Sunday, November 16, 2008

Vegan Education Made Easy Part 2

May 8, 2008

Posted by: Gary L. Francione in Blog

A friend of mine recently asked the following question: “What do you say to people who are vegans and who educate others about veganism but who are also concerned about circuses, hunting, and other particular forms of animal exploitation. Do you advise that they not address those issues at all and just focus on veganism?”

Of course not.

It is certainly the case that I do not advise that advocates spend their time and resources on single-issue campaigns. The reason is simple: single-issue campaigns invariably convey the impression that some forms of animal exploitation are morally distinguishable from others and are worse or should be singled out for special criticism. For example, a campaign against fur conveys the impression that there is some morally relevant difference between fur and other forms of animal clothing, such as leather or wool. A campaign against eating animal flesh conveys the impression that eating flesh is morally more objectionable than drinking milk or eating eggs. A campaign against conventional battery eggs suggests that “cage-free” eggs are morally desirable.

This problem is inherent with single-issue campaigns in a society in which animal exploitation is regarded as normal. If X, Y, and Z are all considered as normal practices in a society and are closely related, then a campaign against X, but not against Y and Z, suggests that there is some relevant difference between X on one hand and Y and Z on the other. For example, we live in a society in which it is considered as normal or “natural” to eat animal flesh and other animal products. A campaign that focuses on flesh conveys the impression that there is a moral difference between flesh and other animal products, which is not the case. The proof of this is found in the fact that many animal advocates are vegetarians but are not vegans. If they draw a distinction, then what can we expect from the general public?

This situation is to be distinguished from one in which X, Y, and Z are all regarded as objectionable activities or practices. For example, we all regard genocide as a bad thing whether it is happening in Darfur, Somalia, or Bosnia. If we have a campaign to stop genocide in Darfur, that does not mean that we think that genocide in other places is acceptable. We regard rape and pedophilia to be morally objectionable. A campaign against one does not imply any tacit approval of the other or any view that one is morally distinguishable from another.

This inherent problem with single-issue animal campaigns is exacerbated by the fact that animal groups that promote these campaigns often explicitly praise exploiters who may stop or modify some exploitative practice but who continue to engage in other, related practices. For example some animal advocates praise “cage-free” eggs as the “socially responsible” alternative to conventional battery eggs. Many large animal advocacy organizations sponsor or approve of “humane” labels that are placed on animal products. A prominent animal ethicist claims that being a “conscientious omnivore” is “a defensible ethical position.” This conveys a very clear and explicit moral message: some forms of animal exploitation are morally acceptable.

Moreover, single-issue campaigns not only create the misimpression that some forms of exploitation are qualitatively different in a moral sense from others, but often result in false “victories.” For example, the single-issue campaign in California against foie gras (1, 2) resulted in a law that was actually supported by the one foie gras producer in California because it immunized him against any legal action until 2012 and will probably be repealed before it ever comes into force if foie gras production can be made to be more “humane.”

So I am not a fan of putting time and money into single-issue campaigns. I maintain that our time, effort, and other resources are better placed in promoting veganism.

As long as 99%+ of the planet regards the eating of animal foods and consumption or use of animal products to be acceptable, we will never make the paradigm shift that we need to make if we are going to dislodge the notion that humans have a moral right to exploit nonhumans. We need to build a nonviolent movement for abolition that has veganism as its moral baseline.

But that does not mean that we should not oppose particular types of exploitation.

For example, last weekend, a horse, Eight Belles, who ran in the Kentucky Derby was killed immediately after the race and on the track when her ankles gave out as a result of her running for a duration and at a speed for which she was not suited. I was interviewed on a radio show and asked about my views on the matter of Eight Belles.

I explained that I opposed all horse racing but as part of my general view that humans have no moral justification for using nonhumans at all, including for food.

The host of the program picked up on that and talked about how he very much loves and cares for his dog but had a barbecue that past weekend at which he consumed other animals. So in a matter of a few minutes, the connection between horse racing and other forms of exploitation, particularly eating animal products, was made.

When we do discuss and criticize particular forms of exploitation, it is important to make clear that we regard the particular practice as morally unjustifiable and not that we think that the practice or activity can be made to be better if only we regulate it so that it is more “humane.” And it is crucial to make clear that our opposition to the practice or activity is part of our overall opposition to all animal use. We should not shrink away from making clear that we seek the abolition of all animal exploitation.

So when you are confronted by a particular practice or activity and want to or are asked to comment, you should do so if you are inclined. Just be clear that the solution to the problem is not to make the activity or practice more “humane,” but to recognize that the practice is transparently frivolous, as are most of our uses of nonhumans, and should be abolished - as should all animal exploitation.

Here are two examples:

Q: I was reading about foie gras. The way they make it is terrible, isn’t it?

A: It surely is. But it’s not really different from everything else we eat. The steak you had tonight, or the glass of milk you drank this morning, involved a production process every bit as horrible as that involved in foie gras. And we have no right to kill nonhuman animals just because we think they taste good irrespective of how well we treat them.

Q: The circus is coming to town. What do you, an animal advocate, think about the use of animals in circuses?

A: I think it’s terrible. We impose suffering and death on animals for sheer amusement and that is really inconsistent with what we claim to believe when we express our agreement with the idea that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering on animals. But then, using animals in circuses is really no different from eating animals, which is also something that involves our pleasure or amusement and is just as inconsistent with what we say we believe. There is no way to make sense out of the fact that we treat some nonhuman animals as members of our families and we stick forks into others or torture them for our enjoyment in circuses, zoos, or rodeos.

Whether you should spend your time and energy on legislation concerning circuses is another matter. As I have said, at this point in time, the cultural context is such that it makes far more sense to spend our time focused on the use of animals for food, which is the primary practice that, in effect, legitimizes other forms of exploitation.

But if you do decide to campaign against circuses, your campaign should, at the very least, oppose the use of all animals in circuses and have no exceptions, and make clear that circuses are no better or worse than other forms of animal use, all of which should be abolished if we are to take animals seriously.

Gary L. Francione

© 2008 Gary L. Francione

Vegan Education Made Easy Part 1

March 25, 2008

Posted by: Gary L. Francione in Blog

One of the things that I hear frequently is that educating people, particularly strangers, about veganism, is difficult.

On the contrary, our everyday interactions with people provide us with many opportunities to discuss veganism. This essay will discuss a couple of examples. I will discuss more examples in future essays.

For example, in January of this year, I had to take Robert, one of our dogs, to see a specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. There was a woman - I will refer to her as “Jane” for purposes of this essay but that was not her real name - sitting with me in the waiting area. Jane had a greyhound with her. And, as always happens when two humans are in such a place with their nonhuman companions, we got to talking about what health problems had brought us to Penn. And that led to how Jane had adopted her dog from a rescue group and how our dog was found living under an abandoned car.

After a minute or two of discussing how horrible the greyhound racing industry is, I told Jane that I used to teach at the University of Pennsylvania many years ago, and that Penn was notorious for the horrible experiments, testing, and “educational” procedures that it performed on dogs and other nonhumans. She said that she had heard about Penn’s animal experiments and I mentioned how strange it was that one part of the building was devoted to the application of veterinary medicine to help the animals who were loved by humans and another part of the building was devoted to torturing nonhumans who were not members of anyone’s family. Jane made the point that it really made no sense that we treat some dogs or cats as family members and we treat some dogs and cats as “research tools.”

“How true,” I said. “But in many ways, we’re all just like these Penn vets. We treat some animals as family members and we harm others.”

She look bewildered. “What do you mean? I would never hurt a dog or cat.” I moved the conversation away from dogs and cats and starting talking about cows, pigs, and chickens, and how they are really no different from dogs and cats. There is something very strange about the fact that we regard some nonhumans as family members, as beings whom we love and whose personhood we recognize, while, at the same time, we stick forks into other animals who are no different - morally or empirically - from those whom we love.

Jane was silent for a moment and then asked, “are you a vegetarian?”

“I’m a vegan,” I replied.

“You mean you don’t even drink milk?” she asked.

“That’s right. I don’t eat eggs, or any dairy products.”

“I can understand not eating meat. But what’s wrong with dairy and eggs?”

“Everything. The animals used in the dairy or egg industry are kept alive longer than most of their ‘meat’ counterparts, are treated worse, and end up in the same horrible slaughterhouse.”

Jane looked troubled.

“But isn’t it really hard to be a vegan?” she asked.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. “It’s unbelievably easy and it’s better for you and for the planet, in addition to being the right thing to do if you regard nonhumans as members of the moral community.” I spent a few minutes talking about the health benefits of a vegan diet and the ecological disaster of an animal-based agriculture.

Our conversation stopped for about 30 seconds and then Jane asked, “could you get me some information about how to go vegan?”

“Sure. Give me your email address.” She did.

We talked for a few more minutes about the wide range of vegan foods that are now available, and Robert and I were then called in to see the vet. Jane was gone when we came out. That afternoon, I sent Jane a number of things to read about veganism - both about the moral, health, and environmental issues concerning veganism, and some practical information on nutrition and making quick and easy vegan food. That evening, I got a short reply, “Thanks. I will read these with interest.”

Two weeks ago, I got an email from Jane - the first I have heard from her since sending her the materials. It read, in part: “I am about 60% vegan already and am working toward 100%. I already feel better both as a matter of my spirit and my body. I am using the vegan dog food that you recommended and she loves it! Thanks for taking the time.”

Veterinary hospitals and offices are always great places to start up conversations about veganism. People are focused on their nonhuman companion and are emotionally very open to thinking more abstractly about nonhuman animals as a general matter. I cannot recall ever being in a veterinarian’s office (and we have had up to seven rescued dogs at one time, so we’ve had plenty of experience at the vet’s office) where I did not start up a conversation with someone that drifted to veganism.

Another great place to talk about veganism is on an airplane.

When you order any sort of special meal on a flight, those meals are usually served first. The air host comes over and asks whether you ordered a “special meal.” I always respond, “yes, I ordered a vegan meal with no animal products whatsoever.”

Most of the time, the person sitting next to me, or the two people sitting on either side (if I am in a middle seat) ask me whether I have allergies or why I have requested such a meal. This, of course, opens the door to a discussion about why it is that I am a vegan. Depending on the delay between getting my meal and the distribution of everyone else’s, I have had about 20% of the people I talk to ask the air host whether there is another vegan meal when the cart comes around. (Actually, I never start eating my meal until the cart comes around in the event that this happens and there is no extra vegan meal as I will happily give mine to my neighbor and have done so on a number of occasions.)

Some of the best discussions I have had on animal rights and veganism have occurred on airplanes, particularly transatlantic flights. You are stuck next to someone for about 7 hours and people are often very happy to spend at least some of that time talking with the person sitting next to them.

One of my favorite stories occurred several years ago. I was on my way to Paris and was seated next to a woman who had a fur coat. She was not wearing the coat, but had it against her seat. I was reading a copy of my Introduction to Animal Rights, which, at the time, I was thinking of doing a second edition and I was considering changes that I might make. The flight was delayed leaving Newark Airport, so we had some small talk about connecting flights that we had in Paris. She saw my book and asked, “is that a good book?” I smiled and said it was an “excellent” book! She asked me if I was an “animal rights type.” I replied that I was, and she spent the next 30 minutes (during which we were still at the gate) talking about her 2 dogs and how much she was going to miss them while on the business trip to France, etc.

And then she raised the issue of her fur coat. She said, “my coat must offend you. I’m sorry.” She started explaining to me that it was a “ranch raised” fox coat and that the animals were not caught in traps. I explained how “ranched” animals are tortured as much as trapped ones, but I made the point that I found her fur coat - whether “ranch raised” or trapped - no more offensive than a coat made of leather or wool.

She seemed astounded by this. “You don’t wear wool or leather?” “No,” I replied, “I am a vegan.”

I spent the next 15 minutes (still at the gate) explaining what veganism is and assuring her that veganism provides a wide variety of exciting and healthful food choices, and is the logical choice for anyone who cares about nonhuman animals. I then suggested to her that the foxes that were killed to make her coat were no different from the dogs that she was very sad to be leaving behind in New York for two weeks. We then started talking about our “moral schizophrenia” that affects and infects our thinking about nonhumans.

The plane took off, the meal service started, I was given my vegan meal and my neighbor asked the air host immediately whether there was an extra vegan meal on board. There was an extra meal and she requested it. We spent the next several hours talking about animal rights and veganism and I confessed to being the author of the book that she had asked about!

About two months after that flight, I got an email from this person. She had given her fox coat to an animal group that would use it in anti-fur demonstrations and she had ordered Introduction to Animal Rights from and had read it. She was working toward veganism, using a technique that I had suggested to her where she gave up all animal products for one meal, then for 2 meals, then 3, and then for all snacking. Another 2 or 3 months went by and she wrote to say that she was completely vegan.

Vegan education is challenging. We live in a culture in which most people assume without thinking that consuming animal products is “normal” or “natural.” Vegan education is time-intensive work; it often means working one-on-one and spending a good deal of time.

But every day life presents us with all sorts of opportunities to educate others and the most effective opportunities are calm, friendly exchanges between two thinking human beings.

And every person who goes vegan is a vital contribution to the nonviolent revolution that will eventually shift the paradigm away from animals as property and toward animals as persons.

Gary L. Francione

© 2008 Gary L. Francione

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brock recognized for meat-less options

Campus nominated for vegetarian-friendly award

The Standard - Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Brock University has been nominated for the title of most vegetarian-friendly campus in North America.

Brock is up against 47 other post-secondary institutions to win the Most Vegetarian-Friendly Universities competition, which is organized by peta2, an international youth animal rights organization.

The St. Catharines campus offers a wide range of meatless options, from vegetarian shepherd's pie to vegan burritos to mushroom pot pie.

"Brock is showing its respect for students by offering them food choices that are good for their health, animals and the planet," said Ryan Huling, a peta2 spokesman.

Other Canadian nominees include the University of Guelph, the University of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo.

University nominations were based on student recommendations.

Everyone is eligible to vote. The school with the most votes will be announced in November and will receive certificates to display in its campus dining halls.

To vote, go to

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Brief History of Veganism

TIME USA - Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photo by Simon Reddy/Alamy

November 1 is World Vegan Day, a celebration of people who don't eat meat. Or eggs. Or cheese. Or mayonnaise. Or honey. Or whey. Or gelatin. Or anything that comes from or includes an animal. Nor do they use any clothing, accessory or object made from an animal. No leather, no wool, no pearls, no ivory-keyed pianos. The animal-free holiday began in 1994, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society.

Veganism is an extreme form of vegetarianism, and though the term was coined in 1944, the concept of flesh-avoidance can be traced back to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean societies. Vegetarianism is first mentioned by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos around 500 BCE. In addition to his theorem about right triangles, Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species, including humans. Followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism also advocated vegetarianism, believing that humans should not inflict pain on other animals.
The meatless lifestyle never really caught on in the West, although it would sometimes pop up during health crazes and religious revivals. The Ephrata Cloister, a strict religious sect founded in 1732 in Pennsylvania, advocated vegetarianism - as well as celibacy. The 18th century utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham believed that animal suffering was just as serious as human suffering, and likened the idea of human superiority to racism.

The first vegetarian society was formed in 1847 in England. Three years later, Rev. Sylvester Graham, the inventor of Graham crackers, co-founded the American Vegetarian Society. Graham was a Presbyterian minister and his followers, called Grahamites, obeyed his instructions for a virtuous life: vegetarianism, temperance, abstinence, and frequent bathing. In November 1944, a British woodworker named Donald Watson announced that because vegetarians ate dairy and eggs, he was going to create a new term called "vegan," to describe people who did not. Tuberculosis had been found in 40% of Britain's dairy cows the year before, and Watson used this to his advantage, claiming that it proved the vegan lifestyle protected people from tainted food. Three months after coining the term, he issued a formal explanation of the way the word should be pronounced: "Veegan, not Veejan," he wrote in his new Vegan Society newsletter, which had 25 subscribers. By the time Watson died at age 95 in 2005, there were 250,000 self-identifying vegans in Britain and 2 million in the U.S. Moby, Woody Harrelson and Fiona Apple are vegans. So is Dennis Kucinich.

Strict veganism prohibits the use of animal product, even if it isn't food, but like any lifestyle choice that ends in "-ism," there are plenty of people who cheat. The vitamin B12 is found almost entirely in animal products, so many vegans eat fortified food or take a vitamin to get the right amount. And while American vegetarianism has broken free of its philosophical and religious roots, becoming an accepted health choice - many restaurants offer vegetarian options and most dinner party planners now ask "is anyone vegetarian?" before planning the menu - veganism is still tied to the animal-rights movement and is out there on the fringe.

Vegans can be as strict or lax as they want to be in their food choices: the International Vegetarian Union's website includes vegan-friendly reminders about baking pans greased with animal fat, grain cereals that include animal-based glycerin, and sugar refined with bone charcoal. Then there's raw veganism, which is an offshoot of veganism in which none of the food can be cooked. Take that a step further and you get "mono meals," the idea that the stomach should only digest one type of food at a time. Basically, if you eat it, there is probably someone else out there who won't.