Stop Calling Vegan Food “Cruelty-Free”

This essay was originally published on

Sometimes it’s easy to compartmentalise ethical issues and to forget that abstaining from one moral wrong doesn’t eradicate all others. Many vegans proudly proclaim that their food is “cruelty-free” as though issues of justice and injustice begin and end with our use of nonhuman animals. What is probably an innocent shorthand for “no nonhuman animals were exploited to make this”, though, can appear as a complete disregard for the fact that many of the foods that we commonly consume are products of forced labour, human trafficking, exploitation and suffering.

Certainly, there are more issues surrounding nonvegan consumption, and in no way can nonvegans hold the fact that food production systems are exploitative over us as a “gotcha”. Nor does the enormity of the exploitation in which the nonvegan participates by way of their food choices mean that we, as vegans, don’t have to try harder or do better.

Cashews are often processed by people who receive caustic burns from the acids that lie between the two layers of the hard shell of the nut. Some cashews are produced in forced-labour camps where the workers are beaten and shocked into harvesting, cleaning, and preparing a vegan staple. Much of the chocolate that we consume is the product of child labour, with reporters finding children as young as five using dangerous tools to harvest cocoa beans. Workers on coffee farms are often housed 40 to 60 to a room without sanitation, working without a signed contract and not receiving a minimum wage. Farm workers are frequently exposed to toxic chemicals, endangering their health and those of their families. And, in fact, an estimated sixty percent of child labour worldwide takes place in the agriculture sector.

When we talk about cruelty-free food, then, we’re ignoring the fact that food production is bound up with many forms of injustice. At the very least, we ought to find another shorthand to convey the idea that our food does not contain animal bodies or products. But if we really take seriously the idea of living in a way that minimises harm, then we are morally obliged to educate ourselves on the human rights issues involved in food production, to support ethical and fair-trade companies where we can, and to learn more about where our food choices come from and how they were produced.


A Message From Your Favourite Corporate Animal Charity

This parody was originally published on

A Victory for the Animals is in Your Hands!

In 1999, a European Union Council Directive instructed member states to implement legislation to ban conventional battery cages by 1 January, 2012.* Enriched cages were to be the new minimal standard. Although this was an enormous baby-step, and although it took decades to get from the point of campaigning to the implementation of the ban, what we campaigned for was not what we really wanted.

It wasn’t that we set out to deceive you, our loyal donors, and we’re grateful for the megabucks you helped us raise to campaign for something that we didn’t want (and yet pretended we did). You see, change doesn’t happen overnight and, according to the Animal Orgs’ Textbook, Logic 101, if you ask for what you want and things change then you’ve clearly asked for the wrong thing.

Recently, we’ve been to visit laying hens in order to ask them “as exploited birds, what is it that you want?” We listened very carefully to their responses (while some of our undercover investigators participated in their exploitation and killing), but since we couldn’t understand them we decided that if we were among Europe’s 498 million laying hens we’d want to be exploited without cages.

We spent many years asking for enriched cages and, although they were better than battery cages, we realised that if we were hens, we wouldn’t particularly like living in them. After all, although every little bit helps, a little extra space (for which we advocated, and which we said would make a significant difference in the lives of those animals) doesn’t really help at all.

We decried our critics who said that these cages for which we campaigned so hard—and which were implemented after decades of petitions, donations and media galas—were little more than window dressing. Our critics—the animal exploiters’ best assets with their divisiveness (and their nonsensical statement that if you want to end animal exploitation you have to end animal exploitation) were wrong, of course, but those cages were little more than window dressing.

Now, we are asking you to help us get rid of the cages that we asked for, in order that almost 500 million laying hens can be exploited in the way that we’d want to be exploited ourselves. Incidentally, there were about 90 million laying hens still in battery cages in Europe in 2012 after the implementation of the ban, but animals are just statistics, so that doesn’t really matter. We recognise that the enriched cage ban will take us another decade or so to achieve, and another decade after that to be implemented, but what’s 20 years? After all, there are hundreds of millions of birds exploited in Europe every year, and they are killed after about 2 years, so those who are around when the campaign starts won’t have to endure the protracted period of campaigning with us—they’ll already be dead and replaced 10 times over.

The world won’t go v-word overnight, so if we phase in improvements, each taking about 20 years from campaigning to implementation, then we should have a much happier and profitable exploitation system within a millennium. THEN, we’ll have primed people to care about our happily exploited (and grateful! It’s what they’d want!) animals, and can start talking about the v-word. In hushed tones, because we don’t want to drive anyone away.

Donate today to help us help the animals who are suffering now in order that their successors after 10 rotations might see the golden age: exploitation and killing without wire bars! We’ll have a v-word world by 4016!

If you want to do more to help, please download our “What can I do?” guide, which includes the following tips:

* Don’t eat speckled eggs;
* Don’t eat eggs that come in blue cartons;
* Eat one egg fewer per year;
* Offer up thanks to the exploited chickens for their sacrifice, since this will be as useful to them as our campaign.

If you are interested in activism:
* Send people to our website;
* Share our petitions;
* Donate;
* Try to stay quiet, and certainly don’t mention the v-word.

* Gary L. Francione, in his 2010 book co-authored with Robert Garner, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation, discusses the Directive, noting that it gave producers the option to switch to “enriched cages” (“that have a nest, a perching space, litter for scratching and pecking, and unrestricted access to a feed trough”) or to go to a cageless system. An EU report insisted that there would not be a significant cost disadvantage associated with the enriched cage, and that “the higher animal welfare standards can serve as a valuable selling point for EU producers.” Both Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA agreed that the enriched cages were little better than battery cages (p. 43).

Read more from Gary Francione on the ban that was not a ban here.

It is also important to note that the EU Directive did not apply to establishments with fewer than 350 laying hens or establishments rearing breeding laying hens. This “Victory for the Animals” also resulted in massive culls of birds who were farmed by people not able to afford to switch over to the new cage system.

As Gary Francione writes, “If anyone thinks that this campaign was a good use of movement resources, then I disagree. It is clear to me that the time, money, and labor would have been better invested in a clear and unequivocal vegan campaign, rather than confusing the public into thinking that “welfare-friendly” eggs are any more real than unicorns.”

Don’t entrust animal interests to the large animal organisations who ask for or celebrate“welfare improvements” that they actually condemn, only to have them ask for something elsewhen what they requested was granted. Instead, get out into your community and talk to people about veganism. We have limited time and resources; let’s use them wisely by asking for our vegan world.

It’s Not Sticks and Stones, But Words Can Hurt Your Advocacy

This essay was originally published on

Vegan advocacy encounters don’t just involve presenting new ideas; they also involve talking about familiar topics in an entirely new way. Nonvegans know what animals are, and they understand the concept of justice, but thinking of one in terms of the other is probably entirely new to them. Certainly, they will be familiar with the language and (nonsensical) idea of animal welfare—of the concept that we can treat animals as a means to our ends so long as we do so in a way that we (as the ones inflicting the harm) perceive to be humane. The idea that animals are of equal moral value, though, is probably entirely unfamiliar. We can, however, use our word choices to better influence the conversation away from the idea of welfare and towards the idea of abolition.

Language is a powerful tool: it unites us and divides us; it is a marker of our identity and a signal of our sociability. The words we use can be hugely influential in how we communicate our ideas, and in how those ideas are received. When we are careful about shaping our message through our words, we can all the more effectively advocate for justice and help to win the listener over to the ideas we’re presenting.

Suffering, Cruelty, or Exploitation?

When we talk about suffering or cruelty, we are talking about animals undergoing (or us inflicting upon them) something that is deeply unpleasant for them (to say the least). But in terms of a system in which they are forced into existence, have their babies taken from them, are worked until their bodies give out, are confined and not able to pursue their own basic interests, and are then killed to have their corpses used for our ends, their entire existence is one of suffering and cruelty. But here’s the problem: when we talk about suffering, what our nonvegan listener will hear is that we should make the animals feel less physical pain. The EU Directive on battery cages, for instance, states that the doors of enriched cages should be wide enough that the birds may be taken out of their cages without any unnecessary suffering. Now, since we don’t need to eat, wear, or otherwise use animals, all of the suffering that comes from the system that treats them as a means to our ends is unnecessary. But what the nonvegan hears is that suffering is too small a cage, a kick dealt in the slaughterhouse, killing without stunning.

Using the language of exploitation, though, conveys the truth that the problem is treating animals unfairly to benefit from their labour. This places the focus squarely on the fact that they are used at all. There is no way our listener can derail the conversation towards humane exploitation, since there is no such thing; we are already making a moral judgement with our language, and we are compelling our listener to think of animal use in these terms, even if to disagree with us. That, in turn, helps us direct the conversation more effectively towards the vegan imperative. 

Compassion, Mercy, or Empathy?

It is common to hear people speak about our relationship towards nonhuman animals in terms of “compassion” or “mercy”. We urge others to be compassionate or to show mercy to the animals for whom we’re advocating. These terms are not without their problems, though; they are intricately bound up with the idea of pity, and they are always directed downwards from a perceived superior (in terms of a balance of power) to a perceived inferior. Using this kind of language draws on ideas of human supremacy, painting animals as our natural inferiors. These words are also frequently used to talk about suffering, and as a result they have been co-opted by the large animal groups to talk not about rights and justice but about treatment instead; that’s not where we want to place our focus.

Empathy on the other hand, carries with it a sense of sharing and understanding, and it creates a horizontal bridge between those enduring an ordeal and those witnessing it. For these reasons, it is a fundamentally egalitarian term, and therefore highly useful in terms of conveying to our listeners the idea that animals are our moral equals.

Love or Justice?

We don’t need to regard ourselves as animal lovers in order to be vegan. I have a friend who is completely uninterested in fostering relationships with nonhuman animals, who doesn’t coo over a sweet kitten, and who has never lived with a companion animal. They have been vegan for 17 years because they, as an active social justice campaigner, recognise that justice knows no species barriers.

There’s nothing wrong with loving animals; I am a self-professed and proud animal lover. But loving animals is not essential to being vegan. Talking about beloved animals is a useful way in to conversations about other nonhumans, but loving animals is not essential to the recognition that they should not be treated as things.

The concept of justice is therefore far less likely to alienate people who could possibly brush off our advocacy attempts with “I’m not an animal lover”, thereby thinking they have exempted themselves from the moral imperative. Further, the concept of love is subjectively defined and it imposes on the one who loves no moral obligations per se. The concept of justice, however, requires that we deal with others in an equitable way, and we can easilly show how, in terms of animals, this leads to veganism.


We see nonhuman animals as moral persons. This means that we recognise that they have their own interests, and therefore the basic right not to be treated solely as a resource; if animals are not persons, then they are merely things.

We use the language “it” to refer to things; the pronoun is fundamentally antithetical to the idea of personhood. We would never refer to our sibling as “it”, nor would we use that term for a beloved companion animal. When we, as advocates, use “it” of nonhuman animals, then, we are unwittingly reinforcing the speciesist paradigm and perpetuating the notion that animals are things. We should, therefore, use personal pronouns “she”, “he”, “they”, etc., instead. Similarly, we should avoid “what”, “which”, or “that” and opt instead for “who(m)”.


The pronoun “you”, when used to refer to your listener’s participation in animal use, sounds accusatory: it estranges, and it undermines rapport. Your interlocutor may feel judged, alienated and attacked, and all of these will be detrimental to advocacy. When talking about our use of animals, the pronoun “we” points out beyond the conversation to a larger cultural system of speciesism, and it is this system that you want the interlocutor to reject. “We” also helps to create an unconscious bond that will allow you to persuade more easily when the conversation turns to examining solutions to the problem.


The concept of fairness is one of the first ethical concepts we grasp as children; “that’s not fair!” is a frequent protest from young children who have a basic understanding of the principles of equity. The idea is a useful one, then, to convey the equal moral worth of animals and the notion that we should treat animal interests in the same way we would treat similar human interests. Using the language of fairness conveys the idea of the moral worth of animals and is likely to start the listener thinking about ideas of animal exploitation from the perspective of use rather than treatment.

Language can be a very important element in our advocacy toolkit. If we want to shake our listener out of their speciesist mindset, then we can’t use the language that has conventionally been used to talk about animal welfare; this will only perpetuate the listener’s belief that there is a right way to use animals. Talking about animals in a language that’s unfamiliar to our listener will be far more likely to engage them actively with the conversation and to cause them to question their own deeply-held beliefs.


Reflections on My Privileged Veganism

This essay was originally published on

I remember, before I went vegan, being staunchly anti-feminist. There was quite a bit of painful experience tied up with that view, and it was only through recognising the moral personhood of another oppressed female—a cow—that I came to recognise my own and to shake that conditioning away.

I remember being vegan, and asserting that I was a voice for the voiceless, and that since animals are the most oppressed beings on the planet I would speak for them and leave human issues to other humans.

I remember uttering the words “that’s not what veganism is about” in response to an appeal that we be pro-intersectional in our approach.

I don’t remember why I guarded the idea of advocating solely for nonhumans so jealously, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you because my approach was inexcusable and I don’t want to even attempt to justify it.

I do know, though, that my belief that justice could be forced through a narrow lens and directed to one group alone was a manifestation of my privilege.

Now, if you don’t know how privilege manifests itself in your advocacy, here’s how I understand it: privilege is the ability to be selective in your campaigns and to work for animal issues as though they are divorced from human issues. Privilege is the ability to dismiss forms of oppression that aren’t on your experiential radar. Privilege is being able to pick and choose which struggles you concern yourself with. Privilege is not being able to understand how oppressed people are not heard when they speak for themselves. Privilege is the assumption that the advantages that we have by virtue of our birth are universal.

I remember thinking I was doing just fine as a human being because I never actively discriminated against anyone. And I remember thinking that the task of dealing with human issues was just too massive and too scary for me. Me: the white, able-bodied cis woman who didn’t experience a fraction of the disadvantages and discrimination that keeps my human siblings oppressed. Privilege.

That kind of privilege doesn’t make us wicked or evil. It merely means we have to open our eyes, to try to transcend the benefits and advantages we have. We don’t have the luxury of being selective in our campaigns, because if we believe in justice, then we must believe in justice for all. Justice for only some is inherently anti-just.

If you’re not vegan, be vegan. If you are vegan, please recognise that the ethical system you embrace is one that is about creating a better world: a world of peace and love, free from discrimination, exploitation and oppression. This means that we must always advocate veganism unequivocally as the moral imperative that it is. We must also actively oppose all forms of discrimination, and this means that we have to work hard to learn how to be better allies to humans who do not benefit from the same privileges as us.

The Second Indoctrination – Speciesist Vegans, by Damon McDonald

This is a guest post by my friend, Damon McDonald. Damon, for those of you who don’t know him, is an incredibly effective and dedicated advocate who tables regularly and who never misses an opportunity to talk to people about veganism. I’m honoured to be able to host this insightful and useful essay here. 

Part 1 – The First Indoctrination

Vegans take the ethical position of avoiding causing harm to nonhuman sentient beings. That is, to the extent practicable, vegans do not use animals for food, clothing, entertainment or other reasons. Vegans avoid participating directly in the exploitation of sentient beings; it’s really quite a simple position to take. It’s both a logical and ethical stance that rejects the social norm—the exploitation of animals to use them as resources for humans.

In particular, our use of animals as a food resource is a problem so large that the numbers are really quite horribly unimaginable. We enslave, exploit and slaughter more than 64 billion land animals and over a trillion aquatic animals every single year. There is absolutely no good reason for doing this. As every vegan will attest, consuming a vegan suitable diet is not only equal to (in taste and variety) but most would say much better on every level than a diet which includes animal products. Of course veganism is not a diet; it’s a rejection of the violence and exploitation involved in commodifying and using these other sentient beings.

Every current vegan, by simply being vegan, proves that such harm to nonhuman sentient beings is not necessary. Most vegans will say that they wish they had seen or known about the problem sooner and had gone vegan sooner. Unfortunately, for most people we’re all born into societies which revolve around using sentient nonhuman beings as resources. It’s so pervasive you just can’t escape all uses of nonhumans. We put their body parts into things like roads, car tires and computers.

It’s not industry that is to blame for our continued use of animals as property. In fact, it’s us as consumers who vote for it to happen every single time we buy an animal product. The good news there, though, is that as individuals we can also stop the demand and thereby change the supply, by going vegan.

Our society indoctrinates us from the time we are born, into the paradigm of using animals as resources. When we are young, most of us are told lies about where our food comes from, because the truth would usually stop a young child cold from participating in the death and harm of any animal. We are taught that it’s okay to exploit some certain animals while we love certain others, although which ones will vary depending on what part of the world you are from. And love of property doesn’t necessarily translate into respect.

Vegans know that all sentient beings are equal when it comes to moral consideration. All sentient animals are individuals who experience fear, feel pain and have an interest in living.

Our school systems and governments buy into and support the marketing sleight-of-hand by industry. “Milk is good for us!” Well most vegans would strongly dispute that, but the one thing we do know is that it’s not good for the cow. It is just as much, if not more, a product of suffering and death as is meat. Eggs are the same; we’re told they have protein (which almost no one lacks unless they lack calories) but we forget about the tremendous amount of cholesterol. Again, what about the sentient being, the chicken who we reduce to nothing more than a thing, a resource for human use and who is inevitably killed (no one gets out alive) simply because of our taste habits?

All vegans know that eating a vegan-suitable diet is perfectly adequate for humans to thrive on. In fact it can be much healthier. All of the major dietetic associations throughout the world agree that a healthy vegan diet is suitable for humans at all stages of life.

There’s no doubt that, from a moral perspective, being vegan and avoiding all use of other sentient beings as resources is certainly much better for our spirit. It’s a real change of thinking when someone goes vegan; they start to see that what they’ve been told about using animals is not necessarily the truth and in some cases the truth has been hidden (out of sight out of mind) or we have been told outright lies.

We were indoctrinated into a paradigm of animal use by every aspect of society: you must conform, and you must do this because everyone does. The excuses for continued participation in harming other sentient beings are almost endless. However none of them even come close to being legitimate reasons why someone can’t reject the social norm and go vegan.

For someone to go vegan usually requires that they re-educate themselves and reassess their current way of thinking: that they begin to consider things objectively and use critical thinking to break through the mindless messages which support a position of violent exploitation. But most people if not all, agree that causing unnecessary suffering and death of any sentient being is wrong and we should not participate in it, especially if we can avoid it. And we can avoid it. This is a light bulb moment for most people—an eye-opening revelation which causes them to break free from the indoctrinated social norm and stand up for justice for vulnerable members of our moral community.

Part 2 – The Second Indoctrination

What sometimes happens next though—after people escape the first indoctrination and go vegan—can be viewed as a large step backwards and an instant betrayal of justice for animals. Many vegans seem to fall into the trap of indoctrinating themselves into the “animal movement” this is a movement lead by large organisations whose primary focus is on donations from anyone. These groups claim to represent the interests of nonhumans but unfortunately the truth is that not only do they let these vulnerable beings down, they also participate in their harm.

For some reason, these vegans stop thinking again at this point, they refuse to see or even consider the paradigm of speciesist corporate self-interest. We see vegans cling on to these organisations with blind faith, repeating the mantras, which they don’t realise are there to garner donations from anyone and everyone. “It’s not a black and white issue”, “we must do something”, “choose compassion”, “the world won’t go vegan overnight”, “animals are suffering now”. These mantras and plenty of others reinforce a defeatist position of compromise from a vegan perspective, but they also allow nonvegans the opportunity to avoid addressing or even knowing about what is really a simple, clear moral position.

These usually well-meaning vegans follow along and believe virtually without question that people can’t be educated about veganism. It’s quite strange really; a person who was educated about veganism and became vegan, then takes the position that others cannot be educated. Thinking about it, this is really quite an obnoxious position to take, that individually we are more special or that we are just more “compassionate” than others, that others lack “compassion”. This is not about us, or our “compassion”, this is not an issue of “compassion” at all, this is about justice for animals. It’s about doing the right thing, not accepting right ways to do the wrong thing.

If we reject the exploitation of other sentient beings then the last thing we should ever do is suggest on any level that any form of participation in exploitation is okay for anyone. It’s not; it’s always wrong; it is black and white. Vegans know this: we draw the line at not using nonhuman sentient beings as our property and for virtually everyone it’s very easy to do.

The very least we can and must do for animals is stop using them, by taking action and going vegan. This should be the clear message front and centre by anyone who claims to represent the interests of animals. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone representing my interests if they promoted and accepted eating me on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday but not Monday and by default suggesting that eating products of exploitation which result in the suffering and death of my other friends instead on Monday is okay. I wouldn’t want anyone promoting my going to slaughter by road transport as a better alternative to me being exported by sea to be killed in another country. Obviously I wouldn’t want to be killed at all, or to be bred into enslavement for use as a resource in the first place. I wouldn’t want anyone representing my interests who told people that they should try and simply reduce their exploitation of me. I wouldn’t want to be exploited as it would be wrong; I’d want people to ask it to stop.

And that’s exactly what vegans need to be doing; it’s pretty logical: *vegans educating others about veganism*. It doesn’t cost any money. It’s a consistent, uncompromising message of justice, in that it truly represents the genuine interests of nonhumans not to be used at all. We’re missing, and in most cases deliberately forgo, the opportunity to educate people and fully inform them about the significant difference they can make by going vegan.

Now for many this requires a bit of critical thinking, a bit of education, some insight into how to engage people in conversations about veganism as a moral imperative. So what is stopping vegans from doing this? Is it the time or effort here that causes vegans to outright reject even contemplating this basic and logical approach? Is it their own bad experiences with people because they focused on treatment and single issues and graphic images, as led by the large animal donation organisations? Is it because the animal donation groups don’t want people doing it in place of their “successful” fundraising single issue campaigns?

We should remember that these organisations have tactics that focus and rely on soliciting more donations. They don’t take a position of justice; they conflate veganism (when they don’t outright reject it) with vegetarianism and other morally compromised positions. Vegetarianism is certainly not a morally coherent position: it still involves death, suffering and the use of nonhumans as a resource; it is just a diet. It’s only a “gateway” to continued participation in the exploitation of the vulnerable. We are not vegetarians, we are vegans and there’s reason for that.

These large animal charities through their conflation of positions of exploitation, with claims of representing animals have created a massive confusion movement. A movement that now partners with animal exploiters and does one thing well:it takes money from vegans and nonvegans alike. It creates coalitions of vegans and nonvegans who claim to care about animals, but mainly targets nominal use single issues that nonvegans can get onboard with supporting. These many and varied speciesist, single issue focused, fundraising campaigns, will just go on and on forever, $$.

This speciesist “animal movement” puts time and resources into anything but changing the paradigm for animals. What the animals need is a clear consistent, upfront and uncompromising message of justice. The animals need a *vegan movement* and as vegans, promoting anything less than that message is incoherent. Anything less than a message which clearly states that if you truly care about animals then veganism is a moral imperative is a message which compromises the very position that we as vegans claim to believe in and live by.

Reject the second indoctrination; reject anyone, any group or any position, which involves sending any message of continued exploitation of nonhumans. Reject speciesism. The only message we need, the only message that covers all of the issues, the unjust use of nonhumans, is a message that states clearly that veganism is the only way there can be justice for animals.

This is a social justice issue and we need to change the paradigm; to do this we have to change the conversation. As vegans we must lead the way and be consistent and uncompromising in our message for justice. Educate yourself and then educate others. This is a black and white issue; the only grey area is the donation zone. Veganism is the moral baseline.

Vegans Don’t Need Graphic Imagery To Advocate


This essay was originally published on

Guilt and the New Vegan

Veganism wasn’t always a source of joy for me. I remember, after I made the decision to be vegan (or, rather, after I realised there was no other option), sitting down to watch videos of how animals bodies’ are made into products for our consumption. Why I inflicted those sights of suffering and cruelty on myself is clear to me even now: I was under the misapprehension that, after recognising animal interests, it would only be something visceral that would transform that recognition into a lifelong will.

So often, I encounter new vegans who sit through videos of graphic footage almost as though it is a vegan rite of passage. One vegan I encountered in a Facebook group made a rather distressed post in which she declared that she was halfway through a viewing of Earthlings but could tolerate no more. She experienced a two-fold guilt: for her past participation in animal exploitation, and for her present inability to watch the film to the end. “I keep trying to watch Earthlings every once in a while,” wrote someone in the comments “but I just can’t get past the first 30 minutes.”

The determination to endure something so obviously traumatic seems, in a way, to be almost penitential, as though watching the film will absolve the new vegan of their nonvegan past. A cathartic discussion resulted on the thread, dealing with the guilt of having lived as a nonvegan, of other commenter’s memories of viewing the film. Most of us can probably identify with these emotions: the guilt of looking away, and the guilt and self-directed anger of having been a participant.

I endured many sleepless nights, and spent weeks trying to get out from under the weight of grief, anxiety, and despair at what I had seen. My view of the world had shifted utterly, and the more guilt and anger I felt, the more I found myself involved in a process of atonement: a cycle of reading about our treatment of animals, plummeting into the depths of remorse, and punishing myself by forcing myself to find out more.

Despair and Welfare Reforms

I followed all of the major animal organisations, and the more of the graphic footage I saw the more dejected and despondent I became. Rhino, pandas, oxen, turkeys, horses, dogs; foie gras, fur, vivisection; veal crates, live export, debeaking: it was impossible to know where we could possibly start and where we would finish. These groups shattered the picture of the problem of animal use and the violation of their rights into a thousand different pieces; subscribers’ feeds would be flooded with one campaign after another. Despair—with so many fractured pieces, so many “reforms” needed, so many species in distress—would inevitably overcome many subscribers (as was quite evident from the comments sections), leaving them to feel utterly reliant on the animal organisations and disempowered from taking matters into their own hands by engaging in vegan education. With so many problems, and with the pieces of the puzzle constantly changing, no clear picture of how to end the problem of animal “cruelty” could possibly emerge.

But I had misconceptualised the problem. The problem was not the beatings that make people want to install closed-circuit cameras in slaughterhouses; the problem was not the live maceration of male chicks; it was not tail-docking and castration without anaesthetic; it was not boiling other sentient beings alive; it was not the bolt to the forehead or the knife across the throat; it was not the cramped cages or gestation crates: it was the whole picture of our attitudes towards other animals.

The heart of the problem is that we humans participate in a system that treats other animals as things. As long as we deny that their sentience accords them moral worth, and that that moral worth ought to protect them from being treated as a means to our ends, then this will continue indefinitely. With this realisation, I shifted my focus from treatment onto use, and the picture puzzle began to make sense. All of the disparate pieces of the horrors of how animals are treated joined together and made me realise that there is one thing and one thing alone that we need to tackle in order to bring about a vegan world: speciesism.

Closing Our Eyes to Open Our Eyes

Some vegans speak of an ethical obligation to bear witness to the suffering of other animals, but whatever the individual’s choice about the level of violence to which they expose themselves as a witness and advocate, we are most certainly not obliged to endure the sights and sounds of animals in pain. It does not serve them well, it can cause us distress and anguish, and thereby diminish some of the strength that we need in order to be effective educators. Most importantly, though, we and others are in danger of getting mired in issues of treatment rather than focussing on the bigger picture that, even without beatings, confinement, physical torture, animal use is an abrogation of the fundamental rights of another sentient being, and is morally wrong.

Hope and Vegan Education

Still, I see violation, torment, and deprivation in a slice of cheese. I see exhausted bodies and missing sons where others see eggs. I see zoos as places of captivity, and leather as the skin of someone who wanted to live. Every animal product is a reminder of our speciesist world. But I am not the victim of their exploitation, and to inflict suffering upon myself through dwelling on their torment, rather than to harness all of my strength to educate others to stop using them, is not only futile but self-destructive. After all, the only hope we have in a vegan world lies in vegans advocating veganism.

If our years of nonveganism cause us to desire to make amends, if our anger or despair at a world that treats other sentient beings like resources impels us to try to bring change, if our impetus for justice compels us to help create a fairer world, then we can do so by educating. It is in helping the number of people who abstain from using animals to grow that the joy of being vegan is truly made manifest.

Please see this essay for further analysis of the use of graphic imagery in advocacy.


Who’s Afraid of the Moral Imperative


This was originally published on the Grumpy Old Vegans Facebook page.

They lurk in the shadows where non-vegans congregate, waiting for an opportunity to pounce and shout aloud their sole advocacy pitch: “GO VEGAN.” By day, they are to be found reading theory or baking cupcakes. By night, they prowl the internet looking for ways to be divisive and bellicose. They are concerned with personal purity above animal exploitation; their opponents, on the other hand, know that the best way to end animal exploitation is to participate in it and encourage others to do the same. They are paid by exploiters to help stem a threat that doesn’t exist to a thriving and growing industry of animal exploitation. After all, industry knows that reverse psychology is worth gambling money on just in case that booming industry should ever be threatened. Said industry does not partner with those who claim to be concerned with animal exploitation and yet promote more “humane” ways of exploiting, though. Oh no, that would be beyond the realms of belief, and those countless letters and position papers from the hand of the animal orgs that seem to prove it are just figments of your imagination. There could be an Abolitionist in your neighbourhood. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

They’re individuals who don’t believe in treating animals as things. They therefore are careful not to treat animals as things, or to encourage others to do the same, even by omission. They’re not afraid of the word ‘vegan,’ and can often be found chatting happily about veganism in the supermarket queue, or at a street stall, or in a waiting room. They are keen to learn about the so-called “animal movement” and the history of its ideas, because they believe that they will be able to educate more effectively if they learn from the past. Their reading makes them aware of the harm being caused by half-hearted approaches to animal issues, so they often try to persuade others to reject the large animal orgs and tactics that involve perpetuating the exploitation of nonhumans. They often congregate to discuss ways to make their advocacy more effective, reflecting on their own practice and learning from each other. Those who make money from animal exploitation (whether as exploiters or paid advocates for animals) are often threatened by them, but rather than take on the Herculean task of deconstructing their arguments they resort to ad hominem and misrepresentation instead.