Yes, we CAN ask for less than “go vegan”

An often heard crede – especially among so called “abolitionist” vegans – is that “veganism is the moral baseline”. It seems to mean that being vegan is the minimum we can do for the animals if we want to be moral creatures. Conversely, anything less than vegan is immoral behaviour. I don’t agree with that, and the way many activists use the sentence often seems quite ineffective and often condescending to me.

From idea that veganism is the moral baseline, it seems to follow (at least for those who adhere to the moral baseline motto) that our outreach towards omnivores can never be anything less than suggesting them to go vegan. Asking people to be reducetarians, for instance, would be an immoral demand, just like, believers hold, asking or demanding that a childbeater become a parttime childbeater rather than doing it every day (I have written about that before, here and here).

Let us assume for a minute that asking anything less than veganism is immoral (and that veganism is the moral baseline). Let us, however, at the same time assume – for the sake of the argument – that asking “things less than veganism” leads to a higher reduction of animal suffering and killing. What, in that case, should we prioritize: the morality of our outreach, or its impact? In other words, should we – again assuming for a minute that we know for sure – use a less effective message because we believe it to be a more moral one?

driving force

Those who would answer that the morality aspect is the most important, will often claim that the impact is actually on their side too, and that what is painted above is some kind of false dichotomy. I want to briefly examine here if that is true. In other words: is it possible that asking other things than “go vegan” is more effective in reducing animal suffering and killing?

People who follow this blog will know that my answer will be that that is definitely possible. I give three reasons why I think a smaller ask may (often) be more effective than the bigger, go vegan ask. I am not implying that everyone should do “reducitarian” outreach – more about that below.

One: bigger total impact
It seems to be common sense that when we ask people to do something easy, more of them will do it than when we ask them to do something hard. The difference between the small number of people doing the hard thing, and the higher number of people doing the easy thing is big enough, the people doing the easy thing may all together have a higher total impact. Say we ask one thousand people to go vegan and say we get ten of them to actually do so (it definitely is possible to go vegan overnight, no one is denying that). On the other hand, say that we ask another thousand people (our control group) to participate in Meatless Mondays, and say that 300 do so. You can do the math. One might object that the few people that were convinced become fulltime vegans might also become active in reaching out to others, but actually the same can be said about the meat reducers, who can also advocate for Meatless Monday.

Two: meat reducers may more easily become vegan
I believe our main challenge today is to get as many people as possible to take the first steps, to cross a certain treshold.That is in many cases one of the most important things we can help them do, because it is a lot easier to move up the vegan scale when you have made a first step. Being a reducetarian is not an end, but a beginning.

Three: meat reducers make veganism easier and may tip the system faster
Meat reducers are the driving force behind demand, and companies producing vegan products, do so in the first place for *them* and not for vegans. In other words, meat reducers help to make it easier for everyone to eat more and more vegan, or even to go vegan overnight.

These are three reasons – and in my upcoming book they will be better referenced – that could indicate that asking people to reduce might have a bigger impact than asking them to go vegan. One could argue that if this would be so, this demand would actually be the more moral one. After all, what’s moral about using a message that is less effective than one we know to be more effective?

Let me explicitly state my purpose in writing all this. I am not saying that our movement should never use the “go vegan” message. I *am* saying, conversely, that we are under no moral obligation to *always* use the “go vegan” message. And I am suggesting that those who think they should criticize people who do “less than vegan” outreach (be they vegans themselves or not) stop doing that.

PS: some more information:

Vegan, vegetarian, or a small first step?

In a much shared article on on the decrease in meat consumption in the US, Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection at HSUS, points out that it is mainly meat reducers driving both meat reduction and the vegan market. By their mere numbers, these people together are having a bigger impact on the number of animals being killed than the much, much smaller percentage of vegans. cow Still, a part of our movement believes that the only thing we can ask is for veganism, and that we should always make clear that veganism is the final goal. I always wonder why that is. If you know that many more people are more open to the message “go meatless on Monday” than to the “go vegan” message, and if you know that these “meatless mondivores” have a bigger impact altogether, why shouldn’t you do it? I have written before that I think it’s not very thoughtful to answer with things like: “because we don’t ask for a slavery free Friday or a childbeating free Tuesday either.” People who answer this, say that if something is wrong, we should not advise people to partially cut the bad behavior, we should ask them to eliminate it altogether. I think it’s not very thoughtful because we are in a completely different situation than with these human causes: there is way, way less public support for veganism than there is for not having slavery or violence against children. Another potential reason why some may refuse to ask for anything les than veganism, is because they fear that people would get complacent. These people might say, at some point, that they are doing their thing already, having reduced their meat consumption twenty percent. Maybe that’s the case, for some people. But the most important thing, in my view, is to get people across the threshold, to make them take the first step. When they see how tasty, affordable, doable… veg food can be, they can go further. And just as importantly, this creates a critical mass for more and more vegan products, which will make it easier and easier for these people to eat more and more vegan. At least, if we don’t discourage them by telling them they are not doing enough.