Saturday, October 3, 2009

Vegans against veganism

Rant by Daniel K. Wilson

I recently attended a vegan potluck hosted by a local animal rights group who had a person from a national animal welfare organization speak about factory farming.

According to the speaker (a vegan), this national charity (consisting of a mostly vegan board of directors) is working to improve the conditions of farm animals by trying to eliminate battery cages, reduce transport times for animals on their way to slaughter, provide sick and injured animals with proper veterinary care, and generally make the lives of “food” animals better during their exploitation and as they’re killed.

Did I mention they also promote “certified organic, humane certified, free range or free-run” animal products? I thought I was dreaming, and pinched myself to make sure. Then I asked how a group of vegans can, in good conscience, promote the killing and consuming of animals in any way, shape or form, and suggested that it might be a better use of their time, energy and money to actually promote veganism instead.

That didn’t go over too well with a number of vegans in the room, who accused me of being too extreme. They also told me that vegan education and legislative reforms are not mutually exclusive and since everybody reacts differently to different approaches based on their life experiences, all forms of awareness need to be utilized, including happy meat campaigns, instead of just vegan outreach.

Someone said that people can’t just go vegan overnight because it’s too hard, so baby steps are necessary (baby steps in this case meaning animal welfare reforms and humane meat campaigns) to help the animals. Another said it would be counterproductive if all animal rights groups were only promoting veganism, because most people aren’t ready to embrace it yet.

I had to think about that one for a minute - all the animal rights organizations in the world only promoting veganism. Yeah, that would be horrible. And for the record, I’m so tired of animal rights people and vegans saying veganism is hard. It’s not, especially with all the meat and dairy alternatives available today.

One of the many problems, as I see it, with animal rights groups promoting animal welfare is that it’s dishonest. These groups don’t really want people to eat certified organic or humanely-raised animals at all but they’re afraid to say so out of fear of alienating people. So they lobby governments for more humane methods of confining, transporting and killing animals, hoping the public will jump on that bandwagon and pressure the government for reforms.

And if the government listens to them and passes legislation five or ten years down the road, then they can claim victory: the animals are now a little bit more comfortable and killed a little bit more humanely (whatever that means) and that’s great because it’s what these animal rights groups wanted all along, right? Wrong. What they really wanted was for people to stop killing and eating animals.

Still unsatisfied (even though it’s what they said they wanted), they’ll start a new campaign for even more humane treatment of animals being exploited and killed for their flesh, fluids and eggs, and if they get that, they’ll ask for even more reforms! This song and dance will go on and on until one day, perhaps a million years from now, they might actually get around to encouraging people to give up animal products altogether.

What a monumental waste of time, energy and animal lives! It’s also deceitful. If you want people to stop eating animal products, say so. If veganism is your end goal, then have the conviction to state it up front. If you don’t, the public will feel that they’ve been lied to and you’ll lose all credibility, with those you’re trying to educate, and with those fighting for animal liberation. Have a little bit of faith in the people you’re trying to educate. Not everyone is going to become vegan but a lot will. And we’re only going to find out how many are willing to embrace veganism when we start promoting it.

The other problem with these kinds of campaigns is that it confuses people. Upon hearing about the horrors of factory farms, a person at the potluck asked, “So you’re saying free-range is good, right?” And that’s when the “ums”, “wells” and “actuallys” started. The speaker said that um, well, she wasn’t actually personally endorsing free-range (but the group’s literature and website does) and um, well, they would actually prefer that people eat less, or no meat. These are mixed messages. People concerned about animal suffering are looking for leadership and direction. And young people are the next wave of vegan activists so we have to be clear about what we’re trying to do and teach them the right way from the start.

If you think that negotiating with the exploiters or petitioning the government to do the right thing is the way to go, you’re sadly mistaken. And tricking the public into believing you’re for one thing when you’re really for another is false advertising. The answer is vegan education, at the grass-roots level, one person at a time, one day at a time. As the number of vegans increase, the demand for animal products will decrease. It’s as simple as that.

But if vegans aren’t going to promote veganism, who will?


Anonymous said...

They promote these things because they seem to think it is helping the animals when it is actually just making things worse.

Welfarist groups don't necessarily want people to become Vegan or stop using animals.

HSUS has admitted that they are not against the use or slaughter of animals. They just want of make sure they are treated "humanely" while it is being done. They don't think people need to be Vegan.

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks.

Hmm, this is strange. Vegans who support the exploitation of animals. Not sure if I get that at all.

Welfarist groups promote all sorts of "happy meat" concepts. Very few of the people working for these groups are vegetarian, let alone vegan.

My opinion is that the strategies employed by these group reflect their employees' attitudes and especially their leaders' attitudes. And because these leaders and the employees themselves aren't able to switch to veganism nor open their minds to comprehend the concept of veganism, they have to justify somehow their meat eating habits (after all they work for organizations that have "animal protection" in the title!).

Their supporters are the perfect audience, because they already feel guilty, but don't really want to do much about it. At the same time buying "happy meat" makes them feel like they're doing something..."hey, we're shopping ethically. We care!".