The Need for a Vegan Society

Dear Colleagues:

The Vegan Society deleted the entire discussion on whether there should be advertisements for non-vegan restaurants/establishments in its magazine, The Vegan, from the Vegan Society Facebook discussion forum.

I wonder why?

On February 21, I received an email from the Head of Information of the Vegan Society thanking me for my comments on the subject and acknowledging that I had “raised a reasonable question” about the policy of accepting adverts for establishments that serve dairy, eggs, etc.

The Vegan Society has been writing to members stating that “[t]he trustees are aware of the comments on Facebook regarding the adverts and are discussing the issues.” But apparently no one else, including members and concerned others who were spending time debating this, are permitted to discuss the issues at the very Facebook page that the trustees were reading to inform their discussion.

And then, without any notice, the Vegan Society decided that the discussion of this issue, which the Society acknowledged raised a “reasonable question” and that the trustees were reading, violated the rules of the Vegan Society forum and deleted the entire Facebook discussion.

I copied most of the the thread before the Vegan Society deleted it and you can view it here. You can decide for yourself about what the Vegan Society regards as illegitimate or unacceptable discourse.

Given that the discussion went on five days before the Vegan Society deleted the discussion, it appears as though when they saw that the great weight of opinion was going against them, they decided that discussion had to stop. It is also fascinating that in the entire discussion period, the Vegan Society responded on the thread once–to say (in part):

The acceptance of advertisements (including inserts) to The Vegan magazine does not imply endorsement.

(Amanda Baker, February 18, 2011)

Now there’s engagement with an issue!

In any event, the one thing that is clear is that it is certainly not clear that the Vegan Society is a vegan society.

In light of the Vegan Society relying in its reply to members that Donald Watson accepted adverts for non-vegan establishments in 1946, I went back and re-read the interview with Donald Watson that George D. Rodger of the Vegan Society did in 2002.

I think that we can make two observations about Donald Watson’s views.

First, it is crystal clear that, as a moral matter, Watson regarded dairy products, eggs, etc., to be as morally reprehensible as meat. That is why he founded The Vegan Society in 1944.

Second, it is also clear that, as a psychological/sociological matter, he believed that most people can or will get to veganism only through vegetarianism. That is, he thought that for reasons that appear to be partly psychological and partly sociological, most people will have to, or at least will, give up flesh first before they give up dairy and other non-flesh products.

Even if Watson’s psychological/sociological point were correct in 1946, when he apparently accepted adverts for vegetarian, non-vegan establishments, it is certainly not true in 2011. And if it were true, then the pages of The Vegan should be chock full of ads for dairy products and eggs, etc., and all sorts of encouragement for people to eat more dairy and less meat. The Vegan should not only take paid adverts for Lancrigg, Paskin’s etc., it should offer space for free to every establishment that is vegetarian but not vegan and, indeed, every establishment that serves meat but is vegetarian- or vegan-friendly because it is only through vegetarianism that most will or can get to veganism.

To the extent that the psychological/sociological point has any validity, it is not because of any human “hard wiring” or because of any necessary facts about society. It is because those of us who claim to agree with the moral point as a fundamental moral truth have done an inadequate job of educating people about that moral truth. It is because even “animal groups” are, in 2011, promoting “happy” animal products, sponsoring “happy” meat/dairy labels, stating that going vegan is “difficult” and “daunting,” maintaining that “veganish” is good enough, calling “fanatical” and “purist” those who advocate veganism, and continuing to perpetuate the fantasy that there is a coherent moral distinction between flesh and other non-flesh products, etc., etc., etc.

Accepting adverts for places like Lancrigg, having in the pages of The Vegan an establishment that serves animal products (and is described as “A Haven for Peace & Inspiration”) sends a message: “nonvegan but veganish” is good enough.” It sends a message that meat and dairy are morally distinguishable. It sends the message that “a little” exploitation is okay.

It sends a message that is not vegan as I understand that concept. And it is ludicrous to say that a disclaimer makes it all alright.

It is 2011, not 1946. Britain is not in the midst of post-World-War II food rationing. We have come a long way in our understanding of the moral issues that inform the debate about animal ethics. Whatever were Watson’s views about the psychological/sociological issues in 1946 (or at anytime, really), we must accept that if we do embrace the moral principle that Watson set out in 1944, we have an obligation to be clear and unequivocal that we cannot justify consuming dairy, eggs, etc., just as we cannot justify consuming meat. We need to stop perpetuating the notion that there is a morally coherent distinction between flesh and non-flesh products. We need to stop hiding behind disclaimers that attempt (but fail) to mask the rejection of this moral principle when it is financially convenient to do so.

I respectfully call upon the Vegan Society to stop accepting adverts for non-vegan establishments. Again, it’s one thing to have an advert for a vegan product that also says “available at Sainsbury’s.” It is another thing to have an advert for Sainsbury’s food department, even if has many vegan items. The Vegan Society, if it really is a beacon for the light of the moral principle at stake here, has no business taking an advert of the second sort.

I am sincerely sorry if I have offended my friends at the Vegan Society but I happen to think that this issue of crucial importance or I would not have spent so much time on it at a time when I am extremely busy with University and professional commitments, dealing with feral cat colonies and fostering animals, etc.

I note also that the Vegan Society has blocked me from participating in its Facebook discussion forum at all. I was unaware of that forum until last week, when a member of the Vegan Society asked me to look at a particular discussion that he felt was problematic. Although I have concentrated primarily on the issue of the non-vegan adverts, I was delighted to be able to participate in stimulating discussions about other topics as well. I am sorry that I will apparently not be able to interact with the wonderful folks I encountered at the forum, at least at the Vegan Society site.

I am sorry that it appears as though there is apparently no organization that is willing to stand up for the moral principle that no exploitation means no exploitation. There is no organization that is willing to promote veganism as a moral baseline. But this only reinforces my view that the vegan movement must be a grassroots movement.

I have in the past been a strong supporter of the Vegan Society and I will continue to promote the moral ideals of Donald Watson even if the Vegan Society does not. And I will make the deleted thread available in due course so that people can read for themselves what the Vegan Society apparently regards as unacceptable discourse.

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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. You will never do anything else in your life as easy and satisfying.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione

Addendum, March 5, 2011:

Today, I received correspondence from the Chair of the Vegan Society Council of Management, who stated, in part:

It was because of your offensive reference to Watson spinning in his grave (he still has surviving relatives), that the decision was taken to terminate your connection to the Society’s facebook page. The discussion re our policy on advertisements played no part in the decision.

That remark was in my very first Facebook comment on this matter, which occurred on February 18. It apparently took the Vegan Society until February 22 to decide that I should be banned. And by banning me, rather than just removing the allegedly offending comment, the Society just happened to delete the entire discussion that the Society claims “played no part in the decision” to ban me. This is a good lesson either on the inefficiency of bureaucracy or on offering a transparently pretextual reason for banning someone. In any event, if anyone at the Vegan Society had indicated to me that they found my remark to be problematic in any way, I would have been happy to remove it and re-post the comment without that remark even if I did not agree that the remark was inappropriate.

The Vegan Society discussion policy prohibits comments that “promote non-vegan products, services, recipes, etc.” I actually thought that by pointing out that the Vegan Society magazine contained adverts for a restaurant, described as a “haven of peace & inspiration,” that serves dairy products and eggs–the products of animals who have been tortured–I was respecting the vision of Donald Watson. I certainly never meant to disparage Donald Watson in any way. Quite the contrary. I am sorry if any of my comments caused any distress to the Vegan Society but I would suggest that the real issue here is the distress caused to the animals who were exploited by a restaurant advertised in The Vegan.

As to the surviving relatives of Donald Watson about which the Vegan Society expresses concern, I would hope that if they are vegans, they, too, would find disturbing the paid advertisement of a non-vegan restaurant as a “haven of peace & inspiration” in the pages of The Vegan and the Vegan Society’s very hostile reaction to me for raising this. If the surviving relatives are not vegans, I rather suspect that they’re not paying attention to this matter at all.

In closing, I certainly am sorry that I have upset my friends at the Vegan Society but I do think that there is a very important matter of principle at stake here.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione