Tag Archives: advocacy
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.
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. 
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.
 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.
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:
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 and Anna Charlton’s abolitionist pamphlet (it’s also available in several other languages)
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”.
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.
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).
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.
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.  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?
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.
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.
 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.