It’s Not 1946

Dear Colleagues:

The Vegan Society has informed me that in the The Vegan, issue 2, Autumn 1946, and in other issues of The Vegan from that period, which were edited by Donald Watson, there were advertisements from vegetarian establishments that catered for vegans.

I suggest that advertising establishments in 1946 that served dairy but not meat necessarily reinforced the idea that meat and dairy are morally distinguishable, which Watson claimed to reject in 1944. There is no getting around the fact that this is a blatant inconsistency.

So it appears as though Watson either did not appreciate the inconsistency between his actions in 1946 and his position in 1944, or he did not believe what he said in 1944. I still respect Watson as a visionary and I will, therefore, assume the former. Given the newness of veganism as an idea in 1944, and given that Britain had just been through World war II and had rationing (that continued well into the 1950s), the historical context was such that it might be understandable that Watson simply did not see the inconsistency.

In any event, it’s not 1946. There’s been plenty of time to see that a policy that apparently started in 1946 cannot be reconciled with the position that meat and dairy are morally indistinguishable. The inconsistency is clear and blatant.

I should add that when I posted my original observation on the Vegan Society Facebook page, the Vegan Society PR Officer stated: “The acceptance of advertisements (including inserts) to The Vegan magazine does not imply endorsement.” But as I understand it, the Vegan Society policy is apparently that advertisements for vegetarian establishments that cater to vegans are acceptable and that policy is justified based on a practice that apparently started in the later 1940s. I have asked twice now and still have not received an answer to whether the Vegan Society would accept advertisements in The Vegan that served meat. If they would not, then the policy most certainly implies endorsement of the view that dairy is less morally objectionable than meat.

The Vegan Society is now a large organization with a large staff and resources. It is a Society that is functioning within a modern movement that rejects veganism as a clear moral baseline, promotes “happy” animal products, and widely embraces “flexitarianism” and the notion that meat and dairy are morally distinguishable. The modern movement promotes ovo-lacto-vegetarianism because veganism is too difficult and daunting. I still do not understand why, irrespective of what occurred in 1946 or at any other time, the Vegan Society does not see clearly today that if they really believe that meat and dairy are indistinguishable morally, then they should not advertise places that serve either and they should not advertise places that serve dairy because that just reinforces a moral distinction that the Vegan Society claims to agree does not exist.

It’s one thing to offer as a convenience a list of places that offer vegan options for travelers. But taking paid advertisements for establishments that serve or sell animal products is problematic.

I understand that the Trustees of the Vegan Society will be asked to consider changing its policy. It is my most sincere hope that the Trustees will decide not to advertise establishments that serve or sell any animal products. The Vegan Society of 2011 needs to be crystal clear about this issue even if the Vegan Society of 1946 did not perceive the inconsistency between saying that flesh and dairy or other animal products are morally indistinguishable but advertising establishments that served dairy or other non-flesh products.

And I hope that members of the Vegan Society will make clear to the Trustees that the Vegan Society should be vegan and should not in any way promote the consumption of any animal products or reinforce in any way the idea that flesh can be distinguished from non-flesh products.

If there is any organization that should stand and stand clearly for the proposition that veganism is an unequivocal, non-negotiable moral baseline, it is the Vegan Society.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione

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Addendum: February 22, 2011

A Vegan Society member shared with me a reply received from the Vegan Society on this matter. The Vegan Society states:

One of our aims is to encourage main-stream caterers to provide good vegan options on their standard menu so as to provide more choice when vegans are eating out. Many people tell us that the reason they do not become or stay vegan is because it is difficult to find food when eating out. Unfortunately at the moment it would be difficult to eat in restaurants or stay in hotels if we only choose purely vegan establishments but as demand grows we hope there will be many more vegan establishments. We work cooperatively with businesses to encourage them in a vegan direction.

How is this responsive to the issue of whether the Vegan Society should take paid advertisements from restaurants that serve animal products? Answer: it is not responsive.

The issue is not whether vegans should or should not eat/stay in non-vegan restaurants or hotels. The issue is whether the Vegan Society should have a paid advertisement for a restaurant that serves eggs and dairy. The ad for Lancrigg describes the place as a “A Haven of Peace & Inspiration.” I rather doubt that the animals exploited for their eggs and dairy would agree with that lovely description.

The issue is not whether the Vegan Society should “work cooperatively with businesses to encourage them in a vegan direction.” The Society can do that without accepting paid advertisements for restaurants or inns that serve the products of animal torture and exploitation.

The Vegan Society reply continues:

There is a statement in the front of every Vegan magazine which says: “The views expressed in The Vegan do not necessarily reflect those of the Editor or of the Vegan Society Council.

Nothing printed should be construed to be Vegan Society policy unless so stated. The Society accepts no liability for any matter in the magazine. The acceptance of advertisements (including inserts) does not imply endorsement.

I hope that my friends at the Vegan Society will forgive me but I find this to be insulting. So if a Society for battered women has a magazine that advertises a place that sells sadomasochistic pornography (or, more analogously, offers opportunities on the premises to engage in sadomasochism and misogyny with women), we can just have a disclaimer and it’s all okay? No one would buy that in the context of advocacy for battered women and no one should buy it in the animal context either.

If the Vegan Society wants to provide a list of vegan-friendly places for travelers or to let diners know where they can get a vegan meal, that’s one thing. Advertisements for such places is another thing. If the Vegan Society advertises a vegan product and the ad says that the product is “available at Sainsbury’s,” that is one thing. A general advertisement for Sainsbury’s food department, which may have vegan items, is another thing.

Finally, given that society generally, and the the animal movement, still distinguish flesh from non-flesh products and regard meat as more morally objectionable than non-flesh foods, it strains credulity to say that an ad for a vegetarian restaurant that serves eggs and dairy does not reinforce a distinction that has no moral basis and that the Vegan Society claims to reject.

The Vegan Society exists because it supposedly recognizes that there is a difference between a “flexitarian” approach to life and one that is as consistently vegan as possible in the real world. So why not promote that ideal in every way that the Society can? There are an endless number of groups that purport to regard veganism as some sort of ideal but that promote vegetarianism as a coherent moral position. Many of those groups are larger than the Vegan Society and can promote that message more effectively.

The Vegan Society should be clear that vegan means vegan and should be scrupulous about not advertising the non-vegan products of any establishment.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione