Veganism or Nothing?

In response to my previous post, where I pointed out that “happy” slavery is still slavery, one person responded by saying that my argument was kind of like throwing a slice of cake on the ground, because you can’t have the whole cake. This person missed the point of my post, which was that animal welfare isn’t even a meager slice of the cake – it’s more like throwing all of your flour and soy butter into the toilet and then shitting all over it; it’s a guarantee that nothing even remotely resembling a cake will ever come to fruition. But the gist of the argument – that abolitionism is “all of nothing” – is brought up often enough that I thought I’d address it.

There are two issues here. The first one being: what do we actually owe other animals? As I’ve argued before, veganism is the only thing that makes sense if you agree (and I’ve never met anyone who disagreed) that it’s wrong to frivolously kill or harm nonhumans. That is, since we don’t need to eat, wear, or use other animals to live healthy lives, we should stop doing it. None of the reasons why people actually use animal products – convenience, habit, tradition – have anything to do with necessity.

The 9 (ok, 200) or so people who follow this blog regularly are probably getting tired of this point by now; I drive home the veganism as a minimum!!1! point in pretty much of all of my posts. But I do it for a reason: because it’s a simple point that needs to be said, even though it rarely is. Virtually all of the animal groups – PeTA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion over Killing, etc – talk about veganism as just one of the many things that people can do for nonhumans. So if you go vegan, cool; if you eat cage-free eggs twice a week, also cool.

For instance, check out this breath-taking quote from Matt Ball of “Vegan” Outreach:

This may sound odd coming from a cofounder of Vegan Outreach, but it doesn’t matter what label anyone places on me, or what label anyone places on themselves. For example, if Peter Singer (author of Animal  Liberation) were to eat a dish that contains dairy when at a colleague’s house… should our limited time and resources go to judging / labeling [him]?

I dunno, man. If a white anti-racism activist was caught harassing people of colour and yelling racist epithets at them, should the limited time and resources of anti-racist activists go towards calling him out on his hypocrisy? Or should we just let it slide because racial equality can mean whatever people want it to mean?

If you can see the need for consistency in other contexts (say, racial equality), then it’s speciesist not to apply the same consistency for nonhumans. If animal use is in fact unnecessary and cruel by definition, then veganism can’t be one of many options available to people, on par with flexitarianism and other things; it needs to be the baseline for the animal rights movement. Talking about how you believe in animal rights while using animal products now and again is kind of like saying you believe in racial equality, only to make racist jokes a few times a week. It doesn’t work.

And that brings me to my next point: if veganism (abolition of all animal use) is where we want to get to, and we’re in a situation where animal use is as common as dirt, then we need to be absolutely, crystal clear about what our goal is. Anything else is a waste of time.

There are some vegans who say that we shouldn’t openly and unapologetically talk about veganism, because it’s “too radical” and will scare people off. Umm… what the elitism? You understood it just fine, didn’t you? So what makes you think other people won’t?

The problem with promoting vegetarianism, flexitarianism, “happy” meat and other (supposed) “stepping stones” towards veganism is that these things don’t work. Instead, it makes animal rights activists look like we’re constantly moving the goal posts, muddying the waters, lying to the public about what we want and what we believe in. It certainly doesn’t move people towards the position that veganism is a moral necessity.

For the record, there is no other social justice movement in the world that knowingly hides its own goals the way the animal rights movement does. There are social justice movements in which people promote different things because they believe in different things – liberal feminists often talk about abortion as a personal choice, while radical feminists are more inclined to talk about “reproductive justice” and to demand socialized (free) abortion on demand. But that’s because they disagree about what the problem is and what needs to be done about it. When feminists, or any other social justice group, agree that a particular thing is always wrong (e.g. rape), they will never promote a “humane” version of it. They will always make it clear that rape (or whatever it is that they’re campaigning against) is wrong and that it should never be tolerated.

The animal protection movement has now been peddling confusing, self-defeating nonsense for 30 years, and we have nothing to show for it. Animal use is rapidly increasing in both absolute and per-capita (per-person) terms. Whatever the potential downfalls of promoting veganism loudly and proudly (something that we’ve never done with any real consistency), we know for a fact that animal welfare doesn’t work. It wouldn’t hurt to give veganism a chance.

And, by the way, if someone can’t or won’t go vegan overnight, we can encourage them to take “baby steps” in the form of gradually increasing their consumption of vegan foods until they hit 100%. They could start with vegan breakfasts, then going vegan for lunch, then vegan for dinner, and then snacks. Or they could start by going vegan one day a week, then two days, three days, and so on. But our message, as animal advocates, should always clear.

It’s speciesist, and elitist towards other humans, to do otherwise.

11 thoughts on “Veganism or Nothing?

  1. Within animal rights groups, especially those like Vegan Outreach want all animal agriculture: for food, leather, fur, enzymes, etc to be over.
    However, as it turns out: the humane movement is good even from an abolitionist perspecitive. Humane changes do two things: make meat more expensive and give coverage to the humane movement. The increased expense decreases the number of animals in the process. News coverage of humane movement is followed by DECREASES in people eating meat. As it turns out, making people concede the point that animals are worth some consideration is worth a lot.
    I suggest reading this article.
    The question is not “Is humane meat a good end goal?” but “Is humane meat a solid stepping stone towards less meat?”
    The answer to the first is no, the second is yes.

    • Actually, animal welfare makes it **cheaper** to raise and kill animals, not more expensive. We’ve had 200 years of animal welfare laws and we now kill/torture more animals, in more brutal ways than ever before. Animal welfare has a lot to answer for.

      And if the humane bullshit really lead to a decrease in consumption, why are *so* many people eating meat and drinking milk again now that they’ve found products that they think are humane (when they were vegetarians/vegans before)?

      “Happy” slavery is the opiate of the masses.

  2. It´s speciesist to say “animals” to mean nonhuman animals. We humans are animals. And I really can´t understand why many vegans use that kind of speciesist, wrong, language.

    • Luis – I agree with you, and I apologize for not being consistent in my language. I use terms like “nonhuman animals” and “other animals” a lot, but it gets redundant – the people reading this know what I’m talking about.

      • Well, if we want to avoid redundancy, it´s better, in my view, saying “nonhumans” to refer to other animals, when we all know that “nonhumans” mean “nonhuman sentient beings”. But saying “animals” (to mean nonhuman animals) is speciesist and pepetuates speciesist prejudice. If speciesism is morally wrong is always wrong.

        Besides, I think talking about “animal use” is also wrong. Because using human animals, with their consent and respecting their rights, is morally acceptable. But using nonhumans is always wrong, not only because 99% of that kind of use causes suffering, harm or death to them, but due to they can´t give informed and explicit consent. Using other sentient beings without their explicit consent is always wrong, no matter the purpose.

      • Just out of curiosity, what do you think of the way Francione sometimes uses “animals” instead of “nonhumans”?

        I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying and I’ve changed a few phrases in this post (and will be more careful in future posts), but it still seems as though there are times when it would be awkward to use “nonhumans”. For example, “nonuman groups” sounds more confusing than “animal groups”, etc. But maybe I’m just too used to speciesist language for my own good?

      • My response to your first question is easily deducible from my previous comments. No exception with anyone. In fact, along time ago I personally communicated with Francione about this mistake (and anothers), but his only response was ignored, scorned and blocked me in social networks (twitter, facebook). Very sad. I admire his work, but pefection doesn´t exist and admiration doesn´t make me blind to mistakes.

        In my view, as vegan (rights-based) activists, our goal is to erradicate the speciesist moral paradigm of our society, therefore we must exclude speciesism from our minds and actions, not tolerate it.

        Thank you very much for considering my words.

  3. In reply to the guy from “Vegan Outreach”, I wouldn’t waste my energy singling out Peter Singer for criticism. I would say ANYONE who deliberately eats dairy products at someone else’s home has completely failed to understand anything about liberation for animals, and thus that the person is spreading an inaccurate message.

    Peter Singer lost the plot a long time ago. His vocal and unapologetic defence of killing disabled babies (after birth) and vague support for bestiality, as well as his nonsense about “The Paris Exception” have ruined any credibility he had. All he needs to do is to team up with PETA to get Paris Hilton (in a bikini) to make a commercial explaining “The Paris Exception”.

      • I have just recently found your blog. Very inspiring so far. I’m a mechanic and I’m so sick of hearing the same racist, sexist, closed minded crap day after day. I don’t think any of them have given a second thought to the murder they are condoning by eating flesh day after day. I’m trying to open their eyes but it’s very hard. It’s refreshing to read intelligent writing like this after a day of listening to moronic chatter at work. Thank you.

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