Tag Archives: advocacy

Creative, Non-Violent Vegan Advocacy (A Beginner’s Guide)

I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World — a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition.

This article was originally published January 31, 2012 on Care2.

During the past few years, the call to reduce our consumption of animal products has grown tremendously. There is a great deal of diversity amongst the individuals and organizations behind this appeal, as well as in the reasons and benefits they point to, and most of them are not vegan. However, there is one thing they have in common, and that is that they are all making it easier for people to be vegan for life. Indeed, the movement away from animal use is shaping up to possibly be the most significant social phenomenon of the 21st century.

Vegan recipe blogs, which illustrate innovative techniques for preparing a huge range of delicious, satisfying meals and treats, have proliferated into the hundreds, if not thousands. Both the number and the variety of vegan food items are increasing annually in restaurants and supermarkets.  New vegan businesses are opening every year, and thriving more than ever, including cafes, bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing and apparel stores, online boutiques, and even retreat centers and B&Bs.

Professional dietitians, in increasing numbers, are helping to guide consumers through the sea of books, blogs, articles and DVDs to learn how to achieve vibrant health on naturally wholesome vegan diets, as well as making it easier than ever to avoid the poor nutritional choices that frequently result in the “ex-vegan” phenomenon.

Note: Some may be surprised to find this out, but it is becoming more and more well-known that all nutrients required by the human body can be obtained from non-animal sources, including plenty of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and fatty acids such as Omega and DHA oils. If there were any nutritional deficiencies in well-planned vegan diets, the mainstream American Dietetic Association, American Medical Association, and similar science-based organizations would be broadcasting them far and wide.

For those of us who are committed to ethical veganism, it is essential to derive all our nutrients from non-animal  sources. Although there are those who claim to have experienced nutritional deficiencies caused by a plant-based diet, it seems ever more likely – in light of the information we now have access to – that these individuals may not have been sufficiently informed about vegan whole foods nutrition and the many options for nutritional supplementation, including the huge range of whole-food supplements that are becoming increasingly accessible for all of us in the developed world.

As the devastating environmental effects of animal agriculture become increasingly apparent, environmentalists are speaking out about the industry’s blatant offenses against the global ecosystem, such as deforestation for grazing, the cultivation of vast feed crop monocultures, extremely high emissions of carbon and other warming gases such as methane, the careless squandering of oil, water and other finite natural resources, and the pollution of our air, water and soil – all while this filthy industry is artificially propped up by tens of billions of dollars in government welfare funding.

With the growing popularity of social media, the educational resources shared by dedicated advocates are making it easier for the previously uninformed to bear witness to institutionalized cruelty that is not only perfectly legal, but so horrific that most of us turn away in distress, unwilling to endure with our eyes what innocent others are forced to endure with their bodies.

And a growing number of abolitionist vegans are explaining and demonstrating the simple fact that unless we shift the paradigm to fully include these sentient beings in our moral community by embracing veganism and rejecting the property status of animals, there will be no end to the socially-acceptable barbarism which allows us to treat beings as innocent as our children as economic commodity units.

The Internet, while still dominated by large corporate interests, has comparatively democratized the ability of grassroots advocates to share information. Blogs, forums, and social media sites have opened up communication lines for rational dialogue among everyday people at a rate of growth unprecedented since the invention of the printing press.

In the past, some individuals may have felt tempted or even obligated to tap into the wide reach of large organizations that soak up the majority of the funding available for animal advocacy by appealing to mainstream values with a message promoting animal welfare or vegetarianism. But now, individuals who are genuinely concerned with fundamental issues of animal rights are able to make their voices heard independently.

Given the burgeoning opportunities, advocates can pick and choose what methods and media suit their talents, personalities, preferences, and geographic locations. If you’re a gregarious extrovert in the city or suburbs who loves to chat with people on the street, you might do well setting up tables at festivals or street stalls with cupcakes or finger foods.

If you’re confident about your ability to prepare amazing food, you might enjoy holding a vegan cooking demonstration in your own home or elsewhere, or hosting vegan dinners or potlucks with a suggestion to guests that they bring a friend who’s interested in learning more about veganism.

Or, if you’re an introvert who would rather cross the street than engage with people you don’t know, blogging, vlogging, and social media advocacy would likely be your preferred venue. (Those of us who live in rural areas also usually find it easier and far more effective to use the opportunities offered by the Web for our advocacy.) Not confident in your writing ability? No problem – perhaps you can team up with another advocate who inspires you, and help them to be more productive by doing research or writing outlines that they can polish up into an engaging article for publication. Maybe you’re better at editing than writing; you might be able to find someone who’s in need of assistance with that. Collaboration (with someone whose approach appeals to you) can be a great way to achieve more and reach out further.

Note: There are some activists who insist that face-to-face outreach is somehow superior to online communication. However (in the absence of comprehensive studies), is there any reason to think offline or online advocacy is more effective than the other? It seems that the strengths of online are the weaknesses of offline, and vice versa, but neither seems to be more effective than the alternative.  Offline, face-to-face advocacy can often be more personable and forthcoming than online due to the subtle nature of nonverbal communication (not to mention the unquestionable power that mouth-watering vegan food has over the skeptical consumer harboring imaginary fears of sensory deprivation as a result of eliminating animal products). But online advocacy – which works around the clock, everyday, for all those who understand the language – can reach many more people, oftentimes by a few orders of magnitude.

More important than the venue or media used in advocacy, however, is the quality of the content. Excellent vegan food, a powerful vegan message, and friendliness and charisma will obviously do much better while tabling at a festival than bland or unappealing food, a message of compromise, and mediocrity, aggression or a judgmental attitude. And good photography, terrific vegan recipes, and well-researched, convincing writing will do better online – all other factors being equal – than content of lesser quality.

Finally, quality entails knowing what not to promote. Encouraging the purchase of animal products purported to be produced under ‘ethical’ conditions (free-range, cage-free, humanely-raised, grass-fed, organic, etc.) serves only to reinforce the common, traditional belief that it is morally acceptable to use other animals as resources for human consumption.

The same can be said for the confused and confusing message generated by the promotion of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which ignores the violence inherent in the production of milk and eggs (not to mention the barbarism involved in the manufacture of other animal-based products including clothing and toiletries), as though these equally brutal industries should somehow be exempt from the moral examination undertaken by those who view meat production to be an intolerable form of injustice.

The fact is that none of us needs any animal products in our lives. We exploit animals and consume the products of their bodies because of pleasure, amusement, convenience, and blind tradition – all trivial reasons to rationalize the brutality of unnecessary exploitation.  Sadly, no matter what we say or how well we say it, the fact is that most people won’t go vegan simply upon hearing our message. However, as vegan advocates, veganism is the message we should exclusively and unequivocally promote.  Anything less – promoting vegetarianism, or the consumption of ‘humane’ animal products – betrays the fundamental truth that brings us to veganism in the first place: the understanding that we must bring an end to all exploitation if we are to move beyond the pandemic of violence that underlies our current cultural paradigm.

It is not unusual for animal advocates to be deeply troubled and frustrated by the state of our society and its hardened attitude toward animals who are not human. But social change, while often slow, is also unpredictable, subject to tipping points, paradigm shifts, and peaceful revolutions in attitudes and behavior. As someone who advocates unequivocally for widespread veganism, don’t forget that you are among the gentle, strong, and independent-minded pioneers of a growing, positive, and peaceful movement to protect our environment, improve public health, and most important, to eventually end the social acceptability of violence and injustice inflicted on the innocent.

With a little effort, courage, creativity, and the willingness to share what we’ve learned with patience, persistence, and understanding, we can all help others to understand the significance of this essential change we are trying to bring to fruition.

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On Advocacy Media Preferences

Absent any comprehensive studies on what media are most effective for persuading people to go and stay vegan, we are left with searching for reasons why one medium of advocacy might be more effective than another. Further, any reasons we do come up with for preferring one medium over another would likely be speculative (i.e. empirically untested) and depend more on personal preferences and learning styles than any obvious or universal advantage.

Of books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blogs, forums, emails, street stalls, leaflets, event tables, speeches, presentations, casual discussion, and whatever other forms of communication might be effective, it seems to me that what is communicated and how it is communicated is far more important than where or through what media a message is communicated.

We have reason to believe that, all other factors equal, books — to the extent that they are read — are the most effective media simply because of the time it takes to read a book compared to other media. Other than time spent, however, there is no reason to believe that, word for word, books would be any more effective than any other mode of written communication.

It is likely true that our individual learning styles vary in many ways. For example, Alice might respond best to a well-reasoned argument supported by verified facts, while Bob might respond best to a video and a plea for empathy. Alice might be interested in reading a 250 page book written for academics, while Bob might not get past page 2 of such a book. Alice may cross the street to avoid the vegan education table at the summer festival, while Bob may be drawn to a long chit chat session at the vegan education table.

The reason I’m writing about advocacy media is that I’ve seen many opinions, seemingly unsupported with facts or reason, that we “need to get out in the streets” or engage in some specific mode of communication, rather than another mode, if we are to move things along. This seems misguided.

We very much need to 1) get our message right, 2) deliver our message in a palatable manner, and 3) target the appropriate audience (i.e. non-vegans), but it really doesn’t matter whether we choose popular non-vegan forums on the Internet or the library or the table at the summer festival to communicate our message. Chances are excellent that vegans are a proportionate cross-section of those non-vegans we wish to educate. As individuals, if we focus on the media in which we are most comfortable communicating, and the media to which we would personally be most receptive, chances are that, collectively, we will have all bases covered regarding the non-vegan public in proper proportion to their preferred media.

In other words, focus on the modes of communication in which you prefer to communicate, and to which you would be most receptive, and let others focus on the modes they prefer and to which they are receptive. If you like spending time educating on Internet forums, then educate on Internet forums! If you like to chat with random people in the city or at the festival, do that! Both? Fine. Just don’t make unsupported statements that either one or another is ineffective or that your preferred mode of communication ought to be the preferred mode for everyone.

Most important is that we should get the message right. Very briefly, 99.999…% of nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is unnecessary. Unnecessary nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is wrong. Therefore, 99.999…% of nonhuman animal exploitation and harm is wrong. Therefore, avoid it by going vegan and encouraging others to go vegan. Being vegan is far from the most we can do; it is the least we can do.

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Basic Economics and Four Types of Advocacy

Supply-side Versus Demand-side Advocacy

We live in a market economy made up of two major factors – supply and demand. These two factors determine what is bought and sold and for how much. Qualitatively, demand represents the wants and needs of buyers in an economy. Supply represents the efforts of firms to profit from existing demand. The stronger the demand for a given product, the more potential profit and resulting competition among suppliers there will be in attempting to satisfy demand for the product. If there is no demand for a given product, there will be no supply for the product because firms will not be able to profit.

The most important conclusion to draw from the simple qualitative economic facts above is that demand drives supply. Marketing firms may help a product realize its potential demand, but they cannot create demand. [1]

Since demand drives supply, if we focus on changing demand, we can change supply. But the reverse is not true: we cannot change demand by focusing on supply.

For example, Hellmann’s® Mayonnaise recently announced that it has switched to “cage-free eggs” in its Light Mayonnaise. In a discussion with advocates about this switch, I suggested that if large animal welfare organizations insisted on engaging in single-issue campaigns (because such campaigns are good fundraisers), then instead of “cage-free egg” campaigns, they would at least be engaging in legitimate animal advocacy to campaign for vegan alternatives in restaurants and brand-name products.

However, the problem with such vegan-oriented single issue campaigns is that they are supply-side advocacy. To use the example above, let’s assume that Hellmann’s® developed a vegan mayonnaise to compete with Vegenaise® and Nayonaise®. Only if there is sufficient demand will it be sufficiently profitable for Hellmann’s® to keep the product on the market and develop it further. If there is not sufficient demand, the vegan product will not be sufficiently profitable and Hellmann’s® will discontinue the vegan product. The marketing and chief executives and stockholders don’t care what sells (e.g. vegan products or animal products), they only care that a product or service sells, i.e. that there is a demand for the product.

So what does this imply for animal advocacy? It obviously implies that we must focus virtually 100% of our time and energy on increasing demand for vegan alternatives to replace animal products. The only way to do that is through vegan education; that is, informing people why they ought to go vegan and how to go vegan. As we create more demand for vegan products through vegan education, suppliers will respond by catering to the new demand.

There can never be enough vegan education. New vegan products can be taken off the shelf for a lack of demand; but people, once genuinely convinced that animals are persons to be fully included in the moral community, and once educated on how to be a vegan, will stay vegan for a lifetime and influence others, thereby increasing demand.

Welfare Activities Versus Vegan Advocacy

It is illegitimate to call welfare reform activities animal “advocacy” because such a paradigm and the resulting activities encourage people to continue consuming animal products. The welfare paradigm and activities are not merely neutral and unproductive; they are harmful and counterproductive. On the surface, welfare activities appear to reduce violence and suffering in their temporary focus on the symptoms of speciesism. But below the surface, welfarist thinking is the very problem of exploitation itself. All animal exploiters, virtually without exception, “take animal welfare very seriously.” This is because the philosophy of animal welfare accepts, as a most basic and dogmatic premise, that nonhuman animals are here for us to exploit.

Welfare activity, because of its inherent ineffectiveness and support of animal exploitation and killing, as both a theoretical and practical matter, is the active promotion of violence.

Vegan advocacy inherently rejects all animal exploitation and the promotion of violence. Such rejection is the essence of vegan advocacy, and is the only advocacy for nonhuman animals.

Four Types of Activities

Below are four types of activities distinguished by whether they address supply or demand, and whether they are vegan or welfare activities.

Type 4 activities are supply-side welfareactivities. They generate most of the revenues for the large corporate animal welfare groups like PETA and HSUS, which is one reason they are so common and popular from the standpoint of the welfare groups. They are counterproductive because they indirectly encourage animal product consumption. They also drain resources from demand-side vegan activities.

Examples of Type 4 activities are welfare single-issue campaigns, welfare law campaigns (e.g. Prop 2 in California), welfare reform campaigns, controlled atmosphere killing and cage-free campaigns, gestation crate campaigns, and foie gras prohibition campaigns.

Type 3 activities are demand-side welfare activities. They are counterproductive because they directly encourage animal product consumption, increase demand for animal products, decrease demand for vegan products, and drain resources from demand-side vegan activities.

Examples of Type 3 activities are encouraging or condoning “happy meat” and “cage-free egg” consumption. A typical Type 3 statement is, “If you’re going to insist on eating that anyway, at least buy free-range.” If we would not say, “If you’re going to kill or rape anyway, at least don’t beat the victim as many times as you normally do”, then we should not say similar things about animal product consumption. Silence is far better than Type 3 statements.

Type 2 activities are supply-side vegan activities. With the exception of owning a vegan business, these activities do little or nothing to decrease demand for animal products or increase demand for vegan products. Owning a vegan business is an excellent advocacy activity. All other supply-side vegan activities, while not necessarily counterproductive, drain resources away from demand-side vegan activities, and in many cases (such as anti-fur campaigns), are counterproductive as they encourage speciesism by their narrow focus.

Examples of Type 2 activities are requesting vegan products from grocers and restaurants (as an advocacy tool; not because you simply want a certain vegan product available); vegan product campaign (e.g. campaigning for Hellmann’s® to develop and market a vegan mayonnaise); owning and operating a vegan restaurant (again, a great form of advocacy, largely because it incorporates Type 1 activities); vegan product development; elimination single-issue campaigns (speciesist and utterly useless unless we’ve eliminated demand).

Type 1 activities are demand-side vegan activities. They decrease demand for animal products while simultaneously increasing demand for vegan products. Because of their focus on demand and vegan education, demand-side vegan activities are the only activities capable of eventually abolishing animal exploitation.

Examples of Type 1 activities are vegan education (explaining why and how to go vegan through various media and opportunities); abolitionist education (explaining the legal and many other similarities between human chattel slavery and modern nonhuman slavery); vegan food blogs and cooking classes; educating fellow advocates and others about the problems with welfarism and single-issue campaigns.

Important: Unless we are operating a vegan business (which is mostly a supply-side activity), we should spend between 97% and 100% of our animal advocacy time doing Type 1, demand-side vegan activities and the remaining time, if any, doing Type 2 supply-side vegan activities. We should always stay entirely away from harmful Type 3 and 4 welfare activities.

Welfare activities are popular because they accept our society’s violent and speciesist belief that nonhuman animals are here for us to exploit and kill, but they are counterproductive because by such acceptance, they also promote and strengthen the violent and speciesist notion that animals are here for us to exploit and kill. Welfare activities are part of a vicious circle.


[1] Marketing firms are in the business of realizing the potential demand for products, but the realization they are able to generate consists in making consumers aware of a given product or service along with various psychological methods of stimulating potential consumers’ interest in the product. Marketing a product can only fulfill a product’s potential demand; it cannot create demand. We can market a highly undesirable product or service all we want, but if the product has no inherent demand, the product will not sell.

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Abolitionism versus New Welfarism: A Contrast in Theory and Practice

A Contrast in Theory

The abolitionist approach is a rights-based approach that identifies the core issue of violence inflicted on innocent sentient beings as rooted in the fact that these beings are considered property, commodities, and “things” under the law. This property, commodity, and thing status is at the root of our “moral schizophrenia” regarding nonhuman beings. As long as nonhuman beings are considered “things” or commodities that we own instead of beings like us who have important interests in their lives, we will continue to torture and kill them by the tens of billions while we acknowledge that it would be horrific if someone did such things to young, orphaned children (despite the striking similarities in mentality, sentience, and innocence among nonhuman beings and young children). Therefore, the abolitionist approach as currently conceived advocates a single right for innocent sentient nonhumans: the right not to be property. But as long as we continue to consume the flesh and bodily fluids of these beings, this one right can never be achieved. Therefore, the only way we can break the socially-sanctioned perpetual holocaust and moral schizophrenia and work toward achieving the one right for nonhumans is to go vegan and encourage others to do the same. Therefore, as both a moral and practical matter, vegan education is the only activity that makes sense if our goal is to achieve a minimum standard of decency and civilization regarding nonhuman beings.The new welfarist approach, in contrast to the abolitionist approach, is a utilitarian-based approach and a bizarre and confusing hodgepodge of traditional welfarism and “animal liberation” philosophy. On one hand, new welfarists want to “liberate” animals from the tyranny of “factory farms”. On the other hand, new welfarists (amazingly) see regulating the perpetual holocaust as one way to achieve such “liberation” (despite 200 years of welfarism resulting in ever increasing cruelty, both in the severity and the mind-boggling numbers of victims). New welfarists engage in ‘vegan’ education, but because treatment rather than use is the primary issue for them, new welfarists generally see veganism as a (temporary?) “boycott of cruelty” and as merely a(n) (optional?) “tool to reduce suffering” rather than as a minimum standard of decency. The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions and a Permanent Non-profit Business Cycle: Welfarists “Versus” Industry’s Strength

Industry’s strength is its financial wealth and power, which translates into media, advertising, and information power, as well as political and legislative power. Industry’s weakness is that it is morally deplorable and environmentally disastrous (the eco-disaster will become ever more obvious as huge Asian markets increase demand for animal products). We cannot defeat an opponent of industry’s size and power by mostly avoiding their weakness and attempting to take on their strength, yet this is exactly what the new welfarist movement tries to do.With welfare reform campaigns, the new welfarist movement seeks to at least weaken industry through legislation, and more ambitiously, legislate and regulate industry away. Most new welfarists call their approach the “two track” approach, and they believe that regulations are an integral part of ‘dismantling’ the giant. One track for them is ‘vegan’ education (albeit ‘vegan’ being merely a ‘boycott’ or ‘tool’); the other is welfare regulation.

But this approach of making welfare regulation a substantial part of eliminating animal agriculture plays to industry’s strength by 1) taking them on where they’re strong (in politics, legislation, and deal-making; see above), 2) diverting resources from the attack on where they are weak (diverting from vegan education), and 3) reinforcing the legal structure and regulated property rights paradigm that animal exploitation is founded upon.

As long as animals are considered property and commodities, it is impossible to balance their interests fairly against human interests. This is not “merely legal theory”, as some new welfarists claim it is (although even in legal theory alone the property status problem is overwhelmingly supported as insurmountable due to the legal trumping power of property rights over regulations, as a matter of the inherent hierarchy of legal concepts [which have very real consequences]).

Rather, we also have overwhelming empirical evidence that this is the case by observing the endless efforts over centuries to regulate chattel slavery, which remained viciously cruel to its very end. As additional evidence, animal welfare laws have been attempting to regulate use for 200 years now, and animals are treated more cruelly and in greater numbers now than ever.

Although we don’t need a slave history scholar to vouch for the utter failure of slave welfare laws and reforms, there is a preeminent non-vegan slave history legal scholar, Alan Watson, who entirely agrees with Gary Francione 1) on this historical empirical fact and 2) that the property status problem will prevent meaningful change in the use and treatment of animals until it is abolished. To quote Professor Francione in Animals As Persons (p. 162), “The interests of slaves will never be viewed as similar to the interests of slave owners. The interests of animals [who] are property will never be viewed as similar to those of human property owners.”

More and more regulations add a regulating structure to animal exploitation supported eventually by more bureaucracy, more inspector jobs, and more ‘legitimacy’ to the entire enterprise, entrenching animals ever deeper into property and commodity status. It’s true that more regulations put short-term profit margin pressure on industry, but industry is very resilient and has a number of options to restore the profit margins, including moving to less restrictive legal jurisdictions (including other international jurisdictions).

On top of regulations reinforcing the property/commodities paradigm, we should ask, what message do these welfare regulation campaigns send to the public? The message, when the regulations are promoted by so-called animal ‘rights’ organizations, is that animals are here for us to exploit and kill, we just have to do it more ‘humanely’ by regulating it more. Also, once the welfare law, regulation, or agreement is made (but usually not enforced), the false public perception is that we are exploiting and killing more ‘humanely’ (so you can feel a little better; after all, there are ‘inspectors’ looking after every animal as if she were his own daughter). Does it shift the paradigm at all? No, it obviously doesn’t. In fact, people feel better than ever about animals as commodities.

What motivation does a new welfarist organization have to do these campaigns? Victories! And the ‘victories’ lead to more donations, permanently supporting the organization’s basic business cycle. If the campaign is directly ‘against’ a particular exploiter, such as in the case of KFC Canada and PETA, PETA will actually do a public relations campaign on behalf of the exploiter as part of the deal. PETA wins with a ‘victory’ to brag about to their donors, leading to the endless cycle of more donations and campaigns. KFC Canada wins PETA approval. The customers win being happily duped into believing that KFC’s chickens are treated ‘humanely’. The animals? Well, PETA, KFC Canada, and KFC’s customers just struck a great deal; what more do you want?

Consider the case of HSUS (a traditional welfarist organization) and Farm Sanctuary and California’s Proposition 2 in November of 2008. HSUS and Farm Sanctuary bragged about getting Prop 2 passed, which doesn’t come into effect until 2015, and when and if it does, will not result in a significant decrease in suffering (especially compared to the public perception of the decrease). Further, if some exploiters don’t like Prop 2, they will merely relocate to another state or to Mexico and ship the product into California. For more on welfare and single-issue campaigns that are so popular with new welfarist organizations, see Picking the Low Hanging Fruit: What Is Wrong with Single-Issue Campaigns?

It is interesting to note that HSUS and PETA sell their welfare reforms to industry based on how profitable they will be for industry to implement, essentially acting as strategic advisers. Some of the welfare reforms, like “controlled atmosphere killing” and crate elimination, are things industry was planning on doing anyway for profitability. For solid evidence of the industry-welfarist partnership in action, see the various links in Four Problems with Welfare in a Nutshell.

Ultimately, as Gary Francione has said countless times, it is a zero-sum game. Every effort made and every dollar spent by a vegan or a pro-vegan organization on welfarism is effort and a dollar directed away from vegan education. Vegan education efforts are causally connected to welfare concerns, but the reverse is not true. Welfare concerns are not causally connected to vegan education. Only vegan education itself creates new vegans. Currently, far too much money and effort of the animal movement goes toward welfarism (for abolitionists, no resources should go to welfarism).

For more reading on this, the following are some links:

Gary Francione’s analysis of Prop 2

Gary Francione’s reply to new welfarist Martin Balluch

The Great ‘Victory’ of New Welfarism

The Industry-Welfarist Partnership

The Road to Justice Is Paved with Creative, Non-violent Vegan Education: Abolitionists Versus Industry’s Weakness

I stated in the previous section that the animal agriculture industry’s strength is its wealth and size, which results in political, legislative, media, and deal-making power. Its weakness is that it is morally deplorable and environmentally disastrous, and that vegan living is deeply satisfying, delightful, and healthy. Most people, however, are unaware of exactly what industry does; how cruel it is both in intensity and magnitude; what speciesism is and how identical it is to racism, sexism, heterosexism and other prejudices; and how, why, and in what specific ways industry is so disastrous to the environment. Most people are also unaware of how delicious and satisfying vegan food is, especially in 2009, with more options available than ever. The possibilities for education are immense, if only we would direct more resources toward them.

There are three (or four, depending on how you count them) prime areas of vegan education, which combined, would provide overwhelmingly strong, positive reasons for insisting on the permanent elimination of animal agriculture, and to which industry and the general public has no adequate rebuttal (“but they taste good” sounds absurd in light of these three areas of vegan education).

The Moral Issue

Two people of approximately similar intelligence, but of different race or sex should be granted equal consideration regarding their important interest in a university education based solely on their similar intelligence. The irrational cultural prejudice of racism and sexism ignores the morally relevant similarity of intelligence in favor of recognizing the irrelevant difference of race or sex.

In the same way, two beings of approximately equal sentience, but of different species should be granted equal consideration regarding their important interest in not being enslaved, exploited, or slaughtered based solely on their similar sentience. The irrational cultural prejudice of speciesism ignores the morally relevant similarity of similar sentience in favor of recognizing the irrelevant difference of species.

We are not very deep into moral philosophy here. Indeed, a dim-witted 10 year-old should not have any problem comprehending the moral argument above. Why doesn’t the animal rights and vegan movement broadcast this basic and irrefutable argument constantly over years, like a well-known advertisement, until it becomes part of the general public’s collective psyche, as a major component of vegan education? Industry’s only reply would be to restate their irrational prejudice. Granted, in our era, the public generally shares industry’s bigotry on the matter, but over time, it should be increasingly difficult to embrace the prejudice in any serious discussion. Eventually, the truth of the matter will weigh heavily on the conscience of decent people, and change will result, perhaps more rapidly than most of us might think likely today.

The Environmental Issue

As set forth in my blog essay entitled On the Environmental Disaster of Animal Agriculture and the important links therein, it is obvious that animal agriculture is the single worst enemy of the environment and a sustainable future.

As animal agribusiness grows into Asian and other markets, adding three billion or more people as customers and quadrupling the number of animals bred, raised, and slaughtered from the current number of approximately 50 billion annually, it is clear that the long-term effects (perhaps even the short-term effects) will bring the Earth’s biosphere into collapse. We simply cannot afford the gluttonous excesses that the combination of animal agriculture and modern technology has enabled. Our survival as a species depends on waking up to animal agriculture’s impact on the future.

Vegan Food and Nutrition

In addition to most people being completely ignorant of the shocking and horrific details of the lives of ‘food’ animals, speciesism, and the environmental disaster created by animal agriculture, most people have no idea what vegans eat or how nutritious and satisfying vegan diets are or can be. Fortunately, there are a lot of great vegan food blogs on the Net these days, and well-planned vegan diets are endorsed by the American Dietetic Association and similar mainstream, science-based organizations. But there is still tremendous untapped opportunity for vegan culinary and nutrition education, including education on deleterious effects of the standard American diet on public health, which is high in damaging animal fats, including cholesterol. Anybody who makes it easier for non-vegans to go vegan is doing effective vegan education in that respect.

Vegan Education and New Welfarists

As I stated in the previous section, new welfarists engage in what they call “two-track activism”, one track being vegan education and the other being welfare reform. So, as a secondary activity to welfare reform advocacy, new welfarists are already engaged in many activities that fall into the above categories. But to the extent that they spend time and money on welfare reform or single-issue campaigns when the opportunity for vegan education in society is so unimaginably vast, they inflict a severe opportunity cost on genuine societal progress. That’s not even to mention the confused and contradictory message they send that I mentioned above, which acts not merely to forgo opportunity, but is counterproductive and regressive.

For a deeper exploration of the topic of abolitionism versus new welfarism, consider reading the following links:

Gary Francione on vegan education

Gary Francione and Anna Charlton’s abolitionist pamphlet (it’s also available in several other languages)

Boston Vegan Association’s (excellent) pamphlet

In praise of vegan food blogs

Vegan Education – Part 1

Vegan Education – Part 2

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Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit: What Is Wrong with Single Issue Campaigns?


A single issue campaign (herein referred to as “SIC” or “campaign”) can be of two different types: welfare-oriented campaigns and elimination-oriented campaigns. SICs can also be short-term or take up an organization’s entire mission and lifetime. The primary difference between the two types is that welfare-oriented SICs focus on merely reforming an exploitive industry, while elimination-oriented SICs focus on entirely eliminating an exploitive industry. Since some industries are mere subsidiaries of a larger industry (e.g. the foie gras industry is a subsidiary of the animal agriculture industry), some SICs may be an elimination-oriented SIC to a subsidiary industry, while being a sort of welfare-oriented SIC in relation to the principal industry.Welfare-oriented Single Issue Campaigns

Welfare SICs are at the core of the business and revenue cycle of almost all large, corporate animal welfare groups. Large animal welfare groups such as PETA anticipate and select what they consider a winnable target – usually in some area that industry is ready to make the targeted change in for profitability reasons anyway – and generate a donor and public relations campaign to “encourage” industry to make the change a few months or a few years earlier than industry would have without the welfare group’s prodding.Of course, when selling the SIC to donors, the welfare groups dramatize the industry’s resistance to the proposed change to justify an immediate call-to-arms in the form of “send us your money NOW or we’ll lose this campaign!!” What the welfare groups either downplay or don’t mention to the donors is the negotiations with the targeted animal exploiter, which generally include emphasizing to the targeted exploiter how the campaign can be a “win-win” for both the welfare group and the exploiter if the exploiter will eventually allow the welfare group a “victory”. So the stage is set, the volunteers (who are generally also in the dark about the overall money-making and industry-welfare partnership scheme) are mobilized, and the money comes flowing into the corporate welfare organization and into the pockets of its executives in the form of handsome salaries and bonuses.After weeks or months of campaigning by the welfare group, mostly done by the lower-paid staffers and a small battalion of volunteers, the targeted exploiting company: 1) has shown adequate “resistance”, 2) has cost the welfare group’s donors quite a bit of money and cost the volunteers quite a bit of time and energy, and 3) calculates that it would be an optimally profitable time to “give in to the pressure” and agree to the demands of the welfare group for the “win-win” on which the industry-welfarist partnership thrives. The welfare group (e.g. PETA) has received its windfall of donations, gets to declare “VICTORY!!!” to its donors and the public as loud as it can, and obtains future status among donors as the “reliable watchdog” of industry. The targeted exploiter gets free advertising and promotion by the welfare organization in an “all’s well that ends well” love affair of public support. Meanwhile, any cost to the exploiter of the targeted change is more than offset by the subsequent public goodwill generated by the welfare group and the fact that the targeted change is almost always a long-term strategic benefit to the exploiter which would have to be incurred regardless of any campaigns to hurry it up.Elimination-oriented Single Issue Campaigns

As described above, elimination-oriented SICs differ from welfare-oriented SICs primarily in that they target an industry rather than a practice within an industry. Generally, the targeted industry is a subsidiary of a larger principal industry. For example, dog racing, horse racing, dog fighting, and cock fighting are subsidiaries of the principal animal entertainment industry. The foie gras industry is a subsidiary of the principal animal agriculture industry. The seal clubbing industry is a subsidiary of both the hunting and fishing and animal agriculture industry.

Many of the same large corporate welfare groups that specialize in welfare-oriented SICs also engage in elimination-oriented SICs. While elimination-oriented SICs can be very profitable for most of the groups that engage in them, they are usually not as profitable as the welfare-oriented campaigns mostly because the “win-win” opportunity with the target industry is diminished or lost entirely. In elimination campaigns – with a large exception to be explained in the next paragraph – there is no negotiation with the targeted exploiter. Still, entire organizations are financially fuelled by elimination-oriented SICs and such campaigns can be very lucrative without significantly changing society’s moral attitude toward animals, if at all. Fur comes and goes out of fashion, seal clubbing becomes more or less common, but overall moral attitudes toward animals change very little. In fact, when these subsidiary industries make a “rebound”, they often do so with tremendous success, as the fur, veal, and seal clubbing industry have in the first decade of the 21st century.

The large exception referred to in the last paragraph is the pseudo-elimination campaign that is sold to the public as an “elimination campaign,” but in reality it is proposed legislation negotiated with the target exploiter and the exploiter’s lobbyists and politicians to “ban” a certain practice with a grace period of several years that will allow the exploiter to continue the abuse in question and come up with alternative practices (i.e. welfare reform) to keep the industry alive beyond the sunset date. The classic example of this is the California “ban” on foie gras production starting in 2012 (if it’s not overturned by then by new methods of producing foie gras). See Part II. B. 3. in this Duke Law School link for more information on the so-called “ban” in California.

The Problems with Single Issue Campaigns

While it is understandable, from a business or economic growth standpoint, why welfare groups engage in SICs (SICs are very effective fundraising tools as explained above), there are some problems with SICs that are fatal from the standpoint of bringing about any meaningful, lasting change in society’s moral attitudes toward nonhuman beings.

Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit

As a practical matter, one of the biggest problems with SICs is that they focus most of the animal movement’s money, time, and energy on the periphery (the “fruit”) of the animal abuse and exploitation tree while ignoring the tree’s root, trunk, and lifeblood of exploitation. The specific parts of the periphery focused on are usually what are perceived to be (but aren’t necessarily) the most egregious abuses.

New welfarists (i.e. those who support SICs and welfare reform as a way to abolish animal cruelty) ironically call these perceived egregious abuses the “low-hanging fruit” because the public generally agrees with the welfare groups on these particular issues. I say the phrase “low-hanging fruit” is ironic because it also helps explain why SICs (i.e. picking the low-hanging fruit) are so ineffective at changing society. First, the sole reason that the fruit is “low-hanging” is precisely because most of society already agrees that it’s fine to eliminate these practices. “Low-hanging” is a synonym for “go with the flow” or “accept the status quo.” Second, what is the nature of “fruit”? It is sweet and it grows back on the animal exploitation tree. Picking the low-hanging fruit (i.e. sponsoring SICs) is sweet because it endears the general public to the welfare organizations, fills the organizations’ coffers, and allows the organization to yell “victory” on a regular basis. And as these problems/”victories” are metaphorical fruit, the problems grow back after a few years, providing an endless supply of fruit in the future while not harming the tree of exploitation and cruelty at all.

So, the millions of dollars that get poured into the animal movement go to picking easy, financially lucrative “fruit” off of the animal exploitation tree instead of working to chop the tree down. Later in this essay, I will talk about chopping the tree down, but right now, I’d like to discuss two more problems with SICs and “supply-side activism”.

Global Free-Trade

We live in a world where globalization in free trade is here and on the increase. Given the economic benefits of global free trade, it is highly unlike that this trend will slow or reverse. The implications of such free international commerce is that if we make an industry practice illegal in one city, state, or nation, the animal exploiters will merely set up shop in a less restrictive state or nation and export the goods to where the demand is located. Since demand has more influence over supply than supply has over demand (e.g. the customer is always right), it has never really been cost effective to focus on restricting suppliers in the first place, except perhaps to sue them for false advertising. In a global economy, where a supplier can easily set up in a less restrictive state or nation, it has become downright absurd to focus societal change on suppliers.

But as absurd as it is to focus on suppliers in a global economy, that is exactly what SICs, especially welfare-oriented SICs and SICs focusing on exportable commodities, do. If we eliminate horse slaughter in the United States, exploiters will simply ship the horses to Mexico and slaughter them there. If we eliminate battery cages in the United States or Austria, suppliers will simply move battery cages to Mexico or another, more lenient European country, respectively, and ship the eggs back to the more restrictive countries.

So, SICs focusing on reforming or eliminating the production of exportable commodities (e.g. SICs on battery cages, gestation crates, and controlled atmosphere killing) without changing the demand for those commodities may enrich welfare organizations because donors have been duped into giving money for such campaigns, but these SICs are doomed to failure in changing society’s attitudes and behavior if demand is not addressed. We need to focus the animal movement’s resources on changing demand.

SICs Cultivate Speciesism

The third problem with SICs is that, if they don’t also call for an end to ALL animal exploitation and abuse, they cultivate speciesism. SICs do this by implying, via the silence regarding other forms of exploitation, that forms of exploitation other than the one on which the SIC is focused are either not as important or unimportant. SICs can avoid this problem by putting it front and center that ALL animal exploitation is wrong and ought to be abolished, but they almost never even mention other forms, much less make them front and center of the campaign.

So, to the extent we focus on the evils of purchasing fur, but ignore the evils of purchasing leather or buying eggs, we imply that only fur is the problem. When we focus on veal, as the movement did in the 1980s and 1990s, we imply that consuming dairy products is okay, even though the veal industry is little more than a by-product of the dairy industry.

SIC promoters may object that mentioning all other forms of exploitation or even related forms (e.g. the veal dairy connection) may result in public resistance to the campaign. The implication here is that the welfare group won’t get the donations and the public endearment. Well, as long as we insist on pacifying the public instead of educating the public, we will get nowhere. We don’t want to offend the public, because we cannot educate people if they are angry with us, but we must find creative and intelligent ways of getting our message across rather than telling people what they already know and agree with.

The Solution: Attack the Root; Chop Down the Tree

The root, trunk, and at least 97% (in numbers killed) of all animal exploitation is in animal agriculture and is directly caused by the fact that so few people are vegans. The remaining 3% of animal exploitation is in experimentation, hunting, rodeos, zoos, circuses, and fur; the elimination of which is equally rooted in widespread veganism. So, what does the “animal protection movement” do? The opposite of what makes sense. Instead of focusing 97% of its efforts on vegan education, which would address 100% of exploitation, the “animal protection movement” focuses 97% of its efforts, via SICs, on welfare reform and trying to reduce or eliminate the 3% periphery. The remaining 3% of the “animal protection movement’s” efforts (in time and money) are given to lip service about going vegan.

We need to turn this around if animals are to stop existing in a perpetual, indefinite hell. We need to focus at least 97% (preferably 100%) of our efforts on vegan education. Being a vegan is not difficult. The food is delicious and optimally nutritious; and we certainly don’t need leather or wool for clothing; nor do we need zoos, or circuses, animal experimentation, or any other uses of animals.

More importantly than how easy it is to go vegan, however, the animals we slaughter for our gustatory, clothing, entertainment, and other preferences are just like us. They experience the same pleasures, pains, and desires for comfort and security that we do. The only known difference is that they don’t use spoken or written language or symbols in thought and communication (which is NOT to say they don’t effectively communicate in non-verbal ways) and this difference of spoken or written communication is completely irrelevant to the moral question of our use of them.

Given our experiential similarities and kinship with animals, what we do to them and the scale on which we do it (53 billion annually, worldwide) is an atrocity worse than any atrocity humans have ever engaged in the history of our species. We need to wake up out of this moral coma as individuals and as a society.

The essence of waking up out of our moral coma is going vegan and engaging in vegan education. Vegan education entails everything from large-scale programs sponsored and paid for by our largest groups to talking to the people in our lives as individuals. We need to put an end to the moral relativism and timidity on every level of our advocacy without being offensive or annoying in doing so. We need to promote veganism without the kind of embarrassing publicity stunts for which PETA is well-known. When the topic of vegan living comes up, we must be honest and unequivocal in our contributions to the topic, which is to say that we view slaughtering innocent animals as morally wrong as slaughtering innocent humans. If people are offended by the comparison of humans and animals, it is because they are the victims of acculturation in a grossly speciesist society and accept anthropocentrism as unquestioned dogma. We need to challenge the dogma. We need to have people carefully question and think about how sentient nonhuman beings are similar to human beings, what the differences are, and which is morally relevant, the similarities or differences. If we take an impartial, unbiased view, it is blatantly obvious that the similarities are morally relevant and the differences are utterly irrelevant.

For more information on vegan education, this blog essay is a good starting point.

Note: This essay was edited on December 21, 2011 to clarify in the last section that the term “vegan” meant the elimination of all animal products from one’s life as much as is practically possible, including the elimination of animal products in clothing, entertainment, personal care products, and other possible uses of animal products.

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Just Being Vegan

Three of the last several essays on this blog have been about vegan education. Based on what I’ve written in those essays, one might get the impression that I believe that everyone who goes vegan ought, as a moral imperative, to engage in a significant personal effort to educate others about why and how to go vegan; but that is not the case, and the purpose of this essay is to elaborate on and/or clarify what I see as a behavioral moral baseline – that is, being vegan – as contrasted with behavior that is highly desirable and strongly encouraged, but not morally imperative – that is, being active in vegan advocacy beyond merely being vegan.

When discussing animal rights, people sometimes object that there are too many problems in the world involving humans, and that once we get our global or national house in order regarding humans, then we can worry about nonhumans. Ignoring the embedded speciesism and “othering” in this line of thought, even if one prefers assisting humans prior to assisting nonhumans (which, just like the reverse, is fine), there is no reason for contributing to the intentional harm and exploitation inflicted on nonhuman beings. In other words, other than changing habits, merely being vegan requires no significant time or effort that would take away from one’s time or energy available to help humans. Being vegan does not entail becoming an animal rights activist any more than avoiding cannibalism entails becoming a human rights activist or avoiding a career as a pimp entails becoming an outspoken feminist. One simply refuses to engage in exploiting nonhumans (or humans or women) and goes on with life as usual.

Another problem with the objection that we need to “take care of humans before we go vegan” is that so many human problems are directly rooted in our consumption of animal products and the deplorable animal agriculture industry that supplies this consumption. One of those human problems is world hunger. A large portion of total demand for grains is made up of the animal agriculture industry’s demand for animal feed. Animals always consume significantly more calories, nutrition, and protein in plant-based food than they provide in animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy). This artificially high demand makes the price of those grains – which could instead be allocated to feed starving human populations – rise to a significantly higher level. In addition, more large populations of humans in places like China that used to be almost vegan are being introduced to larger quantities of animal products, artificially increasing demand and price for grains even more. Sadly, perhaps even potentially catastrophically, the world demand for animal products is expected to double over the next couple of decades, putting enormous upward pressure on the price and supply of grains, and causing even more human starvation for the have-nots. Another human problem solved by veganism is the animal waste and digestive gas, particularly from pigs and cattle, released into our air and water which has a devastating effect on our environment by polluting our water and air and contributing to global warming. A third human problem that is significantly reduced by veganism is the health problems brought on by moderate to heavy milk, cheese, egg, and meat consumption, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. So do we really want to help humans, ourselves included? If so, then we should go vegan.

Once we go vegan, we are no longer directly contributing to various human problems and the problem of animal exploitation, and as long as we are “just vegan” and don’t do anything to promote so-called “humane” animal products, we are blameless for what goes on regarding our society’s exploitation of nonhuman beings. As vegans, we have met a minimum standard of moral behavior with respect to nonhumans. At this point, as vegans, if we believe that there are other areas we would prefer to spend our time on other than animal advocacy, such as working at the homeless shelter, then that’s fine. Active animal advocacy, while highly desirable, is no more a moral duty than getting involved in any other cause or movement. There is nothing wrong with spending our volunteer time engaging in what interests us most (e.g. the human rights cause), but we should not contribute to a major problem like animal exploitation and all of its extremely negative external costs to humans and nonhumans and use the failed excuse that “there are more important things to do” than going vegan (or refraining from violence in general).

A Caveat

So, being vegan, by itself, achieves the moral baseline of avoiding the exploitation of others, and vegan or abolitionist advocacy beyond merely being vegan is very desirable and strongly encouraged, but it is ultimately supererogatory. There are, however, as I discussed in the three recent essays on vegan education, certain activities and types of supposed “animal advocacy” that are counterproductive and that vegans ought to steer clear of: namely, getting involved in efforts to regulate animal exploitation and promoting supposedly more “humane” eggs and dairy.

As vegans, we ought to either promote vegan living (including, for example, vegan food-only blogs and promotion) or decline to get involved in advocacy. Joining with those who promote exploitation, even if described and marketed as “humane”, is inconsistent with our behavior and beliefs as vegans, and in the long run promotes and reinforces animal exploitation instead of eroding it. Also, while it is true that, as vegans, we would like to see less suffering of those exploited than more suffering, there are two additional interrelated reasons why we ought to refrain. One reason is that we have limited time, money, and energy for advocacy, which makes our decision in what to invest them a zero-sum game. Every quantity of time, money, and energy spent on promoting so-called “humane” animal products is necessarily diverted from vegan education. The other reason is that abolitionist vegans are outnumbered by consumers and advocates of “happy eggs” and “happy milk” by several orders of magnitude. The movement for “happy” animal products, which is ultimately a boon for the industry and its long-term profitability, is going very strong and only shows signs of growing stronger at this time. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that welfare reform efforts lead people to go vegan. People may become interested in reform efforts and then eventually go vegan, but what gets people to go vegan is vegan education: people go vegan when it is understood why we are not morally justified in killing animals for food and other trivial purposes and when it is understood how delicious and nutritious vegan food is.

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Vegangelical: A Strong Voice for the Sentient and Innocent

I’ve seen a new word floating around cyberspace. The word is “vegangelical.” I believe it is meant to be a derogatory term for us so-called “holier-than-thou” or “extreme” vegans who “impose our beliefs”on supposedly innocuous and “moderate and reasonable” consumers of animal products. This essay is dedicated to looking a little closer at some of these derogatory terms and descriptions of vegans who dare to speak on behalf of the innocent. Specifically, we’ll compare…I mean contrast, “extremism” in avoiding animal products versus extremism in using and consuming animal products.Extremism In Violence

Let’s first take a glance at that pervasive Orwellian concept that veganism is “extreme” while the “Standard American Diet” (referred to herein as “SAD”) including meat, dairy, and eggs is “moderate and reasonable.” The only way veganism can be considered “extreme” is by contrasting it with its opposite; namely, the societal norm of slaughtering 10 billion innocent animals annually. As I wrote about a couple of months ago, the average American causes the intentional slaughter of about 33.3 fully-sentient nonhuman beings annually. By contrast, there are absolutely no intentional deaths in a vegan diet, and any inadvertent deaths in crop production in vegan human populations are far less per capita than the number of inadvertent deaths per capita in any non-vegan human population. Intentionally terminating an innocent life – human or nonhuman – for completely unnecessary food preferences is extreme.Extremism In Poor Health

The obesity and heart disease rate in this country is anything but “moderate and reasonable”, and it is a direct result of our obsession with meat, dairy, and eggs. We are literally taking several years, and in some cases, a few decades, off of our life-expectancy because we clog our arteries with the blood-sludge of the animal fat and cholesterol inherent in the SAD. Not to absolve consumers, because we consumers are ultimately responsible for our choices, but the SAD and the big animal agribusiness interests that promote it in a bombardment of daily advertising, are having an extreme field day sending Americans to their graves much earlier than they would normally arrive there; not to mention the health care and pharmaceutical costs of attempting to prevent or reduce further damage from the SAD.

Extremism In Unnecessary Environmental Filth

Unimaginable amounts of raw sewage from pig farms, feed lots, and massive chicken sheds is polluting our air, ground water, and rivers and killing fish by the millions. As noted in the December 14, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone magazine in an article entitled “Boss Hog”, our large pig farms spray huge quantities of liquid shit from gigantic manure pits (which often overflow in storms into surrounding [formerly fresh] water) up into the local air, causing people unfortunate enough to live anywhere near the “farms” to breathe in the toxins and develop severe respiratory illnesses (and possibly lung cancer and related problems). As stated in the Rolling Stone article: “The smell of hog waste is unduly invasive: It’s as if something has physically entered your stomach. The stench causes pilots to gag at 3,000 feet.” Even the methane and nitrous oxide produced by cows and pigs from our feed lots and pig sheds is causing a warming effect on the atmosphere at a rate that is comparable, and sometimes exceeds, the warming effect of what millions of cars and trucks belch into the air in our country. [1] On top of all of this, and due to the political power these corporations wield by lobbying and buying politicians, Congress is planning to exempt these polluters from even reporting, much less doing anything about, what they emit into the environment. Further, we are now environmentally concerned about the industrialization of China and India – including their newfound fondness of the SAD, which is expected to at least double the environmental problems we have now over the coming decades – while we do nothing to set an example. What kind of world are our children and grandchildren going to live in during the next 50 years, the next 100 years? Will they even survive it and the global power struggles that will come with it?

What’s Extreme?

So what’s extreme? Veganism certainly isn’t “extreme,” unless we consider a peaceful, healthy, and environmentally responsible way of life extreme. If anything is extreme, it is intentionally slaughtering 10 billion animals annually in the U.S. (or 33.3 nonhuman beings per non-vegan person annually), killing ourselves from heart disease and obesity on the SAD, and ruining our environment (so severely that we’re literally making people sick, and not just making them gag), when it is completely unnecessary and so destructive.

Holier-Than-Thou Vegans

Let’s now turn to the “holier-than-thou” criticism; and the related charge that vegans are vegans because “it’s a sweet way of feeling superior to others”. The only way I could see this criticism holding weight in a criticism of someone’s attitude is when the difference in another’s behavior that they are disapproving of is trivial or insignificant when compared to their own behavior, and the moral judgment and disapproving attitude of that trivial difference in behavior is clearly an overreaction. But how can we, with any decent conscience whatsoever, consider the killing of so many innocent beings, the destruction of our health, and the environmental consequences “trivial” or “insignificant”? It is monstrous to dismiss such violence and destruction as trivial or insignificant.

Criticizing vegans who are outspoken about the atrocities of our day and the easy vegan solution to it as “holier-than-thou” or “feeling superior” is unwise at best, given all of the benefits of living in a vegan society. To go a step further and suggest that vegans should shut up and mind our own business – given the consequences of the SAD on us, nonhumans, and the environment – is foolish; and it is foolish because it is either embarrassingly ignorant of the facts, or so numb and apathetic to the plight of others as to be parasitic, but worse than most parasites, because most parasites must be parasitic to survive, whereas we don’t have such a need to be parasitic. We have a choice. We can go vegan.

Talk Is Cheap

Anyone can say they “care about animals” and talk about avoiding “unnecessary” suffering. But vegans walk the talk, and if some of us do happen to feel “superior to others” or “holier-than-thou” in this regard, we’ve earned every right to feel that way. The only thing that really is nothing more than “a sweet way of feeling superior to others” is using this line to cheaply pump one’s ego and feel a false sense of “morally superiority” by expressing the old self-contradictory “absolute” rule in moral relativity: Thou shall not judge (and in expressing that rule, even implicitly, one automatically contradicts oneself by committing a judgment and violating the rule).

Our Badge of Honor

Vegans should wear the term “vegangelical” as a badge of honor. After all, what crime did nonhumans commit to deserve their sentence to a life in “cage-free”, “certified humane” and organic concentration camps and a brutal slaughter to end it all? Their crime was evidently to be born completely innocent in the wrong place at the wrong time, or to be born of the wrong species/parents.

As “vegangelicals”, we are the ones promoting decent, civilized behavior toward nonhuman beings and a healthy human diet, promoting life and longevity. We are the ones helping to protect the environment by our food and clothing choices. We are the ones giving the otherwise speechless innocent the strongest voice they have. This is nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of, but rather something strong and immensely respectable to embrace and bring into the open – a respect for all life.


[1] This sentence was modified on March 12, 2008 to reflect a more technically accurate statement. The essential point of the sentence as it was originally written remains unchanged.

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Property Status and Animal Welfare: Two Deep Roots of Cruelty

Before we start on this essay, we should be aware that both last week’s essay, and as we will see, this one, are dealing with moral philosophy (i.e. reasoning from basic moral principles), the law (property rights, individual rights, and welfare laws), and empirical and rational fact (e.g. the full sentience of nonhumans and its relevance to a basic right to physical security). Yes, there are gray areas and dilemmas in some questions of moral philosophy, but the areas we’re covering now, despite controversy, are mostly black, white, and straight forward.The controversy comes from our acculturation and our moral psychology, or the question, “Why be moral (especially when nobody else is)?” Most people are intelligent enough to at least follow the easy moral reasoning that I’ve set forth and will continue to set forth in this blog. The controversy and conflict comes from the social momentum of the acceptance of animal consumption (i.e. acculturation) and the psychological conditioningof life-long habits that current non-vegans experience in the face of and opposed to straightforward moral reasoning from basic moral principles; moral principles which were already plainly accepted long before a consistent application in clear reasoning was made to nonhumans. I understand the inner emotional turbulence faced by conscientious non-vegans, but I encourage non-vegans to continue with moral and emotional strength and courage in honestly questioning the status quo and making the modifications in behavior which recognize the moral value of nonhuman beings.In last week’s essay, we established the moral fact of the basic right of nonhuman beings to physical security against humans in virtue of their sentience. Since sentient nonhumans are no different from humans in the only relevant criterion for holding the basic right to physical security (i.e. sentience), this moral fact is just as secure in knowledge when applied to nonhumans as when applied to humans. If sentient nonhumans don’t have this basic right, then humans don’t either. If a nonhuman being’s life is worthless, then so is all life worthless, obviously including ours. From my viewpoint, however, all life with a high degree of sentience (which includes all “food”, “entertainment”, and “research” animals) has inherent value which must be respected as an end in itself.

Inherent Value

There is another basic right which will be the topic of this essay which is essential to the basic right to physical security: the basic right not to be treated as a thing. We often value humans as a means to an end; but morally, most of us agree that valuing humans exclusively as a means to an end is wrong. We might pay one employee far more in compensation and rewards than another employee, but we don’t kill, maim, torture, dispose of, or own that employee as a thing. Another way of conveying the same idea is that humans, regardless of their utility value to others, or the quality or misery of their life, or their intelligence or severe lack thereof, or any other characteristic, have equal inherent value or value as ends in themselves. If the equal inherent value of a human is ignored and the only value that human has is his or her utility value or the value of some other characteristic, then that human being is treated as a thing and is therefore also outside of the moral community.

It is important to remember that equal inherent value, like the basic right to physical security, is based on sentience, defined in last week’s essay as a non-cognitive experience of a self (which includes the experience of pleasure and pain). Also, for precisely the same reasons that we cannot exclude sentient nonhumans from the basic right to physical security as explained in last week’s essay, we cannot exclude them from having equal inherent value. To exclude sentient nonhumans from having equal inherent value is as arbitrary as excluding intelligent and curious humans from education based on race or sex.

Property Status and the Law

American law recognizes two types of entities: persons and things. There is no middle category. During American slavery in the 19th century, a middle category was attempted, and slaves were considered “quasi-persons” or “ things-plus” or “3/5ths of a person”, but that category utterly failed to bring any significant “legal personhood” to slaves or any relief of the cruelty they endured as property of their owners. The law protects the rights of persons to do what they want with the things they own, and if there is ever a conflict between a person with property rights and the thing they own, property rights always win, regardless of any other law whatsoever “protecting” the thing. This was true without exception during American slavery, and it is true today in all of our relations with nonhuman beings.

The importance placed on property rights in Anglo-American law cannot be overemphasized here. Although I will not make any judgments about the propriety of this priority of property rights, it is not an overstatement to say that property rights are revered and sacred in the United States. Indeed, as irrational as it may be, it is not an exaggeration to say that some people in the United States consider their property rights to be just as important, if not more so, as their basic right to physical security (e.g. their right to life), and would just as soon be shot to death as give up even a trivial portion of property rights. This reverence for property rights is reflected in our courts and it is no surprise that the strongest slave welfare laws in the antebellum South did nothing to protect slaves, as chattel property, from unspeakable cruelty inflicted by their property owners. When the property rights meet welfare laws, it’s like a speeding freight train meeting a light warm breeze; the effect is negligible.

As long as it is the case that nonhumans are owned as things and their owners hold property rights over them (which is one and the same thing), welfare laws will never be able to protect against the flagrant and extreme cruelty which is routine in all of animal agriculture, much less protect equal inherent value or the basic right to physical security. The first fact that anyone genuinely concerned about animal cruelty must fully understand and accept is that welfare laws are and always will be impotent to prevent cruelty. The most welfare laws will do is to protect the interests of property owners in utilizing their property to its maximum economic potential. Welfare laws will always be disastrous for sentient nonhumans, doing no more than they have in the past: making humans feel better about the exploitation and cruelty inflicted on nonhumans.

Deep Roots of Cruelty

It has been established in this essay and last week’s essay that, if we are to avoid the exact same kind of cultural prejudice that upheld slavery and the subjugation of women for many centuries until the 20th century, then nonhuman beings must have equal inherent value and the basic right to physical security under the law, as they already do morally, whether it is recognized by law or not. A deep root of cruelty and one of the largest barriers to the prevention of cruelty (both industrial cruelty and household cruelty) is the moral and legal status of nonhuman beings as “things”. Another deep root supporting cruelty is the notion held by new welfarists that welfare laws can stand up to property rights and improve conditions for nonhumans in any significant way.

We do not need welfare campaigns to show the general public how cruel nonhumans are treated. Videos like The Faces of Free Range Farming and constant, widespread information on industry conditions will suffice to educate people over time. Industry cannot fight this because if they were forced to open their “free range”, “cage free”, “humane” and “compassionate” concentration camps and abattoirs to the public for regular widespread tours and viewing (even if only on television), the public reaction to the cruelty would defeat them quickly. Industry also cannot change because it is economically and logistically impossible to raise and slaughter billions of nonhumans for consumption without extreme cruelty. Indeed, it is each and every consumer of animal products, regardless of any “special labels” on those products, who are ultimately responsible for this extreme cruelty. With persistence and perseverance, our efforts at education will result in more people shedding cultural prejudices about sentient nonhumans and discovering that veganism is the only solution to the inevitable, widespread, and extreme cruelty endured by farmed animals, again, regardless of what “special label” is placed on the package, and that veganism is the only way to live in a morally adequate relationship to nonhuman beings.

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Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint

Preface added January 25, 2010: This essay is exclusively about the viewpoint of people who actively advocate for animal exploitation. For an essay that explores, among other things, why people exploit animals without necessarily advocating for exploitation, see the more comprehensive (and more interesting) essay entitled Rational Ignorance and Rational Irrationality.It is often said that we should understand the other side’s viewpoint in disagreements. I think we can agree that this is good advice in all disagreements, regardless of the topic or the participants. In this essay, I explain my general understanding of animal exploitation advocates’ viewpoint. I limit the essay to the viewpoint of advocates of exploitation as opposed to those who exploit, but generally remain silent on the issue of whether we are justified in exploiting, harming, and killing innocent nonhuman beings. There are additional considerations regarding those who exploit, but do not actively advocate exploitation, which I will not address here. Prior to going vegan over 4 years ago, although I never advocated for exploitation, I had many years of experience in participation in animal exploitation through food and other purchases. I believe these years of experience provide me with a reasonable basis for understanding and assessing the exploiters’ viewpoint, whether advocated for or not.

Almost all animal exploitation advocates like to consume and are in the habit of consuming the flesh (i.e. meat) and bodily fluids (e.g. milk, cheese and eggs) of nonhuman beings. Many animal exploitation advocates also like to shoot nonhuman beings for fun, experiment on them for money (ostensibly also for “scientific” reasons), hang on the wall or wear parts of nonhuman beings, use them for entertainment, or make money off the numerous ways we exploit them. These uses, individually and collectively, are doubtlessly the primary, if not the only, motive driving the arguments of animal exploitation advocates. Exploitation advocates all have one thing in common: self-interest and personal gain, no matter how great or trivial.

Animal exploitation advocates start with the notion, “I want to [fill in the blank: hunt, eat meat, consume dairy products, profit from exploitation, etc.]” and work from that self-interested idea to search for premises to support a conclusion “justifying” the desired use. Included in the premises found by exploitation advocates are some of the common cultural prejudices handed down to us from philosophers such as Rene Descartes, who told us that nonhumans are literally “automata” or “God’s machines” and Immanuel Kant, who told us that, because nonhumans are not as “rational” as us, nonhumans are “things” (never mind how irrationally humans often actually think and behave; and not to mention the complete irrelevancy of rational capacity in distinguishing beings from things). The cultural prejudices are even embedded in our language when we refer to nonhumans as “it” (even when we know the gender) instead of he or she and “that” instead of who. Well, obviously if nonhumans are really mere “automata” or “things”, then we certainly have no moral obligations to them. Under this distorted view, nonhuman beings are no different from rocks, tables, and trees. There are other dubious, even absurd, premises selected for their fine fit with the desired self-interested conclusion that nonhuman beings are morally irrelevant, but status as “things” is the most common and popular, both implicitly and explicitly, when animal exploitation advocates are working backwards from the assumed conclusion to the “premises.”

Why do people sometimes hold onto such distortions of reality as the notion that nonhuman beings are “things”? Why do some of us so blatantly ignore the evidence of sentience and moral worth? I think part of the reason can be described by an extreme form of the doctrine of William James called The Will to Believe. “The Will to Believe” is derived from James’ pragmatism whereby the epistemological standard of truth of a belief, when we lack evidence, is measured by how well it benefits us to hold the belief as true. If this is our standard of truth, then according to James’ pragmatism, we can ignore a lack of evidence regarding a self-benefiting belief and “will” ourselves to hold that belief. Animal exploitation advocates take James’ “will to believe” further than James by ignoring contradictory evidence regarding a self-benefiting belief. How much we are willing to ignore contradictory empirical evidence, such as the morally relevant similarities of human and nonhuman beings, or the similarity of dogs to pigs, to hold a belief that personally benefits us is a fairly good measure of how radical our self-interested dishonesty is. [1]

Intellectual honesty is what has led and will lead to greater social justice and moral progress in the world, whether the victims of injustice are human or nonhuman beings. If animal exploitation advocates embraced intellectual honesty by placing themselves in the inevitable and unenviable position of being thrown into the world as a nonhuman being subject to the cruel and exploitive whims of humans through no fault of their own and worked from that premise, applying a fair version of the Golden Rule and letting the conclusions result from the intellectually honest premises instead of letting bogus premises result from preconceived conclusions, then many animal exploitation advocates would change their minds, go vegan, and stand on solid epistemological and moral ground.

So it is not difficult to see the world from the exploitation advocates’ viewpoint, or the violent criminal’s viewpoint, or the tyrant’s viewpoint. All we need to do is place our self-interest at the center of our criteria for “determining” truth and reality to the exclusion of others’ interest, contradictory evidence, and intellectual honesty, and we’ve arrived at the essence of the exploitation advocates’ viewpoint.

[1] I have edited this essay as of Wednesday, November 14, 2007, in light of a misrepresentation of William James’ views in the original essay pointed out by a concerned reader. The edit is explained more fully in the next essay, also dated November 14, 2007. I apologize for the error.

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On Trivializing the Causes of Other Groups

A few weeks ago, there was much hubbub on Grist.org when Bruce Friedrich of PETA wrote as a guest on the benefits of vegetarianism for the environment. Indeed, there are very significant benefits which a vegan diet bestows on the environment which I will not go into here. However, there was much unwarranted hostility [1] toward vegans who were posting in the comment section and much ignorant trivializing of veganism both as a benefit to the environment and as an imperative for justice to nonhuman beings.

Also occurring a few weeks ago was PETA’s publicized photo of Hollywood vegan Alicia Silverstone posing nude. Might this kind of sexism have a causal connection to the severe oppression, violence, and exploitation endured by economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged women? It certainly isn’t helping the fight against such exploitation. And if groups seeking to protect the innocent are engaging in sexism at all, what does that say to society and to groups that don’t care about protecting the innocent? Where do we draw the line on hypocrisy? Do we perform some utilitarian calculus? No. Instead, if we are serious about opposing exploitation, we do what we can to avoid any and all exploitation, including the promotion of sexploitation. In the process, we avoid hypocrisy and maintain moral consistency and credibility. We don’t make publicity a priority over principles.

Other Examples of Hypocrisy

I brought up the environmental hostility toward vegans and PETA’s sexism to give some recent examples of what goes on regularly by groups and individuals who like to fashion themselves as “progressive” and against oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed; but fail to live up to their professed beliefs and self-image when they trivialize other forms of oppression, violence, exploitation, and greed.

Another example is feminists trivializing the exploitation, violence, and death of nonhuman beings because of the arbitrary claim that they are “only animals” and besides, they taste good. What about male chauvinists who trivialize sexism and sexploitation for similar reasons of personal advantage, pleasure, and habit?

Another example is people who defend civil rights trivializing very basic rights for nonhuman beings based on their crucial interests in not being tortured and killed, presumably because “might-makes-right”, they’re “only animals”, and they taste good. How is that different from violations of equal opportunity based on privilege and prejudice? How is it different from white, propertied males excluding other groups from opportunity out of greed? How is it different from “in-group” majorities refusing to treat “out-group” minorities who have similar relevant characteristics similarly (think religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender group, ethnic group, or race)? It’s no different. Racism, sexism, and speciesism are all from the same source of arbitrary “in-group” selection.

Of course, the examples I’ve provided are only a few examples, not a complete list of the hypocrisy of the various causes, movements, groups, and individuals claiming to be fighting for justice and against oppression, violence, exploitation, arbitrary exclusion, and greed; and all of the various combinations of who is trivializing whose cause. It is really quite a spectacle of human folly when we stop and give it some thought.

The Common Enemy

There is a common enemy underlying all true social justice movements which can be called “might-makes-right.” Injustice is injustice. Oppression is oppression. Exploitation is exploitation. Arbitrary exclusion is arbitrary exclusion. Greed is greed. Sure, they all admit of degrees. But seeing our own fight against these underlying conditions applied to our own unique cause as trumping all other causes to the point where we are fine with trivializing other causes is myopic and hypocritical.

There’s nothing wrong with believing our own unique cause is very important, and even more important than another cause if we have good reasons for believing so. There is also nothing wrong with dedicating ourselves to one single injustice issue or even opposing another movement because it is an obstacle to justice in our movement. [2] But there is no excuse for trivializing another movement’s battle against injustice which is fighting the same underlying enemy merely because the subject of the other issue is one that we have failed to carefully consider or we have some personal prejudice or intellectual dishonesty of our own which we probably ought to address, and this is usually the case when individuals or groups trivialize other causes.

People and groups who are fighting injustice ought to look at all injustice, actual or potential, as likely to be interrelated with their own cause and look to work with other movements instead of against them. With some notable exceptions [2], social justice movements are usually complementary to each other rather than opposed. And if it is asking too much to cooperate with a group that is not a barrier or obstacle to our cause, then we should at least do no harm, get out of the way, or be quiet.



[1] The hostility toward vegans likely arose out of a fear of the unknown, including ignorance about what to eat, commitment to veganism, and how others might react to such a perceived “bold step” as going vegan. As is true of most “fears of the unknown,” however, the only thing to fear is fear itself (as FDR once said) and, of course, ignorance about the topic in general. I find it interesting and amusing how some non-vegans seem to think that they know more about being vegan than long-time vegans know. Contrary to the inexperienced and untutored opinions of some non-vegans, going and staying vegan is easy, the food is delicious, and the reactions we get are generally positive, as long as people aren’t threatened by our behavior. If going and staying vegan was perceived by environmentalists to be as easy as purchasing a fuel-efficient car instead of a Hummer, a very large percentage of environmentalists would be vegan. While it’s not that easy, it is much easier than the average environmentalist thinks it is, and if you are a non-vegan environmentalist, you really should do some research and try going vegan for a year or two. (Unlike buying a hybrid car, veganism takes from about 6 months to a year or more of honest effort and application to learn enough about the options available, pick personal preferences, and change old habits. Once those habits are changed though, you’re on auto-pilot and it is effortless.)

There was also ignorance from environmentalists in the Grist blog about the benefits of a vegan diet on the environment. Now I’ll admit that just as buying and driving a Prius instead of a Hummer will not “save the environment” by itself, going vegan instead of consuming significant amounts of animal products will not “save the environment” by itself either. Both are merely excellent steps to take to reduce one’s “footprint.” What makes veganism a moral imperative is not utilitarian considerations about the environment, however, but justice and the moral right of nonhuman beings to their life and bodily integrity against moral agents.

[2] It is possible for socially progressive movements to conflict. One example goes back to the voting rights of African Americans in the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870. Fredrick Douglass wanted to exclude women from the 15th Amendment because he thought that while it was important for all to vote, it was more important that freed male slaves obtain suffrage at that time. Douglass reasonably feared that if women were included in the 15th Amendment, it was considerably less likely to pass at all. This conflict fueled the women’s movement to eventually get the 19th Amendment passed and ratified by the states 50 years later in 1920.

A second example of conflict between progressive movements concerns the current abolition movement versus the “happy” meat movement (also known as the “new welfarist” movement, the “industry-welfarist partnership” movement, and the “animal husbandry” movement). The abolition movement correctly sees the new welfarist movement and their partnering and consulting relationship with industry as a barrier to any significant progress in combating the severe and violent exploitation of billions of nonhuman beings annually for food, research, and entertainment. As long as veganism as a moral imperative is rejected or ignored by society and so-called “animal rights” groups (like PETA, HSUS, and “Vegan” Outreach), nonhuman beings will always be property under the law, always treated as economic commodities, and violently exploited by the billions in ways which most people cannot bear to watch.

As long as so many vegans assist the new welfarist movement in cooperating with and attempting to reform industry instead of engaging in creative vegan education and outreach, including films and photos of the inevitably cruel treatment of nonhumans, societal acceptance of veganism will be delayed unnecessarily and perhaps indefinitely. Due to this obvious barrier and threat to justice, abolitionist vegans are attempting to educate new welfarist vegans about the existence and consequences of this barrier and are often very critical of the new welfarist movement. This unpopular criticism, however, is a necessary part of educating people about what justice for nonhuman beings is, and justice is about abolition and going vegan, not about reforming industry.


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