(Every Day Is) World Vegan Day

Today, the First of November, is World Vegan Day. And isn’t it great to watch the word getting out? Since the term was coined in 1944, much has unfolded.

The people who started things off first called themselves the non-dairy vegetarians. They weren’t breaking away from the vegetarian movement that arose in Britain and the United States in the 1800s. They were taking its mission seriously.

Veganism Is No Mean Feat. 

To emancipate other animals, vegans set out to “renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs.”

Free-range farming was never a step in the right direction for them. The founding members considered the animal farms of England unacceptable—no matter that these farms were free-range and familiar features on the landscape. Why? For one thing, the grazing animals would be killed when they outlived their use to their owners. For another, covering the land with purpose-bred animals had ruined ages of natural evolution of animal life in untamed habitat.

So, what would they use in their recipes? “Fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome, non-animal products.” They would opt out of “flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.” Vegans drew this line in their effort to create honestly humane agriculture. 

It’s a Call for Liberation.

Defining veganism in 1951, the Vegan Society asserted:

“[V]eganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.”

So these agitators explicitly connected their vegetarianism with a liberation call, based on a stated conviction that humanity has no right to exploit other aware beings for our ends. 

Society co-founder Donald Watson, who pointed to the Essenes as one example of a group that had conscientiously avoided animal exploitation, must have also been inspired by Frances Power Cobbe, founder of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Present, too, at the time of the Vegan Society’s formation were opponents of “cruel sport”; the vegans merged these anti-exploitation initiatives into an animal liberation platform with personal commitment as its basis, and an emphasis on continuous public outreach to raise awareness of, and challenge, humanity’s ordinary uses of animals.

Why November?

When people at The Vegan Society resolved to set aside day to celebrate the movement, they first considered the 2nd of September. That was the birthday of Donald Watson, who put together and sent out the first copy of Vegan News—and many copies to follow—and was the best known of the Society’s founders. But Watson wanted nothing to do with the “great person” narrative. So the group settled on November, the month Vegan News was first printed.

Good call. The vegan principle has a long history and doesn’t need to be credited to any one person. 

It’s up to every vegan to be veganism’s representative.

Donald Watson in the garden—like every other vegan.

Why the Word Vegan?

The term vegan was adopted in the 1940s by Vegan Society founding members Donald Watson and Elsie Shrigley. Dorothy (Morgan) Watson had first offered the word to Donald—at a dance they both attended. (Thanks to Patricia Fairey and George D. Rodger of The Vegan Society for this intriguing piece of information.) The word came from the first three and last two letters of vegetarian—“because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion.”

To be a vegetarian means having a certain diet. To be a vegan means making a commitment to respect. 

Vegans know animal agribusiness is hazardous to our health and to our environment, and that animal husbandry involves unjust treatment of other conscious beings. We won’t participate. Nor do we want to be at war with free-living animals. 

As World Vegan Month Begins, Don’t Make a Wish. Make a Commitment.

And for those of us who have already committed, what’s left to do? In our time ahead, as the word vegan spreads through the grocery aisles, let’s think about the meaning of vegan as a movement. The way it encompasses kindness, solidarity, and respect. We won’t always agree, but we can we figure out how to disagree without hurting, and to agree without competing. We can strive, with integrity, to work through our differences and cultivate community.

Here’s one thing we should be able to agree on from the start. Turning animals into our things is a ruthless habit, regardless of whether the results strike us as cruel or cute, and it’s a habit humanity can break. 

Of course, the vast scale of animal use presents a major challenge, now as ever. But here’s the key. We “consumers” can make our own decisions about what sorts of consumption we’ll accept.

Veganism is direct action.


____________
Image sources: The Vegan Society (Birmingham, England).

Liberation or Bust

For several years, I served on the board of Primarily Primates, a Texas primate refuge. During that time, I sponsored Lee, a Java (Long-tailed) macaque. Caged, tattooed, wearing a restraining collar, Lee had served as a model for toxic reactions to chemicals. The refuge removed the collar and sent it to me, together with this portrait photo.

A Java (Long-tailed) macaque who got out of the lab alive.

It’s not hard to imagine being a trapped macaque. Macaques are very much like us in their physical and mental responses. Should they have rights?

Arguably so. But several cases have been made for the personhood of great apes, and that line of advocacy has yet to pan out in any meaningful way. Imagine how long it would take to get to the case for macaque rights. And even if, by some miracle, we one day win rights for all of the primates of the planet, and even if those rights, by some miracle, receive international assent, what will the state of the biosphere be by then? Would our recognition of their personhood ensure that they, and the other beings of the edge of the forests, can live on their own terms?

It hardly seems possible. Respect is a tall order. In the literature of governments, Long-tailed macaques are called vertebrate pests. Translation: Humans dragged and dropped Java macaques around the world and now these primates pick crops out of our farms. 

In their native territories, Java macaques face continuing habitat loss. They are subjects of “culling due to human-macaque conflicts.” They are stalked to be eaten and for so-called sport. They are snatched and bred and sold into the international trade for research. They even have a laboratory trade name: cynomolgus monkey.

Restraining collar worn by macaques in the toxicology lab.

Because they gravitate to the edges of forests, they’re visible. In places such as Java, they’ve been presumed abundant. But everywhere they are, they’re stalked.

The late Ardith Eudey, who, with Shirley McGreal, founded the International Primate Protection League, and who for many years chaired the IUCN Primate Specialist Group’s Asia section, rang alarm bells about the severe threats to long-tailed macaques, including the trafficking of these primates to labs. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature did take note, reclassifying Macaca fascicularis from abundant to vulnerable. If we are entering a pandemic era, the quest for vaccines and treatments will continue to promote the lab primate trade, even as humans keep driving climate turmoil and expanding agribusiness, deforestation and sprawl. The primates of the forest’s edge do not have time to spare.

It’s All Connected: Earth Restoration; Animal Liberation; Human Rights.

And this is what animal liberation has to be about. Creating root-level sanctuaries: habitat where once-targeted beings are off-limits to exploitation and able to live where and as they’ve evolved to live. Every element of nature that sustains them carries ethical meaning. This is something our law, which has blessed our systematic exploitation of other animals, is not yet equipped to understand.

In 1805 the Supreme Court of New York, in Pierson vs. Post, addressed competing claims to the body of a hunted fox. When declaring that full physical control over an animal creates ownership, Pierson vs. Post cited legal influencers going back as far as the second century A.D. It’s time for something completely different: knowledge that respects natural biological communities as a whole, and for their own sake. Otherwise, “sustainability” dialogues will keep prioritizing humanity’s interest in extraction, excavation, and exploitation.

In 1972, Christopher D. Stone published an article titled Should Trees Have Standing? Law, Morality, and the Environment. The piece urged judges to consider the case law that reclassified human slaves as legal persons, asserting that progress for the classes of previously rightless humans could guide the evolution of rights for living beings. The debate made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice William O. Douglas cited Stone’s piece in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, involving an effort to protect an undeveloped wilderness. Alas, Justice Douglas wrote for the dissent.

Still, the idea percolates. Pittsburgh in 2010 passed a rights-of-nature provision to stop a fracking project. People in the United States, Ecuador, and elsewhere have worked on ways to appoint legal guardians to represent biological communities in courtrooms, and to direct compensation for violations of nature’s rights into eco preservation and restoration. This sort of legal work has meaning, I think. Of course, I also think it has to be accompanied by a vegan commitment at the deepest level. Perhaps the synthesis between these quests can offer a comprehensive framework for respecting animals and nature on their own terms.

Banner photo: Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis). Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By Gary Houston (Universal Public Domain CC0 1.0). Portrait photo: Primarily Primates, Inc.

“Why Love One Animal and Eat the Other?” Is an Incomplete Question

Many advocates point out the unfairness in loving some animals and eating or wearing others. Who, though, is highlighting the unfairness in insisting on having other animals—whether to love them or to eat or wear them?

And yet we must recognize dominion in all of its forms: an imposed vulnerability to human control, no matter how adorable the dependent animal might appear to us.

Most of us have a hard time looking beyond “cute” and perceiving vulnerability and how our kind has systematically created it. We were so often taught that having animals meant learning to appreciate life, to take responsibility, even to love.

But questioning the existence of pets is not uncaring, cold, or unloving. Striving for a society that seeks, as far as possible, to respect other animals’ own ways of being on Earth is to care and love profoundly.

____________

Excerpt from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century (Ch. 1, RIGHTS AND CARE: HITS AND MISSES).

Photo by Nishant Aneja via Pexels.

Self-Love and Liberation

It’s the night of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Joe Biden just got vaccinated, and Britain is on the verge of increased lockdown measures because of a new Covid-19 variant discovered in London.

Vaccines will curb Covid-19, but they clearly can’t end it, as they do not address its root causes. And we face still more pervasive emergencies: 

  • New virus vectors, on account of the continued mass confinement of animals and a destabilized climate.
  • Summer wildfires, strong storms, flooding, sea level rise, loss of our own habitat and the habitat of other beings. 
  • Social unrest due to climate-driven migration.
  • Imbalances in biological communities, including extinctions. 

Vegans stepped up to avert these emergencies well before Covid-19. To be vegan is to reject the belief that other life on the surface of this planet is suitable for Homo sapiens to move or manipulate. Without systematic animal confinement, Covid wouldn’t exist.

To quote Kirsti and Vinnie of SelfLoveVegan, once we begin to love all sentient beings, we begin to love ourselves. Nothing less will spare us, and every other biological community on Earth, from an endless string of gradually or abruptly worsening emergencies.

Nothing less than love will do, and love means a transformation of our human identity. Instead of feeling entitled to control other life, we find ourselves compelled to respect it. In a profound sense, vegan advocacy might just be the most essential work in the human world.


Special solstice post inspired by patrons and supporters. Photo: Harold and Vinnie beside the SelfLoveVegan food truck at the 2018 American Vegan Society annual general meeting and garden party, by Lee.

A Chat With Green Vegan Grandma

Have some time to unwind? Listen to a conversation with Green Vegan Grandma Janine Bandcroft. The key topics in our conversation include: 

And so much more.

Janine calls our conversation `Animal Liberation — On Their Own Terms. Essential philosophy for a time of global zoonotic pandemic.` Works for me.

#Pride, #AnimalLiberation, and #BlackLivesMatter

June is Pride Month — dedicated to, and celebrated by, LGBTIQ+ and allies worldwide.

I believe animal advocacy, at its best, works to challenge and transcend domination wherever it is found, and I think that belief explains why so many vegans from the movement’s earliest days have conscientiously objected to war.

It’s why so many of us sense that heterosexist oppression stems from the same place as human supremacy.

This month 51 years ago, at Stonewall Inn, an interracial group including nonbinary and transgender people rose up against vindictive policing. They rose up against bigotry, hate, and hurt. Their pain and their courage combined to open up new pathways to self-actualization for the rest of us. Pathways to respect. To love. To many more acts of protest, and to unforgettable times of joy and celebration. 

And yet the torture and death of George Floyd reminds us, again, that — as far as we have come — the struggle for human freedom is still grotesquely immature. It tells us respect still takes a back seat. And it is a setback for every living being on the face of this Earth.

Pride month 2020 is a time of sorrow because of yet another murder in a pattern of authority-wielding murders, another profound loss to the collective conscious soul. Why? Why can’t we just be decent?

The Art of Animal Liberation must be committed to human dignity and respect for nonhuman life as a dual striving. The loss of George Floyd makes the reason all the more intense, and the need to speak up for the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the more urgent. 

My CounterPunch bio identifies me as working for animal liberation. It feels right to have that bio follow a piece about the selective way “looting” is discussed in connection with #BlackLivesMatter protests. It feels right to spread the word that we’re all on this planet together, and no one is free as long as bullets, cages, and chokeholds rule our culture. Authoritarianism has got to go. Humanity must change now. There is no more “I won’t see the change in my lifetime, but…” because now we’re bracing for the storms of a distorted climate. It was always time for respect to ascend, and the very existence of a future, for us, should not be taken for granted.

Banner Photo: Mike Von

On Making Others Do Disgraceful Work

My friend Lois Baum recently gave an invited sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, NY. In the sermon, Lois quoted a statement attributed to an animal liberation summit, circa 2010: 

Veganism is a moral and ethical way of living; the practice of non-cooperation and non-participation in anything that exploits nonhuman animals, humans, or the environment. It is a moral baseline for our conduct and how we are revealed to the world.

A spot-on description, I think, of the connected ethic of a vegan life.

Making Others Do Disgraceful Work 

And it leads me to think again about the humans who do the disgraceful work of killing living animals and turning their bodies into commodities for human consumption. 

I do not believe vegans should invest in undercover investigations of these employees’ actions. Some people disagree. Here is my logic.

Time and time again, the “successful” undercover investigation means:

  • Workers get caught, punished, and driven out (and many if not all of them are leading the most exhausted, marginal, and fragmented of lives already).
  • The company increases surveillance of the workers who remain.
  • If regulators do suspend the company’s business, the business usually tidies up and reopens.
  • The case against the company involves employees’ failure to follow regulations. It is never about real caring, real fairness, and it’s definitely never about justice. (Injustice is heaped on, as workers’ precarious lives slide into worse ruin.) 
  • Arguments resume on whether “ag gag” laws should tighten up to prevent undercover investigations, as the company swears up and down that it is now adequately self-monitored.

One of the points made by early vegans is that we shouldn’t expect other human beings to do disgraceful work for us, work which we’d avoid doing ourselves.

That, I think, invokes an empathy and fairness principle. It does not assume that we should blame these employees for doing what they do…badly.

Animal agribusiness is all unfair, and so many humans are implicated. Only a few people are vulnerable enough to be cast out of society for the way they do it.

Guest Post: Veganism in Futurtopia

Dear friends, if you’re familiar with On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberationyou might recall this challenge (at pages 43-44):

The greatest challenge we face is imagining humanity without the master role. Is it our fear of free animals’ power (over our children, our dogs, our cows, the back yard at night, the woods our government claims for the people, our own bodies) that keeps us from imagining another identity for ourselves?

 

What would we be without our self-appointed mastership over the rest of living communities on Earth? How would you, as a vegan, imagine a future identity for ourselves?

Here is Ria Del Montana’s conversation starter. Thank you, Ria, for sharing this piece with VeganPlace.


Veganism in Futurtopia

Being that animal liberation and a shift to veganism are central to animals being free, what will the free world of the future look like? To release others from human reign, domesticated pigs and dogs, cows and cats will be cared for until they go feral. But with humans’ infrastructures of civilization strung across the planet, where will their freedom take place? And with wildlife and nature as a whole in peril, where is their freedom? A return of land for rewilding requires a substantial decrease in the human population. Increasingly young people are voluntarily having fewer or no children based on many factors, including Earth ethics. As humans reconnect with wild living, Earthcare will grow stronger.

Capitalism and industrialism, built on models of infinite growth from exploited natural ‘resources’, prompting people to view animals as ‘products’, wildlife habitat as mining fields,  and pets as a profit market,  are the antithesis of a free world.  Beginning with herding, civilization’s founding premise is the domestication of animals. Thing is, domesticating animals served as a devise setting the stage for domesticating wild plants into food monocrops, which brought on human overpopulation. Agriculture and its human overpopulation set wildlife habitats into death spirals. Humans inadvertently became Earth’s parasite.

The more humans disconnect from wild life in wilderness, the more they long for a return to it. But there’s no going back, only forward. What social character will the human take in the future vegan world? They will rekindle their lifeway of togetherness.  Comparative anthropologist Layla AbdelRahim lays out human origins as humans living embedded in wildlife as bands of foraging frugivores, symbiotically benefitting their habitat community in their ecosystem role as seed spreaders. Human origins point a path to how humans can still live free with others – with an ethos of mutualism replacing the failing ethos of domestication.

For modern humans to expand their circle of compassion to all is challenging in the context of the world they’ve degraded. During the transition ethical choices are confounding, such as those pitting wild animals against animals humans bred into existence. Top predators keep populations in balance and need to be reintroduced, which may shift humans too toward their original position as prey. But how many humans suffer and die, directly and indirectly, from civilization? Humans can act to protect themselves, but to release their predatory Earth-destructive ways, the human ape needs to come to grips with itself as an occasional prey species, as much so as any ape.

As quickly as civilization’s systems are expanding, their tangible and intangible foundations are weakening and bound for collapse. Even after the advent of civilization, some humans everywhere opted to live life freely as possible, instinctively sensing how to live on their own terms, based on an intuitive sense of fairness with others. Some humans have always tended to, defended and restored the wild. Rewilding of the human and the planet began long ago. The question is, will vegans realize it is their calling too?

As to the basic question, reflective of The Great Forgetting of lifeways and dietways before agriculture, what will a wild vegan eat? From the mindset of mutualism and freedom for all, as the land rewilds humans will have The Great Remembering of the bounty of foraging opportunities.  They will be not only more nutritious, but delicious.

Ria

 


Banner image:  Annie Spratt, New Forest National Park

Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A debate is running about what humans will eat when we stop eating meat.

Why? Our most sustainable protein on Earth is the bean. Beans, lentils, and peas grow in harsh climates with little water, in financially poor regions. They self-fertilize, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil, so they don’t need the synthetic fertilizers that are running off the land and killing the ocean.

Yet some vegans, of all people, are promoting “clean meat” that is actual flesh, made in the lab from real animal cells. No doubt most readers will have heard some self-identified vegans touting this new future of food.

Do they have a point? This is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

Read on…


Banner photo credit: Niklas Rhöse, via Unsplash.