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The Problem with "No-Fish Friday" Campaigns

Dear Colleagues:

Today marks the beginning of a new and important campaign for the animals:

No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Friday

The goal of the campaign is to encourage people not to eat factory-farmed fish on Friday and, instead, to consume other animal products, in order to raise public awareness about the plight of factory-farmed small fish.

Why fish?

Although it is true that all animals suffer and the suffering of each animal is her or his suffering and is something that s/he does not want to experience, and although we cannot, without begging moral questions, rank the suffering of one animal over that of another, we decided to focus just on fish and not any other animals and to propose not eating factory-farmed fish rather than proposing veganism.

Our reason was simple: the public is simply not intelligent enough or emotionally prepared to confront the fact that all sentient beings are…well…sentient. That is, all sentient beings, by virtue of being sentient, do not want to experience pain, suffering, distress, and other negative states. So although in this sense all sentient beings are morally indistinguishable, we decided to draw an admittedly indefensible distinction between fish and other nonhuman animals because we need to bring the public into this gradually. The truth might shock them and overwhelm their cognitive capacities so we decided that it was better to pretend that eating fish is morally distinguishable from eating other animal products, or wearing or using animal products.

This cutting-edge campaign, focused on small, factory-farmed fish, is really a “gateway” campaign, part of an overall strategy aimed at eventually proposing veganism as a moral baseline. Based on present circumstances, we will do that in about four centuries from now, but we will have to go very easy even then. We are presently planning to announce “No Factory-Farmed Small Fish Thursdays” sometime in 2020. A revolution starts with the first step!

People are not going to go vegan overnight, you know. And we are doing everything possible to make sure that more of them do not go vegan by constantly characterizing veganism as difficult and being careful not to promote it as a moral baseline principle. We must be practical and not just ideological.

We must remember that many of us did not go vegan for years because animal groups with which we were involved told us that eating various animal products was morally acceptable. It is important these mistakes be repeated again and again or else all of our mistakes have been in vain. Rather than acknowledging that there is no morally coherent moral distinction between flesh and dairy or other animal products, we must continue to perpetuate the fantasy that vegetarianism is a meaningful moral position. It would be wrong to promote the position that all animal use is unjustifiable and that veganism is the moral baseline, and thereby give people something to which to aspire irrespective of where they are at a particular time and whether they are prepared to go vegan right away. Rather, we must say that standards short of veganism are just fine in order to make people feel good. We must give our stamp of approval to consuming various animal products.

Although we treat matters of fundamental human rights as having a morally right and wrong answer (no one ever says that the moral status of slavery, rape or child molestation is a matter of opinion), we must always pretend that matters of animal ethics are simply matters of lifestyle choice or preference or mere opinion, no more morally significant than the choice of where one takes vacations or what type of music one likes. We must embrace “flexitarianism” or else we will appear to be too rigid and risk people thinking we are “fanatical.” It is important never to characterize veganism as the moral baseline, as what we owe to nonhuman animals; it is important never to be honest and say upfront that we cannot justify consuming any animal products. Humans deserve justice; animals just get mercy or compassion.

Why small fish?

A good question! We decided to focus on small fish because most people do not think that any fish are cute and we thought that people might find small fish more cute than large fish. And as animal advocates, we are well aware of the old adage, “cute sells campaigns.” If you think about it, most single-issue campaigns focus on animals that we humans find appealing, whether baby seals, elephants, dolphins, puppies, veal calves, wolves, etc. We did not even ramp up single-issue welfare campaigns involving pigs until Babe came out and gave cute points to pigs and other farm animals.

Although there is no morally significant distinction between a large fish and a small one (or between a fish and a cow, etc.), we thought carefully about this issue and decided that the public was just not ready to deal with the idea that we should not eat any fish (or any animal products) so we decided to go easy and focus them just on small, cuter fish. And after Finding Nemo, more people think that small fish are cute. We must reach people where they are.

Remember, we have to do this one step at a time. Veganism is extremely difficult. The large groups say this over and over so it must be right and we should not disagree. How could we possibly think that people will find as absolutely delicious all of the wonderful vegan foods that are presently available? How could we expect that people will take morality seriously?

Why factory-farmed small fish?

That’s easy. There are three reasons.

First, Peter Singer, the father of the movement, has made clear that nonhumans, unlike humans, are not as cognitively sophisticated as we are and, as a result, do not have an interest in continuing to live. They do not have a sense of having a life and their lives are worth less as a moral matter. Animals do not care that we use and eat them; they just care about how we use them. They care only about not suffering too much and being killed in a relatively painless way, but not about continuing to live.

Now fish are pretty far down there on that cognitive scale according to welfarists and, as a result, they do not get many points on the “how close is their sense of self-awareness to that of a normal adult human” scale. So the problem is not eating them per se; the problem is making them suffer. We can afford the “luxury” of eating fish if the fish have been raised and killed “humanely.”

Second, by focusing on factory-farmed small fish, we guarantee all sorts of meaningless “victories” that will make people more comfortable about consuming small, “happy” fish. We are trying to persuade PETA Award Winner Temple Grandin to design new facilities to slaughter fish and PETA Award Winner Whole Foods sells plenty of dead fish corpses and posts signs that they are “wild caught.” So things are already beginning to change for fish! Victories already! And it’s just a matter of time before all the large animal welfare corporations will have “happy dead fish” labels slapped on fish corpses. These labels will result in more money flowing into the coffers of these corporations. Think of how much “happy fish” will do to help the animals!

Third, and again, we believe that the public is not ready yet to deal with not eating all small fish. We are proposing merely that they not eat factory-farmed small fish. The public lacks the intelligence that we have. We may think that the arguments in favor of veganism are pretty easy to understand, but we just cannot appreciate what thickos most people are.

We know that there will be some animal advocates who will criticize this campaign and propose that we should be educating the public about veganism; that we ought to be shifting the paradigm by moving the discourse away from treatment and toward use. These critics are simply divisive elitists who do not recognize how incredibly stupid the public is. These critics do not appreciate that reasoned disagreement is divisive. These critics do not appreciate how cutting-edge this campaign is. It was only April of this very year that HSUS announced a campaign to save cute seals by boycotting Canadian seafood and eating fish caught and marketed by other countries. And HSUS did not even distinguish small fish from big fish! Our campaign goes much, much further, at least on Fridays. Although we do not advocate boycotting all Canadian seafood, we do advocate a boycott of the small fish of all countries on Fridays. We are asking HSUS formally to change its campaign to boycott Canadian small fish and the small fish of all countries, but just on Friday because we don’t want to be too rad.

Although it is true that many people will just eat steak, eggs, and ice cream instead of fish, or may eat “wild caught” fish from a peddler of “happy” dead fish, we have to do something now to help animals and this is the best we can figure out.

Finally, we think that this campaign will really catch on because people will have to do very little in the way of actual change. We can show them how they can be “animal rights advocates” just by giving up small, factory-farmed fish on Friday. They’ll feel so good about themselves that they’ll sit down and write a check to one of the large animal groups. Another victory! And, in a decade, we’ll get them to focus on not eating small, factory-farmed fish on Thursday. And in another decade, we’ll get them to focus on Wednesdays. And so on. And then we’ll focus on medium-sized factory-farmed fish. And the public will never see it coming. We are so very clever!

So, for the animals, please support our cutting-edge campaign to help the mentally and emotionally limited public understand the moral truth that only a handful of us can understand. Yes, we know that the truly elitist and divisive amongst you will want to hold fast to veganism as a moral baseline principle. And to that we say, “Screw the principle.”


Frankly, I cannot understand the thinking of people who advocate things like Meat Free Monday. Such campaigns draw distinctions where there are none, encourage people to consume animal products as a general matter, and assume that the public is incapable of understanding a simple idea. For some thoughts on talking about veganism to non-vegans, listen to my recent Commentary on the topic.

Animal advocates who are really opposed to animal use altogether should not be proposing vegetarianism (or any situation short of veganism) as a stepping stone to veganism. In the first place, we all know many people who have been vegetarians for decades and have never become vegans, and so, as an empirical matter, it is not at all clear that vegetarianism is any sort of transitional step. Second, vegetarians tend to eat more dairy and other animal products when they give up flesh. These other animal products cause as much, if not more, animal suffering and death. So a vegetarian diet with lots of dairy, eggs, etc. may, as a matter of the amount of animal suffering, be no better.

The argument that the public finds veganism difficult is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the large animal organizations are the worst offenders here, constantly reinforcing the notion that veganism is difficult and requires Herculean sacrifice and will power. And even if the public finds veganism difficult, that does not mean that our message should change. We live in a world in which there is still much racism; people find it difficult to stop making decisions about inclusion in the moral community based on skin color. Does that mean that we should stop promoting the message that all racism is morally unjustifiable? Of course not.

We should always be crystal clear: that we cannot justify the consumption or use of any animal products. If someone decides not to go the whole way, or at least not at the outset, let that be her or his choice and not the result of our putting a stamp of approval on something short of veganism. We would never do that in matters of fundamental human rights; the fact that we do so in the context of animals is nothing more than speciesism.

For further discussion of the issues here, see these essays: 1, 2, 3; and listen to this Commentary on vegetarianism as a supposed “gateway” to veganism.

The struggle for animal rights is not just a matter of compassion; yes, we must empathize with the nonhuman other. But animal rights is much more than that: it is the position that we cannot justify the exploitation of nonhuman animals, however “humane” our exploitation. Animal rights is, at its core, a matter of justice.

So make every day a “No Animal Products Day.” Go vegan. It is easy. It is better for your health and for the planet. But most important, it is the morally right and just thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione


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