Veganism, PETA, Farm Sanctuary, Peter Singer, “Personal Purity,” and Principles of Justice

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

Being vegan is about helping animals, not maintaining personal purity. Boycotting products that may contain trace amounts of animal products can actually be harmful to animals in the long run. For example, by refusing to eat a veggie burger from a restaurant because the bun may contain traces of milk or eggs, you are discouraging that restaurant from offering vegan options because it is seems too difficult a task. So use our list as a guide, and do your best to avoid animal ingredients.

This is speciesist. A social movement that seeks justice for nonhumans says that we should never choose to participate in animal exploitation. Period. We should not decide to eat the product with milk or eggs to make the owner think it’s easier to serve vegans. That is like saying that we ought not to object to “small” instances of misogyny or racism because we don’t want misogynists or racists to think that the equality of woman and people or color is “too difficult.”

And what’s a “trace”? How much is “okay”? And what if it’s a small amount of meat? How is that different from a small amount of egg or dairy? Answer: it isn’t. So if you buy this nonsense, go ahead and eat the pork sprinkled on your dish as well–as long as there’s not a lot.

A number of “animal advocates” support this approach. For example, Bruce Friedrich, formerly of PETA and now with Farm Sanctuary, says:

We all know that the number one reason why people don’t go vegan is that they don’t think it’s convenient enough, and we all know people whose reason for not going vegan is that they “can’t” give up cheese or ice cream.

But instead of making it easier for them to help animals, we often make it more difficult. Instead of encouraging them to stop eating all other animal products besides cheese or ice cream, we preach to them about the oppression of dairy cows. Then we go on about how we don’t eat sugar or a veggie burger because of the bun, even though a tiny bit of butter flavor in a bun supports significantly less suffering than eating any non-organic fruit or vegetable, or using a plastic bottle, or about 100 other things that most of us do. Our fanatical obsession with ingredients not only obscures the animals’ suffering—which was virtually non-existent for that tiny modicum of ingredient—but nearly guarantees that those around us are not going to make any change at all. So, we’ve preserved our personal purity, but we’ve hurt animals—and that’s anti-vegan.

Peter Singer, considered by some to be the “Father of the Animal Rights Movement” says:

I think it’s more important to try and produce a change in the right direction than to be personally pure yourself. So when you’re eating with someone at a restaurant, and you ordered something vegan but when it comes there’s a bit of grated cheese or something on it, sometimes vegans will make a big fuss and send it back and that might mean the food is wasted. And if you’re in company with people who are not vegan or not even vegetarian, I think that’s probably the wrong thing to do. It’d be better off just to eat it because people are going to think, ‘Oh my god, these vegans…’

I agree that being vegan is not about “personal purity.” But I don’t see not exploiting vulnerable beings–human or nonhuman–as being about “personal purity.” I see it as a matter of caring about fundamental justice and acting on it. To call that a matter of “personal purity” is simply to say that justice should not be a matter of clear moral principle. And I could not disagree with that more.

So if the restaurant won’t give you a vegan meal, don’t eat the non-vegan meal just because you think it will help animals. It won’t. What it will do is to send a very clear message that you do not regard animal rights as a matter of moral principle.

And that is very harmful to animals.

People are more likely to embrace veganism if they agree that there’s something serious and important at stake. And as long as you choose to eat any amount of meat, dairy, and eggs, they will never see veganism as a matter of fundamental justice.


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
Professor, Rutgers University

©2015 Gary L. Francione