Forget Billboards and Bus Ads. Give me Grassroots.


Celebrity endorsements. Multi(hundred)-thousand dollar campaigns. Slogans. Elaborate billboards. Posters in public places. Ads on buses. Press agents. Spokespeople. Fundraising. Whispers of private donors.

I know what you’re thinking. The large animal orgs, right? CEOs in boardrooms cooking up the latest campaign to splash their President’s picture all over the newspapers, snag that spot on the hottest talk show in town.

Wrong. This is what now passes for grassroots advocacy.

Sure, advertising campaigns can look appealing, be highly visible, and get the word “vegan” into the public domain. But haven’t the animal orgs been using the same tactics for decades in order to push whatever the message du jour was?

Advertising campaigns (purportedly or actually) promoting veganism have been used for years by groups that ultimately support a New Welfarist message or that are otherwise hostile to or misrepresent abolitionism. They’ve often been used to push animal rights issues in a way that perpetuates human oppression. They have at times appeared to promote veganism as a moral imperative while linking to sites, groups, or advocates that deny that veganism is such. Decades of such tactics tell us that not only are these campaigns confusing at best, they’re only remembered when they’re controversial or damaging.

And, in the age of the internet, with the ability to send messages across the world in a matter of seconds across a range of social media platforms, isn’t forking over large sums of money to put pictures and slogans in public places (when there’s no proven advantage over other forms of spreading a message) somewhat redundant?

You see, when I see a billboard or a bus ad, I don’t automatically think of ethical principles or social justice movements. I think of mobile phone networks, beer, cowboys with cigarettes dangling from their lips, perfume. I think of commodities that are bought on a whim because the advertisement suggests that you’ll be more attractive, more productive, happier if you’ll throw some money that way…until the next appealing advert with someone else’s suggestion of what you should buy takes your fancy. That we’re starting to think of vegan education along the same lines demonstrates our confusion about what it is that makes someone vegan, and our lack of awareness about how advocacy works.

True grassroots activism requires informed advocates, with an understanding of the history of ideas in their movement and of the obstacles they may and do face, taking to the streets locally to inspire and inform. True behavioural change will only come about on an interpersonal level, and the most important part of any learning experience is dialogue. This is why, even in distance learning courses, we still facilitate the students’ discussion of the topics they’re learning by providing them with tutors. Certainly, someone seeing a vegan advertisement may seek out further information to educate themselves, but we can’t guarantee that their Google search, if they can’t remember the URL, won’t lead them to a site that wrongly informs them that vegetarianism or meat reduction are equally morally acceptable. A pamphlet or a slogan can never be a substitute for the power of human contact to effect conceptual change.

Corporate advocacy on veganism can never and will never work when so many resources are being filtered into promoting those things against which veganism is a form of protest. We’ve already heard stories of how certain campaigns had to “tone down” their message in order to pass planning permission, and there’s no way a partnership with a public body can ever create true political change in this arena. Attempting to buy space to air our views will only ever result in a compromised message.

But far more worrying than all of this is that such high-profile, costly advertising perpetuates the perception that veganism suffers from a class problem. Not only does it suggest to activists that activism requires a significant amount of funding, thereby disempowering those without access to such funds, but it also tends to take place in areas that are more affluent. Pay for a billboard in the financial district, but don’t be surprised if this ends up reinforcing the idea that veganism is only for those with money. If you have significant financial resources at your disposal and want to do something with them to effect real change for both humans and animals, sponsor a vegan food truck, or get behind those groups already on the ground trying to bring nutritious food and an unequivocal vegan message to low-income neighbourhoods.

If we want a vegan world, we need a nonviolent revolution, and money will never buy that. We need to be out on the streets, talking to people from our hearts. We don’t need to obtain the approval of town planners or corporate agencies in order to present our message in the way that we see fit.

If you’re an advocate and are feeling that your bunch of leaflets and your small fold-up table are just not good enough, remember this: true education requires teachers. Educate yourself and then educate others; no amount of money can buy the heart and mind that you can use to change those of others.

My Experience in a Dog Shelter

Originally published on, this essay has been updated to include new information that came to light about Aoibheann’s situation. 


The woman at the gate looked at the dog at the end of the lead I was holding with a weary contempt. “Are you here to surrender?” she asked. I paused, confused as to what she meant, and as she reached down to take the lead I exclaimed “no! She’s Cassie!,” as though her name in any way set her apart from the discarded ones. She laughed a little nervously and shyly as I told her we were there to meet a dog we were considering rehoming, and that we’d been instructed to bring Cassie along to ease introductions.

If you’ve never been to a shelter before, you won’t know the feeling of walking through a gate that represents the severing of so many ties. I imagined loving owners bringing their beloved companions through on a leash and walking away without them. But not all ties are severed quite so gently. Not long into our visit, we found out about the collie and the terrier who were thrown over a six-foot high wall at two o’ clock one afternoon. We heard about dogs who are dumped on country lanes and stay rooted to the spot because it’s the last place they saw their human and are waiting for them to return. From then on, I came to really understand just how deeply the property status of nonhuman animals affects even those we claim to love. Part of me died in that shelter.

Trash. Rubbish. Garbage everywhere. That’s all most of these dogs were to the people who once “owned” them.

There was the five-year-old designer dog who had been used for breeding and who was discarded after she was spent. Not interested in food, toys, or affection, she paced anxiously, stress-urinating on her own bed eleven times in just twenty minutes. As a puppy chewed on her ear, she stared vacantly ahead, not signalling any discomfort, and not even showing any sign that she recognised that the ear that was being chewed was hers.

Four terriers bounded about in a concrete run having only seen daylight for the first time some five months earlier when they were rescued from the filthy shed in which they were kept with twelve others. The lurcher who gave birth in the van just minutes after her rescue; the fourteen-year-old with health difficulties who is waiting for a home to which he can go to die; the collie cross no one wants to adopt because he’s just not attractive enough. Part of me died in there.

We had made an appointment with a second shelter because we had agreed that we wanted a “no-hoper”: someone on whom no one else would take a chance. So after another 70km drive, we reached a kennel in the process of renovation on top of a hill over looking the sea. “What breed do you want? Colour? Size? Temperament? Sex?” We were visibly taken aback as we asked to see the long-term residents; the woman who posed the question replied sadly, “so many people come here with a ‘shopping list’ that we’re used to asking in advance.” “Oh, they want a dog who matches the decor?” I jested, feeling quite uncomfortable at the idea of people arriving at a place of such desperation with a set of criteria. “Yes, sometimes,” she answered.

Once again, we were given a tour of the facilities, and our sorrow at their situation intensified because of their openness. Humans had treated these beautiful beings so vilely, and yet the dogs saw in us the potential for good. They showed interest as we passed by their runs. Some rushed to greet us, wagging their tails and licking our hands through the bars. Others pricked up their ears. All except one. She lay in her bed, staring at the wall as we passed, looking utterly dejected and miserable.

She had never been socialised, we were told. Extremely shy, quite fearful, and utterly forlorn, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. I asked that we be allowed into her run, and the rescuer obliged.

Several minutes later, the bag of food treats we had brought piqued her interest sufficiently to change her body language. She wouldn’t eat unless we had our backs to her, but whenever I glanced around she seemed more alert. Now, she was taking food from our hands and, although still too stressed with us facing her, she would eat when our backs were turned. Although part of me died in the shelters, part of me was born. And a new future is opening up for this girl as she learns what it’s like to be loved.

Hoarded with over 20 of her unneutered and unspayed family members (many of whom were so ill that they had to be put to sleep immediately on “rescue”) and kept permanently indoors in a dark shed, she is remarkably resilient. After only two days with us, she has learned that the food bowl that is delivered to her twice a day is hers alone and that she doesn’t have to fight for table scraps; she will eventually put weight on her dreadfully skinny frame. She is learning that hands can be gentle and loving, and is starting to lift her muzzle when we approach in the hope that she’ll receive a scratch behind the ears. The outdoors is starting to become less terrifying and eventually she will come to use it, rather than newspapers, as her toilet. She has discovered the sofa and no longer sleeps sitting up with her ears pricked and one eye open. She has stopped rolling submissively onto her back when we approach. For Aoibheann,* life is only going to get better.


Her life so far is such a contrast with that of Cassie, our nine-year-old girl who has been with me since she was a puppy: a confident, outgoing, happy, relaxed dog whose worst experience in life was once losing out to a cat for plate-licking privileges. But for every Cassie, the shelters are full of stressed, neglected, abused dogs like Aoibheann, and those are the lucky ones who make it out of the pound alive to be offered a chance at rehoming. Yet Cassie is ours, and if we wanted, we could drop her off at a shelter, surrender her to the pound, or even take her to the vet to have her killed. Although, in our hearts, she and Aoibheann are our family, in the eyes of the law they are our possessions, our property. They are entirely dependent upon us for food, shelter, warmth, and exercise. And we have to learn to control them for their safety and for ours: to teach them to walk on a lead, to convinced them to come to us whenever we ask, to persuade them out of following some of their own instincts and desires.

I couldn’t have scripted it better, but one shelter worker sighed as she talked to me about greyhounds. “We have such strict animal welfare laws here,” she said, “but they can never work because people own these animals and can do pretty much what they like with them.” And there we were, surrounded by victims—true victims, psychologically and physically traumatised—of the property paradigm. “What can we do to make it end?” she asked. And we know the answer: it will never end as long as we’re not vegan because animals will continue to be brought into the world to satisfy our trivial wants—for food, for clothing, for companionship.

If you’re a rescuer, please know that you’re my hero; I could never find the strength to do what you do and see what you see. But please realise that the animals you try to rehome are no different from those you eat, wear, and otherwise use. They are all in this horrible mess because we think of them as objects rather than persons, and when we recognise that the converse is true, veganism is the only option we have. If you are already vegan, please ask yourself whether you have a good reason not to open your home to one more animal. Domestication is in no way morally justifiable—we can’t continue to perpetuate this misery—but providing shelter, food, and love to those who are already here is our moral obligation, where we can.

*Pronounced “AY-veen”, and meaning “radiant”.




Being a Spoilsport on World Vegan Day

Originally published on



So many people have asked me if I’m celebrating World Vegan Day today, or have wished me a happy day with an enthusiastic smile. Now, I hate to be a spoilsport (again) but World Vegan Day makes me glum.

The fact that there is a day to mark those who refuse to participate in animal exploitation is a reminder of how entrenched and pervasive animal exploitation is. It signals how far we have to go and, worse, how some among us are dragging our social justice struggle backwards. It marks the determination of some vegans to promote welfare reforms, reduced consumption, vegetarianism, and other morally incoherent and practically flawed positions, and to refuse to advocate for veganism as a basic principle of justice. The social events that fill my feed, divorced from any advocacy, flag how urgently we need to shift public perception of veganism away from a mode of consumption and towards the ethical system that it is.

World Vegan Day was founded by The Vegan Society to celebrate its own efforts and commemorate its founding. While I hold the founders of The Vegan Society in highest esteem, the current society has taken a direction that fails to uphold veganism as an ethical obligation; in fact, I sent back my Vegan Society membership card with the “You Don’t Have to Be Vegan” rebranding. So, World Vegan Day also reminds me of the corporate hold over our social justice movement, and of the willingness of vegans to cede the responsibility of advocacy such organisations.

Then again, World Vegan Day highlights, for me, how much work we have to do not only to seek justice for the trillions of animals who are tortured and killed each year for our trivial ends, but also to transcend this damaged, fragmented “movement” that repeatedly calls for rights violations under the guise of promoting “liberation”, that employs tactics that discriminate against humans, whose members often believe that our only moral obligations are towards nonhumans, or that we can campaign for justice for only some. So, while I don’t celebrate World Vegan Day, it serves as a reminder of how much work we have to do, and that can be a great motivator.

Make every day World Vegan Day. Advocate like lives depend upon it. Because they do.


Keep Your Kit on for the Animals

Originally published on Photo from Huffington Post


In the latest instalment of “celebrities engaging in harmful stunts ‘for the animals,’” Alicia Silverstone has stripped naked for PeTA to protest wool.

In this particular video, a “traditionally attractive” woman poses, without clothing, in a manner that’s supposed to be sexually enticing. The naked image of her is shown after about a minute of undercover footage of sheep being stripped of their wool, bleeding from the blades, and being thrown about, beaten, and stamped on by the workers. While posing nude, Silverstone holds a mask depicting a sheep’s face.

Let me break this down for you: this video blurs the lines between the tortured animals onscreen and the eroticised woman. If the juxtaposition of images of shorn sheep and stripped Silverstone is not enough to convince you of this, the mask in the latter’s hand certainly should. The sheep mask plays on the blurring of identities, eroticising and animalising a woman who has previously uttered, of the shearers, “They see [the sheep] as objects.” And just as we see violence enacted on the vulnerable bodies of the sheep in the video, that elision of the distinction between woman and sheep implies an eroticisation of that same violence.

“Women are animals,” I hear you object. “All humans are animals.” Yes, this is clear. But the patriarchal system under which we all live constructs women as objects or instruments: of sexual pleasure, of reproduction, etc. And what function does Silverstone’s nudity serve only to garner more attention for this particular campaign and thereby for the group behind it?

That the signature image of the campaign hangs on a billboard in Times Square is not surprising. I’ve written before about how “fleeting advocacy” like bus ads and billboards serve no real transformative purpose; at best, they supplement advocacy that is already being done on the ground, and at worst they are little more than advertising for a group rather than real activism for a cause. How many people do you think will be persuaded to boycott wool by gazing upon a naked Alicia Silverstone with a sheep’s mask in her hand? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest not many (and of those who do choose to boycott wool, how many will continue to use animals in other ways?).

In the billboard, and in the video’s closing frames, the naked Silverstone poses in a forest by a lake. Her back is to the camera as she covers her breasts with an arm that clutches her other forearm, and she looks warily over her shoulder. Her facial expression conveys a mixture of surprise and uncertainty. This is a scene that places the viewer in the role of voyeur, and the model is acting as though she were an unwilling object of the viewer’s gaze.

The media so often normalises violence against women, particularly sexual violence. PeTA participates in these tropes of eroticised violence or lack of consent (for more on this, see my essay here). Putting aside the obvious objections to the use of a naked woman to highlight issues of “social justice” (however divorced from the root problem, in this case animal use, they may be), Silverstone is made to look as though she is not comfortable with the viewer’s attention in this shot. And while the tone of the image may be linked to the violence against the sheep that has previously been depicted, the eroticisation of that scene of discomfort and non-consent is deeply troubling indeed.

“But if I were a sheep…” I hear you say, implying that any tactic is welcome once it’s “for the animals.” But what purpose does Silverstone’s nudity serve other than to draw attention to a campaign that highlights that the problem is treatment rather than use (in the video, Silverston mimics “gentle” shearing as though it were acceptable), and that asks the viewer not to go vegan but to consider no longer buying wool? Surely, if one wants to promote an anodyne and morally flaccid message, there are ways to do so that do not involve objectifying women, eroticising bizarre parallels (sheep as victim and woman as sheep), sexualising an image of the anxious victim of voyeurism, and valorising a young, white, slim, cisgendered body.

Celebrities, keep your clothes on for the animals. Folks, talk to people about veganism: not wool, not leather, not foie gras, not fur, not cage size. We need a real social justice movement that actively opposes the oppression of anyone. We’ll no more create justice by being unjust than we will bring about a vegan world by asking people to buy acrylic sweaters.


For more on the confusion created by Single-Issue Campaigns, please see here.

Those Pesky, Entitled Vegans

Originally published on



A concerned woman recently wrote to family psychologist, John Rosemond, for advice on the upcoming holidays: of the thirteen people attending the festive dinner that the letter-writer will prepare, three are vegan and will not be consuming gluten. Like all considerate guests, our correspondent’s vegan daughter offered to bring her own food. But the host was outraged:

“Am I right in thinking that there’s something very self-centered about telling someone they must cooperate in your dietary choices or you will bring your own food? If so, what is your advice?”

Rosemond, validating the complaints of his correspondent, bewails the lack of manners of the younger generations and remarks on the “distinct whiff of narcissism” to the daughter’s request that her mother “cater to arbitrary food ‘issues’”; not surprising to the psychologist, since the 30-something daughter belongs to “Generation Entitlement”. But, Rosemond cautions, if his correspondent tells her daughter that she is being inconsiderate, “the strong likelihood is that you will be told in one way or another that you are unreasonable, rigid, uncompromising, and worse.”

In case the host reads Ecorazzi, here’s an alternative perspective on this issue for her:

Dear Concerned Host,

Let me congratulate you on two points: first, for raising a daughter with enough empathy to recognise that if we care about animals then we cannot eat them, wear them, or otherwise use them, and, second, for helping to mould her into someone so considerate that she offers to bring her own food along to avoid inconveniencing you in any way.

While you refer to veganism as a dietary choice, I can assure you that it’s much more than that: it’s an ethical system that rejects the use of other sentient beings as a means to an end. Vegans recognise that to use animals means to harm them, and to do so without any good justification. I’m willing bet you recognise that inflicting unnecessary harm on others is wrong, don’t you? Well, so does your daughter; that’s why she’s vegan. And that is the very opposite of entitled: your daughter doesn’t feel entitled to the bodies, labour, or lives of other beings; she doesn’t feel entitled to hurt others for no good reason; she doesn’t feel entitled to take the rights of other beings away.

As to why your daughter and her children are gluten-free, only they can answer that. I imagine they’re not doing it without good reason, so it might be an idea to ask them. Perhaps consuming gluten makes one or more of them feel unwell, and I am fairly sure that if that’s the case you wouldn’t want to feed it to them.

Now, you have two practical difficulties, as you see them: you mention that you’re only used to cooking for omnivores, and that you now have to prepare two meals. The solutions to both of these perceived difficulties are actually much easier than you’d think. First, you have undoubtedly cooked many things throughout the years that didn’t contain animal products: grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. Cooking for vegans is merely just expanding this repertoire a little; it doesn’t need to involve any strange ingredients or bizarre rituals. In fact, I’m sure you could make some simple substitutions to serve up something that’s not too far removed from what you were planning to cook anyway: mash your potatoes with a little olive oil and cooking water instead of milk and butter; serve the Brussels sprouts with toasted flaked almonds or sesame seeds instead of pig parts; use maple syrup in your cranberry sauce instead of sugar that may have been filtered through bone char. Second, you don’t need to cook two separate meals: everyone in attendance can be served a vegan meal that’s delicious, nourishing, and comforting. If you need ideas, then ask your daughter: I’m sure she can suggest plenty of wonderful recipes that will please all of your guests. In fact, it might be a nice idea to ask your daughter to arrive early and help you prepare the feast; that would not only be a great bonding opportunity for you both, but you’ll also become legendary in vegan circles as the mom that every vegan wants to have! And you might even learn a little more about veganism while you cook together.


Latent Prejudices and Animal Exploitation

Originally published on


Our attitude to animals is often a marker of our own latent prejudices: those that we try to keep hidden in our dealings with human beings, but that bubble to the surface every now and again when we attempt to justify our participation in animal use or campaign for one species over another.

When I was a child, I decided I was no longer going to eat lambs. I didn’t know, of course, that all of the animals we send to slaughter to be eaten are very young, but I worked out that since “lamb” was the name that we gave to a baby sheep, the lamb who accompanied Sunday dinner must have been a child. We shared that in common, my “meal” and I, so I refused to eat him. When I was a teenager, the moral impetus (albeit a confused one) that came from that recognition of that shared characteristic, abated and I returned to eating lambs.

We see this arbitrary designation of greater moral worth to those animals who we deem to be like us in so many single-issue campaigns: campaigns for primates to be exempt from experiments because they share 99% of our genes; campaigns against dog meat because we in the west consider dogs to be family members; campaigns to release orcas from marine amusement parks because of their intelligence and sociability. All of these campaigns favour one type of animal because of criteria that we believe make some beings more valuable than others. Even when vegans argue that they campaign for many different species and promote veganism more generally, to participate in such campaigns is to validate those prejudices and to perpetuate the already pervasive notion that certain arbitrary criteria can be used as a moral touchstone to determine who is deemed worthy and who is excluded from the circle of moral concern.

So, yesterday, when an article appeared in my newsfeed discussing the intelligence and sociability of chickens, I was not surprised to see that it had been shared by vegans. Too often, we attempt to persuade others that nonhuman animals should not be used as a means to our ends because they possess characteristics that make them like us.

But what we’re really saying, when we share these articles and participate in such campaigns, is that we value intelligence (an amorphous concept that we define very narrowly, and, in fact, in quite a gendered way) and sociability, and that we deem those who possess these attributes to be of greater moral value.

What we’re implying, when we promote the intelligence of animals as a reason for not using them, is that those with greater cognitive capacity are more deserving of our moral concern. The corollary of this is that those who are further below the benchmark of “intelligence” that we set are less deserving of our moral concern.

In Anthropocentrism and its Discontents, Gary Steiner examines the many ways in which we have justified our subjugation of nonhuman animals throughout history by using the standard human rationality. Steiner discusses Aristotle’s view that only humans are deserving of moral concern because of their ability to reason and to use language and Peter Singer’s presupposition that human lives are more valuable than those of nonhuman animals because their rationality gives them the ability to plan for the future. Even Tom Regan develops his subject-of-a-life criterion as linked to “perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, a sense of the future” (The Case for Animal Rights, p. 81); for Regan, any being who possesses these characteristics is worthy of moral concern. Although Regan says that preference autonomy (having preferences and being able to initiate actions with a view to satisfying them) is a sufficient but necessary criterion for moral worth, his entire theory is built around preference autonomy, so it’s difficult to understand how anything less than preference autonomy could count for him. Moreover, he maintains that death for a nonhuman is a lesser harm than death for a human.

Gary Francione recognises that what he calls the “similar-minds theory”—the idea that those with minds like ours are entitled to greater protection because of that similarity—is problematic for two reasons. First:

“It ignores that cognitive characteristics beyond sentience are morally irrelevant for determining whether we use a being exclusively as a human resource. We see that in the human context. That is, being “smart” may matter for some purposes, such as whether we give someone a scholarship, but it is completely irrelevant to whether we use someone as a forced organ donor, as a nonconsenting subject in a biomedical experiment. We ought to see this in the animal context as well.”

And second:

“It sets up a standard that animals, however much they are “like us,” can never win. For example, we have known for a long time that nonhuman great apes are very much like humans in all sorts of ways but we continue to exploit them. However much animals are “like us,” they are never enough “like us” to translate into an obligation on our parts to stop exploiting them.”

So, while we discriminate against humans on the basis of arbitrary criteria, the majority of us oppose treating humans who are “different from us” solely as a means to our ends. And even when animals appear to be “like us”, we continue to use them and justify doing so on the basis that they are not of our species.

This focus on cognitive characteristics certainly speaks to a prejudice that we have against members of our own species: how can it not? When we deem intelligence as a reason for affording moral worth to an individual, how is that any different from deeming gender or sexuality or race or body size or species as a reason for affording moral worth to an individual? When we say that we should demonstrate empathy towards chickens because they can use deductive reasoning, what are we saying about those (both human and nonhuman) who cannot do so?

But in the human context, even where people hold to the idea that some humans are more worthy than others by virtue of the qualities they possess, or even when we use cognitive capabilities to determine, for instance, to whom we give a job or allow onto a university course, we would never say that a human who is less “intelligent” could be used as a replaceable resource and treated solely as a means to our ends. For nonhumans, the cards are always stacked against them because we have, for too many years, failed to focus on the heart of the matter: that, to quote a title from a Gary Francione essay linked above, only sentience matters. The question on which we should be focussed when it comes to animals is not how like us they are. Instead, all we need to ask is “are they things?” Because if they are not things, then we can’t justify treating them as though they are.

By using “intelligence” as a yardstick for determining the moral worth of an individual, we are perpetuating hierarchies, we are perpetuating oppression, and we are revealing our own prejudices. But in the animal context, we move beyond discrimination and oppression into the realm of treating them solely as objects with no moral value. For nonhumans, the problem at hand is that we use another arbitrary criterion—species difference—to justify our exploitation of them. We do not seek to justify our use of humans as forced organ donors or unconsenting subjects in biomedical experiments (to use two of Francione’s examples) because we would never deem such things to be morally defensible; belonging to our species safeguards that right of other humans not to be used exclusively as a means to our ends.

When we, as vegans, therefore use cognitive capabilities to try to persuade people of the wrongness of using nonhuman animals, not only are we participating in a form of oppression that harms humans, but we are also missing the point entirely. The point is that sentience alone should be the morally relevant criteria on which we make such determinations. Not only is that the one criterion that, if we make it a focus of our advocacy, prevents us from perpetuating discrimination, prejudice, and other harms, but it is also the criterion that will erase the arbitrary lines we have drawn between humans and nonhumans when it comes to deciding whom we should treat as a resource.

If you are not vegan, please stop drawing arbitrary lines in the sand about which sentient beings matter morally, and go vegan.

2016: A Year of Victories for the Animals

Originally published on


Dear child,

As I hand over the mantle of my activism to you, I wish you every success in continuing my generation’s task of creating a vegan world.

We couldn’t manage it, and I guess it’s because the time was not ripe. For over 200 years, our forebears campaigned for an end to vivisection, laying the foundations for our activism. They asked for restrictions, changes, regulations, reforms, legislation, but still vivisection did not end. But with the tireless work of campaigns against the one form of use that the majority of people do not deem to be transparently frivolous, our first victory was born: lay people who did not perform vivisection in their living rooms continued not to perform vivisection in their living rooms.

We took up their campaigns, broke into laboratories, liberated animals, and all to show that the regulationist victories for which our forebears fought so hard—and for which they are our campaign role models—are both inadequate and often unenforced. Still, we continue their campaigns for regulations: they may be inadequate and unenforced, but every little helps.

Our dedicated progenitors, heroes to the cause, regularly finished their meals of boiled beef and stewed rabbit before protesting horses being beaten, working too hard for too long, and being deliberately starved. Now, two centuries later, we continue their protests against overworked, starved, and beaten horses, because hard work should never go unfinished.

We learned so much from them about how to make change, because make change they did. They worked to pass anticruelty statutes, and, although those anticruelty statutes do not work and cannot work, we continue to campaign for them.

Our Abolitionist critics say that we should be focussing on ending all animal use through promoting veganism, since that is the only morally coherent position, and since as long as people continue to eat animals, nothing else will change. But all we need is more time. Another 200 years and we might have raised sufficient awareness about the fact that animals are being harmed, switched enough people on to “humane” animal products, and persuaded enough people to stop eating meat on Mondays to start working on No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Fridays.

The work of our forebears is our model for activism. If we chip away at the various forms of animal exploitation, bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece, animal exploitation will end. If it has only taken us 200 years to make these admittedly miniscule changes for animals (so miniscule they’re barely perceptible), then imagine what we could achieve by 220166! In just over 218 thousand years, we could have laid the foundation on which a vegan world could be built!

My child, 2016 has been a year of victories. And so that our work does not go unnoticed, I want to list some of the highlights of this year for you. Remember, when you continue our work, all that we have achieved for the animals.

* Wearing masks, we stood on street corners and sat on tube trains, showing people films on our laptops of animals being tortured. We may have distressed children and traumatised those who themselves had been victims of violence, but the end always justifies the means.

* We disrupted political rallies and shouted at people in restaurants. We didn’t use the word “vegan” lest it put people off. We chanted slogans but gave our audience no practical advice on action to take. However, we started many water-cooler conversations…mostly about us as a brand.

* We ensured that several women stripped off for the cause, because nothing says “end the commodification of animals” like the commodification of women.

* We abolished so many different forms of animal use:

  • World Class Capital Group, a real estate company, stopped using glue traps as a result of our tireless campaigning. If they switch to snap traps or electrical traps it will be so much better for the rodents who will be killed.
  • We persuaded Shindigz, a party-supply store, to stop selling a piece of merchandise with a picture of a circus elephant on it; no more will exploited circus elephants have to see their own sad faces on party products from that particular store.
  • One mobile zoo had its license to exhibit warm-blooded animals revoked. Of course, there are many other mobile zoos exhibiting warm-blooded animals, and of course this particular zoo can still exhibit other animals (and who knows what will happen to those warm-blooded animals that they already own?), but every little helps. Us. To proclaim victory. Whether it is one or not.
  • We persuaded a number of suppliers to switch to cage-free eggs, making sure that now the hens from whom people get eggs don’t have to view the world through bars. Crowded into one big barn with thousands of others of their species, it’s what we’d want if we were laying hens.
  • SeaWorld has agreed to switch to cage-free eggs and gestation crate-free pork so that the animals exploited for food (who are served to people who come to watch the animals exploited for entertainment) be treated to a little more space during their miserable lives and before their horrific deaths.
  • We have appealed for Florida black bears to be listed as an endangered species so that people can’t hunt them until there are more of them. Only when the breeding programmes are ramped up can folks can start killing them again.
  • We’ve restricted the importing of lion trophies to the U.S: their body parts put people off eating their dead cow parts.
  • Two states of the USA banned the use of weapons in training of elephants in travelling shows. So exploited elephants will be exploited without weapons. In the USA. In two states.
  • SeaWorld has agreed to phase out its captive orca programme. Of course, the park will still use parrots, sea turtles, pelicans, walruses, otters, penguins, seals, sea lions, sharks, manatees, flamingos, dolphins, and beluga whales, as well as the animals served for food on site, and, of course, the orcas who are currently performing there will continue to perform until they die. But ….well….journey, baby steps, world won’t go vegan overnight, animals suffering now

* The highlight of our campaigning year, though, has been a hard-fought and not-yet-won battle of gargantuan proportions. In 2016, animal advocates stood together to face down the British Government and tell them that we were not going to accept their use of tallow in bank notes. There was no way that we were going concede to people purchasing the products of slaughter with the use of slaughterhouse by-products in that particular form. Credit/debit cards made of plastic and therefore also containing slaughterhouse by-products are just fine. But not in our fivers. Vegetarian cafés joined us in the protest, refusing to accept £5 notes in payment for the milk of exploited cows or the eggs of exploited hens. It was a vitally important, landmark campaign, and we’re delighted to have been a part of it. For us it really defines the purpose of what we have spent centuries doing: drawing arbitrary distinctions between different forms of use, banding together with nonvegans who campaign against some animal use while engaging in others, and spending a great deal of energy and resources on morally incoherent campaigns.

Dear child, this was our year. You can see that the changes or the noise that we made is infinitely more valuable than advocating veganism to people who care about animals. For a start, vegan advocacy is so hard: you can’t just type your name and email address on an online form, or give a fiver (no, wait; our fivers have tallow in…a tenner) to an animal org to get them to campaign on your behalf; you actually have to talk to people. But, also, vegan advocacy that’s free of theatrics doesn’t get your group into the newspapers, so what’s the point?

Sure, bringing someone to veganism would address all forms of animal use at once, and that person would be a potential vegan advocate as well. But can you imagine how our end-of-year reviews would look? This would not make for a good story:

“This year, I resolved to advocate veganism to at least one person every day. I estimate that a third of the people to whom I advocated expressed an interest in veganism, and that a fifth of them went vegan and stayed vegan.”

How boring is that? What kind of change does that bring about?

Ignore the keyboard warriors, my child, who tell you that standing on a street corner and shouting “fur hag” is not effective advocacy. Ask them what they’re doing to bring about change. If they tell you that they’re advocating regularly, creatively, and nonviolently for veganism, just yawn. You know what real change looks like: it looks like a regulation that is unenforceable, the prioritising of one species over others, moral confusion, and histrionic campaigning.

Keep up the good work.

Victor E. Fordan-Mals