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.

2nd Blogoversary

Today marks 2 full years that I’ve been writing at An Animal-Friendly Life about issues that affect animals, and those of us who care about them.

No fancy vegan cake celebrations around here, or anything like that (though I might cave in and bake cupcakes with my wife later), but it is satisfying to reflect back on the past 2 years and see that I’ve published well over 1,400 posts on behalf of animal interests, as well as a couple dozen podcasts. That makes it tougher to review the blog for highlights to link, but skimming through the posts, I’ve found it interesting to note the development of my thinking on the various issues over time.

In some cases, not much has changed. But, as my fellow activists in the animal protection movement(s) and I continually stimulate thought-provoking discussion amongst ourselves in such venues as magazines, message boards, blogs, podcasts, books, conferences, and interpersonal conversations, it is hard not to find one’s self growing.

Of course, there are many ways to approach one’s activism. Taking stock, I’m as opposed as ever to engaging in activities that threaten, intimidate, and are otherwise destructive, but I’m also less inclined than before to cheer incremental welfare reforms. Privately, I’m happy for any meaningful reduction in true suffering. But, at the same time, I find it difficult now to publicly applaud companies for successfully being pressured into doing something they didn’t really want to do, particularly when the change does little if anything to change society’s concept of animals as commodities. Animal exploiters really don’t need any extra help burnishing their image to look more appealing to consumers.

Still, there are victories I can heartily praise. When high schools and universities successfully offer vegan menu options in their cafeterias, for instance, we are seeing the manifestation of a major shift in thinking. This widening of options speaks to a broad-based societal change and acceptance of veganism, normalizing a compassionate lifestyle to the point where it can grow beyond the niche of dedicated people who aren’t impressed that a cafeteria’s sole nod to reducing animal suffering is switching to cage-free eggs. After all, vegan options often still amount to little more than a salad, sometimes settling for oil and vinegar dressing to avoid dairy.

But to broaden to the mainstream, the less committed diners need to see vegan options everywhere they turn. Seeing vegan options for sale helps to validate a dietary choice rooted in compassion. When a cafeteria offers vegan options, not only do the vegans feel better respected (and eat better), but every non-vegan who sees these dishes starts getting used to the idea of veganism, and may even be enticed into trying more of this healthy vegan food they keep hearing about. And since this is happening more and more often, and since products geared toward vegan eating (even if flexitarians account for a major chunk of the consumer-base), we are seeing growth in an area that was quite new when I started this blog only two short years ago.

I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in the news since I began AAFL, despite the occasional mind-bogglingly backward editorials and fluff pieces that encourage animal exploitation and suffering for trivial matters of fashion and the culinary arts. After all, I started this site because I was surprised by just how much daily news I was seeing about animal issues, and this trend has only picked up over the past two years, both in smaller, local papers and in the major newspapers.

So, obviously I’m not posting less lately because there’s less news, but rather because we’ve gotten to a point where it feels redundant to dissect certain stories. Foie gras again?, I think to myself. While it might be titillating to joke about a hot dog vendor getting fined $250 for violating Chicago’s ban on the stuff, that’s not really my modus operandi here. If the U.S. Congress votes to ban foie gras, then you can bet I’ll be commenting on it. Heck, even if Chicago’s ban is reversed, you’ll hear about it, but I’m getting too busy with other projects to comment on every animal or vegan story that comes my way. There were some days where I posted more than ten times, and I don’t think either blogger or reader gained from that.

If you want witty banter highlighting the ridiculousness in the day’s events, visit Vegan Pr0n and SuperVegan. They specialize in those brief, sarcastic posts that seem to be the mainstay of modern blogging. If there’s anything I’ve gathered from this 2007’s slow-down in posts, it’s that I want to focus more on major trends, the uniqueness of what I’m covering, and the quality of what I’m writing. Considering that there’s a plethora of blogs and podcasts all covering a non-story about Jamba Juice’s mysterious non-dairy blend that I don’t think is currently even being used, I don’t see the added value in contributing to the noise.

Plus, I don’t want to let the news cycle rule my life. I have projects that don’t respond well to the constant interruption, and they are really crying out for my attention. Fortunately these other projects are animal-friendly, and perhaps I will be writing about those, and maybe even podcasting or vodcasting about those when they get to a place where that makes more sense.

In the meantime, stay subscribed through the RSS feeds (gotta love or email via the Subscriptions box in the sidebar, and I will continue to post when the mood strikes or some particularly interesting news or events spark a post. Sometimes I won’t post for 2-3 days, perhaps, and other days I may post 4-5 times or one of those lengthy compendiums where I catch up on the news. Regardless, I’ll still be posting.

And, as ever, I will continue to syndicate Totally Not Vegan. I’ve gotten a few emails over the last few months, in which readers have told me that they don’t think the strip is funny (where’s all the appreciative emails?). I do get you, people, but there are two reasons why I run Totally Not Vegan: 1) It is vegan, so we have a strip of our own, and that’s worth supporting; 2) I think the strip is more about recognizing the everyday nonsense vegans deal with and, while it may not always come off laugh-out-loud funny, when we see situations we recognize reflected in those panels, we realize we’re not alone in our frustrations, and that’s cool.

Speaking of frustrations, I have to tell you, it sucks going to other animal- or veg-friendly blogs and seeing 18 or more reader comments, or going to a blog on other political topics and seeing dozens upon dozens of comments, then seeing my own page, which gets hundreds and hundreds of impressions every day, and only seeing the occasional comment or two, and that includes the anti-animal rights types!

I know you’re out there, I know you’re reading, and I know you have some thoughts on these issues. Speak up! I’m not whining here, I’m encouraging you to participate. It really helps me to know what readers respond to. If you prefer, hit me up with an email. Either way, let me know what you think of the site, other than, “Hey, can you fix this link?” If you have no idea how to comment, just scroll down to the gray footer bar at the end of each post. You’ll see an icon that looks like this: Just click on that, and you’re good to go. Talk to me!

Okay, this has been a suitably self-indulgent post. If you can’t be self-indulgent on an anniversary, then when can you?

I’m looking forward to another year of writing about the exciting developments in animal protection at An Animal-Friendly Life. I know there will be much to report and comment on. Also, don’t forget to look for my reviews in VegNews Magazine, including an upcoming feature review on the movie Sustainable Table, and a brief review of the book Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of Mother Earth.

Finally, look for me July 19-23 at AR2007, “the world’s largest and oldest animal rights conference.” I hope you’ll attend. While the online world is great for sharing and disseminating ideas and information, face-to-face interaction and networking is really important to growing the movement. You’ll find animal activists of all stripes there. So, even if you disagree with one person, you may find a “soul mate” of sorts later in the day. Part of the excitement and vitality at this event is the difference in opinions. I think the generally healthy debates and discussions are good for personal growth and development as an activist, and it would be a shame to miss such an opportunity simply because there are people at an event with whom you disagree.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post and through the past two years, for those of you who’ve been here all along. I will endeavor to continually merit your time and consideration.