Commentary #19: Talking With Non-Vegans About Veganism: Five Principles

Dear Colleagues:

In this Commentary, I address a topic that I have been asked to cover by a number of you: how do we talk with non-vegans about veganism?

I present five general principles:

Principle #1: People are good at heart.

Our default position when we talk with people ought to be that they are good at heart, and interested in, and educable about, moral issues. There is a tendency among at least some advocates to have a very misanthropic view of other humans and to see them as being inherently immoral or uninterested in issues of morality. I disagree with that view.

Principle #2: People are not stupid.

There is a tendency among animal advocates to believe that the general public is not able to understand the arguments in favor of veganism and that we must “go easy” and instead of talking about veganism, we should talk about vegetarianism, “Meat Free Monday,” “happy” meat and animal products, etc. I disagree with this very elitist way of thinking about other people. There is no mystery here; there is nothing complicated. People can understand if we teach effectively.

Principle #3: Do not get defensive; respond, don’t react.

Yes, some people will try to provoke us or will ask questions or make comments that we find insulting or that we take not to be serious. If someone is really not interested in what we are saying, they will, as a general matter, walk away. Treat every comment and question—even the ones you find abrasive, rude, or sarcastic—as an invitation being offered to you by someone who is more provoked (in a positive way) by you and engaged than you might think.

Principle #4: Do not get frustrated. Education is hard work.

You will get the same question many times; you will be asked questions that indicate you must start at the beginning with someone. But if you want to be an effective educator, you have to answer every question as if it is the first time you heard it. If you want others to be enthusiastic about your message, you have to be enthusiastic about it first.

Principle #5: Learn the basics. You have to be a student first before you become a teacher.

Many animal advocates become excited about abolitionist veganism and the next thing that happens is that they set up a website or start a blog that is motivated by the right feelings but not informed by clear ideas. Before you teach others, learn about the basics. It’s not hard to learn the basics; anyone can do so.

Take advantage of abolitionist vegan resources, such as the videos, pamphlets, and other materials available on this site and materials available on other abolitionist sites such as and the Boston Vegan Association.

The sad fact is that the biggest obstacles to vegan education are the large, new welfarist groups that have become partners with institutional animal exploiters to promote the consumption of animal products by giving various forms of “animal rights approval” to animal exploitation (see, for example 1, 2).

These new welfarist groups are part of the problem; they are not part of the solution.

I hope you find the Commentary to be useful. As I indicate, I will be pleased to do future Commentaries in which I address further issues related to vegan advocacy depending on the feedback I receive on this Commentary.

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


Response to George Monbiot

Dear Colleagues:

Guardian UK columnist George Monbiot, who expressed support for veganism, has recanted his support and, in an editorial entitled, I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly, Monbiot jumps on the “happy” meat bandwagon.

I wrote a brief comment that was posted on the Guardian website:

Dear Mr. Monbiot:

I have three comments:

First, putting aside whether Fairlie is right about the environmental issues, you are missing a fundamental point: the consumption of animal flesh and products cannot be justified as a moral matter apart from environmental considerations. Think about it. We all agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on sentient beings is morally wrong. We can argue about what “necessity” means, but if it means anything at all, it must mean that we cannot inflict suffering and death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. But those are the only arguments that exist in favor of consuming animal products. No one maintains that eating animal products is necessary for human health (quite the contrary) and animal agriculture is still a significant ecological problem even if Fairlie is right. The only justification that we have for inflicting pain, suffering, and death on 56 billion animals (not counting fish) is that they taste good and we enjoy eating them.

If that constitutes a moral justification, then animals have no moral value and we should just acknowledge that they are outside the moral community altogether rather than hypocritically maintaining a moral principle about unnecessary suffering and death that is wholly without meaning.

Second, I have yet to read Fairlie’s book but your description of his environmental arguments makes it appear that his analysis of the issues is questionable at best.

Third, your position that we ought to make animal production more “humane” is unbelievably naive. Animals are property; they are economic commodities. They have no inherent value. Animal welfare reforms provide very little protection to animal interests and If you looked at the history of animal welfare reforms, you would see that, for the most part, they do little beyond making animal production more economically efficient. These are reforms that industry would have implemented anyway. Consider the move away from veal crates. Veal crates increase animal stress and result in higher veterinary costs; small group units decrease costs and do not lower meat quality. The same analysis supports moving away from gestation crates for pigs, adopting controlled-atmosphere killing of poultry, etc.

The economic inefficiencies of intensive agriculture, which developed in the 1950s, are becoming increasingly clear. There will be changes in factory farming and some of these changes may arguably provide a marginal welfare benefit to animals. But that is all that will happen. Large animal groups in the US and UK, which make millions off promoting these inevitable reforms, turn these small changes into big campaigns for “humane” treatment and that makes people think that progress is being made.

Could animal welfare standards be much better? Sure-in theory. But any significant departure from intensive agriculture would mean much higher costs and given the reality of global markets and the inability to stop import of lower welfare products, it’s simply not realistic. Moreover, if consumers (or rather, those affluent consumers who could afford it) cared enough to pay the much higher costs that would be involved, they would probably care enough about animals as a moral matter not to eat them at all.

In any event, even if animal welfare standards increased dramatically, our treatment of animals would still represent torture if humans were involved. Water boarding someone on a padded board is marginally better than using an unpadded board but it is still torture.

There is no way to do animal agriculture in a way required to feed billions (even if they consumed fewer animal products) without inflicting torture on animals. I am astounded that you apparently think to the contrary and have jumped on the “happy meat/animal products” bandwagon.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
Newark, New Jersey

It is sad to see a progressive person like George Monbiot buy into this welfarist, reactionary nonsense.

Gary L. Francione
© 2010 Gary L. Francione

Ingrid Newkirk on Principled Veganism: “Screw the principle”

Dear Colleagues:

In an article in Time Magazine, PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk discusses “flexitarianism,” or “[p]art-time vegetarianism.”

The goal for many activists is simply to get more people to eat less meat. “Absolute purists should be living in a cave,” says Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Anybody who witnesses the suffering of animals and has a glimmer of hope of reducing that suffering can’t take the position that it’s all or nothing. We have to be pragmatic. Screw the principle.”

We can make several observations about Newkirk’s statements:

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Commentary #18: A Step Backward, the Importance of Veganism, and the Misuse of “Abolition”

Dear Colleagues:

In this Commentary, I discuss several topics:

First, I talk about the announcement by the new welfarist Mercy for Animals that the retail giant Costco has taken a “step forward” by agreeing to market “humane” veal. I maintain that having animal advocates praise this as a “step forward” and characterizing the issue of eating veal (as opposed to all animal products) as an important issue is a step backward.

Second, I address the argument made by certain large organizations that because we cannot avoid animal products altogether, any baseline moral principle that we should adhere to veganism is just artificial “personal purity.”

Finally, I talk about the misuse of “abolition” by those who advocate welfare reform and violence.

I also discuss briefly the abolitionist workshop that we held at Rutgers in late May and my forthcoming book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, which is being published by Columbia University Press.

I hope you enjoy the Commentary.

Gary L. Francione
© Gary L. Francione