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Veganism Without Morality

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A consequence of unclear and poorly informed gimmicks that supposedly get people to become vegan (see my article on Veganuary here, for example) is that in neglecting substantial moral argument, we provide no basis for lasting change, and instead fuel the ever-growing perception of veganism as nothing more than a faddy diet.

A recent article in The Advertiser is describing veganism as a “social trend,” a “craze,” where kids are now apparently under peer pressure to go vegan because “all their friends are doing it.” The author also expresses concern that “so many people going vegan are young, uninformed, impressionable teenagers, many of whom are converting before they know the real consequences to their lives and their health.” She admonishes the “movement” for being “fed by peer pressure from friends, social media, bloggers and celebrities.”

When we advocate solely for health; when we promote fixed-term vegan challenges; when we pedestalize non-vegan celebrities and their vegan cleanses; when we glorify expensive vegan processed foods instead of essential whole-foods; when we turn veganism into extensions of our own narcissism; or when we otherwise neglect to talk about veganism as a matter of fundamental morality, we promote the false perception of veganism as nothing more than a fad or eccentric diet.

We need young people to be encouraging other youngsters to go vegan, but in recognition of fundamental animal rights and not because they’ve just watched their favourite ‘Vine star’ gushing over a jackfruit and thinking they’ll be edgy and cool for doing the same. We need to be advocating for veganism on social media through engaging others about the issue of animal use in moral terms, instead of spreading meaningless platitudes across the web concerning “compassion” and “kindness” – notions that are utterly irrelevant when dealing with violations of rights. We need to have a basic understanding of vegan nutrition and be able to cite relevant information such as statements from the NHS here in the UK who maintain that “with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.” This is what people need to know in order to fully understand the implications of our conventional wisdom that it’s always wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death – using animal products is in no way necessary.

Health arguments, however, should never take front and centre in our advocacy. Once again, veganism is a moral matter concerning animal use, period, and should be advocated for as such, in the same way that we wouldn’t advocate against rape based on the health benefits the rapist may experience in avoiding STI’s. Doing so misses the point. But in the case of veganism it is important that we are able to compliment our advocacy with nutritional guidance, otherwise we inadvertently give credence to the false notion that – as implied in The Advertiser article – veganism somehow guarantees negative consequences to health.

The article states that “everyone has a right to make their own choices in life. If you want to… quit sugar, do it. If you choose not to eat meat because you’re against cruelty to animals, fair enough.” This perception of veganism as a personal choice no different to what shoes you put on in the morning is nothing new. It’s something we perpetuate every time we neglect to talk about veganism as what we owe directly to non-human animals. Every time we exonerate and praise non-vegan celebrities; every time we assume ourselves to be the centre of our veganism and not the exploited vulnerable, we give weight to that speciesist idea.

Let’s drop the narcissism and start advocating in recognition of moral rights.

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  • I greatly enjoy such powerful, fundamental advocacy of veganism. But one sentence alone here rubbed me wrong, perhaps because I am guilty as accused:
    ‘instead of spreading meaningless platitudes across the web concerning “compassion” and “kindness” – notions that are utterly irrelevant when dealing with violations of rights.’

    Here I think you’ve lost track of the great other segment of vegans, those who find the moral cause a fruit that grows from a spiritual root. For us, compassion and kindness come first, the rights an unfolding of those modes of being in the world. I have no doubt that there there are many platitudes written or read without that underpinning, of course, but I do also believe that you might misunderstand a great many vegans because you haven’t got that underpinning yourselves.

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