- It’s also important to recognize, I think, that most of the folks who move from eating a typical diet to a vegan one do so in 2 basic stages – first, they move to vegetarianism, which is actually doable to them, and it’s typically quite a public event. Veganism is almost inconceivable to the typical omnivore. Then, from vegetarianism, the move to veganism is more private. As activists and educators, it’s helpful to be aware of this so we can plant seeds effectively.
Writing in the Vegan Society’s magazine (The Vegan, Spring 2010), law professor Gary Francione suggests that Will Tuttle’s standard approach to this issue is flawed, stating
I would like to suggest that the conventional wisdom on this matter is wrong and that we should educate everyone, including and particularly omnivores, about veganism and shouldnever promote vegetarianism as morally preferable to being an omnivore.
Francione describes an exchange he claims he had on a live chat programme, which goes as follows
“Do you agree with the notion that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering or death on animals?”
“Yes, of course.”
“We could have an interesting discussion about the fine points of “necessity,” but would you agree that it is wrong to inflict suffering and death on animals for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience?”
“No brainer. Sure. I really objected when it was revealed that [American football player] Michael Vick was involved with fighting dogs. I think it’s barbaric to do that.”
“It’s obvious. It’s wrong to make animals suffer and die for our amusement.”
“Do you eat meat or cheese or drink milk?”
“Yes, I do not eat much beef because I know it’s bad for you but I eat pork, chicken, and fish. And I love cheese and ice cream.”
“What is the difference between what you’re doing and what Michael Vick did?”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“Well, Michael Vick imposed suffering and death on animals because he enjoyed the results. Those of us who eat meat and dairy impose suffering and death on animals because we enjoy the results. We just pay someone else to do the dirty work.”
“But surely there’s a difference.”
“What is that difference? You don’t need to eat animal products. Indeed, many mainstream health care professionals agree that animal products are detrimental to human health. And animal agriculture is unquestionably an ecological nightmare. The best justification that we have for inflicting pain, suffering, and death on more than 56 billion animals annually, not counting fish, is that they taste good.”
“I never thought of it like that.”
Francione adds that he and the same person had a follow-up conversation and, “Three days later, the person involved in this exchange wrote to tell me that she had decided to become vegan.”
So, instead of the flawed “conventional wisdom” of vegetarianism first, Francione recommends his “Vegan 1-2-3 Plan,” which introduces a three-stage move toward veganism: “The person goes vegan for breakfast for some period of time (a few weeks, a month). She sees how easy it is and how delicious and satisfying a vegan breakfast is. She then goes vegan for lunch for some period of time, and then for dinner, and then she’s vegan.”
This whole subject seems to bear some similarity to an issue raised during Dr. Mary Martin’s (orAnimal Person’s) guest interview on ARZone, when she addressed the issue of language, and particularly Joan Dunayer’s recommended language style. Martin effectively says that people can be alienated from arguments for animal rights if they are couched in difficult and unusual language. She argues that the use of words such as “flesh” and “aquaprison” (Dunayer’s suggested alternative for “fish tank”) have only limited use, suggesting that
People have only so much tolerance for descriptive language that they’re not accustomed to. It’s offensive to them and they become defensive and then the conversation’s over.
I mentioned in a comment on the Will Tuttle transcript on ARZone that I subscribe to Donald Watson’s suggestion (writing in the first edition of The Vegan News, 1944) that people need to be “ripened up” to new ideas. This seems to me to mean that new forms of language may need to be employed to challenge dominant linguistic forms, and that we need to directly speak to people about what we actually stand for – ethical veganism.
It seems that Gary Francione is right to suggest that we should not be seen to promote vegetarianism, or suggest that vegetarianism amounts to an adequate way to discharge our moral obligations to other animals. However, that does not mean that we need to simply ignore what is typically the case in terms of how people respond to claims-making in the animal advocacy movement. In other words, even if it is the case that people move to vegetarianism before veganism, it does not mean that our veganism-as-the-moral-baseline message needs to change. It simply means that we need to recognise that people respond to messages in a variety of different ways.
In the sociology of the media, for example, concepts of encoding and decoding are used to acknowledge that whatever the values a message is encoded with, the audience(s) of the transmitted message will decode it as they will. Our “job,” as animal advocates, is to encode our messages with our values which place veganism as central - and yet expect that our audience(s) will react in various ways to them. If Will Tuttle is right that many omnivores will find the notion of veganism as “almost inconceivable,” that simply means that we have to redouble our efforts to “ripen” them to the values of veganism while not being condemnatory if they choose vegetarianism first.
Vegans need to be critical of vegetarianism while understanding of vegetarians – and of omnivores who choose to go vegetarian first. The issue that would bother me would be if animal advocates were to suggest that we “tactically” tone down our claims-making for fear of alienating audiences, be it in refusing to use words that challenge dominant social views of others animals, or in backing down from a clear advocacy of veganism.