Tag Archives: Meatless Monday

On Magical Thinking and Why Food Is Not the Solution to Speciesism

“Education is key. You give a person a vegan meal and they’ll eat vegan for a day. You educate them and give them inspiration to go vegan, they’ll be vegan for life.” – Elena Brodskaya

From an actual conversation:

Long-time vegan: “Do you know the best way to get someone to go vegan?” [smile]
Me: “No, what is it?!?”
Long-time vegan: “Cook them a delicious vegan meal!” [BIG smile]
Me: [blink…… blink…… blink……]

I find myself in disbelief each time vegans tell me they think they can convince people to truly live veganmeaning to embrace a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose – by merely showing them how delicious 100% plant-based meals can be and how easy they are to prepare.  Yes, plant foods are delectable, satisfying and meet our nutritional needs (just some of the wonderful ancillary benefits of living vegan), however most people have prepared, eaten, and continue to eat tasty and satisfying foods that are not derived from animals – and yet 98% of the population continues to indulge in the consumption of animal flesh and secretions right alongside, below, atop, within and around those delicious vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that comprise a plants-only diet.  A “hot dog with everything”, for example, is literally surrounded on all sides by mouthwatering plant foods, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone swear off hot dogs because they became enraptured with relish.  As Elena Brodskaya has said many times, veganism is not a diet and without a morally compelling reason to stop consuming products of animal exploitation, plant-based cuisine exists as just another option among many and not a replacement for any:

“What do you feel like eating tonight?  Italian, Mexican, Asian…  Vegan?”

We’ve had family and friends prepare us countless meals suitable for vegans (I try not to use the phrase “vegan food” because it reinforces the mistaken idea that “vegan” represents a food category rather than an ethical stance against violence and injustice) that they themselves partook of, so they knew without a shadow of a doubt the simplicity of preparation and the delightful tastiness of the food they were serving and not once did any of them exclaim, “That’s it – this food is so good, I’m going vegan!”  I’ve had many enjoyable meals in restaurants of various ethnicities and can say that I’ve never felt an overwhelming desire to suddenly embrace every aspect of another culture because their food is yummy.

When a person is unaware that, through behaviors they’ve been indoctrinated to believe all their lives are appropriate, acceptable and necessary, they are complicit in the victimization of vulnerable individuals, it is crucial to not just offer them an alternative option to those behaviors but to take the time to educate them as to why those behaviors are morally unjustifiable in the first place.  Imagine a scenario in which you know your friend is a spousal abuser and, rather than having a frank and honest discussion about why spousal abuse is fundamentally unjust and that he should stop this at once, you suggest instead that he might consider joining a bowling league as a way to “blow off some steam” on the weekends since it’s fun, communal and gives him something more productive to do with his hands.  While bowling might present a distraction and perhaps interfere temporarily with the pattern of abuse, it fails to address the underlying problem, offers no real solution and is far from a guarantee that the abuse at home will cease or even diminish.

Now consider a scenario in which a vegan serves a non-vegan a plate of spaghetti and meatless meatballs and says, “Isn’t this vegan alternative to meatballs delicious?  Now you never have to eat ‘real’ meatballs again, right???”

Without making a compelling case for why it’s wrong to continue consuming products of animal exploitation (because it represents one’s support of and engagement in the bullying, victimization and slaughter of the most vulnerable group of beings on the planet and is  therefore antithetical to most people’s morals), all that’s been accomplished here is that another option has been added to an existing list of menu items.  Nothing in the non-vegan’s belief system has been challenged, so nothing has changed.  And when nothing changes, nothing changes.

Again, the common misconception that “vegan = diet”, bolstered by celebrities like Dr. Oz (only one among countless others) who blithely promote that erroneous message, moves the focus from where it needs to be: ethics.

If one believes that non-human individuals matter morally and that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on them, then the only logical response is to start living vegan immediately.

Magical Tragical Thinking

It’s not food that truly convinces people to live vegan, nor does eating a salad or choosing a meal free of animal flesh and secretions “save lives” or “spare animals”, despite what large, self-serving animal “welfare” groups – who work in concert with animal agriculture to find more economically efficient ways to exploit animals – would suggest in most of their litter-ature and manipulative marketing materials.  There is no evidence to suggest that skipping a hamburger or saying no to a steak results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary.  Consider this from a previous essay:

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

Don’t Just “Go” Vegan – Live Vegan

Again from a previous essay:

“When you ‘go’ someplace (to the store, to the movies, to work, on vacation), more often than not you come back to the very same place you came from, and that’s usually the place where you live.  Conversely, when you live a particular way, you embody your ethics and take them with you wherever you happen to find yourself (just as you would in opposing racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and any other form of oppression, all of which are analogous to speciesism).

What convinces people to live vegan, as opposed to go vegan, is the internalization of the idea that when we know it’s wrong to unnecessarily hurt and kill innocent sentient beings for our personal benefit (usually palate pleasure, comfort, convenience and entertainment) and continue to engage in this injustice, we are living in opposition to our own morals and ethics.

When it comes to living vegan, it’s not the taste on our tongue but the voice of our conscience that effects meaningful, lasting change.

[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:
 

Multi-Level-Manipulation on Welfare Wednesday!

[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.]

Co-written by Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya

Wednesday Morning at 7 o’clock As the Day Begins

On Wednesday 11/8/2017 over an 8-hour span, I once again received back-to-back emails from not one, not two, not three, not four… ok, four of the major animal welfare (not rights, mind you – welfare) organizations with similarly-themed messages of how to be more “compassionate” around the upcoming holidays.  In fact, two of the emails had the word “compassion” and “compassionate” in the subject line:

Receipt of such emails all in one day is a common occurrence for me, and it’s no coincidence such email solicitations always arrive just before payday – I’m sure there are studies proving this is the optimal time to send donation requests – as handy reminders of the stellar work they’re doing that only their dedicated and knowledgeable staff and volunteers can do (undercover “cruelty” investigations, “pressuring” non-vegan restaurant chains to add plant-based options, throwing self-congratulatory parties)… and only with my donations.  I’ll offer a brief look at the content of the emails.

What’d I Say?

Mercy for Animals (MFA) informed me that “Animal torture has been exposed inside yet another government-owned slaughterhouse…” and that “unthinkable cruelty” was happening before slaughterhouse workers were “…stringing [pigs] upside down and cutting open their throats” which, if I’m not mistaken, is how they’re generally slaughtered.  The assured me that I can “make a difference” by “making a special donation today as part of the Million-Dollar Challenge” and by taking the “Veg Pledge”… which unfortunately does not equate to living vegan.  In fact, they make a vague suggestion (see below) to “choose compassionate vegan alternatives” (which, I suppose, could be added to any meal right alongside the animal flesh and secretions that might already be there.  That may make it different, but it certainly doesn’t “make a difference”) while offering a VEGETARIAN Starter Guide,  furthering the time-honored animal welfare tradition of conflating vegan and vegetarian as if there are one and the same.

“The best way to help cows, pigs, and other farmed animals is simply to choose compassionate vegan alternatives.  Sign up here to get your free Vegetarian Starter Guide, meat-free recipes, news, and tips.”

 

Compassion Over Killing (COK) invited me to “celebrate compassion!” at their event costing $100-150 per ticket, which I wouldn’t be interested in doing even if it were free and happening next door to my house (since they’re actually just celebrating themselves as a corporation).  When they start talking about justice, I’ll start celebrating, albeit warily as I try to figure out what their angle is.  Much like MFA, they did offer me another opportunity to “…still lend your support to help us continue our life-saving work for animals in the year ahead.  Please donate now!  All donations through December 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar!”

Vegan Outreach asked me to sign a petition asking a non-vegan pizza company to add “a delicious vegan cheese pizza” to their menu and “Heck—throwing in a few toppings like meatless pepperoni or savory sausage crumbles would be even better!”  They also reminded me that they’re “…working to expose and end cruelty to animals through the widespread distribution of our booklets promoting plant-based eating and compassion for animals” (again with the compassion…).  Rather than promoting “plant-based eating”, a concept so vague that it’s anybody’s guess as to what it means and can actually be defined as eating salads with animal flesh and secretions on top (“Well, it is plant-based…”), is it unreasonable to expect that a corporation called Vegan Outreach might promote, say, veganism?

Lastly, before offering a Meatout Monday recipe, Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) reminded me that Thanksgiving is “the perfect opportunity to share a compassionate meal with friends and family” (more compassion – yay!!!).  They suggested I “invite others to experience how amazing a vegan meal is for your health, the environment, and of course for the animals!”  In the spirit of consistently putting animals last on the list of reasons not to eat animals, they go on: “Whether you’re looking to improve your health, are environmentally-conscious, or truly care about the animals*, the holidays are the perfect time to celebrate life together over a delicious, plant-based meal” (ah, plant-based!).  They also offer a pledge to “go vegan for Thanksgiving”, as if abstaining from products of animal exploitation for one meal or even one entire day equates to embracing veganism.  Once again, a major animal welfare corporation muddies the waters and erroneously equates eating one plants-only meal with living vegan.

Who’s to Blame?

I want to be clear that I find no fault with those who operate at the volunteer levels of these MLM (Multi-Level-Marketing-Manipulation)-style welfare corporations, as I am sure that they, just like me,  join the ranks in hopes of making real change for animals with a corporation that purports to be doing exactly that, since the idea of taking on such tasks individually seems overwhelmingly daunting and often leads to feelings of despair and hopelessness.  Enter the smooth and seductive siren song of the large animal welfare corporation(s) to offer comfort, community and a cure – “Join us and help the animals!  Be a voice for the voiceless and stand with like-minded people who are already working to solve the problem of animal cruelty/abuse!”.  I know that I was once brainwashed and beguiled by the manipulative messaging of MFA, COK, PeTA, H$U$ and the like and would have continued engaging with, supporting and promoting them and their single-issue campaigns had I not been shown the hypocrisy, ineffectiveness and counterproductiveness of their methods and messaging.  Just as with other multi-level marketing or pyramid scheme models, eager volunteers are recruited by those in higher positions or at the same level but with time in the organization and used to bring in more recruits and/or solicit donations, in this case through handing out free organization literature and/or convincing people to join email lists, both of which do provide information about the plight of animals and welfare reforms but are ultimately mechanisms for bringing in donor dollars.

Essentially, these very organizations operating under the pretense of working to stop the exploitation of non-humans are engaging in the exploitation of the humans they enlist to perform for low or no pay in the service of increasing the organization’s financial bottom line.  Volunteers and low-level employees are used for their time, energy and effort in such areas as fundraising, undercover investigations and member recruitment while being inculcated with the false belief that the corporation they serve is working to create a better world for animals.  Meanwhile, millions in donor dollars and grants roll in each year, salaries are paid to those in higher positions, careers are solidified, agendas are furthered… and animals remain property to be used, discarded and replaced despite all the “critical”,  “eye-opening”, “groundbreaking”, “life-saving” work supposedly being done on their behalf.

I observed this phenomenon in action during set-up at a South Florida “veg” fest in fall 2016.  While strolling past the Mercy for Animals table, I observed the MFA coordinator (someone I know and with whom I have interacted – a sort of local animal welfare “star” – but whose identity I will not reveal) pointedly instructing the lower-level volunteers that they need to focus on getting people to join the MFA email list: “Sign-ups, sign-ups, sign-ups!!!  At an event like this, we should be able to get at least [inaudible something-hundred number] new sign-ups.”  Since fall is the season for year-end fundraising, dollar-for-dollar matching and million-dollar challenges, the push to focus on email “sign-ups” rather than engaging with and educating the public was not surprising.  The coordinator’s forceful tone of voice seemed to indicate that obedience to this directive was not open for debate.

In the eyes of the animal welfare corporations, every person is a potential donor, and the more people who are reached by email, snail mail, street “activism”, college leafleting, social media and other methods, the deeper the potential donor pool.  Slick and glossy publications, videos and emails are carefully crafted to tug at both heartstrings and purse strings.  Note the use of evocative and melodramatic language in this email donation plea received 11/9/2017.  One can almost hear the minor-key string section playing in the background while the somber narrator intones:

“Suffering animals—like Clara and Max—need you to act now.

When our brave undercover investigator met Clara at a Hormel pork supplier earlier this year, the gentle and intelligent pig was pregnant and forced to live in a gestation crate so small she couldn’t even turn around. Once Clara gave birth, all her babies, including little Max, were taken away from her and mutilated without painkillers. 

Your compassion enables MFA to continue speaking out for defenseless animals and put an end to cruel practices like tail docking, castration, and cramming animals into tiny cages. 

With you by our side, we’ll conduct even more eye-opening undercover investigations like the just-released footage captured at a Mexican slaughterhouse. We’ll also pressure more of the largest food companies to end the worst forms of abuse in their supply chains, and we’ll inspire millions of people to leave animals like Max and Clara off their plates for good. 

I know that it breaks your heart to see and hear about such horrific animal abuse. That’s why I’m asking you to please help MFA make 2018 our most impactful year yet.  Together, we can end this cruelty and create a kinder world for all animals.”

 
Nathan Runkle
 
Sincerely,
Nathan Runkle 
President
Max!!! Clara…?

In the Multi-Level-Manipulation world of animal welfare corporations, low-level employees and volunteers are manipulated into reaching out to the public who are in turn manipulated by the materials to which they are exposed, and the money flows steadily in.  Employees and volunteers believe they are helping the public learn that animal abuse exists (as if they didn’t already know this) and the donating public come to believe that by “doing something” and donating to animal welfare organizations, they are discharging their moral responsibility toward animals, and this idea is cosigned by the organization’s literature that suggests they shouldn’t take “drastic” steps like, for example, living vegan.

If the animal welfare corporations were to stop their single-issue campaigns and put their formidable resources into unequivocally educating the public about veganism as our moral obligation toward non-human individuals and providing support for new vegans, we would move quickly toward abolishing the property status of animals, demand for products of animal exploitation would dramatically decrease…  and they would soon find themselves out of work as the paradigm shifted and the status quo changed, leaving them with no “horrific” cruelty to reduce or “worst” abuses to end, making it nearly impossible to make convincingly dramatic pleas for continued donations.  For this reason, it has never been in the best interest of animal welfare organizations to work in the true best interests of animals, but rather in what they tell us are the best interests of animals.  For this reason, they will continue to partner with animal exploiters to ensure there is a steady supply of cruelty to reduce, abuses to end and single-issue campaigns to wage as mechanisms for soliciting a steady supply of donor dollars to keep themselves salaried and in business.

Why in the World…?

Now, in case anyone’s wondering why I’m still getting emails from groups like this long after putting my welfare days behind me,  please allow me to explain:

I keep myself on several animal welfare email lists (though not PeTA or The Humane League – I do have standards…) so I can see what Big Welfare’s latest shenanigans are and to watch with mild amusement as they continue to pretend they’re all separate organizations rather than one large vomitous mass corporation, dividing up single-issue campaigns based on which seems to fit which brand and will result in the largest number of donor dollars, tremendous grants and the furthering of careers for those at the highest levels of each corporate entity.

Who’s Down With OPP?

On the subject of grants, I am mortified as I look at this page I inadvertently found detailing the sheer numbers of dollars (roughly $16 million per year in 2016 and 2017) being lavished by the Open Philanthropy Project upon organizations under the rather vague heading of “Farm Animal Welfare”, about which OPP states:

“Billions of animals each year are treated cruelly on factory farms.  We believe that raising awareness of current practices and pushing for reform could reduce animal suffering by enormous amounts, yet we see relatively little attention on this issue from major animal welfare groups.”

“Relatively little attention… from major animal welfare groups”?  Relative to what???  That’s essentially the entire focus, theme song, parade route and lifeblood of every major animal welfare group, and it goes like this – farmed animals endure horrific, torturous cruelty every day of their short lives en route to being slaughtered for human consumption [TRUE], so we need to do something/anything – usually involving “compassion” and/or some sort of weak legislation making a horrible situation slightly less horrible – to reduce the cruelty/suffering/abuse and ensure they’re treated humanely before they’re killed [FALSE].

Why, if the stated problem is true, do I contend the proposed solution is false?

Because the idea – and the entire animal welfare philosophy dating back over 200 years – is predicated on a false premise.  That false premise rests on the notion that non-human individuals are destined to die to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience no matter what we do, therefore the best we can ever hope to do is to make conditions better (more “humane”/less “cruel”) for them along the way.  If we believe that to be the truth, then we can only keep trying to make the inhumane a little more humane for these pathetic, hopeless, condemned beings… and, if that’s our position, then why bother living vegan by taking the moral stance of refusing to participate in any and all forms of animal use wherever possible and practicable?  Doesn’t it now become permissible to eat, wear and otherwise use non-humans now and then (or why not all the time?) since we’re all working to ensure that these things happen in the nicest ways possible?  I mean, as long as they’re treated well and killed humanely…

So if the problem is true, what then is the solution and how is it being achieved?

The solution is to change the current paradigm that allows for and demands that animals be considered property and be objectified and commodified for use as disposable, replaceable human resources.  This is being achieved through dismantling speciesism, and the method by which that’s occurring is twofold:

  1. If we believe, as any non-psychopath does, that it’s morally unjustifiable to hurt and kill vulnerable individuals to satisfy our personal pleasures and desires, and we come to understand that the most vulnerable members of our global society are, without exception, the non-human individuals we call animals, then our only reasonable response is to immediately stop participating in and benefitting from systems of oppression that result in the unnecessary harm and death of these sentient beings.  We stop paying others to do what we know is wrong, and we stop doing it ourselves.  In short, we start living vegan.

  2. We make a point of educating others to live vegan, and we do this by engaging in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education advocacy at every available opportunity, whether one-on-one, in groups, in person, online, over the phone or through any other creative means at our disposal.  This does not mean simply handing a brochure, pamphlet or flyer containing vegan information to every passerby (coupled with a cheery “Go vegan!”) and hoping they a) read the material, b) are moved by it and c) decide to start living vegan and have some understanding as to how to do that.  We would no sooner expect this to be an effective form of vegan advocacy as we would expect that, by handing astrophysics textbooks to random strangers and saying “Go astrophysicist!”, they will go home and become astrophysicists… and yet, this is a stock in trade method used by most animal welfare groups.  Rather, this means taking whatever time one can to engage others in calm, rational, educational conversations, asking effective questions and answering those we are asked to the best of our abilities.  It also means directing non-vegans to solid, unequivocal vegan resources online and in print (please see our Downloadable Vegan Content, Online Vegan Resources and Recommended Reading sections for excellent information).

While single-issue campaigns and the welfare corporations behind them may seem attractive on the surface, all one needs to do is apply a bit of critical thinking to conclude that they are speciesist in nature and ultimately counterproductive to the cause of abolishing animal use, and there is nothing attractive about that or about engaging in the exact form of oppression one claims to be working to eradicate.

[*a quick note on language and perception – when we talk about “the animals” as opposed to “animals”, we are defining non-humans as  groups (i.e.; herds, flocks, schools) devoid of personalities or other markers of individuality rather than framing them as the individuals they truly are.  This results in devaluation and depersonalization, making true empathy for them as individuals that much more difficult to achieve in the minds and hearts of those who have long been trained to view and treat them as mere objects to be used, discarded and replaced.  This can make our vegan advocacy even more challenging, so once again it behooves us to be mindful of the words we choose and the language we use.]

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

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

speciesism banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

speciesism-006

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

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

Why Meatless Monday Does More Harm Than Good

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

Meatless Monday

vegan-use-not-abuse

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

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

Meatless Monday – A Toothless Campaign

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

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

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

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

baby-steps-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
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Compassion Over Killing and Their Timeshare Approach To Animal Rights

 

sales COK

Follow Your Morals… For A Few Days A Year

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

The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Their Own Words

From the COK website:

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

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

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

Non-Profit ≠ Non-Wealthy

More from the COK website:

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

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

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

Our YouCaring page
Our T-shirt Campaign]

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

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

Not available.

Living Ethically From Weak To Weak(er)

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

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

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

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

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

The Solution

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

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

ethical-position-002-bfbv

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

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

VeganEducationGroup
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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.

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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