|Enewsletter • June 27, 2007|
A New World, Piece by Piece
Vegan Outreach exists to reduce, as much as possible, the amount of suffering in the world. Veganism, rights, and liberation are not goals in and of themselves – they are merely tools to reduce suffering.
Given our desire to reduce suffering, of course we want a vegan world. Yet while a compassionate, vegan society is the ideal, our mission to reduce suffering must be more than hoping for a perfect world at some point in the future. If we truly take suffering seriously, we must work for a better world now. Hundreds of billions of animals will be raised and slaughtered for food before we can ever possibly achieve widespread veganism. We must not ignore the suffering of those animals who will certainly exist and endure agony.
From decades of outreach to millions of people, we have found that very few respond to abstract, intellectual (e.g., animals have natural rights) or absolutist (e.g., vegan-only) positions. People do respond, though, when shown the cruelty inherent in modern agribusiness, which is why Vegan Outreach focuses on these abuses.
It is reasonable to wonder whether focusing on cruelty supports the sale of less inhumane meat by implying that it is okay to eat non-factory-farmed animals. Our experience has been that focusing on how animals are raised and killed is the best way to maximize both the number of people who oppose factory farms as well as those who eventually oppose killing animals altogether. Exposing the manifest yet hidden cruelty of modern agribusiness is the best way to get the most people to open their hearts and minds to the animals’ plight.
As we work to expose the hidden realities of factory farms, some people will stop eating animals. But others will still be unwilling to go veg. There is no way around this. The meat, egg, and dairy industries recognize this, too, and play to consumers’ feelings with labels like "humane" and "animal-care certified." This will happen whether we like it or not; vegans don’t own words like "humane." As much as we might wish otherwise, we can’t keep agribusiness from using any word for its own purposes.
Because some meat eaters will inevitably react to our education efforts by seeking out animals raised in conditions less horrible than on standard factory farms, those of us in a position to do so should take any opportunity to make sure industry labels are meaningful. Then, discomforted consumers not yet willing to go veg will be able to take real steps to reduce suffering. Changing one’s diet in such a way because of a concern for suffering often represents only the first step in an ethical evolution. Remember, few members of Vegan Outreach went vegan overnight!
It is, of course, frustrating when people offer "humane"-labeled meat as their excuse not to go veg. We must remember, though, that most people come up with some excuse to continue eating animals, regardless of what we do. We can’t ignore the suffering of billions of farmed animals just to deny people one possible excuse among many. Our concern for reducing suffering must extend beyond promoting only veganism. If we take suffering seriously, we must support efforts to abolish cages, crates, forced molting through starvation, electrical incapacitation at slaughter, etc. We can’t wish for more cruelty in the hope that our case for veganism is "stronger."
Instead of wishing for a different world, we must honestly evaluate the world as it currently is, and then do our very best to reduce as much suffering as possible. We must reach and influence the people who might be willing to go vegan; reach and influence people who might be willing to go vegetarian; reach and influence the people who won’t (now) go veg, but who might stop buying meat from factory farms – and help support all of these people as they continue to evolve as consumers.
Outreach efforts to all of these people are necessary if we are to help a large and diverse society evolve to a new ethical norm. This is why Vegan Outreach produces a range of literature to make everyone and anyone, in any situation, the most effective advocate for animals possible. While we are each able do this outreach in our areas, we support – and certainly don’t waste our limited time opposing – the efforts of large organizations to bring about the abolition of the worst abuses on factory farms. Each step brings the animals’ interests to light, making people consider the otherwise hidden reality behind the meat they eat. There is no other way to go from a carnivorous society, where farmed animals have virtually no protection, to a vegan society where they have near-total protection.
For every cage emptied and every person convinced to change their diet, we realize there is more work to be done to reduce suffering. The industry also recognizes that all these efforts are progress towards our ultimate goal; agribusiness journal Feedstuffs editorialized (April 2, 2007):