Sunday, August 21, 2011

Imagine a Vegan-ish World

There's a Wayne Gretzky quote I've always liked: "You miss 100% of the shots you never take." Applied to the world of activism, you will never change anything if you never make the attempt. Last post I lampooned the notion of "vegan-ish" and how foolish it looks when applied to things like racism and sexism. Another aspect of "vegan-ish-ism" is that the goal of a vegan world isn't even attempted. It's an odd thing to claim that trying to not make waves or be seen as "extreme" would ever get us to a place where most people are vegan. It's like expecting child abuse to end if we set the example of only abusing children 5% of the time. Contributing to the problem to be less confrontational, in ways that are easily avoided even, is horribly misguided.

How purposefully not advocating veganism leads others to less animal use is a bit of a mystery, but let's skip over that and say that a "vegan-ish" proponent somehow got others to follow along on the path to staying an omnivore being "almost vegan". The thinking is that this is a small steps program along the lines of the New Welfarists.You first get people to reduce animal use by steps, and then it's gone. I see another gap in the reasoning here. If people think they are vegan except when eating out, there's no way they accept the notion that animals aren't our property to do with what we please. It would be like agreeing that human slavery is wrong, then going to eat out at a place that uses slave labor.

So, where would that put us? Since these people would not be in agreement that animal use is simply wrong, they would have to be given the same argument that animals are not ours no matter where they are in this supposed continuum to veganism. Convincing people that think they already do enough to make a true vegan commitment is very difficult. If you doubt this, give it a try. Try to convince a vegetarian to become vegan and listen to the rationalizations of how the animals are well cared for, or that it doesn't hurt much, or being locally sourced makes everything wonderful. More than anything, you'll hear the underlying claim of "I'm doing enough". That final step in this imagined process is at least as large as getting any person who has never thought about it to become vegan, making all these small steps utterly pointless. Like welfarism, it has no record of success and there's no reason to think it should. Make "vegan-ish" your goal, and at best, that sorry state is what you will accomplish.

We're Trying to Hit the Rim
A world where all people are wishy-washy about animal rights is really not different from what we have now anyway. People in general think it is wrong to hurt animals without reason, but if the reason is no better than "I don't want to offend" or "a little indulgence won't hurt" for the "vegan-ish", how is that really any different? I cannot see that it is. A world where everyone simply tries to reduce the amount of pain they cause is still fraught with horror brought on by our hands. But perhaps the most ridiculous thing about "vegan-ish" is the idea that veganism is about perfection in the first place. It's not and never has been. It's about doing our best to end the property status of animals through our own actions. If you do not reject the property status of animals, there's no reason to try to apply vegan as a label for yourself. You are still very much part of the problem. The solution though is simple--instead of imagining doing all that you can one day, do your best right now.

Image: graur razvan ionut /


  1. Yeah, the post you are commenting on made me roll my eyes a bit. On the one hand, I can sort of see it -- I've met so many vegetarians who say things like, "I could be vegan, except I could never give up cheese." I always wonder, then, why they don't give up all animal products except cheese. It's not logical to continue to eat eggs just because you like cheese. The fact that they don't at least reduce their intake tells me they don't really care about the animal suffering inherent in extracting milk and eggs from animals.

    Of course, I would never suggest that someone who eats no meat or animal products save for cheese ever call themselves a vegan or veganish. Just like I'd never suggest that anyone else who is vegan except for at restaurants or while eating birthday cakes call themselves a vegan or veganish. Just like I'd never suggest that someone who eats fish call themselves a vegetarian. It distorts the true meaning of the word and adds to confusion -- I already had enough trouble when I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian and people thought I ate fish or chicken, and now as a vegan I deal with people who think I'll eat honey but not wheat. The words have to mean something! And if "vegans" will eat sheet cake at the office, it makes me seem like that much more of an a-hole when I refuse to partake.

    This, in addition to everything you already pointed out.

  2. I really like your blog and agree with many of your posts, so I was disappointed to see you take this hard line view. No one living in modern society is 100% vegan. There are animal products in so many things... if you're driving a car, taking medicine, or even eating organic produce, you're probably consuming animal products.

    Everyone draws the line somewhere-- at some point they make some calculation, consciously or not, that the inconvenience of avoiding a given product isn't worth the benefit it gives to animals. Your line may be different from others', but it is there. By what moral principle can you say that your line is better than theirs?

    Personally, I eat vegan at home and as much as is possible at restaurants and social events at which I don't have control over the food. To me, the inconvenience of going hungry isn't worth the small benefit my not eating cheese gives to animals.

    Now, I understand that the strict vegan who is going hungry doesn't want me to call myself "vegan", which is why I don't-- if someone asks, I say something along the lines of "I eat a mostly vegan diet." But I also think its disrespectful to completely discount "mostly vegans," as if what we're doing doesn't matter, and we might as well be omnivores. Removing 95% of animal products from one's lifestyle is a huge change, and if the world consumed 95% less animal products, it would be a much more ethical place.

    Finally, just as we "veganish" people shouldn't redefined the word "vegan," neither should you. "Vegan" defines a person's actions, not their motivation. You absolutely don't have to believe that animals can't be "property" or that its always wrong to use animal products to be vegan. In fact, my impression is that most vegans don't think this-- the ones I've talked to seem to have a more utilitarian view. Its a fine debate to have, but you don't get to exclude people from being "vegan" because they disagree with you philosophically.

  3. @Grace, your comments on using animals and animal products and being vegan make no practical sense. Are you saying that someone can be vegan by accident? A person kept in a cage and given nothing but soy burgers doesn't make them a vegan.

    By your own admission you are using animal products out of convenience whereas vegans draw the line at using animal products out of anything but necessity. I am very matter-of-factly calling people out on this. You choose to satisfy your appetite rather than use simple and obvious solutions to the problem of what to eat in social situations. Your convenience means a short life of confinement and torture for the animals you consume. That's worth not bringing a snack along?

    95% is better than 0%. 96% is better than 95%. Is there a good reason to not attempt for a full 100%? You have not presented one.

  4. Thanks for responding so quickly! By definition, a vegan is someone who doesn't consume animal products. Maybe a better definition is someone who intentionally doesn't consume animal products? Anyway, whether we call the guy in the cage a vegan doesn't really matter-- more relevantly, a hardcore utiliarian who has no concept of animal rights (or human rights, for that matter), but doesn't use animal products to decrease the amount of suffering in the world is vegan. A person who thinks eating cheese and eggs from ethically treated animals is fine, but doesn't have access to such products is still vegan.

    How do you define "necessity?" Driving a car or bike, using plastic bags, taking cold medicine aren't neccessary to stay alive. Many animals are killed in industrial agriculture production. Do you grow all your own food? Palm oil, which is unfortunately in many common products, plantations destroy orangutan habitats.

    Obviously, I, the occasional cheese-eater, am not judging you for not becoming a monk. But, my point is that you've accepted some level of animal exploitation to support the life you've chosen. What makes your level less abritrary than anyone else's? This is an honest question, because I realize that a meat-eater could very well make the same argument to me.

    In some cases I could just bring a snack-- but in many cases food represents more than just nourishment. Is striving for 100% worth hurting my grandma's feelings or offending my boss? To me, its not.

    I like the idea of "veganish" because it invites people who are appalled at animal suffering but know they aren't willing to commit 100% to veganism to do what they can. For some reason, we seem to view our ethical choices about food as an all-or-nothing decision, which doesn't really make sense. No one would ever say "I'd really love to recycle, but I don't want to carry around a recycling bin when I go to the mall..." or "I'd love to eat healthy, but I like having birthday cake once a year..." I think we can do alot more good to pursuade people to make a gradual move away from meat/eggs/dairy in their diet than demand they give it up altogether.