On Their Own Terms: Eighteen Nutshell Narratives

This is a narration of the 2016 book On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, abridged and adapted for audio, and read by author Lee Hall in 2022.

Although quotations are left as they were written, this work is created with a commitment to gender-free language as far as possible.


Here’s One Audio File With the Combined Nutshell Narratives


And below is an index of links for each of the 18 nutshell narratives making up On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century in audio form. 

Feedback (positive, building-on, or critique) welcome. I’ll be listening to the combined, 1-hour-and-52-minute audio file now that it’s posted as one piece. If you find anything that could be clearer, let me know. The beauty of indy-publishing this is that glitches can be fixed!

NUTSHELL NARRATIVES (2022)

  • ABOUT THIS BOOK: “About This Book” lays out the book’s context and why it needs to exist. This is the first of a series of nutshell narratives putting each chapter into audible form.
  • FOREWORD by Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson: “Finding out about others without desiring to use or have them, intimidate or subordinate them may be the hardest thing of all for humans to do.”

PART ONE: TO CARE, AND TO BE FAIR

~* AN INTERLUDE OF GRATITUDE *~

PART TWO: TO LIBERATE 

APPENDICES

  • Appendix 1: A Liberation Workshop. If you believe the work of radical change starts with a written plan, here is a possible template.
  • Appendix 2: Making Vegan Guides and Leaflets. Thoughts on creating an intro to veganism for the vegan-curious.
  • Appendix 3: Veganism Defined. Updated language for the classic 1951 pledge of allegiance to our planetmates.

Zombie Chickens and Silent Lambs: Managing Suffering Is NOT Animal Liberation

Will activists ever let go of the popular “reduce the suffering” model of animal activism, and their corresponding campaigns to score “humane farming” victories?

Some states and nations are banning crates for veal calves and for laying hens. Does this make veal or eggs better?

No! There is no good animal agribusiness.

When “crate-free veal” calves are wrenched from the dairy cows who gave birth to them and kept in groups of calves, the bewildered young animals frequently mount or suck each other, or fight. Site managers use restraints on the “bully calves.” As for the egg factories, where hens have more space, there’s pecking and manure-borne disease. And for calcium-depleted laying hens, normal movements can break bones.

Commercial animals just can’t win. And then we slaughter them.

We Have the Power to Opt Out of the System.

In 1944, Donald Watson and a small group of like-minded people founded The Vegan Society. In a 2002 interview with the chair of the Society, Watson, then aged 92, said: “One of my earliest recollections in life was being taken for holidays to the little farm where my father had been born.” With the joy of being “surrounded by interesting animals” at this family farm, Watson’s “first impression of those holidays was one of heaven.”

One morning, a pig was killed. “And I still have vivid recollections of the whole process from start to finish,” Donald told the interviewer, “including all the screams of course, which were only feet away from where this pig’s companion still lived…And it followed that this idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row. A Death Row where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.”

That morning, Donald Watson saw the inevitable horror in keeping other animals for our own ends—even if their situation, up until their last moments, is largely pain-free.

The Vegan Society therefore defined “veganism” as:

…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.

Why Do Advocates Sideline the Vegan Call? Humans Love Our Luxuries.

For decades, Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University and the author of Animal Liberation, has convinced activists to pursue husbandry adjustments for commercial hens and other commercially owned animals. The model keeps activists both busy and frustrated with the politically impossible work of making the treatment, transportation and slaughter of “livestock” bearable, while agribusiness expands and becomes more intensive as demand expands.

In 2006, Singer told an interviewer at The Vegan Society that “we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume.” Singer continued:

But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free-range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and then are humanely killed on the farm.

By calling the situation of purpose-bred animals “natural” and associating “luxury” with animal products, Singer further undermined veganism and weakened advocates.

Engineering Chickens Out of Their Feelings? Peter Singer Has Approved.

Paul Waters and Steven Pete were born with a life-threatening inability to feel pain. They described their experiences publicly. As children, they would chew their tongues, hit their heads, crash through glass, burn and cut themselves, and unwittingly injure other children. Children with this condition need constant protection to survive; some die from their injuries or resultant infections. The experiences of painless people (and the generosity of Waters and Pete in sharing their stories) helped us understand our need for pain sensitivity.

But Peter Singer is focuses on suppressing it, even if that means no feelings are left at all. In a 2006 interview for Salon.com, when Oliver Broudy asked for an opinion on bio-engineering chickens without brains, Singer answered:

It would be an ethical improvement on the present system, because it would eliminate the suffering that these birds are feeling. That’s the huge plus to me.

To believe zombie chickens are “an ethical improvement” is to promote a deep disrespect for the living beings who evolved here on Earth.

Meanwhile, as for commercial hens who have passed their laying prime, Singer told Salon

Those hens have been producing eggs for you for a year or 18 months. You have a responsibility to make sure they are killed humanely.

Killed humanely?

Not that Singer’s use of that term should surprise us. Singer’s concern has always been about managing suffering and not the profound unfairness of systematic oppression.

Vegans Need to Reclaim Animal Liberation.

We need to use our precious time defending animals’ interests in living untamed, on their terms. A leading reason for the planet’s lack of untamed space is the sheer vastness of our animal farming operations. And yet Singer also accepts animal breeding, including for farming. Singer, with Jim Mason in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale, 2006) wrote:

Raising lambs in the Welsh hills, for example, is a traditional form of husbandry that has existed for many centuries and makes use of land that could not otherwise provide food for humans. If the lives of the sheep are, on the whole, good ones, and they would not exist at all if the lambs were not killed and eaten, it can be argued that doing so has benefits, on the whole, for both human and animals.

Former animal farmer Harold Brown has said:

When someone portrays animal farming on any scale as a harmonious balance of natural forces, they are either delusional or lying.

I agree, Harold. Animals aren’t benefited when we purpose-breed them. In doing so, we take away from their communities all that made them free. Moreover, the whole issue for the Welsh Hills isn’t whether they can feed humans. There were other biological communities there before our sheep farms cleared them off.

Isn’t it finally time we stopped tinkering with dominion and reclaimed the term animal liberation for the vegan platform?

Photo credit: Pete Birkinshaw VIA FLICKR.com CC BY 2.0

(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).

Good to Know: Donald’s Blue Plaque

Donald and Dorothy aren’t among the notable people listed by the church where their bodies are buried. No headstones mark their graves.

But North Yorkshire vegan Patricia Fairey recently informed me that there is a blue plaque in memory of Donald. 

Round, blue plaques appear on the outer walls of British buildings where noted people lived or spent time. One has been placed at the former Doncaster Road School in South Yorkshire to celebrate Donald, who attended school there. It was placed in 2019, the 75th anniversary year of The Vegan Society.

Donald shines on as a core figure among the 25 original members of The Vegan Society. 

Find out more about how and when this plaque installation happened. I hope you’ll find the story as uplifting as I did. It’s a tribute to a key animal liberationist, and to the vegan commitment we ourselves have made.  

Love and liberation,

Lee.

Happy World Vegan Day, Friends.

On this day, I’d like to return to a memory related to Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson. How interesting to find that the most well-known founder of veganism knew, and said, that the movement would be essential to any future on Earth that includes humanity.

I think it’s also very interesting to learn, as I did from Patricia Fairey, that the name “vegan” was proposed for this movement not by Donald Watson, as we often hear, but by Dorothy Morgan Watson.

For some time after visiting Donald’s and Dorothy’s gravesites, I thought it would be a nice gesture if the vegan community could come together and order headstones, and I should work on that project. Yet I’m ever more keenly aware that I’m only here for a little while. And I can imagine Donald saying, “That’s a nice thought. But go out, speak, write for the vegan cause. The churchyard will always be here. What happens to keep this work in the forefront of peoples’ conversations is the priority.”

Could I be right about that? In any case, here is In Memory and Gratitude: Donald and Dorothy.

Much love to all on a special day,

Lee.

This Idyllic Scene

The thing that shocked me, along with the chief impact of the whole setup, was that my Uncle George, of whom I thought very highly, was part of the crew, and I suppose at that point I decided that farms, and uncles, had to be re-assessed. They weren’t all they seemed to be, on the face of it, to a little, hitherto uninformed boy. And it followed that this idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row. A Death Row where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.

—Donald Watson


Banner photo: Lee Hall. Inset photo: Peter Lloyd, via Unsplash.

What Is Veganism? [Audio Clip]

…is part of a collective offering, based on the definition of veganism from the people of The Vegan Society who set the movement in motion. I doubt I could improve upon that striking piece, nor need I try. Yet prompted by conversations with Will Anderson of GreenVegans.org, with James, Jenny, and Harold of HumaneMyth.org, with Bill Drelles and Jack McMillan of the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance, Chris Kelly in Texas and many other thoughtful people, I enjoy revisiting the early definition to convey it in today’s words. Here, in an audio version.

Veganism Defined

Veganism is a social movement. It’s based on the principle that human beings should live without exploiting animals.

Vegans seek to end the use of other animals for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection—and all exploitation of animal life.

In the hope of achieving the ideal, vegans commit to living as closely to it as personal circumstances permit.

Karen Pearlman - bee on sunflowerWhile veganism is not a diet, vegans do apply the principle to their diets, committing to complete and consistent vegetarianism.

People become vegetarians for various reasons—humanitarian, ecological, health-based, etc. Veganism, though, is a principle—that we have no right to dominate and control other animals—so we follow a consistent, animal-free diet. Free of flesh, whether of mammals, birds, or sea animals, free of eggs, free of honey, free of animal milk and its derivatives, our culinary arts are plant-based, wholesome, and guided by fairness. We seek animal liberation—that is, reintegration of other animals within the balance and sanity of nature itself.

Our purpose is to redeem a great mistake, with the stupendous effect it has had upon the Karen Pearlman - windblown sunflowercourse of evolution. As veganism spreads, the conception of other animals as existing within Earth’s great bio-community for us to possess will begin to fade away.

The purpose of veganism transcends welfare; its goal is liberation—of other animals and of the human spirit.

It is not so much an effort to make the present relationship between ourselves and other animals bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is basically one of master and slave, that relationship has to be abolished before something better and finer can be created.


EXPLANATORY note: this work is not mine; It’s part of a collective exercise. I’m a member of The Vegan Society, and I subscribe to THE DEFINITION OF VEGANISM OFFERED by its foundING MEMBERS. take a look at VEGANISM DEFINED FOR THEIR FULL DEFINITION, POSTED COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION. I DOUBT I COULD improve upon That striking piece, nor do I need to. But, prompted by conversations with Will Anderson of GreenVegans.org, Harold, James and Jenny of HumaneMyth.org, and other thoughtful people at the 2015 North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest conference, I’ve given my 21st-century language a go in conveying the basics of the definition originally published in 1951. Appreciation to PHOTOGRAPHER and friend KAREN BETH PEARLMAN.