I read an article earlier this morning by Stephanie Ernst ("A Vegan But Not an Activist? Sure. An Animal Lover But Not a Vegan? Nope.") which I'd like to bring to people's attention. Ernst writes about how people too often assume that being vegan means that one is also active in animal rights advocacy. Ernst describes how some people who may be uncomfortable advocating for causes, whose time is already gobbled up advocating for other causes or whose lives are just too busy to take on any additional responsibilities, sometimes shrug off going vegan because they think that the burden of activism comes with the label. She adds to this:
If you truly oppose something, you seek to not participate in it. If you believe in an ideal such as nonviolence, you don’t actively, daily make choices that stand in direct contrast to that belief. It’s not a choice of (a) devote yourself completely to activism against the injustice or (b) be a participant in the injustice. If you love animals, you don’t kill animals. If you respect animals, you don’t torment animals, emotionally, mentally, or physically. If you believe in nonviolence, you don’t engage in violence. And choosing to eat animals and animal products is to participate in torment, to participate in violence.I agree with her that conflating veganism with animal rights activism seems a fairly lame excuse to not go vegan (although she expresses this much more diplomatically). I also agree wholeheartedly that it's completely nonsensical to call yourself an animal lover and to not go vegan.
I'll also admit, though, that in all of my years as a vegetarian and then a vegan, I have never had anyone say to me that he or she did not want to go vegan because he or she didn't have the time/interest/inclination to be an animal rights activist. People generally say to me that they don't want to go vegan because it's "too hard" in terms of willpower or convenience, or they say that they're not convinced that the health arguments for it are sound. Sometimes they tell me, occasionally apologetically, that they don't want to be labeled "extremist". These are pretty lame excuses, as well, but they're the ones I hear most often. They're also pretty straightforward to address -- if one is willing to go the extra step. But you can't really alter people's misconceptions of veganism or correct the misinformation they have if you don't actually talk to people about veganism, right? This doesn't just apply to excuses people give you for why they wouldn't or "couldn't" go vegan, but it also applies to occasions where your own (or a fellow vegan's) choice to be a vegan is questioned or criticized, or where any aspect of the ethics of animal exploitation are brought up at all (and we all know that in this society, animal exploitation -- as an acceptable norm -- comes up in conversation constantly).
Ernst mentions that sometimes educating others about veganism becomes a "byproduct of the process — the more you learn, the more you want to share that information with those you care about, for their sake as well as for the sake of the fellow animals". She adds, however, that
even if that’s not you, even if you never write a letter to the editor or directly rescue an animal or hold up a sign or organize a boycott or even talk in much detail about your choices to your friends and family, you can do the bare minimum — you can remove yourself from the cycle.I appreciate the spirit in which she asserts this -- particularly within the context of arguing that someone's shrugging off veganism for fear of feeling obligated to become an animal rights activist is no excuse to not go vegan. I also do indeed believe that veganism should be the moral baseline and that removing oneself from the cycle of violence is the very least -- the "bare minimum" -- someone can do.
The truth is that you can advocate for animals in all kinds of ways that need not fill up every second of your free time and that need not induce anxiety at the idea of speaking in front of a crowd. The stereotypical behaviours people often associate with animal rights activism--e.g. circulating petitions, holding demonstrations, organizing boycotts, et al.--are not only far from the only forms of activism in which animal advocates participate, but in many cases, activities like the aforementioned concern themselves with single-issue campaigns which end up presenting one single type of animal treatment or use, or the treatment or use of just one particular species of animal as having more importance than others. You can actually start advocating for animals today by just talking to people about veganism conversationally. You'd talk to people about your favourite television show or about your favourite hobby--why does it have to be so taboo to talk to them about why you choose not to use nonhuman animals as things?
Don't we owe animals more than just the bare minimum? What about our friends and families, or those who may in fact be open to veganism were it not for this or that obstacle they've (perhaps unwittingly) set up for themselves thanks to years of speciesist indoctrination or just plain old misinformation? Don't we owe them more than just shutting up and letting them continue to participate in this needless cycle of violence? There are some who think that vegans should just shut up and embrace the status quo: I reject this and hope that anyone who takes seriously the interests of animals to not be used as things will also reject this.
So although I agree with Ernst that it's illogical to refuse to go vegan because one equates veganism with animal rights activism, I'd like to say that in light of the fact that there are over 10 billion animals killed for food in North America alone every single year, that I really hope that those who do make this very important decision to take that step -- to do the bare minimum and go vegan -- also come around to realizing that we owe animals so much more. I really hope that those who go vegan realize that there is no shame in talking to others about veganism. If we don't talk to others about the immorality of the exploitation and use of nonhuman animals, who will?
Go vegan. If you are vegan, please talk to others about going vegan.
For thoughts on creative vegan education, tips and resources, please check out my posts on what other abolitionist vegans have been doing, check out the vegan blogs and podcasts I've listed off on the side, and visit the following links:
From Gary L. Francione's Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach
What YOU Can Do to Help Achieve Abolition!
Some Thoughts on Vegan Education
Vegan Education Made Easy -- Part I
Vegan Education Made Easy -- Part 2
Vegan Education Made Easy -- Part 3: An Abolitionist Pamphlet
Abolitionist Vegan Literature
Making a Vegan Education Kiosk
A Smart Idea about Community Education
From Dan Cudahy's Unpopular Vegan Essays:
Vegan Education: A Background (Part 1 of 2)
Vegan Education: An Incremental Abolitionist Approach (Part 2 of 2)
Just Being Vegan (a gem!)
Abolitionist Vegan Education: The Vehicle of Progress
In Praise of Vegan Food Blogs
From Vincent Guihan's WOARadio podcast:
How to Answer a Question About Veganism
To talk to other abolitionist vegans about what you can do to educate others about veganism, visit the Animal Emancipation discussion forum:
Animal Emancipation Discussion Forum