Worryingly, the answer is yes, according to Steve Best, in this clip from the end of his November 2014 podcast with ARZone. The movement has long tolerated sexism, racism, and ableism - and now this?
Worryingly, the answer is yes, according to Steve Best, in this clip from the end of his November 2014 podcast with ARZone. The movement has long tolerated sexism, racism, and ableism - and now this?
I’ve noticed a new generation of vegans who seem to have, in my view, little grasp of what veganism is, and none of what it meant to the founders of the vegan social movement – the founders of our movement, that which the new generation have recently joined. There are plenty of people who have accepted, apparently without question, Tobias Leenaert’s nonsensical assertion that the vegan movement is “about food,” while the cry of the new activists seems to be that veganism as a movement is far more than that – it’s “for the animals,” and only “for the animals.”
In terms of the history of the vegan social movement, both of these views of veganism are wrong. So, how have these misconceptions about veganism come about?
My thoughts are that (1), the current definition(s) of veganism are weak and lack the depth required to capture what the pioneers of the vegan movement meant by veganism, (2), the movement has been (understandably) involved with making veganism “mainstream” in the last 30 years but with negative consequences, and (3), we often don’t teach, and don’t seem to care about, our own movement’s history.
In relation to the last point in particular, we must be a rare social movement that seems to think that we “can make it up as we go along.” However, we’ve also done that same thing in relation to the meaning of animal rights, so we do have a track record of sloppiness and of business-interests-over-principles.
When people in the movement talk about veganism, they usually cite this 1979 Vegan Society definition (some say that this wording was pretty much in place by 1988), and others, fewer in number, are content to use the awful definitions of veganism one finds in standard dictionaries.
The (first and British) Vegan Society does not have a very good record when it comes to sorting out a good definition of veganism. Its 1979 definition is weak and it does not anywhere near grasp the “full meaning” of veganism.
On a personal note, people like myself who can be called long-time vegans have been at fault here. We let things slide – big time. 1979 was the year I became a vegan. However, I did not join The Vegan Society (TVS) or really see it has having much to do with my movement for animal liberation. I think in those days, I saw TVS as pretty irrelevant to the direct action parts of the movement which I was immediately involved in. Indeed, in the early 1980s, when the numbers of activists going to prison rose, we rather crossed swords with TVS.
Back in those days people had to be a member of the Society in order to get a diet in prison that vegans eat. One literally had to show senior officers your red TVS membership card. We asked TVS if they were prepared to send a membership card out to new prisoners immediately upon their need for one, and we’d sort out actual paid membership later. The last thing animal liberationists needed on their plate (no pun intended) was a fight with prison authorities to get a vegan’s diet.
TVS refused, so we resolved the problem by forging their membership cards. The result was that activists had no need to officially join the organisation. TVS updated their definition in 1979 – the one virtually everyone uses now – and I don’t think there was much of a discussion about it, at least not in my circles.
As I said, from the 1940s, when TVS was formed, getting the definition sorted out didn’t seem to be the most pressing issue – it’s quite likely that just remaining viable as a group of revolutionary mavericks (for that is what they were) was the priority in the early years. A lot of the initial burden of administration and writing fell on the shoulders of Donald Watson, who also was forced to make an early priority of vegan health issues because some of the first members of the Society got sick and virtually everyone told all of them that living, let alone thriving, without consuming animal products was impossible.
It seems that in the very late 1940s and early 1950s, Leslie Cross was among the first to point out the need to clarify just what being vegan meant. A couple of years ago, a video was circulated from some health vegan who claimed that Cross was some sort of “animal rights extremist” who corrupted TVS and forced it in a new radicalised direction. I do not think the evidence suggests that. Indeed, even Donald Watson, the most famous of TVS co-founders, described veganism as “the greatest cause on earth.” He talked about other movements as “lesser movements.”
That may sound rather arrogant but I think he meant that the vegan movement had a wider remit than most others – and the consequences of bringing about a vegan world would have huge benefits to other animals, of course, but also to human beings, and the environment (then called ecological concerns).
The early vegan movement pioneers were also very practical – they had to be. The movement began during “World War Two,” and food and other forms of rationing (clothes, fuel, etc.) did not end until the mid-1950s with some arguing that the effects of war rationing were felt until the 1970s and 80s. The early vegans were, not surprisingly, part of the grow-your-own veg movement and some of the early movement pioneers, such as Eva Batt, were concerned about soil quality.
The ethos and vision of the vegan movement was summed up in 1995 by Kath Clements in Why Vegan: the Ethics of Eating and the Need for Change
This is an echo of what Eva Batt wrote in 1964 in a booklet called Why Veganism?
There are only hints in the 1979 definition of veganism by TVS that give any indication of veganism’s impressive scope and objective expressed by Clements and Batt.
Neither is there much in the 88/79 definition that captures the radicalism of the vegan social movement in the late 40s and early 50s.
For example, in 1951, TVS were clarifying what it means by the term “exploitation,” saying that the Society seeks “to end the use of animals by [humans] for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by [humanity].”
This sort of rhetoric (not regulation of animal treatment but the abolition of animal use) was to resurface in the rights-based writing of Tom Regan who wrote The Case for Animal Rights in 1983. However, this radicalism rarely featured in The Vegan Society’s claims-making of the 1980s.
In 1951, Leslie Cross also talked about “the second broad aspect of the vegan aim” which included, reminding us of Watson’s “greatest cause” claim, the expected “effect upon human evolution.”
Remembering that these vegan movement pioneers had experienced a huge war that had ended only six years previously, it is not surprising that they believed that human violence – including that against other animals – would “return like a boomerang upon humanity's own head.” Thus, Cross argued that, “Until the present relationship between [humans and other animals] is replaced by one of companionship on a relatively equal footing, the pursuit of happiness by [humanity] is foredoomed to a painful and tragic frustration.”
In 1954, Cross again outlined that veganism means liberation for both humans and other animals. He said that a vegan future would have no butchers’ shops, no vivisection labs, no hunting, and people would be drinking vegan milk. Still part of 21st century vegan claims-making, Cross said that, “The countryside will not be heavy with the anguish of cows crying for their calves.”
As ever, though, benefits to humanity were also outlined: “But some of the changes are not so obvious. The benefits to [humanity] of living in a kindlier and more enlightened world can be envisaged only in broadest outline.”
Moreover, in direct agreement with Watson that veganism is the greatest cause on earth, Cross writes in a 1954 edition of The Vegan, that
The “distinctive feature” being spoken of is, of course, that the principles of justice in veganism vaults over the species barrier and declares other animals as rights holders along with human animals. And Cross did write in terms of rights
These are the values of vegans – the recognition that the fate of humanity and other animals are bound together on a fragile planet under attack from within. The vegan movement pioneers knew all too well about being attacked by an outside enemy – but their revolutionary thought looked at injustice at home and abroad. Have we lost the radicalism of our movement’s past?
As noted in this blog entry, via the work of pattrice jones, when we say “the mainstream” we are not saying “the majority of humans.” The word sounds like we are saying that, but we’re not. The majority of humanity is made up of marginalised persons of various types.
Leenaert openly characterises his approach as being about “mainstreamness,” and I think we can all see the attraction of veganism “being mainstream.” However, I’m not sure that this notion has been analysed much, certainly not critically. Veganism becoming “mainsteam,” may simply mean that the idea of veganism is better known, more widespread, and more accepted than it has been in the past.
I think that is true. In my time as a vegan, I’ve seen people finally being about to pronounce the word “vegan” and not think it’s something to do with Star Trek. The huge increase in vegan and vegan-friendly eateries, and vegan’s food and clothing being more easily obtainable in stores, makes veganism more “mainstream.” Some people prefer the term “normalisation,” but I think the meaning is generally the same.
I think the difficulty – the mistake – even the betrayal – of vegan values is when vegan organisations try to align with conventional values thought to reflect what’s called, of course, “mainstream values.”
When radical social movement go for “mainstreamness” in this sense, then they may face a very real danger of losing their core, foundational, values. This process, which is predicted in some social movement theorising, is the process I see happening in the vegan movement.
I hope that the first section has sufficiently demonstrated that the origins of the vegan social movement can be described as pro-intersectional in nature, even with the important caveats that the term had not then been coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, and the story of the origins of the vegan movement discussed here (revolving as it does around the British Vegan Society) is a very white story.
This initial pro-intersectional impulse was carried through into the 1970s and 1980s as I recall them. I often say that we would be busy sabotaging a hunt on a Saturday, maybe a “Club Row” demo, or something similar – and perhaps less legal – on a Sunday, and then we’d find ourselves engaged in Reclaim the Night and Rock Against Racism events in the week.
That was my sense of the recognition of what David Nibert calls the “entanglements of oppression and liberation” in what we “just did” in the 1980s. A lot of us were influenced by punk music too (not so much me, in all honesty, stuck in Bolan mainstreamness!), so this pro-intersectional orientation was fired up in the mid-1970s.
In campaigning terms, we were at the crest of a wave and we were fighting everything: apartheid, patriarchy, speciesism, racism, hierarchy, injustice, and so on. In terms of values, Steve Best is right (in his 2013 Total Liberation talk) that, whatever our politics as individuals, we are expressing left wing values.
Then there was a change, the start of the slide, and we didn’t take much notice, and barely any action against it. The national animal movement became dominated by a group of animal welfare corporations – and huge blame for the mess we are in can be laid at the doors of one organisation: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). In my eyes, this transnational abomination has done terrible damage to the animal movement.
Why – and this is a question raised by the Francione countermovement – did we, from the 1990s onwards, just stand there and passively let PeTA get away with its blatant sexist bullshit? After that was seen to be largely accepted by a complacent movement and a cap-in-hand grassroots, then came the ableism, fat shaming, racism, and ground scraping to shallow celebrity culture. PeTA had moved from a radical innovation to a corporate monster dripping in aggressively marketed mainstream patriarchal capitalist values.
One of their greatest crimes was their role – that continues to this day – in the marginalisation of rights-based animal rights thinking in favour of animal welfarism that is nevertheless called “animal rights.” The corporate movement – and the submissive, docile, grassroots – destroyed Animal Rights as an idea, and as the proper articulation of the position of the “animal rights movement.” The way that this movement treated Tom Regan is nothing less than disgusting and shameful. It will take a lot of work to remove that stain from the animal advocacy movement.
The effect, then, of mainstreamness on a once radical movement, is the moderation of the organisations within it, and the marginalisation of any revolutionary values that, although were the initial drivers of the cause, are now seen as “not sellable,” “too extreme,” “too radical,” “purist” and, in a nutshell, “too consistent” for mainstream consumption.
In the meantime, again as Best argues, the movement becomes a laughing stock among progressive movements that should, at the very least, be locked in an alliance for justice with the vegan animal rights movement. By pandering to mainstream values, and doing everything to bend over backwards to meet the conventions of a mass media, we have alienated those who hold the values we hold – or which we once held.
Things are now so bad and so dangerous that, as Christopher Sebastian said in a recent Livegan podcast, there are prominent (and seemingly popular) white supremacists and Nazis currently in the “vegan” movement, not to mention the recent #TimesUpAR revelations about male entitlement, harassment, and violence in a movement made up mainly of females (see this ARZone podcast with Carol J. Adams for an account of that scandalous situation that should have never arisen).
HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT
By their very nature, social movement move. They evolve and, indeed, move with the times – to not do so would be devastating for them. However, social movements are also grounded in a set of claims and principles, some of which should not bend and should not be diluted or else its original vision may be crushed and lost.
It is clear that I put a lot of emphasis on the values and vision of the founding pioneers of our movement – but I’ve also said that their words are not law, and cannot be thought of in such terms. However, any attempt to alter the principles and values of the vegan movement should – as a bare requirement and also an act of basic manners – acknowledge the principles and values that are under examination.
I don’t see a lot of that in the vegan movement. Indeed, some relative “newbies” have told me, “f*ck the founders,” when I point out what they stood for. That is both ridiculous and juvenile, as if people join a Marxist movement and the first thing they say is, “f*ck Marx!” Actually, some neo-Marxists got close to that after years of reflection, but they were always capable of describing what they thought should be changed and what it was that they were changing.
The new generation of vegans don’t do that – they simply declare what veganism is – it’s “about food,” it’s “only about the [other] animals,” with no acknowledgement that such declarations are totally out of step with the very founders of the vegan social movement in the 1940s – how can anyway be so conceited as to not care about the values of a movement they have just joined?
I argued, here, that the history of the vegan movement reveals that it has an interconnected focus and scope. There appears to be a number of people in the present vegan movement who seem petrified of pro-intersectionality. These people seem not to understand what intersectionality is, or exaggerate what it would do to the animal movement if widely adopted within it. However, by looking at the vegan movement in terms of its focus and scope, that should allay their fears that pro-intersectionality takes away from a concentration on “animal issues.” That is not what pro-intersectionality within the vegan movement would do.
Some may think it rather overblown to say that the vegan movement is in crisis – aren’t we seeing a massive growth in veganism just now? I think the answer to that is yes and no. We are seeing a growth in something that often gets called veganism – but a vegan movement “only about food,” or “only about [other] animals” is not the vegan movement.
There is also the problem that Tom Regan was keen to point out – that it seems to be the case that, yes a lot of people join the animal movement, but a lot leave as well. Some estimate that as many as 80% leave. We should be bothered by that.
I just wonder whether, if people join the vegan movement with a full understanding of its revolutionary reach and ramifications, they may stay – but who are most likely to stay in such a radical movement. People who are radicals – right!
Finally, to remind people what we are all about, again from Tom Regan, this time in a rights-based animal rights context from 1983, remember: “The animal rights movement is a part of, and not opposed to, the human rights movement.”
Noticed how there seems to be some sort of slide away from veganism as the established moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement lately? Maybe corporate profits are down or something? Perhaps it is the remaining importance of single-issues in campaigner’s minds? It is more likely, however, a widespread failure to fully understand the potential of veganism – or even know what it is.
A Recent Phenomenon
I went vegan in the late 1970s. I was very active throughout the 1980s, heavily engaged in a variety of single-issue campaigns. I helped to begin a number of “action groups” against individual laboratories, fur companies, and the fur trade itself. I was the “press officer” for a number of grassroots groups along the way.
I did radio interviews, press interviews, and appeared on TV a few times. I’m sure it will be hard for 21st century animal advocates to appreciate that, in all those campaigning years, I and many other spokespersons, rarely talked about veganism, and we particularly failed to articulate vegan values as our clear and central moral position on human-nonhuman relations.
We would tend to stick to the largely compartmentalised arguments against factory farming, hunting, the fur trade, etc., and generally talk about these forms of animal use in isolation. The word “vegan” would crop up, of course, when some journalist asked us about our “diet” in the main, but it wasn’t often a major feature of our fundamental claims-making. When we were asked about veganism, however, we never “tactically” described ourselves as vegetarians.
Having said that, I don’t remember mentioning veganism in the many, many, press releases I composed in those days. Veganism just wasn’t at the forefront of our single-issue minds – we were busy trying to win the winnable, ban the bannable, and remove the bricks in the wall of “animal cruelty” one by one. We did this as anti-vivisectionists, as anti-hunting activists, as anti-animal circus campaigners, and so on: not, by and large, as vegan animal rights advocates. Sad to say, we were probably instrumental in the shame of reducing veganism to its dietary issues, something that persists today. It does not help when vegans publish books like “Eat Like You Care,” tending to limit the meaning of veganism to food choices and its dietary component. Why not the more accurate and representative Live Like You Care? Concerned people in the movement apparently feel the need to issue warnings and reminders that veganism is far more than a diet virtually on a daily basis. Veganism should never have been so reduced.
As many who read this blog know, I have always credited law professor Gary Francione with being extremely influential in pushing veganism to the centre of animal advocacy in the last 20 years or so. He wasn’t alone, of course and, indeed, would write about himself in terms of being a vegetarian as late as 1996; an indication of just how new the unequivocal vegan baseline position is. Our 1980s claims-making in Britain would have been so much altered had veganism been established as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement much earlier. Most of us were vegans or living on a 100% plant-based diet, but we did not campaign for veganism. Had things been different, we would have at the very least contextualised our single-issue campaigning in the light of an overarching vegan vision of the future which would seek to liberate all sentients and protect the planet. Single-issues would have been “abolitionised,” as they still need to be today – for it does not confuse members of the public to see particular types of animal use presented as part of general vegan critique of use, power relations, and oppression. Many modern-day animal advocates remain stubbornly wedded to single-issues for a variety of reasons, and all in the face of persistent attacks on SICs in recent years. Very many appear not persuaded that SICs are harmful, or a diversion – nevertheless, they will openly talk about veganism nowadays. However, not all animal advocates will…
So, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad “V” Word?
When I say, “established as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement,” I know that veganism has not actually been embraced by all. Many vegan animal advocates still like to “play it safe” by employing the use of terms like vegetarian (even when they apparently mean vegan), or veg, veggie, and veg*n. This is most unfortunate in my view. What irks me most is when vegan advocates are encouraged to “tactically” slide away from veganism on the grounds that vegan is some sort of “scare word.” One such person currently throwing his weight around the vegan scene is a moderate vegetarian activist called Tobias Leenaert who works for - or may have just left - a vegetarian organisation called Ethical Vegetarian Alternative. Leenaert suggests that veganism is a diet - indeed, he says "our movement is about food" - in an attempt to make invisible an expansive vision of vegan philosophy, which he mocks in presentations. The organisation is government funded and Leenaert says that rules out radicalism because politicians think that vegans are "the crazies." He wants to make veganism "flexible" enough to allow vegans to eat "non-vegan stuff." He argues that vegans should not be seen to be "picky" - or read labels on foodstuffs - because this can alienate people from "vegan food." Essentially, this means that vegans should consume animal products for "tactical" reasons.
One cannot help assuming that, often as not, there are “business” reasons for presenting veganism as a scare word. Happily, many grassroots animal advocates do not seem to find that it is – see this podcast on “vegan information booths.” For national groups, on the other hand, especially those with paid staff, they are on the constant lookout for more members and financial supporters and, when they have them, their claims-making is based on what the membership will tolerate - and therefore re-subscribe - while they attempt to address the widest possible audience. Soon questions of, “is this moral,” may take second place in favour of questions such as, “is it good for membership recruitment and retention.”
Many people claim that vegetarianism is a “gateway” to veganism, citing the fact that most current vegans were vegetarians first. On the other hand, social networks are full of reports of regret from people saddened that they did not go vegan as soon as they might; that, somehow, as vegetarians, they were not aware of the realities of dairy and egg production, and had never seen their vegetarianism as a particular form of animal use. Even if we were to accept that vegetarianism is some “gateway” to veganism, there are objections to vegans advocating for vegetarianism. First, no vegan should suggest that using other sentient beings for any reason is morally acceptable, even as a stepping-stone and, second, there are far more vegetarians than vegans in the world (rather begging a question of the “gateway” proposition) so vegans can let them push vegetarianism while they concentrate on their own concerns. Someone has to be promoting vegan philosophy if it is to be found on the other side of a gateway that vegetarians eventually find, or are directed towards.
Some people seem to be currently suggesting that they failed to “go vegan” due to the fact that some existing vegans are not very nice people, and they dislike these people’s campaigning approach or advocacy style. This is a shallow and irrational excuse: why continue to punish other animals by using them on the grounds that some animal advocates are not particularly pleasant? That is hardly the fault of other animals who are used by vegetarians. While it is true that many report that they took 10 or 15 years to finally go vegan, there is absolutely no necessity for a “go vegetarian first” message to be promoted by vegans. Instead, such people can be encouraged to be as vegan as they possibly can begiven their own social circumstances. However, to suggest that they may remain non-vegan for year-upon-year because they have not liked some vegans, or the way some vegans operate, is an incredible weak reason to continue to make other sentient beings suffer and die.
While plant-based products are vegan-friendly, that is not the same as saying that they are vegan. The phrase, “is it vegan?” is misleading when the question concerns an inanimate object like a food product. This phrase should be recognised only as a form of convenient shorthand. Carrots may be vegan-friendly but carrots themselves, of course, are not vegans. Some carrots may not even be vegan-friendly, depending on how they were produced. We may immediately think of the use of animal “manure,” or chemical pesticides, at this point but we should also recognise that the philosophy of veganism would not view anything as vegan-friendly if human producers were harmed in the production process, or if environmental destruction is intrinsic to the item in question. Many people make jokes about how social media is being used by vegans to post picture after picture of the food they are eating, or their new plant-based or animal-free purchases. Glossy vegan publications promote innumerable new vegan goodies: happy smiling white faces promoting the urgency of a buy, buy, buy culture to vegans. This is “vegan porn” according to Steve Best in his Total Liberation talk in Luxemburg in 2013 – see here for Best’s view that animal advocacy is hindered by its narrow vision and thin politics, which leaves us small, weak, and marginalised.
Of course the promotion of vegan goods has campaigning utility: whatever you want, you can get a “vegan” version of it we say. The myth that being 100% plant-based is easy for everyone, everywhere, and all the time, also has campaigning utility despite being totally wrong. However, if we are not to further betray the principles of veganism, we need to move from vegan consumption (VC) to critical veganism (CV). By asking more than, “is that product entirely plant-based,” we soon see how palm oil is problematic, how sugar is – how all cash crops are. Writing this a few days after Easter, I was struck by the number of vegans falling over themselves to promote “vegan chocolates” having seemingly made not the slightest attempt to discover the production structures of different chocolate brands, thus ignoring the fact that much chocolate is dripping with exploitation and rights violations as child slaves are used on many coco plantations. Palm oil is certainly not vegan-friendly in any serious sense of the term. Vegans cannot be friends with a product that causes such devastation. We should not make the shallow mistake of thinking that opposition to palm oil is about orang-utan “persons of the forest” and only about orang-utans. A vegan critique of palm oil is wider than that.
Not Alliance Politics but an All-Embracing Critical Veganism
Veganism is about protecting the rights and interests of all sentient beings. It is a vision of a new world, a non-violent world - or at least a lot less violent world compared to what we have now. Veganism is peace, co-operation, and community. Veganism is respect and responsibility.
We should begin to think about veganism in a new light. Rather than one movement that seeks to forge alliance with others, veganism can be seen as the vision that embraces all struggles for justice, opposes all oppression, and liberates everyone. It is hard to think of any other idea that would liberate more than veganism would.
Bob Torres (Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights), and David Nibert (Animal Rights Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation and Animal Oppression and Human Violence: Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict) (and Steve Best) suggest to us that we cannot get even close to what we want as vegans within the present social and economic structure. A wider, more systemic vision of social change is necessary if we are really serious about bringing about the liberation of all animals, and determined to protect the environment.
This means that encouraging vegans to backslide on veganism now is encouraging us to move in totally the wrong direction. “Tactical” vegetarian advocacy is not going to achieve anything. That thinking is as redundant and as short-sighted as thinking that vegan consumerism in some vegan capitalist mode of production is possible.
This is not the time to turn away from veganism – this is the time to explore its deep intersectional dimensions; its potential to be the revolutionary idea that it really is.
I’ve seen numerous discussions in recent months about the question – “is palm oil vegan?” This raises the issue of what makes anything “vegan.” “Is it vegan?” is a common enough question within the animal rights community.
What, however, is being asked when the question asked is, “is it vegan?” Does it mean that “it” contains no parts derived from other animals? – or does it mean that “it” is a product or something that vegans who recognise veganism as an ethic and not a diet can be happy and content with?
When we ask, “it is vegan?,” are we merely concerned with a list of ingredients, or do we have a much wider remit that is interested in how and in what circumstances were “it” – or the ingredients of “it” – obtained and produced? It seems to me that vegans are interested in that much wider question – we want to know if the item “contains” suffering: we should want to know if rights violations were involved in the making of the item.
Since its inception in 1944, veganism has been seen by many vegans  themselves as a proper and constituent part of radical social movements working towards peace, fairness, social justice, non-violence, anti-discrimination, and so forth.
This means that palm oil is not vegan. Like the famous Irish drink, Guinness, palm oil contains no animal ingredients, that is true, but its current method of production results in suffering and rights violations. Such a product cannot be vegan by definition. A product may be made entirely from plants but that does not make it vegan. Something that arises through the suffering of others, through others having their rights violated, cannot correspond with efforts towards peace, non-violence, and justice. It does not correspond with the thrust of the philosophy of veganism.
The suffering of others includes the suffering of other humans.
Donald Watson is the best-known co-founder of the British Vegan Society and he saw the vegan movement and the peace movement as intertwined. Perhaps as a forerunner to the more developed idea of alliance politics, he suggested that many people will become vegan as part of their “peace aims.” His brother and sister also went vegan and became conscientious objectors in WWII as Watson himself did. When Watson spoke about important social movements, he also seemed to talk about veganism and the cause to end human slavery as interlinked and having similar aims. He believed that the vegan ethic “covered” other social mobilisations, including movements that saved human lives, declaring a “soft spot” for lifeboat and mountain rescue personnel, especially because they are all volunteers.
He suggested that veganism is a humanitarian movement that provides members the opportunity to express the things they “stand for” in life; a radical social movement that may alter humanity for the better, and help to increase the very survival of the planet. He argued, therefore, that we need to take a broad view about what veganism is and about what it means. Vegans must think beyond diet, he said, and realise we are part of “something really big;” that vegans are engaged in a pioneer movement that will aid human evolution and the “moral development” of humankind. Believing that veganism will help to bring about a different sort of human being, he plainly thought that human animals matter. Watson suggested that vegan ethics will bring forth a new “civilisation,” and perhaps forge for the first time in human history a world and a humanity that truly deserves that name.
He said that vegans go beyond “live and let live” and believe in the notion of, “live and help live.” This means, he argued, that veganism includes caring about the exploitation of all sentient life.
While Donald Watson’s BBC News obituary correctly describes a vegan as someone who “eats a plant-based diet free from all animal products including milk, eggs and honey,” and points out that, “Most [sic] vegans wear no leather, wool or silk,” it is clear that Watson saw veganism in much broader terms than this dietary definition, and regarded the vegan philosophy as a means of assisting all animals, nonhuman and human, as well as the biosphere on which they live and depend.
Recent ideas in the animal advocacy movement, that human rights and animal rights are distinct issues; that veganism is some apolitical commodity that can be sold on the high street like cheap fashion items, seem to me not only wrong, they seem dangerous – and they certainly go against the type of thinking of those who formed the vegan movement.
Animal liberation, human rights, one struggle, one fight, is more than a slogan on a t-shirt or placard.
 I think it needs to be noted that some times are more politicised than others and I think in such times, the interlinks between modes of oppression on the one hand, and the intersectionality of struggle(s) on the other, is more evident. The early vegan pioneers seemed to be involved in a number of causes. I remember the 1980s as being far more politicised than the present time (something many academics note - and a few complain about). During those times, the prospects of alliance politics are greater and exist among struggles with values that would seem logically to support one another. Steve Best has suggested that the animal advocacy movement is founded on Left values (broadly defined) - he clearly is dismayed by recent suggestions that human rights and animal rights are two separate entities.
Dr. Roger Yates is a rights advocate and sociologist