Did you know that your version of Internet Explorer is out of date?
To get the best possible experience using our website we recommend downloading one of the browsers below.

Internet Explorer 10, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

Reducetarians, New Welfarists, Abolitionists: Do We All Want the Same Thing?

Like us on Facebook:

 

Guest Essay by Dr. Frances McCormack and Alan O’Reilly of Grumpy Old Vegans

——————————————————————————–

The Ethical Issues

Most people recognise that animals matter morally. Even nonvegans comprehend that a cow or a chicken has a moral worth where an inanimate object doesn’t. Yet, only vegans have followed through on our recognition that animals are harmed by our use of them by abstaining from treating them as a means to our ends.

Vegans avoid using animals because we recognise that all animal use is wrong. If we thought that better treatment of the animals used for food, clothing, or entertainment was the solution to the problem of exploitation we wouldn’t be vegan; if we believed that some harm were morally acceptable, we wouldn’t be vegan. Veganism stands for our recognition that nonhuman animals ought never be used as a means to our ends.

No one who accepts the moral principles of veganism would dream of drinking a glass of dairy milk or eating a slice of an animal’s flesh. We recognise that we can never justify participating in an action that we acknowledge to be morally wrong: none of us would beat a dog, nor would we advocate beating dogs less often (the reducetarian approach) or with smaller sticks (the welfarist approach). Yet, some among us who are ethically consistent in our own behaviour promote less than veganism as part of a strategy we claim will reduce suffering.

Reducetarianism

The Reducetarian Foundation, headed by two nonvegans, envisions a world where people eat less meat. This foundation doesn’t claim to advocate for a vegan world, yet many vegans promote their approach, asserting that it will help to shift the paradigm to a vegan planet. There is no evidence that suggests that this will be the case; in fact, the “research” on which many of the vegan proponents of reducetarianism base their claim is derived from market research and pseudo-science, and their data is often misinterpreted.

Since reducetarianism is focussed on decreasing consumption of animal flesh, it creates an artificial moral distinction between flesh and other products of animal exploitation. Yet, knowing what animals used for other forms of industry have to endure, we cannot, with conscience, exclude them from our advocacy. And so, to promote reducetarianism in the hope of bringing people to veganism is not only misguided, but also falls hopelessly short of what we know nonhuman animals deserve by right.

Those who promote reducetarianism often depict veganism as difficult, puritanical, elitist. Yet, what could make veganism appear more difficult than the insistence by vegans that it is? What could be more puritanical than the depiction of veganism as beyond the moral scope of even those who care? What could be more elitist than believing that one’s own ethical principles are too lofty and idealistic for the majority?

New Welfarism

While reducetarianism aims to decrease the consumption of “meat,”New Welfarism seeks to make treatment more humane. Those vegans who promote it do so in the hopes that it will either encourage others to be vegan or improve the lives of animals suffering now.

To the first point, if we want to encourage others to be vegan, then surely the most logical way to do so would be to talk to them about veganism. Humane animal products make people more comfortable with consuming the products of exploitation by suggesting that they are somehow more “compassionate” for doing so. The burgeoning “happy exploitation” industry is surely proof positive of this.

To the latter point, the animals who are suffering under the current system of exploitation are rarely, if ever, helped by the reform campaigns started during their lifetimes. In 2008, Californian voters passed Proposition 2—a ballot measure requiring that farmed animals raised in California be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs or wings. This measure was to be implemented by 2015, some 7 years later. Yet, there are many egg producers in California who have not converted their facilities to be compliant with this minimal change in welfare standards (welfare reform measures can only ever be minimal in the immense scale of suffering that defines the life of a farmed animal) and so HSUS is now spearheading a campaign to try to persuade animal exploiters to adopt the reforms that they were required to adopt by law. In the meantime, energy and resources that could have been invested in promoting veganism have been squandered to promote changes that continue to facilitate the exploitation of animals.
Gary L. Francione demonstrates that most implemented welfare reforms address inefficiencies in the production process: the requirement that cows be stunned before slaughter, for instance, prevents worker injuries and carcass damage from unstunned, hoisted cows. Francione demonstrates that the vast majority of welfare reforms are not enforced, and that those that are benefit the exploiter by increasing productivity, yield, and therefore profits.

Most welfare reform campaigns are single-issue campaigns: they focus on one animal product such as fur, or one form of treatment such as veal crates, and they characterise these as worse than other products or forms of use. In doing so, they suggest that wearing leather, wool, or silk is morally better than wearing fur, or that eating veal from uncrated calves is morally better eating veal from crated calves, thereby providing a moral salve for participation in some forms of exploitation. Many campaigns characterise some animals as more morally valuable than others, or condemn the practices of another culture. The campaigns against the dog-meat trade in Asia do both.

The longest-running welfare reform campaign is the anti-vivisection campaign, started in the 19th century. After 200 years of campaigning, there are more animals being used in vivisection than at any other point in our history. After almost half a century of anti-fur campaigning by the animal organisations, the fur trade is bigger and more profitable than it has ever been. Welfare reform campaigns just do not work.

Solutions

The New Welfarist and Reducetarian positions are designed to change modes of production or behaviour, but not perception. Without helping people to understand the consequences of their concern for our fellow animals, there is no impetus for them to become vegan and to remain that way. And if one can change people’s perception of the moral worth of nonhuman animals, then persuading them to align their behaviour accordingly is only a small step further. Some advocates may claim that not everyone cares about animals, but the majority do, and our job is to focus on advocating veganism to them rather than to spend precious time promoting less (which necessarily involves promoting exploitation) to those who don’t. They say that the world won’t go vegan overnight, and we acknowledge the truth of this. However, the world won’t go vegan at all if we aren’t prepared to advocate for the end of animal use through veganism. How can we, as vegans, advocate for anything less than what our moral conviction dictates?

Reducetarians and welfarists are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. By framing veganism as idealistic, they are perpetuating the normativity of animal exploitation. By promoting reduced consumption of animal products, they are condoning the consumption of some. By shifting the focus away from the moral principles they accept in their own lives, they are perpetuating the paradigm that limits those principles to being part of a fringe philosophy.

If we wish to end the social injustice inflicted on other sentient beings, we must shift the conversation away from regulation towards abolition, away from reduction towards elimination. Whatever time we have for advocacy, we can only use it once, and we must use it to advocate for the end of animal exploitation through unequivocal education. Because if we, as vegans, don’t do this, who on earth will?

The proceeds for writing this essay will be donated towards local TNR projects.

Like us on Facebook:
0 Comments
  • MikeVeg

    “I think that if you believe in the black and white mentality of only two distinct categories where you are either 100% vegan or 100% non-vegan shows that you have neither fully understood the social psychology and sociology of veganism nor carnism.

    Veganism and carnism are social justice issues just like racism, homophobia, sexism, serophobia etc…

    And to take racism as an example: There is NO person that can claim to be 100% free of racism. We are all born into a society that contains racist beliefs to some extent. They are passed onto us by socialization without us realizing it. They are invisible. They need to be invisible. Because if they weren’t we wouldn’t have them. Because they clash with our human values and compassion. So they are socialized onto every individual in a society. And by that they are also internalized by the psyche of every single one of those individuals.

    It is our job to become aware of those internalized beliefs one by one. But because there are so many and because they are so well hidden we can never be 100% sure that we are 100% free of racism. Racism and anti-racism are therefor a continuum and not two distinct black and white categories. Some people are more racist than others. But nobody is 100% racist or 100% non-racist. We are all racist to some degree. What’s important is therefor not in which category we are, and not even where we fall on the continuum. But what’s important is into which direction we are heading and if we are open enough to have our own racism be exposed.

    Now it’s the same with carnism and veganism. Veganism and carnism are more than diets. They are ideologies, belief systems. And as such they have something to do with socialization. We are all born into a carnist society and therefor internalize carnist and speciesist beliefs. It is our job therefor to become aware of those beliefs. Now just like with racism we can never be 100% sure that we are completely free of carnist beliefs – even if we are on a vegan diet and don’t wear or consume any products made from animals. How could we be sure of that when all those beliefs are hidden deep in our psyche where we don’t see them?

    So just like with racism (or homophobia, sexism, etc) we can never say we are a 100% vegan and others are 100% NOT vegans. This would just show that one hasn’t understood how the sociology and psychology of such belief systems work. Again it’s not about categories but about a continuum and it’s not about where we are but in which direction we are heading.

    We can have hidden carnist beliefs even though we don’t wear, eat or consume any products from animals. And therefor we are not 100% vegans. Just as we can have hidden racist beliefs even though we don’t support slavery.

    And therefore I would never call myself a 100% vegan just because I don’t eat or consume any animal products. Just as I would never call myself a 100% anti-homophobe just because I am openly gay myself or a 100% anti-racist. I know perfectly well that I still might have some internalized carnist, racist or homophobic beliefs that I am not aware of.

    And as a result I can also not call anybody else a 100% non-vegan and put somebody who eats a piece of non-vegan cake once a year in the same category as somebody who eats meat three times a day.” – Jeff Mannes

    • Amanda Spring

      >We can have hidden carnist beliefs even though we don’t wear, eat or consume any products from animals. And therefor we are not 100% vegan<<

      There are no percentage points necessary, you are either vegan or not. Are you really stating that having thoughts or cravings for animal products ("carnist beliefs") and not acting on them makes you not vegan?? What kind of message do you think it sends to people interested in veganism that someone who abstains from all animal use can't even fulfill their own definition of veganism?

      This whole "continuum" notion really overcomplicates the philosophy of veganism. It's very simple: Using sentient beings as means to our ends is wrong and unnecessary – We should be vegan, and educate others to do the same. If people want to keep using animals to whatever degree, they will do so, no coddling needed. We should never advocate for continued exploitation like reducitarianism and welfarism do. Mainstream culture and industry got that angle well covered!

      • MikeVeg

        Some fears that my friend noticed:

        “1. The fear that the concept of veganism will be watered down.

        Vegans understandably wouldn’t want to undermine the idea of “being vegan” or “veganism.” They wouldn’t want it to mean anything else than what it means (or what they believe it means): products, food, consumption, a lifestyle… without the involvement of animals. I think the fear is to end up with a watered down version of this concept, where vegan would mean something like “almost free of animal use or suffering.”

        Two answers to this. First of all, like I wrote, it is an illusion to think that a vegan lifestyle is a lifestyle that doesn’t inflict any suffering on human or non-human animals (that this argument is also used by meat eaters against vegans doesn’t make it any less true). Secondly, we have to help people take the first step, rather than the last. The last steps, the details, will be taken care of automatically, as a consequence of animal byproducts becoming more and more expensive and hard to come by. If we get to a 95% (or even a 75%) vegan society, then there is no reason we can not bridge the remaining gap. It is not productive to worry about the tiny bits now and make it all too difficult, because that may easily prevent people from moving at all.

        2. The fear that people may get confused about what is vegan and what is not, or who is vegan and who isn’t.

        If a vegan makes an exception (e.g. eats a non-vegan cookie), they are making other people – so the argument goes – confused and these people will end up not knowing what veganism is. Or they will – God forbid – serve us something non-vegan! All I can say is that if this is what we worry about at this stage of the movement, when 65 billion land animals are killed for food yearly, then we have to re-check our priorities. We have to think a lot more strategically than this.

        3. The fear that vegans will be seen as inconsistent if they ever do an unvegan thing.

        When I make e.g. my lasagne argument, saying that in order to make the idea of veganism more accessible I would make tiny exceptions here and there in special cases, some vegans think this will be interpreted as inconsistency (worst case: hypocrisy). Let me tell you: the concern for inconsistency is mainly in our own heads, not in the meat-eaters’. What other people see is something that is really really difficult. Showing that in, whatever special cases, exceptions can be made, would make us and veganism seem more attractive rather than less. Consistency is, in my humble opinion, often overrated. That doesn’t mean we should just do whatever. But 99% consistency will be perfectly fine.

        The question is whether fears like these are enough to explain the angry reactions to the post. I feel there’s something much more threatening going on for some vegans when the definition of vegan is being questioned. What I feel is going on is that on some level, some people experience that a very important part of their identity is being questioned. I’ll write about that some other time.

        What was also quite interesting to notice was how people, who kept repeating “you are either vegan or you’re not!”, referred to other domains, issues, identities, personas… that were supposedly also black or white. In every single case though, I could see a lot of gray. One person said a Christian or a Muslim is not like 95% Christian or Muslim. My thought was exactly the opposite: both in terms of their (mental) faith and their (outward) behavior, people have different degrees of being religious. The same for having racist thoughts or exhibiting racist behavior: we seem to all do it to some extent.

        The often mean reactions made me realize more than ever that being vegan is not an end point, and that as vegans we generally should not claim to be better than others. All of us can still grow in compassion. If we can’t open our minds to ideas that don’t coincide with our own, if we can’t even listen, read, talk or discuss compassionately, then there’s still a long way to go.

        And rest assured, I count myself among the ones who still have a lot to learn.

        Let’s keep an open mind and believe in each other’s good intentions.”

        • Amanda Spring

          In this ongoing disagreement in the AR movement abolitionists often have their commitment to veganism as a moral baseline characterized as “black and white”, “holier than thou” and “bullying” but this is the first time I’ve seen it characterized as fear. Being firm about the immorality of animal use makes sense if you compare it to any form of human oppression – you don’t see human rights advocates promoting campaigns for racist jokes only after 6pm or applauding rapists who vow to take a gentler approach with their victims. Speciesism is the reason for this difference in our actions and beliefs toward animals.

          The welfarist and reducitarian positions are in fact fear-based themselves because they assume that people can’t be reasoned with about veganism with logic and civil discussion alone, instead calling for people to give up only specific types of animal uses, or merely reduce their usage (or by showing shocking videos or, for the direct action folks, yelling at bystanders in public).

          As for #2, the “fear” that the meaning of veganism will become unclear: This is a legitimate concern, as we’ve constantly seen celebrity fad diets mischaracterized as veganism and this has led to it being combined in the cultural consciousness with gluten-free and other non-vegan related options. Veganism is not merely a diet and we must work to undo the confusion around this fact (which is also compounded by animal welfare orgs interchanging vegan, v*gan, vegetarian and veg).

          And #3: the fear of being seen as inconsistent or personally impure. This is another branch from #2, the concern to keep definitions accurate so we don’t promote animal use by being unclear or halfassed in our explanations. Furthermore, the welfarist SIC groups I used to run with appeared to be much more concerned about their identity as “activists” than individuals who are not part of a recognized group, who humbly do the work of educating others about veganism in daily life. There were a sort of “rock stars” of highly visible animal rights experts and group leaders who sometimes fell into the trap of looking out for the orgs they’d built with more attention than they give to the plight of animals on the whole.

          Commitment to morality is not fear, bullying or egoboosting, it’s just people making their best effort to do what’s right. I have great hopes for the AR movement, but it will be abolitionism that will free animals from their property status, which can only happen once we have gathered a larger population of ethical vegans who spend their time educating others, and not entrenching the property status of animals further with a neverending parade of half measures, partnerships with exploiters and single issue campaigns.

  • MikeVeg

    Here are some of the fears that my friend, Tobias, noticed in people’s reactions to his suggestion to be pragmatic and a bit flexible in our defining of the term vegan:

    “1. The fear that the concept of veganism will be watered down.

    Vegans understandably wouldn’t want to undermine the idea of “being vegan” or “veganism.” They wouldn’t want it to mean anything else than what it means (or what they believe it means): products, food, consumption, a lifestyle… without the involvement of animals. I think the fear is to end up with a watered down version of this concept, where vegan would mean something like “almost free of animal use or suffering.”

    Two answers to this. First of all, like I wrote, it is an illusion to think that a vegan lifestyle is a lifestyle that doesn’t inflict any suffering on human or non-human animals (that this argument is also used by meat eaters against vegans doesn’t make it any less true). Secondly, we have to help people take the first step, rather than the last. The last steps, the details, will be taken care of automatically, as a consequence of animal byproducts becoming more and more expensive and hard to come by. If we get to a 95% (or even a 75%) vegan society, then there is no reason we can not bridge the remaining gap. It is not productive to worry about the tiny bits now and make it all too difficult, because that may easily prevent people from moving at all.

    2. The fear that people may get confused about what is vegan and what is not, or who is vegan and who isn’t.

    If a vegan makes an exception (e.g. eats a non-vegan cookie), they are making other people – so the argument goes – confused and these people will end up not knowing what veganism is. Or they will – God forbid – serve us something non-vegan! All I can say is that if this is what we worry about at this stage of the movement, when 65 billion land animals are killed for food yearly, then we have to re-check our priorities. We have to think a lot more strategically than this.

    3. The fear that vegans will be seen as inconsistent if they ever do an unvegan thing.

    When I make e.g. my lasagne argument, saying that in order to make the idea of veganism more accessible I would make tiny exceptions here and there in special cases, some vegans think this will be interpreted as inconsistency (worst case: hypocrisy). Let me tell you: the concern for inconsistency is mainly in our own heads, not in the meat-eaters’. What other people see is something that is really really difficult. Showing that in, whatever special cases, exceptions can be made, would make us and veganism seem more attractive rather than less. Consistency is, in my humble opinion, often overrated. That doesn’t mean we should just do whatever. But 99% consistency will be perfectly fine.

    The question is whether fears like these are enough to explain the angry reactions to the post. I feel there’s something much more threatening going on for some vegans when the definition of vegan is being questioned. What I feel is going on is that on some level, some people experience that a very important part of their identity is being questioned. I’ll write about that some other time.

    What was also quite interesting to notice was how people, who kept repeating “you are either vegan or you’re not!”, referred to other domains, issues, identities, personas… that were supposedly also black or white. In every single case though, I could see a lot of gray. One person said a Christian or a Muslim is not like 95% Christian or Muslim. My thought was exactly the opposite: both in terms of their (mental) faith and their (outward) behavior, people have different degrees of being religious. The same for having racist thoughts or exhibiting racist behavior: we seem to all do it to some extent.

    The often mean reactions made me realize more than ever that being vegan is not an end point, and that as vegans we generally should not claim to be better than others. All of us can still grow in compassion. If we can’t open our minds to ideas that don’t coincide with our own, if we can’t even listen, read, talk or discuss compassionately, then there’s still a long way to go.

    And rest assured, I count myself among the ones who still have a lot to learn.

    Let’s keep an open mind and believe in each other’s good intentions.”

  • Joan Kennedy

    No one advocacy group or single stream of effort is going to eliminate the use of animal products. Not vegans, not locavores, nobody. The best all groups combined can do is effect reduction in the demand for food animals, and remediate some of the worst of the conditions food animals suffer in.

    Advocating for less horrid conditions for chickens is not advocating for the use of eggs or meat. It’s not trying to make people feel better about killing animals. It’s shining light on conditions that necessitate use of HazMat suits for poultry workers in the ammoniated air that sears birds’ throats.

    Meatless Monday is not an endorsement of six days straight of meat, it’s an attempt to encourage people to bring down their personal meat consumption. Once you know you can survive one day without meat, it puts you in mind of adding a second day. People have been known to go completely off meat, milk and eggs from such a starting point.

    It’s a different effort, trying to get fifty million to cut back rather than trying to get one million to cut out every bit of it, which would be the impact of managing to double the number of US vegans without pulling them from the population of current vegetarians. Efforts that get people to cut back have a direct and measurable impact on the numbers of animals bred to live in misery and die in agony, with the added consideration of millions of tons fewer of toxic emissions in the atmosphere and the waterways. Beef and dairy usage is down. That’s a good thing, right?

    Why would any good-hearted abolitionist stomp on organized efforts to get people to reduce their animal use? A cynic would suggest brutal competition for scarce donor dollars. I’ll hold out benefit of the doubt that the motive is more benign than that, but I won’t hold it out forever.

    • Elizabeth Collins

      Where do you and others like you ever get the idea that promoting unequivocal veganism does not have the effect not only of people going vegan (which it does) but also influencing people to start thinking about these issues leading them to cut down on their animal product consumption, and try more vegan meals and start exploring vegan food? I do unequivocal vegan advocacy as do many I know, and we see it all the time and hear about it all the time. Speciesism is clouding your thoughts.

    • Elizabeth Collins

      Also, abolitionists don’t ask for donations that is entirely the welfarist movement. And as for why do we object to these ‘organised efforts’? Because they promote and reinforce speciesism and perpetuate the property status, thereby undermining our efforts of animal rights. You really need to get your facts straight. Do some reading.

      • Joan Kennedy

        I have no problem with a group or individual advocating unequivocal veganism. My quarrel is with those, like the authors of the piece that started this thread, who throw barbs at the welfarists, utilitarians and reducitarians who are also working to reduce public demand for animal products. And who are fighting to improve living conditions from their current appalling state. It’s the sad and typical fight between revolutionaries and incrementalists, with the same predictable talking points.

        From what I’ve seen, pretty much every advocacy group for unequivocal veganism with paid staff solicits donations. You can be a lone wolf with income from a university and from book sales without soliciting donations. But if you’re a nonprofit organization, if you run sanctuaries and/or field lobbying efforts, you’re DonateToUs.

        • Elizabeth Collins

          You are missing the point so I will make it again: we recognise that welfarism, reducetarianism and utilitarianism completely and utterly reinforce speciesism and entrench animals in the property paradigm, thereby moving animal rights backwards. Do you seriously think we criticise it just for the sake of it without reason? And no, we don’t solicit donations, nor are we a nonprofit organization. We fund our own cheap and doable vegan education efforts in local communities, printing out pamphlets, in black and white if necessary, and going out into the community and advocating unequivocally for veganism. Our voices and time don’t cost money. Printing does but we pay for that with our own money, and if others in our local community can’t afford printing we donate pamphlets to each other. That is how grassroots is done. What you are talking about is corporate animal charities, which is nothing to do with grassroots. Sanctuaries of course need donations. As for predictable – what is predictable is someone attempting to comment on our position, and why we object to welfarist etc campaigning, and what we actually do, and how we actually do it, and what we actually stand for, while knowing *nothing* about it.

          • Joan Kennedy

            I’m not missing your main point. I was not engaging you on it because I was too busy trying to correct your mischaracterizations of my arguments. You launched into a spirited defense of your own advocacy of unequivocal veganism, despite my not having criticized advocacy of unequivocal veganism. My contention is that different streams of effort can coexist, and that abolitionists should let the welfarists continue to chip away at public policy, while abolitionists keep trying to improve their own efforts to reach human hearts and minds.

            But I’ll address your main point now. I think abolitionists need to stop ridiculing the notion that most people find the idea and practice of veganism extremely difficult. If a reducetarian talks about veganism as being difficult, it’s because of seeing that most people who try it experience it as difficult. Very few people even consider taking up veganism because the idea seems too far out there to them, too woo-woo. Those who do try it mostly abandon it. Because they find it difficult to maintain, either because they have no social support for it or because they miss the nonvegan foods they’ve given up. Cardiologists, nearly all of whom are dairy/egg/meat consumers themselves, recognize the difficulty when they recommend moderate changes in food consumption and prescribe statins to lower cholesterol in people who will not make major dietary changes.

            The piece reprinted above is taking aim at, among other groups, vegans who advocate for smaller changes in the public than full public embrace of veganism. This, I believe, is because these vegans recognize that very few people will voluntarily make the personal changes they themselves have made. They also recognize that most people who try to make these changes will not sustain them. Time and experience teach us that. Being the only ones in our circles of friends and family who don’t eat milk, eggs or meat teaches us that. People who advocate for less restrictive changes are trying to impact the behavior of larger numbers of people than abolitionists have managed to budge. But the welfarists are not telling abolitionists they should cease and desist, or become welfarists themselves. From what I’ve seen, welfarists and utilitarians and reducitarians respect abolitionists and their efforts, but they think abolitionist efforts aren’t turning enough people to make enough of a difference.

  • Heeb

    Trouble is with your ‘abolitionist’ and ‘liberation’ positions is that you always become bogged down in human realted issues and you are wed to anti-capitalism which is utter nonsense

Read between the vegan headlines

They say bad news travels fast, but I’d race vegan news against it.

WHY ARE WE SO CONFUSED?

The desire to be consistent morally results in an illogical rationalization of this nonsensical belief that it’s okay to eat the animals we claim to love.

Part 2: One of History’s Earliest Ethical Vegan Voices

Compared to the modern world, it was much harder to be vegan in Ma‘arrī’s time and place due to the religious and social pressures.