Direct Action Everywhere (DxE): Vegan Advocacy is “Harmful to the Animal Rights Movement”

The Modern Animal Movement Rejects Veganism as a Moral Baseline

The modern animal movement, which promotes welfare reform and single-issue campaigns, explicitly and uniformly rejects veganism as a moral baseline.

There is not a single one of the large “animal advocacy” groups that promotes veganism as a moral imperative.

All of the large groups sideline veganism as just another way of reducing suffering–along with vegetarianism, Meatless Monday, less meat, crate-free pork, cage-free eggs, etc.

Peter Singer, so-called “Father of the Animal Rights Movement” calls being a consistent vegan “fanatical” and relentlessly promotes “happy” exploitation. PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk, when asked about promoting principled veganism, said: “Screw the principle”.

PETA, Farm Sanctuary, Father Singer and Sea Shepherd all denigrate consistent veganism as some sort of “personal purity.”

Many “animal advocates” claim that, since we cannot eliminate all harm to animals–animals will be killed in the cultivation of crops–and we cannot avoid all contact with animal products–there are animal by-products in road surfaces, bicycle tires, and plastics, we should not promote veganism as a moral imperative. For example, Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary tells us that consistency is not required because we can’t be perfect anyway:

• Personal Purity vs. Effective Advocacy

The number one thing that we do wrong—and I am speaking from many years of doing this myself—is that we place personal purity ahead of being as effective as possible for animals. We lose sight of the fact that veganism is not an end in and of itself but rather a means of ending cruelty to animals. Being vegan is not about being perfect and causing no cruelty at all—it’s about decreasing suffering as effectively as possible.

We all know this, but it bears repeating: At some level, everything we consume harms some animals. Every non-organic thing we eat involves pesticides that kill birds and other small animals. Organic foods use animal fertilizer. Harvesting vegan foods kills and displaces animals. Bike tires and even “vegan” shoes contain some small amount of animal product. We could all go out into the woods and live on nuts and berries as “level 10 vegans,” but ultimately, that would be far less effective than living where we could influence others to adopt a vegan diet as well.

Animals don’t need your purity, or else it would make sense to go live in a cabin in the woods, causing as little harm as possible. What the animals need is your advocacy—and they need for it to be as effective and influential as possible. Ultimately, veganism can’t just be about us, or it will become just one more narcissistic cultural fad. Veganism must be about helping animals.

This is, of course, like saying that our actions may have an indirect and unintended negative effects on humans so we don’t need to be consistent about not committing murder, rape, or any other action that violates the fundamental rights of humans. No one would ever say that in the human context. But in the nonhuman context, that’s what some “animal advocates” claim.

And that’s deeply speciesist.

But now, the new welfarists are taking it one step further away from veganism as a moral imperative, which I had previously thought was not possible.

And Now Comes DxE

Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) (why isn’t it “DAE” or “DaE”?) is a group that claims to be “radical” but claims that vegan advocacy is not “activism” and that vegan advocacy is “harmful” to the animals.

In his essay, “Boycott Veganism, DxE founder, Wayne Hsiung, claims:

the concept of veganism is harmful to the animal rights movement. And if you are serious about working for animal liberation, the first thing you should boycott is neither meat nor dairy nor eggs. The first thing you should boycott. . . is veganism.

Harmful? Vegan advocacy is harmful?

Here’s a screenshot of this quote in case you think I’m kidding:

ScreenHunter_1053 Sep. 03 01.33

(Click to enlarge.)

Hsiung goes on to explain that he’s not saying it’s okay to eat animals but only that we have to do more than be vegan if we want to do right by the animals. But even though we should be more than vegan, we should not advocate veganism. In fact, we should reject vegan advocacy as “harmful“. Hsiung does not see vegan advocacy as “activism.”

This makes no sense.

No one will get any argument out of me about veganism being necessary but not sufficient for the recognition of animal rights. I have, since Hsiung was at least in junior high, been clear that going vegan is the very least that we can do for animals and that we should do more. But going vegan is the very first thing we should do once we recognize and accept that animals matter morally. I have also made clear that veganism is necessary but not sufficient if we want to live a nonviolent life.

To say, as Hsiung says, that veganism is necessary but not sufficient for animal rights and nonviolence but that promoting veganism is “harmful” because veganism is not “activism” is beyond absurd.

Let’s take a closer look at the DxE position.

Veganism and Vegan Advocacy Are Not “Activism”

According to DxE, veganism and vegan advocacy are “harmful” because they are about “personal choice” and “consumer lifestyle.” Hsiung claims that “Donald Watson coined the term in 1944 as primarily a consumer lifestyle.” Watson was not concerned with the larger political issues, according to Hsiung.

This comment indicates that Hsiung has either never read Watson or he is deliberately misrepresenting him.

We need go further than the statement made by Watson when he introduced the term “vegan” 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. Even though the scientific evidence may be lacking, we shrewdly suspect that the great impediment to man’s moral development may be that he is a parasite of lower forms of animal life.

I certainly disagree with aspects of Watson’s thinking. I do not, for example, share his view that vegetarianism is a gateway to veganism. And I think it is imperative to make an explicit connection between animal rights and human rights and the need to reject all discrimination–a point that Watson did not discuss explicitly.

The Vegan Society, which Watson helped to found, has certainly gone in the direction of promoting veganism as a consumerist lifestyle. And I have openly and repeatedly criticized them for abandoning Watson’s progressive vision in favor of promoting the idea that veganism is about consuming products that have the Vegan Society “trademark.” Indeed, if Donald Watson were still alive, he would be absolutely horrified at what the Vegan Society has become.

But it is beyond absurd to say that Watson’s position was merely “personal” or “consumerist,” and that Watson did not see veganism as a political act and as part of a political movement that embraced nonviolence. Watson regarded the vegan movement as “the greatest movement that ever was” because it provided a solution to the crisis of greed and violence that affected and afflicted humankind and that threatened ecological disaster.

When I challenged Hsiung on his position on Watson on Bob Linden’s show, he stated that he really thought highly of Watson and that if we could “create 100,000 Donald Watsons…we could change the world overnight.” This is puzzling. Why would Hsiung want “100,000 Donald Watsons” if he believes that vegan advocacy is “harmful”? And if we did magically end up with “100,000 Donald Watsons” who promoted veganism, they would be told to not promote veganism but, instead, to promote “activism.”

This makes no sense.

In any event, and putting aside that, in many respects, the personal/political distinction is illusory, it is clear that adopting veganism as a moral imperative is not merely a matter of “personal choice” or “consumer lifestyle.” It is a political decision by the individual to reject the victimization of the vulnerable and the commodification of nonhuman animals that is pervasive in our society. It is a commitment by the individual to stop contributing to the demand that makes institutionalized animal exploitation possible. It is a commitment to the most fundamental prerequisite for justice for nonhuman animals.

And advocating veganism as a moral imperative is certainly activism. To say that someone advocating veganism as a moral baseline is simply seeking to get people to adopt a particular “consumer lifestyle” is ludicrous.

Are there people who do view veganism merely as a matter of “consumer lifestyle” and “personal choice”? There certainly are. The large animal charities, which, as I explain below, Hsiung actively supports, accept the status of animals as economic commodities and just demand a better “product.” They do not promote veganism as any sort of moral imperative. But Watson didn’t look at it that way and abolitionists (as I use that term) certainly do not.

Why would DxE take the position that veganism–either as the decision of the individual and as a matter of social advocacy and education–is not activism?

I had an opportunity to discuss this and other issues with Hsiung when Bob Linden invited me to talk with Hsiung on Go Vegan Radio.

In response to my question about why vegan advocacy was not “activism,” Hsiung used the following hypothetical: Let’s assume we come upon a child being beaten by a mob. How should we respond? We can say that we disapprove and refuse to participate. Or we can take action to help the child. Wayne believes that the first response–non-participation–is analogous to the vegan response, and the second response–disruption of the activity–is analogous to the DxE “activist” response. He concludes that since the first reaction is inadequate morally because we are obligated to act to stop the beating of the child, veganism fails.

This analogy shows clearly that Hsiung fails to understand the nature of animal exploitation. For the analogy to work, the bystanders would have to be paying the mob to beat the child. The mob would not be beating the child if the bystanders did not pay them to do so. That is how animal exploitation works. The “mob” of exploiters is killing animals because the bystanders are demanding that they do so and paying them to do it.

When we change the hypothetical so that it is analogous to what goes on with animal exploitation, the only appropriate response is for the bystanders to say to the mob, “stop that; we will not pay you to beat the child.” The only way that can stop the producers from killing animals is to stop demanding that they do so. And that is exactly what vegan advocacy aims to do.

Once we understand how animal exploitation works (and it’s not rocket science), we see that Hsiung’s comments about veganism/vegan advocacy as not being activism are just silly. Indeed, Hsiung is telling people not to demand the end of the exploitation that they are demanding.

This makes no sense.

Vegan Advocacy is “Harmful”

DxE claims not only that veganism and vegan advocacy do not involve “activism,” but that vegan advocacy is “harmful.” When I first saw this claim by DxErs, I thought they were making the same point that Singer and other utilitarians make: that promoting veganism as a moral imperative is harmful as a contingent matter because it may turn people away from being vegan because they may think it is too difficult.

But Hsiung and DxE go further: they think that promoting veganism is inherently harmful.

And why do the DxErs think that? Hsiung explained on the Bob Linden show that veganism advocacy is like the “free produce movement” of the 19th century that promoted a boycott on products made by slaves as a way of ending slavery. Hsiung claimed that some abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, criticized that approach as ineffective and as counterproductive.

Again, Hsiung’s use of this analogy again shows he does not understand the nature of animal exploitation.

The free produce movement sought a boycott of products made by slaves. With animal exploitation, the animals are the products. Vegan advocacy is not promoting a boycott of products made by animals; it is actively rejecting the status of animals as commodities. It is rejecting the status of animals as property.

To the extent that some abolitionists rejected the Free Produce Movement, it was because they thought it was ineffective relative to other things that would, it was argued, bring about abolition more quickly. They claimed that the Free Produce Movement did not attack slavery directly. Abolitionist veganism is a direct attack on animal slavery. Indeed, the very first first principle of the Abolitionist Approach is that nonhumans have a moral right not to be used as property. The second principle is that we must abolish and not merely regulate animal use. The third principle is that abolition requires veganism both as an individual and social matter.

A movement that promotes veganism as a moral baseline is, without doubt, the most effective tool for ending animal exploitation. If every vegan persuaded one other person to go vegan in the next year, and this pattern were repeated every year by the prior group of vegans and the new group of vegans, the world would be vegan in about a decade. Now, we all know that is not going to happen, but if all animal advocates embraced veganism as a moral imperative and educated themselves so that they could educate others effectively, we would certainly get closer to abolition in a decade than we will doing anything else.

Hsiung claims that if someone chooses to go vegan, it has no effect on reducing demand. That’s correct but, again, Hsiung misses the point. The Abolitionist Movement is seeking to inspire collective action–to build a movement of millions who reject the exploitation of animals and who want to bring about the end of animal exploitation. And the only way to end animal slavery is to end the use of animals as commodities. And the only way to end the use of animals as commodities is by individuals no longer eating, wearing, or using animals and acting collectively with others to persuade others to do the same as a matter of a moral imperative.

Moreover, Hsiung’s criticism that the individual decision to embrace veganism as a moral baseline does not reduce overall demand or do anything to effect any change as far as animals are concerned can be said about anything that anyone, including the DxErs, proposes as an alternative. For example, one of the DxErs, a DxE blogger and organizer named Kelly, has this advice:

So stop talking about veganism. Stop talking about vegan products. Stop talking about individual humans. Talk about speciesism. Talk about the animals. Talk about culture.

And shout about atrocity.

Assuming there is any substantive content to whatever Kelly thinks that people should be doing here, it is rather clear that one person talking about animals, culture, and speciesism, and shouting about “atrocity,” is not going to amount to a very big hill of beans. Moreover, when Kelly has these discussions with people, and they respond by saying, “hey Kelly, that’s really interesting, what can I do to make a difference?”, Kelly won’t tell them that they should stop participating in animal exploitation and go vegan. Rather, she will tell them to talk to others about animals, speciesism, and culture. And she will tell them to shout about atrocity. But she won’t mention veganism because that isn’t activism. That’s “harmful.”

This makes no sense.

In any event, Hsiung and all the DxErs misrepresent the vegan abolitionist movement and claim it is not about collective action; it is only about “consumer lifestyles” and promoting vegan options at non-vegan resturants.

That is simply and unequivocally false.

Those who embrace veganism as a moral baseline embrace the idea that animal exploitation is unjust. They are shouting about the atrocity of animal exploitation. But they are offering a strategy for ending animal exploitation in the most direct and effective way–by getting people to reject the status of animals as resources for humans, and educating others about the need to do so.

A point I made above (and that will be discussed further below) bears repeating here: there are “animal advocates” who reject veganism as a moral baseline and who embrace welfarist veganism–the idea that veganism is just one of many ways of reducing animal suffering (along with larger cages and “happy” animal products). These “animal advocates” do portray veganism as a matter of consumerism and get all excited about vegan options offered at fast-food chains. And it is precisely those groups that Hsiung and DxE works with and supports.

So DxE rejects advocating veganism as a moral baseline as a fundamental principle of justice because it is, according to DxE, “consumerist,” but embraces welfarist groups that reject veganism as a moral imperative and that characterize veganism in a completely consumerist manner as one way of reducing suffering through consumer choice–along with all sorts of “happy” exploitation.

This makes no sense.

Indeed, it makes your head hurt even to try to grasp this nonsense. But nonsense–and nothing more–is exactly what it is.

What Does DxE Consider as Non-Harmful “Activism”?

DxE thinks that vegan advocacy is not “activism” and is “harmful.”

So what does DxE regard as productive “activism?

Well, they promote chanting “it’s not food, it’s violence” or “until all are free” or whatever it is the DxErs chant at Chipotle restaurants as bemused patrons look at them the way they would someone singing, whistling, or talking to themselves:

[NOTE: This last video has now been removed by DxE. I assume that, for whatever reason, DxE does not want you to see DxE doing “direct action” that is almost comical in terms of the reactions elicited.]

Here’s another example of DxE “direct action” entitled “Disrupting Speciesism at Chipotle.

You can just see how engaged the patrons of Chipotle are with this “direct action.”

And if someone at one of these DxE protests should ask one of the DxErs what to do to as a practical matter, they won’t be advised to go vegan and promote veganism to others–they’ll be advised to become “activists.”

This makes no sense.

Hsiung and the DxErs have no problem with nonvegans participating in these “activist” events. So nonvegans are welcome to come and chant slogans at other nonvegans?

This makes no sense.

DxE claims that

[t]o change the institutions that hurt animals, we need to create millions of “water cooler conversations” about animal rights around the world.

For Hsiung and his DxErs, a non-vegan “water cooler conversation” about animal rights is “activism” but the same conversation around the same water cooler that links animal rights with veganism as moral imperative is “harmful.”

This makes no sense.

Hsiung explains that

We don’t need to convince 100% of the public to ‘go vegan.’ We need to inspire those who are already vegan to take action.

Okay, so we need vegans to be “activists” but we don’t need them to advocate for veganism; we just need them to be “activists” who don’t advocate for veganism because veganism is “harmful.”

This makes no sense.

DxE also promotes open rescue–going into facilities and rescuing individual chickens:

ScreenHunter_1071 Sep. 12 09.38

Given that we are killing billions of animals, that’s not a very sound strategy for change, particularly given that every chicken rescued will be replaced by another victim. Sure, it may save some lives and that is a good thing. But saving lives can be done by anyone who goes to a shelter and rescues one of the thousands of animals who are killed every day (and who will not be replaced as part of a production cycle in the same way that a hen rescued from a battery will be). The latter may not lend itself to dramatic, staged videos accompanied by requests for donations, but it does save lives. In any event, the idea that rescuing chickens is any substitute for vegan advocacy is absurd. The idea may appeal to people who are so eager to do “something” that they can’t realize that Hsiung makes no sense, but that “strategy” cannot and will not end animal use.

Another example of DxE “activism”: disrupting a speech by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and calling him on his veto of legislation banning the gestation crate:

DxE also engages in single-issue campaigns, in “solidarity” with all of the new welfarist groups that promote the counterproductive idea that some animal products are worse than others, and protest foie gras:

They protest the Ringling Brothers circus along with PETA:

[NOTE: This last video has now been removed by DxE. I assume that, for whatever reason, DxE does not want you to see DxE doing a joint demo with PETA.]

Hey, wait a second. How do all of these sorts of “activism” differ from what other new welfarist groups do?

The answer: they don’t. DxE is just another new welfarist group with the addition of street theater, matching t-shirts, candle holding, and Hsiung claiming that social science research proves that the DxE approach is scientifically sound.

ScreenHunter_1052 Sep. 03 01.23

ScreenHunter_1070 Sep. 12 08.58

(Click to enlarge.)

It’s interesting and not just a little ironic that a group that claims to distance itself from the “consumerist lifestyle” is so relentlessly into branding.

Slogans like “It’s not food, it’s violence,” and “Until all are free” are just more of the incoherent nonsense that we hear from all the new welfarist groups. No message of veganism. No normative direction of what people can do to make a difference. Just slogans and the same very tired single-issue campaigns that the new welfarists have been promoting forever.

ScreenHunter_1049 Sep. 03 00.51

DxE claims to reject welfare reform at the same time that Hsiung says that welfare reforms are “necessary, but they should be sustainable and part of a long term movement strategy.”

There isn’t a single new welfarist group that would disagree with that statement.

This makes no sense.

DxE claims to reject animal use but embraces Peter Singer’s welfarist “animal liberation” approach. When I asked Hsiung about this on Bob Linden’s show, he responded by saying that DxE accepts what Singer’s position was in 1976, when he wrote Animal Liberation. Apparently, Hsiung thinks that Singer’s position then was more radical than it is now. That assumption is incorrect. Singer has always rejected animal rights. He has never promoted veganism as a moral imperative. Indeed, in 1976, Singer explicitly rejected moral rights and maintained that animals are not self-aware and do not have an interest in continuing to live. Singer rejected the position that animal use is per se morally objectionable.

This makes no sense.

Hsiung claims that he opposes animal welfare but stated that he wanted DxE to help the work of new welfarist Bruce Friedrich be “more effective.”:

First, if our goal is network building, it is absolutely vital to emphasize that our model of activism — building a movement for nonviolent direct action — complements many of the strategies taken by other groups. If we are successful — as I fully expect we will be — our activism will make the lobbying, outreach, and education that Bruce does exponentially more effective. Indeed, in many ways, that is the entire point of nonviolent direct action: to create so much energy behind an issue that less assertive methods can finally sink in the way they should!

This makes no sense.

Although the other groups talk out of all sides of their fundraising mouths to make sure they keep the donor pool as broad as possible–PETA complains about Whole Foods at the same time it embraces the Whole Foods “happy” exploitation program (and the “happy” exploitation of other exploiters)–DxE takes the “animal confusion movement” to new heights.

Some people think DxE does not solicit donations. In the beginning, they did not. But that changed pretty quickly:

ScreenHunter_1054 Sep. 03 01.45

(Click to enlarge.)

And they don’t pay salaries to people so that there are yet more careerist “animal activists” out there. No. They seek donations to pay “activist stipends.”

DxE boasts that

Writer James McWilliams tells us we’re doing today’s “most compelling animal activist work”!

That’s the very same James McWilliams who has become captain of the cheerleading squad for HSUS and other welfarist groups, and who condemns vegans who promote veganism as a moral imperative. McWilliams thinks that an organization like DxE is “compelling.” How not surprising.

Hsiung regurgitates the new welfarist nonsense that veganism as a moral imperative is meaningless because we cannot avoid harming animals:

[A]nimals are commoditized, abused, and killed everywhere in our society. For example, plant-based agriculture involves the use and slaughter of countless animals in fertilization, plowing and tilling, energy consumption, and habitat displacement. Climate change rivals animal agriculture in its likely impact on non-human life, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Veganism as non-violence, then, is at best, a myth; and at worst, a malicious corporate deception. Veganism, even when effective, merely replaces one set of abused and killed victims for another. We must do better than that if we hope to see a world where animal liberation is a reality.

So we have to do better than veganism but we must not advocate veganism because advocating veganism is “harmful.”

This makes no sense.

DxE claims that wherever animals are exploited, they “will rise up and fight for what is right.” But they won’t promote veganism. That is “harmful.”

This makes no sense.

In sum, the modern “animal movement” has rejected veganism as a moral imperative. And now, we have a new welfarist street theater ensemble complete with matching t-shirts and relentless branding gimmicks that tells us that vegan advocacy is “harmful” and does not count as “activism.”

To call this shameful really does not even begin to capture the problem here.


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.

If animals matter morally, veganism is not an option — it is a necessity. Anything that claims to be an animal rights movement must make clear that veganism is a moral imperative.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism for you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

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

©2015 Gary L. Francione


A number of people have asked me to comment on the new “investigation” by DxE of a turkey farm that supplies Whole Foods with “happy” turkeys.

This campaign illustrates perfectly what is wrong with DxE. It is yet another welfarist campaign that sends the message that it is the treatment of animals that matters and not the use. And that is exactly the message that the media are getting from the reports I have read.

DxE with Arrow

(Click to enlarge. We added the red arrow.)

The claim by some DxE supporters that the campaign promotes veganism and takes the position that all killing is wrong is complete nonsense. If that were really the message that DxE wanted to put out, why have the “investigation” in the first place? What is the point? If the message really is that killing is wrong no matter how it’s done, then the these sorts of “investigations” are completely worthless in addition to being misleading. And any vegan message is compromised even further by the fact that DxE thinks “vegan” is a dirty word and “harmful” to animal rights. DxE leader Wayne Hsiung explicitly rejects the idea that veganism is a moral baseline.

But Hsiung himself admits that the campaign is all about treatment:

What we are asking of Whole Foods is stop the fraud. For the past ten years, its been marketing its product as being compassionate and friendly to animals,” said Hsiung. “We want them to live up to their own values.”

So let’s get Whole Foods to make sure that its “products” really are as Whole Foods describes them. That is breathtaking, even for Hsiung.

Anyone who thinks that such a statement conveys the idea that Hsiung is promoting veganism can’t read. And given that Hsiung explicitly does not pass up an opportunity to tell everyone that he does not see veganism as a moral baseline, no one could see this campaign as promoting a vegan message.

And the DxE “investigation” went on for 9 months? So DxE was aware of what was going on but remained silent so they could develop a slick new “investigation” campaign with grotesque imagery and a “donate” button? That is also troubling.

DxE is now exploiting the two birds that they claim to have removed from the farm. They are using Sarah, one of the birds, as part of their effort to get the public to give them $100,000 to “Save Sarah From a Brutal Death.”

DxE Sarah

(Click to enlarge. We added the red circle around the $100,000.)

Sorry. but this is just Mercy for Animals with the addition of coordinated t-shirts, candles, chanting, etc. In other words, it’s just new welfarist nonsense with different branding.

Save a life. Donate. What a complete travesty.

Gary L. Francione