In 2015, Melanie Joy wrote an article on "shaming" on foot of her soon-to-be-husband being criticised for promoting at an animal rights conference products made mainly from eggs, among other things. It came to my attention recently (2020) that Joy is till banging the shaming drum in talks and writings about "toxic communication." I believe that poor communication is a real issue in the vegan movement, however, I thought I'd reproduce this 2015 article that I wrote for Vegfest Express to provide some context to some of the things that Joy complains about. The bottom line is this...
Criticising and “Shaming” are Not the Same Thing
Melanie Joy is best known in the animal advocacy movement for developing a concept that describes a sub-ideology of speciesism called “carnism.”
She recently wrote a blog entry about “vegans shaming other vegans.” She was angered that a small non-violent protest occurred at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg, where she was speaking along with colleagues Sebastian Zösch [now Sebastian Joy], the managing director of the German Vegetarian Association (VEBU), and Tobias Leenaert, founder of a government-funded vegetarian organisation in Belgium.
Two activists disrupted Zösch’s talk.
One held up a banner reading: “Animal Rights NOT Animal Profit. VEBU: Effectively Wasting Veganism,” while another made an announcement about what many vegan advocates seem to think are problematic elements of VEBU’s activities. From what I can gather, the protest was entirely non-violent, although one source suggested that the body of a chicken had been thrown during the protest.
The activist’s main complaint seems to be that Zösch’s organisation is working with those they describe as the “worst animal exploiters.” I was subsequently sent this picture of a VEBU approved product which is 71% made from hens’ eggs.
Melanie Joy claims that this action amounted to “vegans shaming vegans” and called for the establishment of a “shame free culture.” She recognises something that is reflected in social movement theory: that discussion is important in social movements but urges that, “we approach our disagreements with curiosity and compassion.”
This all seems fairly reasonable – but I fear that Dr. Joy is confusing “shaming” with criticising and protesting. This action appeared to “fit” into the long tradition of non-violent direct action and, let’s not forget, it took place at the International Animal Rights Conference which is overwhelmingly vegan in orientation and is attended in the main by animal activists from all over Europe and beyond.
Rather than even being surprised by this protest and its alleged “shaming” content, perhaps the question is more fundamental: how appropriate is it that vegetarian organisations present at animal rights events?
Melanie Joy, Mr. Zösch, and Mr. Leenaert are leading figures in an ongoing backlash against consistent veganism, criticising the concept of veganism being the “moral baseline” of the movement, trying to reduce the philosophy of veganism to a diet and, in the case of Zösch and Leenaert, being involved in a crude social construction of consistent vegan advocacy as the product of robotic people who may be mentally ill.
Given this context of the current backlash against the philosophy of veganism, perhaps the non-violent protest at Luxembourg was to be expected and, moreover, who is shaming who?