This evening I went with a second Vegan Information Project volunteer to an event in Dublin entitled, “Climate Conversations 2015 Launch Event: Communicating the Challenge” which featured, among others, Eamon Ryan of the Green Party in Ireland, Claire O'Connor, former international director for Vice President Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth, and media expert Terry Prone. This was the first of five events about the challenge of climate change.
A couple of things cropped up during the night that I think are relevant to the animal advocacy movement. One topic in particular. Claire O’Connor said that one strategy she was involved in organising during her time in Gore’s team was suggesting to people that they begin by doing fairly easy things that will help the environment. The first thing suggested was to change light bulbs to environmentally-friendly ones.
The strategy is simple. When people get used to doing this relatively easy thing, they’ll move on to other things that they can do for the environment, maybe eventually something like changing the type of car they own.
This is a sensible incremental strategy they thought. Don’t want to scare people off by asking them to do something substantial right from the get go.
However, they found that many people did not necessarily “progress” to more meaningful activities that would help the environment, and so they set about to find out why. They were told by many people that it had been suggested to them that changing light bulbs would be great for the environment. They said, in effect, “I’ve changed the light bulbs, so I’m tackling climate change.”
O’Connor says that their initial strategy has subsequently been called into question due to its failure. People simply did not move incrementally from one environmentally-friendly measure to another. The Gore team are now trying to find out if being straightforward and honest about what they really wanted people to do would have been a better strategy right from the start.
While this story was unfolding, I began to think about the campaigns in the animal advocacy movement to encourage “meat reducers” - and the endeavours to motivate people to participate in “Meatless Mondays.” Are these “easy-steps-first,” “baby-steps” campaigns going to ultimately fail just like the environmental ones described by O'Connor?
Might it be the case that telling people the truth is best from the beginning? Go on, utter that word “VEGAN.” There, wasn’t too hard, was it? Vegans – you want people to live vegan, right? So perhaps that’s what we vegans should ask of people. Nice and open and nice and honest.
Let the vegetarians campaign for vegetarianism, and let the who-knows-what try to influence the “meat reducers.” You, vegan brothers and sisters, have grown-up vegan work to do.
The other issue that came up was raised by Terry Prone in her very entertaining talk. She said we can think, essentially, of three types of people.
1. The Converted.
2. The Unconvertible.
3. The Undecided.
Don’t bother talking too much to the 1s, they are already on your side, she said, and it’s pretty much a complete waste of time talking to the 2s. Your audience are the 3s, the undecided, and probably the majority to boot.
It made me think of a point Brendan McNally made in a presentation he did at the animal rights conference in Luxembourg (see below). Brendan said that we in the animal movement have this unfortunate habit of socially constructing “the enemy” who we can hate and campaign against. In Prone’s schema, these are the 2s, those we’ll never convince.
Interestingly, she said that, in the fullness of time, the 2s will just have to be forced to buckle to our will with laws and legislation after we’ve won over the 3s.
This is why, in the animal advocacy movement, it’s often said that we should engage with the political system with the aim of achieving “animal-friendly” laws, rules, and regulations. That may be so – although the anarchists among us will object to that. In any event, what is certain right now is that now is NOT the time for political campaigning. It’s way too early.
Our job is to bring about cultural change and that means talking to the 3s. And remember where we started, be honest with them now!
Posted by Roger Yates. at 4:31 PM
A guest blog entry from Michele Spino Martindill, former adjunct professor at University of Missouri Columbia.
Here’s why the mainstream vegan movement is dying: Capitalism a Janus faced monster—it will produce products for any group out there and accrue the wealth as it goes along at the expense of every living being and every resource the planet has to offer. Donald Watson, the acknowledged founder of veganism, certainly expressed concern for the planet being lost to greed and wealth, especially in his final interviews. The products, including products suitable for vegans, are the opiate of capitalism. They not only pacify vegans, they keep vegans defending capitalism!! It’s an awesome plan—the victims of capitalism are the ones defending the system and the wealthy elite whose wealth is gained on the backs of the oppressed and exploited.
As long as you claim the capitalist vegan products are needed by people new to veganism in order for it to be “easy” for them to be vegan, you’re reducing veganism to a diet and the clothes a person wears. You’re also saying that if enough vegans buy these products, then we will end cruelty to animals. How many times do we have to say it: We can’t shop our way to veganism!! Shopping and capitalism are the antithesis of veganism. We can’t support capitalism and veganism at the same time. Supporting capitalism means supporting child slave labor, women getting paid less than men for doing the same jobs, the lack of adequate health care around the globe, higher education becoming corporatized and available only to the elite class, wars fought over the cost of oil and the endless slaughter of animals for human consumption.
No, we can’t cherry pick the good parts of capitalism and toss out the bad. We know historically that social movements have failed or at least stalled when they try to get along with capitalism. Capitalism stalled the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Yes, the voting laws in the U.S. changed, making it easier for Blacks to vote. Yes, Hollywood cast more Blacks in TV and films. Yes, it became illegal to deny housing to anyone based on the color of their skin. Now, fifty years later racism is back in full force. Capitalism kept anger over racism in the background by providing products aimed at the Black market, letting Blacks vote as long as whites continued to be the dominant voice (the voting rights laws were recently rescinded), by casting Blacks in TV and film roles that continued to stereotype them as lazy and poor, or as people who could be accepted if they acted according to white beliefs and values. Today Blacks and some whites are starting to see they’ve been had or fooled. The vegan movement is following a similar path, and vegans don’t seem capable of seeing how the same oppressors who stalled the Civil Rights Movement (among others) are stalling, if not killing, the vegan movement.
Capitalism is not simply a matter of supply and demand, as you refer to it. Nor is capitalism ruled by some invisible free hand that keeps government from interfering with the economy, and at the same time insuring equilibrium between product availability and costs. As a matter of fact, government is deeply involved in regulating capitalism, and consumers have little or no role in determining which products are made available or the cost of any products. How is this system happening? Capitalism and corporatism go hand in hand. Corporations own governments around the world and do so in a variety of ways. In the U.S. corporations contribute to election campaigns with the expectation that politicians will act in the favor of corporations. Corporations pay lobbyists to stick to politicians like glue and make sure the interests of corporations come first in any piece of legislation.
Corporations are only interested in profits and ever increasing dividends for their shareholders. They work to create products and services to sell, to find ways to convince people to buy those products even if they don’t really need them, and to be ready with new products and services when interest in current offerings lag. Of course, corporations realize people need money to buy these products, so they give them jobs making the products and pay them just enough to be able to afford them. Consumers aren’t setting the price—the price is determined by how much profit a corporation wants and what it has to pay workers to make the products while still giving them enough to buy the results of their labor. Products suitable for vegans may not contain animals or animal by-products, but they have no ethical economic basis in a system where the workers who make them are exploited and oppressed.
Vegans love to say that it is too much for new vegans to think about all of these things, that all that matters is stopping cruelty to animals. Cruelty, violence, abuse, exploitation—whatever you want to call it—wont’ stop until vegans see the root of the problem, the economic and governmental system that limits our opportunities for compassionate living. Vegans also have to stop using the clichéd thinking that it’s too overwhelming to think about all of these problems all at once. Give people some credit. Humans are aware of the social problems that surround us, including problems in the vegan movement. It’s time to face what can’t be hidden anyway, including the racism, sexism, classism, ageism and ableism of the vegan movement. It’s not big numbers of movement members that matter, especially not big numbers gained by hiding problems in the vegan movement. Saying nothing or doing nothing is as much an act of violence as spray painting racial slurs on someone’s house, as making sexist cat calls to a woman walking down the street, as eating a meal of murdered animal parts.
Veganism can benefit from open discussion of social problems within the movement, from envisioning different economic models for society, from stressing that veganism is not a diet, and learning to listen to other groups that are similarly marginalized and disenfranchised by mainstream society. Or vegans can continue to be defensive, narrow in their vision of the world and not using critical thinking to grow their movement. There are choices.
Posted by Roger Yates. at 7:21 AM
There is a serious structural problem in the animal advocacy movement and it has persisted for decades. It seriously damages the ability of grassroots campaigns – exemplified by many of the groups in Ireland – from fulfilling their potential.
This is because they money that is given towards animal advocacy ends up getting sucked into the national groups like Animal Aid.
I say, don’t plan to visit wasteful corporate events in 2015 – use the year to encourage people to boycott these dinosaurs and, instead, help fund local campaigners who need the cash a hell of a lot more than the relatively rich corporations.
It will undoubtedly be the case that that there are quite a few Irish members of the national and multi-national waste machines. This is campaigning cash which would be better spent if it remained in Ireland.
Think of some of the national groups: PeTA, Animal Aid, BUAV, NAVS, VIVA! What have they in common? Well, for a start, apart from their names, their campaigning is interchangeable by and large. They, moreover, all have expensive staff bills – they all have expensive buildings – they all have similar sales goods – they all have similar literature.
In a word, they are all about duplication and they WASTE thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds/euros/dollars of the animals’ money every year.
They love nothing more than trucking around the UK and other places, facilitated by the likes of bandwagon-jumping VegFest, putting on these once-a-year corporate events with all the same people and with all the same outcome – the resources get centralised.
What do people say in defence of these corporations?
1. They make good videos and leaflets
2. They have good websites
3. They provide valuable information from their “research officers” (most have them, all duplicating the same jobs)
The question is – in the age of the internet - is there anything they do which is good that the local groups cannot do for themselves? Their videos and literature are a product of them being able to afford to produce them. The quality of their information is down to their ability to buy expertise and research. With adequate funding, the local groups can do just as well… scratch that, the local groups can do better, because they can produce locally-relevant material and react to events much quicker.
There are several people who have wanted to (re)start hunt sabbing in Ireland. This aspiration seems to have been frustrated – ah, we don’t have the numbers – we don’t have the vehicles – RIGHT: we can only afford to use private vehicles: cars. No group has its own minibus which is the best and safest way to sab because everyone is together.
One way to get members is to increase visibility. The organisers of the well-attended Paris Vegan Days argue that the key to local success is visibility. We can gain visibility through having access to campaigning funds now locked away in wages and brick and mortar in London and Kent.
This means that Irish advocates could put on their own vegan fairs if they want – but not the once-a-year rubbish of VegFest – local advocates can fight the culture of speciesism all year round – WITH IMAGINATION, not restricted to the small-scale, the limited, the slimmed down, as of now. We could think outside of the box.
If we let them, the national groups will continue to bleed this movement dry and that means, in the context of Ireland, that funds will continue to fly across the Irish Sea and we’ll never see it again.
Posted by Roger Yates. at 3:10 PM
It was my great pleasure to welcome to On Human-Nonhuman Relations Podcast sociologists Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart to discuss themes from their new book, Our Children and Other Animals: The Cultural Construction of Human-Animal Relations in Childhood.
This important book looks at how children are "socialised into relations of domination."
Matthew Cole is a sociologist and an associate lecturer and visiting honorary associate at the Open University, UK. Kate Stewart is Lecturer in Social Aspects of Medicine and Health Care at the University of Nottingham, UK.
- Part I Conceptualizing Western Human-Nonhuman Animal Relations: Introduction; The use of names: socially constructing animals as ‘others’; The historical separation of children from other animals; The construction and study of children and childhood.
- Part II The Contemporary Socialization of Human-Nonhuman Relations in Childhood: Family practices and the shaping of human-nonhuman identities; Cute style: mass media representations of other animals; Education: making anthroparchal domination reasonable; Playing with power: virtual relations with other animals in digital media.
- Part III Reconstructing Children’s Relations with Other Animals: Vegan Practices and Representations: We’ve got to get out of this place: the Utopian vehicularity of vegan children’s culture;
- Conclusion: resisting the zooicidal imperative.
or LISTEN HERE
Posted by Roger Yates. at 4:24 PM
Philosopher Steve Best gave a talk at the controversial FARM-run Animal Rights Conference (2014) which, as ever, is a bit of a careerist-fest with all the usual subjects jockeying for power in the power elite of the animal welfare movement.
He describes the talk like this: "I was asked to speak on the meaning of animal rights, and I contrasted it to animal welfare, contextualized both in the setting of modern capitalism, and underscored the subversive and revolutionary nature of animal rights."
Best talks about Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione, and utilitarianism and rights in the context of capitalism. He claims that while utilitarianism became rather conservative, rights became a radical idea in human history. He also says that, as soon as people began to talk about human rights, there was talk of the rights of other animals too.
He complains that, through Francione, the idea of abolitionism has been stripped of its political character and its historical militancy. He says abolitionism is now "de-clawed and de-fanged" and the abolitionist movement needs to get out on the streets. No longer should it be about the private consumption and consumerism of delicious vegan meals.
He says there's a lot of co-optation going on in the modern animal advocacy movement.
We have to understand that abolitionist animal rights is not about regulating use, it is about eliminating. We seek to abolish use industries like the meat industry and the fur industry. The fight is not about regulation or bans that just push the problem elsewhere - we want to stop them altogether. Not reformism but revolution.
Best finishes with nods towards alliance politics and intersectionality because, he argues, animal rights means we have to challenge as humans our own privileges.
A guest blog entry by tina cubberley of the Vegan Information Project.
tina cubberley is a straight-edge vegan anarchist. She believes that conforming to "correct" grammar, structure, and punctuation, is bending to a stifling hierarchical authority.
For this reason, I have included tina's contribution exactly as she wrote it.
However (bloody Liberal!), just in case this style does your head in, you can click HERE for a "normal version of this important blog entry.
tina cubberley is a straight-edge vegan anarchist. She believes that conforming to "correct" grammar, structure, and punctuation, is bending to a stifling hierarchical authority.
For this reason, I have included tina's contribution exactly as she wrote it.
However (bloody Liberal!), just in case this style does your head in, you can click HERE for a "normal version of this important blog entry.
[this is author tina cubberley and Zami]
resently a very important individual came into my home an my life .
zami is a loving , smart , forgiving , lazy, curius , nervous, joyful & endlesly beautiful person . in the just-over-two weeks of us living together, she has adopted me very desisivly - she is posessive an protective , an folows me from room to room to make sure i havnt disapeared .she is a greyhound who was used for 'lamping' foxes , befor being discarded with leg injurys an a life threatning chest infection .
the point of this piese of writing is this - i believ that we, as vegan campaigners, hav a troublingly limited understanding of the nature an depth of cultural speciesism in our society . this was demonstrated to me by the reaction of folks on the street whenever zami an me go out walking together .
the standard question i get is "do you race that dog?" ,& when i say no , they tell me she looks grate so i should . when (if im not feeling too disilusioned with humanity that day ) i start to xplain to them that i opose greyhound racing as a form of exploitation ,& that any use of our fellow animals for any purpose is a violation of ther rights , i dont usualy get very far . the standard respons is " but they were born an bred to race " , tho i do get the ocasional elaboration on this depressing theme - such as "ther wouldnt be any greyhounds if we stoped racing them " , & one guy who told me that ,although he used to breed dogs for racing ,he wasnt "one of the ones who cut the ears off " ( presumably he thought this particular atrosity was the only part of the entire exploitative industry that botherd me .)
all this opened my eyes mor fully than ever befor to a truth that we activists all too often overlook .why , activists often ask ,can those we try to conect with not see cows as they see dogs ? the thing is - they do . it is only the function that is diferent . the instrumental view of sentient life , the reduction of person to object, is identical .
we hav all seen, i am sure , those popular pictures of dogs touching noses with pigs or cows that usualy acompany the movement line of "why do we love this one but eat that one ?" to me ,with my newly clarifyed understanding of the not-so-sutle manifestations of speciesism that this line ignores, a beter question would be " why do we use both of them ?"
becaus , tho the way we look at our fellow animals difers in its results for individuals depending on the socialy constructed purpose we hav asigned ther species ,the way we look is always the same . we look at an individual ,wether cow,pig,cat or greyhound , an insted of thinking "who is this person?" we think "what is this resourse for?" .we see an object to be posessed, used , or disposed of as unsatisfactory . we see profit, tradition , convenianse, entertainment ,or some blend of all of these . when those of our species who eat the flesh of cows an pigs xpress horror an revulsion at the thought of eating a dog or cat , they do not react lik this becaus they 'love' the members of these species or think they should not be used by humans ,but becaus to them these species hav a diferent purpose .an wether that purpose is profit , 'sport' , guard, child substitute ,toy for the kids or status symbol ,it is not the individuals own purpose - ther own reason for xistanse . it is stil a human reason, a human definition of ther life . when any of the people zami an i hav met see a cow , they think dinner . when they see zami , they think a night "at the dogs " . wether those indivduals unlucky enough to be born nonhuman in a human supremasist world are murdered for ther flesh , raced to death ,or paraded as an acsessory alongside a desiner handbag , they are defined an diminished by the human denial of ther reason for xistanse . wether they are geneticaly manipulated to grow so huge that they cant walk in order to produse as much flesh as posible for our consumption , or to hav xagerated an deformed featurs that lead to eye infections, dislocated hips , fragile bones an chronic breathing problems for the sake of looking 'cute' or fashionable by human standards , they suffer for our gain . the 'love' we refer to when picturing members of specis used as 'pets' or 'sport' alongside those used for 'food' is about as far from a vegan understanding of love as its posible to be .
i want to begin my concluding thought for this entry with that beloved quote from alice walker - " the animals of the earth exist for ther own reasons . they were not made for humans , any mor than blacks were made for whites or women for men ." this quote apeals to me becaus it touches on the intersectional nature of opression an resistanse. it is part of the violence of hierarchy that the value, an very xistanse , of those subjected to opression is difined by ther usefulnes acording to those above them on the social ladder . i thought about this quote when we encounterd yet another racing fan who told me racing greyhounds is ok becaus they love to run . i said i know that dogs love to run . they love to run free . zami dancing ahed of me in the park is one of the happiest sights ther is .the guy then said huriedly "wel, ther you go ". i said he had overlooked a profound diferense . in the park, she is running for herself , not for the profit or amusement of humans . just becaus she feels lik it . she runs lik she xists - for her own reason .as a deeply speciesist society ,our understanding of this reason is almost nonexistant , our apresiation of the xistanse of our fellow animals human-centric an instrumental .
veganism reaches beyond this shalow , self centred instrumentalism .it demands that we are empathetic enough to conseive of purposes beyond human desires , & that we are humble an respectful enough to honor these purposes . from a vegan perspectiv , no use of anyone is harmles , an to discribe that use as 'love' is to rob the word of all meaning . it is becaus of this self serving misunderstanding that those who xploit ther fellow animals an make money from 'breeding ' them can stil be known as 'animal lovers' . we as vegans hav alowed this harmful ilusion for too long .now is the time to shatter it , an to xpose our narrow anthroposentric worldview as the violent lie which it is in ALL its forms .
the nonvegan world has so much to learn about love .
Almost two years ago, I wrote about the possibility of abolitionising single-issues - I prefer thinking about single-issue events rather than single-issue campaigns.
In a recent Go Vegan Radio show (15th June 2014), Gary Francione explains that such an idea is possible within a movement in which veganism is regarded as the moral baseline.
or listen here
It seems increasingly clear that what we may regard as the original vision of veganism has been lost. On the other hand, that vision, formed in the 1940s onwards, was incomplete and somewhat confusing due to understandable definition issues and the way The Vegan Society was formed.
Essentially The Vegan Society came into existence due to a rejection of its vision by vegetarians, and we can see that vegan co-founder Donald Watson was critical of vegetarianism from the start. He and others had recognised that vegetarianism was, at best, a half-way house - but it really makes no sense even by its own principles of not wanting to live without killing other animals.
The Vegan Society was formed in the 1940s and there was immediate pressure to show that a human being could actually survive by not consuming animal produce. I believe that this pressure resulted in a lot of writing about health matters and less on "the vision thing." There was also the small complication known as World War II.
So, we have hints, statements, sentences, in writings from the 1940s and 1950s that alert us to that vision.
Rather than thinking expansively about veganism, modern vegans and, tragically, modern vegan societies (including TAVS), seem content to look narrowly at what veganism is, or what it could be - or should be.
There is a current and, to me, very depressing emphasis on health and diet but even when vegans do talk about ethics, they seem to suggest that veganism is limited almost exclusively to human relations with other sentient beings.
That, I suggest, is to badly misread the past history of the vegan movement, and the deeper far-reaching aspiration of the founders of it. Indeed, I think we are often guilty of betraying the early vegan pioneers.
Even though they were caught up in early concerns about health, they did sometimes explain veganism to be a grand overarching view about the future of humanity; about our relations with other sentient beings, of course, but also about how we live on the planet, and how we could live peacefully with each other.
They talk about peace and "peace aims," about human evolution, and they hinted that veganism could be central to a radical view of humanity. With global climate change brewing to be such an issue, to continue what they began is even more vital. We have to campaign for veganism in ways that make clear its vision of non-violence, of peace, and of justice for all sentient beings.
I believe that the early pioneers of the vegan movement thought in ways that we would now call "intersectional." Veganism, to them, was part and parcel of humanitarian aims. Humanitarianism has been described as "irresistible compassion" and "fellow-feeling," and is generally associated with concern about human rights and human welfare. I think they would be disappointed by the current vegan societies; the emphasis on human health, celebrity, and the endless pot lucks and "vegan cupcakes."
The earliest vegan pioneers talked, albeit often in vague terms, about veganism being connected to the moral evolution of humanity. They seemed convinced that veganism in some way was concerned, not only to peace and justice, but to human fulfillment, if only we would stop oppressing others.
Some points early vegan pioneer Leslie Cross (1914-1979) makes are strikingly similar to David Nibert's domesecration thesis, that the "domestication" of other sentient beings is directly associated with human-on-human violence and oppression.
Do you agree that we need to continue the conversation that the early vegan pioneers began - and really sort out what we stand for in terms of scope and radical vision for the future?
I think such a conversation would remind us that veganism is a vision of different human relationships with other sentient beings, the planet, and each other.
Posted by Roger Yates. at 1:55 PM
Noticed how there seems to be some sort of slide away from veganism as the established moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement lately? Maybe corporate profits are down or something? Perhaps it is the remaining importance of single-issues in campaigner’s minds? It is more likely, however, a widespread failure to fully understand the potential of veganism – or even know what it is.
A Recent Phenomenon
I went vegan in the late 1970s. I was very active throughout the 1980s, heavily engaged in a variety of single-issue campaigns. I helped to begin a number of “action groups” against individual laboratories, fur companies, and the fur trade itself. I was the “press officer” for a number of grassroots groups along the way.
I did radio interviews, press interviews, and appeared on TV a few times. I’m sure it will be hard for 21st century animal advocates to appreciate that, in all those campaigning years, I and many other spokespersons, rarely talked about veganism, and we particularly failed to articulate vegan values as our clear and central moral position on human-nonhuman relations.
We would tend to stick to the largely compartmentalised arguments against factory farming, hunting, the fur trade, etc., and generally talk about these forms of animal use in isolation. The word “vegan” would crop up, of course, when some journalist asked us about our “diet” in the main, but it wasn’t often a major feature of our fundamental claims-making. When we were asked about veganism, however, we never “tactically” described ourselves as vegetarians.
Having said that, I don’t remember mentioning veganism in the many, many, press releases I composed in those days. Veganism just wasn’t at the forefront of our single-issue minds – we were busy trying to win the winnable, ban the bannable, and remove the bricks in the wall of “animal cruelty” one by one. We did this as anti-vivisectionists, as anti-hunting activists, as anti-animal circus campaigners, and so on: not, by and large, as vegan animal rights advocates. Sad to say, we were probably instrumental in the shame of reducing veganism to its dietary issues, something that persists today. It does not help when vegans publish books like “Eat Like You Care,” tending to limit the meaning of veganism to food choices and its dietary component. Why not the more accurate and representative Live Like You Care? Concerned people in the movement apparently feel the need to issue warnings and reminders that veganism is far more than a diet virtually on a daily basis. Veganism should never have been so reduced.
As many who read this blog know, I have always credited law professor Gary Francione with being extremely influential in pushing veganism to the centre of animal advocacy in the last 20 years or so. He wasn’t alone, of course and, indeed, would write about himself in terms of being a vegetarian as late as 1996; an indication of just how new the unequivocal vegan baseline position is. Our 1980s claims-making in Britain would have been so much altered had veganism been established as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement much earlier. Most of us were vegans or living on a 100% plant-based diet, but we did not campaign for veganism. Had things been different, we would have at the very least contextualised our single-issue campaigning in the light of an overarching vegan vision of the future which would seek to liberate all sentients and protect the planet. Single-issues would have been “abolitionised,” as they still need to be today – for it does not confuse members of the public to see particular types of animal use presented as part of general vegan critique of use, power relations, and oppression. Many modern-day animal advocates remain stubbornly wedded to single-issues for a variety of reasons, and all in the face of persistent attacks on SICs in recent years. Very many appear not persuaded that SICs are harmful, or a diversion – nevertheless, they will openly talk about veganism nowadays. However, not all animal advocates will…
So, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad “V” Word?
When I say, “established as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement,” I know that veganism has not actually been embraced by all. Many vegan animal advocates still like to “play it safe” by employing the use of terms like vegetarian (even when they apparently mean vegan), or veg, veggie, and veg*n. This is most unfortunate in my view. What irks me most is when vegan advocates are encouraged to “tactically” slide away from veganism on the grounds that vegan is some sort of “scare word.”
One cannot help assuming that, often as not, there are “business” reasons for presenting veganism as a scare word. Happily, many grassroots animal advocates do not seem to find that it is – see this podcast on “vegan information booths.” For national groups, on the other hand, especially those with paid staff, they are on the constant lookout for more members and financial supporters and, when they have them, their claims-making is based on what the membership will tolerate - and therefore re-subscribe - while they attempt to address the widest possible audience. Soon questions of, “is this moral,” may take second place in favour of questions such as, “is it good for membership recruitment and retention.”
Many people claim that vegetarianism is a “gateway” to veganism, citing the fact that most current vegans were vegetarians first. On the other hand, social networks are full of reports of regret from people saddened that they did not go vegan as soon as they might; that, somehow, as vegetarians, they were not aware of the realities of dairy and egg production, and had never seen their vegetarianism as a particular form of animal use. Even if we were to accept that vegetarianism is some “gateway” to veganism, there are objections to vegans advocating for vegetarianism. First, no vegan should suggest that using other sentient beings for any reason is morally acceptable, even as a stepping-stone and, second, there are far more vegetarians than vegans in the world (rather begging a question of the “gateway” proposition) so vegans can let them push vegetarianism while they concentrate on their own concerns. Someone has to be promoting vegan philosophy if it is to be found on the other side of a gateway that vegetarians eventually find, or are directed towards.
Some people seem to be currently suggesting that they failed to “go vegan” due to the fact that some existing vegans are not very nice people, and they dislike these people’s campaigning approach or advocacy style. This is a shallow and irrational excuse: why continue to punish other animals by using them on the grounds that some animal advocates are not particularly pleasant? That is hardly the fault of other animals who are used by vegetarians. While it is true that many report that they took 10 or 15 years to finally go vegan, there is absolutely no necessity for a “go vegetarian first” message to be promoted by vegans. Instead, such people can be encouraged to be as vegan as they possibly can be given their own social circumstances. However, to suggest that they may remain non-vegan for year-upon-year because they have not liked some vegans, or the way some vegans operate, is an incredible weak reason to continue to make other sentient beings suffer and die.
While plant-based products are vegan-friendly, that is not the same as saying that they are vegan. The phrase, “is it vegan?” is misleading when the question concerns an inanimate object like a food product. This phrase should be recognised only as a form of convenient shorthand. Carrots may be vegan-friendly but carrots themselves, of course, are not vegans. Some carrots may not even be vegan-friendly, depending on how they were produced. We may immediately think of the use of animal “manure,” or chemical pesticides, at this point but we should also recognise that the philosophy of veganism would not view anything as vegan-friendly if human producers were harmed in the production process, or if environmental destruction is intrinsic to the item in question. Many people make jokes about how social media is being used by vegans to post picture after picture of the food they are eating, or their new plant-based or animal-free purchases. Glossy vegan publications promote innumerable new vegan goodies: happy smiling white faces promoting the urgency of a buy, buy, buy culture to vegans. This is “vegan porn” according to Steve Best in his Total Liberation talk in Luxemburg in 2013 – see here for Best’s view that animal advocacy is hindered by its narrow vision and thin politics, which leaves us small, weak, and marginalised.
Of course the promotion of vegan goods has campaigning utility: whatever you want, you can get a “vegan” version of it we say. The myth that being 100% plant-based is easy for everyone, everywhere, and all the time, also has campaigning utility despite being totally wrong. However, if we are not to further betray the principles of veganism, we need to move from vegan consumption (VC) to critical veganism (CV). By asking more than, “is that product entirely plant-based,” we soon see how palm oil is problematic, how sugar is – how all cash crops are. Writing this a few days after Easter, I was struck by the number of vegans falling over themselves to promote “vegan chocolates” having seemingly made not the slightest attempt to discover the production structures of different chocolate brands, thus ignoring the fact that much chocolate is dripping with exploitation and rights violations as child slaves are used on many coco plantations. Palm oil is certainly not vegan-friendly in any serious sense of the term. Vegans cannot be friends with a product that causes such devastation. We should not make the shallow mistake of thinking that opposition to palm oil is about orang-utan “persons of the forest” and only about orang-utans. A vegan critique of palm oil is wider than that.
Not Alliance Politics but an All-Embracing Critical Veganism
Veganism is about protecting the rights and interests of all sentient beings. It is a vision of a new world, a non-violent world - or at least a lot less violent world compared to what we have now. Veganism is peace, co-operation, and community. Veganism is respect and responsibility.
We should begin to think about veganism in a new light. Rather than one movement that seeks to forge alliance with others, veganism can be seen as the vision that embraces all struggles for justice, opposes all oppression, and liberates everyone. It is hard to think of any other idea that would liberate more than veganism would.
Bob Torres (Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights), and David Nibert (Animal Rights Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation and Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict) (and Steve Best) suggest to us that we cannot get even close to what we want as vegans within the present social and economic structure. A wider, more systemic vision of social change is necessary if we are really serious about bringing about the liberation of all animals, and determined to protect the environment.
This means that encouraging vegans to backslide on veganism now is encouraging us to move in totally the wrong direction. “Tactical” vegetarian advocacy is not going to achieve anything. That thinking is as redundant and as short-sighted as thinking that vegan consumerism in some vegan capitalist mode of production is possible.
This is not the time to turn away from veganism – this is the time to explore its deep intersectional dimensions; its potential to be the revolutionary idea that it really is.
Posted by Roger Yates. at 4:17 PM
The following is reproduced from Issue Three of The Vegan News (May 1945), written by Donald Watson.
At the committee meeting the question of the use of honey called for special consideration and the decision to eliminate it from the vegan diet will, in the mind of some readers, call for justification. Those of us who eliminated dairy products before honey met with considerable criticism from people who, perhaps in defence of their own milk drinking, contended that the production of honey entailed exportation "far worse" than that associated with the production of dairy produce, for the simple reason that it concerns inconceivable numbers of creatures.
Whether the exploitation is worse or not does not affect the fact that honey is an animal product (coming from the stomach of the bee), and that exploitation is involved in its production for human use. This was proved by the very concise reply received by a member who wrote to Mr. A.W. Gale, proprietor of Honeybee Honey asking whether the honey sold under this name was in excess of the bees' requirements:
In reply to your letter of the 18th inst., we beg to inform you that we exploit our bees all we know how.
The Honey Producers' Association replied to similar letter of enquiry stating that they could not assist the writer in obtaining honey that was surplus to the bees’ requirements. As we all know, the honey is taken from the bees and is substituted in winter by white sugar and candy. It would seem reasonable to suppose that the resultant malnutrition is the prime cause the widespread disease among bees. Whether honey from diseased bees is the wonderful food it is claimed to be seems open to question.
Consideration was given to the suggestion that humanely disposed vegans might keep their own bees and take only the surplus honey, thus reducing the exploitation, but it was argued that to permit the use of honey produced under such improved conditions would leave it difficult to argue against the use of milk produced under better conditions. The annual consumption of English honey is only about one tenth of a pound per head, therefore its elimination cannot be a serious deprivation, and certainly it cannot imperil health. The committee agreed, therefore, that by eliminating honey Veganism would gain by the greater consistency of its constitution.
Number 33 in the On Human-Nonhuman Relations Podcast series explores public vegan education initiatives in the shape of VEGAN INFORMATION BOOTHS. I'm joined by my special guests for this themed podcast - Jordan Wyatt of the Invercargill Vegan Society, Barbara DeGrande of Animal Rights and Rescue of Texas, and Stacia Leyes of The Vegan Review.
Some of the struggle ahead for the animal advocacy movement is linguistic in nature. Social and institutionalised values are embedded into language, a fact which was never lost to the feminist movement(s), especially, perhaps, those in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the animal advocacy movement, Carol Adams and Joan Dunayer are prime movers in terms of focusing on the importance of language.
We live in a culture that has institutionalized the oppression of animals on at least two levels: in formal structures such as slaughterhouses, meat markets, zoos, laboratories, and circuses, and through our language. That we refer to meat eating rather than to corpse eating is a central example of how our language transmits the dominant culture's approval of this activity.
― Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.
Deceptive language perpetuates speciesism, the failure to accord nonhuman animals equal consideration and respect. Like sexism and racism, speciesism is a form of self-aggrandising prejudice. Bigotry requires self-deception. Speciesism can’t survive without lies.
- Joan Dunayer, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation.
Language has the power both to reflect our attitudes and to determine them, as we know from the battle for language that is inclusive of women. This book looks at the way our language choices enable us to disregard the interests, sentience and consciousness of non-human animals so that we can exploit them for our own ends.
- Lyn, reviewing Joan Dunayer's Animal Equality: Language and Liberation.
Sociologists have acknowledged the importance and indeed the power of language. This is what Berger and Berger write in their book, Sociology: A Biographical Approach (see my blog entry, Language, Power & Speciesism, HERE)
Language thus confronts the child as an all-encompassing reality. Almost everything else that he experiences as real is structured on the basis of this underlying reality - filtered through it, organised by it, expanded by it or, conversely, banished through it into oblivion for that which cannot be talked about has a very tenuous hold on memory. (1976: 83-4.)
In the animal movement, we have increasingly seen objection to the use of the pronoun "it" to describe individual other animals. The movement has also experimented with various forms of words to describe other animals, as I explained in Language, Power & Speciesism in relation to the work of criminologist Piers Beirne.
Since language can bolster or challenge conventional power relations and, since one recognised task of social movements may involve challenging prevailing linguistic convention, Beirne notes the attempts made to overcome a central juxtaposition –“humans” and “animals”- within the animal advocacy movement and academia. He suggests, for example, that the term “non-human animal” is in vogue within the advocacy movement although, in my experience, it is still most common for advocates, be it on email listings, forums, or in general correspondence to the mass media, to refer to nonhuman animals simply as “animals,” thereby often missing the opportunity to challenge the status quo. Beirne further suggests that the construction, “animals other than humans,” is rather cumbersome - and then there is fellow criminologist Geertrui Cazaux’s lengthy acronym developed in her PhD, “animals other than human animals.” Noting that these constructions do not fully escape the clutches of speciesism in the first place, Beirne says that his own practice is to outline these language issues and then enter “hereinafter, ‘animals,’” after the term “non-human animals,” so that he can move on. This sounds like a sensible strategy for a long article, especially when addressing a largely academic audience, whereas the point would probably be lost if used, for example, on an online forum.
Is it time for the vegan community to sharpen up on its language use? We almost casually say such things as, "is that bread vegan?" and "that vegetarian restaurant has vegan options."
This may be a convenient shorthand but it seems sloppy and inaccurate. We shouldn't say, "I had a vegan breakfast this morning." Rather, we should say, "I had a vegan's breakfast this morning." No breakfast is vegan since living vegan means adhering to the philosophy of veganism.
So, perhaps, instead of saying, "that vegetarian restaurant has vegan options," we should be saying, "that vegetarian restaurant has food choices that vegans will choose."
Improving our language on veganism to recognise that it is more than diet means we should no longer run into the "celeb vegan" problem. We need not say that ex-US President Bill Clinton is a vegan: we merely have to say that Clinton sometimes eats 100% plant-based meals like vegans do all the time.
The term "health vegan" is wrong because all it means is that someone is eating 100% plant-based for their own reasons. Veganism is everything but a self-centred movement (not that caring for one's health is wrong). The earliest pioneers of the vegan movement were told that they would suffer, health-wise, and may even die, if they went for a 100% plant-based diet.
I used to say that the 1940s pioneers (Donald Watson and co.) decided to risk it for a vegan biscuit, which I always thought was rather neat. Now I'll have to say that they decided to risk it for the sort of biscuit vegans eat!!
Posted by Roger Yates. at 8:04 AM
As many readers of this blog will know, I am involved as a volunteer with the Dublin-based Vegan Information Project. Since November 2013 (World Vegan Month - see video below), the VIP have been running a weekly "mini-course" on various vegan/animal-related issues.
It has been my pleasure to be involved in the mini-course, contributing to the various informal lectures, talks, workshops, and film shows that have featured. Below are some of my contributions, on social movement theory and the case study of animal advocacy.
In December 2013, I gave a presentation for the Veggie Soc at the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) entitled, Growing Up as Animal Harming Animal Lovers: Sociology and Animal Use. Based on the early work of Zygmunt Bauman, this lecture involves a basic sociological account of socialisation processes in the context of the ideology of speciesism and the ideology of animal welfarism.
The aim of the talk is to help new and older vegans alike understand that it is cultural speciesism above all else that explains why humans beings use other animals in the ways that they do. As you will see in Part Two, one member of the audience, not a vegan but a meat eater and dairy consumer, says that she will reconsider the idea of veganism - this talk should help her, and others in her position, understand opposition to moves towards living vegan.
The Power Point presentation used in the talk is available to view below.
Many thanks to the NUIM Veggie Soc, especially Lauren Ellen Redmond.
The mass media like quirky little features to lighten the heavy load of their listeners, viewers, or readers. A radio station invited people to write in with stories about "animals being treated like they were human."
Someone texted in with a story apparently about an "animal who was treated like she was a human being." The person said that a relative was called to a house or apartment due to blocked drains. He found that the bathroom door have been cut in half to make it stable-like, and in the bathroom stood a horse. Hay had been thrown into the bath for the horse to eat. The texter's relative ruefully suggested that this could be the cause of the drain blockage.
A throw-away piece on a radio station - but how, except in a deeply speciesist culture, could this anecdote count as an example of a nonhuman animals being "treated as if she were human?" Are we to suppose, for example, that this family may have a second bathroom in which their daughter or son was imprisoned and where they simply threw food into the bath?
The Vegan Information Project presented an Informal lecture/workshop on "Understanding Social Movements with Case Studies about Vegan Animal Advocacy" at The Outhouse, Dublin, 11th November, 2013.
This is part of VIP's World Vegan Month programme of events.
Scroll down to view the Power Point slide show seen in these videos.
"Understanding Social Movements with Case Studies about Vegan Animal Advocacy." Session 1, Nov 2013 from Roger Yates
I gave a talk about the future of the vegan movement in the 21st Century at the East Midlands Vegan Festival.
And gave an account of the progress of the Vegan Information Project.