As the title “Why Vegans Criticise Vegans for Promoting Veganism” suggests, it would appear we advocates are confused and rendering ourselves ineffectual. If I didn’t know better I would think that there were agent provocateurs amongst us, but no, it’s really a simple matter of speciesism…. and in some cases career advancement.
On various social media sites there appears to be much confusion amongst those who claim to be vegan over what veganism and being vegan entails. The most obvious confusion amongst those who claim to be vegan is the mistaken belief that veganism is a diet, and is a matter of personal choice. Conflation of vegetarianism and veganism is common. Advocates also seem to be under the impression that it’s morally acceptable to promote “humane” use and “humane” slaughter of animals and single issue campaigns (SICs) as part of vegan advocacy. It is interesting to note that amongst proponents of these ideas, there is a general intentional avoidance of the words “vegan” and “veganism”, and in the case of large animal organisations this is done so as not to challenge their predominantly non-vegan donor base. There is also increasingly an appropriation of the term “abolitionist“, just as the term “animal rights” was appropriated.
These are ongoing problems so I thought I would share some thoughts. I invite you to listen to the podcast here.
Claiming We are Vegan but Continuing to Use Animals.
There are some of us who claim to be vegan, and think we can be vegan and continue to use animals in our personal lives with the excuse that we treat them “nicely”. Where have I heard before that it’s morally justifiable to use animals as long as it is “humane”? Oh yes! Large animal organisations consistently promote this notion to the public. And because large animal organisations also conflate vegetarianism and veganism, there is a common misconception among advocates who support them that veganism is a diet. This leads some to believe that being vegan means as long as they aren’t eating animal products, then they can still use animals. But veganism is much more than a diet, it’s an ethical position which rejects using non-human animals for food (dairy, eggs, flesh, honey etc), clothing (wool, leather, fur, silk etc), entertainment (zoos, animal circuses, petting zoos etc), or other reasons.
We need to be clear. If we are vegan, we cannot pick and choose and redefine veganism based on our personal choice of how we like to exploit animals.
It is confused thinking to say:
Well I like horse-riding, so that’s OK because I treat my horse “nicely”.
I love honey and I buy it from a small farm where the bees are treated well, therefore that makes it OK.
Well my uncle keeps some backyard hens, and he “allows” them to live out their natural lives. He looks after them well and he thinks of them as “pets”. He finds good homes for the male chicks, so therefore I eat their eggs.
I have a rescued sheep in the back paddock. She produces a lot of wool and I have to shear her anyway, so I may as well collect the wool, spin it, and use it for clothing.
No. It doesn’t work like that.
First it assumes that animals’ lives, their body parts and secretions are ours to use. Second, no matter how “nicely” we may use animals, it doesn’t make it morally justifiable.
Claims that Single Issue Campaigns should be included in Vegan advocacy
I’m not sure why anyone thinks it is necessary or logical to focus on and promote the idea that one form of animal use as worse than another, or that one species is more important than another. Are we not vegans? Isn’t it morally consistent that if we reject animal exploitation, then we should reject it all equally? Doesn’t being vegan mean we recognise that all non-humans are equally morally important? Apparently, not according to some. So why are we doing this? First, let’s remember that 99% of our use of animals is for food (which is “unnecessary” since we can meet all our nutrition needs from plants [and non-animal sources]). That’s 180 million plus *land* non-humans who are tortured and murdered every day mostly for food and many more aquatic non-human animals suffer the same fate. Something to consider is that if we — the non-vegan public — care about what’s on our plate – something we sit down to 3 times a day – we will care about the small percentage of animals used for entertainment, clothing, animal experimentation, and other reasons.
Single Issue Campaigns: Illogical, Speciesist and Futile
Despite decades of SICs targeting those who wear fur (mostly women) and targeting business that sell fur, statistics show that fur sales have been increasing globally. According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF), fur sales have been increasing year on year since 1998, reaching £10.3bn for last year alone. Unfortunately anyone who may have stopped wearing fur due to a fur campaign is most likely still eating and wearing animal products including “leather”, silk, wool etc and is still using animals in general. We need to understand that using leather, wool, silk etc are equally as bad as wearing fur and involve at least as much suffering and death. Leather is not just a by–product of the flesh industry. Cows and calves are not only killed for their flesh, they are killed specifically for their skin as well. Due to the fast pace of the “production” lines, cows and calves are often conscious at the “hide-ripping” machine. Why do so many people who stop wearing fur continue to eat, wear and use animals? Because large animal organisations and their supporters do not promote veganism, and instead make moral distinctions between different species and different forms of animal use.
One reason fur campaigns are so popular with large animal organisations is because animals used for fur are generally popular with the non-vegan public and viewed as “cute” and “exotic”. Asking the public not to wear fur from these animals is not much of a challenge to their personal behaviour, therefore fur is an easy target and a reliable source of donations. Think of all the hundreds of millions of dollars given by non-vegan donors over the years to large animal organisations which were spent on “vegan” celebrities and fur campaigns. How many unfortunate sexist and misogynist “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” soft porn ads have we been exposed to over the decades? Yet despite this, fur sales keep increasing! Imagine if all those millions of donors had been asked to go vegan and all those donations had been used to promote veganism only?
Despite decades of live export campaigns, many “cruelty” investigations, including a feature on ABC’s 7.30 Report, and despite millions of dollars in donations to large welfarist organisation, Animals Australia, by its non-vegan donor base, Australia’s live “cattle” exports to Indonesia are expected to increase by more than 70 per cent in 2014.
Lynn White, campaign director of Animals Australia was asked by ABC’s Landline (16th June, 2013) “Does Animals Australia have a policy of opposing the rearing of livestock for human consumption?” Lynn White responded “No, we certainly don’t“. Why do some advocates who claim to be vegan vehemently defend Animals Australia, “Humane Society of the United States”, RSPCA and others when they have each stated publicly they have no interest in ending animal exploitation and moreover, promote and peddle animal products for industry? They clearly do not have veganism as their moral baseline.
In a vegan society, there would be no legal fox hunting because nonhuman animals would be recognised as moral persons and not viewed as legal property. Hunting foxes would no longer be viewed as a form of entertainment. Fox fur (or any other nonhuman’s skin) would not be used in clothing, or any other apparel any more than a baby’s skin would be used for a purse. There would be no domesticated animals trapped in pastures, runs, or barns who need “protecting” from predators like foxes. How do we achieve a society where foxes and ALL animals are safe from being hunted and exploited? By promoting clear consistent veganism to the public.
In a non-vegan society, cows are viewed as mere economic commodities. There is evidence that cows infected badgers with bovine tuberculosis. Badgers are now vectors of the disease and are passing BT on to cows and because they can pass on this disease on to cows, this means farmers lose profits since they “have to” kill infected cows. Therefore badgers are viewed as “pests” by farmers. In a vegan society, there would be no badger “culling” because there would be no animal agriculture and no cows to “protect” from bovine tuberculosis. In other words, if cows were not property and if there was no animal agriculture, there would be no need to murder badgers. There’s literally millions upon millions of “wild” animals tortured, murdered and displaced each year so farmers can “protect” their “livestock”. How do we achieve a society where cows and badgers, foxes, coyotes, wolves, kangaroos, wombats, mountain lions, lions – and any other non-human who might threaten farmer’s profits – are safe from being hunted and being exploited? By promoting clear consistent veganism to the public.
Recently there has been a single issue campaign on ending the Western Australian shark “cull”. If society were vegan, we would not be decimating shark’s food supply, and in turn sharks would not be in need of frequenting swimming beaches in search of fish. If society were vegan, China and other countries would not be looking to Western Australia and other countries to supply them with shark fins for their “delicacy”, shark fin soup. If society were vegan, there would be no “fisheries” that need to be protected from sharks. How do we achieve a society where sharks (and all other nonhuman animals) are safe from being hunted and exploited for their body parts and for other uses? By promoting clear consistent veganism to the public..
Single Issue Campaigns, Hunters, “Poachers” and “Wildlife”
Interfering with hunters and “poachers” is a complete waste of time and resources. There would be no hunting or “poaching” if society were vegan and there were no demand for animal body parts or skins from gorillas, elephants (“poachers” recently poisoned a water hole which killed 80 elephants ), sharks, rhinos, tigers, bears, etc. There also would be no hunting or “poaching” if society no longer viewed non-human animals as “things” and resources, and no longer viewed murdering and imprisoning non-humans as entertainment. In other words, there would be no hunting of whales, dolphins, foxes, tigers, ducks, lions, elephants, rhinos, marlin, deer, sharks, moose, tigers, bears, wolves, etc, and no need to protest hunting and “poaching” if society were vegan. The non-vegan public create demand for animal products and animal use and they are our target for change, not hunters or industry who are meeting that demand.
There would be no KFC, McDonalds, animal circuses, zoos, animal “research” laboratories, puppy mills, fur farms, whaling or dolphin industries, tiger hunts, “poaching”, factory farming, bear baiting, bear-bile farms, canned hunting, trophy hunting, aerial wolf hunting, “organic” farms, gestation crates, live export, battery egg farms, “free range” farms, fur-seal industry, etc, if the public were vegan.
We are exploiting more animals in more horrific ways than ever before, despite two hundered-plus years of welfare and despite thousands and thousands of single issue campaigns. What does this tell us about single issue campaigns and welfare? That they’re not working. What does it tell us about large animal / “vegan” organisations that promote them and which do not have veganism as their moral baseline? That they’re confusing the public and are worse than useless. When are those who claim to be vegan going to understand this?
Promoting Anything Remotely Pro-Animal Instead of Veganism
Why do we promote anything remotely pro-animal instead of promoting veganism? Here’s a few questions we might like to consider.
Is it that we refuse to read anything that counters what we are already committed to? Is it because we support large animal organisations and therefore cannot bear anyone criticising them? Is it because we have been told by large animal organisations that this is the way it must be done and we are so used to not thinking for ourselves, we just do as we are told? Is it because we have been told we need to be pragmatic? Is it because we refuse to budge from our belief that political systems, capitalism or religion are responsible for animal exploitation (even though speciesism existed long before any of these religions or systems)? Is it because we are always told that the “enemy” is out there, instead of us looking at ourselves and what we are participating in? Is it because most of us can’t concentrate on anything longer than a tweet and are incapable of reading animal rights theory or a vegan blog which might challenge our current beliefs? Is it simply that we do not like being told that we might be wrong?
Vegan Education is Boring?
I heard someone once say once that promoting veganism only is boring. When did veganism become all about us? Is it all about our comfort zone, our advocacy social circles and whether or not we are entertained? What would we do on Saturday if we couldn’t hang out with our friends at our local KFC protest? What would we do if we couldn’t go down to the docks with our friends and visit the “Farley Mowat” or sit round with our vegan friends and watch “Whale Wars” and remember the time we met Captain Paul Watson? Do we enjoy yelling at hunters and trying to sabotage them? Is it exciting to don balaclavas and go out with fellow advocates at night and release hundreds of thousands of animals who, by the way, will probably starve to death and eventually be replaced. Do we feel like heroes entering factory farms and “exposing cruelty“? Why be bored when we can be rewarded for writing books about factory farms but neglect to mention that veganism is the way to abolish animal use. Why be bored when we can show a little skin, be sexy, get some notoriety, travel the world, create big expensive animal events for the purpose of peddling books and revitalising one’s career, or be a CEO of a large animal organisation and get a six figure salary and talk about “humane” use and puppy mills all the time? It’s exciting “going naked” for the animals. It’s exciting dressing in animal costumes and making people giggle, or throwing red paint onto women wearing fur coats and abusing them. (Interestingly we don’t see advocates hassling bikie gang members who wear leather jackets, do we? So there’s an element of misogyny in fur campaigns which usually targets women.) All of this on the backs of animals and not one mention of veganism.
If non-humans could tell us to just STOP because we are worse than useless, they would have done so quite some time ago.
Large Animal Organisations and Their Avoidance of Veganism
Large animal organisations have different (commercial) reasons for avoiding promoting veganism. One reason is because single issue campaigns are a never-ending source of donations. If they promoted veganism this would challenge their non-vegan donors and effect their organisation’s financial bottom line. It’s much better to mollycoddle non-vegan donors than to ask them to go vegan. Donors give over their money, eat “happy animal products”, and sleep easy at night knowing animals were used and murdered “humanely”. It’s consoling to know that we – the non-vegan public – are not the problem. Instead we are told “Factory farming is the problem! Industry is the problem! Slaughterhouses are the problem! Large animal experimentation labs are the problem!” They tell us “Feel good, non-vegan public! Give us your money and we will help animals. We have it all under control.” Large animal organisation are the industry’s monitor for animal “abuse”. They make sure that “non-abusive” murder can continue in our slaughterhouses!
One of many examples of moral confusion caused by large animal organisations was the criticism of Olympic skater Johnny Weir, who wore fur during his performances. Welfarist organisations – “Friends of Animals” and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) – criticised Mr. Weir’s fur use and ignored the fact that he wore leather and wool and ate animal products. Some members of the non-vegan public pointed out this moral inconsistency to large animal organisations, a sad indictment of the speciesism and lack of internal consistency of these organisations.
Suffice to say using single issue campaigns in advocacy is like trying to stomp out thousands of burning embers, while the raging forest fire of speciesism goes unabated.
We have to ask ourselves the question: If we claim to be vegan, why aren’t we promoting veganism? Why are we promoting anything remotely pro-animal and calling it “animal rights”? Why are we promoting anything other than veganism and treating the word “vegan” as if were a dirty word? I’ve already addressed a few reasons why large animal organisations do this, but the answer as to why those of us who claim we are vegan do not promote veganism may be quite simple.
Here’s a few thoughts.
Is it that many of us are afraid of a little social rejection because we’re being clear? Is it because many of us deep down do not believe that non-humans are our moral equals, which in turn effects our message? Is it because many of us deep down are speciesist and pessimistic and we cannot recognise it in ourselves? Is it because we want a “quick fix” because it makes us feel better? We talk about “compassion”, “mercy”, “loving animals”, “being kind”, and forget about justice and nonviolence. It fact, for many of us, we haven’t internalised the ethical position at all. In my experience some of the most vehement defenders of animal welfare “reform”/”humane” use, vegetarianism, and single issue campaigns have been those who claim to be vegan.
Veganism isn’t something we should simply *hope* people catch on to, because more often than not they don’t. The non-vegan public often default to welfare, or they fetishise certain species. Why? Because those of us who claim to be vegan do. Many advocates are promoting “humane” use and “happy animal products”, and they are fetishising certain species and making moral distinctions between different kinds of animal use. All the while those who are supposed to be our target audience are eating, wearing and using animals *every single day*. We tell them fur is bad, so they stop wearing fur or curse others for wearing fur and continue on eating, wearing and using animals. We tell them using ivory is bad so they make sure nothing contains ivory while they chew on their cheese-burger and wear their leather shoes and woollen coat to a zoo.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a single issue campaign which has a strong vegan message. Single issue campaigns are inherently problematic and speciesist. Why are we highlighting one form of use? Yes it’s good if people understand what is wrong with dairy, eggs, honey, etc, because most of our use of animals is for food. Explaining what is wrong with these products on occasion is good, but veganism is the umbrella which covers all forms of animal use. Since 99% of animals used are used for food, focusing on one species like whales, even though they are used for food, is an easy target. Most people don’t eat whales. Most people don’t eat dolphins. Most people “love” whales and dolphins. Even most governments “love” whales because the “whale watching” industry pays a lot of taxes to government. That’s why the Australian government has an interest in “protecting” whales. It’s not that they think whales deserve moral consideration. No. “Protecting” whales means profit. The Australian government lets the speciesist organisation “Sea Shepherd” – do their job for them. For those who are not familiar, Sea Shepherd has stated they are an environmental organisation, not a vegan organisation and Captain Watson has stated publicly that whales suffer more than chickens. Despite this, surprisingly, vegans give millions and millions of dollars in donations to Sea Shepherd each year so crew members can play pirate on the high seas. But that’s another topic for another time.
It is an unfortunate fact that many of us who claim to be vegan are speciesist. Most of us have come to advocacy by way of large speciesist animal organisations that promote “humane” use of animals. As I mentioned earlier, there were members claiming to be vegan on LiveVegan recently and defending their own private use of animals. Many of these same vegans (usually those who support large animal organisations) criticise promoting veganism as “extreme”, or criticise promoting veganism only as “absolutist” or “purist”. On a regular basis I hear vegans criticising vegans for promoting veganism only. Included in those who criticise vegans for promoting veganism only is Jon Camp the director of “Vegan” Outreach. In fact on Twitter recently, the director of “Vegan” Outreach criticised me for not promoting “humane” use of animals and only promoting veganism.
Groups who promote speciesism but claim to be abolitionists
And then we have about three groups who have formed in recent times (2013/2014) that claim to be abolitionist. The 1st one states that they are the oldest abolitionist organisation despite being aware that at least one much older and well-established abolitionist organisation exists. Then, despite the “abolitionist approach” which they embrace which clearly rejects all forms of discrimination in its theory, this “abolitionist” organisation states we need to put human rights issues first and foremost and THEN after we have addressed them, we can advocate for nonhuman animal rights when these issues of racism, sexism etc are addressed. It would seem we would never get to address nonhuman animal rights if we were to follow this idea. And unfortunately they use issues like intersectionality in dishonest and confused ways as a means of making ad honimem attacks on abolitionists who they deem represent “white” patriarchy.
The 2nd group who claims to be abolitionist formed more recently. They perform flash mob-style protests (sans the promotion of veganism) in mostly business establishments to the chagrin of the business owner. This group’s leader promotes speciesist single issue campaigns and states we need to “build bridges” with welfarists like Bruce Friedrich (PeTA, Farm Forward and Farm Sanctuary) who promotes “happy” animal slavery/”happy” animal products.
The 3rd group that claims to be abolitionist also is similar to the 2nd group and performs flash mob-style protests (which also does not promote veganism) and these protests take place mostly in business establishments. Evidence would suggest that all most of these protests manage to achieve is to annoy the business owner and confuse or annoy the customers who are sometimes eating animal products. Neither the 2nd or 3rd group promotes veganism in any of these protests and the 3rd group’s website claims “veganism is not enough”; that vegan education is not activism, that veganism is all about social gatherings, “eating kale” and potlucks. Certainly not something I have ever experienced in the abolitionist movement.
When you consider it all, is it any wonder vegans are confused?
Finally, here’s a good gauge of whether an activity is speciesist and non-vegan. Consider the activity while replacing non-human with human and it will give us some indication.
If you’re vegan, please promote veganism only, and if you’re not vegan, please go vegan. It will one of the best decisions you will make in your life. It’s easier than you think. Please start here and here .
For further information:
To illustrate the extent of confusion, check out this blog post on the unfortunate direction “The Vegan Society” has headed.
Here are some excellent blog posts by Gentle World a vegan intentional community
What’s wrong with wool?
Cage Free Eggs: Not free enough
What’s wrong with Leather?
Why vegans don’t use silk
Why vegans don’t eat honey
What is pain to fish?
What is wrong with backyard eggs?
How are down feathers collected
10 Myths of New Welfarism
And an excellent post by UVE archives “What’s wrong with vegetarianism?”
Discussion on LiveVegan about the moral compartmentalisation concerning the murder of Maurius the Giraffe
Prof. Sherry Colb: Marius the Giraffe and Abstract and Concrete Harms