“Vague-an” Outreach? Never. Abolitionism? Always.

I have come to believe that, when it comes to veganism and animal rights, anything less than clear, consistent abolitionist vegan education fails to carry the message I find more important than any other – that living vegan is the simple action every individual can take right now to take a powerful and unequivocal stand against society’s continued commodification and exploitation of individuals of other species.  To take a welfarist approach – engaging in single-issue campaigns designed to lessen and regulate abuse rather than abolishing use – is, in my opinion, misguided and counter-productive to the achievement of the goal everyone in our “movement” purports to share: the end of animal exploitation.

Now, I know this can be an unpopular position to take amongst vegans and other animal rights activists, but try to bear with me for a few minutes if you will. Since this makes sense to me, it stands to reason it may make sense to some of you as well.
litter-ature-animal-adoption-fair-mfa-fresh
Mercy For Animals litter-ature at an animal adoption event

Prior to having this realization and still firmly believing I was doing what was best for the animals, I engaged in a host of 
animal welfare activities, including but not limited to: creating and signing petitions, attending demonstrations and protests, writing letters to editors, publishing articles and, perhaps most of all, public leafleting (or, as I now think of it, public littering.  As comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “When someone hands you a flyer, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Here, you throw this away’.”).  
 
I’d like to discuss one particular piece of welfarist litter-ature: 
Compassionate Choices from Veg(etari)an Outreach (to understand why even the title is problematic and misleading, please read Colin Wright’s enlightening essay Why We Need Less Compassion in the Animal Rights Movement And Why Decreasing Cruelty and Suffering Is Not the Point of Veganism).

Lest anyone come under (or continue under) the false belief that this intentionally confusing and speciesist booklet espouses veganism or animal “rights”, please have a look at why that couldn’t be further from the truth. Feel free to read along here: 
http://www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf
  • On page 2, the first page of text: “Of course, the choice is up to you. Whether you decide to cut out meat entirely or just cut back, you can make a big difference for the world at every meal.” – presenting people with the “choice” to cut out/cut back on meat reinforces the speciesist ideas that a) exploiting animals is a personal choice (a choice ceases to be personal when said choice involves a victim, and the choice to exploit animals involves countless victims), so whatever one chooses is ok and b) there is a morally relevant difference between meat and other products of animal exploitation, which there is not.
  • Page 3: “When I learned how the animals suffer, I went vegetarian.” – why is “Vegan” Outreach promoting vegetarianism? Either they don’t understand the difference between the two or it’s time for a name change.
  • Page 4 contains a quote from a representative of the Humane Society of the United States, a self-proclaimed animal “protection” organization that sponsors events such as Hoofin’ It, which involved the slaughter and consumption of various species of animals. As the Denver Post reported, “A different hooved (sic) animal will be showcased each evening.”   Yes, this is the same H$U$ that also offered coupons for bacon on their Facebook page:

    hsus-bacon-coupon-2015

  • Page 6: “when people eat less meat, producers raise and kill fewer animals.” – again, they are promoting “less meat”, which is far different than seeking an end to animal exploitation.
  • Page 9: “it became an easy choice for me. If you choose to educate yourself, it’ll be an easy choice for you, too.” (a quote from Ellen DeGeneres, who is not vegan based on her self-reports that she eats secretions from “happy” chickens) – what is this vague “it”? Is “Vegan” Outreach afraid to use the word vegan in its own publication for fear that they may alienate their largely non-vegan donor base and lose their donor dollars (see below for more information on that topic)?
  • Page 10: “eating vegetarian or vegan” – even when they do use the word vegan, it is relegated to a subordinate position behind vegetarian. Perhaps they should rename the booklet “Vegan: The Second Best Choice”.
  • Also on page 10: “Many elite athletes and bodybuilders are vegetarian or vegan.” – again, vegan is the second choice behind vegetarian and offered as one of two dietary options, rather than as a moral obligation.
  • Page 11: “plant-based diet(s)” is mentioned twice, furthering the common misinterpretation of veganism as a dietary choice. Once again, meat is singled out: “…when I stopped eating meat” leaves dairy, eggs, honey and other products of animal exploitation out of the conversation and essentially speaks of a vegetarian diet as opposed to veganism.
  • Page 12: “Ask your server what dishes they could prepare for you without meat”, “Ask to substitute vegetables for meat in your favorite dishes” and “Order a few side dishes if there are no meatless meals” are among the list of restaurant ordering tips. Nowhere are dairy, eggs, honey or other animal products and secretions mentioned.
  • Page 15: The header reads “IT’S YOUR CHOICE” (see previous paragraph discussing page 2 and “choice”).
  • Also on page 15: Promotion of a “gradual transition to eliminating animal products” based on “research” is coupled with the speciesist idea that one should start by eliminating one type of animal (chickens) from one’s diet before eliminating others (cows and pigs) based on the idea that “many more chickens are killed to produce the same amount of meat as from cows and pigs”.  The reasoning behind this – to “prevent more animal suffering”.  This reinforces the notion that we should be concerned primarily about reducing suffering rather than ending the unjust use of non-human animals entirely, missing the point that veganism is about ending animal use, not reducing animal abuse.  Having met many people who have been “vegetarian” (by their own widely varying definitions) for anywhere from 20 to 40 years, it would seem that a “gradual transition” might keep one complicit in animal exploitation – and therefore directly responsible for continued animal suffering and death – for up to 4 decades, whereas a person who starts living vegan ends their complicity that day.

It is shameful that an organization calling itself “Vegan” Outreach would shy away from asking people to live vegan in a clear and coherent manner.  Instead, their literature reinforces the ideas that eating vegetarian is enough and that slavery is a personal choice.  If one’s goal is to convince people to take a strong and unyielding moral stance against the exploitation of vulnerable sentient individuals, it’s hardly a good idea to cater to and enable the inherent laziness and selfishness of the general public in an effort to achieve that goal.  Such a strategy is in itself lazy and disingenuous and simply will not work.  Conversely, if one’s goal is to maintain the status quo so the donor dollars keep rolling in, this strategy should be wildly successful – and it is: according to the most recent data available on Pro Publica’s Nonprofit Explorer, Vegan Outreach received contributions of $891,216 in 2013.  That’s nearly a million dollars that could have been used to engage the public in unequivocal vegan education… but was not.
In total, the word “vegetarian” appears 6 times in Compassionate Choices while “vegan” appears 11 times – twice as subordinate to vegetarian, four times on its own and five times simply in the name of the organization and a website they run (this is Marketing 101).  As a committed abolitionist vegan, not only will I never hand a Compassionate Choices (or other Vague-an Outreach) booklet to another human being again in my life, but I would rather not hold such a piece of purposeful disinformation in my own hand ever again… unless on my way to a shredder.
The literature I believe in and give to others today when I engage with them in one-on-one vegan education carries an unequivocal vegan message and can be found here:
 
If you are not vegan, please consider going vegan and staying there.  It is the single best decision I ever made in my life, and my only regret is that I didn’t understand enough to make that decision sooner.  If you are vegan, please eschew participation with and support for animal welfare organizations and campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own ends through self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while ignoring the larger source of the fire.  Instead, please engage in clear, consistent, unequivocal vegan education that promotes veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.
As always, thank you for listening.
Peacelovevegan,
Keith Berger

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