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The Need for a Vegan Society

The Vegan Society, apparently unhappy that a number of people, including members, dared to object to paid advertisements for nonvegan restaurants in the pages of The Vegan, deleted the discussion on this matter from the Vegan Society Facebook discussion forum.

Just yesterday, the Vegan Society was writing to members stating that “[t]he trustees are aware of the comments on Facebook regarding the adverts and are discussing the issues.” But apparently no one else, including members and concerned others, are permitted to discuss the issues at the very page that the trustees were reading to stimulate and inform their discussion.

I copied the thread before the Vegan Society deleted it and I will, in due course, make it available publicly so that those interested in this issue can see what the Vegan Society regards as illegitimate or unacceptable discourse.

In any event, the one thing that is clear is that it is certainly not clear that the Vegan Society is a vegan society.

In light of the Vegan Society relying in its reply to members that Donald Watson accepted adverts for nonvegan establishments in 1946, I went back and re-read the interview with Donald Watson that George D. Rodger of the Vegan Society did in 2002.

I think that we can make two comments about Donald Watson’s views.

First, it is crystal clear that, as a moral matter, Watson regarded dairy products, eggs, etc., to be as morally reprehensible as meat. That is why he founded The Vegan Society in 1944.

Second, it is also clear that, as a psychological/sociological matter, he believed that most people can or will get to veganism only through vegetarianism. That is, he thought that for reasons that appear to be partly psychological and partly sociological, most people will have to, or at least will, give up flesh first before they give up dairy and other non-flesh products.

I think that even if Watson’s psychological/sociological point were correct in 1946, when he apparently accepted adverts for vegetarian, non-vegan establishments, it is certainly not true in 2011. And if it were true, then the pages of The Vegan should be chock full of ads for dairy products and eggs, etc., and all sorts of encouragement for people to eat more dairy and less meat. The Vegan should not only take paid adverts for Lancrigg, Paskin’s etc., it should offer space for free to every establishment that is vegetarian but not vegan and, indeed, every establishment that serves meat but is vegetarian- or vegan-friendly because it is only through vegetarianism that most will or can get to veganism.

To the extent that the psychological/sociological point has any validity, it is not because of any human “hard wiring” or because of any necessary facts about society. It is because those of us who claim to agree with the moral point as a fundamental moral truth have done an inadequate job of educating people about that moral truth. It is because even “animal groups” are, in 2011, promoting “happy” animal products, sponsoring “happy” meat/dairy labels, stating that going vegan is “difficult” and “daunting,” maintaining that “veganish” is good enough, calling “fanatical” and “purist” those who advocate veganism, and continuing to perpetuate the fantasy that there is a coherent moral distinction between flesh and other non-flesh products, etc., etc., etc.

Accepting adverts for places like Lancrigg, having in the pages of The Vegan an establishment that serves animal products (and is described as “A Haven for Peace & Inspiration”) sends a message: “nonvegan but veganish” is good enough.” It sends a message that meat and dairy are morally distinguishable. It sends the message that “a little” exploitation is okay.

It sends a message that is not vegan as I understand that concept. And it is ludicrous to say that a disclaimer makes it all alright.

It is 2011, not 1946. Britain is not in the midst of post-World-War II food rationing. We have come a long way in our understanding of the moral issues that inform the debate about animal ethics. Whatever were Watson’s views about the psychological/sociological issues in 1946 (or at anytime, really), we must accept that if we do embrace the moral principle that Watson set out in 1944, we have an obligation to be clear and unequivocal that we cannot justify consuming dairy, eggs, etc., just as we cannot justify consuming meat. We need to stop perpetuating the notion that there is a morally coherent distinction between flesh and non-flesh products. We need to stop hiding behind disclaimers that attempt (but fail) to mask the rejection of this moral principle when it is financially convenient to do so.

I respectfully call upon the Vegan Society to stop accepting adverts for non-vegan establishments. Again, it’s one thing to have an advert for a vegan product that also says “available at Sainsbury’s.” It is another thing to have an advert for Sainsbury’s food department, even if has many vegan items. The Vegan Society, if it really is a beacon for the light of the moral principle at stake here, has no business taking an advert of the second sort.

I am sincerely sorry if I have offended my friends at the Vegan Society but I happen to think that this issue of crucial importance or I would not have spent so much time on it at a time when I am extremely busy with University and professional commitments, dealing with feral cat colonies and fostering animals, etc.

I note also that the Vegan Society has blocked me from participating in its Facebook discussion forum at all. I was unaware of that forum until last week, when a member of the Vegan Society asked me to look at a particular discussion that he felt was problematic. Although I have concentrated primarily on the issue of the non-vegan adverts, I was delighted to be able to participate in stimulating discussions about other topics as well. I am sorry that I will apparently not be able to interact with the wonderful folks I encountered at the forum, at least at the Vegan Society site.

I am sorry that it appears as though there is apparently no organization that is willing to stand up for the moral principle that no exploitation means no exploitation. There is no organization that is willing to promote veganism as a moral baseline. But this only reinforces my view that the vegan movement must be a grassroots movement.

I have in the past been a strong supporter of the Vegan Society and I will continue to promote the moral ideals of Donald Watson even if the Vegan Society does not. And I will make the deleted thread available in due course so that people can read for themselves what the Vegan Society apparently regards as unacceptable discourse.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do. You will never do anything else in your life as easy and satisfying.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione

Related posts:

  1. I Wonder What Donald Watson, Founder of the Vegan Society, Would Think
  2. It’s Not 1946


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