Despite some technical difficulties with the audio, on Friday 6/16/17, Trish Roberts of HowToGoVegan.org and VeganTrove.comand I discussed several aspects of veganism and its relation to other social justice issues. Here is the link to the video of the livestream:
Here is a widely accepted definition (arguably, it’s the definition) of veganism:
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979
But isn’t vegetarianism a good thing?
I’ve observed many people and groups extolling the virtues of vegetarianism, calling it an “ethical” and “compassionate” choice that “reduces cruelty”, however when one applies a modicum of critical thinking and takes a closer look, one quickly arrives at a far different conclusion. An excerpt from What Is Wrong With Vegetarianism? from UVE Archives(I encourage everyone to read the entire essay linked above):
“The Moral Problems with Vegetarianism
Many people are vegetarians for ethical reasons. They object to either the treatment of animals in animal agriculture or the intentional killing of animals, or both. Paradoxically, despite their objections to the treatment or intentional killing of animals, they continue to consume dairy products and eggs, which… certainly contribute more to the suffering and arguably as much to the intentional killing of animals than the consumption of meat products. In fact, to the extent that a vegetarian replaces calories from flesh with calories from dairy and egg products, the vegetarian has increased his or her contribution to animal suffering.”
“Potential confusion is not in any way helped when so many groups and organisations conflate the words ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’, implying that they are similar. The standard definition has become so accepted here in the UK that the supermarkets all stock huge ranges of products defined as ‘vegetarian’, all supported by skilful marketing strategies that promote them as everything from ‘healthy’ to ‘humane’ with few exceptions, each of which contains animal milk in some form – frequently as cheese – and eggs which are often described as ‘free range’.
Many of us – and I was one – mistakenly assume that ‘vegetarian’ is synonymous with ‘cruelty free’ when nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Yes, I had stopped eating the obvious slabs of bloodied flesh. But what I did not realise was that my dietary consumption was continuing to supply the market with dead flesh, even though I did not consume it directly. And as for my non-food choices…”
I was once under the erroneous impression that vegans were simply vegetarians whose diet also excluded dairy, eggs and honey. This seemed to me to be an extreme position to take, but then, so did vegetarianism as I was indoctrinated to fall in line with the common societal belief that humans need to eat (and otherwise use) animals to survive. I believed vegetarianism and veganism to be aberrant dietary choices and had no real understanding of either as having any sort of ethical underpinnings. I do recall being aware of certain animal “rights” groups promoting vegetarian diets but I wrote those groups off as “extremists” and paid no attention to their antics and promotions (which, ironically, I would later take part in myself for a regrettable decade).
On the evening that veganism was explained to me in a calm and rational manner, I understood that it went far beyond mere dietary choices and found that what is truly “extreme” is the injustice of enslaving, exploiting and executing innocent, vulnerable sentient beings to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience. In that moment, I experienced a fundamental internal shift and made the decision to bring my morals and actions into congruence by living vegan.
If we, as vegan individuals and groups, are afraid to commit to a 100% effort toward clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education because “vegetarian sounds better” and is “more marketable” (as I was told by a representative of a speciesist animal welfare group), how do we expect non-vegans to commit to a 100% vegan life when we’re afraid to say what we really mean and ask for what we really want?
If you want less than veganism, then ask for it and that’s what you’ll get. After all, it doesn’t require any real change to move from one form of non-veganism to another, and make no mistake that “vegetarian” in all its guises and with all its prefixes and hyphenations is anything other than animal exploitation. Each new permutation is just a new coat of blood-red paint on the same old abattoir.
Conversely, if you want people to take a firm stand against injustice and oppression toward vulnerable sentient beings by first ending their participation in it, educate them about veganism as our minimum moral obligation toward the non-humans with whom we share this planet. In this way, we move closer to dismantling speciesism, which can be defined as “a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership“.The fundamental injustice of speciesismbegets all other forms of oppression toward vulnerable individuals and groups that we see running rampant on our planet today. We believe the dismantling and abolition of speciesism are integral in starting the chain of conscious evolution that will lead to the end of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like.
Doesn’t that sound like the kind of world in which you’d like to live? Let’s make it happen, one new vegan at a time!
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]
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.
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 essayfrom HumaneMyth.org]
Once again, with this blatantly speciesistcampaign (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 nowmostly 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…”
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!
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?
3. What are the organization’s capabilities for doing this?
4. How will they know if they are making progress?
5. What have and haven’t they accomplished so far?
Living Ethically From Weak To Weak(er)
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”]
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.
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. Also, please read our Disclaimerabout 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:
Hi all! 🙂 Because we appreciate your continuing support, we’ve launched a new fundraising platform that gives YOU something great and lasting with a powerful message to share while simultaneously helping us continue our unequivocal vegan advocacy!
Please help South Florida Vegan Education Group raise funds to create a vegan world through dismantling speciesism one conversation at a time. Encourage everyone you meet to live vegan by sporting one (or three) of these nifty shirts (just not all at the same time, unless you live someplace cold…)! As always, all donations are tax deductible – just contact us for the documentation if you require it (see bottom of page for more information).
Here’s how it works:
We’ve created a collection of three awesome shirts on booster.com, each with a straightforward vegan message and a link to our website. Just click on any of the blue booster.com links in this essay (there are 5 of them, you can’t miss), choose the shirt(s) you want and make your donation. Then, get ready to be a walking billboard for veganism and animal rights! If we’re able to sell a minimum of 16 of each shirt by April 26, the shirts will be printed and delivered to buyers by the 2nd week of May. If we don’t reach the minimum goal, all orders will be refunded in full. Prices range from $20.00 USD (t-shirt) to $30.00 USD (hoodie), shipping is extra (sorry! 🙁 ) and will be calculated at time of purchase.
We hope that you will enjoy carrying the message of veganism as much as we enjoyed creating these shirts for you! Please share our campaign with others. Let’s create a vegan world together!!!
South Florida Vegan Education Group is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All donations are tax-deductible.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER SERVICES REGISTRATION # CH47564. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.
[Author’s note – I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.]
Imagine you’re on a crowded bus and it’s your stop. As you exit, you pass the driver whom you know from previous trips and, as usual, wish him a nice day. As he replies, you clearly smell alcohol on his breath and notice his eyes are red and glassy. What do you do?
Do you leave the bus and go about your day, hoping the driver won’t crash the bus and injure or kill himself, the other passengers and possibly some pedestrians and other drivers? Or do you exit and say a little prayer for them all, sending positive energy their way (“Nama-stay-in-your-lane, Mr. Bus Driver!”)? Do you dive into denial and tell yourself you didn’t see what you saw or smell what you smelled, convincing yourself that it’s just your imagination because, after all, you respect this bus driver and he’s a professional? Do you leave the bus and call the bus company to report the driver? Or do you confront him, alert the other passengers to the situation and call 911?
I hope I’m never in such a situation but, if I am, I hope I’d take the kind of action airport security screeners took in Miami on July 1, 2002 when they smelled alcohol on two America West pilots’ breath – they took a stand and did the right thing by calling TSA, who then called the police and (barely) stopped the plane from taking off for Phoenix with 127 passengers and 3 other crew members on board.
What’s this got to do with veganism?
Imagine you’re vegan and you become aware, as I and many others have, that the animal welfare/protection groups you and others trust to carry an anti-speciesist vegan message and work for animal rights are actually doing quite the opposite. What do you do?
Do you continue to support such organizations, either financially or otherwise, and promote them because “at least they’re doing some good work, right?” while ignoring the moral inconsistency of their campaignsthat a) ask for an end or, more often, only a reduction to some forms of violent oppression toward non-human individuals while doing nothing to stop other forms, all of which are equally unjust and morally unacceptable, b) engage in blatant speciesism by advocating for specific favored species rather than working to end all animal use by promoting veganism through vegan education and c) help animal exploiters streamline their productivity and become more profitable? [the list of ways such organizations betray and fail the animals they purport to help is quite long – these were the first three that came to mind]
Do you “hope” that through the promotion of such ideas as vegetarianism, reducetarianism, “ditching meat”, “ditching fur”, eating “cage-free”, “humanely-raised” or “local” animals and their secretions and the myriad other non-vegan dietary and fashion options offered by these organizations, consumers of animal products will somehow “make the connection” – a common phrase among those who promote welfare – stumble into the decision to live vegan (hopefully within a decade or three…) and embrace the ethical stance that lies at the heart of veganism – despite the intentional absence of a clear, consistent vegan message coming from these organizations (I will provide an example of one such organization’s current campaign below)?
Or do you take a stand for justice by removing your support from such organizations and making public their betrayal of animals while focusing your limited time, energy and other resources on engaging in clear, consistent grassroots vegan education that truly addresses the underlying cause of animal exploitation – the fallacy of human supremacy that has created and fostered a paradigm of globalspeciesism claiming the lives of billions of vulnerable individuals every year?
Here’s an example of one such organization and their unwillingness to provide a vegan message at the risk of losing donations and other funding:
I watched a recent video by The Humane League advertising their new chicken-specific 88% Campaign aimed to “reduce their immense suffering” by campaigning “for companies to make meaningful changes”, “address health issues” of birds who will still be killed, “improve living conditions” of birds who will still be killed and “replace slaughter methods”. They purport that “things are starting to change” (this alleged “start” comes after 200+ years of similar animal welfare campaigns – after a solid two centuries, are we to believe that The Humane League has finally cracked the code and is making substantive change with their repackaging of the same methods that have yet to achieve such change? That’s called branding and marketing) and trumpet “some major victories for chickens”, showing a Huffington Post headline stating “There’s A Major New Effort To Help The Billions Of Chickens We Eat Every Year” and “New protections for farm animals in 2017” from the San Francisco Chronicle. Those are feel-good ideas, but the truth behind them is that the so-called “protections” don’t protect these individuals from being killed nor “help” them in any significant way considering they are still destined to be eaten by the billions every year by a largely non-vegan human population. THL goes on to ask that donors “support the movement to reduce the suffering of billions of chickens” (a focus on abuse rather than use, which is at the core of the welfare movement) and that “Together, we can create the change” (accompanied by footage of a chicken gasping for her last breaths). There is, of course, no definition of what “the change” is, so that is left open to interpretation by the viewer who has now seen images of animals being neglected and abused and will likely take away the idea that animal abuse, rather than use, is the problem that needs addressing. When The Humane League’s logo appears seconds later, the deal is sealed – here the viewer is (mis)led to believe THL is diligently working to make “the change”, whatever that is. With three seconds to go in this one minute and forty-one second video, a tiny message appears:
I’ll enlarge the intentionally minuscule message here:
REMEMBER: THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO REDUCE THE SUFFERING OF FARM ANIMAL IS TO ELIMINATE MEAT, DAIRY AND EGGS FROM YOUR DIET.
How is the viewer supposed to “remember” information that has at no point previously been provided to them? Up until that moment, there is no imagery or verbiage in the video to support or even hint at the information in that statement – it’s all about the suffering of chickens. Moreover, that statement would be easily missed as it appears in tiny font at the bottom of the screen after The Humane League’s logo has disappeared and the screen has faded to black. As the video boasts high production values, it isn’t a stretch to say that this sizing, placement and timing is quite intentional. It’s also not a vegan message by any definition, as it excludes any mention of the myriad non-food-related uses of animals and, interestingly, overlooks honey in its menu of dietary items.
In reading the 88% Campaign White Paper, I was not surprised to find the following passages lamenting how the quality of modern chicken meat has been reduced, discussing how to “improve” slaughter conditions and explaining how the implementation of THL’s recommendations for chicken welfare would help the animal agriculture corporations and the consumers of animal products simultaneously:
“The quality of chicken meat is also substantially affected too (sic), with white striping and wooden breast impacting the texture, fat content and nutritional value”. “Meat that comes from birds suffering from woody breast or from those with both conditions are found to have a harder texture, impaired ability to hold water, and poorer nutritional value… White striping by itself also impacts the general appearance of the breast meat… These conditions are forcing the downgrading of meat due to the lack of aesthetic appeal… There is an alternative; breeds exist that can alleviate many of the negative predispositions we see with the current typical fast-growing breeds. By utilising these higher welfare breeds and giving birds more space, enriching the environment, and improving slaughtering conditions using CAK or LAPS, the industry would see an improvement in meat quality [italics added] and, most importantly, an improved level of welfare for the billions of chickens farmed for meat production every year.”
“Slaughter conditions are improved by the use of controlled atmosphere stunning or killing (CAK) which involves transferring the birds to a controlled atmosphere chamber with gases or gas mixtures (gases permitted are carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and inert gases such as argon and nitrogen)… Low atmospheric stunning may also provide a more humane method of slaughter… The birds are thus stunned or killed, depending on the length of exposure to the gases or low pressure. Both methods eliminate the need for live handling, shackling and inversion of conscious chickens, and should ensure chickens are fully unconscious at neck cutting and dead by the time they reach the scald tank.”
This is from a corporation claiming to help animals, yet it sounds eerily like something one would expect to read in an animal agriculture insider publication.
From the SF Chronicle article comes a disturbing quote from THL’s executive director, David Coman-Hidy: “We’re [italics added] looking to raise birds that are not just bred to suffer, that are bred with some consideration to the quality of their lives”. “We’re”?? Does this indicate that The Humane League is now in the business of raising chickens? One has to wonder whether Mr. Coman-Hidy has lost sight of the blurry boundary where his multi-million-dollar corporation and the multi-million-dollar animal agriculture corporations begin and end, or whether he’s simply acknowledging that the two are truly partners in profit. Either way, the quote could just as easily have come from the mouth of any duplicitous farmer seeking to placate animal welfare proponents. I shudder to hear the head of an organization that purports to have the best interests of animals in mind make such a statement.
Sadly, campaigns like this from The Humane League don’t aim to end the use of chickens (or other non-human individuals) for food and other purposes. They simply aim to alter or, to use their marketing terminology, “improve” conditions for chickens that will still be killed for human consumption (their slaughter method improvement recommendations take a page out of PeTA’s book) and, in so doing, increase THL donations, create better and more profitable conditions for the animal suppliers and assure consumers that they can have “higher-welfare” animal products. The one group that loses every time and pays with their lives is the chickens. If this is a “victory”, then it is a victory under some new definition of which I am not aware.
Playing nicely in the sandbox
More often than not, those of us who make the choice to live vegan upon coming to understand, abhor and eschew participation in the injustices being done to non-human individuals tend to speak out against those and other injustices. We carry the message that living vegan is the clearest path toward dismantling speciesism and creating a world in which all sentient beings are given the right to live autonomous lives free from being used without their consent to satisfy the pleasures and conveniences of more powerful others.
When one engages in critical thinking, which is different than being critical and which I believe every social justice advocate ought to do, one can quickly see past the marketing propaganda of the animal welfare corporations (which is similar in form and function to the marketing techniques of the animal exploiters they purport to oppose) and begin to understand just how dishonest they truly are.
I find it interesting and disturbing that, when some of us challenge and call attention to individuals and groups when we see them engaging in intentional deception and manipulation to further their own ends (said deceptions and manipulations resulting in the continued exploitation and needless deaths of animals and increased profits for themselves and animal exploiters), we are told we’re being “divisive” and are rebuked for “not playing well with others”. It’s important to remember that being vegan doesn’t mean one is above reproach nor that one is incapable of being as dishonest, calculating, manipulative and lacking in integrity as any other person, vegan or not. I have observed some of the most “highly regarded” animal advocates engaging in blatantly disingenuous efforts, claiming to be working in the best interests of animals while in reality fostering speciesism and working to advance their careers and make a profit. Examples of this abound in animal welfare corporations and I seem to see more of them by the day. I can think of no reason why I would want to “play” or work with anyone who would choose to behave in such a way, either in vegan advocacy or anywhere else. Boundaries keep individuals and organizations healthy; engaging with toxic individuals and organizations is damaging on many levels.
I recently had the privilege of having a conversation with a paid employee of a multi-million dollar animal welfare organization, though I will not identify that individual or their organization here as I did not ask their permission to do so (it wasn’t my intention to do an interview and exposé) and respect their right to anonymity. Here are the salient points from that discussion:
Despite our obvious philosophical differences when it comes to animal advocacy methodologies (abolitionism vs. utilitarian welfarism), we both agreed that animal exploiters are not the problem and that the real solution lies with educating animal product consumers about veganism. They stated their organization “targets” animal suppliers “but always talks about going veg in our presentations”, and I asked that “veg” be defined, as I found it unclear. They told me “It means vegan”, so I asked why they don’t just say “vegan” if that’s truly what they mean and if it’s because it’s not a “marketable” word, and I was informed that “studies show people respond better to words like veg and vegetarian” (I personally find that approach dishonest – say what you mean and mean what you say – and believe that an organization that asks for one thing when they mean another lacks integrity. I also believe the studies cited are inherently biased and flawed). I asked whether they would agree that, since we as individuals and groups have “limited resources” (their term with which I wholeheartedly agree), a better use of those resources might be to engage the public in clear, consistent vegan education to strike at the root of the problem rather than flailing at the branches that only grow back stronger once they’re pruned. Their answer was a simple “No”.
It was brought to my attention later that this is the only answer one could give to such a question when one’s career depends on a steady stream of income through a steady stream of donations brought in by a steady stream of single-issue campaigns that avoid a clear vegan message in order not to disrupt the status quo of animal use in any meaningful way. After all, the reality is that if animal welfare corporations truly focused their efforts and resources (and hundreds of millions of combined dollars) on getting people to live vegan and brought an end to animal exploitation, they would have to shutter up their businesses and go find other work… and that’s just not something careerists are interested in doing when they’ve carved out a comfortable niche for themselves.
With the current animal welfare movement heading in no discernible direction (backward seems to be the most likely choice), abolitionist vegans face an uphill battle that’s twofold – 1) educate the non-vegan public about veganism and 2) educate fellow vegans about the inherent and systemic hypocrisy of the animal welfare corporations and the single-issue marketing campaigns they frequently design and implement (and recycle and repeat) in order to keep the donor dollars rolling in. If we truly want to create “the change” – changing the animals-as-property paradigm that that allows for and demands the morally unjustifiable enslavement, exploitation and execution of billions of non-human individuals every year for no better reason than to satisfy the fleeting pleasures, comforts and conveniences of humans – this is how we do it:
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
I recently shared the following experience on Facebook:
Vegan Education Moment of the Day
Whole Foods Checkout Person (WFCP) seeing my purchases: Are you vegetarian… or are you vegan? Me: Vegan. WFCP: How long? Me: 12 years-ish. WFCP: Why did you go vegan? Me: Ethical reasons. I don’t believe my life is more important than someone else’s and won’t participate in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of innocent beings just to satisfy my pleasure. Are you vegan? WFCP: No… I was pescetarian, then I was vegetarian. I was almost vegan, but then one Thanksgiving… Me: You decided that it was ok to have others die for you ? WFCP: Kind of. I feel guilty a lot of the time. Me: Of course you do. If you want to stop feeling guilty, you can make different choices and choose to live vegan.
Considering the short amount of time allowed in this situation, I felt this was a good way to answer her question and give her information. Shortly afterward, however, a sense of dissatisfaction began to creep in at how I handle such interactions generally and I began asking myself how I might better answer the often-asked question, “Why did you go vegan?” My usual impulse has been to make some grand proclamation and hope that it will somehow be relatable and make an impact on my interlocutor… but I’m rethinking this strategy.
Since I’m finding it very effective lately to use a version of the Socratic method (a dialogue technique that “uses creative questioning to dismantle and discard preexisting ideas and thereby allows the respondent to rethink the primary question under discussion”) in some areas of my vegan advocacy, I asked myself whether the same method might be equally effective here. The answer seems to be, it would. After all, human nature seems to dictate that people will believe the words coming out of their own mouths before trusting and believing information presented by strangers, especially when that information appears on the surface to run counter to their established beliefs. Consider this encounter I had a while back with a non-vegan who expressed all-too-familiar protein “concerns”:
Non-vegan: I could never be vegan – I need protein. Me: Where do you think you get your protein now? Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Animals… Me: Right!!! Now, considering that the animals humans eat for protein are largely herbivores and exclusively eat plants, where do they get their protein? Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Plants…? Me: Right!!! Soooooo… Non-vegan: I… could just eat… plants! Me: Right!!! You get your needs met and the best part is, no one has to die!
In the past, I would have heard the protein question and took it as an invitation to leap into a verbal dissertation involving everything I know about protein, amino acids and human health, which might serve to either educate or confuse the listener or, worse, trigger a defensive cognitive dissonance response since the barrage of information I’d be presenting would most likely fly in the face of everything they’d been taught by people and organizations they trust. In this case, instead, I chose to ask the questions that led my interlocutor to draw her own conclusions and find her own answers (which were, of course, the ones I’d hoped she’d come to!) and, once that had happened, I gave a brief Protein 101 discourse just to reinforce matters. As I strongly believe should be the case with every discussion about veganism, I brought the idea of ethics into the conversation to avoid reinforcing the erroneous idea that veganism is merely a diet as opposed to a fundamental matter of justice.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite comic book series was called “What If?” Each issue would present “…an event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, then introducing a point of divergence in that event and then describing the consequences of the divergence.” So, imagine if my interaction with the Whole Foods Checkout Person had gone like this:
WFCP: Why did you go vegan? Me: Great question! To best answer it, let me ask you three questions: do you believe it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm and death to animals? WFCP: [likely response] Yes.* Me: Great! So do I. Did you know that eating and otherwise using animals and animal products causes unnecessary harm and death to animals? WFCP: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, that makes sense.* Me: And that’s why I’m vegan – because it’s wrong to enslave, exploit and execute vulnerable individuals, regardless of species membership, race, gender, age or any other arbitrary criterion, to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience and all of that involves unnecessary harm. WFCP: Thanks! So, what’s the third question? Me: Glad you asked! Did you know that the answer you gave to the first question indicates you already agree with the principles of veganism? WFCP: Huh. I guess I do!*
*Of course, this is an oversimplified example showing the best possible responses to our questions and will not always be the ones given since people tend to want to debate these issues due to deeply held beliefs born of a lifetime of cultural indoctrination into speciesism. Vegan advocates should always be prepared to explore related topics that arise in conversation such as “How do you define ‘unnecessary‘?” and “What constitutes ‘harm‘?”. There are excellent and informative abolitionist vegan websites listed at the end of this essay (more can be found in the Online Vegan Resources section of our main website at www.VeganEducationGroup.com) that can help us educate ourselves and to which we can direct both non-vegans and vegans for solid, unequivocal vegan information.
(the questions in the above scenario were adapted from vegan advocate Chris Petty’s questionnaire shown below)
By going this route and asking specific questions, the non-vegans with whom I speak (and this includes vegetarians and other fill-in-the-blank-atarians) not only hear my reasoning for why I live vegan, but in the process also explore their own beliefs and come to understand that they, too, tend to agree with the ethical and moral principles of veganism. The idea that they are curious enough to ask such a question indicates a willingness to learn, at the very least, one person’s reason(s) for living vegan and, better yet, may indicate their own willingness to explore these ideas further and hopefully incorporate them into their lives by making the choice to live vegan.
Sadly, there is a plethora of individuals and groups that, intentionally or not, dilute and confuse the meaning of veganism to the point that it is often mistaken for a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a trend. For those of us who take unequivocal vegan advocacy and education seriously, it is imperative that we properly define veganismfor those who don’t understand what it is, and it makes sense to keep questioning our advocacy methods and adapting where necessary to steadily evolve into the most effective agents of change we are capable of being.
[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.]
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
1) If you saw an obviously distressed barking dog locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do? Would you look away and walk by as if nothing was happening? Perhaps. Or would you try the doors to see if you could open one and help the dog? Would you look around for the owner of the car, perhaps going inside nearby stores and asking for help? Or would you think about or even go as far as breaking a window to get the dog to safety? After all, there’s a life at stake and you have the ability to save that life.
2) If you saw an obviously distressed squealing pig locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do? Would you think, “Mmm! Bacon!” and wait for him or her to cook to death, hoping the owner might share some of their carcass with you? Would you look away and walk by as if nothing was happening? Perhaps. Or would you try the doors to see if you could open one and help the pig? Would you look around for the owner of the car, perhaps going inside nearby stores and asking for help? Or would you think about or even go as far as breaking a window to get the pig to safety? After all, there’s a life at stake and you have the ability to save that life.
Pigs are not “bacon” any more than calves are “veal” or chickens are “drumsticks” or any other animal is only the parts humans deem useful – they are sentient beings and that fact does not change simply because some want to believe and behave as if the converse were true. When societal “norms” allow for the devaluing of non-human animals to the point of no longer being viewed, treated and respected as living, breathing, feeling individuals deserving of autonomous lives free from being used as “things” merely to satisfy the fleeting pleasures of humans, an injustice is being perpetrated.
By analogy, women are not “pieces of ass” – they are individuals and that fact does not change simply because some want to believe and behave as if the converse were true. When societal “norms” allow for the devaluing of women to the point of no longer being viewed, treated and respected as living, breathing, feeling individuals deserving of autonomous lives free from being used merely to satisfy the fleeting pleasures of men, an injustice is being perpetrated.
If you agree that it is sexist and therefore wrong to objectify women (or children, or any humans) by using their bodies for one’s own purposes and find such behavior distasteful and unacceptable, then it only makes sense to agree that it is speciesist and therefore wrong to objectify non-humans by using their bodies, secretions and offspring for one’s own purposes and to find such behavior distasteful and unacceptable. The fact that there is a difference in speciesdoes not indicate a difference in moral value between the two groups as they both share (at least) the common trait of sentience.
If one opposes at least one form of violent oppression because it is morally wrong, then to live in integrity requires opposing all forms of violent oppression because they are all morally wrong no matter who the victim is, regardless of (in no particular order) race, gender identity, species, sexual preference, age, physical ability or any other arbitrary criterion.
Another Scenario – What Would You Do?
If you saw an obviously distressed screaming human baby locked in a car on a hot day, what would you do? For most (if not all) people, there is only one answer – you do anything you’re able to do to help. If your answer was not as clear and immediate in those scenarios in which the species of the trapped individual was other than human, perhaps it’s time to deeply explore how you have been indoctrinated into a society built on speciesism, blinded, misguided and conditioned by a lifetime of daily exposure to a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have humans believe all other species are subordinate to our own and exist merely to satisfy our pleasure, comfort and convenience… and then explore how living vegan dismantles speciesism, realigns your morals and behaviors and restores your personal integrity.
One Final Scenario – What WILL You Do?
Knowing that living non-vegan means you are directly complicit in the violent oppression, enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human animals – and that living vegan is the simplest and most immediate action you can take to end that oppression (and your part in it)… what will you do?
Here is what I hope you will do –
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
I’ve heard versions of this comment frequently from vegans who believe in supporting single-issue animal welfare campaigns because they’re “the best we can do” and I feel compelled to respond.
I respectfully disagree with this shortsighted belief. There was a time when the world was believed to be flat, humans couldn’t imagine traveling thousands of miles in a few hours inside a flying tube (with beverage service and bathrooms!!!), women were never going to have the right to vote and whites people were always going to enslave people of color. There have been manned space flights, lunar landings and interplanetary exploration, all of which were unthinkable and deemed “impossible” not so long ago, all of which became reality* because people believed they could achieve them and worked to see those achievements come to fruition (*and all of which some would argue never happened at all, but that is another conversation entirely). Complacency, laziness and blind acceptance of the unacceptable impede real progress. Since we are always standing on the edge of our own understanding, both individually and collectively, it is imperative that we look toward what canbe and move forward rather than stare back at what has been and remain stuck where we are, or worse, slip backward down a slippery slope of regression. To simply settle for picking low-hanging fruit is indicative of a poverty of ambition on the part of vegan advocates, and such a position is, or at least should be, unacceptable in any social justice movement – especially one where billions of lives are at stake every year.
Even if one cannot be shaken from the belief that the world will never become vegan, how does that give us permission, as individuals or as a collective, to continue engaging in and supporting a worldwide system of violent exploitation and oppression of the most vulnerable group in our global society – non-human individuals? The simple answer is, it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that humans will always rape and murder other humans as they have since the beginning of time, but it’s not likely that anyone is going to advocate for “gentler” rape and “kinder” murder based on that terrible likelihood. When we believe a behavior is morally unjustifiable, we advocate for the abolitionof said behavior rather than “nicer” ways to continue propagating the same injustice. To do the latter only helps the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the injustice feel comfortable about continuing to reap the benefits of their oppression-of-choice.
Know this – any use of animals that has been given the feel-good label “humane” and involves any form of enslavement resulting in the taking of those animals’ lives has been purposely misidentified through a marketing device designed to separate consumers from their money and their morals. It is, in short, a lie. Even the kindest slave owner was still a slave owner, and slavery is always wrong. The only people who argue to the contrary are those who personally benefit from slavery. One doesn’t advocate for “better” slavery conditions – one advocates and fights to end slavery because, as a saying dating back to at least the 1800s goes, there’s no right way to do the wrong thing.
How Can We Create A Vegan World?
When we engage in clear, consistent, unequivocal abolitionist vegan education either one-on-one or in groups, we work toward dismantling speciesism and this gives us a blueprint for treating all individuals as we ourselves wish to be treated – with fairness, justice and the right to live as autonomous individuals, free from the enslavement of more powerful “others”. This is far more effective than engaging in campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own interests through endless self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while purposefully ignoring the larger source of the blaze that’s been burning the world to the ground for centuries. Consider this:
“Because we so often hear rhetoric and hyperbole about ‘Success!’ and ‘Victory!’ in connection with the treatment of our nonhuman victims, assumptions are made that animal use is ‘not that bad’ and that those who promote a complete end to it are exaggerating, ‘extreme’ or ‘crazy’.
When we allow ourselves to think this way, we are playing directly into the hands of the death industries and the many ‘welfare’ groups who make money from causing, promoting and endorsing harm and bloodshed. We are allowing ourselves to be lulled into believing that ‘everything is regulated’, ‘it’s all done humanely’, ‘Think of all our victories!’, ‘Donate to us and then carry on as usual’.
As a consequence, we feel much better about our use and consumption of sentient individuals as commodities and resources; we feel comforted by the soothing assurances that our donations mean we’re doing all we can; any uneasy conscience we might have had is soothed and quieted.” – excerpted from There’s an Elephant in the Room blog(click the blue link to read the rest of this compelling essay)
Sadly, when we work to reduce animal suffering rather than eliminate animal use (as is the trademark of the animal welfare/protection organizations), there’s an unintended consequence — non-vegans (make no mistake, this includes vegetarians) keep eating, wearing and otherwise using animals, only now with clearer consciences and no reason nor desire to ever stop. And why would they stop when, rather than being honestly depicted as the injustices they are, the atrocities of animal agriculture are presented as “humane” and the animal victims are presented as “happy”?
Welfarism = Enabling
I once heard a recovering alcoholic share their life story, stating that prior to getting sober, their drinking years had progressed through three stages:
Stage I – Fun
Stage II – Fun with consequences
Stage III – Nothing but consequences
If one wants their alcoholic loved one to stop drinking, it is counterproductive to clear a safe path for them to continue their self-destructive behavior by easing the pain and emotional discomfort associated with their drinking and giving them a soft place to land. Why would any alcoholic stop drinking when it feels good and has no negative consequences? The net result of such enabling: a continuation of and increase in the alcoholic’s behaviors.
Animal welfarism is enabling on a grand scale, and the welfare/protection corporations are making true unequivocal vegan advocacy very difficult through their intentional dishonesty, distortions and deceptiveness. Abolitionismis the intervention that a) challenges the complacency of vegans who align themselves with welfarism and b) exposes the blatant hypocrisy of the welfare corporations who lie to everyone, vegan and non-vegan alike.
“Vegans Think They’re So Special!”
Living vegan doesn’t make one “special” – it simply means that those who live vegan don’t pay people to hurt and kill others for their pleasure, comfort and convenience… the same way most non-vegans live in every instance imaginable except where the victims are other than human. When that’s the case, speciesismbecomes the default position and non-vegans do a complete about-face by turning their backs on their moral and ethical principles, all for the sake of self-satisfaction.
You Say You Want A Vegan Revolution?
If we want a vegan world, we need to work for it, and here is the blueprint:
The sooner vegans commit to engaging in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education with the non-vegan public, the sooner we can create what we all want – a vegan world. Consider some simple math – right now there are millions of vegans worldwide, and if those millions would educate just one other person to embrace veganism who would then educate just one other person to embrace veganism, the number of vegans would grow exponentially and a critical tipping point would be reached.
[the purple links in the paragraph above lead to downloadable vegan literature that presents an unequivocal view of veganism and can be used free of charge for tabling, discussion groups, events and other educational opportunities]
I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
Can someone explain to me why The Humane League, an animal welfare group that received a ONE MILLION DOLLAR GRANT a year ago, needs to put on a $50.00-per-ticket fundraising gala 20 miles from my house today??? Have they fallen on hard times already? Did they accidentally drop the million down a sewer or leave it on a bus? They certainly didn’t spend it on educating people about veganism, as that would conflict with their stated speciesist purposes (more about that below).
With any luck and by keeping our windows closed, we won’t be able to smell the plant-based hypocrisy wafting in from Ft. Lauderdale this evening.
[WARNING: this essay contains pockets of sarcasm (from the Greek word sarkasmos, meaning “to tear flesh” – not very vegan of me, I know, but it’s metaphorical so I’m going with it). If my frustration with animal welfare organizations’ humaneshit were radioactive, I’d be melting Geiger counters right now]
Marketing – lies designed to separate you from your money and your morals
One would think that an organization with at least a cool million in the bank and that ended 2014 with $968,246.00 in total revenue might throw a sell-out-bration on their own dime rather than acting like they need a handout…
…but that would presuppose that such a speciesist organization (they focus exclusively on farm animals to the exclusion of other exploited non-humans) is interested in more than self-branding and maximizing donations by working extremely hard to convince donors and the world at large that they are “making a difference for animals” through their “online and community-based vegetarianadvocacy programs”. Sadly, it’s a very profitable farce that moves us no closer to ending animal use as their campaigns stay stuck in the same old “cage-free-by-2025-but-still-exploited (-and-ultimately-killed) -every-day-until-and-after-that-time” mentality. That’s what they call a “victory” – eight years from now, chickens will still be exploited and killed… but at least they won’t be in cages when it happens. Since the average life span of egg-laying hens is 2 years, that “victory” will happen 4 generations of chickens from now. Another shining “victory” from The Humane League was convincing United Egg Producers to utilize “in-ovo egg sexing technology” to “enable the termination of all male-identified eggs from the hatchery, preventing them from ever being hatched and culled”, as male chicks are useless (read: profitless) by-products of the egg industry and are currently either ground alive or left to suffocate to death on the first – and only – day of their lives. Unless I’m missing something, this sounds perversely like chicken abortions. And unless I’m missing something else, it seems that The Humane League is overlooking the fact that if it’s wrong to kill male chickens, it’s equally wrong to kill female chickens, and yet their campaigns regarding those individuals seem to end at ensuring cage-free executions.
I’m baffled that so many people are either unwilling or unable to see that when a group such as this (and all the other large animal welfare corporations) partners with institutional animal exploiters to create and promote “humane” ways to use animals rather than actually working to end animal use, that is still a very clear and direct promotion of animal use… and that use is funded by donations from galas like the one here on February 4 and others around the country.
Denial of reality never changes reality. It only leads to a state of willful ignorance.
Can You Say “Conflict of Interest”?
Some would undoubtedly point out that The Humane League was “Named ‘Top Charity ‘by Animal Charity Evaluators 4 years in a row”, however it is a dubious honor for several reasons, most notably due to the fact that THL’s founder, Nick Cooney, “…has been the main person responsible for producing the pseudoscientific research that ACE relies upon to justify its belief in the effectiveness of interventions, which is the allegedly objective basis for its unfailingly consistent recommendation of Cooney’s charities [which include the speciesist and profit-motivated Mercy for Animals and the Good Food Institute– Editor]; and moreover, when Cooney became involved in a new charity lacking any track record, ACE suspended its normal criteria in order to recommend it. At the very minimum, Cooney’s thinking has had a great degree of influence on ACE’s thinking.” – Re-evaluating Animal Charity Evaluators, 12/22/2016
So, this means this “top charity” was chosen by ACE based on criteria designed and presented by… [drum roll] …the head of the charity they’re supposedly “objectively evaluating”??? The stacking of that deck is higher than H$U$ President and CEO Wayne Pacelle’s salary (a paltry $392,107 in 2015).
The sad and certain bottom line is this:
A donation to The Humane League (or any other animal “welfare”/”protection” organization) represents direct financial complicity in institutionalized animal exploitation. Tragically, through clever and deceptive marketing, animal welfare organizations have convinced vegans to fund the exact injustices they stridently oppose. I speak from personal experience because I fell victim to this trap for years and when I learned the truth, I felt betrayed. What I know today is that with awareness comes responsibility and that, once aware, continuing down the same path makes me not a victim but a volunteer.
I can only imagine the good The Humane League could do if they were to focus their time, energy, wealth and considerable marketing acumen on engaging in clear, consistent vegan education, but to do so would risk alienating their non-vegan donor base so it’s simply not an option.
I see that the gala has sold out. That makes sense since The Humane League has already sold out the animals.
I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites. The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: