Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Rejecting Animal Use

Recently, in some darkened little corner of the interwebs, I found myself accused of having possibly hurt someone's feelings. The little corner was a spot which concerns itself with the promotion of veganism, and the "someone" had posted that she had recently located a nice Amish family that raised chickens in a comfortable setting, and that she was now consuming eggs and feeling "better" about doing so. As plainly as I could, I pointed out to her a few of the more obvious things, including that 1) once Ma Chicken's productivity declines, she ends up part of that nice Amish family's Sunday dinner and that 2) providing demand for eggs from this family would merely serve to contribute to an increase in the number of chickens who end up taking that last walk to the chopping block behind the barn.

I also pointed out that regardless of how supposedly comfortably these chickens are raised, the bottom line is that they're bred into wretched lives of being treated like food-producing machines. I asked her if this was what she really thought of non-human animals -- that they're things existing solely for our pleasure and convenience. I hoped not. She didn't answer, but I got a "tsk" or two from a few welfarists who suggested I'd had no business passing judgment on her choices, insisting to me that "every little bit counts" and that she was somehow "vegan-minded" and "on the right path". Why did I not praise her, they asked, since she was at least sourcing her eggs from someone purportedly treating their chickens a bit more kindly? Who was I to judge her for the best possible choices she was making for herself?

How is comforting oneself over one's continued use of animals either "vegan-minded" or on the "right path", though?

"If They're Happy and I 'Know' it, Clap Your Hands!"

I shared this, primarily, to re-emphasize that foregoing animal flesh while otherwise consuming animal products is still engaging in animal exploitation. We're kidding ourselves if we think that there is a difference between chomping down on a chicken leg or having a couple of scrambled eggs (or a bowl of dairy ice cream, and so on). And for those who try to lull themselves into thinking otherwise while they claim to support animal rights, or they express concern with not directly contributing to just plain old harming other animals, the truth is that there's no getting around the fact that using animals means perpetuating what is essentially for them a life of enslavement involving various forms of torture. Furthermore, regardless of how horrible that world is for them, respecting their rights and interests involves not thinking of them as things which exist for us to use in the first place. These are just the facts, though, as uncomfortable as it may be for some to weigh them.

I Ain't Clapping

As a vegan and as an abolitionist animal rights advocate, I avoid participating in animal exploitation. I don't condone others' doing so and I sure as hell don't applaud it or encourage it.
If you tell me that you take the interests of non-human animals seriously but feel that you're doing "enough" by avoiding meat and sourcing your eggs from birds at the happy chicken farm down the street, I will tell you that consuming animal products other than meat is still animal exploitation, and that veganism should be the moral baseline for all who do claim to really take the interests of non-human animals seriously. I will say to you that you should go vegan, or at least take steps toward doing so. To hurt or shame you? No. To provide you with the facts so that you realize what your choices involve? Absolutely. After all, why should I lie when billions are dying every single year when they needn't?

If I refuse to acknowledge this or that form of animal exploitation as being more commendable than another, I am merely refusing to condone it and refusing to nod politely at any justifications given for it. I think we owe non-human animals -- as well as non-vegan animal advocates -- at least that much. Don't


To find out more about why vegetarianism falls short of offering justice to non-human animals and denies them their personhood, please read the following essays:

- My ramble from March 2010: "Why I Will Not Advocate Vegetarianism"
- Bob Torres' "Why Vegetarianism Isn't Enough"
- Dan Cudahy's "What Is Wrong With Vegetarianism"

Also, have a listen to this podcast by Gary L. Francione:

- "Commentary #6: Aspects of the Vegetarian/Vegan Debate"

For some advice on how to proceed when talking to others about what we owe nonhuman animals, read this blog post by Vincent Guihan: "They believe harm is wrong, but how do we get them to act on that?"


Marty said...

The change is not bi-directional. As a vegan abolitionist I agree with everything you said. I think we need to realize that although veganism is the moral baseline to not recognize that any reduction in animal use is "a step in the right direction," is doing the "movement" towards veganism a disservice. I agree that we must advocate veganism and not half way measures. I also think that people make changes in small steps. I know I did.

Stop reading for 1 second and for that one second don't think of the color WHITE. OK, ready, go. You couldn't do it. You didn't think of all the other colors, just the one you weren't supposed to think of. It's the same thing with "giving up" meat. People don't readily see the amazing vegan options, just the "no meat," aspect of it. For some it takes time.

If someone gives up meat I say bravo. If they give up eating chickens, kudos. I'm not advocating that veganism becomes diet centered, merely saying that if we attack the slaughterhouses, as Gary Francione says, financially, it IS a step in the right direction.

Now, if someone gives up eating animals or their by products we need to keep up a gentle pressure to keep them moving in that direction. The use of "happy" meat/eggs/whatever is something we need to discredit. Going "back" to eating something because you think it's happy is what I mean when I say the change is not bi-directional. After someone gives up a food how we can keep them moving in the right direction, I believe, should be the question.

Marty's Flying Vegan Review

The Rational Vegan said...

That's a good example of how "humane treatment" results in ethical complacency. If not for being challenged, this person would probably continue to consume eggs without another thought on the topic. I do hope she came back to read your comment.

los doggies said...

Thank you for this. I too tried to engage these humane chicken farmers on this thread to seemingly no avail. My hometown is very much on the cutting edge of greeniness, foodieness, eco-friendly farming, and prides itself on just how damn humane they can be, a quality that is directly proportional to how tasty the animals are.

My friend just started keeping bees and chickens and I've told him again and again how exploitative this is from an abolitionist vegan's standpoint. His problem is lack of information regarding animal rights theory.

However, the people arguing with you on this thread, are well aware of what happens to roosters, the way chicks are bred and sold, and other inconvenient truths, but are absolutely convinced of their god-like authority over the animal kingdom.

jessy said...

i totally agree with you, Mylene. another excellent post, indeed. this is what really got me, "foregoing animal flesh while otherwise consuming animal products is still engaging in animal exploitation." it's so true. people are only fooling themselves if they believe consuming animal products (and "humane/happy" meat) isn't choosing to support cruelty and violence. they're still guilty of it no matter how much self-convincing they do. it's up to us to speak up for non-human animals and to help everyone understand that veganism is absolute least anyone should do if they truly have the interest of non-human animals in mind. i think it was awesome of you to point this out to the commenter, and i agree with the The Rational Vegan in that the she would have proceeded to exploit the chickens without another thought towards her actions. it's up to us to speak up and speak out. thank you!

Gadget Cat said...

You are well spoken and thoughtful in your arguments, so I thought I would ask you this- how does one reconcile being an abolitionist vegan with being pro-choice? Most of my vegan friends are also staunchly pro-choice.

It is often difficult for me to understand how it makes moral sense to advocate that one shouldn't exploit honeybees or kill scorpions, but aborting a fetus in the third trimester is ok. I've had the question posed to me and I cannot honestly give a morally and logically consistent answer to it. I can't remember if I have asked you this before, I may have left a comment and forgot to come back and check for your reply. If so, I apologize. Thanks in advance for any help you can give in this area.