Mr. Leenaert also believes that animal advocates – and perhaps all social movement participants - should work on their communication skills. For those seeking widespread cultural change in the absence of immediate revolution, these are wise words.
So not everything Mr. Tobias Leenaert says is dreadful.
Where it all goes rather pear-shaped is when he seeks to attack and undermine the philosophy of veganism, in the name of his version of flexi-veganism. One way he does this is to insist that to talk about veganism in other terms than it being “about food” is a mistake which will backfire on advocates attempting to “ripen up” the public to the original justice-for-all vision and scope of the philosophy.
Because of his habit of seeking to attack and undermine the philosophy of veganism, it is fair to say that Mr. Leenaert and I do not get on very much.
I particularly object to him encouraging people to think about veganism in a shallow, impoverished, way; and the fact that he’ll actively suggest to vegans that they should consume animal produce in some circumstances. Only a few weeks ago in the ARZone Facebook group, he was busy telling a vegan that eating bits of other animals was an acceptable thing to do.
However, this one-on-one “advice” is rare – usually, Mr. Leenaert constructs what’s become an increasing bizarre set of hypothetical situations which encourage the conclusion that the “best” course of action is for vegans to consume food items that come from other animals who have had their rights violated. These hypotheticals are delivered to audiences in conference talks, speeches, and “workshops” that appear to be largely attended by young and possibly impressionable animal advocates.
Essentially, his position amounts to this: animal rights violations now for a better future.
Before we discuss some of these hypotheticals in details, one general point should be made. They all seem to be constructed in such a way that vegans are inevitably caught on the horns of a moral dilemma that suggests to them that the safest course of action is to deliberately eat products made from the exploitation of other animals. They are carefully formulated in order for Mr. Leenaert to suggest that vegans should participate in processes that violate the rights of other animals.
There is little to no suggestion that they are drawn up in order to help vegans explore solutions to the prospect of “having” to eat animal produce. The hypotheticals presented by Mr. Leenart are not designed to allow vegans off the hook but to firmly impale them on it. He apparently wants to devise situations where vegans feel justified in eating other animals themselves, or sanctioning the eating of animal produce in others. They are designed in such a way that the vegan feels virtually compelled to go against their own values and beliefs.
One example involves a being Mr. Leenaert calls “this rabbit.” The situation is constructed thus: a “normal omnivore” declares that they are willing to consider becoming a dietary vegan but there is a problem. A relative whom she does not want to hurt consumes a dish made with rabbit flesh once (or twice) a year. Mr. Leenaert proceeds with the moral hook by telling vegans that they must not express criticism of this – but also that they must be willing to label this “once-or-twice-a-year rabbit eating” veganism.
Moreover, if the violation of “this rabbit’s” rights is not sanctioned by the vegans and called veganism, then the whole deal is off – the omnivore, if not entirely satisfied, will do absolutely nothing for other animals from that moment on. Whatever has gone through this person’s mind in order that they contemplate the adoption of a largely plant-based diet is simply thrown out of the window if vegans refuse to say that infrequent rabbit eating is compatible with dietary veganism.
Then there’s another twice-a-year scenario. Vegan audiences are asked whether it may be possible that veganism (meaning, let’s not forget, only the adoption of a plant-based diet) would be more “attractive” if it “allowed” for the consumption of “non-vegan stuff” a couple of times every year. Actually, the twice-a-year figure was picked out of the air, so that number could be greater. Of course, the phrase “non-vegan stuff” rather hides the fact that the discussion is about consuming material gained from the violation of the rights of other animals. It is a consistent theme in a Tobias Leenaert presentation that the current, on-going, violation of animals’ rights are downplayed, dismissed, and generally made pretty-much invisible.
Things move further into the bizarre – and the totally unlikely of course – in a further hypothetical involving a rich person who’s apparently as keen as mustard to see vegans eating other animals. There are two set-ups here. In general terms, vegan animal advocates are asked if they would eat a “steak” if given €10,000 and, more precisely – not to mention remarkably more odd, would a vegan in a restaurant finish a half-eaten “steak” for a large amount of money after the original eater of the flesh feels unwell and departs the scene?
We may be hoping that these scenarios are to explore the weird psychology of the rich person who seems to get a perverse kick out of asking vegans to violate their own philosophical principles, but no – it’s just the hook Mr. Leenaert constructs for the vegans in his audiences. Moreover, the hypothetical is not designed to explore how the vegan might deprive the strange rich person of her money while slipping the flesh to a hungry dog she noticed outside the eatery on her way in. Maybe the hypothetical is designed to alert people to the fact that there may be something rather dangerous about the cooked flesh in question, thereby warranting the calling of health inspectors and not, after all, giving it to the dog?
Alas, no, this hypothetical is designed for one reason and one reason alone. Mr. Leenaert apparently likes to place vegans in contrived made-up scenarios where the most judicial course of action seems to be “eat the flesh.”
Finally, and as if to prove that these scenarios are drawn for the singular purpose of placing vegans in a bad place and nothing more, there’s the lasagne example. This particular scenario was discussed at length when Mr. Leenaert and I took part in a recent debate about our respective positions organised by ARZone. The sociologist in me was intrigued by this one. We are to imagine that non-vegan friends invite a vegan to dinner for the first time. Indeed, they are novices at making plant-based food but they generously go out of their way to get plant-based versions of necessary ingredients.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, a mistake is made and the lasagne dough bought and cooked is found to have hens’ eggs in it. What does the vegan do? Once again, in Mr. Leenaert’s presentations, the idea is not to get the audience to explore ways of minimising the problem caused if this scenario was real – or to take steps to prevent it happening. The hypothetical “wants” the vegan to be faced with eating hens’ eggs or face upsetting their friends who, apparently, no doubt about it, would be terribly upset and, moreover, put off veganism for life.
A short digression is in order here. Mr. Leenaert founded a vegetarian organisation called Ethical Vegetarian Alternatives which receives €165,000 every year from politicians who, Leenaert claims, believe that vegans, as a general matter, are “crazies.” In addition, in some presentations, Mr. Leenaert introduces his audiences to the “crazy vegan,” a person he mimics exaggeratedly scrutinising labels on jars, aggressively and loudly telling waiting staff that they don’t want a list of items in their food, and shouting in the street while wildly waiving arms in the air.
Personally, I don’t know vegans like this, although I imagine there may be a number of them somewhere. However, the point is, Mr. Leenaert seems to neither like nor trust vegans, especially those who try to be consistent in their vegan principles. Leenaert tells his audiences that, “consistency is overrated.”
Because Mr. Leenaert neither likes nor trusts vegans, he thinks it extremely unlike that all but a few (perhaps only one) has the grace and social skills to negotiate their way through the lasagne hypothetical. Vegan audiences are not, for example, asked to give examples of how they would diplomatically approach this dilemma, or tell others how they’ve been in this very scenario and found an elegant solution. These things are, apparently, way beyond the “crazy” vegan.
However, in contrast to the rather socially inept beings Mr. Leenaert thinks vegans are, isn’t it likely, knowing full well that many lasagne doughs do indeed contain hen’s eggs, that the invited vegan might contact their friend ahead of time to mention this fact, and perhaps offer the names of lasagne brands that are egg-free? Of course, this is all a little “Captain Kirk,” getting out of a no-win situation by altering the rules of the game.*
However, the point I raised in the debate was that vegans, like most people, are skilled social animals, and they could well “head off” the lasagne problem, not least because it’s not hard to imagine that one’s friends could easily be caught out when buying the lasagne dough. In a very real sense, friends would simply be helping friends out. Of course, Leenaert would have none of it and came up with reasons why the scenario must be as he presents it: that is, the vegan is stuck with no other prospect than eating the product made with hens’ eggs or risking upsetting and offending their host(s).
One is left wondering why an animal advocate would go to such efforts to continually place vegans in such moral binds. He says it’s to critique the idea of “purity” in the vegan community, to combat “The Vegan Police,” and so on.
Personally, I think Mr. Leenaert is a vegetarian who has not quite managed to be comfortable with the dietary aspect of veganism (and, once again, he rejects all others aspects out of hand in the first instance), so he devises a version of “vegan” that includes the consumption of animal produce. He has a list of “exceptions” he either makes himself or advocates for himself and others, while seeking to convince his audiences that “flexible” veganism is actually the best (and fastest) way to bring about a (dietary) vegan world.
At a time when veganism is still not generally accepted as the moral baseline of the animal rights movement (another concept Leenaert rejects), we are ill-advised to move away from explaining the case for vegan animal rights (ripening people to the philosophy). This is certainly the case for active vegans. I challenge anyone to say that there is something more important in campaigning than to increase the numbers of ethical vegans (vegans) in society.
Vegans should ignore Tobias Leenaert. Let the more numerous vegetarians take part in and support his vegetarian, “meat” reduction, veggie-day, campaigning. There is absolutely no need for vegans to become involved.