This essay continues a follow up on the matter of The Vegan Society’s policy of accepting paid advertisements for non-vegan businesses and organisations in its quarterly magazine, The Vegan. Please see my first essay on this subject — Banned By The Vegan Society For Saying That Vegan Society Should Be Vegan for the necessary background.
As already stated, the controversy began with Professor Gary Francione challenging this policy and subsequently being banned from The Vegan Society Facebook page, as a result. He quite appropriately criticised The Vegan carrying an ad for Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel.
We might recall that this establishment is described in The Vegan ad as being a “haven of peace and inspiration”. The Lancrigg web site states that it is “noted for its friendly relaxed ambiance”, “perfect for romantic getaways” and “the perfect place to unwind and restore body and soul”.
When one considers the truly horrific lives of deprivation and torture, both physical and emotional, culminating in a painful and terrifying death, of the non-human animals whose bodies provide the eggs and dairy products that Lancrigg sells, these claims become ghoulish and obscene. There is nothing peaceful, inspirational, friendly, relaxed, romantic or restorative about the foul non-human slavery and exploitation required to produce dairy products and eggs. Every single animal who was exploited for their secretions sold by Lancrigg lived a life of intense misery and was, or will be, murdered long before the end of their natural lifespan.
And let’s not forget the infant casualties who never even enter that particular stream of abuse — the male chicks who, soon after birth, were ground up alive or suffocated due to being of no use to the egg industry; and the male offspring of cows in the dairy industry who were separated from their mothers in the first couple of days of their lives and sent to veal crates to endure a harshly deprived existence, to extract some profit from their sad, short and lonely lives, catering to the desire of humans to consume their anaemic flesh. This, despite that fact that their flesh, like all flesh and all animal products, is unnecessary for health but consumed merely to titillate the palate. Indeed, the consensus among health professionals knowledgeable in nutrition is that animal products are deleterious to health and that a healthy, vegan wholefoods diet is the best diet for humans.
The notion that Lancrigg’s patrons can enjoy a “haven of peace and inspiration” while simply turning a blind eye to the immoral and hellish exploitation that is inherent in Lancrigg’s business; the idea that they can blithely indulge their escapist and hedonistic urges, while participating in that very exploitation, if they are not vegan, is one that should be loudly and unambiguously decried. It is not one which should be actively promoted by The Vegan Society!
If anyone reading this is in any doubt about the torture and murder involved in the production of eggs and dairy; if anyone thinks this is simply sentimental, “bleeding heart” exaggeration, I invite you to do your own research. There is a plethora of information on the internet now about this reality. Everyone consuming these products has a responsibility to inform themselves. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is is morally indistinguishable from meat-eating. There is almost certainly more suffering in a glass of milk than there is in a steak, since animals in the dairy industry live longer than their meat counterparts, are arguably treated even worse and end up in the same slaughterhouse before being turned into meat. If forced to make a choice between consuming either a steak or a glass of milk or a piece of cheese, on the basis of the suffering involved alone, I would choose the steak, without any doubt.
And if anyone thinks that the answer is to consume “free range”, “barn laid”, “organic”, “humanely raised” or any other kind of “happy” animal products, they need to understand that all animal products involve torture and murder. The idea that there could ever be “humane” exploitation and murder is simply a lie. There is no way to ethically own sentient beings as property and to exploit them for their flesh and bodily secretions. Moreover, the problem is not the way that animals in the flesh and secretions industries are treated, it is that they are used at all, as the property of humans — mere resources, with no inherent value.
The fundamental factor driving the ongoing use of animals is consumer demand. Putting an end to animal slavery and exploitation requires that each one of us make the ethical decision to cease our own contribution to this abomination by refusing to consume animal products. That is, by going vegan. If we want to do more to help animals, that’s our choice, but if we take animal interests seriously, if we believe that it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, then veganism is the moral baseline, the very least we should do. For further discussion on the abolitionist approach to animal rights please see this this website. I suggest starting with the videos on this page.
I think it’s manifestly obvious that The Vegan Society is seriously failing in its mission to be a voice for animal advocacy through veganism, by taking money in exchange for advertising businesses that are directly involved in profiting from the exploitation of animals. Nevertheless, I’ve found by reading comments online that this is not obvious to everyone, including other vegans. Those who think The Vegan ads policy is acceptable, or who aren’t sure, tend have the following perspectives, and I acknowledge comments by Francione and others on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page in helping to identify these groups and in formulating my responses to them:
1. Vegans need information about where they can eat. The Vegan is performing a necessary and valuable service by informing them of this via their advertising.
2. The Vegan Society needs the money it generates from these ads. Without this money The Vegan may not be able to survive, financially.
3. Advertising vegetarian establishments is a step in the right direction. This perspective is based on the “vegetarianism as a stepping stone (or gateway) to veganism” notion.
My responses to these perspectives:
1. As referred to in Francione’s memo, I believe it would be quite acceptable and, indeed, a valuable service for The Vegan to publish a list of non-vegan restaurants, cafes, hotels etc. that cater for vegans. They should accept no payment for this and state that they do not endorse these establishments and cannot accept responsibility for the reliability of the food served being vegan. This is quite different to taking paid ads to actively promote places profiting from animal exploitation, thereby providing endorsement.
There is also a significant difference between advertising a vegan product that may be produced by a non-vegan business, or a vegan business that has a non-vegan parent or subsidiary business, and directly promoting a non-vegan business, like Lancrigg. In a non-vegan world, it’s not possible to avoid buying products produced by non-vegan businesses, but we should promote the vegan product and not the business that is profiting from animal exploitation via their other products. This is a fundamental moral distinction, in my view. In promoting Lancrigg as a business, The Vegan Society is endorsing their entire operation, and is therefore endorsing animal exploitation. They claim that their ads do not imply endorsement. I disagree, and I’ll come back to this later.
2. The end does not justify the means. Keeping The Vegan financially afloat does not justify colluding in the very exploitation that veganism explicitly rejects, thereby undermining the whole reason for existence of The Vegan Society and engaging in moral failure. If The Vegan as a hard copy publication needs to sell advertising space to animal exploitation businesses in order to survive, then the time has surely come for it to convert to an online format in order to cut costs.
As Francione points out, there is no limiting principle if we accept this justification; effectively it would allow advertising any kind of product involving any kind of exploitation of non-humans or humans to prevail.
3. The notion that vegetarianism is a stepping stone, or gateway, to veganism is totally erroneous. There is no evidence that vegetarianism leads to veganism. Many people remain vegetarian for years, or even decades, without progressing to veganism. Conversely, many people become vegan without any interim “step” of vegetarianism. It’s entirely possible and practical to go vegan incrementally, if that’s what’s desired, without resorting to vegetarianism. By substituting dairy and eggs for meat, vegetarians often engage in even more exploitation than when they were omnivores. There is no morally relevant distinction between meat and other animal products — all involve torture and killing.
For a fuller understanding of these issues please read these essays by Francione (the first of which was published in The Vegan!):
Vegetarianism First? The Conventional Wisdom — And Why It’s Wrong
Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a “Gateway” to Veganism
You may also want to listen to these podcast commentaries:
Commentary #1: Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism?
Commentary #6: Aspects of the Vegetarian/Vegan Debate
It’s disturbing that The Vegan is advertising two vegetarian organisations:
Christian Vegetarian Association (CVUAK) focuses only on vegetarianism, not mentioning veganism at all. From their website:
CVAUK believe that:
- a meat-free diet has distinct advantages for human health, enables a more just use of environmental resources, and eliminates the suffering of animals bred, raised and killed for food;
- vegetarianism is a contemporary response to Christ’s command to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matt 28:19) by giving active witness to the call of a compassionate God;
- the adoption of a caring, healthy, violence-free vegetarian diet can be a means of creating a more peaceful society.
As an empirical matter it is patently fallacious and misleading to claim that a vegetarian diet, which involves the consumption of eggs and dairy, “eliminates the suffering of animals bred, raised and killed for food” and that such a diet is “violence-free”.
The other vegetarian organisation advertised, Vegetarian for Life, makes a mere mention of veganism but seemingly only for the purpose of conflating it with vegetarianism. It claims that its vision is “To improve the quality of life of the UK’s older vegetarians and vegans”. The focus of the organisation, as represented by their website, is overwhelmingly on lifestyle support and not ethics.
VfL list as their values:
- We believe a vegetarian lifestyle is compassionate, healthy and ‘green’
- We are business-like and ethical and use resources effectively
- We are caring and operate with integrity
- We believe best results come through positive cooperation with others
VfL has links to vegetarian recipe sites.
Aspirations towards compassion, caring, ethics and integrity are completely at odds with a vegetarian diet, involving as it does support for the torture and murder of animals in order to appropriate their bodily secretions for human consumption.
Respect for animals and concern about their welfare — intensive farming methods can be very cruel.
There are lots of very good reasons for the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. But, in summary, it’s kinder: kinder to animals, kinder to the planet and kinder to ourselves.
It’s remarkable to me that The Vegan Society, which should be soundly rejecting the moral equivalence of veganism and vegetarianism and the false distinction between flesh and non-flesh animal products, is reinforcing these very notions via its advertising policy.The confusion that this policy must engender among non-vegan, aspiring vegan and new vegan readers is a matter for concern. However, for a “vegan” organisation that promotes a hotel serving meat in its magazine, this is probably a moot point.
Promoting welfarist oriented vegetarian organisations also constitutes support for the idea of reducing suffering as the primary goal (despite the fact that vegetarianism does nothing to reduce suffering) rather than unambiguously advocating for the only measure that will end all animal use — veganism.
This discussion continues in Part 4.
By Linda McKenzie