Veganism is about, primarily, non-exploitation. Making it about the animals is like making feminism about the females. Not only does it maintain and enforce the separation and hierarchy of us and them – it creates a victim group, leaving little room for a perception of the true nature of anyone involved.
– Meg Graney
Thank you, Meg, for that thought for today, and…happy birthday!
Thank you, Meg, for your insight and for sharing your thoughts, moving and profound. Every one of us should keep these words in mind as we go about the daily business of working to end the exploitation of those other-than-humans, ALL of whom are tethered by the rope of human oppression. When we free them, we free ourselves.
And yes, I’ll join Lee in wishing you a very happy birthday.
Thank you, Maryanne Appel. That is it, exactly.
I consider your blog to be one of the few voices out there that echos and amplifies the true and original intent of veganism.
Here’s to the future, when that intent is understood, honored and loved by all.
Sending love and warmth, courage and strength,
And to you, Meg! I hope you are going to break down and have a bit of refined (vegan) sugar on your birthday.
🙂 Blueberry pie, to be exact. And it was fantastic!
Once upon a time in Portland, “the world’s first vegan strip club” opened. The venue had previously been a completely vegetarian restaurant which was becoming unprofitable so the owner declared it was time for “throwing some boobs up” and told local media: “We put the meat on the pole, not on the plate.”
And that, lest anyone wonder, is what we get, when we don’t get the point that veganism is about non-exploitation.
Wow. That is an example for the (future) text books.
Good points made! Thank you, Meg. Yes, Lee, veganism is about non-exploitation,… but why is it that the other part of the authentic vegan definition is so often easily ignored or dismissed? I’m speaking about reverence for life, which is an equally important component of the original definition. Yet most vegans I know or have heard about are unaware of that fact.
I offer the following gems from Jo (Joanne) Stepaniak, the author of The Vegan Sourcebook, the definitive resource for compassionate vegan living, and Being Vegan, a question-and-answer guide to the essentials of vegan philosophy and ethics, with practical, down-to-earth advice on how to incorporate these principles into everyday life. Jo is also the author of eight vegan cookbooks and has been a contributing author to many other books, pamphlets, national publications, and magazines.
Jo writes (at http://www.vegsource.com/jo/essays/namegame.htm):
Unlike vegetarianism, veganism has always had a specific, unifying philosophy associated with it, and, in addition, has always dealt with much more than what one eats. The term “vegan” (pronounced VEE-gn) was coined by Donald Watson in 1944, and was at once adopted by the group who founded The Vegan Society in England later that year. The Vegan Society was the first organized secular group to promote a compassionate lifestyle. Their definition of “veganism,” which is accepted as the decisive standard worldwide, is as follows:
“Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals.” – The Vegan Society (UK)
Jo writes that The Vegan Society mentions “reverence for life,” with no hierarchy of value given to the life to which it is referring. Therefore, the statement is inclusive, asserting that all life forms are equally deserving of reverence.
I LOVE this quote from Jo, reminding us that veganism is not about food; it is about reverence for life —
“In the final analysis, despite our diversity, there is only one type of vegan — a person who is committed to and practices a reverence and respect for all life.”
– Joanne Stepaniak
Hello, dear Victoria! Do you know what Jo cited there? I refer to this as the formal definition: http://www.ivu.org/history/world-forum/1951vegan.html What do you see `reverence for life` as adding that was not discussed in the 1951 definition statement?
As to the coining of the word vegan, here is some interesting background: https://veganplace.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/remembering-donald-and-dorothy/ Patricia Tricker, who attended the funeral, told me the story of the dance. Earlier, I’d always thought Donald invented the word.
Will you be at Summerfest? I hope so.
Lee, you asked:
“What do you see `reverence for life` as adding that was not discussed in the 1951 definition statement?”
Thank you for your question.
While I highly value the newer definition of veganism (seen at the VEGANISM DEFINED link you provided), it may be argued that the understanding of reverence for life IS NOT clearly represented therein. In fact, the words on the page could easily be taken as supporting a human species hierarchy, with humans at the top and the other animal species placed as underlings, in relative positions of value; whatever is commonly accepted in modern societies. (This is something akin to what Meg said in her quote above. We could call this ranking system speciesist, if you like. Surely we both know self-proclaimed vegans who are speciesist.) Thus VEGANISM DEFINED wholly fails to address the key point(s) of the principle and practice of reverence for life. That’s like leaving out half the story. In speaking of reverence for life, Schweitzer wrote that, “To the truly ethical man, all life is holy, even that which appears to us from the human standard as the lowest.” Thus authentic veganism seeks not only to end the exploitation of animals by man, but at the same time embraces reverence for life, in which the practicing vegan recognizes ALL life forms as having value; there is no such thing as worthless life. That means life inside of the womb and outside of the womb; in times of war and in times of peace. Life in a state of self-awareness/consciousness or life in a state of coma. We are to consider the value of life to the smallest flea as much as the value of life to the largest elephant. Domesticated or free living, white or black, female or male, secular or religious, friend or enemy; whatever label, category, or excuse we construct and uphold, authentic veganism calls for a realization that no life is worthless.
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, I’ll mention here that he was a French Theologian, philosopher, and missionary physician, to name but a few admirable positions and interests he had. He lived from 1875 to 1965. It has been noted/recorded that the early founders and members of The Vegan Society (UK) were strongly influenced by Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s writings regarding reverence for life, a phrase he originated. They had an in-depth understanding and respect for the ideas Dr. Schweitzer put forth, whereas most every vegan today does not. Obviously, Dr. Schweitzer is not as well known today as he was when The Vegan Society was formed. I ask: How many vegans do you know of that have read Schweitzer’s work titled Reverence For Life? I know of none. If it is true that the bulk of vegans haven’t read it, then how could they understand reverence for life to the degree that those who first coined the term “vegan” did? So, while the newer definition of veganism that you favor does have high merit, perhaps it should be presented hand-in-hand with the original, to make it perfectly clear that reverence for life has not been tossed aside (or worse yet, censored) but is quite possibly the better half of the whole.
I hope that answers your question.
P.S. No Summerfest for me this year, if things continue to go as they have been. Thanks for asking, Lee. Will miss SF — and you — very much. I’m all the wiser for knowing you and what you’ve shared in your presentations and personal correspondence over the years. Truly I am humbled and grateful.
I respect your opinion, and thank you for offering your thoughts. But I have to say I think `Veganism Defined` does a fine job of what it sets out to do, and it’s an authentic document from the movement. Whether Schweitzer could be considered a vegan is a matter we could probably leave for another day, though it would seem that is not the case. This writing http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=254 shows conflict within Schweitzer. (The fuller context is here: http://ow.ly/KUifp ) The International Vegetarian Union (IVU) http://www.ivu.org/history/europe20a/schweitzer.html indicates Schweitzer’s support for those who adhered to complete vegetarianism grew over time, and that Schweitzer might have strived to join them late in life.
I have not known The Vegan Society to take the position on abortion that you’re suggesting it does.
Thank you for your generous words about my presentations, Victoria. We have had highly productive conversations and correspondence! I’ll miss your presence if you’re unable to come this year.
Lee, thanks for your thoughts, which I likewise respect.
The Vegan Society (UK) was influenced by Dr. Schweitzer’s writings, as I’d already mentioned; enough so as to include his phrase “reverence for life” in their authentic definition of veganism. It’s difficult to accept that this same man who gave the world such profound concepts didn’t exemplify vegan values or principles. Yet there are hints of that. (Thank you for bringing this to attention.) Even so, that’s not a plausible reason for suppression of Dr. Schweitzer’s contribution to what The Vegan Society (UK) stood for at their humble beginning.
To address your other point, I suppose we could second-guess what the founding members of The Vegan Society (UK) had as their official take on the subject of what you referred to as “abortion”. (I don’t like using the word “abortion” because I deem it a misnomer purposely designed to be innocuous — in the same manner as I eschew other innocuous terms like “happy meat”, a “just war”, etc.) If you DO find credible evidence of The Vegan Society’s original position on abortion, please alert me to that right away, as I would be very eager to have a look at it.
So then, while I can’t add anything to the discussion about what stance The Vegan Society (UK) took, I can provide the following related information. H. Jay Dinshah, the founder of The American Vegan Society, spoke against “abortion”. Jay was also one of the founders of NAVS, the group which gifts us each year with their Summerfest I know you are so fond of.
I refer you (and the readers here) to the following excerpt from:
Another pro-life pro-animal advocate is H. Jay Dinshah, founder/president of the American Vegan Society. In “Two Views of Abortion,” published in “Ahimsa” (October/December 1982), Dinshah writes: “[A]s a dedicated humanitarian, I will be obliged to continue to oppose the monstrous evil of abortion per se, not pussyfoot around and become an accomplice by fooling myself and others that what really matters is the ten minutes or two hours of pain inflicted [on a sentient fetus] and not the taking of human life itself.” For Dinshah, life is the moral yardstick by which abortion is to be judged; appeals to pain are irrelevant.
(*NOTE: I haven’t been able to double-check the resource mentioned above, as I don’t have easy access to my back issues of AHIMSA magazine. But I have no reason to doubt its validity. Also, if anyone can tell me if Jay changed his stated views since the article cited and before his death, please alert me at once.)
Through the years, Jay worked closely with The Vegan Society (UK) and was no stranger to Dr. Schweitzer and his phrase “reverence for life.” In fact, Chapter 1 in Jay’s book Out Of The Jungle is titled Reverence for Life and The Golden Rule; the same essay is also found in the book POWERFUL VEGAN MESSAGES (pages 35-41), written by H. Jay Dinshah and his daughter Anne Dinshah, published by The American Vegan Society (AVS). The chapter ends with a letter from Dr. Schweitzer to Jay. It’s hard for me to believe that the two vegan groups held opposing views in the sensitive area of “abortion”… and about what the phrase “reverence for life” actually meant, in practice.
Lee, now that I have answered your question, perhaps I should be asking you a question in turn. Do you see the phrase “reverence for life” as detracting from the 1951 definition you favor? If so, why? Maybe you see it as divisive. The phrase is not redundant, as I explained. Surely you aren’t calling for a complete dismissal of it, are you? Or a suppressive act of censorship? I would hope not. I am all too familiar with the passion you hold for keeping the integrity of authentic veganism alive and well. You are to be commended for such.
Hi Victoria. What a surprise to see you comment here! The problem I see is, of course, the interpretation of “reverence”. Reverence is open to interpretation based on ones spiritual or religious views. As you know, from our (numerous) past disagreements, I am not Christian, not religious, and do not embrace the Bible as a reliable ethical reference. I am intensely spiritual, and pro-reproductive freedom. My interpretation of “reverence” is vastly different than yours. My reverence for life accepts that not every fetus conceived must be carried to term, not every pregnancy is a blessing, and not every fertilized egg is meant to enter the world. I revere the reality of life, in it’s exquisitely painful perfection. I suspect the founding members of the Vegan Society had the breadth of vision to realize that reverence is in the hands of those doing the revering. Non-exploitation is a more mundane topic, but certainly includes elements of reverence. I think the founders of the Vegan Society in their wisdom took this into account.
I’d like to redirect comments here towards the content of my quote, if possible. It addresses the problematic dissection of the vegan movement into “causes” instead of an overarching intent of personal growth. Being “for the animals” has shifted the focus away from a demand for compassionate personal accountability on the widest spectrum of ego-centered, oppressive behaviors, and turned it toward the fine tuning of our supremacist thinking. Everything I’ve read of the early vegan movement suggests that there was more interest in inspiring a real depth of personal transformation, than dictating the details of it. Being “for the animals” has allowed us to expand our sentimentalized control from dogs and cats, to pigs, wolves, squirrels, and chickens with no clarity that all we, as vegans, have done is raise our standards of husbandry, and simultaneously, create a victim class for all other species.
Thanks for your input. Everything I wrote as commentary here was in response to (and certainly related to) your featured quote. It is unfortunate that you missed that.
Removing “reverence for life” from any presentation of the authentic vegan definition is like telling half a story. If you’ll take careful notice, Schweitzer’s phrase is mentioned in the FIRST sentence of The Vegan Society’s earliest “official” definition, even before the food clarification. To repeat: It is not found in the middle or end part, but in the very first sentence. It is thus clearly intended to be an EQUALLY IMPORTANT idea as non-exploitation. As I’ve noted in an earlier comment, perhaps the better half of the whole. Too bad Leslie Cross didn’t include it in the 1951 offering. Does anyone know WHY this was the case?
In your featured quote above, you state your disdain about anything having to do with a “separation of hierarchy of us and them – …”. I get that. Good points to make, Meg. Yet you fail to see that your views on the murder of a living creature who happens to be existing inside the body of another living creature are based on a “hierarchy of us and them”; in this case, the “us” being the pregnant female and the “them” being the as-yet-unborn living creature(s) whose will to live has not been taken into much account, if at all. (I’m not talking about quality of life here; I’m talking about life for whatever life *IS*, ever developing.) And IF the unborn-as-yet creature’s life HAS been taken into account, that life is minimized/dismissed by the will of the living creature who is not living in the body of another. How can the unbalanced hierarchy NOT be recognized? Can you not see a similar division being made of us and them — the pregnant living creature who’s deemed the higher value … and the living creature who IS, though living inside the body of another, deemed as the “other” of a lesser value (or even a no-thing)? The born has assumed “rights” and privileges over the unborn. This reminds me of a “vegan” podcast I heard a few years back. There are two people at a dinner table. The centerpiece is a plate filled with pieces of a murdered individual’s body. One person considers the flesh on the plate to be from a “thing” or an “other” of lesser or no inherent worth, based on their own valuation. (FYI: In case the reader disagrees with the accuracy of my usage of the word “murder” in my commentary, I offer the following: The etymology of the word consists of two roots, mor/mur + der/deer; mor meaning life and der meaning beast/living soul. Strangely enough, both roots are related to the word “love”. “Murder” literally means “(to take away) life (from) a beast/living creature”. Etymologically speaking, there’s no distinction between the human animal species and any other animal species.) One person at the table is a flesh-eater and the other is not. The flesh eater says, “I respect your choice to not eat “meat” … but you must also respect my decision to eat it.” (Yes, I wrote “it” purposely, as flesh eaters rarely see the creature…, the individual-on-a plate… as a once-living being who wanted to live…, and to certainly live on their own terms.) The person who doesn’t eat animals does not have to respect the flesh eater’s choice to believe and practice pro-harm/pro-exploitation/pro-violence behavior whatsoever, and firmly says so. That person also points out that the murdered animal centerpiece was not given a choice whatsoever. There’s a forgotten individual at the table. The creature had no voice that was taken into equal consideration. The creature was seen as a “lesser” or, worse yet, as wholly worthless, and certainly wasn’t respected/revered in any true manner. Justifications for violence to “the lesser” were established somewhere, at some time, by someone other than “the lesser”, and all guilt conveniently removed. Their murder is referred to as a “harvest” rather, to keep the reality of the heinous act innocuous. While we can say that the scenario is not quite exactly the same as a pregnant woman deciding to snuff out the life of the creature who *IS* inside her, there are enough similarities to give serious thought to, especially in regards to hierarchy and “otherism” perceptions.
You wrote that reverence is open to interpretation. Is it really? Who said so? Is this an official decree from some authoritative human somewhere that I haven’t heard about? You put the word “reverence” in a religious realm; are you certain that is where it should be? If you take the time to do some etymology homework, you’ll be surprised to see that the word “revere” (reverence) has root meanings having to do with truth (L. veritas/vera), honor, trembling (with great awe/humbleness), and profound respect of females (i.e. related to Venus/love). I would think this reference to truth, love, and female empowerment would excite you; yet you have the opposite reaction to the word “reverence” — almost a loathing of it, I would say. That is most unfortunate. I ask: Are terms like “rape” or “murder” also open to interpretation? Do you believe they should be? If not, then why would you insinuate or insist that “reverence” should be? Perhaps words like “rape” and “murder” are open to mutable interpretation (as we see in societies today), but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea for the benefit of all. What bothers me the most, Meg, is that you seem to be saying some lives are worthless, and some are not. Reverence for life says that no life is worthless. Are you in 100% belief that one living creature has the full right and precise wisdom to accurately determine the value of another living creature, as well as snuff out that life if it can be reasonably (huh?) justified? That is a very dangerous belief that I cannot in any way be supportive of, though I can certainly understand it and why it is such a popular one.
Here is what Schweitzer wrote regarding a dividing-line the ethic of Reverence for Life does not establish, from the Epilogue, pp206-7:
“The ethic of Reverence for Life is found particularly strange because it establishes no dividing-line between higher and lower, between more valuable and less valuable life. For this omission it has its reasons.
To undertake to lay down universally valid distinctions of value between different kinds of life will end in judging them by the greater of lesser distance at which they seem to stand from us human beings – as we ourselves judge. But that is a purely subjective criterion. Who among us knows what significance any other kind of life has in itself, and as part of the universe?
Following on such a distinction there comes next the view that there can be life which is worthless, injury to which or destruction of which does not matter. Then in the category of worthless life we come to include, according to circumstances, different kinds of insects, or primitive peoples.
To the man who is truly ethical all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower in the scale. He makes distinctions only as each case comes before him, and under pressure of necessity, as, for example, when it falls to him to decide which of two lives he must sacrifice in order to preserve the other. But all through this series of decisions he is conscious of acting on subjective grounds and arbitrarily, and knows that he bears the responsibility for the life which is sacrificed.
I rejoice over the new remedies for sleeping-sickness, which enable me to preserve life, whereas I had previously to watch a painful disease. But every time I have under the microscope the germs which cause the disease, I cannot but reflect that I have to sacrifice this life in order to save other life.”
Now to the next topic —
I’m unsure as to why you bring up the Christian religion and Bible in your comment, but I’ll politely address that briefly here. You wrote:
“I am not Christian, not religious, and do not embrace the Bible as a reliable ethical reference.”
I am familiar with your beliefs and practices (for the most part), but thank you for restating them here. I wonder: Are you inferring that I am Christian, religious, and embrace the Bible as a reliable ethical reference? If so, you are in error on all points made. How true it is that our assumptions, presumptions, and unchecked prejudices color our views on what others hold dear and put into practice. Neither you nor I are exempt from having misconceptions. I ask that, in the future, you be more careful about things of this nature, Meg. I know I am intent on doing so myself.
Many thanks again to you and dear Lee. I find the veganplace blog to be a good learning experience, with plenty of v-food for thought.
Hi Lee, I’m sure this campaign is happening in your part of the world, as well.
This is what is happening in Johannesburg and I am part of the planning committee.
Respect Life Campaign 2015
Respect Life is a global campaign that will take place over the next 5 months, culminating in an event on the 26th of September 2015.
Currently, 80 cities are participating. The purpose of this event/campaign is to bring animal liberation to the forefront of human consciousness and commit to do our part in bringing an end to the suffering of animals. We also wish to raise awareness about veganism, and all its benefits.
Here in Johannesburg, we are planning a march that will lead to Zoo Lake, where we will have a fun day selling vegan food and all sorts of vegan goodies. There will be entertainment and activities for adults and kiddies.
The Respect Life Campaign represents ALL non-human animals enslaved and exploited by humans. This covers all industries in which animals are used for profit. We will stand in solidarity with activists from around the globe to speak up for the abused and the exploited.
If you are an animal liberation organization and you wish to join us in the Respect Life Campaign, please feel free to contact us, either via FB or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brief explanation of the 269 movement:
The number “269” refers to the number of a calf born on an Israeli dairy farm. Near his scheduled day of slaughter, his life was saved by activists. The mission of 269 as a movement is to call for empathy for the most oppressed members of
Wonderful. Thanks for sharing, Lee.