Veganism as Something-ism
Just a few days ago, I got into an exchange with an individual who subscribes to the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page. It was triggered by a link I'd posted to an article from The Thinking Vegan ("My interest lies in animal liberation, not making more vegans"). Gary Smith's article is largely a commentary on what's been left in our laps as animal rights advocates now that the term "vegan" has been co-opted and mangled by so many to purportedly mean any variation on using less animal products. Not making "more vegans" in this sense means not turning someone on to the former Freston fast craze or Bittman's "Vegan Before Six" thing and then convincing oneself that some sort of meaningful advocacy has actually been done. Smith writes:
At what point do we start to articulate animal liberation, the ethical argument for veganism? At what point do we start to articulate the animal rights message? [...] The outreach we are currently focused on is disingenuous and misleading, and backfires if it takes longer for people to understand the ethical message of liberation.I do agree with that wholeheartedly and have been writing around that on My Face Is on Fire for a spell now, so it was bizarre to have someone who'd chosen to like and follow the blog's Facebook page suddenly pipe out to disagree with Smith's message about the need to include the ethical argument when engaging in vegan advocacy. The individual asserted that she feels strongly that if you convince someone of the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet that a conversion to veganism is almost a sure thing. We talked in circles around each other a bit as I attempted to explain to her that it doesn't follow that buying into self-concerned reasons having nothing to do with other animals would lead to a sudden epiphany about the immorality of exploiting other sentient beings.
A Step is a Part of... Stepping
As an abolitionist vegan, I'm not just interested in getting some people to not use this or that part of another animal on this or that day of the week. At least, I'm not interested in getting some people to not use this or that part of another animal on this or that day of the week for its own sake and as its own end. There needs to be movement towards not using other animals -- an actual "going" vegan. When engaging in vegan advocacy, it needs to be made clear that this going vegan is the starting point that needs to be reached for each of us to work towards the real goal -- to bring an end to the exploitation of others animals -- and that anything less falls short of it.
The aforementioned individual on Facebook, however, was convinced that using one argument to get someone to stop eating animals would either get them to connect their own dots somehow, or leave them more open to an ethical argument to cut out other forms of animal consumption and exploitation. Somehow, to this individual, this vegan, actually talking to people about animals having an interest in not being enslaved and slaughtered for human pleasure seemed counterintuitive to getting those people to stop providing the demand that perpetuates the enslavement and slaughter or other animals for human pleasure.
Baby Steps or Bog?
Too often I'll hear a "tsk" and the words "baby steps!" when I point out to advocates that the best way to talk to nonvegans about not using animals is to explain to them in clear terms why other animals aren't ours to use. The call for "baby steps!" is patronizing, honestly, as if nonvegans are somehow unable to grasp simple concepts like sentience or to be able to weigh actual facts rather than be coddled. Even more often, I'll hear the term "stepping-stone" tossed around to excuse advocating for variations on reduced animal use. A clear argument for veganism is what got me to go and stay vegan and the many, many years I teetered between lacto-vegetarianism and strict vegetarianism were no stepping-stone at all: They were a bog in which I was quite contentedly stuck, engaging in communal congratulatory backslapping with others in that same bog. I convinced myself that I was doing "enough" until someone finally told me that I wasn't and explained why in plain language. Many other abolitionist vegans with whom I've had conversations over the years have shared similar stories and sentiments. Why on earth would I advocate anything less than veganism and risk leading others into that same bog?
What the Veganism I Advocate Surely, Surely Ain't
So let's go back to Smith's article on The Thinking Vegan and this so-called vegan advocacy in which those who dodge being clear and consistent in providing it with a clear animal rights context now claim to be engaging . What's it left us with? The Huffington Post has become what a fellow-abolitionist and I half-jokingly call "re-veganism central" over the last few years, with its numerous articles by "former" vegans, wool-wearing or honey-eating "vegans" and as of this week (assuming I haven't missed any previous gems!) even butter and cheese eating "vegans". To her credit, Sasha Turgman does indeed add a "mostly" qualifier in her article's title and otherwise occasionally slips it into her article "On Being a Mostly Vegan". The article focuses on diet only, which is no longer a surprise in mainstream media articles touted as being about veganism. Turgman does refer to herself as a vegan without the qualifier, though, as if somehow being a "mostly" vegan is being a type of vegan.
I decided to become a vegan [...]
When I first became a vegan [...]In fact, she describes herself quite explicitly at the beginning of the article (albeit again merely focusing on diet) as not eating some animal products:
It never crossed my mind that I would choose to give up all the creamy deliciousness of my favorite food to become a vegan, but here I am, meat, cheese and dairy-product free.She lumps herself in with vegans again by perpetuating a few stereotypes to clarify to her readers that "we're not all tree-hugging, paint-throwing, fanatical activists" and that what apparently differentiates her from those other awful, awful vegans is her own insight into what acceptable veganism should be like: "It's about listening to my body and being healthy, if I eat butter or cheese one night, who cares?" (It's no wonder that she inserts into the article at some point that being whatever-it-is-she-is-that-clearly-isn't vegan "hasn't been hard at all"!)
Whenever I hear other animal advocates insist that they accomplish something by taking an apparently more kind and gentle poke at the status quo as they fall short of talking to people about plainly and simply not using other animals, there is inevitably another Sasha Turgman who pops up in mainstream media. And these Sasha Turgmans indulge in a weird sort of self-congratulatory happy dance, presenting themselves as some sort of vegan while unapologetically condoning -- even promoting -- not just that any human should continue to use other animals, but that vegans should as well. (Y'know, lest you want to end up branded a "fanatical activist" or something.)
You tell me, though: Baby-step or bog? It seems pretty obvious to me that it's incredibly disingenuous of us as advocates to conveniently omit any mention of the actual ethics of using and exploiting others. In teaching people that there's anything about vegan advocacy -- about veganism -- that shrugs off deliberately choosing to continue to exploit other animals, are we in fact advocating the taking of steps or are we merely advocating standing still? And if those of us who engage in advocacy don't present nonvegans with a clear consistent message about what veganism really is and of how it must factor in the rights and interests of others to not be exploited, who will? Surely not "(mostly) vegans" like Sasha Turgman.
To learn more about abolitionist animal rights and about vegan advocacy, please visit The Abolitionist Approach website.