In this disturbing and revealing interview, Dr. Pendergrast explains why the main groups in the "animal rights movement" do not have a clear vegan message.
The reason - you'd guessed it - MONEY.
Nick Pendergrast was featured on a recent podcast from The Species Barrier Radio Show. Dr. Pendergrast was asked about his PhD thesis on the animal movement, (with contributions from his podcast co-host, Katie.)
In this disturbing and revealing interview, Dr. Pendergrast explains why the main groups in the "animal rights movement" do not have a clear vegan message.
The reason - you'd guessed it - MONEY.
It's always a great honour to be invited onto The Species Barrier Radio Show & Podcast. On this occasion, it was to talk about the Simon Amstell Film, Carnage, and What the Health.
Marcus, Ruth and I chew the cud on other issues too - like reducetarianism (grrrrr!)
Play the first media player to hear just my part, and the second to hear the whole show (which is well worth it). Ruth & Marcus also interview Katie and Nick from Progressive Podcast Australia.
On the 21st February 2017, Anna Charlton, Gary Francione, and Bob Linden spoke on Go Vegan Radio about the late Tom Regan who had died a few days earlier. It can be regarded as a critical tribute. Click the player above.
By and large, it was a fond and sympathetic remembrance of the time when Francione was working with PeTA, and it seemed for a while that rights-based animal rights may have become a force in the animal advocacy movement. Essentially, the corporate welfare movement strangled animal rights at birth to the extent that there is no animal rights movement now.
Of course, the phrase “animal rights” is heard often enough but used by virtually all animal advocates rhetorically as a label only. I don’t see any of the emergent You Tubers of the movement – and none in the national group structure – showing much evidence that they are at all familiar with rights-based theory on human relations with other sentient beings.
Charlton notes that Regan was frustrated by the lack of philosophical foundation to the animal movement. Newkirk and Pacheco, co-founders of PeTA, had read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation but Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights was neglected and ultimately rejected by PeTA and the rest of the animal movement which was sliding into (or back into) animal welfarism during the 1990s. To this day, the only philosophy book PeTA sell is Singer’s which they mistakenly describe as an animal rights text.
Francione notes that he and Regan wanted to figure out how to bring a rights-based foundation into the animal movement. So, in terms of timescale, we are talking about the mid to late 1980s to 1996.
The story that emerges in this tribute of sorts to Tom Regan is of the birth and then the death of the North American animal rights movement. Francione admits that Britain was ahead of the States on this but, again, there is no rights-based animal rights movement in Britain at present either. That Regan was becoming a force in Europe was demonstrated in the lead he took in the 1989 BBC Arena animal rights debate. Regan’s opening and summing up of this survives on YT.
Francione claims that his own break with Regan occurred between two “marches for the animals.” The first was in 1990 and the second 1996. Francione suggests that, between those years, animal welfarists organised to marginalise animal rightists.
In 1992, Animals’ Agenda published a “Point/Counterpoint” article in which Regan & Francione argued for abolitionism, stating that a movement’s means creates its ends, and vice versa, while Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA argued for new welfarism. “Going into bat for animal welfarists,” Newkirk trots out the language we now hear all the time: “steps in the right direction” – “purists” – “all or nothing.” Interesting that Newkirk even offers up a reduced view of veganism in 1992, saying that some “vegans” support animal experimentation. No wonder that the original radicalism of veganism is in danger of being destroyed.
Regan and Francione, it seems, recognised that the rights-based surge that emerged in 1990 in North America was to be deliberately put down by welfarist corporations, and that the 1996 event was designed to re-establish the dominance of animal welfarism in the “animal rights” movement.
Francione says he writes about all this in his 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (RWT), in the postscript. Regan and Francione called for a boycott of the 1996 march, seeing what was going on in the politics of the movement as a whole, but Francione claims that Regan eventually caved in to welfarist pressure and “nastiness,” and decided to support the second march in 1996. Francione suggest that, at this point, Regan fully embraces new welfare methodology but I think that a different interpretation is possible.
1996 is also the year in which the first embers of the Francione countermovement began to glow – dimly at first. Francione split with PeTA and began to evolve what we now know as the Francione Abolitionist Approach. However, in the RWT postscript, Francione suggests that the difference between himself and Regan may be that he begins to see himself as utterly outside of the existing movement (hence seeing his “approach” now as a “countermovement” to the animal advocacy movement). On the other hand, Regan, naively perhaps, seems to have thought that he could work within the prevailing movement and bring it into line – or more into line - with rights-based animal rights.
Francione’s own account in RWT shows that Regan had not fully embraced new welfarism. Francione reports that Regan, after agreeing to talk at the 1996 march, nevertheless said critically that he thought it was a “welfarist event” while accepting that animal welfare “does some good.” Regan also criticised PeTA for its move into sexist campaigning, which is still a strong feature of PeTA’s current stance, along with racist and ableist campaigns.
Maybe if Regan and Francione had stayed within the animal movement as strong rights-based voices, things would be different now. Instead, Francione bailed out. Francione prefers the interpretation that Regan fell into welfarism, rather than he abandoned the movement, leaving Regan’s position much weaker.
As ever, Charlton provides a more nuanced analysis of events. For example, both Charlton and Francione believe that Regan struggled to deal with the bullying and hatred that quickly came from the welfare camp when Regan and Francione called for a boycott of the 1996 march, but Charlton keeps the stress on education and said that this was Regan’s strongest suit. In terms of Francione’s allegation that Regan collapsed into welfare, Charlton’s view suggests an alternative, that Regan thought he could operate as an educator within the movement rather than deliberately placing himself increasingly as an outsider, a status that Francione seems to welcome rather than seeing being an outsider as a block to him having any influence at all within the movement.
It is hard to imagine that, either way, the welfarists would not win out. I think Francione is right if he’s implying that education inside the movement would be very hard. Probably impossible before the internet age, given the gatekeeping powers that the national corporations had back then, and still do in terms of access to conferences. The internet improves things hugely in terms of maverick voices having the opportunity to be heard. The internet brings its own problems, however, not least the sheer amount of information available on virtually any topic.
So, even though there are rights-based voices that no longer can be silenced, they still can be marginalised it seems – and that’s even if animal advocates go to the trouble of investigating what animal rights means. We only have to look at what the “largest animal rights conference in the world” offers up as “animal rights” to see that welfarism is presented as animal rights but devoid of the theoretical foundation.
I would dearly love to see the new You Tubers adopting a rights-based position and reflecting it in their language which currently is stuck in the welfarist paradigm of talking about issues of animal cruelty.
Francione has criticised Regan’s theoretical position in recent years – he rightly is critical of the subject-of-a-life criteria, and has unfairly attacked Regan on the one million dogs lifeboat scenario - but says that there were other disagreements too. At one point in the broadcast, Francione suggests that Regan, like Singer, would eat dairy cheese if a restaurant got a request wrong. As ever with Francione, we are receiving a version, because it is also the case that, although claiming to have become vegan in 1982, Francione writes 14 years later in 1996 that he’s a vegetarian – so maybe he wouldn’t have objected to a bit of misplaced cheese then either for all we know. Francione says that, for a time, they had tried to cling on to the term “vegetarian” and wanted to “rehabilitate” it. He says that they were “basically” talking about veganism in those days.
So, would the present movement be different if Regan and Francione had stuck together? It is an intriguing prospect but it is clear that, later in life, Regan’s health wasn’t good. I think that’s why Regan didn’t respond to the recent attacks on his position, not least from Francione himself. I think it may also be possible that Regan recognised that he didn't have the time to start a new social movement from scratch, one that would always be in the shadow - and confused with - the existing animal movement. As said, we may ask pointedly whether rights-based animal rights would not be virtually forgotten in the “animal rights movement” as it is now had Francione not abandoned animal rights as the basis of his claims-making. He did this on the grounds that animal rights as a term has been appropriated by the welfarists. Of course it has – they’ll use anything that may make a buck. They are now calling themselves abolitionist when it suits them, which Francione has acknowledged and complained about. He should have stayed in the fight for animal rights.
We don’t get anywhere by running away. Ideas like animal rights and veganism have to be fought for or they will be devalued and redefined into something else.
This broadcast really does reveal that Francione’s critique of single-issues is totally stuck in the 1980s. He is completely out-of-date on this, and still refers to events in the 1980s in every criticism of single-issues as if they are still relevant. He alleges that Regan “went back” to single issue campaigns. I reject that, at least in the sense that Francione means; the way single-issue campaigns were back in the 1980s.
I think that Regan would recognise that the people doing single-issues in the 21st century correspond to how Francione thinks that single-issues can work. In other words, if single issues are part of an overarching vegan campaign, Francione believes that they are acceptable. He fails to recognise that this is what’s happened. To maintain his dated attack on single-issues, he cannot look at what’s actually happening in the movement, certainly in the grassroots, but drop back to what was happening in the last century.
Bob Linden, to his credit, reveals that, for many years and in terms of many campaigns, he simply “followed the leaders,” and thus got involved in lots of welfare and single-issue campaigning. He does say that, although people were all vegans in those days (something Francione disputes in relation to the prime movers of the movement), the campaigns were not focused on veganism. This is more evidence against the position of Matt Ball who, in an appalling recent video, claimed that vegan education had been going on “for decades” and has failed.
Below is the 2006 Go Vegan Radio show mentioned by Bob Linden
There is a lot of debate about the meaning of veganism in social media spaces.
I find it frustrating that everyone immediately turns to their sources about the definitions(s) of vegan and veganism during these conversations. The 1979 Vegan Society definition is often wrongly credited to Donald Watson who wasn't exactly on the ball when it came to defining veganism.
Look at any definition of a very big idea and the definition tends to fail to fully capture everything about it. Check out, for example, definitions of Marxism and/or quantum mechanics. Expecting a single definition to explain a complex idea is to expect way too much. Indeed, modern internet definitions of such ideas tend to contain numerous hyperlinks to aspects of the subject not adequately captured in the stark initial definition.
Considering that Donald Watson described veganism as the "greatest cause on earth," it is not surprising that definitions of this big idea tend to be very limited. Watson is obviously a very important person in the history of the vegan social movement, being a prime mover in the formation of The Vegan Society in 1944.
Some overblown statements are made about Watson, though, not least that he was "the father of veganism," or that he "invented veganism." As noted above, the 1979 vegan definition - the one about "as far as is possible and practicable" - is often said to have been written in 1944 by Watson. In 1979, The Vegan Society became a charity and needed to update its memorandum and articles of association. It was at this time that this vegan definition was written
In October 2015, in a blog entitled, Compassionate Spirit, Keith Akers wrote a "quick history" about the definition of veganism. Akers notes that,
According to VeggieVision and Collectively Free, the repeated mistake that Donald Watson wrote the 1979 definition of veganism in the 1940s has tended to make more invisible the role of women in the formation of the vegan social movement. Akers claims that the word "vegan" was coined by Donald Watson and Dorothy Watson, while Collectively Free suggest that Watson and Elsie Shrigley* coined it.
I often tell my sociology students that sociologists are the products of their time, as we all are - even early vegan movement pioneers. There are current claims that veganism is all about, or only about, diet, or only about other animals. Neither claim is true but that is not to say that a lot of what the philosophy of veganism is about is what vegans eat and the avoidance of animal products. The focus of veganism is the relations between human beings and other animals - but that is not the scope of veganism.
However, because the founders of the vegan social movement wrote in a non-polemic style, the wider scope of veganism is not expressed in ways that slap readers around the face, although it's always there, bubbling under, if you like.
This applies to the writings of Donald Watson as much as Leslie Cross, Eva Batt, Kathleen Jannaway, and Arthur Ling. It is quite clear, however, that Donald Watson in particular was virtually forced to concentrate on issues of health in the early years of The Vegan Society.
Writing "The Early History of The Vegan Society" in the 21st birthday edition of The Vegan (Autumn 1965), Watson spells out the situation. Let's mark the radicalism of the vegan pioneers right away. He writes that the first five issues of The Vegan News establishes that veganism was becoming seen as "a philosophy of life" and a "movement is born which in its general application could revolutionise [humanity]."** However, these are the final words in Watson's article - this is not the tub-thumping, headline grabbing, style we are used to in the 21st century.
Watson notes that, long before 1944, some vegetarians had suggested the possibility of living without the consumption of any animal produce, only to be met by charges from within the vegetarian movement that they were "extremists" (yes, there is nothing original about the position of the so-called Vegan Strategist).
According to Watson, even the great Henry Salt said that the position of those later to be called vegans was based on "cock and bull" arguments. In the 1930s, there were claims that human children are better off brought up without consuming calf food, and even some dietitions were considering whether plant protein should be considered superior to animal protein. So, the founders of the vegan social movement settled on something of a single-issue - to establishing a "non-dairy section" in the British Vegetarian Society. They were turned down flat, leading to the meeting in 1944 in London's Attic Club that founded The Vegan Society. By 1945, the vegan movement pioneers declare opposition to the consumption of all animal produce, not just cow milk.
As Akers notes, the American Vegan Society (AVS) came up with arguably a better definition of veganism in 1960, years before the limp British effort of 1979.
What's missing from this are these lines from the AVS definition, again pointing towards greater things
We should remember that the early vegan pioneers were told by virtually everyone - including doctors - that they would die if they did not eat animal produce. In the early years, then, Donald Watson felt the need to focus on health and, as said, rather neglected the formal definition of veganism. Eventually, in the 1950s, Leslie Cross stepped in to point out that a definition should be sorted out.
When Cross talks about veganism, its expansive vision is less submerged. For example, in the 10th anniversary edition of The Vegan (Winter, 1954), the editorial was written by John Heron. The overall piece is a bit hippy trippy but he does state this: veganism is "the doctrine that [humanity] should live without exploiting [other] animals." Cross, in the next article in the edition, entitled "The Surge for Freedom," seeks to elaborate on this idea. It is clear that he's talking about freedom across the board - and even makes a statement we may balk at now - that Britain is composed of "freedom-loving islands."
He states that the grand vision of veganism involves not exploiting other animals and that would be a great benefit to human animals too. He poses a question - why did the doctrine that humans should live without exploiting other animals come into being - and provides the answer
The early vegan social movement pioneers pointed out fairly regularly that they believed that veganism would lead to the moral evolution of humanity. Cross further outlines a vision of a vegan future - including deliveries of vegan milk!
Focus and Scope
There are many modern-day vegans who want to reduce the meaning of veganism. The reducetarians, vegan and not, seem to think that they need to attack, denigrate, and mock vegans and veganism in order to ask people to eat a few less other animals. There are also people who are wary of pro-intersectionality, so any idea that the founders of their social movement held views that we would probably call intersectional now, scares them.
Some animal advocates want veganism to be only about other animals, full stop, and they are furious when they find out this is not the case. Their only recourse is denial and to keep saying it over and over in the hope that one day it will be true. For example, a YouTubber angrily states
Unfortunately for such people, wanting something so bad does not make it so. Recently, in a fb exchange, I tried to explain to a "veganism is ONLY about [other] animals!" person that, if he felt that way, fine, so long as he understood that he's out of step with the people who founded the vegan social movement. His response was: "F*ck your founders."
The position Cross outlines above existed in the vegan movement at least four years previously. For example, in the Spring 1951 The Vegan magazine, Cross reported on new rules that were agreed in November 1950 at a special general meeting of The Vegan Society.
Cross said that, apart from the technicalities of being rules and the constitution of the society, they were designed to "enshrine and safeguard our ideals." Essentially, they were a statement of vegan goals, set out in two parts. The first part dealt with the general doctrine of veganism, that humans should not exploit other animals. The aim here to make it clear that this is not just about "food issues" involving the use of other animals, but issues such as vivisection, hunting (in the British sense, hunting is generally not about providing food for humans), and "working" other animals.
Foreseeing developments in the animal movement in decades to come, Cross notes that The Vegan Society of 1950 was declaring itself animal liberators, not welfarists; that the aim wasn't to make animal use more tolerable but to abolish it (yes, folks, there is not much that's original in the position of the Francione countermovement).
The second aim is about the consequent liberation of humans
There may be misgivings about the mention of slavery here - it was part of vegan claims-making right from the beginning of the society, in 1944. There may also be disagreement with the point that it is the exploiters rather than the exploited who suffer the most. I'm not comfortable with that but the general trust of this passage is to do with the fact that they saw that veganism, and the liberation of other animals brought about by the abolition of animal use, would aid the moral development of humanity as a whole.
I hope that this blog entry goes some way to assist those who engage in "what is veganism?" debates, and I want to underline one final time that a definition cannot capture the big picture of a big idea; that there is an important understanding that we must never forget: yes, veganism has a focus, the relationship between humans and other animals, but the vegan social movement founders never stopped at that limited place - veganism's scope is wider and, indeed, it is true, veganism is about humans too.
* Sometimes known as Sally Shrigley and also Elsie Salling.
** As a product of his time, Watson wrote "mankind" not "humanity."
CW - speciesist language.
The Bob Linden/Gary Francione countermovement provide an interesting analysis of the animal movement, looking at Matt Ball's new video inciting people to eat cows rather than chickens, Brian Kateman's mocking of vegans, and an "animal rights conference" having all the reducetarians as guests.
These audio extracts are from Go Vegan Radio (June 12th, 2017).
The rise of the reducetarian movement seems to be an interesting challenge to the vegan movement, especially since it seems that in order to promote their position, reducetarians apparently feel a need to attack, or mock, vegans (as purists and extreme) and veganism (as too radical). Some of them use ableist rhetoric to emphasise the point, stating that consistent vegans are "crazies."
There are lots of animal advocates, of course, who subscribe to - or at least understand - the notion of different strokes for different folks. However, it is not acceptable if the reducetarian movement somehow requires the denigration of vegans and veganism.
So, what have we seen so far in this regard? I think we could pull out from the reducetarian crowd a number of examples of them mocking vegans and veganism. Brian Kateman, president and co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation and editor of The Reducetarian Solution does it in a TED talk, Matthew Ball, who works for One Step for Animals and, until very recently, Farm Sanctuary does it in a video suggesting that many vegans are rude and fanatical, and "rightly" seen as akin to Hezbollah; Sebastian Joy, who runs the German Vegetarian Society, does it in talks at animal rights conferences, and "the 'vegan' strategist," Tobias Leenaert does it whenever possible.
I'll just concentrate on one: Matt Ball. His position is based on distortion. In a recent video inciting people to eat the flesh of cows rather than that of chickens, he cites Peter Singer's Animal Liberation as a main reason for the abject failure of vegan education. Why? Singer isn't a vegan, and writes in Animal Liberation: "I do not, on balance, object to free-range egg production." Singer, like Ball, is a supporter of the reducetarian movement. To cite Animal Liberation in this context is nothing more than propaganda.
Ball then cites PeTA! Seriously, a useless sexist, racist, and ableist organisation that gives awards to slaughterhouse designers ain't doing it for the vegan cause? Big surprise there.
The truth is, vegan education has only just begun. In THIS CENTURY only has the animal movement begun to see veganism as the moral baseline, to the extent that it has of course. There is push back from careerists in the movement to seeing veganism as the moral baseline. Melanie Joy is not keen, for example, but then she writes in her famous book: "it's possible to procure eggs and dairy products without violence."
Do vegans actually read these books before they pronounce that their authors stand for veganism?
So, vegan education has only just begun - check out this audio clip from Ronnie Lee, the co-founder of the Animal Liberation Front who went vegan in 1971. Ronnie has effectively "seen it all," and he certainly knows that vegan education is, historically, brand new.
Think about this - did you know that "Mr. Vegan Education," Gary Francione was still writing about himself as "still very much a vegetarian" in 1996, even though he says he went vegan in 1982? Moreover, in the index of his 2000 book, Introduction to Animal Rights, "vegan" is not mentioned once in the index but "vegetarianism" is at least 8 times, along with this little line from page 17: "The suggestion that taking animal interests seriously requires that we become vegetarians may seem radical."
That's only 17 years ago. Repeat after me: VEGAN EDUCATION HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN. Listen to Ronnie!!!
If you are an animal advocate doing street work for veganism, take heart. This aspect of animal campaigning has only just begun and I bet you have seen a great deal of progress in just the last 5 years, right?
Finally, I, along with the ARZone team, interviewed Matthew Ball in 2011. Then, he suggested that they regretted having "vegan" in the Vegan Outreach title. Doesn't bring in the donations, apparently. Ball was asked: "Matt, if you had to do it all over again, would you still call it Vegan Outreach?" to which he replied: "Good question. We actually had a serious question about this about six years ago. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t change the name. But I know having "vegan" in our name hurts us in different ways, most clearly on fundraising."
Repeat after me: BEWARE OF CAREERISTS! and VEGAN EDUCATION HAS JUST BEGUN!!
A kind stallholder at the Bloom in the Park festival, held in Phoenix Park, Dublin, (1-5th June 2017) suggested that some non-graphic vegan education materials would be good to offer - and so she invited us to distribute them at the festival.
We were blooming kicked out after about two hours.
I didn’t have a great feeling about the place as we walking in. Burger bars, left and right, then, near to where we were situated, there was an area in which several sheep were huddled into a corner of a pen, another pen in which were two pigs, and another containing two dairy cows (see photos below). The signage on the cow pen was all about the amount of milk that the cows “give” (that is, “taken from them”) and, of course, no sign of their calves, or notice or reference to what happened to them.
Worst still, amidst sausage stalls – and about 50 metres from where the pigs were imprisoned – there was a large “hog roast” stand advertising some speciesist treats such as “suckling pig wraps.” Think about that. Live pigs, and only a few metres away the stinking smell of pigs on spits: burning pig flesh in the nostrils of live ones.
Anyway, we set up. Literature, vegan-friendly cheese samples, a few badges, and animal sanctuary t-shirts. Stall holders help each other out of course, and our first visitor was someone looking for thumb tacks. Turns out she needed them to put up posters advertising the sheep shearing that her husband was about to launch into. Great!
Then it got a little better. The cheese samples were popular, and a vegetarian came up keen to try the Violife cheese. She liked it. She said that she consumes soya milks rather than calf food but said that she struggles with cheese. We told her the story about casomorphins and that seemed to resonate with her. She also said that her husband wasn’t keen that the soya milk curdled in coffee, which they drink far more than tea. We told her that Alpro single cream will not curdle in coffee.
A few kids tried the cheese samples, but then trouble arrived in the shape of a dairy farmer. Oh, we’re lovely to the cows we repeatedly make pregnant, separate from their babies, and then wizz off to a house of slaughter when they are “spent,” she smilingly informed us.
The farmers of other animals tend to get irritated and often fairly infuriated when they learn from long-term vegan activist Declan that he was born on a farm and he knows the score, including knowing that more than 60% of their income comes from cash-rich subsidies. The Irish have a cute phrase for that: the farmer’s dole.
Animal farmers love nothing more than to suggest that know-nothing vegans cannot criticise them because they don’t really know what goes on. Declan does!
Debate moved to whether they feed nuts to the “grass fed beef,” and whether they use artificial insemination. I said that, from a rights view, say, that of rights-based philosopher Tom Regan, we would ask what right we have to use other animals in the dairy industry. This rights-based question, as ever, was answered with welfare – we “care” for those we exploit.
Turns out this dairy farmer was a big fan of MGOs – the only way to “feed the world,” she said. I said veganism would do that, as well as returning land to free-living beings. She wanted to know if vegans would eat grains that dairy farmers grew. We were a bit stumped about the relevance of that.
She clearly wasn’t happy when she left us and, hey, 15 minutes later, three or four heavies turned up telling us, in effect, that vegan education wasn’t welcome in their speciesist event. We can’t be having all that talk about peace and justice. They said that we were blocking a walk-through area. This was untrue – and they had not objected to a yoga session in the same place which took up more space.
The writing was on the wall. When they said we could not sell anything like badges,* and t-shirts, we briefly explored whether they would be happy with just literature being offered. They looked at it – and they were not.
* while they were declaring that we couldn’t sell, a man gleefully bought a couple of badges from us and said a few things decency will not permit being repeated here!!
Matt Ball, co-founder of Vegan Outreach, has produced a video (see below) attacking vegans.
Ball declares that, “Everyone has met a vegan who has been rude to them or who has been outrageous or just angry or yelling at them.”
Ball illustrates that by showing DxE actions in supermarket and café settings. In the supermarket, an activist makes a statement about the dairy industry. A true statement about the dairy industry. I will say that I do think there’s a big difference between DxE-type actions in supermarkets rather than in cafes or restaurants. The latter locations are bound to upset people – in my experience, that tends not to happen in supermarkets.
So, which accusation Ball pitches at vegans applies here? I'm using the supermarket example, because it's the only one with sound. Was this a “rude” action? Was it outrageous? Well, it might be thought that in the sense that one aspect of DxE I like is the spirit of Herbert Marcuse’s Great Refusal that they often embody. But, in what other sense is an action inside a supermarket (as distinct from, say, a café or restaurant) something that’s “outrageous” and how? Are these DxE activists “angry” – how knows? Are they yelling? Well, the woman is making her statement in a loud voice. But are they “yelling at them,” meaning the public. No, I don’t think this action, the equivalent of street theatre, can be characterised as that.
Of course, Ball is playing up to the “crazy vegan” stereotype much loved by Tobias Leenaert and Sebastian Joy. I invite Mr. Matt Ball to come to Dublin, Thursday to Saturday, to see how Vegan Education on the Go (VEGO), and the VIP (Vegan Information Project) interact with people. He’ll see calm, rational, discussion. If anything, the shouting comes from members of the public who pass by and don’t engage. One recent shouted comment, “I like meat!” and another: “God gave us teeth.” The people who come up to us are vegan curious. They talk to us. Guess what: we talk back.
I’ll also bet my bottom dollar that Ball didn’t see much, if any, of Leenaert's ideological “crazy vegan” stereotype when he observed vegans handing out Vegan Outreach literature. Better not mention Vegan Outreach too much though. Ball implies that he regrets ever using that obscene, horrible, word “vegan” in the group’s title. Not good, money-wise, for one. We all knew Vegan Outreach had hit the buffers when co-founder Jack Norris got married to a PeTA activist at a KFC restaurant, celebrating with KFC’s vegetarian sandwiches.
Bizarrely, Ball then seems to care that the rude and outrageous “celebrity chef” Anthony Bourbain regards vegans as terrorists. Are we supposed to care anything about what this person thinks of vegans?
Are we somehow to shape our message to cater for a person like this? [This is from that great font of knowledge, Wikipedia, so may not be totally accurate]…
If I saw vegans being rude and angry towards this sexist, violent, horrible man, I think I’d pretty much understand to be honest.
Ball then goes on to make some reasonable sociological points. People, by and large, don’t want to be purposely harmful towards other animals. They are simply following social convention, obeying their culture, consuming what’s cheap and convenient. He then says that he wants a new approach than just talking to the public about veganism.
Wait. What’s being said here? That a vegan position cannot understand these sociological facts and take them into account? Most vegans I know are fully aware that they are dealing with people who are thoroughly socialised into a deeply speciesist culture. However, to imply that this somehow rules out effective vegan advocacy is nonsense.
The speciesist disconnect in this reducetarian approach is underlined next. Ball says that his strategy is to get people to stop eating chickens and apparently move to cows (described as "beef") and pigs as a step in the right direction. Now, how does he put this: “No matter what they eat instead…” Yes, I think he means, no matter WHO they eat instead. Naughty.
Next, Ball cites some data from Faunalytics’ “Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans.” First, we should always be wary of research that conflates the vegetarian diet and the philosophy of veganism. These are two very different things. See Casey Taft on research used in the animal advocacy movement.
Ball picks out ONE statistic from the Faunalytics summary only. The one reading: “85% of vegetarians/vegans abandon their diet.”
Yes, well, now we are getting somewhere. The emphasis on diet is important. If people are not eating other animal products - or modifying who they choose to exploit, as in vegetarianism - for dietary reasons, then we might expect this fall off. Ethical vegans are more likely to remain vegans – see HERE.
What Ball chooses not to highlight from the summary are important parts of this issue. For example…
The summary also notes how isolated former vegetarians and vegans were: “84% of former vegetarians/vegans said they were not actively involved in a vegetarian/vegan group or organisation.” 63% emphasised the important of isolation by saying that their diet made them “stick out from the crowd.” Yeah, more sociology – human mammals are social animals.
Given the complexity that just this summary raises, it is revealing that Ball chooses to point only to the numbers who stop being vegetarian, or vegan. We don’t know the numbers in each group – and there’s no mention of ethics. Tobias Leenaert applied this distortion recently too – see HERE.
A fundamental mistake in Ball’s position is next up. We’re pushing people to eat what we eat, he says. You know, it says at the beginning of this video that Matt Ball is an “animal rights advocate” into “animal welfare.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t taken much animal rights theory in it seems (and more on “animal rights below). If Ball knew anything about animal rights thinking, then he’d know that the plant diet follows the philosophy, just as the vegan diet follows understanding the ideas within vegan philosophy, such as peace, justice, and non-violence.
Like a lot of reducetarians, Ball has gone for this line that we are only really talking about altering eating patterns, at least at first. Well, it’s a little more than that. If we are to shift a culture, we are talking about altering thinking patterns. We need people to think like vegans, not just to eat like them. It’s the people who are eating a vegan’s diet only that are returning to animal products.
Any more terrible mistakes to come? Oh, yes – here’s the biggy.
Ball is arguing that vegans are not making much progress after “decades of advocacy.” First, there hasn’t been decades of vegan advocacy anywhere in the world – see what Ronnie Lee, vegan activist since 1971, says about that HERE.
The examples of “advocacy” Ball cites are Peter Singer and PeTA. Yes, Peter Singer and PeTA! Ball says Singer’s Animal Liberation came out in the 1970s, and PeTA was founded in 1980, apparently showing by this that people have been “at this” for decades.
I suggested above that this was a mistake. Actually, I think that this part of the video is pure ideological distortion, and I’m sure that Ball knows it. One clue that he knows it is that he stops talking about veganism in relation to these “decades of advocacy” and talks about the numbers of vegetarians only. This is wise – even though all this is pulling the rug out from under the feet of his argument.
So, Animal Liberation came out in the 1970s. Sure, the book in which philosopher Peter Singer writes
Not veganism then. So, we are left with PeTA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Oh boy, what a wonderful organisation to pin our vegan social justice hopes on. A sexist, racist, ableist, fat shaming, organisation is not making progress. I’m shocked!
On animal rights, just for the record. Peter Singer is philosophically opposed to animal rights, and PeTA sell Peter Singer as animal rights, even though they know he does not stand for animal rights. You really couldn’t make this movement up, could you? Who would believe it? The rights-based pioneer philosopher and abolitionist, Tom Regan, was shamefully marginalised by the movement that calls itself the “animal rights” movement.
The last part of Ball’s video I can tolerate – except to the extent that this non-vegan part will be pushed towards vegans to suggest to them that the best way to advocate for veganism is have a reduced view of veganism, reject the radical philosophy of veganism, and be sloppy about one’s dietary choices.
If Matt Ball wants to abandon vegan advocacy, fine. However, there is NO reason for vegans to take any notice of this reducetarian position - or alter their own vegan advocacy to the public. Vegan advocacy that has JUST BEGUN remember. Historically, we are at the very beginning of a movement that puts veganism centre stage – and these people want us to put the brakes on to further their reducetarian careers.
Content warning: extremely speciesist language by the "vegan" "strategist" who regards other animals as ingredients.
The anti-vegan strategist, Tobias Leenaert, recorded a recent podcast with a fan of his, Michael Dello-lacovo. These are some of my thoughts about it and related issues.
Dello-lacovo has recently attended the "reducetarian summit" and written a review of The Reducetarian Solution, a book edited my Brian Kateman, who likes to mock vegans and veganism, much like Leenaert does. Indeed, Kateman makes the extraordinary claim that he's a carnivore. Kateman needs to consult Dr. Milton Mills. Leenaert spoke at the reducetarian summit as a representative of his latest gravy train, "Pro-Veg."
Tobias Leenaert is extremely poor and gets quite panicky when questioned about his position - see HERE, and gets utterly floored if someone makes an animal rights point - see HERE. This happened again in the recent podcast, even though the questioning could not have been more supportive and gentle.
Michael Dello-lacovo had said in a previous podcast about reducetarianism that he had some misgivings that the reducetarian approach may encourage people to just switch from one animal product to another and, depending on the circumstances ("red meat" to eating chickens, or hens' eggs, for example), that may increase animal suffering.
Dello-lacovo brought this up with Leenaert. This is just part of Leenaert's blundering answer (and this is where the content warning above applies).
This response raises some big questions. For example, what is Leenaert's time frame here? Well, we do know the answer to that - it's very LONG. He's on record talking about slowness; that he's in favour "of taking this thing very gradually." This should not be a shock. Leenaert is a careerist in it for the long haul. He makes his living from the continued use of other animals, and it doesn't look like he's going to put himself out of a job anytime soon.
Notice, in the response above, that he talks about "the second phase." This raises all sorts of bizarre issues about Leenaert and his approach(es). He uses a two phase model. Phase one is now - a pre-vegan phase in which it is best to minimise the use of words like "vegan," "animal rights," and "speciesism." He doesn't know how many years, decades, centuries, phase one will last - he just thinks that phase one is the time when animal advocates should ease up big time on the whole "be vegan" routine. People just ain't ready for that sort of radicalism, and to hell with Donald Watson's idea of deliberately using the word to "ripen" people to what it means.
This begs a huge question. If phase one isn't the time to talk about veganism, and phase one is now, and phase one is likely to last a long time yet, why call yourself The Vegan Strategist? Wouldn't that be the absolutely wrong and silly name to adopt in these endless pre-vegan times? Surely The Reducetarian Strategist, or The Vegetarian Strategist would be better (as well as more accurate)?
Of course, Leenaert would say that his end game is veganism. Is it? I'm not so sure. For example, he argues that he wants veganism to be redefined as being "about food" only - and even then it should allow for flexibility and exceptions. He has a whole bunch of reasons - and a whole host of times - when he tells vegans that they should willingly eat other animals. An eat other animals for veganism position!
In the podcast, Leenaert declares
So, even though he's more likely to say that there are some times when it may be appropriate to talk about veganism, he means his "veganism" that is not veganism. A new animal-eating veganism - because vegans eating other animals is "effective" and "strategic."
Well, there's another term for all that too: NOT VEGAN.
The current definition of veganism is too big and too radical for Leenaert. This is deeply ironic to me, given the numbers of present-day vegans who seem determined to betray the originators of their own vegan social movement and slim down the meaning of veganism, much as Leenaert wants to do. Careful of the company you keep I say.
He's a bit sneaky in this podcast. He knows redefining veganism is pretty controversial, so he suggests that the bar should be lowered from 100% veganism to 99%. Anyone who has seen his presentations knows that he wants to lower the bar much lower than that!
You may or may not be surprised to learn that Tobias Leenaert is utterly baffled when animal advocates want to tell the truth - especially about their vegan aspirations. In contrast, he says that his approach is based on "adaptiveness."
Leenaert says adaptiveness means not being "dogmatic."
Leenaert, very much like Melanie Joy on this, is really only at ease mentioning veganism if he knows that the audience is full of vegans, at "animal rights conferences," for example.
Dello-lacovo is a consequentialist like Leenaert, so he's interested in adaptiveness and comes back to the concept. He asks Leenaert for examples. Oh, no! Those bloody difficult questions again, I thought you were a fan! Leenaert's first example doesn't even attempt to answer the question, or make much sense.
Yeah, couldn't do something like the amazing Go Vegan World campaign - grassroots led from an animal sanctuary in Ireland - that gives a clear vegan message always. It's getting to the stage, isn't it, when one wonders when Leenaert thinks the public can ever hear the word vegan without fainting.
This is the second example of adaptiveness.
He says there's no point in talking to a Minister of the Environment about animal rights. Yeah, well there's not much point in talking to any politician about animal rights (by which I mean rights-based animal rights) until the culture shifts away from how deeply speciesist it is now.
Of course, with talk of politicians, we know just how "adaptive" Leenaert can be - bendy over backwards even. Leenaert was once told by a politician waiving money in his face that vegans are "crazies." Did palms up - eyes down Leenaert challenge that? NO, of course he didn't. He "adapted" to it - he used the slur to construct the myth of the "crazy vegan," and spread it around along with his colleague, Sebastian Joy (they are both founders of the latest Pro-Veg gravy train).
In case you are wondering - but I doubt that you are by now - "crazy vegans" are consistent vegan who, according to Leenaert and Joy, scream and shout in people's faces while frantically waiving their arms about in the street.
Leenaert likes to claim that vegans owe reducetarians a very big dept. He claims that the "vegan market" is driven by reducetarians – that the number of vegan choices available is down to reducetarians, and not vegans themselves. Maybe in the future, it will be vegans who drive the market but – for now – it is the reducers, he claims.
All vegan restaurants and all “vegan producers,” he states, are primarily catering for reducers and flexitarians. There is not a large enough vegan market, or as he tellingly puts it: “they could not live off the vegans alone.”
I'm not sure if I care whether this is true of not, although I certainly know that the pioneering vegan companies like Plamil had vegans in mind when they started producing, for example, plant milks.
This raises another problem for Leenaert. He seems to think that there needs to be a reducetarian movement in order for people to reduce. Ironically, Dello-lacovo says in his previous podcast about reducetarianism, mentioned above, that he generally disagrees with virtually everything Gary Francione says, yet acknowledges that Francione's position accepts and expects people to reduce. Francione expresses this sentiment as the "Vegan 1-2-3" sometimes, and it's part of the modern idea of not saying "go vegetarian first," but be as vegan as possible. In this blog entry, I write.
Dello-lacovo is much more fair minded, nuanced, thoughtful and, frankly, smarter than Leenaert. He makes the following important point about how abolitionist incrementalism may be more effective than reducetarianism.
Dello-lacovo says, for example, that first getting people to commit to one vegan meal means that, whenever that is, they are focused on veganism - they are thinking about veganism and what veganism means, not on the fact that, for now, they are merely "reducing." This is an excellent point because it gets people much more quickly - immediately - to where Leenaert claims he wants them to be (however many centuries it takes), which is thinking about animal ethics and justice.
There's one point in the podcast that I thought I would strongly agree with Leenaert. Didn't turn out that way though. Leenaert suggests that, in addition to a "go vegan for the animals movement," a "reduce for any reason"... ask is needed.
There was a pause before the word "ask," and, for a second I thought Leenaert was going to say "movement." If he had, I would have been more happy and I'd suggest straight away that Leenaert does not join (or remain in) the "go vegan for the animals movement" (because he doesn't fit in) and join the reducetarian movement. He should leave the vegans alone.
I'm drawn back to the oddity that "The Vegan Strategist" - really the anti-vegan strategist - is constantly talking to vegans. Why? Why try to get vegans to stand for positions they don't believe in? Why not get non-vegans to do the non-vegan work? Especially when he says this is a pre-vegan phase in the first place.
Are we once again back to money? The majority of conferences around the world are those run by and attended by vegans. How many vegetarian conferences are there nowadays? One annual reducetarian one? Now, that ain't enough, is it?
LEENAERT: LEAVE THE VEGANS ALONE.
The News Quiz on the beeb beeb ceeb has long been one of my favourite programmes, certainly since The Goons stopped putting out new material on the grounds of death.
The NQ team talked about veganism in April 2017.
Dr. Roger Yates is a rights advocate and sociologist