Veganism is not a boycott

I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to get one of my upcoming Taste Better columns down closer to the preferred 1,000 word length. I spent way too much time trying to preserve the whole thing. It is abundantly clear to me now that, while somewhat helpful to the discussion, an approximately 650-word discussion of how veganism fails as a boycott is a bit of a tangent.

That said, I will probably post here again when the column goes up and refer back to this post, in case you want to see how it fit into the original piece. The passage I am preserving down below would have basically acted as a segue breaking up a paragraph on veganism as way of taking personal responsibility for abolishing animal exploitation and how, for many of us, this is still not enough.

For a handful of reasons, it’s good that I made this cut. First, now the column is down to a more digestible thousand-word proximity, which will make Jason Doucette and my readers over there happy. Second, the column is a bit more focused. And, finally, I kind of wanted this particular excerpt to be made available sooner rather than later, due to a recent post by Mary Martin over at Animal Person. The column I extracted this excerpt from won’t go up for another month or so.

I have included just enough of the paragraphs before and after to help the piece stand alone. I look forward to your thoughts in comments, as always.

Going vegan is taking personal responsibility for abolishing animal exploitation. In this respect, it is an essential step toward achieving animal liberation and their right not to be treated as property. Nothing else comes close.

Unfortunately, legal processes are not yet open to eliminating the property status of animals, mainly because at this time not enough people in our society support such an idea. Activism on the corporate level fails as well, particularly with respect to boycotts, which are generally a tool for reform, not for abolition.

In a typical boycott, faced with public pressure, companies institute reforms that eventually restore confidence in their business. Once such measures are in place, consumers return to purchasing its products and the boycott ends. However, respecting the right of animals to not be treated as property means never accepting their use for our trivial interests in food, clothing, entertainment and so on. In other words, the boycott can never end.

By way of example, a boycott of one company because its workers were caught using chickens as footballs only serves to express disapproval over using chickens as footballs. It does nothing to convey how seriously wrong it is to have bred that chicken as a commodity in the first place, which is ultimately how he ended up as a football. Once the company can assure the public that the chickens it owns are no longer being kicked around, there is nothing to prevent consumers boycotting the company for this abuse from buying its products again. But the company still owns the chickens, and the chickens’ intrinsic interests are still subservient to the economic interests of the company.

Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson, Smithfield and others will never stop enslaving animals until the demand for such products subsides to the point that no profitable system can be found to carry on, hence the need for consistent, widespread vegan advocacy, not a boycott. After all, it’s not one particular company that’s a problem, nor is it the way these companies produce the products, per se. It is the products themselves–it is the fact that the products are even products to begin with.

The issue is becoming particularly urgent as we see animal exploiters, with help from some animal welfare organizations, carve out a whole new “conscientious consumer” category, adopting and touting “humane reforms” that ultimately improve their bottom line while doing nothing to eradicate the perception of animals as property. Quite the opposite, “humanely-raised meat” (and related labels) help consumers to feel better about eating animal-derived products, many of which have been called “guilt-free”, as if selectively breeding, mutilating, dominating and killing sentient beings for no good reason can ever be considered guilt-free.

For many, what seems to matter most is that animals live their lives as pain-free as possible while they are being exploited, never mind that their rights are being violated so long as they are property (since, as discussed, the interests of property can never be properly balanced with the interests of the property’s owner). Illuminating the faulty basis for some people’s dietary choices, some vegans have reportedly gone back to eating meat now that it’s allegedly “happy”. A recent issue of Good Magazine even highlights a former animal activist who is now a rancher! If a boycott means improving the treatment of animals, and not eliminating their use as commodities, then this is where it ultimately leads.

Companies must know that we will not eat any of their products, as long as they are derived from animals. So, unless vegans are boycotting Tyson or Smithfield in hopes that they will eventually stop exploiting animals and will become all-vegan companies (don’t hold your breath on this one), they must be vegan for other reasons. That reason must be abolition.

As many of us have realized, the only way for us to abolish our own contribution to animal slavery is to go vegan. Doing so rejects the speciesism that contributes to our society running roughshod over animals’ interests in avoiding pain and suffering, feeling pleasure, bearing offspring, nurturing their young, and so on.

But for some, as big a step as going vegan may have been, it is not enough.

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2 comments

  1. I agree with you that we need widespread activism as well. We need to change the minds of the people – the consumers of these products of violence.You are correct that companies will only cease production when their livelihood is no longer profitable.I support animal liberation using all tactics. We need to have a wide range of tools at our disposal to start tearing down the system in place.Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Thank you for this insightful piece of writing. You’ve helped me firm up my thoughts – and the concept of boycotting in the process. I appreciate your blog a great deal. Thank you.

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