My intention in writing this 4-part essay is to follow up on the issue raised in my first blog essay last month, Banned by the Vegan Society for Saying That the Vegan Society Should Be Vegan. I suggest reading that essay to gain the necessary background in order to understand the important matters being addressed in this discussion.
To briefly re-cap, that essay discussed the fact of Professor Gary L. Francione having been banned in February 2011 from the Vegan Society Facebook page following his challenging of the practice by The Vegan magazine, published by The Vegan Society, UK, of taking paid advertisements for Lancrigg, a “vegetarian country house hotel” that includes a restaurant which serves animal products in the form of eggs and various dairy products. Also discussed was the failure of the Vegan Society to substantively respond to why Francione had been banned, especially in light of the fact that The Vegan Society was shown to be contravening its own rules, as set out on its Facebook Discussion Policy page, which forbid comments that “promote non-vegan products, services, recipes, etc.”; and more importantly, their failure to take seriously and address the moral issue of a “vegan” society accepting financial payment from a business that is directly involved in making a profit from the secretions of exploited non-human animals. An important corollary to this central issue was that The Vegan Society appeared to be making a moral distinction between non-flesh and flesh animal products. It seemed that they were engaged in reinforcing the pervasive fallacy that there is something more morally problematic with consuming meat and fish than with consuming eggs and dairy products. In other words, that they were reinforcing the fantasy that vegetarianism is morally better than omnivorism, thereby blurring the line, ethically, between veganism and vegetarianism.
After having been treated disgracefully by The Vegan Society Facebook representatives, and having received an insulting email from the Chair of their Council of Management telling him to go away because he had already wasted enough of their time, they were too busy to deal with the issue and they had “other important matters to be getting on with”, Francione submitted a memo to the Society on March 2, 2011, and requested that it be considered. He was told that his proposal would be considered after the time passed for making proposals for the Annual General Meeting, which was to be held in December, 2011 and that it would be considered at the Council Meeting on September 29, 2012.
Even allowing for the slow grinding of the wheels of bureaucracy, it speaks volumes about the lack of seriousness and urgency with which The Vegan Society view their practice of accepting money in exchange for promoting businesses profiting from animal exploitation that this issue, raised in Februrary, 2011, was not scheduled to be considered for another 19 months! It’s difficult to imagine a children’s advocacy organisation being quite so phlegmatic about it being pointed out that running ads in their publication promoting paedophilia support groups is not in keeping with its core mission; just as it’s difficult to imagine a feminist organisation dedicated to opposing violence towards women being so indifferent to ads promoting violent pornography or any other misogynistic practice.
The only plausible explanation for the attitude of The Vegan Society is that, sadly, The Vegan Society itself is guilty of the very speciesism that it should be working to dispel, which dictates that the lives and deaths of fully sentient non-humans are not sufficiently important to bother about, with the same seriousness that we would extend to human victims, simply, and for no other reason than that they are not human. Clearly, this discrimination on the basis of species is no different to other forms of discrimination on the basis of any irrelevant characteristic, such as race, gender or class. The Vegan Society has a responsibility to be in the forefront of abolishing such discrimination and the oppression that accompanies it, and should not be adding to it. Just take a moment to consider the glaring contradiction, and the moral failure involved in The Vegan Society — not just any vegan society, but the original Vegan Society, established by Donald Watson in 1944 — being “too busy” to consider whether it should be promoting non-vegan businesses in its magazine.
What could be more of a priority for a vegan advocacy and education organisation to be busy with than preserving its integrity of actually being vegan? If a vegan society can’t maintain that, does it not render any other “busyness” a farce? And considering that this page on The Vegan Society website lists ten paid staff and that it has an unknown number of volunteers, I would think that it’s not asking the impossible for them, over a period of a year and a half, to get around to considering the small matter of whether they should or should not be vegan. It’s obvious that the problem is not being too busy but having insufficient commitment to unequivocal veganism.
Francione has always promoted veganism as the moral baseline for anyone who takes animal interests seriously. According to him, it’s not just another way of reducing suffering, along with eating less meat or consumption so-called “humane” or “happy” animal products, but the very minimum that we owe non-humans as a matter of fundamental justice, based on the principle of equal consideration of equal interests in view of their sentience. Given this position, neither he nor anyone else who advocates for the abolition of animal use can coherently support a Vegan Society that promotes non-vegan businesses. I present here, in full, Francione’s memo, submitted to The Vegan Society:
March 2, 2011
To: The Vegan Society
From: Gary L. Francione
Re: Taking adverts for non-vegan establishments
The Vegan takes paid advertisements for establishments that sell dairy and eggs. For example, in the February 2011 issue of the The Vegan, there appears on page 3 an advert for the Lancrigg Vegetarian & Organic House Hotel and Green Valley Cafe & Restaurant. Lancrigg, described as a “Haven of Peace & Inspiration,” serves eggs and dairy products as part its menu. It also serves cheeses. It is not clear as to whether these cheeses contain rennet. In the “classifieds” section of The Vegan, there are two more non-vegan establishments advertised.
This raises the problem that by advertising establishments that serve dairy/eggs but not advertising establishments that serve meat, these adverts clearly imply that there is a morally coherent distinction between meat and flesh, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the core principle of veganism-that meat and other animal products cannot be distinguished morally. Upon inquiry, the Society provided two responses:
I. That a disclaimer on the first page of The Vegan states: “The acceptance of advertisements (including inserts) does not imply endorsement”;
2. That when Donald Watson edited The Vegan, he accepted adverts for “vegetarian establishments which also cater[ed] for vegans.” (An example was given of The Vegan, issue 2, Autumn 1946.)
I suggest that neither response suffices. The disclaimer point is not sufficient as it has no limiting principle and would literally allow adverts for slaughterhouses, meat products, dairy products, eggs, etc. to be accepted by the Society. In other words, a disclaimer that nothing advertised in The Vegan is endorsed is tantamount to saying that everything, including establishments and products that are inconsistent with any interpretation of the core mission of the institution, may be advertised therein.
Moreover, given that many large animal organizations explicitly promote the distinction between flesh and dairy, it is simply not credible to claim that advertising an establishment that serves dairy and eggs will not reinforce the view that dairy and eggs are not “as bad as” meat.
The historical point also fails. Although Watson saw non-flesh products as morally indistinguishable from flesh, he regarded vegetarianism as a “stepping stone” to veganism for most people. He appears to have maintained this both as a matter of human psychology and as a matter of socio-cultural conditions. If Watson were correct on either or both prongs of his analysis, and if adverts for places like Lancrigg were acceptable because these establishments, in effect, caused a transition to veganism, then the Society should offer free advert space to places such as Lancrigg and, indeed, the Society should actually promote dairy products and eggs if the consumption of such products is necessary to achieve a vegan diet. In other words, if Watson were right, then the Society should relentlessly and explicitly promote vegetarianism rather than veganism because the latter is almost always proximately caused by the former.
To the extent that the psychological/sociological point has any validity, it is not because of any psychological “hard wiring” or because of any necessary facts about society. In Britain in 1946, when rationing was still in existence and when Watson had just coined “vegan,” Watson’s perspective may have been more understandable. In any event, that analysis cannot hold any longer and sixty years later, it is clear that Watson was wrong. There are many, many people who are vegetarian and have been so for years and never move toward veganism. Many of those who follow a vegetarian diet consume a considerable amount of dairy and eggs. Conversely, a growing number of people understand the moral imperative of veganism and many are embracing veganism without the “stepping stone” of vegetarianism.
Those who claim to agree with the moral point that flesh and non-flesh foods cannot be distinguished have a moral obligation to make that point clearly and to scrupulously avoid any confusion. This is particularly important when “animal groups” are, in 2011, promoting “happy” animal products, sponsoring “happy” meat/dairy labels, stating that going vegan is “difficult” and “daunting,” maintaining that “veganish” is good enough, calling “fanatical” and “purist” those who advocate veganism, and continuing to perpetuate the fantasy that there is a coherent moral distinction between flesh and other non-flesh products.
A Proposed Solution:
1. The Vegan Society should stop taking adverts for establishments that serve or sell animal products of any sort. All of these products are the result of animal exploitation, suffering, and death.
2. If the Vegan Society wants to provide information about establishments that can cater to vegans for, example, the convenience of travellers (and I am not sure that even this is advisable), the Society could provide a “convenience list” but it should not accept any funds for a listing and the listing should make it clear both that the Society does not promote or endorse those institutions and that the Society cannot vouch for the vegan nature of any the products served or sold.
3. If the Vegan Society chooses to advertise a vegan item that is sold by a non-vegan establishment, care should be taken to make it clear that the identity of any place of purchase is only for such identification. There is a very big difference between advertising “vegan item X” and having in small print that the item is “available at Sainbury’s” and having a general advert for the food department at Sainsbury’s. Even in this case, it would seem that if “vegan item X” is available at an exclusively vegan shop, the advert should mention that shop as well as Sainsbury’s if it is only the latter to which the broad public would have general access.
4. The foregoing principles should apply to all animal products and not just food products. These are my initial thoughts on this matter. I would be pleased to discuss these issues further or to consider and discuss additional issues. The statements herein are my own as an academic who writes about veganism and animal ethics and should not necessarily be attributed to Rutgers University.
Gary L. Francione, Professor, Rutgers University
Francione has often drawn attention to the inarguable fact that large, corporatised animal advocacy charities such as HSUS and PETA operate primarily as self-serving businesses. Their online presence and their campaigns are squarely oriented at keeping a steady stream of donations flowing into their coffers. By contrast, although not a member, in the past Francione has demonstrated his confidence in The Vegan Society by writing for and being interviewed by The Vegan Magazine. As part of a discussion recently on his Facebook page he stated:
I thought that The Vegan Society would be different, in part because I thought that they really took veganism seriously. Frankly, I thought that that as soon as I raised the issue, they would recognise the problem and fix it. Instead, they banned from from talking about it, defamed me repeatedly by suggesting I had broken a rule, contradicted themselves over and over, and then told me that they were too busy to deal with my concern and to just go away.
I think I am owed an apology. But, more importantly, I think that The Vegan Society owes it to the animals and to the memory of Donald Watson to have a clear, unequivocal endorsement of veganism and a rejection of the nonsense that there is a difference between meat and dairy or eggs.
We really do need a Vegan Society that clearly and unambiguously promotes veganism.
In part 2 of this discussion, I will look at the evidence of whether the policy of The Vegan Society has changed in any way regarding their advertising of non-vegan businesses by examining the ads contained in their quarterly magazine since the issue of Spring, 2011, which marked the beginning of the controversy.