Outdated slogans and threats of violence- could vegan activism get any worse?
A new non-vegan restaurant is opening in London, fronted by the popular chef Neil Rankin. Although non-vegan restaurants open every day throughout the world, this particular one has caused a great deal of anger among the ‘animal people’ community. What makes this restaurant seem unique is that Rankin will be roasting full animals in front of the customers. There are plans for a demonstration outside the restaurant on its opening day and Rankin claims he has received threats of violence. In this article, I want to show how the response to Rankin’s restaurant is ideologically confused and counter-productive. I will also suggest a more powerful method of advocacy that can truly change the world.
- Ideological confusion
If we were to protest the opening of a new non-vegan restaurant we would have to find reasonable grounds to do so, given that we don’t protest outside every non-vegan restaurant. What would these grounds be? Ultimately, we would have to find a moral distinction between a ‘normal’ non-vegan restaurant and a ‘unique’ one, like Rankin’s. I assume the animal people who are opposing the restaurant find the moral distinction in the public display of the animal’s corpse, rather than it being chopped up in the kitchen. If this is the case, I fail to see where a moral distinction can be made. The issue with non-veganism is its use of non-human animals, reducing a sentient being’s status to that of mere property. Whatever happens to the non-human animal’s body after death has no moral consequence. In every non-vegan restaurant throughout the world, animals are used for the consumer’s pleasure. If the activists who are protesting against Rankin’s restaurant were ideologically consistent they should protest when every omnivorous, vegetarian and ‘humane’ exploitation restaurant opens. By choosing Rankin’s restaurant, activists are giving the impression that it is what we do with animals and how we use them, rather than that we use them. This is ideological confusion and is a sufficient reason to abandon such a protest.
The protest regarding the opening of Rankin’s new restaurant has descended into the most inefficient, shameful and counter-productive activism that is possible. Firstly, there has been no guarantee that the protest will be peaceful. On the contrary, Rankin claims that he has received death threats and is now referring to these vegans as ‘extremists’. Given my first point, the heightened anger in this protest confuses me. Yes- this restaurant is morally devoid, as morally bankrupt as every other non-vegan restaurant in this country. To then become violent, due to an arbitrary distinction in the way that the animal is cooked, blows my mind. If the activists think that threatening Rankin, or at least appearing threatening outside of his restaurant, will convince customers to become vegan, then they are (at best) confused. This is completely counter-productive.
Secondly, it appears that the protest will not be one of dialogue and discussion, but of slogans and shouting. I can understand that slogans are useful to reinforce a message. They serve to sum up an ideology into a small catchy sentence in order to remain relevant. But what ideology does the slogan ‘Meat is Murder’ represent? Does it tell you that the use of all animals is morally wrong and that we should abolish it? Does it tell you that veganism is an open and welcoming ideology that encompasses all individual world views? Or does it draw an arbitrary distinction between the flesh of an animal and every other product they are used for? The campaign against Rankin’s restaurant will be ineffective and uncreative. Activists will use outdated slogans that mean little to a non-vegan and at the same time shout abuse at Rankin. Why would any non-vegan be receptive to the vegan message if all they see are people angrily shouting slogans?
Advocacy that can change the world
The campaign against Rankin’s restaurant is useful as an example of everything that we should not be doing while engaging in activism. The most efficient form of activism is polite discussion and debate. A few days before writing this article I contacted Neil Rankin and asked if he would like to engage in a discussion about animal rights. I introduced him to the abolitionist approach and he seemed rather receptive. He truly believes in ‘humane’ treatment of animals and I explained to him why it is morally insignificant. We debated many issues and I feel that I was able to influence his thought process to a certain degree. I am not under the illusion that our discussion changed him greatly, but by politely engaging him in debate I was able to raise issues that would previously have been overshadowed by anger and threats. Many in the animal rights community need to move away from the belief that talking with someone such as Rankin is to become a ‘traitor’. Instead we have to engage non-vegans in polite discussion and ensure that they understand that veganism is a moral imperative. As long as animal activists draw arbitrary moral distinctions, threaten violence and utilise outdated and speciesist slogans, non-vegans will remain unreceptive. If we embrace debate and discussion with an abolitionist message, we can change the world.