Compromise isn’t Complicity: Four Reasons Vegan Activists Should Welcome Reducetarianism – and One Big Reason Reducetarians Should Go Vegan

This guest post is by Hillary Rettig. She is author of The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way and other works, and a ten-year vegan and vegan activist. She is a cofounder of Vegan Kalamazoo and a member of In Defense of Animals’ Sustainable Activism Council. The views expressed here are hers alone. Visit and for more on Hillary and her work, and she welcomes your emails at
In this article, Hillary examines the strategic value of approaches that call for reduction of the consumption of animal products, rather than their outright elimination, as a stepping stone on the way to abolition.

In 1806, British abolitionists faced a quandary.

For more than twenty years, they had been working to achieve a single overarching goal—to get Parliament to pass a bill outlawing the British slave trade—but had experienced defeat after defeat. Now, in the wake of several expensive and humiliating failed wars, including the U.S. Revolutionary War and Anglo-French War, as well as reports of France’s post-revolutionary Terror, the public and political mood had turned hostile. Even former supporters were now denouncing the abolitionists as “seditionists” and “Jacobins” (after the guillotine-wielding extremist French party).

bury the chainsThe abolitionists were “deeply discouraged,” writes Adam Hochschild in Bury the Chains, his terrific history of the movement. But right at that dark moment, abolitionist and naval law expert James Stephen came up with a novel idea: instead of introducing yet another doomed-to-fail abolitionist bill to Parliament, why not instead introduce one that merely made it illegal for British subjects to invest in, insure, supply or otherwise participate in slave trading by France and its allies, including notably the United States? And that legalized the seizure of French and allied slave ships by British navy vessels and privateers?

It was a genius idea for three reasons. First, it would play to post-war nationalist sentiments. Second, naval and maritime interests would love it, since the officers and crew of ships would be entitled by law to claim a percentage of the value of any illegal ship they captured. And third: what Stephen and the abolitionists knew—but what was generally not known by the British public and politicians—was that around two-thirds of British slave ships sailed under either the French or U.S. flag. So the bill, while seeming like an innocuous piece of patriotic fluff, would actually dismantle a huge percentage of Britain’s slave trade.

Nevertheless, the other abolitionists hesitated. Along with the moral question of whether it was right to settle for a partial solution to an absolute evil, there was the strategic question of whether the bill, by eliminating competition, might actually wind up strengthening the remaining slave trade. And there was also the public relations question of whether the public might perceive the abolitionists as implicitly endorsing slavery conducted under Britain’s own flag.

Fortunately, they decided to follow Stephen’s plan. After some adroit political maneuvering – nicely dramatized in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace – the Foreign Slave Trade Act was passed. It was, from an abolitionist standpoint, an outstanding success. As anticipated, it immediately knocked out a huge part of Britain’s slave trade—and, contrary to abolitionist fears, actually destabilized the rest. And it reinvigorated support for abolition.

Small wonder that, a scant year later, the long-sought-after abolitionist bill was finally passed.

This wasn’t the only tough compromise the abolitionists made, by the way. They had made an even tougher one nearly twenty years earlier, when, at one of their very first meetings, they voted to work only on shutting down the slave trade and not on freeing Britain’s (and its colonies’) slaves. They didn’t make that decision lightly—they knew it meant leaving more than half a million people enslaved, most in horrific circumstances in the Caribbean sugar fields. But they considered that battle unwinnable at that time. (They did hope that eliminating the slave trade would lay the foundation for future emancipation—which it did!)

The U.S. abolitionists made a similar compromise when, as depicted in the movie Lincoln, they agreed to give up their insistence on including language mandating full racial equality, so as not to jeopardize passage of the the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.

And, about a hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr., similarly compromised when, despite his hatred for poll taxes, he agreed to support the removal of a contentious poll tax ban from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 so as not to compromise that bill’s passage.

More recently, we’ve seen progressives settle for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., “Obamacare”) as a stepping stone to single-payer health insurance, and LGBT activists accepting civil unions en route to winning full marriage equality.

Every social justice movement compromises.

Now it’s the vegan and animal rights activists’ (hereafter referred to as “vegans”) turn. A group of activists have announced a new “Reducetarian” campaign designed to get people to, as the name implies, reduce their consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and other animal products (hereafter all referred to as “meat”) for reasons including animal cruelty and environmental sustainability. Although some vegans have always embraced the “reducetarian” approach–if not the actual name–the creation of a formal Reducetarian movement takes things to a new level, especially as its supporters include such non-vegan notables as legendary human rights activist Noam Chomsky, environmentalist Bill McKibben, and scientists and best-selling authors Birute Mary Galdikas, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins. These are all people with enormous credibility and influence who, even if they don’t yet share our goal of global veganism, could do a lot to help the vegan movement.

That’s why many vegans, including myself, welcome the Reducetarian campaign. But others are like the 1806 abolitionists: deeply uncomfortable with a “partial solution” that asks people to reduce their meat consumption rather than eliminate it. These vegans typically refer to themselves as “abolitionists,” and I will use that name for them in this article, although it is important to note that the vast majority of vegans, including many pro-reducetarian vegans, share the goal of abolishing animal exploitation. While I think the abolitionists are well intentioned, I would respectfully ask them to consider these four points:

1) Compromise is Fundamental to Societal Change. As the above examples illustrate, the idea that compromise is complicity is ahistorical. It’s also illogical, since all solutions, to all problems, are partial. Plus, as Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals, “In the world as it is, the solution of each problem inevitably creates a new one.”

CompromiseAlinsky also writes: “Compromise is another word that carries shades of weakness, vacillation, betrayal of ideals, surrender of moral principles… But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word… A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian.”
So, yeah: as beef consumption declined – due to public health concerns, E. coli scares, vegan activism, and other factors – chicken consumption increased. And we’re also seeing the growth of the “humanely raised” meat industry, which (as the abolitionists fear) is almost certainly helping some consumers rationalize their meat eating. Undesirable as these developments are, why would we expect any different? Power doesn’t give up without a struggle. These developments are not signs of failure, as some of the abolitionists seem to think, but of success. We’re changing consumer behaviors, and forcing the meat industries to react.

2) Change, in Humans, is a Process. Alinsky says an activist’s primary duty is to, “see the world as it is.” Reducetarian supporter Peter Singer, in his activist primer Ethics into Action, gives similar advice: “Above all, keep in touch with reality.” Well, here’s the reality about humans: We often learn, and change, slowly. We find it difficult to break bad habits. We crave. We lapse. We’re egocentric. We are susceptible to social pressure and corporate propaganda. And we often choose short-term gratification over a greater benefit delivered over the long term.
These are just some of many behaviors that most of us wish we, and others, weren’t susceptible to. (And they all have reasonable explanations, by the way: the short-term gratification thing—which psychologists call myopic discounting—makes sense given that, for much of our species’ six-million-year history, we lived in such dangerous circumstances that if you delayed a gratification you might not live to experience it.) Is there even one abolitionist who hasn’t committed every one of these regrettable behaviors in one realm or other of her life?
Moreover, the barriers to veganism are substantial and include not just the pervasiveness of animal exploitation in our culture and economy, and the resilience of animal agriculture as a capitalist system, but the central and intimate role that food plays in our lives. A few years back when I attended foster parent training, for instance, the teachers stressed how one of the most welcoming and comforting things you could do for a new foster child was to feed him foods he was used to.
peter singer mixAbolitionists don’t want to hear any of that. Their mantra—“Go 100% vegan. Right now. It’s easy.”–reflects a stubborn unwillingness to accept the realities of human nature and the mechanisms of personal change. As Singer put it in his book: “Too many activists mix only with other activists and imagine that everyone else thinks as they do. They… lose their feel for what the average person in the street might think. They no longer know what is achievable and what is a fantasy that has grown out of their own intense conviction of the need for change.”
Some abolitionists, it’s true, do acknowledge the reality that many people change in stages; only they argue that vegans should never actively promote the incremental steps. However, not providing support for the most common method people will use to attain your goal is a weak strategy. Also – as I hope this article will demonstrate – it’s not difficult to both applaud someone for taking an incremental step while also helping him keep his eye on the prize.

3) Let’s Skip the Whole Pointless Discussion of People’s Motives. Yeah, research shows that ethical vegans lapse less. That’s one data point among many that are relevant to promoting veganism, and it pertains to some people and situations but not others. (For more on this, see Tobias Leenaert’s excellent talk on why “compassion costs too much” for many people.) In any case, if our goal is truly to reduce animal consumption as quickly as possible, then the solution is to create a mass market for our ideas, similar to the way Apple or Coke or Disney creates a mass market for its products. By definition, that means welcoming people with diverse motives.
rettig mass marketAlso, as Leenaert points out, ethics don’t just influence behavior, behavior can also influence ethics. We often see this when social justice-, public health-, and public safety-type laws are passed: people comply reluctantly at first, and then more willingly as their views change. Antidiscrimination laws and laws mandating seat belt use are two examples; and it’s also worth noting that the act of parenting itself is probably a universal application of this principle, since it often involves mandating behaviors with the hope that those behaviors will instill ethics.
Since behavior can influence ethics, we should be encouraging people to move toward veganism out of any and every possible motive. Which brings us to…

4) The Vegan Movement’s Immediate Goal Should Be To Create Billions of Reducetarians. A currently popular abolitionist-type graphic shows cows lined up waiting to be slaughtered, with the caption, “Baby steps are cool. We’ll just wait on this line until you embrace veganism.” The truth, however, is that reducetarianism actually offers the best hope of saving those cows. If everyone in the U.S. reduced their meat consumption by just the modest target of one meal per week—around 5%—that would save around 450 million cows and other animals each year in the U.S. alone. To achieve the same result, the abolitionists would have to convert approximately 4.5 million meat eaters to complete veganism (based on the oft-cited statistic that a vegan saves 100 animal lives/year). That number, incidentally, represents more than three times the current total of U.S. vegans.[1]
rettig convert 5%

If I were one of those poor cows, I’d totally support reducetarianism.
To get from the carnist world we’ve got now to the vegan world we want, there will have to be many intermediate steps. Our immediate goal should be to create billions of partial / lapsed / struggling / uncommitted vegans, a.k.a. reducetarians, because that will not only eliminate the most animal suffering the most quickly; it will also lay a strong foundation for future progress.
Yes, we’ll probably have to coax those reducetarians along step by step, probably rebutting loads of misinformation—not to mention, rationalizations and equivocations—along the way.
And, yes, we’ll also have to cope with ever more devious ploys from an animal agriculture industry desperate to maintain its profitability. (Beef fat-fueled airplanes, anyone?)
And, unfortunately yes, we’ll probably have to make some more difficult, and probably even tragic, compromises.
But that is the path we’re going to have to follow, because, contrary to abolitionist fantasies, there simply is no other.

To the Abolitionists: Have Faith
In their ignorance of, or disdain for, history, strategy, and psychology, abolitionists pursue ineffective strategies, the “baby step” graphic’s coercive shaming being one example. Here are two others:

*Glib Theorizing. “One of the deep flaws of [reducetarianism],” wrote one abolitionist on Facebook, “is that it approaches the problem only as if it were a question of quantity while it is a qualitative difference between not being vegan and being vegan… And nobody will have any idea of what animal rights are if animal rights activists engage in this confused talk of meat reduction as if they were not actually talking about suffering individuals.” This comment sounds compelling, and it got the most “likes” of any abolitionist comment in the discussion, but, like many abolitionist statements, it makes no sense. Is a life saved via reducetarianism “qualitatively” different than one saved by veganism?
Beyond that, the statement is factually wrong: the Reducetarian website not only explicitly discusses animal suffering, it lists it as the very first reason to reduce one’s meat consumption.
Another comment in the same thread compared the idea of meat-eating animal-rights advocates (the subject of an article by Reducetarianism campaign co-founder Brian Kateman) to “slave-holding black-rights advocates,” and concluded, “Nope, sorry.” But why would we turn away any ally to our cause, especially if their activism, aside from being useful on its own merits, could actually (as discussed above) bring them closer to becoming vegan? And when, once in a while, someone embedded in an oppressive system actually does make a valuable contribution? masterofthemountainI’m guessing the commenter doesn’t know that British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson recruited active slave-ship doctors and crew members as informants to aid in his organizing, or that it was the slaveholder Thomas Jefferson who abolished the U.S. Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Also, where do we draw the line? If someone eats honey once in a while, does that invalidate their credentials as a vegan advocate? How about white sugar (often processed using bone char) or the beetle-derived red food dye cochineal?
Should a pescatarian be prohibited from speaking out on the plight of chickens?

*Making Things Up. One abolitionist recently claimed—again on Facebook—that increased meat prices (a goal of humane reforms) don’t reduce meat consumption: “People will buy it if they want it regardless of price. People who smoke will bitch and moan about the cost of cigarettes….Yet they still smoke.” Leaving aside this person’s trivializing of the realities of tobacco addiction, a two-minute Google search would have showed that he was wrong about both cigarettes and animal products.[2]
Another recently wrote, “The science of habit formation speaks stronger for going vegan and getting used to it rather than keeping reducing meat.” I’m currently writing a book on weight loss and have read more than fifty books and countless articles on that subject, and I can promise you that NO reputable expert would say that. Most, in fact, would say the opposite: that trying to change everything in your diet all at once is a recipe for failure. For example, in Thin for Life, her comprehensive survey of weight loss research and strategies, author Anne Fletcher notes, “Many people…feel overwhelmed when they try to make multiple changes all at once.” For that reason, her recommended diet plan, “has you take things one food group at a time.”
And societal change also happens gradually! Citing evidence from the civil rights and gay rights struggles, Charles Duhigg, in his best-selling book The Power of Habit, says that “small wins,” as he calls them, tend to synergize and wind up having, “an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves.”

Although abolitionists are quick to accuse others of speciesism, in my view the willingness to dismiss—especially on such flimsy grounds—tactics that demonstrably save nonhuman lives smacks of human privilege. So does their dismissal of welfarist strategies, like the elimination of battery cages and gestation crates, that have the potential to greatly reduce nonhuman suffering. “Suffering matters,” as the late animal activist Norm Phelps said.

What these examples also demonstrate is how much the abolitionists fear and distrust not just non-vegans—which, besides being unfortunate on its own merits, will make it hard for them to influence anyone—but the process of activism itself.

I urge them to be more optimistic. Dr. King’s arc of history bends towards justice not just because most people’s hearts incline toward justice, but because the fight for justice has always attracted the best—smartest, wisest, most creative, most passionate, and most persevering—people. We also have the advantage of (as Harry Potter reminded his friends during the darkest hours of their fight) “something worth fighting for.”

Moreover, we’ve inherited, from prior generations of activists, a set of best practices—including compromise, inclusiveness, and eyes-on-the-prize pragmatism–that, if followed, will guarantee a win. It won’t be a “complete” win, because that never happens. (There is still human slavery even today.) And it won’t happen as quickly as we would like—it never does. But probably, especially if we all work together, it will happen faster and more thoroughly than now seems possible.

To the Reducetarians: Go Further

At the end of his monumental history of the decline of violence in human societies, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Reducetarian campaign supporter Steven Pinker writes, “To review the history of violence is to be repeatedly astounded by the cruelty and waste of it all, and at times to be overcome with anger, disgust, and immeasurable sadness….It would be terrible enough if these ordeals befell one person, or ten, or a hundred.”


So, to Pinker and all the other Reducetarian supporters, I say the following, with the greatest possible respect:

You have done a wonderful thing by publicly advocating for people to reduce their meat consumption.

However, now that you’re on record as understanding that animal agriculture is cruel and wrong, I urge you to go vegan as quickly as you can, and to encourage other reducetarians to do the same.

Some might argue that because life itself is a series of moral compromises—we’re culpable every time we drive, fly, pay taxes that fund warmongers, or buy any non-organic or non-fair-trade item—occasional meat-eating is acceptable. But it’s likely that eating animals is by far the cruelest and most destructive behavior you directly engage in.

Besides, for every bite of meat you give up, you’ll gain something infinitely more profound and satisfying: the knowledge that you’re not just listening to your better angels, but are, once more, on the right side of history.

[1] Per Asher, Green et al., vegans currently represent about .5% of the U.S.’s population of 320 million, or approximately 1.6 million persons. 
[2] “In most cases, egg production has decreased in European countries like Germany that have enacted stricter housing standards or banned cages altogether…Egg production in Germany declined by approximately 13% from 2000 to 2007.”

112 thoughts on “Compromise isn’t Complicity: Four Reasons Vegan Activists Should Welcome Reducetarianism – and One Big Reason Reducetarians Should Go Vegan

  1. Hi Hillary. That was a fascinating and positive read. Thank you. A year ago however, I would not have said that ! I would probably have been one of those ‘abolitionists’ you quoted. I would like to know what your response would be to the main argument which is along the lines of ‘ but the abolitionist approach worked for me and has I have made many new vegans this way’ and the notion that this is somehow letting people off the hook by not ‘asking for a hundred percent’.
    My personal view is that I think many people assume (wrongly) that pro reductionists only ask for reduction and never go with the ‘Go vegan’ message whereas surely if you see someone who ‘could be’ vegan you would go straight in for the kill so to speak. I think you can be pro reduction whilst still advocating for 100% veganism. I accept and encourage reduction. That doesn’t mean I ‘agree’ with any animal use.

    1. Hi Nina, Thanks for your comment, and your nice sum-up of the point that yes, you can advocate strongly for veganism while also being pro-reduction.

      I have absolutely no problem with someone using the all-at-once abolitionist approach to go vegan if that works for them. I wish it would work that way for everyone! My point is that it obviously doesn’t work that way for many people, and many abolitionists won’t acknowledge that. And the way they behave in their denial hurts the cause they hope to help.

      People who hear me promote reducetarianism will be surprised to learn that I myself went vegan in a flash after seeing Peaceable Kingdom. Moments after I saw it, I called my then husband and said, “Hello! I’m vegan.” Literally true. Only… (a) I was already vegetarian, (b) I had a lifelong love of animals, (c) also a lifelong commitment to social justice and activism, and (d) for a long time after officially going vegan I occasionally ate nonvegan foods. So my supposed immediate conversion was actually a process. I expect a lot of them are probably the same.

      1. I also went vegan in a flash. I also was a vegetarian. I watched about 30 seconds of a Mercy for Animals film clip about the dairy industry, and that did it for me.

  2. Excellent piece. I’ve witnessed so much warring online between different vegan sects over the last few weeks – and, let’s be honest with ourselves, no side is blameless when it comes to that – so it’s great to read a piece that sidesteps all the snarkiness to address the issues at the heart of this debate.

    For me, reducetarianism – like vegetarianism and pescatarianism – is very much part of the solution and certainly not part of the problem. When people start to acknowledge the cruelty entrenched within the meat & dairy industry, there’s simply no going back. Without a doubt you’ll have many reducetarians going full-on vegan.

    I’m reading Growl by Kim Stallwood at the moment and was struck by this quote:

    ‘As an animal advocate, it’s all too easy to set up your own court and be the self-righteous judge and jury to dispense justice to all those who failed to meet your expectations, act as you saw fit or follow your unspoken laws. But genuine compassion puts your own soul in the docks and cross-examines your motivations, your actions and your self-professed virtue – without stopping.’

    I wonder, then, does the reluctance of some of us to accept reducetarianism, albeit well-intentioned like you say, Hillary, have more to do with our own pride and guilt and whatever than about anything we might achieve for the animals.

    1. falsealarmboy – I really love your comment; it shows a lot of deep wisdom. of course if we can get someone thinking critically about their food, that’s the first and most important step on the road to veganism.

      I do think there are people who have “gone back” after learning the realities of dairy, etc. – more than a few. (I’ve met some personally and the high recidivism stats support this.) BUT the important part is you’re not going to harangue them back into compliance.

      And many people, of course, do stay the course.

      > But genuine compassion puts your own soul in the docks and cross-examines your motivations, your actions and your self-professed virtue – without stopping.’

      Nicely put. And not just part of activism, but being a decent person.

      1. You’re absolutely right, Hillary: many vegans do go back to meat & dairy eventually; I think there are stats to prove that. So I was wrong to say there’s no going back.

        In fact, I myself, while a pescatarian/ vegetarian for all of my adult life did revert back to eating meat for a brief while before going vegan. In my own case, it was just apathy: not eating meat had become a sort of habit. A bit like when Tobias says ‘Most people eat meat because most people eat meat’: for me, it was a case of ‘I don’t eat meat because I don’t eat meat’. At the time, I couldn’t, if challenged, provide a compelling reason for not eating meat so, well, I just decided to go back to it after twenty years of not having it on my plate.

        Weird, I know.

        Especially as, similar to your good self, I have spent most of my adult life tackling social injustice through various jobs I’ve held within non-profit organisations. We don’t make those links, do we?

        Interestingly, though, whenever the revelation of animal sentience and the injustice of animal agriculture did finally get through to me (a combination of working with dogs every day, the influence of vegan friends and watching Vegucated), it seemed to reawaken all my teenage zeal for animal rights and has made me stronger and more convicted than ever.

  3. Firstly I like to say that your post was interesting, but I found the last paragraphs vexing. As a so called “reductarian”….I find the past part entirely uncompelling. In what sense is eating meat “by far” the most destructive act that we engage in? I don’t see that at all. Its the most destructive, perhaps, in its current form and production levels…..but reductarians already agree that the current system and current levels of production should change. Why would pasturing some cattle with ample space me more destructive than the massive amount of fossil fuels people use and its subsequent impact on animal life and the environment? How is sustainable fishing worse than our transportation system? And so on.

    Suggesting that reductarians should go vegan to be “on the right side of history” is begging the question, why is veganism the right thing to do? While some may be, many reductarians (like myself) aren’t just baby vegans that are working up to being a vegan. No, instead, we have fundamental disagreements with veganism and find the usual attitude of vegans to be patronizing. Where is the compelling case for veganism? Not just parts of it, but for full-blown veganism. That is what we want to hear.

    1. Just out of interest, Toad, as you’ve asked this question numerous times on here: is the main reason you don’t choose to be vegan yourself mainly to do with a fundamental disagreement with some within the movement?

      1. Mr. Toad,
        I hope this won’t come across as snarky or disrespectful, but perhaps this just isn’t the correct forum or place to find or hear “the compelling case for full-blown veganism” you are searching for? I don’t want to presume to speak for Tobias, but I don’t think that’s really what this blog is about or its intention (although it does get much coverage, of course).

        If you go to the “about” section for this blog, it says, “This blog is mainly written with an audience of vegans/animal rights activists in mind….What I hope to do is to provide arguments why pragmatic and friendly activism and communication work.”

        So, you might have better luck at another blog where the focus is on presenting the compelling case for veganism that you are focused on. This blog has a different focus and is “written with an audience of vegans/animal rights activists in mind”, not convincing people of the case for being a vegan/animal rights activist.

        I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but maybe others might have suggestions to other websites, blogs, etc., that has more of a focus on what Mr. Toad is looking for?

        1. p.s. Not to say you aren’t welcome here, Mr. Toad. The thought just came to me that you might have better luck finding the answers that aren’t being answered here at another forum with more of a focus on what you are looking for.

        2. indeed christine. i’ve commented this to mr toad today: most of the commenters here are less interested in “the full blown case for veganism” (at least not as a dogma, and right away) than most people on other places, so i find it strange that you keep asking for this moral case for veganism here, of all places…

        3. Christine,

          Yes, I realize that this isn’t a blog for philosophy and I wasn’t expecting anybody to write a treatise here to justify veganism. My question in my comment was more or less rhetorical and in response to the sentiment expressed in the post, my point was that “reducetarians” aren’t going to be convinced by patronizing comments……someone is going to have to make convincing arguments if you want us to seriously consider veganism. So, okay, this isn’t the place for making a case for vegansim……but where is? Who is making the intellectual case exactly? I’d love to see it.

          Most of my comments here are on strategy and I don’t think any of the questions I’ve asked are unreasonable. But it seems like perhaps you guys really want a vegan-zone here and I’m not here as an attempt to disrupt the blog, I’m interested in the underlying topics and like to debate about matters.

          1. this is not about wanting this to be a vegan zone
            let me speak for myself:
            what i try to do is how the world can become a lot better for animals (vegan or not, i won’t use the term for the sake of the argument) without even needing a philosophy in the first instance. a part of the population caring and creating alternatives, + external circumstances (sustainability, health issues) creating a push towards less animal products, creates many reducers, which would tip the system further and further. at that moment, thinking about animals as living beings with concerns becomes a lot easier, as dependence on using them decreases.
            i don’t need to have a full blown theory or any dogmatic definition of veganism or animal rights for that. in fact, that is exactly why people who don’t like my views attack me: because i take out a big part of the morality (in this phase), the dogmatism, the purity. So, as you call yourself a non vegan and someone who doesn’t seem to be interested in dogma, i don’t expect that you keep asking about a case for veganism. Not sure if i’m making msyelf clear.
            Again i ask, tell me something you say yes to. Tell me what you personally believe in and what you want to help advance.

        4. Tobias,

          The reason I’ve asked you about veganism is because you keep talking about it. Ignoring some disagreement I have on your strategic points, I would agree that at this point in time it makes sense to put veganism to the side and work on other factors. In fact, that is precisely my point…..where I disagree is with the idea that this is some “phase” towards a vegan world and instead I view the process as more dialectical in nature. You seem to want to talk about veganism, a vegan world, etc…..but then think its not important to clarify just what those things mean. I don’t understand that position, either one should clarify these notions or just stop using them.

      2. Falsealarmboy,

        No, its not about individuals but instead a fundamental disagreement with the tenets of veganism. I’ve yet to hear a compelling case for veganism and since veganism demands a lot of people I think any movement that insists on it or emphasizes it is counter-productive (or at least….less effective than it could be).

    2. toad, i think i’ve said something to this extent before, but while i value your input, i have the impression you say no, no, no to about everything. So allow me to ask you: what do you say yes to? What do you believe in? What problems and solutions do you see?

      1. Tobias,

        I’m not sure what you mean by “you say no, no, no about everything”. I have specific concerns and objections that are often at odds with what you say……I don’t think I’ve presented anything unreasonable. I’m not sure how that translates into saying “no, no, no”, but perhaps its some social or cultural mismatch? The questions you’re asking are very general and I’m not sure what specifically you may have in mind. Are we talking about strategy? Ethics? etc.

        Also I’m not sure why it would be strange to ask about the moral case for veganism on this blog, perhaps I’ve confused matters by using the phrase “full-blown veganism” but all I mean is that veganism in its entirety. I try to make this distinction to avoid arguments like “cows are sentient…therefore go vegan” which is usually what i get when I ask such questions. You routinely uphold veganism as a goal and so did the author of this post, so what is strange about asking about a justification? Now if nobody wants to attempt such a thing here, that’s alright, but I don’t see what is strange about asking.

        1. i answered in another post before seeing this one 🙂

          what i mean is i see you question everything that is written, even when it completely deviates from standard vegan dogma. So my question is, if you don’t agree with either approach, what do you agree with? What is important to you? Do you believe it is good to avoid avoidable suffering? Or do you even think we need to make a case why suffering is bad? (in that case i’m not with you). Why are you interested in veganism or something close to it, at all?

        2. Yeah, I echo Tobias’ question, Mr Toad: you describe yourself as a reducetarian and while few here would do anything save applaud you for being such, you still seem to act as if we all have an issue with you 🙂

          So I’d like to know, too, what has led to your decision to be a reducetarian?

        3. Tobias,

          I think this is part of the issue, I don’t think what you write deviates “completely from the standard vegan dogma”. Form a philosophic perspective your view seems to be more or less the same as other vegans, its only on the matter of advocacy where you seem to be at odds with other vegans.

          I have stated what I think here before, but my view is that there are a number of difficult issues here without clear answers and as such one should focus on what is clear. What is clear? I would suggest that intensive animal agriculture is deeply problematic, especially in the cause of poultry.


          My history with these issues goes back 20 years or so and in that time I’ve switched between being a reducetarian, vegetarian, veganish a few times for a variety of reasons. But the answer to why I’m a reducetarian today is really an answer to why I’m not vegan (or veganish)…..because that is what I was a few years ago. And its precisely what I’ve mentioned here, namely, that I don’t see that there is any compelling case for anybody to be vegan(ish) in today’s world or even at all.

    3. Dear Mr. Toad – thanks for your comment. You ask GREAT questions. Please give me a day or two to respond.

    4. Dear Mr. Toad,

      Thanks for your kind words and honest feedback about the post. Here are my answers to your questions.

      >>>”In what sense is eating meat “by far” the most destructive act that we engage in?

      Don’t forget my original phrasing “directly engage in.” You are literally putting a tormented and murdered individual’s flesh in your mouth. That’s not just direct, it’s actually intimate. We may have other equally destructive activities – bomb making, fossil fuel extraction – but none so direct.

      >>>Suggesting that reductarians should go vegan to be “on the right side of history” is begging the question, why is veganism the right thing to do?

      I’m not saying it’s on the right side of history (although I believe that). I’m saying that the Reducetarians themselves have said that, and in public. I’m just asking them to follow their own beliefs to their logical conclusion. Also, many of the R’s have, in their own work, documented their support of the core vegan values of equality and nonviolence, including Pinker, Singer, Harris, and Chomsky to name just a few. You should act according to your values, as fully as possible. That’s all my message to them is.

      >>Where is the compelling case for veganism? Not just parts of it, but for full-blown veganism. That is what we want to hear.

      With all respect, I agree with others who have responded to this question by saying that the case has been made. If you don’t believe that tormenting and murdering unnecessarily is fundamentally wrong, or that violence leads to more violence in general (as Da Vinci, Tolstoy, Gandhi and other top thinkers have all maintained), I’m not sure what more I can say to convince you.

      Put another way, I don’t understand how you can support “partial veganism” without supporting full veganism. Do you believe some lives are more expendable, and if so, which?

      1. Hillary,

        Thanks for your reply, see my responses below.

        >>Don’t forget my original phrasing “directly engage in.” You are literally putting a tormented and >>murdered individual’s flesh in your mouth. That’s not just direct, it’s actually intimate. We may >>have other equally destructive activities – bomb making, fossil fuel extraction – but none so direct.

        You’re using very dramatic and emotionally charged language here while not really addressing issue. I don’t think there is any morally significant difference between direct and indirect harm, the situation is precisely the same for the animals involved.

        >>I’m not saying it’s on the right side of history (although I believe that). I’m saying that the >>Reducetarians themselves have said that, and in public. I’m just asking them to follow their own >>beliefs to their logical conclusion.

        I’ve never hard a reducetarian say anything like this.

        >>With all respect, I agree with others who have responded to this question by saying that the case >>has been made. If you don’t believe that tormenting and murdering unnecessarily is >>fundamentally wrong, or that violence leads to more violence in general (as Da Vinci, Tolstoy, >>Gandhi and other top thinkers have all maintained), I’m not sure what more I can say to convince >>you.

        I think its rather strange to insist that there is a compelling case than systematically fail to articulate it. What you’ve done here is use dramatic language as a rhetorical tool while ignoring the actual philosophic issues. The claim that “an action that harms animals unnecessarily is wrong” is fundamentally problematic since we all, including vegans, act in ways that kill animals unnecessarily. This would amount to an argument against modern life and instead a life of some sort of asceticism.

        >>Put another way, I don’t understand how you can support “partial veganism” without supporting >>full veganism. Do you believe some lives are more expendable, and if so, which?

        That has a simple answer, its because I’m a consequentialists.

        1. Hi Mr. Toad,

          >You’re using very dramatic and emotionally charged language here while not really addressing issue

          When I say you’re putting a tormented and murdered individual in your mouth that is an absolute, literal fact. The words are emotional because the deed is. Can you dispute either the accuracy of the fact, or the accuracy of my language?

          It’s true I don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion of the pro’s and con’s of veganism. I think it’s not a good use of my time, and also a kind of luxury and privilege given the documented harm of meat eating. However, I would be interested to hear (succinctly!) your ideas. Don’t socratically question – I just want to know where you’re coming from.

        2. Hillary,

          The term “murder” is used to described the intentional killing of one human by another, we don’t use the term in the case of animals. We don’t say that the lion murdered the zebra. So, no, what you’re saying isn’t a “literal fact”….you’re twisting language and making dramatic statements in an effort to appeal to emotions. I would have ignored this if you addressed the underlying issue, but you didn’t so I found it rather fallacious in nature.

          So you consider addressing the philosophic basis of veganism to be some sort of luxury, but then expect redecutarians to be motivated to “go vegan”. That I don’t understand.

          I have highlighted, in other comments to this post, where I’m coming from. But I would add that I think a dialectical process is very important, where as you seem to think you’re right others are wrong and can’t be bothered to discuss matters.

    5. Mr. Toad, I’m confused. You’ve asked for a compelling case for veganism in many comments on different posts on this blog (and if I remember correctly you even said at one point that you wouldn’t be back because you weren’t satisfied with the feedback), but I’m wondering what WOULD be compelling enough for you. For most vegans the unnecessary torture and killing of beings who would rather live is more than sufficient and environmental/health reasons round out the picture, but if that isn’t enough, than what is? I’m not trying to be rude, but am genuinely perplexed. I’m assuming you care about animal suffering, but beyond that, I’m not clear on your perspective. In short, I guess I’m asking, what would be compelling enough reasons for you to go vegan?

      1. havegonevegan,

        I was going to stop posting because there was a lack of engagement on philosophic topics but I decided to continue to post and try and avoid those topics. As you can see, it didn’t work = ).

        When I ask for a compelling case for veganism, I’m just asking for an argument for vegansim. What you mentioned is problematic, as I just said to Hillary, vegans unnecessarily harm animals with their lifestyle all the time. So if that is the basis for veganism…..then nobody is vegan.

        Since I don’t think there is a compelling case for veganism, its hard for me to say what such a case would look like. But this is why I’m asking vegans.

  4. I’m not sure we do our best to encourage more reducitarians by basically publicly calling them hypocrites and “go vegan!!”

    1. Matt – i hope not many will interpret my piece this way. The reducitarians themselves have acknowledged that meat eating is a suboptimal behavior; I’m just encouraging them – as compassionately and logically as I can – to follow through on this principle to its logical conclusion.

  5. Just found this endorsement of compromise as a professional political strategy in this month’s Atlantic.

    Two generations ago, in 1962, the great political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote a prescient book, The Amateur Democrat, in which he pointed out that political amateurs who were unyielding in their righteousness had begun supplanting the political professionals who were willing to make deals and compromise. The ascendency of amateurism, he predicted, would cause social friction and governmental gridlock: “Political conflict will be intensified, social cleavages will be exaggerated, party leaders will tend to be men skilled in the rhetorical arts, and the party’s ability to produce agreement by trading issue-free resources will be reduced.”

  6. Mr Toad, sorry I’m aware that many have addressed you already so I apologise for my additional bombardment but I’m intrigued to know what intellectual argument you’re looking for in favour of veganism. Forgive me for appearing patronising but surely it’s obvious ? Why would we harm animals unnecessarily ? They’re not ours to use etc. I’m sure you’ve heard all of this before. Surely there is no intellectual argument needed. I’m confused as to what you could possibly disagree with about being vegan ? Of course we can all do much more and being vegan doesn’t make us perfect or even a good advocate. But for me, it’s the least I can do.

    1. Helen,

      Yes, I’ve heard that and I just replied to two similar questions above. But I don’t have a disagreement with being vegan in the sense that I think its bad for someone to be vegan, instead my disagreement is with the idea that one should be vegan.

      1. Forgive me but I’m still unclear, Mr Toad, regarding your own actual position.

        You’ve asked for a compelling reason for vegan advocacy. Several people have presented the obvious reason that it’s better to live a life without causing suffering to animals than one that does cause suffering.

        So, first of all, is that something you believe in?

        You’ve responded by saying, quite correctly, that one cannot possibly live a 100% vegan life in its purest sense.

        But surely few vegans would argue with that? Especially on this blog.

        I’m reminded of a debate within the current issue of Vegan Lifestyle Magazine re: cross-contamination of vegan-friendly foods within the factories where they’re prepared. This results in labelling such as ‘may contain traces of milk’ etc. In that case, even the Vegan Society, as I understand it, will say that it is the intention (both of the manufacturer and consumer, one would assume) that matters most and such foods should still be considered for the most part vegan-friendly.

        In that sense while, yes, it is impossible to live a ‘pure vegan life’, I don’t think that gives us moral license to therefore consume *more* animal products. Surely the whole point of the reducetarian movement, as Hillary as already said, is to get as close as possible to cutting out animal product consumption altogether? Also, your argument doesn’t account for those of us who would now feel quite repulsed by eating animal produce: are you suggesting that such folks should just accept that it’s impossible to be 100% vegan and start to consume *more* animal products?

        Maybe you’re arguing from a strategic POV: ie. that if it’s easier to convince people to reduce, then we should all do that rather than focusing on vegan advocacy at all. But, for me, that rings hollow as I’d say that most vegans on this page already incorporate redcetarian strategies into any advocacy they are involved in.

        Maybe you feel that veganism has such bad PR that it’s better to refrain from using the word ‘vegan’ at all in case it might offend/ distance someone? Or even that we should all eat a little meat or dairy on occasion, while in the company of non-vegan friends, in order to appear more approachable?

        You’ve said that you don’t think it’s bad for someone to be vegan themselves, so is your main problem with said vegans actually encouraging others to also become vegan?

        Sorry if this is a little rambling. Just trying to organise my own thoughts on your position, to see if I can better understand your reasoning.

        1. Falsealarmboy,

          People have certainly cited what they feel to be obvious and I have responded to that feeling, namely, its not so obvious when you actually analyze what is being said. I would agree that it would be better to live a life without causing suffering to animals than one that causes suffering. I also think it would be better if no human ever suffered and we could all live forever. But neither of these have any relationship with reality. In reality our interests conflict with the interests of animals in a variety of ways, our interest in eating the flesh of animals is just one such conflict.

          I’ve made both strategic and philosophic points here, but philosophically I’m not talking about vegan purity here. Instead I’m discussing the problem of insisting that people entirely abstain from one class of harm to animals (eating them, testing on them, etc) while ignoring other classes of harm to animals. Let’s make a comparison here between environmentalists and vegans that I think is instructive. Environmentalists typically acknowledge that I’m discussing here, namely, that we negatively impact the environment (and as such animals) in a variety of ways and asking people to abstain from the use of fossil fuels (or some other issue) while ignoring other environmental issues doesn’t make sense. They also have no need to argue that we must entirely avoid fossil fuels, just that current use is problematic and we need to work to fix that. This position angers many vegans, vegans call them hypocrites and imply that they aren’t real environmentalists (which is almost always ironic) because they don’t insist that people abstain from animal agriculture. Vegans on the other hand take a particular set of issues and insist that people abstain from them while remaining silent on the other issues, this would be like an environmentalist insisting that avoiding all fuel fossil was critical and the morally necessarily while being silent on other environmental problems.

          I think the use of fossil fuels and the use of animals in agriculture to be very similar in the sense that we know that in both cases what we’re doing now is problematic but at the same time we really don’t know how far we can go to end the practices. As such, and this my strategic point, it doesn’t make any sense to focus on, talk about, etc abstinence rather than reduction.

          And, yes, one problem I have with vegans is that seek to convert others to veganism. Another problem is that they fail to engage other groups with divergent points of view, not only that, they actually tend to attack them and create enemies with groups that may partially agree with them (environmentalists, vegetarians, reducetarians, etc). And just to be clear, I don’t think the attacking part occurs on this blog….but is rather common in the vegan community as a whole.

          1. Again, Mr Toad, all I hear from your good self is a diatribe against certain vegans and groups of vegans, not veganism as an ideology.

            Of course people get it wrong. We’re all fallible. But that doesn’t make the cause any less worth pursuing. The methods just need to be refined and reworked, hence why I find this blog and blogs such as The Animalist, great to follow.

            Likewise, inconsistencies in our behaviour does not make it appropriate to just throw an entire ideology out the window.

            It seems that in trying to avoid the absolutism and dogmatism you perceive to be within veganism (and I agree that there are plenty of dogmatic vegans around, but few hang around here for very long), you may be in danger of mirroring such dogmatism yourself.

        2. Falsealarmboy,

          I’m not sure I understand your response, I didn’t make any mention of particular vegan groups and instead was talking about veganism. Veganism is the ideology that one should abstain from animal products and that is precisely what I was discussing. Veganism is fundamentally dogmatic, there is no such thing as “non-dogmatic veganism”. In any case, when I discuss veganism I’m discussing veganism as its commonly understood. If you folks mean something else by the term “veganism”, I would suggest using another term.

          In what sense was any aspect of my analysis a representation of dogma?

  7. I am rather new here, but I have to say that I rather enjoy Mr Toad’s comments and questions. And I would argue that he plays an useful part – the person who prompts you to sharpen up, is doing you a favour. Mr Toad says that many reducetarians have a fundamental disagreement with veganism, he probably is right. I suspect that he is referring to rather philosophical issues or perhaps the interpretation of some types of evidence, data, etc. Now if one of the ideas here is that reducetarians will contribute to achieving vegan critical mass, somewhere it is necessary to get to grips with whatever issues many reducetarians, apparently, have with veganism. I also think that Mr Toad is quite right to point to problems with “full-blown” veganism or veganism “in its entirety”.

    1. to put this maybe a bit more correctly: reducetarian is mostly about a strategy. people who take to the reducetarian strategy are mostly vegan. so it would be strange that they have a lot of issues with veganism per se. rather they have issues with the all or nothing vegan strategy.
      Apart from that, i guess pragmatic people will be more open to discuss the definition of and reasons behind veganism than most other (less pragmatic) people. so my feeling remains that toad is kind of barking at the wrong tree.
      i agree that his input is useful, i just wish that 1. it was more clear and 2. sometimes more constructive in the sense of presenting alternatives to the problems he sees.

      1. Tobias,

        I think I’ve been pretty clear about the alternative…you just don’t like it. The alternative I’ve suggested is to drop veganism and focus instead on the best strategies to deal with the immediate goals and let the future develop dialectically in a sort of Hegelian fashion.

        1. Mr Toad – what does “future develop dialectically in a sort of Hegelian fashion”mean? Not familiar with Hegelian dialectic, and genuinely interested.

        2. Leone,

          Yes, my word choice there was pretty poor for a general audience. What I have in mind is the process where people with divergent views come to agreement on some topic by an analysis of the underlying issues. History rarely unfolds by the domination of one view, but instead the synthesis of conflicting views. This is in contrast to the usual vegan view which is the domination of vegan ideology over other views, vegans (in general) don’t think there is any compromises to be made, any further clarity to be achieved, etc which seems to have lead to a sort of intellectual isolation. So my problem here isn’t so much that vegans think they are right, everyone tends to think that, but that there is almost a basic refusal to engage in arguments and others point of view. In that sense veganism seems to be more operating more like a religion than an intellectual stance on some issue. If vegans refuse to engage, then the future is likely to unfold without their influence…..and I think that would be unfortunate.

        3. Tobias,

          Your comments are cryptic, I have no idea what you have in mind when you suggest I’m barking up the wrong tree.

          1. barking up the wrong tree as this blog (and many of its followers i think) are the least dogmatic about veganism and themost pragmatic about reducing animal suffering as you can hope to find in the movement (unless you go to real welfare orgs and individuals).
            still not clear to me what you stand for

        4. Thanks for the clarification, but in that sense I’m barking up the right tree. Make no mistake, I know exactly who I’m addressing here and how other vegan groups are like. The fact that what I’m saying applies even more to many other groups is not relevant to me…..because many other groups are surrounded by a fortress of dogma, group-think, hateful rhetoric, etc and you just can’t reach them. I’m interested in actual engagement not stirring up trouble with groups.

          And I don’t think its fair to insist that you understand where I’m coming from from just my comments here, after all, you have many detailed posts here and people still often don’t get where you are coming from. Getting people to understand where you are coming from isn’t always easy, that is especially true if you’re just commenting on various topics.

        5. Tobias,

          Right, you don’t understand where I’m coming from…..but why would you? I’m just a commentator on your blog. What I don’t understand is why you think “where I’m coming from” is important and why you seem to insist that I should be explaining where I’m coming from. I think perhaps the issue here is that you don’t know how to categorize me, that is, you don’t know whether I’m a “friend or foe”. But I don’t know why that would be important either.

          1. yes, you’re right, you’re hard to categorize. i’m not concerned either whether you are a friend or a foe. i am just trying to understand you, or at least trying to see if maybe there’s nothing to understand 🙂

        6. Tobias,

          Yes, you seem fond of underhanded insults….but there is always something to understand. I guess I just don’t share your arrogance, I think engaging people is generally instructive.

          1. there was nothing in there meant as an insult. with nothing to understand i meant that maybe i am thinking i’m missing something, but i’m getting it all.
            i like to engage with people to, otherwise there wouldn’t be this blog at all.

    2. >>>Mr Toad says that many reducetarians have a fundamental disagreement with veganism, he probably is right.

      I would not make this assumption. I think many of the nonvegan reducetarians (meaning, those who aren’t vegan activists) don’t have a fundamental problem with veganism – they just find it inconvenient. As I mentioned, veganism lines up with many of their core values. And let’s not forget we’re not just talking about animal cruelty here, but environmental degradation, horrific labor abuse, etc.

      There is simply no way to justify meat (etc.) consumption if avoidable.

      It may be true that some of the R’s really do have a philosophical disagreement with full veganism, but I doubt it – and, as noted, they’re actually on record as recognizing the harm of meat production. For instance, Michael Pollan (NOT a Reducetarian campaign signatory but basically advocates it). On his Website he writes: “I’m not a vegetarian because I enjoy eating meat, meat is nutritious food, and I believe there are ways to eat meat that are in keeping with my environmental and ethical values. I don’t make the decision to eat meat lightly. ”

      Hard not to read everything after “I enjoy eating meat” as pure rationalization and equivocation. btw, when he spoke in front of a large audience at a local university, our local vegan club published an open letter to him in the local paper but of course he never addressed our points.

      1. I suspect there might still be some sticky points in terms of veganism beyond just animal agriculture and commercial fisheries. What about animal experimentation for medical purposes. I can see that many, perhaps most, reducetarians would be sympathetic to the vegan diet, but veganism isn’t just a diet, is it? Or is it?

        1. Leone, you’re right, veganism isn’t just a diet and many vegans, including myself, are opposed to animal experimentation and entertainment and other forms of exploitation and cruelty. currently there is a vocal minority who admonishes people for using the “v” word in all except the most rigorous circumstances, but I think that attitude is not helpful.

          1. ” . . . . veganism isn’t just a diet and many vegans, including myself, are opposed to animal experimentation and entertainment and other forms of exploitation and cruelty.” — Actually, ALL vegans are opposed to animal experimentation and entertainment and other forms of exploitation and cruelty. Some people who eat only a plant-based diet but are NOT vegans may be okay with these things. Veganism goes beyond a plant-based diet.

        2. Hilary – OK, is it clear that most reducetarians are sympathetic to the banning of animal experimentation for medical purposes? Or would this an area where it is hoped reducetarians eventually arrive at?

      2. Hillary,

        I would agree that many also don’t have a fundamental problem with vegansim but because its not really something they are thinking about in the first place. Most reducetarians are doing it for health or the environment, so my comment was more so geared to the smaller fraction of reducetarians that are thinking about ethics as well.

        I’m on record of having a philosophical disagreement with vegansim. Its easy to talk about people abstractly when they aren’t around to respond. Vegans do that a lot…..but engagement is another matter.

        Also all the meat, so to speak, in your claim is in the “if avoidable” clause and the arbitrariness of focusing on meat while ignoring other issues. But taking the statement as a generalization, its very easy to refute. There are many animals that lack the capacity for sentience, eating the meat of those animals presence no more ethical problems than eating plants.

        1. This is a reply for Mr. Toad – I’m not sure why many non-vegan reducetarians are reducetarian; I wouldn’t make assumptions as to why except that the site lists some explicit reasons.

          And I’m not aware of any animals that lack sentience – scientifically defined as the ability to feel. There may be animals we can’t confirm are sentient – but that’s just an argument for erring on the side of caution. I’m not aware of any animal that will sit there peacefully while you torment or kill them. They will all try to flee a behavior which one presumes is heavily selected for by evolution.

          >. Its easy to talk about people abstractly when they aren’t around to respond.
          Actually you seem to be the one who wants to stick to abstracts and generalizations. I’m not sure what your goal is by participating here, but if I were in your shoes and truly interested in a dialogue I would be wondering why nearly everyone else in the conversation is questioning not just my ideas, but my very purpose for participating – and I wouldn’t assume it’s because the problem is all on their end as you’ve repeatedly stated.

          It may be that the conversation might have been more productive carried on in person. But it’s not working, for me at least, here on line. And so I think I’m done.

        2. Hillary,

          Sentience is not just the “ability to feel”, if that were true plants would be sentient as well because they do have sensory organs as well. Sentience is the ability to have subjective experiences and while we have a poor understanding of the neurological basis for sentience, it would require a fairly complex brain to occur. But many animals, in fact most, either don’t have a brain or have rather simple ones……and as such we have no reason to believe they are sentient. Fleeing behavior isn’t evidence of sentience, it can be entirely reflexive. But many animals lack even that.

          And, no, I’m not wondering why most here are questioning me and my motives because its obvious. The vast majority of the posters are vegans and I’m making critical comments of vegans. The idea that this should cause me to second guess my position makes little sense, after all, if you went to an abolitionists group you’d experience the same thing. In any case, if you don’t want to engage non-vegans or just don’t care for me or my style that’s fine. I’m try to keep it in mind going forward.

  8. Hilary – OK, is it clear that most reducetarians are sympathetic to the banning of animal experimentation for medical purposes? Or would this an area where it is hoped reducetarians eventually arrive at?

    1. Leone –

      >Or would this an area where it is hoped reducetarians eventually arrive at?

      my understanding is that it’s mostly that. even many vegans support or are ambivalent about animal experimentation, seeing it as somewhat of a necessary evil. but again that’s just my anecdotal opinion.

      1. Yeah, I’ve seen comments from vegans along the lines of: ‘Animal agriculture is a much bigger battle, let’s concentrate on that.’

        Personally, I’ve a keen interest in anti-vivisection campaigns and support several financially. My personal favourite is Dr Hadwen Trust who recently opened their first charity shop. And, rather interestingly, it’s a vegan charity shop.

    2. Just want to point out that, while Mr. Toad wrote:

      >Sentience is not just the “ability to feel”,

      Wikipedia disagrees:

      “Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively.[1] Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations (known in philosophy of mind as “qualia”). ”

      It goes further on to state a colloquial definition related to animal rights: “In the philosophies of animal welfare and rights, sentience implies the ability to experience pleasure and pain.”

      1. Hillary,

        None of that conflicts with what I said, for example, what is says under “Philosophy and sentience”, the issue here is the term “feel” can refer to many things. When “sentience” is used in both philosophy and science its used to refer to the ability to experience the world subjective not just to the ability to sense the world in some way. If you interpret sentience as just the ability to sense, then plants would be sentient as well. Plants sense the world in a variety of ways…..but they don’t experience it and nor do many animals.

        Responding to the world isn’t evidence of sentience, again, if that were true plants and most electrics would be sentient.

        1. Hillary,

          Nobody here has been talking to me about philosophy and that’s fine if people don’t want to discuss it. My point was that vegans bring up a lot of inherently philosophic notions but many, like Tobias, seem fundamentally uninteresting in exploring them and clarifying matters.

          I find your comment that I’m disingenuous ironic, you said earlier that you don’t think its “worth your time” to engage me which I accepted that. But then you commented to me again, I replied and then instead of addressing what I said….you just tell me that you think its not worth your time to engage me again.

      2. I just wanted to add, this is another issue with veganism. Vegans don’t want to talk about philosophy, but the notion of sentience is inherently philosophical. Not just that, its one of the most difficult areas of philosophy. Another reasons why when vegans think they are saying something obvious when they really aren’t. Its only obvious to people that have accepted the ideology.

        1. People have been talking to you about philosophy for several days, Mr. Toad, and I and others have made some effort to understand your viewpoint. So in my mind this comment is yet another example of the disingenuousness and sophistry that you employ that made me decide that engaging with you isn’t worth the time.

  9. As someone who has spent countless hours responding to people like Mr. Toad, I can’t help but wonder if his purpose is to keep us from important work of reducing suffering in the world by trying to have distracting, obtuse conversations. Though he is very polite, it is clear that Mr. Toad does not care about reducing suffering of animals to the greatest degree possible, or even getting a true understanding of the issues. The fact that he thinks there are animals that it’s OK to enslave, torture, and kill because they are not “sentient”, is telling. We are not lions. We willingly and unnecessarily do these things to animals, so the words used above are appropriate. If he is truly interested in the core arguments for veganism, the internet provides a wealth of information. He is just here to argue and waste our time and is not willing to be specific enough with his questions so they can be answered. The idea that vegans still cause suffering so we should just throw in the towel and cause more suffering would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Sorry for being less polite than the rest of you, but this line of discussion is helping no one.

    And with regard to promoting reduction, I’m saddened to see the infighting in the vegan community. We are less effective than we could be when we don’t pull in the same direction. The community is too small for that. I think people are confused by things like meatless mondays. They often think it’s OK to stop there or they even sometimes think that’s what makes someone a vegan. People need a clear message. I think if you tell them the goal is to be vegan and they start with reducing because their are things holding them back from going vegan, they should be supported and encouraged to go all the way as soon as they can. I don’t see why when we maybe only have one chance at their eyeballs we would say reduction is the goal. We have a global climate emergency and an animal cruelty emergency and we need to get everyone to 100% ASAP. Perhaps we need to throw out our current approaches and start over. Start with the nearly universal attitude that no one wants to see animals suffer. Then maybe focus on how easy it is to alleviate that suffering by replacing animal products with plant-based foods (including comfort foods, traditional foods, etc.). It all needs a context and framework, but I just wanted to throw it out there that you can establish the bar at being vegan so people know what the bar is, but your message is encouraging and supportive so they know it’s OK if they’re not perfect immediately.

    1. what,

      You’re entirely right, I don’t care about reducing suffering by the “greatest possible degree” because such an idea is entirely utopian in nature. In any case, you’re not understanding my arguments if you think I’m suggesting that because vegans can’t be “perfect” that they shouldn’t do anything. I don’t care if you, or anybody else, wants to be vegan….or only wear red socks. The only thing I’ve suggested of vegans is that they not promote veganism. The question I’ve been addressing is whether there is any compelling case for a so called reducetarian to commit to veganism….and I contend that there isn’t for the reasons I’ve cited.

        1. I disagree, its possible that we give up cars, that we live in small 100 sqf dwellings, that we let the human population decline dramatically, that we never travel, that we only eat the minimal amount of food, etc. All possible and all would reduce the amount of animal suffering. Now….how likely is any of that to occur? Its utopian. I find that when vegans talk about what is “possible”, its entirely disingenuous. What is “possible” just so happens to align with vegan doctrine and exclude the things they find enjoying.

          The reality is that we humans are only going to go so far in terms of “reducing suffering” because doing this means a restriction on what we find pleasurable. Talking about “reducing suffering to the greatest possible degree” reminds me of religious asceticism and doesn’t help the perception that veganism is a cult. On the other hand, if you acknowledge that people are only going to go so far it makes sense then to look at what changes we can make that would have the biggest impact for the least effort (in terms of a reduction in pleasure). Meat would top that least, its one of our most destructive acts and giving it up, at least mostly, wouldn’t reduce our pleasure much (at least not long-term).

          How you frame things, and the words you use are important.

    2. What has said that it is telling about Mr Toad that he thinks there are animals that it is OK to kill because they aren’t sentient – I’m afraid this is an example of lack of clarity amongst vegans. The category “animal” is just taxonomy, we all know that there are creatures which only just make it into the animal camp. If we are not clear what it is about animals that deserves our concern, then why shouldn’t we be concerned about the plants that we “enslave”, maim and kill? If sentience is the criteria then we need to think whether all animals are sentient or equally or significantly sentient. Pinker and Dawkins are eminent scientists and now reducetarians – don’t you think that they and others like them are going to be discerning and critical on the sentience question? I think part if the problem is that Donald Watson and the early vegans said “animals” without qualification and that has become a part of the vegan credo.

  10. Well, we can spend oodles of time debating the philosophical and scientific meanings of words like “sentient”, and discussing whether animals (or plants for that matter) “feel” or are merely showing reflexive behaviours, and whether their experiences and brains are subjective and complex enough for it to count while we continue to harm them, OR we can agree that in general a cat doesn’t like having its tail stepped on, a chicken doesn’t like having its beak sliced, a pig doesn’t like having its testicles cut off, and so forth. It really shouldn’t take a scientist or a philosopher to be able to interpret the responses to those experiences as “pain”, and that’s objective enough for me, thanks.

    1. That’s objective enough for me, too, havegonevegan.

      I especially hate how this issue is used dually in vivisection, especially for monkeys & apes. On one hand they attempt to justify what they are doing by stating that these animals are different from, and don’t suffer pain, like humans do…then on the other hand they claim they are using these animals exactly because they are so similar to humans.

    2. havegonevegan,

      But vegans insist on far more than the claim that complex animals (mammals, birds, etc) can suffer, have emotions, etc…..they insist that one completely abstain from using such animals and also insist that all animals, not just ones that may be sentient, should be avoided as well. So the question is, given that these animals suffer, etc….are we morally obligated to entirely avoid using them for our needs? What exactly would justify this claim?

      1. “are we morally obligated to entirely avoid using them for our needs?”

        If we can, yes.

        “What exactly would justify this claim?”

        Um, because like human animals, other animals try to avoid pain, suffering and death, and seek out pleasure and continued living. We should all have the right to our own lives as much as possible.

        1. havegonevegan,

          Not all animals try to avoid pain, suffer, etc…..and all living things seek to continue to exist in some sense. But you didn’t answer the question, if we just look at those animals that can suffer why is one morally obligated to avoid using them? What if our use doesn’t make them suffer? Or what if the use benefits us greatly? And so on.

    1. Agreeing about cats, chickens, pigs, and indeed monkeys and apes seems to me to be exactly what we should be doing because these animals make the strongest case. However, what about bivalves (oysters, clams, mussels and scallops)? You can easily find sites where vegans are arguing about these – they’re not sentient, they are sentient, ad nauseum. And then you have those vegans that chip in that they don’t care about sentience, they believe in “reverence for life” – how do you make a case for that?

      You know, I really think the real issue is “vegan” and “veganism”. The only consistent meaning that these words have ever had relates to consumption, usually diet. I increasing feel they should be left to that meaning.

      Coming at the problematic nature of veganism from another angle, in a blog piece in 2011, an exasperated Steve Best railed against what he called the degeneration of veganism into, “Lifestyle Consumerism, Fundamentalism, and Religion”. He said, “: While CRUCIAL to a viable social and ecological future, veganism is riddled with philosophical flaws and tactical errors and needs to be completely rethought and rebuilt from bottom up, with all the orthodox “truths” and unquestioned assumptions discarded to reconstruct this molecular movement on a more solid basis…” I think he is right.

      1. Do you have a link to this piece? That is somewhat my feeling as well, but the vast majority of vegans I’ve discussed matters with seem to prefer the idea of reform.

        At this point I think the real hope is with the growing reducetarian community, these people can more readily think about matters freely without the bias of invested social and financial interests. The question I’ve been thinking about is what relationship we (reducetarians) should have to the vegan community. The attitudes in the vegan community range form hostility (Gary, etc) to the idea that we can be exploited to bring a vegan world (Tobias, etc). So how should we think about matters? I’m starting to conclude that reductarians will need to confront veganism, at the very least, on an intellectual basis….and perhaps even more. Should we try to marginalize vegans? Etc.

        This partly why I’ve come to this blog, I already know many of the elements of the vegan community (abolitionists, etc) aren’t workable. But what about the so called pragmatic group? I’m thinking there isn’t much to work with there either.

        1. And I’m starting to conclude that individuals such as yourself are much more interested in theorizing, analyzing, discussing, debating, rationalizing, conceptualizing and just plain thinking about (all of which have their place) animal welfare and rights, than actually trying to reduce and eliminate animal use and abuse.

        2. ‘Should we try to marginalize vegans? Etc.’

          ‘This partly why I’ve come to this blog, I already know many of the elements of the vegan community (abolitionists, etc) aren’t workable. But what about the so called pragmatic group? I’m thinking there isn’t much to work with there either.’

          Dear Mr Toad, I really thought you were better than that. But with comments like these, it’s unlikely very many people who use this page will have any interest in engaging with you further.

          You talk as if the reducetarian movement is one that is building itself up as a rival to the vegan community. In my understanding, it’s presenting itself as an ally to such, many of its number aspiring to move towards veganism some day. And, as Hillary’s blog has illustrated, many vegans (including myself) see reducetarians as allies, too.

          So where do you fit in, sir, with your talk of malcontent and revolution?

        3. havegonevegan,

          While you are free to conclude whatever you wish, I can tell you your conclusion is highly mistaken. I’m certainly interested in the underlying philosophic issues, but I’ve had a variety of involvement beyond that for nearly 20 years. Remember, you’re speaking to someone over the internet and you have absolutely no idea who you are talking to. Always a good idea to remember that.

          1. toad, what you say is right, when we speak over the internet it’s hard to shape an idea of who we are talking about. but my feeling is that we don’t have to make a sport of vagueness and crypticism to make that aspect of this communication even more problematic.

        4. Tobias,

          Your comments lately are all rather cryptic and snippy. At the end of the day, if you don’t like what I have to say why not just ignore it or ask me to leave if you feel I’m disrupting matters (its your blog, after all)? I’m really not sure what issue you had with my comment, perhaps you’re misinterpreting the word “exploit”?

          1. the reason i am not ignoring you and and am trying to understand you, and insisting on a bit more clarity, is that i think you make valid points, many of which i am making here too. but my feeling/experience is that whenever i think i have found common ground, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

    1. my 2c about the Best essay: there’s no “there” there.

      (1) Many web communities are polarized, combatant, filled with purists, etc. not just vegans. this is more a web thing than a vegan thing. But there are plenty of pragmatic balanced accepting vegans out in the real world. They’re often the ones who are working with the general public and can’t afford the luxury of elitism or purism.

      (2) All communities, on and off the web, are complex and filled with people of all kinds and all motivations. Look at the Apple versus PC “religious wars,” for instance. All he’s noticing, really, is that veganism is growing and that various subcultures are emerging. Yeah one could wish that many of the subcultures were more pragmatic and effective, but that’s also been true of every social movement, or every social group perhaps.

      1. That’s a good way to look at the dischord, Hillary…because various subculture are emerging, it means that veganism is growing. So, the dischord has a bright side in that way.

  11. Hilary, I think your points are well taken. However, when I first referred to the piece, above, I quoted the section where Best asserts that veganism needs to be addressed in terms of philosophical flaws, tactical errors, “orthodox” truths and unquestioned assumptions. I think one of the areas Best would be aiming at is not just consumerism as that term is generally understood but the whole notion of the vegan boycott strategy, which has also been attacked in “Boycott Veganism” (a DxE meet-up file). I think Best might see a couple of ideas here in this way – 1) facilitating the growth in population of vegans through more vegan products achieved by pressure on food producers initially from a growth of reducetarians as simply an example of a privileged vegan culture which takes no account of the poor ( e.g. incorporating food justice); 2) the aim of achieving vegan critical mass as blinkered, facile and politically ignorant in a complex, globalised world of late capitalism, the surveilance state, democracy squeezed and subverted to serve an oligarchy, and likely environmental catastrophe. For me his attack on behaviour of the vegan community, web or other, is secondary in interest to his call for vegans to shape up their ideas and understanding, and stop piddling about with consumerist nonsense and the illusion that a vegan anything is going achieve animal liberation.

  12. Hi Hillary,

    Thanks for the great essay. I need to say that I greatly support this kind of perspective, so that you don’t suspect the motives for my question.

    Can you clarify the assumptions in the math you do in the following paragraph, which is even highlighted in the page?

    “If everyone in the U.S. reduced their meat consumption by just the modest target of one meal per week—around 5%—that would save around 450 million cows and other animals each year in the U.S. alone. To achieve the same result, the abolitionists would have to convert approximately 4.5 million meat eaters to complete veganism (based on the oft-cited statistic that a vegan saves 100 animal lives/year). ”

    This 5% or around 52 meals for every one of 320 million people in the US comes to something more than 16.6 billion meals a year in total. This is estimated to save 450 million animals a year.

    However, if we assume that we would draw the 4.5 million new vegans from the same population, that is, with the same consumption habits, then they would each remove meat from 100% of their meals. That’s 1095 meals a year per vegan. This is said to save the equivalent number of lives (450 million) a year.

    A problem arises when we calculate the number of meatless meals for the vegans: 1095 meals per vegan x 4.5 million vegans. This comes to something less than 5 billion meals.

    These two calculations seem quite incongruent.

    Put another way, if a 100% vegan saves 100 animal lives a year, shouldn’t a 5% “vegan-ish” save 5 animal lives a year? Such that if 4.5 million people reduce by 100% and save 450 million animal lives a year, shouldn’t a 5% reduction by 320 million people save 1.6 billion animal lives?

    This is also incongruent.

    My point is not to be critical of the calculation and hence undermine your elegantly argued piece. It is because you leverage this empirical argument quite heavily at one point and we need to make quantitative sense of your assertion. On the face of things, this is not readily done.


  13. A late thought – I followed the link to reducetarian supporters, and then I realised how they are predominantly white. Was it impossible to find more people of color to put on that page, or didn’t anyone think about that, or did they think there wasn’t enough PoC with big enough credentials (and that raises a whole other issue – pardon my language – class).

    1. Yeah, I agree, Leone. It would have been great to have gotten a more colorful cast. I think Bryant Terry (author of “Vegan Soul Kitchen”) would have been a great choice, as well as Russell Simmons.
      And dare I say…Beyonce?!? (Nooooooooooooooooooooooo…I am NOT going there again! lol 🙂 ).

    2. Are you using skin color as a proxy for cultural differences? The page seems to target a demographic that is middle-class, liberal and white. But I didn’t think of that until you said something.

      I’m just not so sure reducetarianism makes sense to actively promote like this, its really vague. It would seem that any effort, no matter how small, to reduce your meat intake from your baseline makes you a reducetarian.

      1. That’s it Mr T , white and middle-class. I’m not sure it was even targetting, I suspect it was privilege solipsism. Isn’t reducetarianism a privileged concept anyway – it presumes choice? Do people envisage voluntary reducetarianism spreading amongst the poor or will reducetarianism by necessity take care of them – e.g. rising food prices?

  14. When you say ‘civil rights’, I presume you mean ‘white people being forced to live with races that they don’t want to’. Which you presumably regard as perfectly acceptable. Why?
    Why do you want other races to live in white countries? Do you believe they are incapable of making their own countries work?

  15. Or to put it another way, what percentage of muslims are vegan, or even care about animals AT ALL? Yet you think that white people shouldn’t fight the ongoing invasion of our countries by muslims, which will end in war all across Europe, with millions of people being killed? If you can’t discuss this on your blog (even though it directly decides the fate of ALL animal on Earth), then you are literally insane, like most Left wingers. If muslims take over the planet (which is their goal), then ALL animals will suffer hell on Earth, there will be no veganism nor animal rights of any kind. Where have you been?

    1. thanks for your input. let’s keep this civil, okay? I as the author of this blog, nor hillary as the author of the post has tackled the topic you mention, and i don’t think either of us will do that here. you are free to explore that topic on other forums.

      1. Steve,
        Throughout history there have been religious fanatics, including Christians. Does this make all Christians bad? No, of course not.
        Does the fact that there are currently Muslim fanatics mean that all Muslims are bad? No, of course not.

        I’ve had many friends from many faiths and from all over the world, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and even atheists, and none of them has had the goal of “taking over the planet”, as you have suggested. All of them are good & caring people, and it’s incorrect to categorize my friends who are Muslim the way you have.

        You are entitled to your opinion, of course, Steve, and yes, there are Muslim fanatics out there. But you are incorrect to put all Muslims in that same category. Compared to the actual number of Muslims that exist in the world, only a small percentage are fanatical.

        According to this article in the Christan Science Monitor, there are more than 1.6 BILLION Muslims worldwide, and of this number “approximately 325,000 Muslims are at risk of becoming radical ” and “The key qualifier is “at risk of becoming radical.” That doesn’t mean they will pick up a gun or start plotting an attack.”

        Like Tobias, I think this topic should be discussed on other forums, so this will be my last comment on the subject here, but I’d like to ask that you please read the above article, or just google “what percentage of muslims that are extremists” for many other sources.

        Thank you.
        (For what it’s worth, I myself am agnostic and not religious)

  16. Insane left-wingers, “white people being forced to live with races they don’t want to” , (elsewhere) abortion. Tobias has been civil but firm, Christine has politely countered, I say Steve has to be ruthlessly ignored.

  17. Interesting article, and while this doesn’t invalidate the point you’re making, I do wonder this: how many of the abolitionists (of the nineteenth century) were themselves slave-holders? You mentioned Lincoln, but he wasn’t an abolitionist, from what I know of it.

    As far as I can tell, the reducetarians are not actually on our side, right? Or are they? And if they are, why aren’t they instead vegans that advocate reducetarianism while not practicing it themselves?

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