Advocacy in an Imperfect World
Vegan Outreach often receives questions about our position on various animal, environmental, and social issues, such as abortion, drinking, or deep ecology. The active membership of Vegan Outreach often has very strong feelings about such issues, and these opinions are sometimes in conflict; something might seem clear-cut and imperative to one person isn’t so clear-cut to another.
One example is the automobile. Many people have made the strong case against cars – the habitat destruction and environmental degradation caused by mining the raw materials, the energy involved in production, the wars over oil, the greenhouse gasses released by driving, wildlife killed, etc. Yet without cars, very few copies of Why Vegan?, Try Vegetarian!, and Even If You Like Meat would have been distributed, and there would be many, many fewer vegetarians in the world.
Another example might be buying a bicycle. You could point to the conditions of the workers making the bike and the corporate practices of the retailer and not buy a bike from Walmart. Or you could buy the less-expensive bike and use the money you save to put get booklets into more people’s hands, leading to more vegetarians and reducing the number of animals who are factory farmed.
Given the reality of our world – the widespread injustices and the tremendous demands on our very limited time and resources – nearly every choice we face offers us imperfect options.
This issue came up most recently when several people took issue with a previous Product of the Week item, which mentioned the availability of Lightlife’s BBQ at Walmart. Pointing out that a vegan product is available at a certain store isn’t, of course, an endorsement of that store; rather, it is a recognition that not everyone lives near a co-op or Whole Foods (indeed, we have received complaints from some members that some products we mention and some of the ingredients we use in our recipes aren’t available in their community). The more widely available vegan products are, the lower their price will be, making it easier for more people to change their diet and maintain that change.
As much as we’d like to believe that everyone should pay any price and go to any length to be vegetarian, we realize that cost and convenience are determining factors for many, if not most people. As more people become vegetarian, more large corporations will market meat-free products – it is the nature of a capitalist economy. (The question of vegetarianism in a capitalist society came up before re: the BK Veggie, here and here.) This doesn’t mean that current vegans need to change where they shop, what they buy or the other campaigns they support, but we do need to recognize that, in this imperfect world, it is, overall, a good thing for the animals that big corporations embrace and expand the burgeoning vegetarian market.
It is, of course, entirely understandable to want others to adopt not only our diet, but our political, social, and economic views: “It’s all connected!” Nearly every activist, at some point, has the idea of creating a grand progressive alliance that promotes veganism, strong environmental protection, sustainability, fair trade, etc. But these coalitions never get beyond the “should” stage, and factory farming continues to expand.
It is not unreasonable to believe that the suffering of “farmed” animals is so great, so unnecessary, and so clearly, unequivocally, and indefensibly wrong that we should always keep the focus on the animals. People are looking for a reason to ignore the cruelties of factory farming and the ethical imperative of changing their diet – no one sits around thinking, “Wow, I really want to give up all my favorite foods and isolate myself from my friends and family!”
We are the animals only voice. If we want to have the greatest impact for these animals, we should not give anyone any excuse to ignore the terrible and unnecessary suffering the animals go through on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.
To read more about VO’s approach, including why we believe working on boycotting factory farms / promoting vegetarianism has the greatest impact on the world, please read A Meaningful Life.