Why I Am NOT a Veg*n

Recently, on a vegan forum, I commented on the use of the term “vegetarian”  or “veg*n” rather than “vegan” while promoting animal rights.  It seemed to unleash a storm of criticism and ad hominem attacks: “Someone is VERY NEW….,”  ”so fundamentalist in nature,”  ”is there ANY evidence base whatsoever…? ”  My comment was in response to the posting of a Huffington Post article by Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as a suggestion to develop the inclusive “veg*n” culture on the same forum.  Mr. Friederich has stated before that he no longer advocates in vegan tee shirts, because people respond better to the vegetarian message. That may be, but it is not a message that will help animals. In fact, it may even create more suffering for the animals. How can an animal advocate promote the dairy industry?  I think of the abuse of babies, little newborn calves; and mothers who are forced into servitude of being milk machines, with distended udders, infected and dragging the ground.  Then there are all those newborn chicks ground alive in massive machines because they cannot lay eggs.  THAT is something for animal advocates to support?

The message Mr. Friederich was giving was that it is indefensible to eat meat. Unfortunately, his last  line reads,

Put another way: If we believe that people should try to protect the environment, OR we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one.

Wrong. This following many salient points in Friederich’s article is so disappointing.  Why is there such a great fear of the word “veganism?”  It is a simple word, much more simple and clear than “vegetarianism.”  There is so much ambiguity in the term vegetarian that it leaves people thinking giving up meat for dairy products will somehow be less cruel. Even if one is focusing solely on the dietary aspects of veganism, then why not support incremental veganism? At least doing so would leave a clear impression in the minds of the audience that veganism is the goal, not vegetarianism.

Mr. Friederich has another contradiction or two on his hands. It is difficult to be accepted as someone who values animal life while working for an organization that kills a higher proportion of animals in their “shelter” than most other shelters. It is also an organization that owns stock and profits from animal agriculture, gives awards to slaughter house designers, and uses some questionable tactics which diminishes the level of dialogue regarding the significance of animal rights.  Again, so disappointing. One young animal rights advocate, Beckah Sheeler, recently posted on the site Animal Writes an article titled, PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy:

What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization’s responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

Ms. Sheeler then goes on to support widening the appeal rather than clarifying the message that PETA spreads.  However, Dan Cudahy, on his blog Unpopular Vegan Essays, reports on the failure of such tactics that are contradictory at the root (from the article PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions):

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

For a clear look at the problematic nature of the confusion in such welfarist rhetoric, Professor Gary Francione states in a post on his blog, Animal Rights: The Abolionist Approach (Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism):

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes transition to veganism.

While I appreciate the sincere motives of individuals like Mr. Friederich and do not challenge them, it does seem important to continue looking at the tactics of the animal rights movement. This is very different than disparaging individuals.  I fully admit to many shortcomings and work on them; I have my own blind spots. Assuming that all animal advocates sincerely want what is in the best interest of nonhuman animals rather than promotion of their individual animal organizations, then looking critically at tactics and contradictions that may become barriers (Dan Cudahy) or hurdles (Beckah Sheeler) or impediments (Gary Francione) would seem a positive way of helping advocates learn to help animals achieve true rights as living, feeling beings. While listening to a podcast today, I heard someone interrupt a speaker discussing vegetarianism and interject “a lacto-ovo vegetarian — that is pretty much the same thing as a vegan.”  No, no, no.

Another way of stating this was posted by Tim Gier in an article titled, Is Half A Loaf Better Than None?

If you do intentionally participate in the subjugation of nonhuman animals, it does not matter that your participation is infrequent, or irregular, or occasional. Whenever you eat the flesh of a nonhuman animal, a life is ended for your pleasure, and for nothing else. The same is true whenever you wear the skin of another as clothing, or you patronize the zoos and circuses that cage others for life, or you support the medical, scientific or commercial experimentation on others as well.  Cutting back on those things, while better than not, still amounts to participating in them. There is no “half loaf.”

By spreading vegetarian education rather than vegan education, we collaborate in the subjugation (however unintentionally) of nonhuman animals.  The baseline is veganism. The fact that it is not immediately appealing for 100% of all people everywhere is not the point.  Veganism is the goal. It can be incrementally achieved, but it remains the goal. To ask for anything less, anything with wider appeal, anything that appears to be a more popular message, is to sell out the rights of animals. Want to make veganism more popular? Start by talking about it.


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21 Responses to “Why I Am NOT a Veg*n”

  1. Tammy McLeod says:

    Brilliant article!! How can vegetarian animal rights ppl be affronted when you say that they’re hypocrites? Guilt perhaps, in the knowledge that they’e still endorsing the destruction of life because they still must have their eggs and dairy? GO VEGAN. It’s the only way to a clear conscience… and the only way to benefit ALL ANIMALS.

  2. AaronC says:

    Agree, why make the effort and not address the problem?

  3. Yes, let’s start asking for what we want! We want people to go vegan, not veg or veg*n or vegetarian…we want them to go vegan, so let’s use the word and ask for what we want.

    If we don’t have a dream, how will we have a dream come true?

  4. veganacious says:

    Thanks Butterflies! Thank you Aaron and Tammy.

  5. I agree that veganism is the goal. I do support vegetarianism as a step en route to veganism; after all, that’s how I got to be vegan. I went vegetarian first. But after learning about the horrors of the egg and dairy industries, it seemed hypocritical to me, to not be complicit in the torture and death of one chicken destined for broiling but to be complicit in the torture and death of others (for eggs). Same goes for not eating beef to save cows but continuing to eat dairy which leads to suffering and death of other cows. That makes no sense to me.

    I think it’s important to give vegetarians the respect they do deserve. I am a believer in the “every bit helps” idea. After all, I’m sure pigs and fish and other animals would be grateful to have their lives spared.

    Also, since veganism is about so much more than food, doing one’s best to truly reduce suffering has to lead to veganism.

    I also agree that when people misuse terms so that others do not know what it truly means to be vegetarian (can you eat fish or chicken) or vegan, it only leads to more confusion and division.

    Education is key in my belief. My hope is one day everyone will be vegan.

  6. veganacious says:

    Hi Rhea:
    The article was looking at how advocates are not using the term vegan. Most vegans do not disparage vegetarians; they consider them akin to omnivores – possibly good people but somewhat misinformed. I agree that education is key; and I share your hope for the future!

  7. Malcolm Edward says:

    First off I want to say that you make some very good points and that I think similar movements to “soften” the level of commitment are generally unproductive – such as putting the emphasis on recycling instead of reducing and reusing. But that being said I believe that there are some key differences in the veg movement. Just FYI I have been a vegetarian for 5 years one of which I was also on a vegan diet. I am a vegetarian because I believe that killing animals to satisfy our taste buds is wrong. Someone may say that eating eggs or dairy does the same thing, but this is not intrinsic to all eggs or all dairy. I can eat eggs and drink milk without bringing harm to an animal, and that is what I strive to do when shopping for food.

  8. veganacious says:

    Hi Malcolm:
    It is good that you are making choices with consideration for your impact on animal life. I would be interested to know how you can consume the secretions of an animal without harming that animal? The dairy industry is a bloody and brutal one. It is also a terribly unhealthy industry. Peace to you in your journey. I too was once vegetarian.

  9. Meg says:

    @Rhea

    “I do support vegetarianism as a step en route to veganism; after all, that’s how I got to be vegan.”

    There’s a saying that correlation does not prove causation. There are indeed a lot of vegans who were vegetarians first, but that doesn’t show that being a vegetarian led them to become vegans. Most of us were also non-vegetarians some time before going vegan, but that doesn’t mean that eating-meat caused us to become vegan and that we should promote eating meat.

    Personally, I don’t think that vegetarianism is a step towards veganism. I think it is a stalling point that gets people to think they’re doing something when they aren’t instead of really respecting other animals enough to not exploit them. My husband and I weren’t vegetarians before we became vegans, but we did buy into all that “cage-free” and “free range” nonsense for a while. I certainly don’t think those things should be promoted, though. I know that those things made us feel BETTER, not worse, about exploiting animals.

    I’m just glad there were people out there who cared enough about animals (us included) to tell us that we needed to go *vegan*. Because, ultimately, exploitation is still exploitation and it’s still wrong. Promoting anything less than veganism is telling people otherwise.

  10. Meg says:

    @Malcolm

    As someone who has had backyard chickens, I can say that even that is far from cruelty-free despite my best of intentions. Even just breeding these animals into existence for us to use is cruel, but it hardly ends there — especially, but not only, when we’re talking of businesses that must make a profit. Businesses like to paint the picture of happy cows and chickens giving their secretions for humans to enjoy, but those things aren’t freely given to us by those animals. They’re taken.

  11. Malcolm Edward says:

    While I don’t monitor the well being of the animals on the farm from which I buy my eggs and dairy products 24/7. I have been there and I do believe that the animals on the farm are treated with respect and without cruelty. I know the farmer personally.

    To Meg: about the taking of the secretions. I guess that we have a fundamental difference of opinion because I don’t think that there is a moral dilemma in taking a chickens eggs as long as you aren’t causing them harm.

  12. Meg says:

    @Malcolm

    What happens to the boy chicks on that farm? What happens to the hens when they stop laying?

  13. bitt says:

    I often don’t agree with Bruce Friedrich and PETA. Killing of shelter animals? No way.

    I do think vegetarianism can be a step towards veganism because of the mental shift that happens. Many vegetarians haven’t fully realized the impact that dairy/eggs has on calves and chicks. But if they are ethical vegetarians, they have realized that it is wrong to eat flesh and that an animal was killed. I see it as a good starting place for veganism. Yes I went from vegetarianism to veganism, as did most vegans I know.

    I personally wouldn’t want to embrace a label of vegetarian because it does imply some animal products are ok.

  14. veganacious says:

    I hear that often, that people who are vegetarian later go vegan. That is great; that happened to me as well. But i wish someone would have told me about veganism earlier. Many vegetarians are, as you mentioned, choosing to be so for ethical reasons. I find it, however, distressing that activists will not talk about veganism. Even if someone chooses to be vegetarian first, it is helpful to tell the truth – because vegetarianism still exploits animals, as you mentioned.

  15. veganacious says:

    Meg, thanks for your excellent arguments. @Malcolm – anytime a living being is used and enslaved, there is harm. Not only the baby boy chicks that are killed at one day of age, ground alive, but also the very young mother chickenss who become “spent” while only young children and are sent to the slaughterhouse. That is definitely harm.

  16. vegangela says:

    I agree! Although I do believe that vegans and vegetarians should stick together, I believe that there is a very large gap between the two. And I agree with the fact that it’s very hard to define a vegetarian, whereas “vegan” means the same thing across the board. Some veggies eat eggs, some wear leather, and then there are the annoying ones who eat fish… and sometimes chicken?! But I digress…

    Although I wear the VEGAN label with pride, I also believe that it can sometimes really overwhelm people of the entire issue. I think it scares regular omnivores. They’ll say things like “OK, vegetarianism I can understand… but no cheese? no honey? That’s ridiculous.” We’re seen as being so extreme, which I guess we are to the rest of the world, but people don’t see how “normal” it becomes to feel after a short while. After years of being vegan, it’s not a struggle anymore… it’s just a normal part of my life.

    When I explain veganism to non-vegans, I do try to explain that veganism is the ideal solution, but that every small act counts too. I don’t want people thinking that they should just go along with their normal ways and not feel as though there is a starting point. Vegetarianism is a good place to start, but I think that there has to be a push to go to the next level. PETA has their own agenda, which seems to be to reduce animal suffering in any means, even if it means choosing a lesser of two evils. That’s a very utilitarian approach, and one that I’m not necessarily opposed, as long as there is a goal of improving things for good in the long term. They’re certainly welcome to push vegetarianism a little harder than they do veganism, but to say that we shouldn’t have our own t-shirts, and that we’re causing a huge negative impact on the overall cause is just ridiculous!

  17. veganacious says:

    Hi Angela! Thanks for stopping by. Sadly, it appears that large animal organizations such as PETA actually have caused meat production to increase by allowing people to think half measures are enough. I think it is very important not to draw a moral distinction between vegetarianism and meat eating, since both exploit animals. While I am well aware that most people change incrementally, the point is for advocates to be clear about the goal. Just this week I had a man at the bank (in Texas no less!) become intrigued about veganism and asked me to start with breakfast and let him know what he could eat if he went vegan. I think we must be careful about what we project outwards. Being vegan is not difficult, is healthier, better for the planet, and better for the animals. By promoting animal exploitation via vegetarianism, one confuses the public and creates the misperception that it somehow helps animals. Ask the dairy cow, veal calf, or newborn male chick if that works for them!

  18. Although I do not 100% agree, this is a very well written article and I appreciate it a ton. Thank you for featuring me in it. I actually stumbledupon it while being cool and googling my own name (haha xD). KUDOS!

  19. veganacious says:

    Beckah:
    Thanks for your comment. I appreciated your writing! Keep standing up for that in which you believe. Maybe we will intersect in agreement again!

    Barbara

  20. Xavier Talley says:

    A lot of people in America are miseducated about these things!! Quite a bit people are stricken with poverty where they wont pass up food regardless of the source!! My only hurdles to get over to become vegan is sustenance and resource!! I like my hunger-stricken bros ant sisters around the world can’t afford the vegan path as easily as others can!! So for me it will have to start at a slow pace and not a rapid or overnight pace!!

  21. veganacious says:

    Xavier:
    Perfect timing; I just concluded a conversation with a transitional person asking for more resources. I am planning a future post about transitioning with menus, shopping lists, and resources for people who are not in vegan-friendly places. It is true that many folks are not as fortunate as those who live in places like New York City or Portland. I was helped by Dino Sarma of Alternative Vegan (blog and cookbook), who cooks without vegan specialty items – he uses plants, legumes, spices, rice. Stay tuned for more information, and many thanks for your valuable input!!

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