Author Archives: Gary L. Francione

Andre Robinson, King the Cat, and Our Confused Thinking About Animal Ethics

Andre Robinson kicked a stray cat, at the Brevoort Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Someone captured it on video. Robinson was arrested. The cat, now named King, was rescued and adopted. The Brooklyn District Attorney has announced that he plans to prosecute Robinson for animal cruelty. And now, many people are calling for his imprisonment and the online invectives being directed at Robinson are intense to say the very least.

The reaction to what Robinson did is understandable and laudable. It is nothing short of terrible that anyone would harm a defenseless animal. After all, we all believe that it is morally wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. Although we may disagree about when it is necessary to impose suffering and death on animals, we all agree that whatever pleasure Robinson got from kicking the cat cannot constitute necessity.

Or do we?

We kill and eat more than 58 billion animals a year worldwide, not counting fish. We don’t need to eat animals. No one maintains that it is necessary for optimal human health. The conservative Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics acknowledges that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” The American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic agree.

Animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. It takes many more pounds of plant protein and many times more water to produce animal foods than to produce plant foods. Animal agriculture is a major cause of global warming and is responsible for water pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion.

And the animals we consume as food—including those used to make the supposedly more “humane” products sold at upscale supermarkets—are subjected to terrible suffering and horrible deaths. Indeed, the animals we use for food suffer just as much — if not more — than King, whom Robinson so callously kicked.

The only justification that we have for that suffering is palate pleasure. We enjoy the taste of animal foods; we find them convenient. There is no necessity for this suffering and death.

So how are we any different from Andre Robinson?

We aren’t.

There is no morally coherent difference between little cat King and the chicken or pig or cow or fish that most of us will eat today.

The FBI has announced that it will track “animal abuse” as a separate crime, the New York City Police Department has taken over responsibility for “animal abuse” complaints, and the Brooklyn DA is using the case to make a statement to “folks who think that they can just abuse any type of animal.”

This is all laudable but it is nonsensical. We are a society that abuses billions of animals for no good reason whatsoever. We excuse ourselves by pretending that people like Robinson are “abusers” and the rest of us are really “humane” and care about animals.

We do this repeatedly. Remember football player Michael Vick? People hate him to this day for engaging in dog fighting. Vick liked to sit around the pit watching dogs fight. The rest of us like to sit around the summer barbecue pit roasting the corpses of animals who have been treated every bit as badly as Vick’s dogs. Remember Kisha Curtis, who gained international condemnation for throwing her emaciated dog, Patrick, down a trash chute in Newark, New Jersey? Patrick is still used as a symbol by those who claim that we must pursue “animal abuse” more aggressively.

All of these cases have resulted in an overwhelming online response and a good deal of it involves the expression of overtly racist comments, just as stories about the eating of dogs and cats in China or Korea, or the killing of dolphins in Japan, result in comments that “those people” are barbaric—made by people who have no problem exploiting pigs, cows, chicken, and fish.

And every day, Animal Care and Control in New York City kills healthy cats—often 30 or 40 a day.

The Robinson case presents an opportunity for us to examine our fundamental views about animal ethics. Otherwise, this is just about fetishizing dogs and cats, or demonizing those whom we arbitrarily designate as “barbaric.”

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM:

Here is the interview I did on the Michael Smerconish Show on CNN. It was aired on October 4, 2014.

Here is my New York times essay on the subject.

Here is my New York Daily News on the subject.

ADDENDUM, October 17, 2014

Unfortunately, some animal advocates continue to use unfortunate and racially charged language to criticize Robinson. For example, on a Facebook page devoted to the King matter, someone commented on Robinson’s “pimpish ‘I’m the man’ attitude”.

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That is shocking.

When I pointed it out, another animal advocate responded that she disagreed that the comment was racist, stating: “perhaps the person shouldn’t have used the word ‘pimpish’ but you did not see his demeanor nor his mother’s in court.”

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“[P]erhaps” the person should not have used “pimpish”?

Sorry, there’s no “perhaps” about it. The use of “pimpish” is unquestionably racist in this context and should be condemned clearly as such.

And how is Robinson’s demeanor–or his mother’s conduct– in court relevant to the propriety of calling him “pimpish”? That is a rhetorical question. It isn’t.

We should all be upset by what Robinson did to King. But we should also remember that what he did was in no way different from the violence that we support every single day if we consume animal products. And however upset we are with anyone, we should never use racially charge language to voice our criticism.

ADDENDUM, November 2, 2014

I posted about this case this morning on Facebook. Amongst the comments:

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Please do not tell me that there is not a racist overtone to the campaign against Robinson.

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Video of Rutgers Conference: “Animal Ethics: Abolition, Regulation, or Citizenship?”

On April 11, 2014, Rutgers University School of Law had a Conference, Animal Ethics: Abolition, Regulation, or Citizenship? that featured:

Anna E. Charlton, Adjunct Professor of Law, Rutgers School of Law–Newark, and former Director, Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic
Luis E. Chiesa, Professor of Law and Director, Buffalo Criminal Law Center, SUNY Buffalo
Sherry F. Colb, Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar, Cornell University
Sue Donaldson, independent researcher and author (co-author with Will Kymlicka of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights)
Michael C. Dorf, Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law, Cornell University
Gary L. Francione, Board of Governors Professor, Distinguished Professor of Law, and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy, Rutgers School of Law–Newark
Will Kymlicka, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Queen’s University (Canada)
David Nibert, Professor of Sociology, Wittenberg University
Gary Steiner, John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy, Bucknell University

Thanks to the Rutgers IT folks and Vincent Guihan, we have the conference available for you to watch on video:

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

The Vegan Society: “Corporate Partners” With “Sustainable” Animal Agriculture

Triodos Bank invests in, among other things, organic/”sustainable” animal farming.

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And guess who’s a Corporate Partner with Triodos Bank?

That’s right. The Vegan Society.

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Please understand: I am not saying that The Vegan Society should not accept a donation from Triodos–or anyone else. No money is clean. My point is that The Vegan Society ought not be “Corporate Partners” with Triodos and the idea that the The Vegan Society logo is attached to the bank is deeply disturbing.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

The Vegan Society: You Decide

In the face of significant criticism for embracing “flexible veganism” in the form of its “You don’t have to be vegan to be buy products with the Vegan Society Trademark” rebrand, The Vegan Society put out a statement on August 5, 2014 that read, in part, that its “aims and objectives remain unaltered from those of our founders 70 years ago.” Here is a portion of the statement:

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Is this accurate? Let’s see.

Here is Donald Watson, who founded The Vegan Society in 1944:

We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies. (Watson, 1944)

Here is Watson, in a 2002 interview:

Take the broad view of what veganism stands for – something beyond finding a new alternative to scrambled eggs on toast or a new recipe for Christmas cake. Realise that you’re on to something really big, something that hadn’t been tried until sixty years ago, and something which is meeting every reasonable criticism that anyone can level against it. And this doesn’t involve weeks or months of studying diet charts or reading books by socalled experts – it means grasping a few simple facts and applying them.

Here is Jasmijn deBoo, present CEO of The Vegan Society:

The full slogans of the Love Vegan campaign so far are as follows:

“You don’t have to be vegan to love vegan lipstick.”
“You don’t have to be vegan to love vegan trainers.”
“You don’t have to be vegan to love vegan ice-cream.”

We know that we need to be inclusive and non-judgemental if we are going to encourage and support large numbers of people to go vegan and stay vegan.

deBoo justifies the shift from veganism as a moral imperative to a focus on getting people to buy products that have The Vegan Society Trademark:

As we receive no government funding, the vast majority of our income is generated by our Vegan Trademark registration scheme. Having more vegan products registered with the Vegan Trademark achieves three things: it gives people more confidence when shopping for vegan products, it shows companies and retailers that the vegan market share is growing, and it funds The Vegan Society’s charitable work.

From Watson’s vision of veganism as a moral imperative to deBoo’s vision that “You don’t have to be vegan to buy products that have The Vegan Society Trademark” and not being “judgemental” about the exploitation of animals.

Watson in 2002:

We don’t know the spiritual advancements that long term veganism -I mean not over years or even decades, but over generations, would have on human life. It would be certainly a different civilisation, and the first one in the whole of our history that would truly deserve the title of being a civilisation. Full stop.

Vegan Society Ambassador Fiona Oakes in 2014:

Veganism is not “for everyone” and “not probably for very many people.” (Oakes, BBC Radio)

“[U]naltered”? I know what I think. But it’s for you to decide.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

Speciesism in a Nutshell

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Vegan Society “Ambassador” Claims That Promoting Veganism as a Moral Baseline “Damages” Animals

Fiona Oakes, Marathon runner and “Ambassador” of The Vegan Society, who stated on BBC Radio that veganism is not “for everyone” and “not probably for very many people” and who reinforced the notion that those who promote veganism as a matter of moral baseline and moral imperative are “aggressive, petty. . .fundamentalist nutters” stated that my position critical of her upset her “for the animals, the damage such comments and aggression do them.”

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So those who advocate for veganism as a matter of moral principle are causing “damage” to “the animals.”

Ms. Oakes made this statement in a thread on the Facebook page of Tim Barford Manager of VegFestUK, who supported Oakes, claiming:

Sadly it it is true that many people don’t get on well with a vegan diet and get very ill on it. Not an ethical justification obviously, but a plain statement of fact.

Yes, that’s right. Just in case that you cannot wrap your mind around this, here’s the post:

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Also, in response to a claim by someone that “people…like” me “prevented [him] going vegan for years. To think of all the animal cruelty [he] contributed to because the frightening enthusiasm of such people held [him] back,” Oakes expressed agreement and stated:

People are generally frightened of what they do not know or understand at the best of times but when it is presented to them in a ‘frightening’ way also, then they just back away and the aggression they are encountered with gives them the perfect ‘ excuse’ to do so.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? Well, see for yourself:

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So Oakes agrees that promoting veganism as a moral baseline is preventing people from going vegan and that explaining veganism as a moral baseline in a creative, nonviolent way is “aggression” and “frightening”?

You really cannot make this stuff up.

In my judgment, people like Fiona Oakes and Tim Barford are doing tremendous damage by reinforcing the idea that there are two options: (1) being a “fundamentalist nutter” who acts like a “radical extremist who just appears to be dictating to everyone what they should and should not do” or (2) stating that veganism is not “for everyone” and “not probably for very many people” because “many people…get very ill” on a vegan diet.

There is a third option: creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy.

But that does not fit with the new program of moral relativism and “flexible” veganism of The Vegan Society, for which Oakes and Barford are acting as cheerleaders.

Many people do care morally about animals. It is time that we stop treating them like idiots and engage in discussion with them about why their own moral concern should lead them to stop participating in the exploitation of animals and to go vegan.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2014 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM, added August 6, 2014:

Bob Linden of Go Vegan Radio invited Fiona Oakes to his show to discuss these issues with me. She declined. Her spokesperson stated:

[W]e don’t want to continue the debate as it is essentially detrimental to the animals and the vegan cause.

So saying that veganism is not “for everyone” and “not probably for very many people,” and referring to those who promote veganism as a moral imperative as “fundamentalist nutters” is not detrimental to the animals and the vegan cause, but discussing it is.

You really can’t make this stuff up.