Challenging the Structure of Nonhuman Oppression

Oppression exists when one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit. Social oppression is distinct from situation of simple brute force in that it is an interlocking system that involves ideological control as well as domination and control of the social institutions and resources of the society, resulting in a condition of privilege for the agent group relative to the disenfranchisement and exploitation of the target group. – Rita Hardiman and Bailey W. Jackson, "Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice Courses"

The same sort of oppressive dynamic is behind human supremacy and the oppression of other animals. (Read more...)

Speciesism: It's Only Human

As humans in a human-supremacist society we're all privileged and socialized by those aspects of society that attribute value to humans and humanness and devalue nonhuman animals. We're all privileged by the systemic, institutional, and individual practices that exploit nonhuman animals. This is speciesism, and we're all speciesists. (Read more...)

Making Veganism Whole Again

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, veganism was undermined by the breakdown of its important relationship between theory and action. We can actually trace this by looking at the publications of the Vegan Society (UK) and the American Vegan Society (US). (Read more...)

Veganism, Allyship and Solidarity

I oppose seeing ourselves as saviors (or even the "voices") of other animals. I think that leads to the protection problem I've been posting about. Human (even vegans) benefit from the exploitation of other animals, which is central to their oppression. We are all part of this system of speciesism and human supremacy, and that's what I believe veganism is meant to challenge. (Read more...)

Reclaiming Veganism from the Margins

Alternative knowledge claims in and of themselves are rarely threatening to the conventional knowledge. Such claims are routinely ignored, discredited, or simply absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms. – Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Like other forms of alternative knowledge, veganism is "routinely ignored, discredited, or simply absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms." This is the case with how veganism is often treated by utilitarian and rights theorists.

In response to yesterday's post, a friend sent me this recent quote from rights theorist Gary Francione: "Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to the life of the individual." This shows how veganism can be absorbed and marginalized in existing paradigms.

Treating "veganism" merely in terms of the individual marginalizes its promise and possibilities; it takes what was created as a social change movement, a philosophy/theory, and a way of life and reduces it to a mere individual action.

While the work referenced by the above quote demonstrates veganism being absorbed and made marginal, earlier works by the same theorist simply ignore veganism altogether. Neither does Francione talk about veganism as a movement, philosophy or way of life in either Rain without Thunder or Introduction to Animal Rights.

The former book is written as a critical analysis of the animal advocacy movement, yet all it has to say about veganism is a footnote wrongly stating, "Veganism is a diet that excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy products." The latter book explores how animal rights "mean that we could no longer justify our institutional exploitation of animals for food, clothing, amusement, or experiments" and how "the institutional exploitation of animals must be abolished." Yet, he fails to acknowledge that this has been the basic principle of the vegan movement for more than 56 years at the time he published his book.

Veganism will continue to be marginalized as long as theorists and organizations continue to use it as a dietary or consumer supplement to their external theories. I'd like to see veganism affirmed as the autonomous praxis of a movement.

Veganism: Theory and Practice

"Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement" means that a revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is with reflection and action directed at the structure to be transformed. – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Veganism is a revolutionary praxis. It is the reflective-action of non-exploitation. Freire writes that, "if action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism" – that is, "action for action's sake." When some use the term "veganism" to denote a diet or consumer activity they are converting the word into action for action's sake.

I believe the reason that veganism is so often stripped of its theory is because it is revolutionary. That is, "without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." Veganism, as an anti-oppression framework that view the abolition of animal exploitation as part of a wider struggle for social justice, is in conflict with (neo)liberal theories. Yet, once disassociated from its theory, "veganism" becomes a hot commodity as a form of activism. A utilitarian will say, "veganism is best viewed as a tool for reducing suffering," and a rights theorist will say, "veganism is the principle of animal rights in action."

I think the appropriation of veganism as activism in service of these theories reflection on their limitations. Freire writes, "When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating 'blah.'" If these theories were more than verbalism they wouldn't need to appropriate veganism to fill in for a lack of action.

Vision of a Plant-Based Food System

Previously, I posted about the aims of the Movement for Compassionate Living:
  1. To spread the vegan message and promote simple living and self-reliance as a remedy against the exploitation of humans, animals and the Earth.
  2. To promote the use of trees and vegan-organic farming to meet the needs of society for food and natural resources.
  3. To promote a land-based society where as much of our food and resources as possible are produced locally.

Veganism, Food and the Global Economy

The Guardian published an excerpt, "Our diet of destruction," from Felicity Lawrence's book, Eat Your Heart Out: Why the Food Business Is Bad for the Planet and Your Health. The article touches on what I called the food-to-flesh conversion as it relates to the capitalist system. (Read more...)

Veganism, Social Change, Solidarity

In the mid-1940s, when the founding members of the vegan movement organized themselves into The Vegan Society they set out a clear purpose for the movement that "seeks to abolish [humans'] dependence on [other] animals, with it inevitable cruelty and slaughter, and to create instead a more reasonable and humane order of society. Whilst honouring the efforts of all who are striving to achieve the emancipation of [humans] and of [other] animals." (Read more...)

Veganism is the Reason

We commonly hear about people adopting a "vegan diet" for health reasons. Oprah Winfrey, with her "21-day vegan makeover," is one of the latest and biggest names to be promoted as such. But this is actually a case of miscommunication. I wrote about this in my post on Labeling Products "Vegan" where I pointed out that "not everyone who consumes a totally vegetarian diet is doing so because of vegan principles or beliefs, so it is incorrect to label the diet 'vegan.'"

In "History of Vegetarianism: The Origin of Some Words," the International Vegetarian Union traces the roots of this "fine mess" to North America:

In 1944 Donald Watson and friends invented the word 'vegan' to fill the gap, and founded the Vegan Society (in the UK) specifically for this group. They defined the word in terms of all animal products, not just a diet, as that was the reason for inventing it, and everyone was happy - until the Americans got involved...

The British ideas had long since crossed the Atlantic but, as always, Americans have their own way of doing things. Whilst many used the same words, for the same reasons, even more began to use them differently. The health aspect of vegetarianism has always seemed to be a bigger issue in America than in Britain, and a lot of people who only ate meat occasionally, for health reasons, started calling themselves 'vegetarian'. ...

For many, the logic of the health argument also leads to the removal of eggs/dairy products and it would appear that a very much higher proportion of American vegetarians are 'no eggs/dairy' than in Britain, but again a significant proportion of those are primarily motivated by health, and are therefore not bothered about wearing leather etc. This fits the 'strict vegetarian' group, but in the best of American traditions, they then confused things further by insisting on calling themselves 'vegan'.

While this misunderstanding may be traced to the U.S., it is not the result of the U.S. vegan movement. On vegan motives, Catherine Nimmo, who co-founded the first vegan society in the U.S. in 1948, wrote that a narrow focus on health distract from the vegan ideal. "If we become Vegan because we understand animals and feel compassion for their suffering, it is the easiest thing and proves to be of greater benefit for ourselves too; but if we become Vegan for health reasons it seems full of worries about proteins, calcium, or something else."

In 1960, Nimmo was also a founding member of the American Vegan Society. The first issue of its newsletter the AVS featured the article "A Matter of Motives," written by H. Jay Dinshah, which specifically addressed the health/diet confusion concerning veganism.

We recently received a letter in which it was asserted that "far too many vegetarians, Vegans, fruitarians, and the like" refrain from flesh only because of selfish reasons of health and such. While we agree with the sentiment, we take exception to the inclusion of the term "Vegan"... in reference to Veganism, we can state categorically that no true Vegans follow this way of life for selfish reasons alone.

In "Why Kill For Food," Mr. Geoffrey L. Rudd ... describes a Vegan as one who excludes from [their] use all animal products, going on to say: "The movement is entirely ethical and is a recognition that all living creatures have basic rights to live without human interference." He quotes the Vegan aims, opposing "the use of animals by [humans] for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by [humans]." ... the Vegan is impelled by a sense of justice, mercy, compassion, and concern for ... fellow beings. ... Always the basic consideration is this: if something comes from the [nonhuman] animal world, it is a product of direct or indirect exploitation, cruelty, pain, and death, and we will do without it for that reason.


It is not just by eating or not eating this or that, that one enters the path of Veganism. It is through a profound desire and conviction that mercy, love, and harmlessness are right, and that right must be done.

In 1951, Leslie Cross, a founding member of the vegan movement, wrote in "Veganism Defined" that veganism is itself the reason for a vegan's vegetarian diet:

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 [their] own ends - and no variation occurs. Vegan diet is therefore derived entirely from "fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products," and excludes "flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives."

Veganism is the reason for the vegan diet. It is the cause, and the diet is the effect of the vegan ideal when applied to what we eat. A similar vegetarian diet based on health reasons alone is just a health diet. If it's not based on veganism then leave "vegan" out of it.