Vegans: you can’t do this alone

This post is also available in: Français

[This post is a summary of the presentation “Why the world is vegan”, which I gave at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxemburg. You can watch the full presentation here.]

It used to be that the main force driving the world towards a (more) vegan world was us: the animal rights/vegan movement. We’ve been around for a couple of decades, we’ve been committed, caring and compassionate, and we’re still here, fighting this good fight.

But today there are allies. At least, they are allies if we let them be allies. If we form alliances with them. And we should.

Now when I say we need to form alliances with other sectors, movements, forces, domains… many people will say “Yes! Yes!”, thinking about alliances with movements that try to lift the oppression of other groups: black, women or gay liberation movements for instance.

I support these alliances, of course, but I’m talking about maybe less obvious kind of partnerships. Here I’m focusing on alliances with 1. the health/environmental movement and 2. the business sector. 

I feel I have to point out the value of getting in bed, so to speak, with at least part of the health/environmental and corporate world, because I see a lot of black and white thinking about them, as if these forces could never ever be our partners. As if we could do it without them. I don’t think we can. Or at least, not as fast.

While the vegan movement helps to spread the idea (the fact) that eating animals is ethically problematic, the health/environmental movement contributes to the idea that that animal products are unsustainable (for both health and our planet). The business sector, in turn, helps make the production of animal products redundant. Here’s the picture:

We need to work in unison with other forces that can bring us closer to a vegan world.

Of course there are big differences, different interests, different demands (the ask) and different arguments (reasons for avoiding animal products). A simple overview:

Even though they use different arguments and have different demands, other forces may lead us in the same direction.

Regarding the health/environmental movement, they are an ally even if they (at best) go for a “less animal products” message rather than our own “no animal products”, and even if the animal argument is entirely left out of the picture. I have explained before (in this presentation, for instance) why a reducetarian message, for whatever reason, is a necessary strategy to lead us to a vegan world. Briefly: the more reducers, the bigger the demand, the bigger the offer. The bigger the offer, the easier it becomes for everyone to be entirely vegan.

Regarding the domain of business, here we’re talking about an incredible financial injection into our cause. In the last few years, a handful of companies that produce or want to produce alternatives for animal products, have raised (on a quick count) about 350 million dollars. I don’t know the total yearly budget of our movement, but it might be less than that. These companies make or will make products that will facilitate people’s shifting away from meat, dairy and eggs.

Yes, it’s capitalism. But it might very well be the best capitalism has to offer, and we shouldn’t say no to it (just like we shouldn’t say no to more money). You can be anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, anti-corporate all you want, but I would suggest you direct your protests at the producers of entirely useless things, and not at the companies that are our allies.

In order to form the best alliances with these different sectors, we need to be open to the fact that they will not spread the exact message that we want. We need to be open minded and non-dogmatic. And we need to be credible for them to want to partner up with us.

The world can be a much better place for animals. But not – or not so fast – if we go at it alone. We need to form strategic partnerships and alliances with all the domains, institutions, businesses etc. that can help us move forward.

This post is a summary of the presentation “Why the world is vegan”, which I gave at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxemburg. Here is the presentation.


9 thoughts on “Vegans: you can’t do this alone

    1. i mentioned that risk in the presentation (not in the text). this is one of the few points we differ on, i guess (other point being wild animal suffering, apparently 🙂 )

  1. Good observations, Tobias. One of the reasons I decided to stop having anything to do with the vegan movement is because of their hostility toward making people happy. It is much like the “public health” movement that I focus on: There are those who prefer that people suffer for their sins (e.g., quit smoking without a pleasant substitute; quit meat without a satisfying alternative) and thus clearly do not really care so much about their ostensible cause. Asceticism is not a cause that wins many followers. Advocacy for asceticism is not a real attempt to change the world so much as it is an “ism”. Attempts to forcibly impose asceticism (more a public health thing than a vegan thing, due to the latter having no power) are an act of hatred.

  2. It takes about 200 chickens to make up the same amount of flesh as 1 cow, 50 chickens to make up the same amount of flesh as 1 pig. Farmed birds also suffer much more intensely than pigs and cows in production, transport and slaughter. With that in mind and the fact that bird production is much less environmentally damaging and bird consumption seems to be less health damaging than consumption of pig and cow flesh, aligning with health and environmental concerns is already showing itself to be a disaster for animals. While we focus on the ideal solution that we are aiming for, we have to admit that we are not our audience and our good intentions in using health and environmental arguments are increasing animal suffering and death. The road to their hell is paved with our good intentions. Let’s be big enough people to admit it and stop increasing the harm.

  3. Good points here, thanks so much, Tobias.

    I do think it’s important to broaden the appeal of vegan living, and accept the reality of evolution, which is frustratingly slow. We should encourage people to move towards the ideal, and praise their efforts, regardless of their proximity to the ideal.

  4. Alliances are important, but we need to stay critical of them and distance ourselves when appropriate. I do worry about the environmental movement, not least for the advocacy of eating chicken. Last year I was party to a conversation of veggie/vegan environmentalists awaiting the day when dairy cows would be reared in concrete, sealed barns that captured the methane, making it alright again … . There are various technologies, not least GMO or SMO, that will resolve the environmentalists dilemma; and potentially pills for the health dilemma; even if they don’t “solve” the problems and worsen the case for animals. But yes, we’ll need alliances and we need to do more talking about them and then more action with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *