Or at least that’s what Vegan Outreach (VO) and similar vegans think. A “tool to reduce suffering” is a mantra of theirs to guide their activism. In that vein they‘ve been criticized by other activists for violating their namesake and advocating for a mere reduction instead of outright veganism when necessary. They’ll take whatever they can get and that just aint vegan enough for some. But that whole deal is a bore, let’s move on from that. For now let’s just assume they want people to go vegan.
I can only imagine that Vegan Outreach has been the victim of it’s own mission and had to invent the “tool to reduce suffering” to justify their own vegan advocacy. When veganism becomes the goal the ideas of animal rights are left in the cold. To their credit they stick to the science and steer clear of the pseudoscience mumbo jumbo many vegans embrace but they also miss the target for their focus on veganism.
VO founder Jack Norris was kind enough to post a few comments but it was the same old tired arguments I’ve had with zealous followers of Vegan Outreach. Their approach sounds reasonable and rational but underlying it is a deep misanthropy and appeal to conformity that is a projection of the very attitudes they have deemed to fight.
Vegan Outreach was one of the first organizations to adopt the word “vegan” as their central tenets but at the same time denouncing vegan purity as their goal. The idea was to lower the bar rather than to set it so high as to make it difficult for people to eventually go vegan. The foot in the door approach is a valid way to get people to change behavior. They attempt to “meet people where they’re at” and that’s also a great way to advocate for something. But there are problems here even beyond advocating veganism as the end goal.
First, asking people to stop using animal products because they are cruel is not “meeting them where they’re at”. If VO is trying to reduce suffering and meeting people where they’re at they would fight for better welfare standards and help advertise those cruelty free products. As a VO leafletter myself it was common to hear people come back with “well what about humane alternatives” which left me hemming and hawing. It makes sense though right? Wouldn’t this be the most expedient way to reduce suffering for domesticated food animals? Most of the time the answer is ‘well we couldn’t farm animals in a humane way to meet the needs of the market’ but that’s a cop out. Currently maybe not but these are production problems technology could help overcome and we won’t start to work on them until we start to work on them.
Second, speaking of food animals, what about the other animals? Well fuck em, we’re at the damage control stage so let’s focus on the where the majority of the problem lies. Once I guess everybody stops eating meat we can start focusing on other animals like fur animals, entertainment, wild etc. There’s always this “the time aint right” excuse. If not now, when? Shouldn’t the highest priority issue would be to eliminate the enslavement of zoo animals? This concept alone that animals are playthings to showcase as we please is the most egregious example of animal rights violations, yet the numbers of animals suffering is tiny in comparison to farmed animals. Once people get this concept though it’s a solid foundation which upon lessening the use of animals can take hold. We need a cultural shift, a true dismantlement and not that quixotic fantasy Erik Marcus wages against the suppliers of animal products.
Thirdly and most important is the lack of animal rights focus in their literature. This concept is supposedly too hard for the public to adopt. Well, the idea of going vegan is a similarly hard concept for the public to adopt yet they’ve worked tirelessly to innovate on that message all these years. If the idea of animal liberation was important to them shouldn’t they work on trying to sell that idea, especially if it was “too hard”? Isn’t that where most of the work is then needed? It’s really not that hard, in fact it might be the simplest message of all just like PaleoVegan’s take:
it’s just plain mean to do this to animals when there’s no good reason.
Now there’s a good staring point. Shouldn’t we be attracting those people who are more receptive to the ideas of animal rights than those who are credulous?
Vegan Outreach will give lip service to animal rights but when it comes to public outreach they’ll hold their cards close to their chest and instead offer the vapid option of going vegan. Isn’t there something dishonest about that? How respectful is that toward the audience? Does veganism as a supply and demand tactic even make a difference anyway? This vegan lifestyle based solely on praxis is devoid of any real meaning so it’s no wonder people are grasping at straws of justification. When their only tool is the vegan hammer, every problem is a nail but without the blueprint of animal rights just what are they building?
And let’s talk about those poor saps who fall for the ruse and do go vegan? They are rendered vulnerable to suffer health problems for all the misinformation that is allowed to propagate. They struggle on their own in a society that’s unfriendly to vegans. If they decide not to leaflet every night on a cold dark corner, the same Vegan Outreach disciples that got them vegan in the first place will turn sour blaming them for “not doing more”. They are denigrated for seeking social support rather than dedicating their free time to save animals. They are not only criticized for doing anything for animals other than the preferred form leafletting but blamed for making the situation worse. Gahd forbid they actually do decide to make it out to the yearly Fur Free Friday protest without committing to ongoing participation. Give vegans an inch and they’ll want a mile because if you recognize the horrors animals go through then to not do everything you can to stop it makes you almost worse than the ignorant buffoons who chow on Big Macs.
Vegan Outreach assumes the worst of people and the best of their own conclusions. While all the infighting continues over welfare and abolition everybody still assumes veganism is somehow the answer. What if it actually wasn’t? I know, that’s a mind-boggling thought but should animal rights activists boycott veganism? Give people the the idea of what to build and they’ll bring their own innovative approaches and tools. We need more of this instead of a stagnant obsession with the elimination of animal products. If it were just a matter of tactics I’d be fine with it but the end goal is different and that should be recognized. On top of that morally questionable means justified by whatever end goal shouldn’t be so easily tolerated.
I think animal rights will proceed in spite of veganism but it will probably move further away. While the word “vegan” is useful to describe an animal free product reasonable people will be less likely to align themselves as vegan and we’ll need to invent a new word or just move everybody forward with us with no special word needed. I can’t predict what that will look like but what I can do is openly and honestly talk about animal rights with other humans and do my part with respect and without shame, apology or deception. How’s that for a good place to meet people?