Topics include: is veganism a diet or a philosophy, vegan celebrities, what about the harm caused by consuming items such as almond milk, and how best to help people explore veganism.
Vegan Information Project website.
The mass media tend to cover the issue of veganism a lot in early January due to the Veganuary intiative. 2019 was no exception. In this interview on the 3rd of the month, Roger Yates of the Vegan Information Project spoke with Ciara Plunkett of KFM radio in Kildare, Ireland.
Topics include: is veganism a diet or a philosophy, vegan celebrities, what about the harm caused by consuming items such as almond milk, and how best to help people explore veganism.
Vegan Information Project website.
The Now Show featured the Beardy Man's supergroup saying goodbye to Planet Earth. It's not as though we'll save it, right?
William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food Magazine, stepped down on the eve of World Vegan Day, 2018 (November 1st), for responding to a suggestion of a "plant-based meal series," with alternative ideas, such as a series on killing vegans one by one, or about force feeding vegans animal flesh.
In Ireland, Newstalk Radio's Lunchtime Live programme with presenter Ciara Kelly discussed the whole idea of hating vegans with Paul Murphy, the founder of Govinda's restaurant in Dublin.
The 12-minute interview raised some interesting questions - and a few old chestnuts like "canine teeth!," and whether humans are herbivores or omnivores.
One of the co-founders of the vegan social movement in 1944, Donald Watson, argued that people need to the "ripened up" to new ideas. After all, we develop new ideas by talking about them: by propounding idea, and by making claims about the world. Vegan activists often talk about the case for the rights of other animals, and right-based vegans talk about animal rights violations (this topic did indeed come up towards the end of the interview).
However, this "ripening up," this talking about vegan issues, is described as "preaching." Vegans are self-righteous, elitist, and go around saying that flesh eaters are murderers and farmers are rapists. Some of these latter claims are popular in the vegan movement - but what are the social effects?
If nothing else, this interview may persuade vegan activists to be careful about what claims they are prepared to make.
My SMTN is happening right now. When I read and taught social movement theory, I learnt about the problems caused when a social movement takes off, and lots of people join. There's a probability that these new recruits do not share the same vision as the people who began the movement - or they adhere to a version of what the movement stands for.
This, I believe, is what has happened to the vegan social movement over several years. In recent times, I've been concerned to make known the views and radical vision of the people who started the British vegan movement in the 1940s and 1950s. The radicalism that they represent is being lost to various forms of reducetarianism, including the "the vegan for the animals (only)" people.
In recent months and years I have found myself trying to explain to these "animals only" folks that they are out of step with the movement's founders. Some responses have been blunt: "F*** the founders," I was told. So, it's the SMTN in action - activists who reject (and, most often, have absolutely no idea about) the vision of the movement's founders are now telling us what veganism is all about. Frankly, it is not a veganism I recognise.
They are often so ignorant of the history of their own movement that I'm sure they think that veganism starts and ends with human-hater, Gary Yourofsky. But Yourofsky showed little sign that he knew anything of the revolutionary views of the people who founded our movement. Even if he did, he would reject those views because of his hatred of humanity. In contrast, the pioneers of the vegan movement believed that humanity is in crisis - but that veganism is the solution to the problem. They didn't regard human animals as parasites as Yourofsky does: they saw the philosophy of veganism as the vehicle to bring about the positive moral evolution of humanity, thereby saving humans, as well as liberating other animals from human oppression.
Most recently, because I refuse to hold the "animals only" version of veganism, I was told that I'm not a vegan at all - but am some sort of "plant-based" person. As an ethical vegan since 1979, I find being lectured on my position by people who are effectively hijacking the vegan movement both dangerous and appalling.
I think it is time to fight for the heart and soul of the vegan social movement. Please watch the video below which provides an outline of the vision of the vegan pioneers - the people who began OUR movement.
Are we going to let a bunch of newbies take the vegan movement away from us?
* Please click H E R E to view on a mobile device.
** Please note: this box may move when you are using it. Refresh the page to re-centre if it does.
Here's a recent vlog (video blog) I recorded about the relationship that existed in the 1980s and 1990s between Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights (1983) and Gary Francione who runs a counter-movement to the animal movement called The Abolitionist Approach.
The Case (as the 1983 text is known) is not well known in the animal movement. Few animal advocates will have heard of it and fewer still will have read it.
The fact that Regan's book - which is the foundational statement of rights-based animal rights is virtually unknown in the movement that calls itself the "Animal Rights Movement" is beyond odd - but Regan has been marginalised and treated appallingly by the animal movement.
So --- what would the modern day animal advocacy movement look like if Tom Regan had received the respect he deserved? I explore this question through the lens of the relationship Regan had with Gary Francione, the events that they were associated with, and the fact that stopped working together at an important time in the history of the movement.
I seem to have recently been thrown out of a FB group called "Real Veganism," presumably by someone on the admin team, who accused me of being an internet troll. My crime was to disagree that veganism is only about - is restricted to - concerns for other animals.
I was told to take my human concerns to Amnesty International and accused of having a large ego for daring to talk about the meaning of veganism, ironically in a group called "Real Veganism."
To my mind, this sort of thing is yet more evidence that there is a young generation of vegans - most likely angry plant-eaters in the mould of Gary Yourofsky - who are relatively new to veganism, and who know little or nothing about the history of the social movement that they have joined and want to impose on the movement their own idea about what it is about and what its values are.
This group of young vegans often appear to be immune to education about the history of the vegan movement. For example, when I've shared the views of the people who actually co-founded the vegan social movement in the 1940s and 1950s, I've received this response: "f**k the founders."
I find this response breathtakingly arrogant. Do others join Marxist groups and quickly declare, "f**k Marx" and then go on to state what they think Marxism means?*
I regard these "nonhumans only" people as reducetarians of a different stripe to those who want to limit veganism to be "only about food," such as "the vegan strategist," Tobias Leenaert. Indeed, the person I most recently talked to about this proudly displayed a banner on their wall saying that, "veganism is not a diet." Well, they got something right! However, just as the "only about food" reducetarians try to strictly limit the meaning of veganism, so do these "only about [other] animals" reducetarians.
I have argued - see HERE - that the views of the vegan social movement co-founders and early members should not be seen as laws that cannot be reformed and, indeed, social movements do "move" - and they must move with the times to avoid stagnation. However, moving with the times does not imply that the views of the founders should be jettisoned and/or ignored.
However, that is not what is happening - the reducetarian vegans are not rejecting the views and values of the co-founders of their movement, they don't even know what those views and values are.
Sadly, a total lack of knowledge of the history of the social movement that they have joined does not prevent them simply making up the meaning of veganism.
The arrogance of that is astounding.
There are agonisingly slow coups d'etat going on in the vegan movement and those of us who care that the meaning of veganism as a widespread pro-justice vision of human and animal liberation, environmentalism, and even caring for the soil, need to defend veganism.
* Note that I said Marxist group, rather than Marxian, or neo-Marxist. However, the latter, while being critical of Marx and demanding all sorts of reforms of Marx's theories, are unlikely to state that Marx should go to "f**k." Instead, many neo-Marxists still hold on to central Marxist idea, will give credit where credit is due and, most importantly in the context of this blog entry, actually not only know who Karl Marx was but have had the manner to read him!
I’ve noticed a new generation of vegans who seem to have, in my view, little grasp of what veganism is, and none of what it meant to the founders of the vegan social movement – the founders of our movement, that which the new generation have recently joined. There are plenty of people who have accepted, apparently without question, Tobias Leenaert’s nonsensical assertion that the vegan movement is “about food,” while the cry of the new activists seems to be that veganism as a movement is far more than that – it’s “for the animals,” and only “for the animals.”
In terms of the history of the vegan social movement, both of these views of veganism are wrong. So, how have these misconceptions about veganism come about?
My thoughts are that (1), the current definition(s) of veganism are weak and lack the depth required to capture what the pioneers of the vegan movement meant by veganism, (2), the movement has been (understandably) involved with making veganism “mainstream” in the last 30 years but with negative consequences, and (3), we often don’t teach, and don’t seem to care about, our own movement’s history.
In relation to the last point in particular, we must be a rare social movement that seems to think that we “can make it up as we go along.” However, we’ve also done that same thing in relation to the meaning of animal rights, so we do have a track record of sloppiness and of business-interests-over-principles.
When people in the movement talk about veganism, they usually cite this 1979 Vegan Society definition (some say that this wording was pretty much in place by 1988), and others, fewer in number, are content to use the awful definitions of veganism one finds in standard dictionaries.
The (first and British) Vegan Society does not have a very good record when it comes to sorting out a good definition of veganism. Its 1979 definition is weak and it does not anywhere near grasp the “full meaning” of veganism.
On a personal note, people like myself who can be called long-time vegans have been at fault here. We let things slide – big time. 1979 was the year I became a vegan. However, I did not join The Vegan Society (TVS) or really see it has having much to do with my movement for animal liberation. I think in those days, I saw TVS as pretty irrelevant to the direct action parts of the movement which I was immediately involved in. Indeed, in the early 1980s, when the numbers of activists going to prison rose, we rather crossed swords with TVS.
Back in those days people had to be a member of the Society in order to get a diet in prison that vegans eat. One literally had to show senior officers your red TVS membership card. We asked TVS if they were prepared to send a membership card out to new prisoners immediately upon their need for one, and we’d sort out actual paid membership later. The last thing animal liberationists needed on their plate (no pun intended) was a fight with prison authorities to get a vegan’s diet.
TVS refused, so we resolved the problem by forging their membership cards. The result was that activists had no need to officially join the organisation. TVS updated their definition in 1979 – the one virtually everyone uses now – and I don’t think there was much of a discussion about it, at least not in my circles.
As I said, from the 1940s, when TVS was formed, getting the definition sorted out didn’t seem to be the most pressing issue – it’s quite likely that just remaining viable as a group of revolutionary mavericks (for that is what they were) was the priority in the early years. A lot of the initial burden of administration and writing fell on the shoulders of Donald Watson, who also was forced to make an early priority of vegan health issues because some of the first members of the Society got sick and virtually everyone told all of them that living, let alone thriving, without consuming animal products was impossible.
It seems that in the very late 1940s and early 1950s, Leslie Cross was among the first to point out the need to clarify just what being vegan meant. A couple of years ago, a video was circulated from some health vegan who claimed that Cross was some sort of “animal rights extremist” who corrupted TVS and forced it in a new radicalised direction. I do not think the evidence suggests that. Indeed, even Donald Watson, the most famous of TVS co-founders, described veganism as “the greatest cause on earth.” He talked about other movements as “lesser movements.”
That may sound rather arrogant but I think he meant that the vegan movement had a wider remit than most others – and the consequences of bringing about a vegan world would have huge benefits to other animals, of course, but also to human beings, and the environment (then called ecological concerns).
The early vegan movement pioneers were also very practical – they had to be. The movement began during “World War Two,” and food and other forms of rationing (clothes, fuel, etc.) did not end until the mid-1950s with some arguing that the effects of war rationing were felt until the 1970s and 80s. The early vegans were, not surprisingly, part of the grow-your-own veg movement and some of the early movement pioneers, such as Eva Batt, were concerned about soil quality.
The ethos and vision of the vegan movement was summed up in 1995 by Kath Clements in Why Vegan: the Ethics of Eating and the Need for Change
This is an echo of what Eva Batt wrote in 1964 in a booklet called Why Veganism?
There are only hints in the 1979 definition of veganism by TVS that give any indication of veganism’s impressive scope and objective expressed by Clements and Batt.
Neither is there much in the 88/79 definition that captures the radicalism of the vegan social movement in the late 40s and early 50s.
For example, in 1951, TVS were clarifying what it means by the term “exploitation,” saying that the Society seeks “to end the use of animals by [humans] for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by [humanity].”
This sort of rhetoric (not regulation of animal treatment but the abolition of animal use) was to resurface in the rights-based writing of Tom Regan who wrote The Case for Animal Rights in 1983. However, this radicalism rarely featured in The Vegan Society’s claims-making of the 1980s.
In 1951, Leslie Cross also talked about “the second broad aspect of the vegan aim” which included, reminding us of Watson’s “greatest cause” claim, the expected “effect upon human evolution.”
Remembering that these vegan movement pioneers had experienced a huge war that had ended only six years previously, it is not surprising that they believed that human violence – including that against other animals – would “return like a boomerang upon humanity's own head.” Thus, Cross argued that, “Until the present relationship between [humans and other animals] is replaced by one of companionship on a relatively equal footing, the pursuit of happiness by [humanity] is foredoomed to a painful and tragic frustration.”
In 1954, Cross again outlined that veganism means liberation for both humans and other animals. He said that a vegan future would have no butchers’ shops, no vivisection labs, no hunting, and people would be drinking vegan milk. Still part of 21st century vegan claims-making, Cross said that, “The countryside will not be heavy with the anguish of cows crying for their calves.”
As ever, though, benefits to humanity were also outlined: “But some of the changes are not so obvious. The benefits to [humanity] of living in a kindlier and more enlightened world can be envisaged only in broadest outline.”
Moreover, in direct agreement with Watson that veganism is the greatest cause on earth, Cross writes in a 1954 edition of The Vegan, that
The “distinctive feature” being spoken of is, of course, that the principles of justice in veganism vaults over the species barrier and declares other animals as rights holders along with human animals. And Cross did write in terms of rights
These are the values of vegans – the recognition that the fate of humanity and other animals are bound together on a fragile planet under attack from within. The vegan movement pioneers knew all too well about being attacked by an outside enemy – but their revolutionary thought looked at injustice at home and abroad. Have we lost the radicalism of our movement’s past?
As noted in this blog entry, via the work of pattrice jones, when we say “the mainstream” we are not saying “the majority of humans.” The word sounds like we are saying that, but we’re not. The majority of humanity is made up of marginalised persons of various types.
Leenaert openly characterises his approach as being about “mainstreamness,” and I think we can all see the attraction of veganism “being mainstream.” However, I’m not sure that this notion has been analysed much, certainly not critically. Veganism becoming “mainsteam,” may simply mean that the idea of veganism is better known, more widespread, and more accepted than it has been in the past.
I think that is true. In my time as a vegan, I’ve seen people finally being about to pronounce the word “vegan” and not think it’s something to do with Star Trek. The huge increase in vegan and vegan-friendly eateries, and vegan’s food and clothing being more easily obtainable in stores, makes veganism more “mainstream.” Some people prefer the term “normalisation,” but I think the meaning is generally the same.
I think the difficulty – the mistake – even the betrayal – of vegan values is when vegan organisations try to align with conventional values thought to reflect what’s called, of course, “mainstream values.”
When radical social movement go for “mainstreamness” in this sense, then they may face a very real danger of losing their core, foundational, values. This process, which is predicted in some social movement theorising, is the process I see happening in the vegan movement.
I hope that the first section has sufficiently demonstrated that the origins of the vegan social movement can be described as pro-intersectional in nature, even with the important caveats that the term had not then been coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, and the story of the origins of the vegan movement discussed here (revolving as it does around the British Vegan Society) is a very white story.
This initial pro-intersectional impulse was carried through into the 1970s and 1980s as I recall them. I often say that we would be busy sabotaging a hunt on a Saturday, maybe a “Club Row” demo, or something similar – and perhaps less legal – on a Sunday, and then we’d find ourselves engaged in Reclaim the Night and Rock Against Racism events in the week.
That was my sense of the recognition of what David Nibert calls the “entanglements of oppression and liberation” in what we “just did” in the 1980s. A lot of us were influenced by punk music too (not so much me, in all honesty, stuck in Bolan mainstreamness!), so this pro-intersectional orientation was fired up in the mid-1970s.
In campaigning terms, we were at the crest of a wave and we were fighting everything: apartheid, patriarchy, speciesism, racism, hierarchy, injustice, and so on. In terms of values, Steve Best is right (in his 2013 Total Liberation talk) that, whatever our politics as individuals, we are expressing left wing values.
Then there was a change, the start of the slide, and we didn’t take much notice, and barely any action against it. The national animal movement became dominated by a group of animal welfare corporations – and huge blame for the mess we are in can be laid at the doors of one organisation: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). In my eyes, this transnational abomination has done terrible damage to the animal movement.
Why – and this is a question raised by the Francione countermovement – did we, from the 1990s onwards, just stand there and passively let PeTA get away with its blatant sexist bullshit? After that was seen to be largely accepted by a complacent movement and a cap-in-hand grassroots, then came the ableism, fat shaming, racism, and ground scraping to shallow celebrity culture. PeTA had moved from a radical innovation to a corporate monster dripping in aggressively marketed mainstream patriarchal capitalist values.
One of their greatest crimes was their role – that continues to this day – in the marginalisation of rights-based animal rights thinking in favour of animal welfarism that is nevertheless called “animal rights.” The corporate movement – and the submissive, docile, grassroots – destroyed Animal Rights as an idea, and as the proper articulation of the position of the “animal rights movement.” The way that this movement treated Tom Regan is nothing less than disgusting and shameful. It will take a lot of work to remove that stain from the animal advocacy movement.
The effect, then, of mainstreamness on a once radical movement, is the moderation of the organisations within it, and the marginalisation of any revolutionary values that, although were the initial drivers of the cause, are now seen as “not sellable,” “too extreme,” “too radical,” “purist” and, in a nutshell, “too consistent” for mainstream consumption.
In the meantime, again as Best argues, the movement becomes a laughing stock among progressive movements that should, at the very least, be locked in an alliance for justice with the vegan animal rights movement. By pandering to mainstream values, and doing everything to bend over backwards to meet the conventions of a mass media, we have alienated those who hold the values we hold – or which we once held.
Things are now so bad and so dangerous that, as Christopher Sebastian said in a recent Livegan podcast, there are prominent (and seemingly popular) white supremacists and Nazis currently in the “vegan” movement, not to mention the recent #TimesUpAR revelations about male entitlement, harassment, and violence in a movement made up mainly of females (see this ARZone podcast with Carol J. Adams for an account of that scandalous situation that should have never arisen).
HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT
By their very nature, social movement move. They evolve and, indeed, move with the times – to not do so would be devastating for them. However, social movements are also grounded in a set of claims and principles, some of which should not bend and should not be diluted or else its original vision may be crushed and lost.
It is clear that I put a lot of emphasis on the values and vision of the founding pioneers of our movement – but I’ve also said that their words are not law, and cannot be thought of in such terms. However, any attempt to alter the principles and values of the vegan movement should – as a bare requirement and also an act of basic manners – acknowledge the principles and values that are under examination.
I don’t see a lot of that in the vegan movement. Indeed, some relative “newbies” have told me, “f*ck the founders,” when I point out what they stood for. That is both ridiculous and juvenile, as if people join a Marxist movement and the first thing they say is, “f*ck Marx!” Actually, some neo-Marxists got close to that after years of reflection, but they were always capable of describing what they thought should be changed and what it was that they were changing.
The new generation of vegans don’t do that – they simply declare what veganism is – it’s “about food,” it’s “only about the [other] animals,” with no acknowledgement that such declarations are totally out of step with the very founders of the vegan social movement in the 1940s – how can anyway be so conceited as to not care about the values of a movement they have just joined?
I argued, here, that the history of the vegan movement reveals that it has an interconnected focus and scope. There appears to be a number of people in the present vegan movement who seem petrified of pro-intersectionality. These people seem not to understand what intersectionality is, or exaggerate what it would do to the animal movement if widely adopted within it. However, by looking at the vegan movement in terms of its focus and scope, that should allay their fears that pro-intersectionality takes away from a concentration on “animal issues.” That is not what pro-intersectionality within the vegan movement would do.
Some may think it rather overblown to say that the vegan movement is in crisis – aren’t we seeing a massive growth in veganism just now? I think the answer to that is yes and no. We are seeing a growth in something that often gets called veganism – but a vegan movement “only about food,” or “only about [other] animals” is not the vegan movement.
There is also the problem that Tom Regan was keen to point out – that it seems to be the case that, yes a lot of people join the animal movement, but a lot leave as well. Some estimate that as many as 80% leave. We should be bothered by that.
I just wonder whether, if people join the vegan movement with a full understanding of its revolutionary reach and ramifications, they may stay – but who are most likely to stay in such a radical movement. People who are radicals – right!
Finally, to remind people what we are all about, again from Tom Regan, this time in a rights-based animal rights context from 1983, remember: “The animal rights movement is a part of, and not opposed to, the human rights movement.”
The Species Barrier is one of the best podcasts around. This is an oldie but goodie. It's one of my favourites and features Sandra Higgins of Go Vegan World (scroll down for the audio). This is one of the best expositions of the existence of Go Vegan World so far.
I believe that historians of the animal advocacy movement are likely to see the advent of Go Vegan World as a very important game changer. The reason is that Sandra Higgins' campaign is rights-based - and also uncompromising in its focus on no-nonsense veganism.
Indeed, the consistency of this campaign has shown the lie about the claim that veganism is a scare word - and has also "firmed up" the vegan-based claims-making of other groups, especially some in England. They appear to have abandoned the weak "veggie," and "veg" slogans that were once popular as they saw that a consistent vegan message could be popular.
Sandra also explains to presenters Ruth and Marcus how the individual residents of her Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary are central voices in the Go Vegan World campaign.
I like the Go Vegan World approach because it's dedicated to simply telling the truth about the oppression in other animal use. It also stays faithful to the vision of the vegan movement pioneers in the 1940s who saw veganism as part of the peace movement, a justice issue, and integral to the moral evolution of humanity.
Sandra's contribution to the podcast starts at about 10 minutes in.
Sociologists, particular those who study and/or teach social movement theory, tend to call social movements "claims-makers in civil society."
This is one of the main things that social movements do. They identify what they regard as an issue, or "problem," and then make claims about this. A classic example is the feminist movement(s) which saw the issue of male dominance, male entitlement, and male violence, and made claims about it in reference to the ideologies of patriarchy and misogyny.
When a social movement starts to make claims about the issues that concern them, a "counterforce" may emerge in order to make counter-claims. Then they become involved in what Tom Regan calls a "battle of ideas." The classic example given in this claim/counter-claim scenario is that of the pro-life and pro-choice movements.
It seems to me that a counterforce to the recent boost in interest in veganism is emerging - and they are being pretty smart in terms of their claims-making. For example, lots of other animal farmers and farming representatives have recently, as if reading from a script, begun to claim that they are on the receiving end of hate speech, to the extent that they have had meetings with anti-terrorist police officers. They are claiming that "militant vegans" are calling them lots of negative names online, including "rapists" - in relation to artificial insemination, "murderers," and "Nazis."
This seems clearly to have sensationalised the recent conversations about the rise in veganism - and they clearly intend for these words to shock people into thinking negatively about vegans, just as some vegans will use such language in order to "morally shock" their audience.
The question is - is that a smart move? I briefly address that question in this video...
Dr. Roger Yates is a rights advocate and sociologist