Tag Archives: human supremacy

Why Meatless Monday Does More Harm Than Good

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

Meatless Monday

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The problem is not how we exploit animals – the problem is that we exploit animals in the first place, so the solution is not to reduce animal abuse; it’s to eliminate animal use… and that solution lies in educating people to live vegan.

If you’re a bank robber and one day realize that robbing banks is morally wrong, you don’t seek better ways to rob banks – you just stop robbing them (unless you’re determined to be a criminal and are willing to pay the consequences if caught, or a sociopath and can’t determine right from wrong).  To paraphrase the Roman philosopher Seneca’s wise words, there’s no point in trying to find the right way to do a wrong thing.

Meatless Monday – A Toothless Campaign

According to my research, the idea of Meatless Monday began nearly 100 years in the United States as a way to ration food to help with the war effort.  It was revived in 2003, according to www.meatlessmonday.com, as a “public health awareness campaign” in order to address “…the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption.”  On their “Why Meatless?” page, in 11 paragraphs and 796 words, there is nothing that speaks about the suffering, confinement, enslavement and slaughter of the non-human animals the campaign is suggesting people abstain from eating one day a week.  This campaign is clearly not part of any social justice movement intended to help abolish the property status of animals, nor to help any animal in any way – unless that animal is of the human variety and wants to optimize her/his health, as its stated aim is to help humans lower their risk of contracting preventable chronic diseases linked with the consumption of animal products (heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, to name a few).  In short, Meatless Monday is rooted in the same self-centered egotism, speciesism and myth of human supremacy that allows humans the self-proclaimed “right” to destroy the lives of non-human animals wantonly and with no regard for their well-being, feelings or right to live autonomous lives without human interference.

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

Even though it’s clear that the Meatless Monday campaign has nothing to do with helping to bring an end to the exploitation of non-human animals (even though some people claim every meatless meal “saves” X-number of animals, as if skipping a hamburger results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary), many vegans – including high-profile celebrity “vegans” – lend their names to and continue to support this campaign, rationalizing that it is “part of a journey” toward veganism – even though it promotes a version of vegetarianism rather than veganism.  Some seem to believe it’s necessary to encourage non-vegans to take “baby steps” and that “every little bit helps”.

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

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It’s my contention that one does not encourage people to practice ethical behavior only when personally convenient or in accordance with some arbitrary set of rules.  Coddling those who continue to exploit others when they are well aware that their choices and behaviors condemn individuals to miserable lives and horrific, unnecessary deaths is simply unacceptable.  We would never suggest that serial killers take “baby steps” and observe Murder-Free Mondays, would we?  Of course not.  We would explain to them why their behavior is wrong (assuming they didn’t already know) and demand they stop at once or face dire consequences.  What consequences do we impose on those who pay others to do their killing for them so they can dine on the carcasses of vulnerable animals?  None… but Nature does (see preventable chronic diseases listed above).

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

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

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

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

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

By encouraging non-vegans to take just one day off per week from a particular form of animal use, tacit permission and support are given for them to continue their use unabated the rest of the week.  Is that really the message we want to give, whether directly or indirectly?  Supporting animal exploitation 6 days a week instead of 7 is like supporting spousal abuse 85% of the time instead of 100%.  Who does that??  Answer:

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

There are those who support the baby-step “journeys” of non-vegans to become vegan – some of which take 2-3 decades or longer – and suggest we should “give them a break, they will eventually arrive”.  While I understand that not every person will go vegan overnight (though many of us have), we vegans must remain clear that this is their choice and not our suggestion, remaining unequivocal that anything less than embracing veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species is to continue being complicit in animal exploitation and needless death.  For the billions of non-human animals who suffer and die waiting for “eventually” to happen, “eventually” is unacceptable and arrives much too late.  If we see a woman being raped, we don’t go help her “eventually”, nor do we wait for the rapist to complete his “journey” to living a rape-free life, asking him to maybe rape a little less every day and applauding him when he goes a whole day without raping anyone.

What drives some people to accept such an unacceptable double-standard when the victims are non-human animals?  The answer is speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression in existence on our planet today.

Veganism should be the starting point on a journey to live as ethically as possible, not some future goal to attain when one is finally ready to live nonviolently.

Some ask why this same debate repeats every “Meatless” Monday, so here’s why:

Every Monday, some people take a mere 16 hours off from participating in an endless worldwide animal holocaust and actually seem to believe this is somehow commendable and effective.  During the Holocaust, I’m sure all the Nazis took naps now and then.  That didn’t help their victims at all because, after nap time was over, the terrorism and killing continued.  The sad reality of this ineffectual campaign is that every Meatless Meaningless Monday is immediately followed by Return to Terrorism Tuesday and We Keep Killing Wednesday (and on through the week).  Imagine if there were campaigns for Rape-Free Fridays or Child Abuse-Free Thursdays – would we applaud those well-intentioned baby steps too?  Isn’t it a better use of our limited time, energy and resources to work on creating Exploitation-Free EveryDay by consistently promoting veganism?

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

Baby steps are for babies.  I challenge my fellow vegans to be the adults we are and stop promoting reduction over abolition, which only makes the unacceptable seem acceptable and maintains the speciesist status quo.  This behavior is known as enabling and, the sooner it stops, the sooner real change begins.

If you’re already vegan, please stop making it OK for others to continue destroying the lives of non-human animals by lending your support to half-measures like Meatless Meaningless Monday and the other useless, ineffective and counter-productive single-issue campaigns promoted by animal welfare organizations that treat “vegan” like a dirty word.  Instead, let’s focus our efforts on clear, consistent vegan education wherever and whenever we can, being unequivocal about the idea of veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of the animals with whom we share this small planet.

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

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

 

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:
 

Why “Every Little Bit Helps” Isn’t Helping A Bit

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If you’re vegan, chances are you can identify with the following statements:

“I find it frustrating that non-vegans are either unable or unwilling to understand and agree with the simple concept that, if one believes it’s wrong to harm and kill animals unnecessarily, then the only sensible solution is to start living vegan.  Logic proves this while profit-driven marketing propaganda claims there are ‘humane’ ways to exploit and kill innocent, vulnerable beings.  If only non-vegans would listen to the facts!”

If you’re abolitionist vegan, chances are you can identify with the following statements:

“I find it frustrating that vegans who support animal welfare ideology are either unable or unwilling to understand and agree with the simple concept that welfarism – despite seeming to be well-intentioned – has not worked, is not working and will not work as a means of dismantling speciesism and ending the use of animals for the satisfaction of fleeting human pleasures and conveniences.  Empirical evidence proves this while self-serving pseudoscience claims the opposite is true.  If only welfarists would listen to the facts!”

[Note: identifying as an abolitionist vegan does not necessitate aligning oneself with, interacting with, promoting or otherwise supporting any particular individual, group, community, website or social media page(s).  Please see our Disclaimer for more details.  SFVEG does, however, find great benefit in sharing ideas, advocacy strategies and support with other abolitionist vegans whose approaches and sensibilities resonate with our own.  Let’s talk!]

In both of the above cases, the innate human characteristics of selfishness (“What’s in it for me?”), laziness (“How much energy am I going to have to spend on this?”) and a desire to be right at all costs (“I’m right, you’re wrong… and I’m also right!”) set up stumbling blocks to accepting new and vital information.  The result is defensiveness born of cognitive dissonance (“If what you’re telling me is true, that means my firmly-held beliefs are wrong and I’ll need to make significant changes… and that can’t be simply because it can’t be, so clearly you’re wrong and I’m right because I believe I’m right!”) and an almost impenetrable wall of denial is immediately constructed.

What do we do when we encounter seemingly insurmountable resistance to our vegan message?  Do we tell ourselves the cause is lost, let it go and move on to someone more receptive to the message we’re carrying?  Sure, that’s tempting – we only have so many hours in the day, so many ways to say what we want to say and so much energy to put forth… or do we try to remember that, in both cases, the lives of vulnerable sentient beings hang in the balance and rise to this challenge by doing our level best to present our case, knowing that we must advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves just as we would want others to do for us were we in a similarly vulnerable position?  In each and every situation in which we have the opportunity to talk about veganism with others, we have a choice to make – educate or retreat.


As you listen to those who support animal welfare ideology, you will hear some frequently repeated phrases, all of which seem to have merit on the surface:

“It’s a start.”

“Every little bit helps.”

“It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re doing something.”

“We don’t have to use the word ‘vegan‘ to get a vegan message across.”

“If we ask people to go vegan, we’ll push them away.”

“We’re all abolitionists, but people won’t go vegan overnight.  Welfare will get us there faster.”

“The best way to get people to go vegan is to cook them a yummy vegan meal.  Don’t talk to them about the animals.”


Here is one generally accepted definition of the word “insanity”:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Where do these ideas intersect?

Our Best Thinking Got Us Here

“It’s a start”, “Every little bit helps” and similar sentiments have been among the rallying cries of the animal welfare movement since it began over 200 years ago.  Despite recent pseudoscientific “studies” by welfare organizations that intentionally distort reality by skewing their own data to support their own specious claims that “X-million fewer animals were killed” and “suffering has been greatly reduced” by promoting Meatless Monday, distributing speciesist literature and other single-issue animal welfare campaigns or SICs (many of which are of their own creation), here is where the greatest minds and intentions of the “leaders” and “fathers” of the animal welfare movement have gotten us: today, an ever-increasing number of non-human individuals (now in the trillions each year) are being enslaved, exploited and executed for the satisfaction of human pleasure and convenience.

If it’s true that “every little bit helps”, shouldn’t that number be decreasing rather than increasing?  If fill-in-the-blank is a “start”, shouldn’t two centuries have been sufficient to see at least some forward movement rather than what appears to be momentum in the opposite direction?

Experience Counts

A decade of promoting, engaging in and supporting welfarist single-issue campaigns left me with me ten years’ worth of firsthand experience in just how ineffective and counterproductive they are – Lolita the killer whale is nearing her 50th year in captivity, circuses continue to use animals (and pimp their captives into medical “research” and zoo breeding programs), people still wear fur and buy puppies from puppy mills and grocery stores continue to sell live lobsters to people they know are going to brutally kill them.  These are just some of the failed campaigns to which I and numerous others devoted our time and energy.  I deeply regret not having allowed myself to realize sooner that this simply does not work.  The photo of me below neatly illustrates the ineffectiveness of such “advocacy” (see photo caption for details):

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Taken in 2009, Keith is pictured holding two signs that speak of animal *treatment*, rather than *use*, and promoting three welfarist organizations simultaneously. Note the two individuals walking past while Keith poses for his photo op rather than engaging with them. Also, note that not even a broken right hand could keep him from participating in one of his favorite speciesist events.

Veganism Is Not A “Goal” To Be Reached – It’s The Starting Point Of A New Life

Convincing a non-vegan to choose a vegan option (garden salad vs. cottage cheese, for example) is not a “start” – it’s a momentary food choice that makes zero impact in how that person views the exploitation of non-human animals.  It moves them no closer to wanting an end to speciesist injustices than does taking a chicken wing out of their hand and replacing it with an apple (because it does not explain anything about the underlying issues), nor does it instill in them the idea that “Vegan food is awesome – I probably could do this vegan thing after all!”  Like nearly everyone, they’ve been eating “vegan” (in reality, “plant-based” is the more accurate term) food their whole lives – fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, etc. – and yet remain non-vegan because they’ve yet to be educated about the moral and ethical reasons for living vegan.

“It’s a start” gets us nowhere.  Getting in a car and turning the key in the ignition is a “start”, but unless one has a clear direction and goal, the car and those in it go nowhere or, at best, end up driving around aimlessly.  If we were to put all the large animal welfare/protection corporations in a bus and then told them the destination is “the end of animal use” (one they would hopefully, but not definitely, all agree on), each of them would suggest a different route to get there, and each of them would want to drive their way based on their belief that theirs is the best and fastest route… and the one that brings each of their organizations the most donations.

Like It Or Not, Animal Welfare Ideologies Reinforce Speciesism

When the victims of a particular injustice are non-human individuals, speciesism is usually the unconscious default position.  For those unfamiliar with the word, here’s a definition:

Speciesism (spe·cies·ism) – noun – by analogy with racism and sexism, an unjust double standard placing higher moral value on some individual animals over others, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.

Second only to non-humans, children are the most vulnerable societal group.  Even though many people may be uncomfortable with the idea of equating humans and non-humans in any way, drawing parallels here is appropriate and necessary to the discussion.  That very discomfort alone exposes the speciesism pervasive in our society, just as discomfort with equating white people and people of color would expose underlying racism.

Knowing that the creation, possession, use and other consumption of child pornography is always wrong, morally unacceptable and represents a grievous oppressive injustice toward a vulnerable group (except, of course, in the minds of those who benefit either personally or professionally from it), we would NEVER take the position that child pornography creators, purveyors or consumers should “cut back” on their consumption, create/sell/purchase/obtain “less” of it, use “less explicit” images/videos, consume it only 6 days a week instead of 7, only view images and videos of certain races, ages or genders of children rather than all or engage in some but not all consumption of it on one’s “journey” to becoming ready to make a full commitment to stopping.  We would NEVER petition for more “humane” working conditions for the child victims of the pornography industry, thereby making a concession that supports the continuation of the oppression as long as it’s done “humanely”.  And we would NEVER display child pornography in public places, on the street or post it on social media in order to show people just how horrible it is… [Warning – Speciesism Ahead!]…

…and yet, because this is animal exploitation and not human exploitation, we set up different sets of standards and engage in everything we would find unacceptable if the victims were human, conveniently overlooking the fact that exploitation is exploitation irrespective of species and that, in the interests of fairness and justice, the same standards ought to apply.

Why Not Apply Animal Welfare Ideologies To Racism?

Speciesism, rooted in the myth of human superiority, begets racism (and other forms of oppression).  Imagine how one might react to the following line of thinking:

“Yes, we believe that all racial discrimination is wrong, but let’s just start with helping end injustices toward African-Americans since they are, in our opinion, the ‘most oppressed’ [insert “facts” and “figures” to support this argument].  We’ll obviously mention Asians, Latinos and other oppressed groups so they’re not entirely left out of the conversation, but we won’t focus on them right now because it’s ‘asking too much’ and we don’t want to push people away by being too ‘demanding’ and asking for an end to all racial discrimination.   Remember, every little bit helps.”

If you think this sounds unacceptable (which it is), consider this statement from animal “protection” group Mercy for Animals from July 2016:

“Because chickens are much smaller than pigs or cows, many more of them need to be killed to get the same poundage of meat.  Comprising 95 percent of the land animals raised and killed for food in the U.S., chickens also lead some of the most miserable lives of all farmed animals.

But that’s just the beginning.”

Interestingly, the last phrase bears a striking resemblance to “It’s a start”.

The MFA Vegetarian Starter Guide (why would an organization that wants people to live vegan put out anything but a vegan starter guide?) states that “The truly humane choice is to cut out or cut back on (italics added for emphasis) chicken, fish, and other animal products”, fostering the idea that some animal use is ok as long as one “cuts back”.  It goes on: “Start by cutting out the foods that harm the most animals… By simply replacing chicken, eggs, and fish with other options (like beef, pork, turkey and lamb?  You didn’t specify “plant-based” options), you can prevent a tremendous amount of animal abuse.”  MFA also makes the following encouraging statements:  “If you give in to a craving for meat, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Remember that perfection isn’t the goal here—none of us is perfect.  It’s far better to eat mostly vegetarian [<—how is “mostly vegetarian” defined?  Perhaps the publication should be retitled “Mostly Vegetarian Starter Guide”] than to do nothing at all.  Show yourself compassion if you have a setback…”  This guide is one of the most speciesist pieces of litter-ature I’ve ever had the displeasure to read and, as such, I will not link to it here.

Would anyone support such a stance if the victims of one’s cravings-induced “setback” were human?  Consider:

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Mr. Serial Killer.  After all, you used to kill 12 people per year at a rate of one per month and now you’ve nearly ditched killing altogether since you only kill one person every three months!  Quarterly killing is far more acceptable than monthly killing, and we all know just how difficult those cravings to kill can be, so go easy on yourself.  It’s progress, not perfection!”

Our Responsibility

If we claim to work for social justice but refuse to use clear and morally consistent messaging to indicate we want a full end to the oppression of non-humans, our lack of clarity becomes a tacit (and sometimes overt) message that some oppression is acceptable while some is not, and the failure of others to hear a clear, consistent, honest message becomes our responsibility because we are choosing not to provide one.  Hence, the continuation of animal exploitation becomes our responsibility since we’re essentially giving people permission to continue oppressing the vulnerable rather than seizing the opportunity to make our case clear from the outset and ongoing that all animal use is wrong and all animal use needs to end.  Delivering a deliberately dishonest message brings one’s integrity into question and runs parallel to the dishonest marketing messages used by animal agriculture and other oppressive industries, which puts one squarely on the same level as them.  I can’t imagine any vegan advocate wants that.

What We’re Doing Matters

Finally, remember this statement from the beginning of the essay?

“It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re doing something.”

What we do as vegan advocates matters a great deal, as it is an indicator of who we are.  If we choose to engage in animal welfare campaigns – or promote and support the groups who design them – that are speciesist, racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic, ableist, heterosexist, classist, body-shaming, violent, disrespectful to the victims of oppression, misinforming, misleading or blatantly dishonest because we feel the end (abolition of animal use) justifies the means (anything goes as long as we get there), then we are supporting one or more forms of oppression while advocating against another, and that calls into question the integrity of those who do so.  This weakens our power to effect change and reinforces the mythology that vegans are unreasonable, fanatical extremists who should be either avoided at all costs or mercilessly mocked.  When this happens, the message is lost.

“It’s a start” gets us nowhere.  If animal welfare were the Olympics, these million false starts would result in disqualifications, and they have gotten us no closer to the finish line of abolishing animal use.  If you want to be an effective vegan advocate, there is only one truly effective start:

Start engaging in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education to dismantle speciesism and abolish animal use, and don’t stop.

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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.

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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:

A Message to My Fellow Vegans: We’re All Adults Here, Baby Steps Are For Babies

 

“Become vegan and the world says you’re extreme.   Become abolitionist vegan and vegans say you’re extreme” – Keith Berger

When I began living vegan in 2004, I immediately began involving myself in every bit of animal rights activism I could find, feeling a passionate, desperate need to “do something” about the horrors and injustices I suddenly understood were taking place all around me and all around the world.  I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t see where or how it all might end – all I knew is that I had to get involved and start making a difference.  I continued engaging in various avenues of activism, hoping to educate people that, for example, to attend animal circuses is to directly support slavery and abuse.  I wrote letters to editors and was published.  I took part in city council meetings to have circuses banned.  I removed countless discount circus coupons from local businesses and took down circus advertisements.  I attended demonstrations, held signs, passed out leaflets and engaged circus-goers in groups and one-to-one on their way in and out of the arena, giving them the best I had in what little time was available, which was often no longer than a few seconds.  I stood and watched, with tears in my eyes, the Parade of Slaves as burly men armed with bullhooks marched dispirited elephants through parking lots and into the next performance.  Was this effective?  Possibly, but if the effect was merely to open a person’s eyes to one specific type of abuse and convince her/him to tear up their tickets and take the kids home only so they could get to their neighbor’s barbecue and eat the burnt corpses of dead animals or stop at McDonald’s a few hours earlier, then my definition of “effective” needed an overhaul.  Where was the message that making the choice to live vegan was the real answer to ending animal exploitation?  Were we all hoping the people we challenged outside the circus (including the circus employees themselves) would go home, research these issues and be moved to change their lives and, in doing so, change the world?  That was doubtful, especially considering that, as I looked around at my fellow activists, very few were vegan and many didn’t even seem open to the message of living vegan when we brought it up.  They were “just here to help the poor elephants”.

When I began reading Professor Gary Francione’s* work regarding the abolitionist approach to animal rights, my eyes, mind and heart opened even wider and my definition of “effective” did indeed begin to change.

[*please read our Disclaimer regarding the mention of individuals and/or groups not necessarily endorsed by or affiliated with this site, our group or its members.]

The animal rights movement abounds with myriad single-issue campaigns (SICs) – circuses, gestation crates, fur farms, vivisection, “humane” slaughter methods, whales, orcas, dolphins, cat and dog meat… the list is endless – that serve to be most effective at doing one thing: reducing the effectiveness of our movement by sending us scurrying in a thousand (a conservative estimate) different directions and thereby preventing us from presenting a unified, unequivocal message that, if we truly believe in and desire liberty and justice for all, veganism must be the moral baseline for our behavior toward non-human animals.  Start there, and the rest of the issues will begin to fall away.  Continue on the present course and be divided and conquered.  Giving support to welfarist organizations that treat veganism like an afterthought or a nice, but unattainable, ideal (or worse – denigrate it as a quest for “personal purity”) is a misuse of valuable time, energy, money and resources.

This essay deals with one such SIC I see every week and the speciesism behind it: Meatless Monday.

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The problem is not how we exploit animals – the problem is that we exploit animals in the first place, so  the solution is not to reduce animal abuse; it’s to eliminate animal use… and that solution lies in educating people to live vegan.

If you’re a bank robber and one day realize that robbing banks is morally wrong, you don’t seek better ways to rob banks – you just stop robbing them (unless you’re determined to be a criminal and are willing to pay the consequences if caught, or a sociopath and can’t determine right from wrong).  To paraphrase the Roman philosopher Seneca’s wise words, there’s no point in trying to find the right way to do a wrong thing.

According to my research, the idea of Meatless Monday began nearly 100 years in the United States as a way to ration food to help with the war effort.  It was revived in 2003, according to www.meatlessmonday.com, as a “public health awareness campaign” in order to address “…the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption.”  On their “Why Meatless?” page, in 11 paragraphs and 796 words, there is nothing that speaks about the suffering, confinement, enslavement and slaughter of the non-human animals the campaign is suggesting people abstain from eating one day a week.  This campaign is clearly not part of any social justice movement intended to help abolish the property status of animals, nor to help any animal in any way – unless that animal is of the human variety and wants to optimize her/his health, as its stated aim is to help humans lower their risk of contracting preventable chronic diseases linked with the consumption of animal products (heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, to name a few).  In short, Meatless Monday is rooted in the same self-centered egotism, speciesism and myth of human supremacy that allows humans the self-proclaimed “right” to destroy the lives of non-human animals wantonly and with no regard to their well-being or feelings.

Even though it’s clear that the Meatless Monday campaign has nothing to do with helping to bring an end to the exploitation of non-human animals (even though some people claim every meatless meal “saves” x-number of animals, as if skipping a hamburger results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary) , many vegans and high-profile celebrity vegans lend their name to and continue to support this campaign, rationalizing that it is “part of the journey” toward veganism.  Some seem to believe it’s necessary to encourage non-vegans to take “baby steps” and that “every little bit helps”.  It’s my contention that one does not encourage another to practice ethical behavior only when personally convenient or in accordance with some arbitrary set of rules.  Coddling those who continue to exploit others when they are well aware that their choices and behaviors condemn individuals to miserable lives and horrific deaths is simply unacceptable.  We would never suggest that serial killers take “baby steps” and observe Murder-Free Mondays, would we?  Of course not.  We would explain to them why their behavior is wrong (assuming they didn’t already know) and demand they stop at once or face dire consequences.  What consequences do we impose on those who pay others to do their killing for them so they can dine on the carcasses of animals?  None… but Nature does (see preventable chronic diseases listed above).

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While people are taking “baby steps” toward living vegan, billions of innocent babies continue to suffer and die each year.  Given the opportunity, would those baby-steppers be willing to baby-step through a slaughterhouse and look those suffering individuals on Death Row in their haunted eyes and tell them “Gee, I think living vegan is a great idea for some people, I’m working on going vegan but I need more time, I’m just not ready, it’s such a big change to make, my family wouldn’t understand, I’m really sorry but you’ll be dead and eaten by the time I make a commitment to justice instead of my own selfishness”?  Would anyone be willing to take that kind of personal responsibility for their unwillingness to spare someone’s life at the expense of their own palate pleasure?  Supporting animal exploitation 6 days a week instead of 7 is like supporting spousal abuse 85% of the time instead of 100%.  Who does that??

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

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There are those who support the baby-step “journeys” of non-vegans to become vegan – some of which take 2-3 decades – and suggest we should “give them a break, they will eventually arrive”.  While I understand that not every person will go vegan overnight (though many of us have), we vegans must remain clear that this is their choice and not our suggestion, remaining unequivocal that anything less than embracing veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species is to continue being complicit in animal exploitation and needless death.  For the animals who suffer and die waiting for “eventually” to happen, “eventually” is unacceptable and arrives much too late.  If we see a woman being raped, we don’t go help her “eventually”, nor do we wait for the rapist to complete his “journey” to living a rape-free life, asking him to maybe rape a little less every day and applauding him when he goes a whole day without raping anyone.  What drives some people to accept such an unacceptable double-standard when the victims are non-human animals?  The answer is speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of racism in existence on our planet today.

Veganism should be the starting point on a journey to live as ethically as possible, not some future goal to attain when one is finally ready to live nonviolently.

Some ask why this same debate repeats every “Meatless” Monday, so here’s why – because every Monday, some people take a mere 16 hours off from participating in an endless worldwide animal holocaust and actually seem to believe this is somehow commendable and effective.  During the Holocaust, I’m sure all the Nazis took naps now and then.  That didn’t help their victims at all because, after nap time was over, the terrorism and killing continued.  The sad reality of this ineffectual campaign is that every Meaningless Monday is immediately followed by a Return to Terrorism Tuesday and a We Keep Killing Wednesday.  Imagine if there were campaigns for Rape-Free Fridays or Child Abuse-Free Thursdays.  Should we applaud those well-intentioned baby steps too, or shouldn’t we base our work on creating Exploitation-Free EveryDay?

If we, as vegans, can’t commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education, how do we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when, by engaging in and promoting SICs, we’re essentially giving them permission to exploit animals most, but not all, of the time?  Would you tell a heroin addict to only shoot dope every other day (and thereby continue to cause himself harm and support the livelihood of his drug dealer and his dealer’s dealer), or would you suggest total abstinence?

Baby steps are for babies.  I challenge my fellow vegans to be the adults we are and stop making the unacceptable seem acceptable.  This is known as enabling and, the sooner it stops, the sooner real change begins.  If you’re already vegan, please stop making it OK for others to continue destroying the lives of non-human animals by lending your support to half-measures like Meatless Monday and the other useless, ineffective and counter-productive single-issue campaigns promoted by animal welfarist organizations that treat “vegan” like a dirty word.  Instead, let’s focus our efforts on clear, consistent vegan education wherever and whenever we can, being unequivocal about the idea of veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of the animals with whom we share this small planet.

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

www.HowToGoVegan.org
www.VeganEducationGroup.com
www.BeFairBeVegan.com

Dismantling Speciesism

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Speciesism, analogous with racism and sexism, 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.

As I sat in a recent lecture about weight stigma and body shaming, listening to the speakers discuss the intersectionality of various forms of oppression, I waited for them to mention the elephant in the room, speciesism… and they never did.  That’s when I realized:

Speciesism isn’t just an elephant in the room.  It’s much more than that.  It’s a cow, a pig, a chicken, a fish, a turkey, a lamb… and it’s much more than that.  The fact is, there are billions of land animals and countless sea animals in the room and NO ONE is talking about them.  NO ONE is acknowledging them and their basic right to live free from exploitation, objectification and commodification.  NO ONE is thinking of these individuals as anything more than disposable, replaceable “things” – objects to be used, like the chairs in which we sit – to satisfy some fleeting desire or convenience.  Instead, they’re eating their exploited remains and wearing skins, furs and feathers ripped from their dead bodies (and, in many cases, their still-living bodies).

I will admit that there is an error in my comments above.  I say that no one is talking about, acknowledging or thinking about these individuals, but this is untrue.

Vegans are talking about, acknowledging and thinking about these individuals and their right to an autonomous life and, more importantly, we’re doing something about the speciesism pervasive in our society that demands the continued exploitation, enslavement and execution of non-human animals for morally unjustifiable reasons.  Some vegans are simply abstaining from participating in those injustices, as that is the least they can do as a moral obligation.  Others, especially abolitionist vegans, are actively educating the public through various creative means about their engagement in and support of speciesism and letting them know that the simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan.

Speciesism, rooted in the myth of human supremacy, begets all other forms of oppression toward the vulnerable that we see running rampant on our planet today.

We believe the abolition and dismantling 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.

The application of speciesism provides a blueprint for all other forms of exploitation, as what we would do to the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – we would then find ways to do to those less vulnerable but still able to be dominated and oppressed (it is no accident that the techniques employed in the mass extermination of millions of humans in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s were born in slaughterhouses).  Conversely, 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.

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

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

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

[Updated 8/8/2017]

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

Taking the road less traveled

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the conversation

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

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HowToGoVegan.org – A Comprehensive Vegan Podcast

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

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

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

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

A word from our President

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

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

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

Experience matters

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

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

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

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

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

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

Logic over emotion

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

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

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

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

Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya – co-founders, SFVEG

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

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
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BeFairBeVegan.com

The legal stuff:

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

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