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Forget Billboards and Bus Ads. Give me Grassroots.

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Guest Post by Dr. Frances McCormack

———————————————————————–

Celebrity endorsements. Multi(hundred)-thousand dollar campaigns. Slogans. Elaborate billboards. Posters in public places. Ads on buses. Press agents. Spokespeople. Fundraising. Whispers of private donors.

I know what you’re thinking. The large animal orgs, right? CEOs in boardrooms cooking up the latest campaign to splash their President’s picture all over the newspapers, snag that spot on the hottest talk show in town.

Wrong. This is what now passes for grassroots advocacy.

Sure, advertising campaigns can look appealing, be highly visible, and get the word “vegan” into the public domain. But haven’t the animal orgs been using the same tactics for decades in order to push whatever the message du jour was?

Advertising campaigns (purportedly or actually) promoting veganism have been used for years by groups that ultimately support a New Welfarist message or that are otherwise hostile to or misrepresent abolitionism. They’ve often been used to push animal rights issues in a way that perpetuates human oppression. They have at times appeared to promote veganism as a moral imperative while linking to sites, groups, or advocates that deny that veganism is such. Decades of such tactics tell us that not only are these campaigns confusing at best, they’re only remembered when they’re controversial or damaging.

And, in the age of the internet, with the ability to send messages across the world in a matter of seconds across a range of social media platforms, isn’t forking over large sums of money to put pictures and slogans in public places (when there’s no proven advantage over other forms of spreading a message) somewhat redundant?

You see, when I see a billboard or a bus ad, I don’t automatically think of ethical principles or social justice movements. I think of mobile phone networks, beer, cowboys with cigarettes dangling from their lips, perfume. I think of commodities that are bought on a whim because the advertisement suggests that you’ll be more attractive, more productive, happier if you’ll throw some money that way…until the next appealing advert with someone else’s suggestion of what you should buy takes your fancy. That we’re starting to think of vegan education along the same lines demonstrates our confusion about what it is that makes someone vegan, and our lack of awareness about how advocacy works.

True grassroots activism requires informed advocates, with an understanding of the history of ideas in their movement and of the obstacles they may and do face, taking to the streets locally to inspire and inform. True behavioural change will only come about on an interpersonal level, and the most important part of any learning experience is dialogue. This is why, even in distance learning courses, we still facilitate the students’ discussion of the topics they’re learning by providing them with tutors. Certainly, someone seeing a vegan advertisement may seek out further information to educate themselves, but we can’t guarantee that their Google search, if they can’t remember the URL, won’t lead them to a site that wrongly informs them that vegetarianism or meat reduction are equally morally acceptable. A pamphlet or a slogan can never be a substitute for the power of human contact to effect conceptual change.

Corporate advocacy on veganism can never and will never work when so many resources are being filtered into promoting those things against which veganism is a form of protest. We’ve already heard stories of how certain campaigns had to “tone down” their message in order to pass planning permission, and there’s no way a partnership with a public body can ever create true political change in this arena. Attempting to buy space to air our views will only ever result in a compromised message.

But far more worrying than all of this is that such high-profile, costly advertising perpetuates the perception that veganism suffers from a class problem. Not only does it suggest to activists that activism requires a significant amount of funding, thereby disempowering those without access to such funds, but it also tends to take place in areas that are more affluent. Pay for a billboard in the financial district, but don’t be surprised if this ends up reinforcing the idea that veganism is only for those with money. If you have significant financial resources at your disposal and want to do something with them to effect real change for both humans and animals, sponsor a vegan food truck, or get behind those groups already on the ground trying to bring nutritious food and an unequivocal vegan message to low-income neighbourhoods.

If we want a vegan world, we need a nonviolent revolution, and money will never buy that. We need to be out on the streets, talking to people from our hearts. We don’t need to obtain the approval of town planners or corporate agencies in order to present our message in the way that we see fit.

If you’re an advocate and are feeling that your bunch of leaflets and your small fold-up table are just not good enough, remember this: true education requires teachers. Educate yourself and then educate others; no amount of money can buy the heart and mind that you can use to change those of others.

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

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0 Comments
  • G B

    What are the correspondence courses mentioned?

    • Please tell me you do not agree with *anything* written in this “article.”

      • G B

        Absolute Vegan, for me to say I don’t agree with anything in the article would indeed be absolutist. I think the BFBV campaign is a good thing and I promote it in various ways. I also promote the ideas of other abolitionists, of whom there are many.

        • End Animal Use

          So, without being absolutist, do you disagree with the basic position of this article?

          • G B

            If I didn’t, I wouldn’t promote BFBV.

  • AlpineJim

    Of course billboards on Times Square are ineffective, Frances. Of course they are. Now why don’t you go back to Gary’s page on Facebook and soak in the glory of praise for a great takedown, where you’ll all agree in your little bubble that getting published on Ecorazzi, tabling on street corners and chatting with your neighbors beats brilliant billboards linked to a fantastic vegan education website any day of the year. Wouldn’t want to you to breathe too much polluted air outside your Facebook and email bubble.

  • Yoshi

    Frances wrote: “You see, when I see a billboard or a bus ad, I don’t automatically think of ethical principles or social justice movements. I think of mobile phone networks, beer, cowboys with cigarettes dangling from their lips, perfume. I think of commodities that are bought on a whim because the advertisement suggests that you’ll be more attractive, more productive, happier if you’ll throw some money that way…until the next appealing advert with someone else’s suggestion of what you should buy takes your fancy. ”

    “if they can’t remember the URL, won’t lead them to a site that wrongly informs them”

    Here’s perhaps another experience:

    When I saw this billboard it captured my attention, you see, I’m used to seeing ads for corporations. The thought provoking message stopped me in my tracks. I took a picture with my mobile phone and shared it with a friend. Although the website address was easy to remember, it was legible in my photo should I forget. I got on the bus and decide to visit the website right away because I was curious who was behind this intriguing message.

    I like to consider myself an abolitionist and agree with you’re writings. I strongly disagree however with your degradation of the Be Fair Be Vegan campaign and how you lump it in with other campaigns that I agree have not been effective in the past. For once we have a clear concise uncompromising vegan message and probably one of the best well put together websites ever made.

    Yes it took money to buy the space to display this message, just like it takes money to print flyers to hand out at tabling events. There’s millions of people in the world and Time Square reaches millions of people.

    The campaigns use of the = symbol on the billboards and as their logo on their facebook page is absolutely brilliant. I hope they crowd fun, 10 thousand vegans giving just $10 could buy us weeks more. Money a vegan may have spent on overpriced food on a vegan food truck.

    Do you realized and the attention this is campaign is getting, and that the website is truly amazingly rich in information and uncompromising is arguing for veganism as the least someone can do. You have got to be kidding me that you are upset with this campaign. It’s baffles me why Gary Francione has aimed his fire-hose at this effort and made claims that the good people behind it are anything less than honorable vegans with a clear vegan message that is absolutely not plagiarized from his work.

    Why don’t you go attack some pro-welfare group, they are the ones that are adding to the confusions, Be Fair Be Vegan should be celebrated and supported.

    • Yoshi

      note: I say “we” but I am in no way associated with this campaign, I mean “we vegans”

    • Thomas

      While I think Yoshi’s math is a bit off, they are correct in that if you pool money together, some vegans who aren’t interested in tabling or are too introverted to have one-on-one discussions with people, or who don’t currently have the time or ability to table on the weekend, could pool together a few dollars each in constructive way and crowed source something effective, as long as it’s a clear vegan message of course.

  • Ban Animal Use

    (Irony alert.) So,
    the internet is really the best and only way to spread veganism. I
    can tell because when I get on the internet, I can find Ms McCormack
    moderating a page that spends the majority of it’s time spreading
    poison about other vegan activists. And I’m not talking about
    disputes with welfarists, no, I’m talking about attacks on others who
    promote veganism, oppose welfarism, and work tirelessly on education
    on the internet and in person. Attacks just like this attack here,
    but with a lot more venom, and less thought.

    Because unless an
    advocate belongs to that page, they are the enemy, and the closer
    they are to the same position, the more they are perceived as
    competition. And competition must be crushed. After all, there is one
    perfectly good page, why shouldn’t everyone be sent there? Is
    that the “grassroots” you mean?

    What can billboards
    offer? Can billboards be used for welfarism? Sure. So can tabling. So
    can the internet. Haven’t you noticed that? Can a message be the
    wrong message, or can it be misused? Sure. Is it necessarily wrong,
    because it is on a billboard or poster? Not at all. Are you really
    claiming vegans should never claim public space like companies or
    welfarists do? Are you really claiming that the internet, where
    people google their interests, is more effective then a billboard,
    when those interests don’t generally include animal rights?

    Yes,
    billboards can get vegan messages, (not just the word vegan) into the
    public consciousness. Is that a problem? It seems to me any
    abolitionist worth their salt would be out talking to people about
    the billboards of the Be Fair Be Vegan campaign. They are consistent
    with abolitionism. Why are you and your friends trying to tear that
    down, instead of using the opportunity. That tearing down is what we
    see around abolitionism online. The venom and attacks on those you
    don’t like are now so common, people are now avoiding abolitionism
    even as a word. And abolitionism is a term that was used by Jay
    Dinshah in relation to veganism at least as early as 1967, something
    your group never acknowledges. And he clearly separated it from
    welfarism, and his veganism was the end of animal use.

    You claim a vegan
    message on a billboard may be confused, relative to a discussion.
    Billboards don’t exist in a vacuum. They link to other resources.
    They are there for any who become curious, and they reach, in the
    case of Be Fair Be Vegan, hundreds of thousands of people each day,
    millions in a week. Tabling may reach hundreds, if the site is
    particularly good. In both cases, only those who are interested will
    pursue any curiosity. But in a numbers game, you will trigger the
    curiosity of many more people with a billboard than a table or a bit
    of street theatre, or a facebook page.

    Yes, we need
    grassroots, not some single personality that tries to take credit for
    all evolution of vegan thought, and trashes anyone not associated
    with him, including those who do reference him, when they don’t just
    create mirror sites of his work, his name, his pictures.

    This
    is a social justice movement. People use, and it is good to use, any
    consistent means available to progress the clear agenda of ending
    animal use (and I’m not talking about baby steps). It means getting
    real veganism into the public consciousness, because almost no one is
    convinced to go vegan in a single sitting, without a measure of
    consciousness-raising. Consciousness-raising includes billboards,
    media interviews, tabling, lectures, fests as well as taking
    opportunity for personal conversation. As long as the message is
    clear that there is no reason, and thus no excuse, to use animals for
    our own ends, as objects, then it is all valuable, and all advances
    the movement. The more this message becomes a part of social
    discourse, with the emphasis on justice and not on “humane”, the
    more people will become vegan, the more people will recognise
    veganism as a valid ethical position.

    Your article is just
    destructive sour grapes. The fact that it costs money doesn’t
    invalidate it. It just means someone has enough value for animal
    rights that they are willing to use their resources for it. They fact
    that they have more resources than most activists does not make them
    bad. The fact that your mentor seems not to use his
    wealth to help anyone does not diminish the contribution of others.
    He does not support IVA, he acts as if Go Vegan Radio is his own and
    yet Bob Linden is always looking for money, not only for the radio
    show but for the World Vegan Summit.

    Grassroots does not
    mean controlled by a single source, allowing only a single voice, and
    using only a single means of activism. It certainly does not mean
    searching out and trying to destroy anything that is not your own.

    • Thank you! I couldn’t agree with your words more. It boggles my mind how *anyone* could dislike the ‪#‎befairbevegan‬ campaign. I will gladly be donating – I have more money than I do time – And my personal reach could not even register, by comparison. “Destructive Sour Grapes” by the author, for sure.

      • End Animal Use

        Yes, I think many people see this is an effective tool, and would like to see it continue, or go to other places. Unfurtunately, at this point they do not accept donations, and there is no mechanism to donate (giving the lie to an infamous claim on Go Vegan Radio).

      • Matt Harvey

        Hi. I would like to respond to your comment: “My personal reach could not even register, by comparison.”

        I can see why people might have this reaction, looking at an advertising campaign like this, and then comparing themselves to the campaign.

        But actually, I don’t think this is the case at all. On the contrary, a person’s ultimate “reach” as an individual can do much, much more than merely “register”. If a person is committed to talking respectfully, patiently and rationally with people around them, about principles in which they have a well-founded and sincere belief, then that is an incredibly powerful thing. Remember there’s a “multiplier effect” here. If I’m able to talk with someone about veganism and animal rights (perhaps over multiple conversations), and that person then themselves becomes not only a vegan, but a *committed advocate for veganism and abolition*, and then that person talks with other people, etc. etc., then I have had a potentially *massive* impact there, just from talking to that *one* person. And when you’re looking at not just a single person who is committed, but at an entire movement of such people, then what you see is a grassroots social justice movement. A movement like that, in which ordinary people are and feel empowered to help change the world through their own efforts, their own speech, their own passion and commitment, is *extremely* powerful. The “impact” of a paid advertising campaign cannot even come close to the impact of a true grassroots social justice movement!

        I think it’s also important to remember that anyone can do vegan advocacy, even people who have busy lives and feel that they have “more money than time”. There will be people even just in your day-to-day life who you talk to anyway, and there will be opportunities to have conversations with those people about veganism and animal rights. (I’m not saying that you personally don’t do that by the way; I’m more just trying to make the point that people should not undervalue the huge impact they can have as individuals.)

        • End Animal Use

          Matt, you know a billboard doesn’t stop anyone from a personal conversation. …and
          the three people involved in the campaign are all long-term activists
          who have used stories, posters, web presence, public talks, personal
          communication, and many other mechanisms to do vegan education.

          As activists, use devices to attract attention. in terms of personal
          conversation, my experience is that unless people have some interest,
          they do not want to engage in discussions of veganism. Some interest
          is a broad term. It may be a comment from a checkout person about
          groceries, “My, that looks healthy”. I’ve had good short
          talks in this circumstances, though they will have the pressure of
          other customers. But frequently family members, neighbours,
          strangers, are not interested in discussions about veganism, and
          insistence hardens resistance. Billboards, posters on the net, or on
          the side of a table in a public place, all are intended to catch the
          attention and stir something, that hopefully gestates into interest.
          In that way, they improve the chance of someone being interested
          enough for a conversation.

          There is no substitute for a good conversation with someone who is morally consistent, and has the unequivocal goal of ending animal use. A good well, thought out,
          consistent web resource, like that of Be Fair Be Vegan, How To Go
          Vegan, Gentle world, or Peaceful Prairie are also helpful, in
          allowing people to investigate without the pressure of another’s
          expectations. And good blogs, like that on Peaceful Prairie, Gentle
          World, Vegan Trove, or others like them are also a real help.

          The forces that move people towards veganism are complex. There are many options for
          reaching people, and as long as the message is clear, that only by
          ending the use of animals personally, and urging others to do so,
          will we really help non-human animals.

          • Matt Harvey

            Obviously a billboard does not stop people from having personal conversations. I wasn’t claiming that it did. Neither was my comment an attack either on the billboard campaign or on the people involved.

            My comment was specifically a response to this statement: “My personal reach could not even register, by comparison.” I was pointing out, in response to that, that personal advocacy and one-on-one conversation, if done in an intelligent way, can actually have a very significant reach indeed, especially once the “multiplier effect” is taken into account. Regardless of whatever else is going on (billboard campaigns or otherwise), I think it’s very important that people don’t underestimate their own power as individuals to help bring about change.

            “There is no substitute for a good conversation with someone who is morally consistent, and has the unequivocal goal of ending animal use.” Indeed.

        • End Animal Use

          I’d also urge any abolitionist vegan to stop attacking this campaign, and use the opportunity it presents to engage non0veans and do vegan education and advocacy. The opportunity of a billboard campaign with an unequivolcal vegan message is not one that comes around often, and is not one that will last forever. i understand this one will end on the 4th of Sept.

          I hope it will come again, or appear in other cities, but really, who knows. So take the opportunity while it is there.

  • End Animal Use

    “Attempting to buy space to air our views will only ever result in a
    compromised message.”

    So, when Ecorazzi starts selling ads as they plan to do, will you stop writing for them?

    • End Animal Use

      When I turn off adblocker, ads I see on this site include
      “Australian Mum makes $11,953 a month doing nothing! You won’t believe her secret”, and

      “Wrinkles and eye bags vanish in 2 minutes with THIS! Plastic Surgeons are not happy about this new $5 trick.”

      I suppose that wrinkle crean is guaranteed to be vegan?

  • Thomas

    You and Gary talk in disparaging generalities regarding this campaign. I would love specifics as to why this particular campaign is so terrible and why you and others on the abolitionist approach facebook page are defaming the creators. The Be Fair Be Vegan website is really quite good and the vegan pamphlet the website links to front and center of the 2nd page, it’s a flyer that that has Gary Francione all over it.

    I am shocked at the backlash against this campaign and Gentle World by Gary Francione. Gentle World and Peaceful Prairie does wonderful abolitionist work, I’ve been following them for years. It seems as if Gary Francione is not happy with anyone else who actually use their own skills and resources to produce creative non-violent vegan education. Gary keeps claiming that someone who is promoting this campaign has attacked him before. So what? They are just “promoting” the campaign. But even if one of the organizers has in the past attacked Gary, give them the benefit of the doubt that and run with what is in front of you now. The work on the Be Fair Be Vegan website is not a copy of Gary’s work. He doesn’t own the concept of abolitionism, nor the idea that welfare improvements are counterproductive and don’t address the property paradigm. Nor the idea that we need to be “fair”, “kind”, “non-violent” towards animals. It’s astounding he claims they are appropriating his work. I am completely fed up with the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page and the way they carry themselves. I no longer feel comfortable sharing it with people, and I am an abolitionist!

    Veganism is not some difficult concept that people must be personally tutored in order to understand, one on one conversations with educators is great, perhaps even ideal for many people yes, but for the same reason Gary Francione has a go vegan website and the same reason that he makes posters with animals on them with captivating phrases – digital materials can be avenues for introducing people to veganism.

  • Filip Kostka

    I’m reposting a comment I made on FB, as some people will be linked here directly:

    This article doesn’t seem very convincing to me. Let me try to address it point by point.

    “Wrong. This is what now passes for grassroots advocacy.”

    Did anyone in fact claim that it was supposed to be grassroots advocacy?
    Next, there is a paragraph historically connecting advertising campaigns to New Welfarist and anti-abolitionist groups and claiming that

    ” They’ve often been used to push animal rights issues in a way that perpetuates human oppression. They have at times appeared to promote veganism as a moral imperative while linking to sites, groups, or advocates hat deny that veganism is such. Decades of such tactics tell us that not only are these campaigns confusing at best, they’re only remembered when they’re controversial or damaging. -Decades of such tactics tell us that not only are these campaigns confusing at best, they’re only remembered when they’re controversial or damaging”.

    But this tells us nothing about whether this campaign will succeed, because it is abolitionist (or at least the author hasn’t shown that it is not), while the previous campaigns, as the author herself writes, were in fact often not (and if there is a single example of an unsuccessful abolitionist campaign of this sort, I would like to see it).
    The fact that New Welfarists used such campaigns is as relevant a point as saying that the New Welfarists had speeches on conferences. Of course they did, but that isn’t a case against speaking on conferences.

    “And, in the age of the internet, with the ability to send messages across the world in a matter of seconds across a range of social media platforms, isn’t forking over large sums of money to put pictures and slogans in public places (when there’s no proven advantage over other forms of spreading a message) somewhat redundant?”

    No, first because internet users tend to hide in their small information bubbles and isolate themselves from information outside of what they themselves like to see. Second, if the author were right about this, than no rational company would pay for physical advertising and the screens of Times Squares would have been empty. This is not the case.

    “You see, when I see a billboard or a bus ad, I don’t automatically think of ethical principles or social justice movements. I think of mobile phone networks, beer, cowboys with cigarettes dangling from their lips, perfume. I think of commodities that are bought on a whim because the advertisement suggests that you’ll be more attractive, more productive, happier if you’ll throw some money that way…until the next appealing advert with someone else’s suggestion of what you should buy takes your fancy.L

    Yes, but this is actually an argument for such billboard campaigns, as seeing a clear moral message must be very striking. It is very different from the usual commercials, which try to make you buy a product. A radically different message will stop people in their tracks. And again, if advertising were a priori ineffective because some other ad could “take your fancy”, companies wouldn’t advertise at all.

    Next, the author argues that advertising campaigns, pamphlets and slogans can never be a substitute for interaction on an interpersonal level. I agree, but I don’t think anyone is claiming that
    it should serve as such a substitute. Reading a book on animal ethics is likewise no direct substitute for such an interaction, yet that doesn’t mean that there is a case against writing such books. I am pretty sure that making the billboard campaigns is not all the authors and supporters of such campaigns are going do.

    I agree with the author’s point that the person in question can find wrong kind of information on the internet when searching for “veganism”. On the other hand, the Be Fair Be Vegan campaign includes a reference to a website with an easy to remember URL. And the danger of googling “the wrong thing” is present even after having engaged in a conversation with an abolitionist advocate.
    Also, I think in most cases it’s preferable to find some information on veganism than no information at all, but we may of course disagree on this.

    “Attempting to buy space to air our views will only ever result in a compromised message.”

    This is transparently false, I can see no compromise in the message the Be Fair Be Vegan campaign sends. It is simple and clear. And manifestly anti-welfarist.

    “But far more worrying than all of this is that such high-profile, costly advertising perpetuates the perception that veganism suffers from a class problem. Not only does it suggest to activists that activism requires a significant amount of funding, thereby disempowering those without access to such funds, but it also tends to take place in areas that are more affluent.”

    The author may have a point here, but if she does, then she should also similarly criticize people who write books on animal ethics. Only people with time and education can write great, informed books on animal ethics.
    Does writing books reinforce the notion that you can only be a good advocate when you have the time and education to write books?

    And what about people who have to work all day because they lack money and do not have the time to devote to vegan advocacy? Does spending a lot of time on vegan advocacy reinforce the notion that you can’t be an advocate if you work hard?

    What about people in China, who are banned from using Facebook, as well as from many other sources of information? Does using Facebook reinforce the notion that you cannot be an animal advocate in China?

    In general, if we take the author’s argumentation to its logical conclusion, if you have capital (money, time, education, fame) you are supposed not to use it to help animals lest you send a wrong message to other advocates.

    • AlpineJim

      Thanks for being a voice of reason in response to a ridiculous article. I didn’t have the time or inclination today to take such an approach, so I responded to the ridiculous with ridicule — second best to a legitimate critique.

  • Thomas

    Frances, you make it sound as if veganism is some difficult concept that people must be personally tutored by experts in order to understand. One on one conversations with educators is great, perhaps even ideal for many people yes, but for the same reason Gary Francione has a go vegan website and the same reason that he makes posters with animals on them with captivating phrases that advertise his website – digital materials can be avenues for introducing people to veganism. I went vegan from stumbling upon a freakin PETA website 15 years ago, no I don’t like PETA anymore and don’t promote them due to reasons we probably share, but my point is that these are not difficult ideas and when it clicks, people often just get it. Millions of people seeing an amazing billboard campaign with a compelling website behind it, is to be celebrated and supported not condemned. While I think Yoshi’s math is a bit off, they are correct in that if you pool money together, some vegans who aren’t interested in tabling or are too introverted to have one-on-one discussions with people, or who don’t have the time to table on the weekend, could potentially pool together a few dollars each in constructive way and crowed source something effective, as long as it’s a clear vegan message of course.

  • I could not possibly disagree with this article/the author more – and for the reasons already articulated below (End Animal Use). Your article is just “destructive sour grapes” for sure.

  • Flowery Dawn

    No comments…

    • End Animal Use

      Oh my goodness, Gary Francione appropriated John Lennon!

      And look, he has a virtual billboard! Anyone who goes to his page can see it!

      • Buffalo

        I think it’s plagiarism without attribution! 6 out 8 words are identical.

  • Jeff

    Oh, the irony!

  • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who finds this writer’s poison pen sniping of the excellent and unequivocally vegan Be Fair Be Vegan campaign perverse. This is not at all unexpected considering the source (and the source behind the source who gripes and whinges as if they own the copyrights to the entire English language).

    I’d chuckle at a certain Facebook page’s scrambling attempts to reclaim the word “fair” (“They said ‘fair’, but I said it first!!! Those bad people stole it from me!!!”) as if they’d coined it, but there’s nothing funny about such churlish and dishonorable behavior we all learned was unacceptable by the fourth grade. If they were capable of feeling shame, they’d be feeling it by now. Alas, they seemingly cannot.

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Part 1: One of History’s Earliest Ethical Vegan Voices

If the Syrian author of that poem could go vegan, anyone in our era can buck far milder social pressures and go vegan.

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