A few weeks ago, I took part in an online “debate” with Mr. Tobias Leenaert, the founder of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative (EVA). The event was hosted by an online platform that publishes podcasts about “animal issues.”
For a variety of reasons, the original recording has not been released, so I’ve decided to publish the Skype recording I made. I do this on my own volition and initiative.
Since at least 2013, I’ve been concerned about the position and behaviour of Tobias Leenaert. On behalf of EVA, government funded to the tune of €165,000 per year from politicians who apparently believe that vegans “are crazies,” and now independently as “The Vegan Strategist,” Mr. Leenaert regularly speaks to audiences of young animal advocates and essentially seeks to undermine veganism in a dietary sense and mocks and belittles the wider philosophy of veganism.
The “debate” has a number of themes.
Mr. Leenaert poses a number of hypotheticals that seek to trap vegans into situations where they believe that eating other animals, or hens’ eggs, for example, is not only acceptable but a “good” thing to do. These hypotheticals include non-vegan friends making mistakes when cooking for a vegan; whether anyone would begin or remain on a plant-based diet if they had access to bread and water only, and would a vegan finish off a half-eaten “steak” in a restaurant if offered a lot of money to do so by a millionaire.
These hypotheticals are never presented to vegan audiences with a view to help them explore and discuss ways to avoid eating other animals but always crafted in a way that suggests to them that they should violate their vegan principles for some alleged greater good.
Essentially, these hypotheticals amount to rights violations NOW in order to bring about future benefits. Mr. Leenaert, as you’ll hear, has difficulty understanding that eating animal produce is to involve oneself in processes that violate the rights of other animals*
Who does what?
As you’ll hear, this is my chief objection to Mr. Leenaert’s vegetarian position. He uses a two-phase model whereby phase one (now and for the foreseeable future) is a pre-vegan stage in which he suggests animal advocates “go easy” and rarely mention topics like veganism, animal rights, and anti-speciesism. If given money to run an advertising campaign, he would deliberately avoid using any such term, believing that the world is simply not yet ready for veganism, especially not the justice-for-all philosophy of veganism.
The main EVA initiative is the organisation of a “veggie day” in Belgium. Their hope is that “veggie day” (not vegan day) will become a two-times-a-week event sometime in the future. Apart from that, Mr. Leenaert supports the “reducetarian” movement and he believes that “meat reducers” have more impact of the sale of flesh than vegans do. He also believes, without much evidence it seems, that “meat reducers” facilitate the expansion of the availability of 100% plant-based products.
“Phase one” is all about less-than-vegan campaigning but he wants vegans to do it, and that’s why he routinely talks to vegan animal rights advocates.
I object to this for a simple reason. Speaking historically, vegan education outreach is new – in the scheme of things, it has really only just begun. Until the late 1990s, few animal advocates placed veganism at the core of their campaigning messages. In the light of this, I oppose anything that takes vegans away from campaigning for veganism. Of course, individuals can campaign as they wish, but when vegans do the less-than-vegan work they leave a hole: reducetarians and vegetarians do not promote veganism. It’s as though there are two football teams on a pitch and the red team are able to encourage players from the blue side to join them but the blue team cannot recruit red team members.
As you’ll hear, my position is that the vegetarians and other “meat reducers” can do Mr. Leenaert’s campaigning which, after all, is chiefly based on the reduction of flesh consumption. I ask him to leave the vegans alone to do vegan campaigning.
Moral and non-moral reasons.
This is an area of agreement, except that Mr. Leenaert seems to believe that vegans are opposed to talking about non-moral reasons. As it was recently pointed out to Mr. Leenaert by a representative of the National Animal Rights Association in Ireland, in a panel discussion in Dublin, grassroots vegan advocates have no issue with talking about non-moral reasons to bring about change. However, they blend them with the moral animal rights arguments that they present.
Non-moral reasons include someone going to India and eating vegetarian whilst there because they are grossed out by the fact that “meat” is not refrigerated, and that scientists and very rich persons are developing “realistic” plant-based “milks” and “meat.” There is little animal advocates can do about any of that; and there seems to be little or no objections to these developments coming from the vegan movement, albeit that “mock meats” have always created some discussion in vegan circles. Most vegans I know tend to think that they aid “transition” to a plant-based diet and are useful for vegans who have children.
You may be wondering why Mr. Leenaert is so fixated on the vegan community since his “strategy” is entirely compatible with vegetarianism, at least for a number of years until his “phase-two” kicks in. The reason is that he recognises that vegans are the activists in the animal advocacy movement and that’s why he wants them for the less-than-vegan campaign. He virtually said this in Dublin recently.
In addition, most modern-day conferences and festivals are run by and attended by vegans, sometimes overwhelmingly by vegans. This is, in his eyes, a “market” not to be missed.
By wish for the future, and the reason I’m publishing this recording, is for vegans to reject Mr. Leenaert’s vegetarianism and for them to continue advocating for the philosophy of veganism. Mr. Leenaert is not a dietary vegan** and rejects and mocks the idea that veganism is more than a diet.
* Tobias Leenaert takes a utilitarian position in ethical matters, seeking to balance suffering and happiness. He rejects animal rights theory and speaks only of legal rights (animal rights is a position based on moral rights which utilitarians tend to believe do not exist and are nonsense.)
** He thinks veganism should be “flexible,” “impure,” and that dietary “exceptions” should be “allowed.” In other words, he argues for vegans (even dietary vegans) to become vegetarians.