The same talk surfaced again in 2015 on video, along with another presentation about being a good “vegan ambassador” (which is due to be regurgitated in Luxembourg in September 2016).
I maintain that these presentations from a government-funded vegetarian organisation amount to little more than a “tactical” plea to vegans that they stop being vegan individuals in dietary terms (or at least be “flexible” [sloppy] about what they consume); to go easy on speaking about veganism – certainly not on TV, if one could afford an advertisement on that medium, or when talking to politicians, who apparently think that vegans are “crazies;” to further shy away from mentioning “animal rights,” and to not talk much about anti-speciesism.
Don’t make a fuss in restaurants, we are told, and don’t act like “crazy vegans” in the street. When Leenaert mimics “being a vegan,” he raises his voice aggressively (talking to a waiter, for example), or frantically waves his arms around acting out the stereotype of the “crazy street vegan.” I don’t know whether he’s ever eaten with vegans in public, or seen many of them interact with the public on the streets, but these crude caricatures seem way off the mark to me. Don’t carefully read labels to see if a product contains bits of other animals, we are further informed – that, apparently, looks bad to the public and may alienate them from the vegan message.
Leenaert proposes that veganism should be seen to be “flexible” enough so that it means eating “non-vegan stuff” a couple of times is fine for vegans. Finally, whatever else one does, don’t bother to check if the wine one intends to drink is “vegan” or not.
Discussion about this strange “non-vegan veganism” has coincided with talk about whether vegans are active or inactive. There’s been a recent radio debate [see the Go Vegan Radio archive] featuring Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere and Gary Francione of The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights on this theme.
Hsiung seems to think that virtually all vegans are passive individuals who would not intervene if they saw someone beating a dog with a stick. They wouldn’t join in with the beating, of course, but that’s just about it - because they are not “activists.”
Going back to the vegetarian organisation, Leenaert says that their entire approach and business plan is geared to "mainstreamness," to moderation, and it’s clear from the video presentations that their funding relies on a wishy-washy stance, hence little if any talk of veganism, animal rights, or anti-speciesism. Indeed, their main campaigning is built around a once-a-week “veggie day” – which they hope will become a twice weekly event at some unspecified time in the future. The babiest of baby steps we might think - but Leenaert is a big fan of slowness and "taking things gradually." At this point, I know for a fact than animal rights advocates will be saying that other animals can't wait around for the animal movement to slowly gain respect for their rights (assuming that's the idea) - they are dying now: their rights are violated today.
It is important to understand that, when Tobias Leenaert talks about other animals, one never gets the feeling that he sees them as rights bearers who's rights are violated by the human use of them; he speaks of other animals as if they are ingredients.
So why is this organisation, whose “call to action” (at least for now) is for people to become what they call “meat reducers,” trying to get vegans on board with their “veggie day” campaign? We all know that there are far more vegetarians than vegans – many more in fact (calling into question that whole “gateway argument, but that’s another matter). Why isn’t the vegetarian group targeting vegetarians for their “meat reducer” promotion?
The only thing I can figure out is that they know, in contradiction to Wayne Hsiung’s point, that it is the vegans who are far more like to be campaigning activists rather than the vegetarians.
My position is fairly straightforward on this, because I think Ethical Vegetarian Alternative have it right, and Direct Action Everywhere has gotten it all wrong – vegans, in great numbers, are activists, especially the grassroots ones.
However, my position is to encourage the smaller number of vegans to campaign for veganism (and see it as much more than a diet). Just as I’m fine with animal welfarists doing animal welfare, I’m kinda OK with vegetarians doing “meat reduction” campaigns. I believe, though, that there is some evidence that many people who adopt the meat-less day campaign may routinely increase their dairy and egg consumption, so the “gain” from a vegan perspective is pretty hard to see. However, I can see how vegetarians will be supportive of these less-than-vegan campaigns.
I say to the vegetarian organisation, go get some of the more numerous vegetarians to help your moderate flesh-free day campaign and please leave the vegans to campaign for veganism. Thank you.