Gary Francione vs. the Vegan Society

When I criticize Gary Francione, I do so mostly because he doesn’t cease to criticize almost every other animal rights organisation or individual imaginable. I am not keen on giving the man and his writings extra attention, but I just feel that at least some people have to speak out against him, and have to speak up for the organisations and the individuals he attacks. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

The day I wrote this, in a matter of hours, Francione had been criticizing on his Facebook page, in order of appearance: the Vegan Society, DxE, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals. One imagines our professor writing himself into a frenzy, foaming at the mouth, and forever encouraged by his followers, who cheer him on with every word he writes (the comments are where it gets really ugly).

Let’s take a look at the bones Francione has to pick with the Vegan Society – a favorite target of his during the past few years. Francione is especially unimpressed with some of the Vegan Society’s Ambassadors. Having taken more than one swing at Fiona Oakes (a vegan ultramarathon runner and farm sanctuary owner) for saying that a vegan diet is not for everyone, he now does the same with another Ambassador, the comedian Sara Pascoe*. Francione criticizes Pascoe for a number of things (you can read it on his blog – which I reluctantly link to here – if you must). As evidence, he links to an essay by Pascoe).

vegan society

Pascoe, like Oakes, says veganism is not a lifestyle she would recommend for everyone. Francione is horrified at that. Let me first say that I very well understand that it makes many vegans, including myself, cringe a little bit when they hear something like that. A vegan diet, of course, can be – should be – for everyone. And it will be, one day, I’m sure of that.

Maybe both Oakes’ and Pascoe’s line were not ideal (they certainly go against vegan orthodoxy), but, just to give you another view on this: I for one, can imagine that a phrase like that could be read as a tongue in cheek challenge, actually motivating people (“I am one who can do it”) instead of turning them off.

Francione focuses on some other statements by Pascoe. One is about her “not being against eating animals or farming in theory” – which I personally wouldn’t say, but which only vegans will get worked up about. To most non-vegans, this will probably sound more reasonable than saying you want the abolition of all animal farming. It’s a matter of speaking one’s truth versus being effective, maybe (Francione consistently goes for the former). Francione’s comment on Pascoe saying she doesn’t know “how conscious animals are” seems unfair, because she is talking about pain being even worse if there is less awareness of why it is happening – which may be the case for some non-human animals.

Apart from the content of Pascoe’s statements: an organisation such as the Vegan Society will choose its Ambassadors for their outreach potential and their connecting ability. It is probably hard enough to find capable vegan Ambassadors as it is. To expect that they are always entirely speaking according to the party line, may be expecting too much. Moreover, Francione is digging in Pascoe’s past before she became a Vegan Society Ambassador. It’s not unlike what political rivals do to each other, trying to find compromising quotes and behavior in another’s past.

Lastly, as usual, I find Francione’s criticisms unnecessarily nasty. The Vegan Society is an organisation full of committed people, working for the animals like the rest of us. To say that they are “trashing veganism”, or that the society has become “nothing but a joke”, or that it is “rotten from the top down”, is well… just plain nasty.

Francione ends his diatribe by saying that Donald Watson (founder of the Vegan Society and the one who, together with his wife Dorothy, coined the word “vegan”), “must be spinning in his grave.”

You mean, the Donald Watson of the original Vegan Society, who in 1951 agreed to put this wording into their articles of association?

“An Associate makes no promise as to behaviour but declares himself in agreement with the object. The door is thus widely opened, and the Society welcomes all who feel able to support it.”
(as quoted in Are you vegan enough?)

I can certainly imagine that the communication of Fiona Oakes and Sara Pascoe can be improved upon. But so can all of ours. I don’t see why anyone needs to make a fuss out of this like Francione does, and actually tries to influence his “followers” not to renew their Vegan Society memberships. Deplorable.

The big irony though, is that the essay by Sara Pascoe is, in my humble opinion, so much more helpful, convincing and appealing than anything Francione himself has ever written (that I’m aware of, I obviously don’t read everything). While Francione can see only black and white (the only morally defensible position, according to him, undoubtedly), Pascoe shows more understanding of people’s psychology by giving them permission to slip up occasionally, or have breaks, and not be too hard on themselves. She isn’t patronizing, which cannot be said of Francione, and which is for most people definitively a turn off.

Much ado about nothing, as usual, from Gary Francione.

26 thoughts on “Gary Francione vs. the Vegan Society

  1. When you take the Francione stance of all or nothing, then you must be prepared for one of those options, which is…nothing.
    The issue of Francione and his criticisms and his divisiveness only gets me worked up and distracted, so I’ll just mention one of my favorite quotes:
    “A little bit of something beats a whole lot of nothing.”
    At the end of my life I’d like to know that I at least gave the animals a little bit of something, rather than be left with my morals intact, but the animals being no more better off.

  2. Bravo, Tobias. Anyone whose stance on animal abuse and whose public statements against all animal rights organizations is constantly in line with those of the animal abusers themselves is NO animal advocate. Francione is a delusional megalomaniac who is nothing more than a pariah to the animal rights movement.

  3. Does anybody have any insight on the psychology of how a person like Francoine gets to the place he is at (thoughts, links, websites, books, etc.)?
    I just can’t quite wrap my head around how a person gets to a place where they are so attached to their ideology that they will not allow ANY variances to it, even when reality shows that such a strict adherence actually causes harm to the very beings that ideology is supposed to help.

    1. same thing could be asked about many of his adherents… how do they go along with GLF’s hateful diatribes?
      it has to be a matter of trust: they don’t trust that the other people really want abolition, i think.

      1. Yeah, I’m sure trust must have a huge part to do with it.
        Maybe it’s just slowly losing touch with reality & becoming delusional over time? When reality doesn’t fit your vision of how things should be, instead of giving up that vision, you’d prefer to create & live in your own reality, even if it’s delusional. ??

        I can see the sense in the psychology behind those theories, but what really stumps me is the next step where the logic then seems to get very twisted… a reality ends up created that you support, but you support it in ways that actually harm the very ideology that led to the creation of that reality in the first place.

        Wha…? Huh…??

        What comes to mind is the image of a snake in a circle swallowing his own tail.

        1. Thanks, Tobias. I’ve heard of cognitive dissonance, but never really looked into it. I just googled it and very quickly said, “A ha!”. Seems like it might explain a lot!

    2. I think Hannah Arendt nailed this one! ““The outstanding negative quality of the totalitarian elite is that it never stops to think about the world as it really is and never compares the lies with reality.”
      ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

  4. Tobias: I appreciate you calling out Professor Gary L. Francione for the way he attacks fellow animal and vegan advocates – someone’s gotta do it! Let’s not beat around the bush here – if you visit his personal fiefdom on Facebook (and he does have a significant following), you’ll see it’s a bed of vitriol and offensiveness – with personal attacks on good-hearted people left right and centre. Totally unnecessary and totally counterproductive. I’ve no idea why Francione sees the need to behave in this way – I can only think that his ego is out of control and that he relishes the attention he gets from being bellicose and combative. You’d laugh if it wasn’t so fucking tragic – tragic for our non-human brothers and sisters who really can do without this kind divisive and diversionary bullshit (apologies to bulls – old habits die hard).

  5. I just can’t quite wrap my head around how a person gets to a place where they are so attached to their ideology that they will not allow ANY variances to it, even when reality shows that such a strict adherence actually causes harm to the very beings that ideology is supposed to help.”

  6. Simple thought experiment for everyone: Do you think rape is wrong? If so, what would you say about a man who claims to be doing everything he can not to rape people, but every now and then he slips up? But he is really really trying, though! It’s just that he recognizes that people are not perfect, and they slip up occasionally and rape people, because, you know, everyone likes sex, right? Would you think it appropriate for him to speak at women’s rights conferences? Would you want him as a spokesman for a group of sexual violence survivors?

    What about animal exploitation? Is that wrong? If you think that it is, what would you say of someone who usually abstains from paying people to torture and kill animals, but he sometimes slips up, and, since meat tastes so good, he goes ahead and treats himself to a little tortured animal now and then? Would you want him as a spokesman for an animal rights organization, or hold him up as an example for others to follow?

    If your reaction to the first and second scenarios are different, then you do not really believe animal exploitation is wrong, and you are doing great harm to the movement those of us who do believe in animal rights are trying to build by presenting yourself as vegans, since you are conveying the message that even vegans think it is ok to torture and kill animals sometimes.

    (By the way, this whole thought experiment is laid out by Francione himself on his website numerous times if you cared to look–he’s already addressed your argument that he is mean and unkind for using things like logic. He’s not an ideologue; he just likes to use logic rather than feelings to make his points, and he stands by the consequences of his arguments, and that upsets a lot of people who don’t know how to think.)

    1. thx for your input kevin. i know the argument, and i personally don’t think it’s a good one, and it’s definitely not a strategic or helpful one. I can understand it sounds good at first sight/thought, but it’s entirely theory based and doesn’t take reality into account; which we need to do. that’s why francione IS an ideologue. I’m sure you’ll be able to use that thought experiment/comparison in future years. just not now.

      relevant posts, in case you’re interested:

      1. Look, while the majority of people may be able to get by with inconsistencies and poor logic (since they have strength in numbers, and few people will challenge them on it), being illogical or having anything less than absolutely watertight arguments is not a luxury vegans can afford. Vegans can’t convince everybody all at once, but we are never going to convince more than a tiny fraction of the population if our arguments ultimately fail–not just because people don’t want to hear them–but because they don’t make sense on their own terms. It simply makes no sense to say that animal exploitation is wrong and that everyone should go vegan, except sometimes when it’s ok to slip up a little bit and torture some animals. If it’s ok to do it a little bit, then why is it wrong to do it a lot? How many animals do you need to torture before it starts becoming wrong? This sort of thinking will get us nowhere. Either a thing is wrong or it’s not. If it’s wrong, then you don’t do it. That’s the kind of logical consistency vegans need to stand for.

        Look at the movements to get equality for women or African Americans or gays: I would argue those movements went mainstream not because they made people feel good about themselves or something (in fact, quite the reverse: they forced people to confront a terrible past and their own racism/sexism/homophobia), but because they simply made sense and the status quo at the time didn’t. Once people began to see that, it was only a matter of time.

        The same can happen with animal rights, if we can only manage to get a message out to people that is clear, consistent, and compelling. There may always be people who hurt animals, just as there may always be racists, but past movements for human rights and equality show that mainstream opinion can be shifted by sustained, well-reasoned arguments–sometimes startlingly quickly, as was the case with gay rights.

        1. Hey Kevin,

          While I definitely understand where you’re coming from and where you wrote, “That’s the kind of logical consistency vegans need to stand for.”…the problem is that humans are horrible at being logical and consistent, let alone changing their behavior in response. If there were some magic argument that would persuade everyone to stop eating animals immediately, it would have been discovered by now.

          As far as equality for women or African Americans or gays, those changes happened incrementally over many long years. Again, If there were some magic argument that would have persuaded everyone to grant equality to those groups, those changes would have happened as soon as people were made aware of the logic of equality.

          Imagine you went to a slaveholder in the 1800s and presented him logical and consistent arguments for equality for African Americans. You explained the logic perfectly. You told him that based on this logic he should not only free his slaves, they will now also be granted voting rights, schools will be fully integrated, mixed marriages will be allowed, everybody will eat at the same restaurants, and there will be no discrimination in employment, housing, or anything else based on race.

          If logic and consistency had been able to accomplish those things, it wouldn’t have taken the 102 years it did in between the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the Civil Rights Act in 1965.

          As far as the example of the rapist, I totally agree, as does the majority of the rest of the world. People are convicted and put in jail for being rapists. The problem for us is that in our current society, nobody is committing a crime for eating meat or not being a vegan. How many commercials do you see on TV for McDonald’s vs. rapists? That doesn’t mean it’s right or logical or consistent. It just means this is the mindset of the people we are dealing with.

          Kevin, please know that I agree with you 100%. The real problem we have to face and accept, however, is not that our arguments aren’t logical, and not that we ourselves can’t be consistent…the real problem we face is that the rest of the people we are trying to convince belong to a species that is horrible at being logical and consistent.

          This is in many ways more a fight about understanding the psychology of persuasion than a fight over the logic of animal welfare and rights.

            1. I have another thought experiment for everyone: Suppose I want to try to convince as many people as possible not to eat food that is the color brown. At first people think I’m just peculiar, but I have a very charismatic personality, and, in time, I convince quite a few people to join me in my brown-avoiding diet, coming up along the way with all sorts of ad hoc reasons to avoid brown food. I do what people on this website seem to advise, which is to show tremendous compassion and understanding to those who still eat things that are brown, and, as I said, I have a very charismatic personality, too. But, for some reason my brown-avoiding diet never really takes off. Why do you think I failed?

              Obviously, it’s because what I am doing makes little to no sense. You can deploy as much compassion and understanding as you want–and, of course, we should always be polite–but ultimately, it is arguments that change people’s minds. People change because they have reasons to do so. Without those reasons, change doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t last.

              Let me ask another question: Why did you become vegan? Was it because some vegan you knew was nice to you? Of course, being nice is a good thing, but it is hardly enough to make you want to change your whole lifestyle and adopt someone else’s. After all, some stranger on a bus can show you some kindness—that doesn’t mean you want to be like him. If you are anything like me, I suspect the reason you stopped participating in hurting animals was because you were persuaded to do so—by arguments and evidence (such as photos or video of the actual conditions animals are raised in—not the pretty pictures they show you in commercials). I challenge you to find one person who has become vegan based on the methodology you suggest using. I’m willing to bet anyone you could find who has been vegan for more than a year could articulate some compelling reasons that made him or her make that change—that’s what makes people go and stay vegan.

              It sounds nice to say that we should be non-judgmental and not hurry meat-eaters in their transition to veganism, but actually, it is extremely condescending. What you are implying is that, while us vegans may be able to handle logic and arguments, those stupid idiots out there can’t deal anything as harsh as that: they’re just not up to our intellectual level yet. I refuse to believe that. I refuse to believe people don’t respond to arguments, because I see evidence of the contrary every day, and because I know how I first became a vegan.

              As for the “veganism doesn’t make sense entirely” part: the fact that I have to come onto a blog entitled “the vegan strategist” and defend veganism to other vegans just confirms Gary Francione’s diagnosis of the modern vegan movement as very, very ill. It doesn’t even believe in itself enough to stand up for itself yet. It’s as if all those black civil rights protesters simply went on meekly accepting whatever whites deigned to give them, rather than having the confidence to demand what they deserved. It took them a couple centuries to muster up the courage to do it, but they did it in the end. We should be similarly courageous.

              Consider one final thing: An estimated 12% of Millennials describe themselves as “faithful vegetarians”(, and colleges report soaring interest in vegan/vegetarian options, with one management company reporting a 50% increase in vegetarian students in the space of just 5 years ( Remember how gay marriage went mainstream? The 40+ demographic seemed pretty set in their ways against openly recognizing homosexuality, and uncomfortable with the whole idea; but poll after poll showed Millennials couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about: roughly 80% in that age group were in support of full marriage equality. It’s true: sometimes arguments don’t work on everyone when the conclusion you’re trying to reach is too big of a change from what they already believe. But the arguments convince some people; and the younger generation is always less burdened by accumulated prejudice, and so represents a perennial opportunity to push for a more sensible and just world. My advice is this: of course be respectful and kind and humble and tolerant of others who don’t share your beliefs; but have some backbone, be clear in your own mind about why you believe what you do, defend what you believe in, and have a little pride in being one of the first to take part in the greatest movement for justice that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

              1. Thank you Kevin. Reading this article and the endless comments that followed make me shake my head. The arrogance to think that the public isn’t capable of change is astounding. I went vegan overnight. If I can do it anyone can. Standing up, holding our ground and speaking truthfully about the misguided belief systems of the welfarist approach is essential to the abolition movement.

        2. i think, kevin, that what you write is an excellent example of “seeing things from our own perspective”. The public doesn’t care, at this point in time, about moral (in)consistency. what’s important is how convenient it is to change things. Our credibility rests much more, imho, in our being understanding, compassionate and lenient with them, than in showing them uberconsistency in theory and practise, which is something just us (or rather, ideologues like GLF) worry about.

  7. Good job that Gary hasn’t noticed that even though, only a short while ago, Sara was a poster girl for the BUAV she is doing a benefit gig next February raising money for a medical charity that pay for animal experiments. (Only essential ones though, phew !!).

  8. This “pragmatic approach” is steps backwards for movement to end animal violence and exploitation. The arrogance to assume the general public isn’t capable of understanding the simplicity of the abolition approach is astounding. We look back at this with our heads hanging in shame.

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