Tag Archives: Meatless Monday

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

speciesism banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

speciesism-006

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

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

Why Meatless Monday Does More Harm Than Good

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

Meatless Monday

vegan-use-not-abuse

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

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

Meatless Monday – A Toothless Campaign

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

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

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

baby-steps-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Compassion Over Killing and Their Timeshare Approach To Animal Rights

 

sales COK

Follow Your Morals… For A Few Days A Year

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

The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, with this blatantly speciesist campaign (if the victims were human, no advocacy group would dare encourage a 0.019% effort in helping end their oppression), an organization that appears on the surface to have the best interests of non-human animals in mind fails to take into account the myriad ways these individuals are exploited other than for “meat”, such as for clothing, entertainment, medical testing.  Further, asking non-vegans to go “meat-free” may do more harm than good as it has been shown that people who give up meat for a short time tend to increase their consumption of animal secretions such as dairy and eggs to offset their deprivation of meat through that time period.  Here is a quote connecting “meatless” campaigns and rises in egg demand and consumption from a 2015 interview on the Diane Rehm show (the specific audio clip comes at about 43:23, a courtesy for those who don’t want to sit through listening to rationalizations and justifications about eggs and “welfare”):

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

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

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

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

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

In Their Own Words

From the COK website:

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

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

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

Non-Profit ≠ Non-Wealthy

More from the COK website:

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

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

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

Our YouCaring page
Our T-shirt Campaign]

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

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

Not available.

Living Ethically From Weak To Weak(er)

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

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

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

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

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

The Solution

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

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

ethical-position-002-bfbv

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer about individuals, organizations, groups, external links, opinions, social media groups, products, etc. that may be mentioned in our content.]

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

VeganEducationGroup
BeFairBeVegan.com

HowToGoVegan.org

An Open Letter to Sir Paul McCartney

Dear Sir Paul McCartney,

I’ve got a feeling my words have as much chance of reaching you directly as might a letter addressed to Santa Claus, but I thought I might try anyway…

As a lifelong fan of your work, I have found you to be an inspiration from as far back as I can remember.  Your words and music have provided the larger part of the soundtrack of my life, carrying me through all that I have experienced, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Having lived vegan since 2004, I would like to share something I find unsettling about a piece of your work, something that has the potential to live in people’s memories – and on YouTube – for years to come.

Upon watching a rebroadcast of your performance of “Scrambled Eggs” (above) with Jimmy Fallon from December 2010, I was struck with the following thoughts:

Part of the Fallon bit involved you taking a “vegetarian” stand against singing “chicken wings,” yet you appeared perfectly comfortable singing a song about scrambled eggs (and yes, I’m aware of the origin of that lyric and how it eventually became Yesterday.  The joke is not lost on me; I just don’t find allusions to animal exploitation funny).  Surely you’re aware of the horrible conditions and miserably short lives laying hens suffer through as they are forced to produce unnatural quantities of eggs for human consumption.  Statistically, chickens are the most exploited and abused animals on the planet, and the retirement plan for all these individuals  – and all non-humans used for their bodies and secretions to satisfy human pleasures and conveniences (be they “free range”, “cage-free”, “humanely”-raised, etc.) – is a trip to the slaughterhouse and a sharp blade across the throat.

Initially, I found your performance delightful and, probably because of its charm, I nearly missed the subtext that it’s not ok to eat chickens but it is ok to enslave them and eat their eggs.  By extension, this message further implies that some forms of animal exploitation are acceptable while others are not.  I find this message baffling and inconsistent.

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility

To paraphrase Voltaire (by way of Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee above), “With great power comes great responsibility.”  I submit that your words and actions have the power to influence countless numbers of people worldwide for generations to come, and I respectfully ask that you be mindful and sing responsibly.

I once applauded your long-time commitment to vegetarianism and your work in bringing the idea of Meat Free Mondays to a world audience.  Today I fully understand that vegetarians, by abstaining from some arbitrarily-chosen animal products while continuing to consume others, remain complicit in all other forms of animal exploitation except the one or two they’ve given up.  I used to involve myself in “vegan” outreach in South Florida utilizing the Glass Walls video you narrate and handing out what I now know to be speciesist litter-ature to educate passersby as to the horrors of the animal agriculture industry and specifically factory farming.  Today I believe that, by failing to engage the public in true, unequivocal vegan education focusing on the idea that all animal use, no matter how much “cruelty” is involved, is morally unjustifiable, wrong and needs to be abolished, we did a great disservice to the animals we thought we were trying to help.  By focusing heavily on factory farms, we may well have been tacitly promoting small farms while the truth is that every animal on every farm, regardless of size (and this includes backyard animal exploiters), is treated as property, is denied the right to a free and autonomous life and will live and die solely for purposes deemed important and profitable by humans.  Slavery is always wrong, and even the “kindest” slave owner is still a slave owner.  This is the difference between promoting animal “welfare” and the abolition of animal use.

Sir Paul, I can’t help but wonder why, with the knowledge and resources at your disposal, you would remain vegetarian and welfarist all these years rather than taking a stand for social justice and animal rights by making the firm commitment to live vegan and eschewing the consumption of all products of animal exploitation.  Can you imagine the difference you would make by publicly taking that simple step and helping educate the world that veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of non-human individuals?  After all, it’s not how we use animals that’s at issue – it’s that we use them for our own gains in the first place.  There’s a paradigm waiting to be shifted, and this is the kind of action that can move that process along.

Vegetarianism is a journey going nowhere, man.  It’s a long and winding road that leads individuals of other species to the same place all non-vegan roads lead – the slaughterhouse door.

My hope is that my words reach you as yours have reached me, and that the ideas I’ve presented reach even further to your mind, your sense of justice and your heart.

Sir Paul, please please live vegan and use your voice to educate others.  Don’t let me – and the animals – down.

Wishing you peace, love and continued success,

Keith Berger

Co-founder, South Florida Vegan Education Group

Boca Raton, Florida, USA (phone number available upon request if you wanna ring me up!)

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

www.BeFairBeVegan.com

Edited from an earlier version first published on Facebook on 9/9/2015

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

  1. abolitionist-vegan-meme

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):

me-ringling-demo-edited
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.

abolitionist-heart-sticker

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.

vegan-use-not-abuse

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

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

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

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

baby-steps-001

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

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

vegan-journey-002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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