One of my favorite organizations, Vegan Outreach, focuses efforts on college students and other young people—those who are most apt to listen to a vegan message. Given the huge task of moving society toward a more vegan ethic, it makes sense to start wherever success is most likely.
That’s why it’s disappointing to me when activists disparage those who truly have vegan potential—vegetarians (of the lacto-ovo variety) and people who are moved by animal welfare issues, but not animal rights.
I volunteer at my local animal shelter where the other volunteers obviously love animals and are committed to their welfare and happiness. And most of them eat meat. I know—it could drive you crazy. It does drive me—and the other vegan volunteers—crazy. But there is no way I’m willing to write these people off. Their awareness about animals and animal use may be limited, but their hearts are primed for veganism.
Some of these are older people for whom the idea of veganism is foreign and even a little shocking. So I talk to them about my work and share food ideas with them. Some are interested and are exploring more plant-based options. They are dabbling, and that’s a good start.
The same is true of ethical lacto-ovo vegetarians. No, that’s not an oxymoron. I was an ethical vegetarian before I became a vegan. I thought I had it covered by not eating animals who were killed for their meat, and was stunned to discover that I wasn’t already doing enough.
Many vegetarians simply do not know what happens on dairy and egg farms. To the best of their understanding, they are eating ethically. They need to be educated, and need to hear the right message presented in the right way. A good first step is to offer some respect for what they have done so far. It’s a whole lot more than what most other people are doing.
So many people are resistant to our message. But everyone is a potential vegan. Let’s encourage—not berate—those whose potential is the most promising.
That is exactly how I feel! I'm so impressed at how you captured that.
I have a problem with the use of "disparage." The problem is that disagreement and disparagement are different concepts.
I agree that we ought not to disparage anyone. The problem is that maintaining that veganism is a baseline moral view is not disparagement unless you beg a very big question.
Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
yessss! most of us vegans took that same journey in the same manner and we need to remember that sometimes.
Here, here. Elitism and cruel attacks will get you nowhere with vegetarians. A little education and encouragement can make all the difference.
The problem is that enabling vegetarians and vegans on this false criticism that abolitionist vegans are "shaming" anyone is a flawed criticism.
I *disagree* with animal welfare. If lacto-ovo-vegetarians read that as me shaming them, that's not about ME. That's about THEM.
It doesn't really matter how many times, or in how many ways folks who advocate for welfare, "interim welfare" or any of the rest of it try to make a case that the abolitionist movement is "superior" or "elitist."
It's not about what humans tell themselves about each other. That's a complete dodge.
It's about the moral case that animals are not ours to use, not now, not tomorrow, not ever. Not under any circumstances. Patting lacto-vegetarians on the head and telling them that giving up flesh is doing "good things" is just about making people feel good.
The animal welfare movement already exists for people who wish to hear that message.
I just wish – probably futilely, but nevertheless – that people would begin to understand that the animal WELFARE movement and the animal RIGHTS movement are two entirely separate things. We're not working toward the same goals, at all.
If folks need to make excuses for their consumption of some animal products, they'll do that with or without any enabling from me.
It's not going to change what I'm doing.
When people are ready to hear, they'll listen.
Ginny, I agree with you both that we shouldn't disparage vegetarians and that we should make it clear that we disagree we their choice. As far as showing respect for what people have done so far, I like the way Roger Yates put it. He suggests acknowledging the steps that people have taken towards veganism without praising them for a position that falls short.
i think that vegans who hold an elite moral code and think like that are very orwellian. it wreaks of a totalitarian ideology that expects everyone else to behave exactly like everyone else without any regard for education, tolerance or personal evolution.
does it break my heart to see anyone eating meat, dairy, eggs or using products that are tested on animals? yes, absolutely. however, it's up to people like us to act as good examples and to educate people who are interested in our movement because we're NICE to them…if we all act like a bunch of angry elitists we will do nothing but shoot ourselves in the foot and push everyone away into the world of separatism.
you have no idea how many people i meet who are afraid of me and who are automatically on the defense because of all of the "angry" vegans they've previously encountered. and you have no idea how many of those people have begun to incorporate cruelty free cosmetics and meatless meals into their lifestyles….and they like it. now, if i were to take on the attitude that i'm right, they're wrong and they're nothing but cruel murderers (which is false because they're just misinformed and uneducated about the subject) they would never have taken that first step, which may someday lead to a vegan lifestyle.
moral of the story? be nice. you're no better than anyone.
@Babble, I have read Ginny's post three times now, trying to understand where some of the comments are coming from. Nowhere does she say or suggest that "abolitionist vegans are 'shaming' anyone." She simply said that she thinks it's a bad idea to disparage others, as I think most abolitionists would agree with. She does not suggest enabling vegetarians, but rather working to educate them.
I'm not claiming to BE better than anyone else. The problem is that the welfare movement is demanding that I tell people something other than, "Go vegan, no animal use is acceptable" or I run afoul of this, "You're not nice enough" criticism. If I make an abolitionist case, inevitably, there are 5,000 people telling me I'm being an elitist or a snob or mean *just for making that case*.
I'm not responsible for what other people may read INTO what I'm saying. They are.
Fine; you may find me not-nice-enough. Big deal. What does that actually mean?
I have no problem with making the case that we ought not disparage anyone. The problem is that MUCH of what is being claimed as disparagement here (or elitism, or snobbery) isn't actually disparagement (or elitism, or snobbery).
Ginny said: "That’s why it’s disappointing to me when activists disparage those who truly have vegan potential—vegetarians (of the lacto-ovo variety) and people who are moved by animal welfare issues, but not animal rights."
You may not accept my starting premise in this, but if you would do me the favor: assume for the moment I'm right (I get that that may be asking a lot – I'll be more than willing to assume otherwise, as well), and posting this is in FACT a more or less indirect response to the reception Ginny got on My Face Is On Fire, for claiming to be both a welfarist and an abolitionist: how does that discussion disparage anyone? How does disagreeing with the illogical assertion that one supports simultaneously contradicting positions disparage Ginny?
I just *disagree* with Ginny. I don't think she's a mean, bad, awful person. I just think she's wrong. Some things are just incorrect, regardless of whatever emotional, subjective or aesthetic attachments we may have to them. Up is not down. Left is not right. Green is not red. Welfare is not compatible with abolition – even "interim welfare." We're not "preparing the ground" for an animal rights future by sending mixed messages that "some" animal use is kind of tolerable, sort of, because, well, "people change slowly."
Yes. People change slowly. I accept that.
But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop telling them that eating dairy or eggs or honey is just as unethical as eating flesh. It doesn't mean I'm going to modify my critique of animal exploitation – ALL animal exploitation, full stop – just because someone ELSE may fling around a criticism that I'm not nice *simply because I make that case.*
People will do anything and everything to shut out an undesirable message.
For better or worse, the case that no animal use is acceptable is an undesirable message. But sending mixed-messages, half-messages and "let's all hold hands and be nice" messages isn't working. It's had 200 years to try and accomplish something. It hasn't done that. None of this particular advocacy approach is at all new.
It's broken. It's time for something else.
If we aren't unequivocally clear on *some* things, we don't really stand for *anything*. If making an unequivocal vegan case makes me sound mean to some people, so be it.
i agree that you should keep up the work and get the message across…by all means. and perhaps it was just that the message didn't translate well in your first comment, but it sounded very angry and…well, snobby.
lots of times, it's not what we tell people, but how we tell them. and yes, people's reactions are their reactions and we are not responsible for that, but a little tact goes a long, long way sometimes.
everyone have a lovely day. 🙂
@ginger: I understand that you read anger and snobbery into that first comment. I'm honestly not going out of my way to look down on anyone.
It's not really about the PEOPLE.
It's about the tactic.
I just fundamentally disagree *tactically* with holding everyone's hands and telling them they've "made progress" when, in fact, they haven't.
In no other social justice movement would we make a claim that "some racism" or "some sexism" is acceptable, because, well, folks are stubborn and resistant to change, and we should "nudge them" in the right direction, if they're only demanding that black folks use the "colored" restroom, instead of lynching them.
We can't make a coherent, sensible case against racism by making these sorts of allowances, at all.
*If we do* we'll never – ever – get to a place that gets beyond racism.
Similarly, by lauding – again and again and again – that lacto-ovo-vegetarians have made such "progress" *sends the wrong message.* They're not bad people. I just fundamentally disagree with this approach. It *isn't* working. It isn't going to.
that's cool…it worked with me though. i used to be an ovo-lacto vegetarian and my sister geared me toward material that made me realize the horrors of dairy and eggs. lots of people don't make the switch because they don't know. i just prefer to educate and not to tell people what to do.
perhaps that's what you're trying to say and i'm just not understanding you.
@ginny: no one can tell *anyone* what to do. All I'm saying is that we've spent lots and lots of time doing exactly as Ginny suggests in this post, to little or no effect. I'm saying that sending mixed messages *isn't working*. It's not about telling people they're bad, evil people.
It's that if we're animal *rights* advocates, if our ultimate aim is to END the use of animals, not just regulate that use, we have to be unequivocal on some things. Telling vegetarians (I was a lacto-vegetarian for a LONG time) that eating eggs or dairy is "okay" because they may have given up flesh is the *wrong* message.
That message is compatible with a welfare mindset – which Ginny has elsewhere claimed to support, conditionally – but it *is not compatible with animal rights philosophy.*
If we claim to support animal rights, that really does need to be distinct from the animal welfare movement and message. They're two ENTIRELY different things, and we cannot get one by advocating the other.
I have a hard time viewing vegetarianism as a gateway to veganism any more than I see Mark Bittman's not eating animal products before 6 pm as being a gateway to his vegetarianism. Eating some animals or some animal products is speciesist and inconsistent. To praise someone for consuming some but not others makes as much sense as praising a man with a history of beating women for proclaiming that he'll no longer beat blondes, but will continue to beat redheads.
The truth is that many vegetarians react to receiving information from vegans the same way many omnis react to vegans saying absolutely anything about why they refuse to consume animals or their products. Nobody wants to be made to feel that the way they choose to live their lives is unethical. Nobody likes to feel guilty, however that guilt is triggered. I agree that browbeating isn't the way to educate people, but unfortunately, even gently-presented facts get misconstrued as finger-wagging when guilt is involved and emotions are running high. And when those emotions are running high, merely being firm and consistent in presenting the truth can easily be misrepresented as harsh or as "berating".
I don't believe in browbeating, but I also don't believe in sending mixed messages. If being consistent and unwavering in educating others that veganism should be the moral baseline of the animal rights movement leaves someone seeming less snuggly, then so be it. I'm more interested in presenting sound, logical arguments and saving animal lives than I am in hand-holding people into continuing to delude themselves and others. And there's no shame in that.
Right, that's exactly it: my being a vegetarian for years wasn't in any way a "transition" to being vegan. I was transitioning to nowhere but doing just exactly what I was already doing.
I made excuses for my unethical use of animal products for a long time, and then I stopped.
Being a vegetarian was an *impediment* in many ways, because I bought into the welfare message that I was doing something "good" by omitting flesh (but not much else) from my diet.
I've been a vegan now for several years, and I've met lots and lots of vegans, who went vegan for lots and lots of reasons.
This is wholly anecdotal, but I've yet to meet a single ETHICAL vegan who "transitioned" from vegetariansm. They did what I did: they made excuses until something somebody said finally made them *stop* making excuses.
Babble, truly you could not have misinterpreted my post more. I realize that you read and interpreted it in light of our discussion from a few days ago, and I guess I should have chosen my words a little bit more carefully. But I was neither thinking nor talking about the abolitionists when I wrote this post.
I was thinking about people who like animals a lot—who are willing to give up meat for them, or spend their Saturday mornings scrubbing litter pans at the local animal shelter—but who absolutely do not get it about animal rights or veganism. I see horrible comments aimed at these people on the internet and I think that’s too bad (and I have no idea whether these horrible comments are coming from abolitionists or other animal rights activists; I don’t usually know the people involved).
Everybody knows that when someone starts yelling at you and calling you names, you aren’t really all that inclined to listen to their perspective and learn from them. And it seems especially unfortunate when that vitriol is aimed at those who are at least thinking about animals and who just might be open to hearing about a vegan message if its presented with a little bit of compassion and respect.
In addition, behavior change is complex, the stuff that people deal with in their lives, their emotions, etc, is complex, and we’d damn well better be sensitive to that if we really want to impact them with our message.
Now, you can disagree with all that and that’s fine. But this was definitely not a post about abolitionists versus other animal rights activists. Yes, I disagree with the abolitionist approach because I think interim, concurrent welfare measures are both compatible with animal rights activism and probably helpful for the eventual outcome that we all desire. Again, I know that you, Mylene, and Leafy all disagree with me about this.
But my blog is about vegan diet, nutrition, lifestyle and social aspects of activism. I’m not an expert on animal rights philosophy—just a person with a few opinions—and I have no intention of writing about those issues here.
I have to say, I am simply floored by the response here! I thought this was the world’s most uncontroversial post.
I think you're being disingenuous, here. I think it's blatantly obvious that those of us involved in that discussion from MFIOF would read this post as a response to that discussion, albeit in an indirect, let me dodge around it if I get called on it, sort of way.
Yes, I agree with you: being mean to people makes no sense.
The sun will surely rise tomorrow, as well.
But, fine, point taken, you're now specifically saying it wasn't about that conversation. The timing was just serendipitous, perhaps.
Babble, what on earth do you see in my post above that you think relates to that conversation??!! In this post I talked about lacto-ovo vegetarians and people who work in animal shelters but don’t have a clue about the animal rights movement.
How does that relate to the debate between abolitionists and other animal rights activists? I was talking about vegans—whether they are plain old AR activists (like me) or abolitionist AR activists—who pick on non-vegans. I am totally mystified about what you see here.
Regarding the earlier conversation, I didn’t even go back and read the rest of the comments after I left my last one. With the exception of Gary Francione’s, I don’t read any abolitionist blogs. And it never occurred to me that any abolitionists would read mine. I have a few abolitionists who follow me on twitter; I sincerely doubt that they read much of what I write.
And I’m not shy about stating my opinion, whether it’s unpopular or not. I’ve taken plenty of flak for my stances on a range of topics related to veganism over the years. If I wanted to talk about the abolitionists and what I disagree with, I would just do it.
I’m really happy to debate the contents of my blog post and hear about what you disagree with in that post. I’m not going to defend myself against things I never said, though.
I suppose if I'm going to divorce this utterly from the context of the other discussion, I just don't see the point. Yes, being mean makes no sense.
So what? That's a relatively obvious point.
Fine, fine. You're saying here that it doesn't have anything to do with any prior discussion, and you're just tossing it out there into the ether for the consideration of the masses.
The problem in this *specific* case, though is the automatic assumption that encouragement for vegetarian choices leads to veganism.
We both know that it doesn't really work that way.
Some people may "transition" to veganism. Most people will simply make a choice, *regardless of whatever prior diet they may have been eating*. I seriously question whether or not anybody *starts out* intending to eliminate all animal products, and slowly, over time, becomes a pescetarian, then a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and then, maybe a vegan.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it's STILL putting veganism up on a pedestal, that hey, maybe those hardcore animal rights people may do, but *I don't have to.*
My years as a vegetarian didn't help me "transition" to veganism, and being encouraged by welfare folks that I was doing "good things" were an *impediment*, not an encouragement, to actually going vegan.
I probably should have said, "I *think* we both know it doesn't really work out that way…" in the above.
I wrote it in response to some things I've recently seen on the internet. They just happen to have nothing to do with you and the abolitionists. I could give you some links, but I won't, because then my comments become personal and directed at the people in those discussions. I'm not interested in that.
And your insistence that you know exactly what I'm really thinking and that I have some motives I won't admit to and that I'm dishonest is actually part of what I'm talking about in my post. It's this idea of assuming that we know what's going on with everyone else, and judging people we don't even know that makes some vegan activists look intolerant and arrogant.
Okay, I wrote my post in response to the one you just deleted so didn't see your further comments. Again–I just absolutely do not know what the heck you are reading here! I am not encouraging vegetarianism.
I am saying let's not treat vegetarians like they are the scum of the earth (and I've seen a lot of vitriolic comments aimed at vegetarians) when they are great candidates for conversion to veganism. They have already given up meat for the animals (and I'm obviously talking about ethical vegetarians, here, not those who go veg for health reasons) so they "get it" that lifestyle change is an obligation for those who care about animals. That makes them a prime target for a vegan message–and so it's really a shame when what they hear instead is disdain for what they are doing.
And you may think that this is an obvious point, but y'know what? A lot of people don't get it.
I am not encouraging vegetarianism.
I get that that isn't your stated intention; I'm telling you, directly, *from my personal experience* that when welfare folks – and here, I'm including you in that category, not pejoratively but ONLY because you and I approach these things from so very different perspectives – said *exactly* the things you're saying in this post:
– Encourage people for the progress they've made
– Don't go out of your way to alienate them
– Recognize that people change "slowly"
– Understand that vegetarianism is a "stepping stone" to veganism, because vegetarians already have "the mindset" …
(I'm paraphrasing, but if you feel I'm distorting your fundamental meaning, please say so)
…I'm saying when I heard those messages they acted to IMPEDE my going vegan, not encourage it.
You may not THINK you're *encouraging* vegetarianism, you may not INTEND to be encouraging vegetarianism (vs. veganism), but…
Again, in no other social justice movement, do we laud and praise the conditional exploitation of the oppressed, because the oppressors are only doing it "a little."
I agree mostly with how you've summarized my perspective in those four points except that I don't actually see vegetarianism as a stepping stone. I think most vegetarians–just like most omnivores–have very little intention of going vegan. I just think they happen to be an especially great target for our vegan message. I don't want to see anything ruin that opportunity.
Here's the thing: I went looking for excuses to avoid going vegan, and I *didn't even have to invent any* because there was this whole animal welfare / pseudo-animal rights movement that was more than willing to tell me sixteen different kinds of ego-gratifying things about how much good I was doing because I'd excluded flesh.
Making Babbs feel good about Babbs just isn't the most important issue, here.
It was ONLY when I stepped OUTSIDE of that, and really began to look at what a small number of so-called "militant" vegans were *actually* saying that I began to break through my knee-jerk reactions and understand that what they were saying *wasn't about me.* It was about our culture's top-to-bottom exploitation of animals.
Worrying about people's bruised egos *just isn't that important.* Humans have 185,000 different places to go to be told what special creations they are, and how lovely their choices are.
So much of this "be nice, be tactful" criticism really seems to end up silencing folks who are speaking uncomfortable truths. That's not progress.
Yes, yes, don't be mean *to people*. But at some point, people have to step outside of themselves and stop being so selfish and understand that sometimes – hell, MUCH of the time – if I'm interpreting something as a "personal attack" that probably says more about *me* than whatever the person "attacking" me is actually saying.
I'm not saying there aren't legitimate cases of this kind of personal sniping. But MUCH of what gets *called* "shaming" or "disparaging" *isn't actually that.*
Okay, well we agree about some things. I don't want any vegan activists to be silenced. And I absolutely agree (and wrote last week a little bit about this in a post that you probably also wouldn't agree with!) that people often respond to us with guilt and anger and defensiveness simply because we are vegan–before we even say a word.
But, a lot of what I see in the way people approach non-vegans is simply doomed to fail because it alienates people and so I'm willing to soothe a few egos if it will keep the conversation going. I can't say that it's always easy for me to do that, but in the long run I think it's my best bet for being effective.
And as the hostess here, I will offer you the last word since I'm headed off for a glass of wine and then out to dinner.
Does it look as hopelessly hypocritical as it feels if I post the last word saying I don't especially care about GETTING the last word? hehe.
@babble…not trying to get the last word, haha! but do you have a blog or homepage? i linked to your profile and it's not available for viewing. i would think that someone such as yourself would have an outlet to get that message across.
Oh, lordy, Ginger, you had to ask.
I rant here:
…and on Facebook and Twitter…
…and just about anywhere else on- and offline I can corner someone long enough to listen.
(Ginny: I seriously don't have any intention of linkspamming your blog. If this is bad craziness, please please delete delete.)
haha…yup, oh, lordy 🙂
I'm fine with the links, Babble. Ginger asked and you answered! It's ok with me.
The vast majority of the animal suffering caused by the typical American diet (35 farmed animals each year) is stopped when someone drops meat from their diet. Education, support and encouragement, which were good ingredients for getting them that far, seem like good ingredients to get them to spare the laying hen (and discarded male chick) and dairy cow (and calf) used to produce the eggs and dairy products they consume each year.
I translated your article so French people can read it. I would like to know if I could post it on scribd (of course with your name and a link to your blog).
Thank you !
Tarasahas, I'd be happy to have you post this on your website. Thanks so much for your interest.
Thank you very much ! Here is the link : http://www.scribd.com/doc/18671431/Everyone-is-a-potential-vegan
See you soon,