Food-to-Flesh and the Global Food Crisis

The exploitation of other animals for food and other goods involves more than the human privilege that comes from the direct exploitation of other animals, it also come at the exploitation of the world's hungriest people. So the rise in global food prices is not just linked to the conversion of food crops like corn and soybeans into ethanol and biofuels. This food-to-fuel conversion follows an older system where food crops, also mainly corn and soybeans, are turned into flesh, eggs, and dairy.

Veganism is Anti-Oppression: Not a Consumer Activity

Peter Gelderloos, a self-identified anarchist and author of How Nonviolence Protects the State (South End Press, 2007), claims that veganism is a consumer activity. His arguments are a combination of ignorance and problematic assertions. There really isn't much point in responding to Gelderloos claims about "veganism" since he presents absolutely no understanding of veganism, but I'll do it anyway.

Gelderloos starts out by misrepresenting veganism as simply "a consumer activity. It is ultimately an attempt to change capitalism and human civilization through the exercise of one's privileges as a consumer." From there he goes on to argue how this is "an impossible approach." Gelderloos even goes as far as to claim that veganism is not a lifestyle because a lifestyle is not a consumer choice.

I suppose Gelderloos may have just opened up a dictionary and read "vegan: a vegetarian who omits all animal products from the diet." But this definition is not how vegans, at least not those with a historical understanding of the vegan movement, define themselves. (Read more...)

Must We Really Support Exploitation?

Jo Stepaniak, author of The Vegan Sourcebook and several vegetarian cookbooks, is a longtime vegan advocate. On her website, Grassroots Veganism, Stepaniak answers questions about veganism. However, it surprised me when Stepaniak answered one question with the claim that vegans "must work towards reforming current animal production practices" as if such a claim were a fact of veganism. With other questions Stepaniak has been careful to reference some source of knowledge on veganism. But here Stepaniak view is much more controversial than she lets on. Read more...

Dynamic Harmlessness: More than the Absence of Suffering

When H. Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society in 1960 he interpreted the vegan ideal of non-exploitation as ahimsa, or "dynamic harmlessness." This parallels Barbara Smith and Keith Tudor when they write that "'non exploitation' may be viewed as a part of the ... commitment to 'non maleficence' or doing no harm."

Veganism and Anti-Oppression

Keeping in mind the centrality of exploitation to oppression, I think it is important to place the vegan ideal of non-exploitation firmly in the context of anti-oppression organizing. Viewing veganism as a broadly anti-oppression movement is not to redefine veganism as something new, but instead to "clarify the goal towards which the movement aspires." (Read more...)

Labeling Product 'Vegan'

Labeling consumer products "vegan" is problematic in terms of the vegan ideal. I'm not opposed to labeling products, but I do think it is preferable if such products where simply labeled "animal-free." This would be more accurate since the commercial and marketing use of the term "vegan" is only denoting that the product was produced or manufactured without using animal-derived ingredients or animal testing.

The Vegan Alternative

The dominant way of life in the Western World, especially in the United States, is based on consumption. In our society the consumer lifestyle is the mainstream. Hence, those who seek simple living – that is, a lifestyle based on conservation and sustainability as opposed to consumption – are said to be living an "alternative" lifestyle. So the question I'd like to address is: What kind of lifestyle is veganism? Is it a mainstream, consumer lifestyle, or is it an alternative, sustainable lifestyle?


Today, the egg industry sent out a press release touting research showing how "free range hens experience just as much or more stress than hens raised in modern, conventional cages." The industry professes that this research debunks assertions by animal rights activists that hens exploited for their eggs have horribly stressed lives. In reality, all this research really debunks is the myth that any form of animal exploitation can be "humane."

The egg industry is simply pointing to another form of exploitation and claiming to cause about the same amount of stress. The industry is in no way denying that they are exploiting other feeling beings. This is basically the same fallacy made two weeks ago by representatives for animal-exploitive circuses.

Unfortunately, some industry reformers have been promoting "free range" or "cage-free" exploitation as more "humane" than the conventional methods of exploitation. Since these advocates have created a myth of humane animal exploitation they're helping the egg industry as a whole to rationalization all types of exploitation. The rationalization being: if "free range" exploitation is "humane," and "free range" exploitation is as stressful or more so than conventional exploitation, then conventional exploitation is "humane" as well. Of course, since the very foundation of this logic is false - since all forms of exploitation are undesirable - the conclusion is also false.

We don't need a researcher from the University of Sydney to tell us that hens subjected to "free range" exploitation are at least as bad off as conventionally exploited hens. We can make that analysis ourselves with the "'Cage-Free' Test" offered by Tribe of Heart, the producers of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home and The Witness. The test (on the right hand column of the linked page) shows a series of images of rescued hens and asks us to name who was rescued from "cage-free" exploitation, and who was rescued from conventional exploitation. The test clearly illustrates that hens subject to alternative methods of exploitation experience just as much or more stress than those hens exploited in conventional cages.

Since exploiting other animals for food, clothing, entertainment or any other purpose is deplorable, it would be misguided to claim that one form of exploitation is better than another. As opposed to elevating one form of exploitation over another, the vegan ideal means encouraging the development and use of animal-free, non-exploitive alternatives. The egg industry won't get far claiming that plant-based alternatives to eggs involve "as much or more stress" as that experienced by hens.

Resolutions for a New Year and a Better World

Over the holidays many of us find ourselves at gatherings hosted by friends, family members or social acquaintances that feature the products of others' exploitation. Whether an aspiring or a long-time vegan, I think each of us can take this opportunity to reassess what is happening around us and each make New Year's resolutions that will take the vegan ideal a little further in the coming year.

Practicing Nonviolent Direct Action

Veganism is a principle that calls for the immediate rejection of the use and exploitation of all animals, as far as is humanly practical. Thus, in practice, the principle of veganism leads to nonviolent direct action.

When we practices veganism we are engaged in a real, immediate and concrete form of abolition. Each of us who sincerely embraces a vegan way of life directly respects other animals through our daily actions. We literally become the change we want to see in the world.