Veganism in a World Full of Harm


This essay was originally published on

I move in circles with people who care about social justice issues and who also care about animals. While such people are often open to being vegan, they frequently object to veganism for three reasons, even when they understand and agree to the moral principles underpinning it.

The first objection is to the fact that we live in an unjust world, in which animals are harmed frequently and indirectly. Those who try to diminish the moral imperative of veganism on these grounds overlook the fact that our lives and our actions also cause indirect harm to other humans. We would never use the existence of indirect harm as a justification to harm other humans or to abrogate their rights avoidably and directly whenever it suited us.

Our behaviour towards others is undergirded by certain moral principles that compel us to refrain from causing unnecessary harm to those others. This is why we don’t steal from people, even though it would be to our material advantage to do so. This is why we don’t allow arguments to escalate into physical confrontations, even when it may benefit us physiologically (by releasing nervous energy) to do so. This is why we don’t shove people out of our way when we want to get to the front of a long checkout queue, even though it could save us time to do so.

Further, we bring nonhuman animals into the world with the express purpose of exploiting and killing them. When we become vegan, we acknowledge that there is no good reason for us to do so, and that we are personally going to abstain from those rights violations because they run counter to the principles on which we have based our lives. When we go vegan, we are refusing to act against the precepts of justice, fairness, and nonviolence that we perceive to be central to good moral behavior. When we stop using animals, we are acting in a way that demonstrates that we respect the rights of others not to be treated as things that exist for us to use.

Just as we would never use the existence of indirect harm as a justification for directly and deliberately harming humans, so too must we apply this moral congruity to nonhumans. If we truly uphold the principles to which we claim to subscribe, we can and must refuse to participate in that system that directly exploits nonhuman beings by treating them solely as a means to our ends; this refusal is veganism (for more on the topic of incidental harm, see here and here).

The second objection I hear to the moral imperative of veganism is that there are so many other issues to tackle. While this is true, we can address those issues while wearing synthetic shoes, eating plants, and not attending animal shows. Veganism is not an obstacle to us participating in other forms of pro-justice work; in fact, for many (including me), it is a gateway to other areas of social justice. Veganism doesn’t require anyone to sacrifice their human rights work in order to pursue animal advocacy; it merely requires that at the very minimum one stops eating, wearing and otherwise using animals. As Francione and Charlton write in Eat Like You Care, “How does eating, for example, tofu instead of steak impede your ability to fight for human rights causes? It doesn’t. If anything, a healthy vegan diet will give you more energy to pursue those causes.”

The third objection is not particular to veganism, but is also heard among those who are reluctant to get involved in social justice issues because they are not sure that they can have any impact: “what difference can one person make?” As a matter of justice, this is a nonsensical question. We would never continue to participate in rights violations in the human context because we thought that our opting out wouldn’t make a difference to those whose rights are being violated if we stopped. If we acknowledge the wrongness of our actions, and we persist in those actions, then we are acting against our own consciences and principles, and this is not something we can ever justify to ourselves, as hard as we might try.

Putting aside the fact that animal agriculture exists only because there is a demand for it, and that everyone who refuses to participate in that system is helping to drive down demand, we have to take responsibility for our own behaviour and should use our own consciences as a touchstone for morality. In a world full of harm, be just, be fair, and be respectful of the rights of all beings—human and nonhuman; otherwise, you’re choosing to say “I knew, and I did nothing.

Why Internet Spam is Offensive to Vegans

This was published as an April Fools Essay on



One of the world’s best known animal advocacy groups is campaigning for new terms to replace some of those in the field of Information Technology to avoid causing offence to vegans or perpetuating harmful stereotypes about animals.

The worldwide web, it insists, should be renamed the “worldwide latticework”, since one trigger for arachnophobia is the ability of spiders to set sticky traps from which their prey can’t escape. Almost like the endless arrival of unwanted updates on the petitions that this group sends out once you’re foolish enough to enter your email address into the form that they will send to the mayor of any town that dares to use an animal with appealing facial features for anything other than food.

And on that note, “internet spam”, it insists, should be renamed “internet soy-based canned faux meat that will fool your relatives into becoming vegan”. Watch out for a lab-based version of this coming later this year; it’s made from the stem-cells of real canned microchips, and it actually bleeds! There’ll be a massive fundraiser for this in the near future, so start digging behind those sofa cushions for spare change now.

Your browser may soon be configured to allow “rice cakes” in the name of equality (protected by human rights law) since not all cookies are suitable for vegans.

All versions of Windows will henceforth be required to carry decals to stop birds flying into them, and mouse pads will be covered in shavings so that your mouse has somewhere cosy to hide.

We contacted Dieter Zinger (who is awaiting the results of a DNA test to find out if he is, in fact, the father of the animal rights movement), who never responded to our request for a comment. Perhaps our email went into his internet soy-based canned faux meat that will fool your relatives into becoming vegan folder.


Not my Movement; Not my Orgs: Harming Humans

This essay was originally published on

I have written before about how justice for only some is no justice at all. In the first part of this essay, I detailed some examples of how the large animal organisations perpetuate speciesism through many of their tactics and campaigns. Similarly, animal organisations often perpetuate tropes that are, and have been, used to oppress humans, and in doing so they are participating in injustice. We can never justify harming humans in order to seek justice for nonhumans, and we must be careful, in a world where many humans are enduring oppression, not to perpetuate oppression.

In the 1990s, PeTA initiated its “I’d/We’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns, using the advertising mantra of “sex sells” to try to promote an ethical issue. Campaigns targeted against fur are, by default, campaigns targeting women. Fur wearers are usually women, and women are easy targets for paint-throwing and sexist and abusive insults because, as Gary Francione notes, they are not as likely to react in the same way as leather-clad male bikers. PeTA has long objectified and commodified women under the guise of attempting to end the objectification and commodification of animals.


PeTA often uses naked or scantily clad cis-passing, white, able-bodied, slim young women to “promote” its campaigns. Whether standing on the street in lettuce bikinis handing out leaflets, behaving suggestively with vegetables, or removing all of their clothes for PeTA’s State of the Union Undress, women are treated as little more than props in PeTA’s campaigns, and patriarchal ideas of “womanhood” are upheld.



PeTA frequently eroticises scenes of violence against women to highlight violence against animals. “Shackled, beaten, abused. Stop cruelty to elephants” reads one poster of a woman in chains and manacles with torn clothes, with two people of colour (we’ll get to that in just a moment) approaching her threateningly from behind.


“All animals have the same parts” reads a poster of scantily-clad Pamela Anderson whose body is marked into pieces like “leg”, “round”, “rump”; as Francione writes in criticism of similar stunts, “As long as we continue to treat women like meat, we will continue to treat nonhumans as meat.”


A woman at a dining table looks terrified as she, tied up and bleeding from the mouth, is being force fed through a tube topped with a funnel by a man who is holding her by the throat in a campaign against foie gras.



One of PeTA’s videos is a parody of a PSA about domestic violence, with a woman whose boyfriend went vegan and had so much stamina and energy that she ended up in a neck brace. A fur ad shows a woman beaten to death in the street and her fur coat ripped from her body. I’m hoping I don’t have to explain why this is unacceptable.

Many of PeTA’s campaigns also instrumentalise racial trauma. In 2009, members of PeTA dressed up as the KKK to protest the American Kennel Club. The group has compared factory farming to the Holocaust with the slogan “To animals, all people are Nazis”. A 2005 travelling exhibition entitled “Are Animals the New Slaves?” juxtaposed images of lynched African-Americans and Native Americans with images of exploited animals. And PeTA used the shooting of Trayvon Martyn to advertise its “Never Be Silent” campaign to highlight issues of animal treatment. PeTA all too often uses human tragedies and rights violations as marketing tools.


PeTA’s approach is often to put nonhumans first. For example, the group sent help for the animals affected by Hurricane Katrina but is reported to have left humans affected by the disaster to fend for themselves. It has also praised the anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for switching his prisons to a vegetarian menu. Arpaio’s department has a very poor human rights record to put it mildly (see here).

PeTA has engaged in body shaming (for example, its deeply offensive “Save the Whales. Lose the blubber” campaign or its pictures of female body hair with the slogan “Fur trim: unattractive”), homophobia (“Be a little fairy for the animals”), transphobia (“Fur is a Drag”) and even autism pseudoscience, curism and fearmongering with its horrendous “Got autism?” poster.





PeTA is not alone in these tactics, though. I’ve written before about the prevalence of body-shaming among vegans, and by doctors who work with and back large animal organisations. There are many groups that send to protests women dressed in flesh-coloured body suits, covered in fake blood and lying in cellophane. Protests organised by such groups frequently depict women as animals, chained, caged, or on all fours as though they are cows waiting to be milked. Women’s bodies become sites for the re-enactment of practises of animal use, whether staged beatings, vivisection, confinement. Many groups draw on (and thereby perpetuate) the racial trauma of the Holocaust or of Black slavery to highlight the systemic rights violations of nonhuman animals. Most animal groups often focus on the practises of one group of people in their single-issue campaigns, thereby perpetuating sexism (fur, for example), ethnocentrism (Yulin dog meat festival; Taiji dolphin slaughter; Kapparos), and other form of oppression. Animal activists use “animals first” rhetoric, proclaiming forms of discrimination that they have never experienced to be outside of the sphere of concern of animal advocates. They thereby justify the perpetuation of tactics that harm humans in order to “liberate” animals, as though we can ever achieve justice from a perspective that dismisses the forms of injustice endured by others.

There is NO corporate animal charity that does not sell out interests of at least some groups (and always the animals) in order to appeal to its donor base. Grassroots vegan education is where we need to place our hope for a vegan world, and that starts with you. Get out there and advocate for a just world for everyone, because advocating for only some is unfair, unworkable, and unjust.


Not my Movement; Not my Orgs: Harming Animals

This essay was originally published in two parts on



It’s no secret to those of us who promote nothing less than veganism and who speak up for the rights of all animals not to be treated as the supply to our demand that the large animal organisations don’t stand with us. Whether promoting some forms of animal use via meat reduction or vegetarianism, or perpetuating the myth that there is such a thing as “humane treatment”, these large animal charities fail to represent the rights of the animals for whom they claim to advocate.

In this essay, I’ll detail some of the worst offenses (in a long list) of the perpetuation of animal oppression championed by these orgs. Part 2 will detail some of the forms of human oppression employed as advertising strategies by one of these groups in particular. For reasons of space, I’ve had to be selective, and am therefore only scratching the surface of their problematic campaigns, but I hope that this essay shows why the animal groups are working against us, not with us.

“Happy” Exploitation Labels

Many of the large animal organisations support the “happy” exploitation labels developed by producers. The Certified Humane Raised and Handled label is backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Humane Society International (HSI; a branch of HSUS) has its own label (named Humane Choice), as does the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (theirs is rather ironically named, since their RSPCA Assured (formerly Freedom Food) label marks some forms of “cruelty” out as morally better). Many of the large animal organisations, including Animal Rights International (ARI), Compassion Over Killing (COK), Farm Sanctuary, HSUS, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Mercy for Animals (MFA), Vegan Outreach (VO) and the US branch of Viva! showed support for the Farm Animal Compassionate Standards employed by Whole Foods in a letter to its CEO John Mackey signed by Peter Singer claiming that these standards will “improve the lives of millions of animals” (who are only being bred so that they can have a miserable life of exploitation before slaughter). If this isn’t bizarre enough, HSUS, in 2010, filed a class action suit against Perdue Farms over the latter’s use of a “humane” label, accusing the company of duping consumers and asserting that “Companies like Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for improved animal welfare for their own profit.”

HSUS, MFA and the Humane League were recently paid between $500,000 and $1,000,000 each by the Open Philanthropy Project to promote cage-free eggs. Think about this: would you ever put your seal of approval on an animal product? Would you endorse the consumption of a steak because the cow was treated a little less horrifically (albeit still horrifically) before she was slaughtered? If not, why on earth would you back the animal charities who are doing so in your name and with your donations?


The awards given by animal groups to those involved in animal use are enough to make your head spin. There’s Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) with its Good Egg Award, “celebrat[ing] companies that use or have committed to use only cage-free eggs or egg products in their supply chain. To date, more than 53 million laying hens are set to benefit each year from our award winners’ policies.” Yes, you read that right, folks: the hens are benefitting from the policies of egg producers; I bet that they’re singing songs of praise through their severed beaks. KFC and McDonalds are among CiWF’s awardees (see my other essays on cage-free eggs). Similarly, CiWF’s Good Pig Award celebrates companies “that use or are committing to use higher welfare pig systems for sows and meat pigs in their supply chain.” More than 2.5 million sows and meat pigs, they tell us, will benefit each year from these minimal improvements in conditions for pigs who are exploited, forcibly inseminated, and then slaughtered for trivial reasons. Among their awardees are the nauseatingly named Anna’s Happy Trotters and The Well Hung Meat Company (the former perpetuating the myth that animal exploitation can ever be happy for the animal; the latter perpetuating the conflation of meat-eating and machismo).

PeTA gives out many awards each year in various categories to people or companies who are involved in animal exploitation. Temple Grandin, slaughterhouse designer, was a recipient of PeTA’s Visionary Award, and Whole-Foods (a chain that sells meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, along with other animal products) was deemed Best Animal-Friendly Retailer, with PeTA stating that Whole Foods “has consistently done more for animal welfare than any retailer in the industry.” Among the recipients of their Person of the Year award are notable nonvegans Pope Francis, Ricky Gervais, Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey.

The animal orgs do great publicity work for the animal industry, and they constantly reinforce the false message that you don’t have to be vegan to be a champion for animals. So many misleading messages, and funded by your donations.

Undercover Investigations

A substantial portion of the funds raised by the animal groups goes towards undercover investigations. Apart from the fact that such undercover investigations direct the focus away from the key moral issue, many of the investigations require that the investigator participate in harming animals. As Mike Wolf, former investigator for Compassion Over Killing and now working for PeTA, writes in a Reddit AMA session,

“Working in the field you have to perform the job duties that are assigned to you. This means that you have to engage in what is called standard practice—for example, castrating a pig.”

Likewise, Chrystal Ferber who also performed undercover work with COK writes that

“[I]nvestigators are required to perform the job duties we’re hired on for, which entails performing the standard practices when required.”

And T.J. Tumasse, an investigator for PeTA and Mercy For Animals, recounts his time as a back-up killer whose job was to kill with a knife those chickens whose lives weren’t ended by the automated killing machines. “I was killing the very animals I was there to save,” he says.

Your donations: funding investigations into practices that we already know are morally wrong; sending people who care about animals to kill and otherwise harm the vulnerable animals we serve to protect.

 Helping the Producers Profit

Gary Francione has written extensively about how welfare reform measures help to increase both productivity and profits for the animal industry. These linked documents from both PeTA and HSUS show how these animal groups urge welfare “reforms”—in this case, controlled atmosphere killing (or gassing) of hens—with the assurance that they will increase profits, lower carcass damage, drive down labour costs, and reduce worker injuries.


The large animal organisations present veganism as an option; their starter kits often promote “veggie”, “reducetarian” and “vegan” as though they are morally equivalent. They caution against a focus on purity (purity, for vegans, denoting the unwillingness to participate in any avoidable animal use) and perpetuate the idea that veganism is difficult and not a moral imperative.

PeTA writes that “Being vegan is about helping animals, not maintaining personal purity. Boycotting products that may contain trace amounts of animal products can actually be harmful to animals in the long run. For example, by refusing to eat a veggie burger from a restaurant because the bun may contain traces of milk or eggs, you are discouraging that restaurant from offering vegan options because it seems too difficult a task.” We would never refer to any other social justice issue as a matter of personal purity, or encourage others to participate in a little bit of human oppression because to do otherwise would be to make social justice look too hard. Yet, the animal groups repeatedly send out the message that sometimes animal use is okay.

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

PeTA is known for its euthanasia policies. It shelter has euthanised 81% of the animals surrendered to it since the second half of 1998, and has adopted out just over 8% of animals in the same period, according to its filings with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

HSUS sponsors an event called “Hoofin’ It”, a “farm-to-table” restaurant crawl at which “A different hoofed animal will be featured at all of the stops each evening, 4 stops in total.” Not altogether surprising since Joe Maxwell, who is the Political Director of the Legislative Fund of HSUS is a pig farmer. In addition, HSUS posted on its Farmer Outreach page a $1.00-off coupon for Applegate Farms’ crate-free bacon, withdrawing the coupon when they received backlash.

When asked by ABC if “Animals Australia have a policy of opposing the rearing of livestock for human consumption,” Lyn White, the group’s leader, responded

“No, we certainly don’t. Look, our vision, our work is towards ensuring that all animals, that—especially in human care, have protection from cruel treatment and are treated with compassion and respect. That is what we work towards on a daily basis.”

These groups’ insistence on single-issue campaigns and championing of some animals over others suggest to the general public that that form or that product is morally worse than others. This creates moral confusion and applies a moral salve to participation in the forms of treatment or consumption of products that are not targeted.

If you’re vegan, the animal orgs don’t represent you; they can’t. With their focus on welfare reforms, their cherry-picking of issues, and their repeated abrogation of the rights of animals they claim to represent, they are categorially anti-vegan and anti-animal-rights.

These animal orgs speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to animals. They publish videos that promote veganism or that highlight mistreatment in the production facilities that do the same things as those to which they give awards, and they also endorse “humane” exploitation. They hold protests outside, and encourage boycotts, of fast food chains to get them to use animal products from “higher welfare” producers, but they stop those protests or boycotts once this is achieved, and even praise the companies involved, suggesting that a reduction in suffering is the answer to the problem of animal exploitation.

If we take animal interests seriously, and if we believe that animals are not ours to use, then why would we campaign for more efficient exploitation, give our support to marketing campaigns that encourage people to buy their dead bodies or products, or reward those who design methods of killing them? As vegans, we believe that animal exploitation is morally wrong; this is why we abstain. To promote happy exploitation or to praise slaughterhouse designers goes against everything that we believe.

The only alternative is grassroots vegan education, and that begins with the individual. We don’t need megabucks to change the world; we just need to change hearts and minds. The power to do that starts and ends with you.