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. Last year, Stepaniak wrote the following in response to a question asking if "humane" meat was OK:

In order to totally eradicate the slaughter of animals for food, the majority of the world's population would need to become vegan or at least vegetarian. The likelihood of this happening anytime soon, however, is slim. Therefore, the role of animal activists and vegans is twofold: first, we must work toward reforming current animal production practices through direct action and legislative change, and second, we must educate the public at large about animal sentience. Through awareness, people's attitudes will gradually ameliorate, so that eventually only abolition will be acceptable. But until the prevailing belief is one that values, respects, and appreciates all forms of life, revisionist approaches are absolutely necessary.

I found it surprising that Stepaniak would 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 is just making an unsupported assertion.

The view is much more controversial than Stepaniak lets on, and she isn't the only one promoting this view, either. Supporting new methods of exploitation does not actually change the industry — its basic function remains the same. Yet calling for such revisionism means "veganism" goes from being a challenge to systematic exploitation to being an aid to that system. It is, in fact, a new revisionist take on "veganism," one which jettisons the vegan ideal by making (tentative) allowances for some types of exploitation.

This revisionist "veganism" offers only cosmetic modifications of actual exploitation. Despite the fact that the products are labeled "humane" or "compassionate," the revisionist "vegans" are complicit in supporting, perpetuating, and sustaining the very system of oppression and exploitation that the vegan movement was created to end.

Bob Torres, in Making A Killing, offers the following response to the cynical claim that because veganism isn't going to be universal "anytime soon" that we should fine-tune exploitation to "at least help mitigate some of the horrors that farm animals currently endure":

Though it is sad to say so, we will likely not eradicate racism or sexism in my lifetime. They are entrenched in our cultures and economies, and very much a part of capitalism – and always have been. Yet, many of us who are concerned about these forms of domination do not live actively as racists or sexists just because racism and sexism are too deeply entrenched in our culture and are otherwise intractably difficult to challenge. I may not be able to make racism or sexism disappear tomorrow, but that does not mean that, say, furthering racist stereotypes, or living to recreate patriarchy makes sense.

Supporting new, mitigating means of exploiting nonhuman animals only works to further the oppression of other animals. This is why the American Vegan Society stated: "In short we are abolitionists, though non-violent ones, for how we accomplish something is every bit as important as that it is done (and often more so)." The world we create will flow from the form of our advocacy. This is why how we accomplish liberation is so important, and why we can't reach that goal by recreating new means of exploitation.

Re: Must We Really Support Exploitation?

all vegans agree that the goal is that all humans become vegan and stop exploiting animals. any vegan is doing much more to relieve animals suffering than pretty much any omni. but what should companion animals be fed?