ending animal use as their campaigns stay stuck in the same old “cage-free-by-2025-but-still-exploited (-and-ultimately-killed) -every-day-until-and-after-that-time” mentality. That’s what they call a “victory” – eight years from now, chickens will still be exploited and killed… but at least they won’t be in cages when it happens. Since the average life span of egg-laying hens is 2 years, that “victory” will happen 4 generations of chickens from now. Another shining “victory” from The Humane League was convincing United Egg Producers to utilize “in-ovo egg sexing technology” to “enable the termination of all male-identified eggs from the hatchery, preventing them from ever being hatched and culled”, as male chicks are useless (read: profitless) by-products of the egg industry and are currently either ground alive or left to suffocate to death on the first – and only – day of their lives. Unless I’m missing something, this sounds perversely like chicken abortions. And unless I’m missing something else, it seems that The Humane League is overlooking the fact that if it’s wrong to kill male chickens, it’s equally wrong to kill female chickens, and yet their campaigns regarding those individuals seem to end at ensuring cage-free executions.
I’m baffled that so many people are either unwilling or unable to see that when a group such as this (and all the other large animal welfare corporations) partners with institutional animal exploiters to create and promote “humane” ways to use animals rather than actually working to end animal use, that is still a very clear and direct promotion of animal use… and that use is funded by donations from galas like the one here on February 4 and others around the country.
Denial of reality never changes reality. It only leads to a state of willful ignorance.
Can You Say “Conflict of Interest”?
Some would undoubtedly point out that The Humane League was “Named ‘Top Charity ‘by Animal Charity Evaluators 4 years in a row”, however it is a dubious honor for several reasons, most notably due to the fact that THL’s founder, Nick Cooney, “…has been the main person responsible for producing the pseudoscientific research that ACE relies upon to justify its belief in the effectiveness of interventions, which is the allegedly objective basis for its unfailingly consistent recommendation of Cooney’s charities [which include the speciesist and profit-motivated Mercy for Animals and the Good Food Institute– Editor]; and moreover, when Cooney became involved in a new charity lacking any track record, ACE suspended its normal criteria in order to recommend it. At the very minimum, Cooney’s thinking has had a great degree of influence on ACE’s thinking.” – Re-evaluating Animal Charity Evaluators, 12/22/2016
So, this means this “top charity” was chosen by ACE based on criteria designed and presented by… [drum roll] …the head of the charity they’re supposedly “objectively evaluating”??? The stacking of that deck is higher than H$U$ President and CEO Wayne Pacelle’s salary (a paltry $392,107 in 2015).
The sad and certain bottom line is this:
A donation to The Humane League (or any other animal “welfare”/”protection” organization) represents direct financial complicity in institutionalized animal exploitation. Tragically, through clever and deceptive marketing, animal welfare organizations have convinced vegans to fund the exact injustices they stridently oppose. I speak from personal experience because I fell victim to this trap for years and when I learned the truth, I felt betrayed. What I know today is that with awareness comes responsibility and that, once aware, continuing down the same path makes me not a victim but a volunteer.
I can only imagine the good The Humane League could do if they were to focus their time, energy, wealth and considerable marketing acumen on engaging in clear, consistent vegan education, but to do so would risk alienating their non-vegan donor base so it’s simply not an option.
I see that the gala has sold out. That makes sense since The Humane League has already sold out the animals.
I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
Before I go further, I would like to state that there is a distinction between simply being critical for criticism’s sake (which I am not) and employing critical thinking and then responding appropriately (which I am). In situations where erroneous ideas that further a particular injustice are presented as facts, it is incumbent upon individuals who see this to call attention to it and make clear to as many people as possible that what’s been presented is not as it may appear on its glossy surface. It is crucial that we examine the information we’re given to determine its veracity and legitimacy, and to speak out when we find that it lacks credibility. To do otherwise is to give tacit acceptance to the unacceptable and allow propaganda to flourish unchallenged. I do not have a problem with Dr. Oz, as I’m not aware of his work (except for this) – I have a problem with his misrepresentation of veganism and would hope that other vegans would take issue, as well.
Having canceled our cable subscription over a year ago (just Interwebs and Netflix for us now), there is very little in the way of TV viewing in our home, so our exposure to much of what America is being programmed to watch is quite limited. Of course, we still see people posting and sharing content online, so when I recently saw a slew of vegans sharing and resharing this segment from Dr. Oz (I’m only vaguely aware of who he is and had actually never seen his face or heard his voice prior to last week and am not surprised to learn that he was spawned into prominence by the never-vegan-and-never-miss-an-opportunity-to-be-an-opportunist Oprah), I took some time to watch it and see what the fuss was all about. After all, everyone seemed excited that he was talking about veganism… or was he?
The answer, as we can see, is no.
In 13-ish minutes of erroneously conflating the consumption of plant-based foods with veganism, there were ZERO mentions of the injustice of animal use as the primary reason for living vegan (“reasons” given included “eat cleaner, greener and lose weight” and other personal, humancentric concerns about “how you look and how you feel” – there was absolutely no discussion about animals). Here are some other issues that make the segment problematic in its inaccurate portrayal of veganism:
The segment title suggests that living vegan is so difficult, it could drive a person “crazy”. In reality, living vegan presents minor inconveniences that are easily adapted to and overcome once one realizes the ethical issues at stake and the ramifications of not expending the minor extra effort of, say, reaching six inches past the cow milk to the almond milk.
Four statements were made indicating non-vegan food is “real” food, thus insinuating plant-based food is “not real”. Two statements were made indicating the plant-based food on set “doesn’t taste fake” and one comment was made upon tasting a plant-based option that “it’s good but it’s vegan”.
“Vegan” is disparagingly referred to by Dr. Oz as “the V-word”.
During the introduction of the “Gradual Meat Stepdown”, Dr. Oz stated “it’s hard to stop all at once”, his guest agreed, “It is, it is!” and said she stopped eating bacon because “I learned how bad it is for us”. She goes on to say that dairy/cheese and eggs “are the last one(s) that people play with” as they’re cutting out animal products. I find it difficult and disrespectful to hear someone blithely refer to products born of the slavery and death of vulnerable individuals as things “people play with”.
Dr. Oz offered the following “definition” for “what it really means to go vegan – well, simply put, nothing from an animal – nothing with a face is going in your mouth. There’s no meat, there’s no fish, there’s no dairy or eggs”… but there’s also no mention of honey or any of the myriad other ways animal are exploited such as wearing leather, wool or silk or supporting animal-based entertainment, etc. [for more information on these issues, please visit the What’s Wrong With… section of HowToGoVegan.org]. Once again, veganism is misidentified as being only one of its components and wrongly defined, which only helps further public confusion about what veganism truly is:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
Dr. Oz went on to further the erroneous idea that living vegan is something to be feared rather than a personal ethic to embrace by saying, “You can actually mimic these tastes so you don’t actually feel like you’re going meatless, which is what people fear the most.”
Dr. Oz also glibly referred to the non-vegan taste tester as the “victim”, when in reality the body parts of the true victims of exploitation and oppression were spread out on the table and eaten by this person. I found it personally unsettling and unnecessary that there were slabs and piles of dead animal parts and secretions on set for people to taste-test alongside plant-based options. This has the effect of further normalizing the consumption of products of animal exploitation and presents “vegan” (read: plant-based) foods as just another set of options.
13 seconds into the segment, Dr. Oz says “Let’s be real”. Yes Dr. Oz, let’s. Veganism is not a diet, a lifestyle (as he calls it in the first 3 minutes), a fad or a phase – it’s a personal commitment to stop participating in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human animals.
When talking about a plant-based diet, call it what it is and, of course, provide facts, tips and ideas to help people understand its benefits – just don’t call it veganism, because it’s not.
Like many I see on social media, I used to excitedly share every incident of the word “vegan” being used in any context just to “get the idea out there”, but not anymore. I have come to understand that when the word is coupled with an unclear message that distorts the true meaning of veganism (or one that promotes speciesism, racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, classism or any other form of oppression), it is better that it not be shared so that I don’t act irresponsibly by adding to the confusion and misinformation that unfortunately already follows the word wherever it goes. I hope others will come to do the same.
If we’re going to be real, we need to offer real information about veganism as our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species, sticking to the real definition of veganism and taking real action to dismantle speciesismthrough educating non-vegans about veganism. When we do, we will start making real change and saving real lives.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
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.
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:
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, informationand supportif 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:
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 IAm 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 willget us there is clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL vegan education.