Taking Power and Making Power

Realize that the vegan ideal of non-exploitation requires both taking power and making power. In fact, the necessity to both make power and take power has always been an inherent part of the vegan movement. For instance, when vegan movement cofounders defined veganism and started to develop the organizing model for the original Vegan Society, they used a dual strategy based on working simultaneously to abolish existing exploitation while also working to establish an alternative order of society based on non-exploitation. This dual strategy of the working to abolish exploitation and establish non-exploitation fits easily with the Sista II Sista duel strategy of "taking power" and "making power." (Read more...)

Dietary Speciesism: Putting Oppression on the Menu

The exploitation of other animals for the human diet works to structure a human-supremacist society that is bolstered by dietary speciesism. Since other animals are exploited in large part by humans for diet, dietary speciesism plays a central role in promoting human supremacy in general. That is, as long as we're eating other animals we're benefiting materially and psychologically from their exploitation. As a result of these material and psychological gains we're less likely to challenge the system of human supremacy.

Veganism: Not to be Confused with Animal Rights

Veganism is based on the vegan ideal of nonexploitation. Vegan theory and practice follows from this principle that we should not exploit others. In "Veganism Defined," a 1951 statement to "clarify the goal towards which the movement aspires," vegan movement co-founder Leslie Cross explains:

The effect of this development is to make veganism unique among movements concerned with animal welfare. For it has crystallised as a whole and not, as are all other such movements, as an abstraction. Where every other movement deals with a segment – and therefore deals directly with practices rather than with principles – veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow.

If, for example, the vegan principle is applied to diet, it can at once be seen why it must be vegetarian in the strictest sense and why it cannot contain any foods derived from animals. One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons – humanitarian, health, or mere preference for such a diet; The principle is a matter of personal feeling, and varies accordingly. Veganism, however, is a principle – that [humans have] no right to exploit creatures for [our] own ends – and no variation occurs.

In his three books, Animals, Property, and the Law, Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, and Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child Or the Dog?, Gary L. Francione lays out his theory of nonhuman animal rights. However, none of these books discuss veganism as a principle itself. Of these three book veganism is only mentioned once; relegating veganism to a footnote in Rain without Thunder, Francione simply stating: "Veganism is a diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy products."

Yet, in his most recent book, Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, Francione does discuss veganism. In the "Introduction," he states:

On the individual level, the rights position prescribes incremental change in the form of veganism. Veganism means not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products, or wearing or using animal products or products tested on animals. Veganism, which results in a decreased demand for animal products, is much more than a matter of diet, lifestyle, or consumer choice; it is a personal commitment to nonviolence and the abolition of exploitation.

Veganism is discussed at greater length in the chapter, "Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain without Thunder," where Francione states that veganism "is a moral and political commitment to abolition on the individual level and extends not only to matters of food, but to clothing and other products."

So while in Rain without Thunder he wrote that veganism is "a diet," in his latest book Francione writes that veganism "is much more than a matter of diet" and that it "extends ... to clothing and other products." However, this is only a minor improvement, since Francione is still treating veganism as an individualized, (non)consumptive practice, which marginalizes veganism. That is, simply extending veganism from "a diet" (Rain without Thunder) to include "clothing and other products" (Animals as Persons) does not adequately describe veganism as a philosophy and way of life. As Leslie Cross made clear in "Veganism Defined," "veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow" (emphasis in original). Instead of acknowledging that certain practices are what logically flows from the principle of veganism, Francione states that veganism means practice and replaces veganism as the reason for these practices with what he calls "the rights position."

Now this doesn't mean that veganism and the rights position cannot both logically lead to "not eating meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and other animal products, or wearing or using animal products or products tested on animals." In Rain without Thunder, and without the need to appropriate "veganism," Francione writes, "if animal rights means anything, it means that as a society and as individuals we can no longer countenance the institutionalized killing of animals for food, any more than we can justify performing experiments ourselves, or wearing clothing made from animal skins or pelts."

But as Cross said, "One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons," and this is also true when not using other animals extends to clothing and other products. However, the principles themselves, that is the reasons for not using other animals, are fundamentally different depending on whether we're discussing veganism or the rights position. Stated briefly, veganism is based on liberation and the vegan ideal of avoiding exploitation, and Francione's rights position is based on equality and the humane-treatment principle of avoiding unnecessary suffering. As I'll discuss at greater length in a future post, this contributes to two significantly different frameworks for nonhuman animal advocacy.

'Food for People, Not for Profit'

The slogan "Food for People, Not for Profit" sums up the philosophy behind a movement for food justice where the production of food is done ethically and its consumption is considered a collective right. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a number of vegetarian, natural, and whole foods cooperatives and collectives where founded on this principle. (Read more...)

Real Vegan Options: Veganism and Social Justice

I believe real vegan options are those that model the vegan ideal of nonexploitation. In this way vegan options are intertwined with social justice. From its beginnings veganism has sought social justice, including an equitable use of the Earth's resources and materials.

I question the validity of promoting processed convenience foods and other consumer goods as increasing vegan options. I question it in part because I see it as the neoliberalization of the movement, but on a more basic level I see it as an invalid model for the vegan ideal. (Read more...)

Modeling the Vision

The adoption of a vegan way of living can be viewed as modeling the vision for change in the here and now by making change in ourselves. Modeling the vision can guide our development and support of organizations. That is, we should ask whether the organizations we support are models of the vision for change in the here and now, or do they model something else.

Veganism is a Collective Process

Veganism needs to be viewed as not simply individual change, but as a collective political process. Unfortunately, Speciesism and other forms of ideological controls often prevent us from seeing veganism as a collective process. (Read more...)

A Tale of Power & Vision

I believe our internalization of oppression limits our imagination, creativity, and vision. This internalization of oppression leads us to fall into pessimism and pragmatism. If we cannot imagine a broad-based, multi-issue, intersectional anti-oppression scenario, then how can we work for a consistent and explicit vision of liberation?

The Willingness to Pay for Exploitation

Luella brings up a good question about whether or not an increase in the cost of "food" produced from new methods of exploiting other animals will lead to abolition of the food-to-flesh industry. I haven't read the article Luella refers to yet, but I think the argument that increased prices will lead to abolition is flawed and little more than wishful thinking.

These pricier products derived from the exploitation of other animals often reflect new, expanding markets of capitalism. The industry is well aware of what it calls a "willingness-to-pay," or WTP, for both "intrinsic" (taste) and "extrinsic" (health and ethical considerations) characteristics. While taste represents eating quality, new methods of exploitation represent what the industry calls a "credence quality." As consumers, we often feel we're getting a better product because of the credence we attribute to the methods of exploitation used to produce the flesh, eggs, or milk-derived products. New methods of exploitation, like "cage-free" or "free range," represent a way for the industry to add value to its products for which we as consumers are willing to pay a premium.

In their book The Way We Eat, Peter Singer and Jim Mason support this logic of WTP when they encourage us to buy pricier "cage-free" and "free range" eggs. They write, "For those on a limited budget, a healthy option is to eat fewer eggs and buy more expensive but better-tasting eggs from hens free to move around inside a shed ['cage-free'] or, preferably, outdoors ['free range']." Presumably, if we're not on a limited budget there is no need to eat fewer eggs. Singer and Mason clearly see a WTP, even for the poorest of us, for these pricier products derived from exploiting other animals. This WTP is bolstered by claims of "health," "taste," and "ethical consideration."

What we need to keep in mind is that the other animals whose flesh, milk, and eggs are being marketed are still being bred, enslaved, and slaughtered to turnout products. And any increase in price will be marketed as reflecting an increase in product quality.

There are more meaningful credence qualities we are willing to pay for, for example, when food is (stock-free) organic, GMO-free, or fair-trade. These product all cost more than their standard counterparts, yet no one is arguing the advocating organics, GMO-free foods, or fair-trade products will lead to the collapse of these industries. So we should question why we should believe that exploitation like "cage-free" or "free range" production will lead to the collapse of the industry exploiting other animals for their flesh, egg, and milk.

Of course, veganism is opposed to the exploitation of other animals. Veganism as anti-oppression is not simply individual change, but is about collectively working to affect change in society. Simply making the products derived form exploiting other animals more expensive is not going to end the exploitation of other animals, human supremacy, or speciesism. However, by addressing these factors of oppression veganism works to challenge society directly to stop viewing other living beings as "food" and other commodities. That is, we can directly challenge the assumed ethical credence attributed to any products derived wholly or partly from exploiting other animals; through veganism we challenge society's willingness to pay for exploitation.

Far from a step towards meaningful abolition, new methods of exploiting other animals are supported by research and development (product R&D) that work to open up new markets that are supported by WTP. It should be seen as a leap of logic to believe that because flesh, eggs, and milk-derived products increase in price people will stop viewing other animals as "food." Without an anti-oppression approach like veganism challenging WTP little will change.

Veganism: A Cure for Apathy

Why are people so apathetic when it comes to the oppression of other animals or any other oppression, including their own? I think this apathy is largely rooted the structure of oppression. In a way, apathy is a form of learned helplessness; that is, apathy is actively produced through ideological control for the purpose of domination and exploitation. It's certainly more than simple ignorance, because even if people are knowledgeable of the existing oppressive situation they are unlikely to act if they believe the situation is unchangeable. (Read more...)