Viva!’s Reply and My Response

Dear Colleagues:

I posted an essay about the remarks of Viva! as reported in The Sunday Mail (a U.K. paper), concerning the sale in the U.K. of meat from animals slaughtered in the halal method.

A “Reply from Viva!” was posted on Opposing Views, where my essay was reprinted:

Reply from Viva!

Gary, you may be interested to know that The Daily Mail did not talk to Viva!. What they did was take a quote from our website. Ritual slaughter without pre-stunning has been proven to be crueller, but we are against all slaughter. Humane slaughter, of course, does not exist.

At every opportunity we try and push veganism as the most ethical choice to protect animals. However, you have to understand that the media has it’s own agenda. If we had spoken to The Daily Mail at the time (we have spoken to them since), we could push veganism until we’re blue in the face. They will print what they want to print. Please keep that in mind before criticising us or other groups in the future. Thank you.

- Justin Kerswell September 21, 2010 11:06AM

I confirmed that this reply was, in fact, from Viva!

Here is my response:

Dear Justin:

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, it does not address my concerns except to reinforce them.

Islamophobia and Halal Slaughter

Assuming what you say is true (and I do) and that The Sunday Mail did not talk to Viva! and took the quote from the Viva! website, then the matter is actually more serious in that the xenophobic remarks attributed to Viva! cannot be characterized as some statement taken out of context, but rather represent a considered policy statement from Viva!’s website. In light of the rampant Islamophobia in the U.K. (and elsewhere), it might be a good idea to remove that statement from your website. It does no good to say that Viva! supports multiculturalism when it makes remarks like these, particularly given that we both know that animals who are stunned are often, if not usually, not stunned properly. So I am confused as to why you think it useful at all to draw a distinction between halal slaughter and conventional slaughter.

Moreover, the statement attributed to Viva!, which you do not disclaim: “Consumers can do their bit by boycotting places that persist in selling meat from unstunned animals,” sends an explicitly clear message that the problem is halal (or kosher) slaughter and that the solution is to boycott meat from unstunned animals. A much better statement would have been: “Consumers who care about these issues should consider whether they should be consuming any animal products at all because all animal products are the result of the torture and unjustifiable killing of nonhuman animals.” As I say, Viva! missed an opportunity to educate here. Again, given that stunned animals are often not stunned, the distinction you draw fails on its own terms and not only in terms of the larger context that the problem is animal use and not particular animal treatment or animal exploitation by a particular group of people.

Viva! and Veganism

Your statement that “[a]t every opportunity we try and push veganism as the most ethical choice to protect animals” is simply not accurate.

The fact is that Viva! actively promotes vegetarianism on its websites (as Viva! has branches in several countries) as a morally coherent alternative to being an omnivore and characterizes veganism as something optional that people can do if they choose to go further. To the extent that Viva! distinguishes flesh from other animal products, it perpetuates the idea that there is a morally coherent distinction among them and we both know that is nonsense. Dairy and other non-flesh products account for as much, if not more, suffering than flesh and all animal products, however produced, are the result of animal death. Promoting vegetarianism rather than veganism is logically no different from promoting eating meat from spotted cows instead of meat from brown cows. The reasoning that Viva! employs is precisely the same that has been used to support the campaigns in favor of things like not eating veal. There is no difference between veal and other animal flesh or between flesh and other animal products.

The Viva! UK website sells books that contain recipes with animal products and advertises restaurants/inns that serve animal products. How can you say “[a]t every opportunity we push veganism” when you sell books with recipes containing animal products and promote places that serve animal products? That’s a rhetorical question. By promoting these books and businesses, you make a clear statement to the public that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products.

Not only does Viva! promote the notion that vegetarianism is a coherent alternative to being an omnivore, Viva! also perpetuates the nonsense that going vegan is difficult or “daunting” (Viva!’s word as used in a comment by Viva! on its Facebook site) and that vegetarianism is some sort of gateway. This sort of position does nothing but reinforce the propaganda that veganism is some extreme position that can be achieved only by the Herculean. It is precisely that sort of position that puts the public off veganism and contributes to the large number of “animal people” who have never gone vegan. If we are clear that veganism is the moral baseline, then we ought to state that and those who are not ready to go vegan will take whatever interim step they choose but at least the message will be clear.

If Viva! really promotes veganism, why does it make statements on its website that “Viva! opposes all slaughter and we promote vegetarianism as the only truly effective way to prevent animal suffering”? We will not stop suffering merely by becoming vegetarian. If veganism is really your agenda, and not some optional (and “daunting”) lifestyle change, why do you make such statements, which merely confuse people? As things presently stand, any reader of Viva! websites would come away with the impression that vegetarianism is a perfectly fine moral position; that meat is “worse” than dairy; and that veganism is an option–and a difficult and “daunting” one–but not a moral baseline. How many Viva! members patronize the restaurants/inns that you advertise on your site and consume milk and cheese at those places? How many Viva! members have purchased non-vegan cookbooks from Viva! and have made meals with animal products?

Those who really do seek the abolition of animal exploitation should stop participating in the “veganism is sooooo difficult” propaganda and reject the notion of vegetarianism (or other single-issue campaigns) as a “gateway” to veganism. (For more on this topic, please listen to my Commentary on the topic and read my follow-up essay, my general essay on “gateway” arguments, and my essay, “Vegetarianism First”, which was published in “The Vegan.)

Finally, your sites emphasize factory farming as the problem, as if the issue were how these products are made and not that they are made at all. This contributes to public confusion about these issues and reinforces the notion that the issue is treatment and not use.

My Requests to Viva!

1. In sum, I remain concerned that, particularly in the current climate, your comments about halal slaughter are Islamophobic and I ask that you clarify these statements on your website to make clear that the problem is not halal slaughter but all animal use. I ask that you put all exploitation in the same boat and not design a separate boat for Muslims (or Jews).

2. I request that if veganism is your real agenda, that you come out and say so and stop perpetuating the fantasy that meat is in some way “worse” than dairy or other products.

3. I request Viva! stop characterizing veganism as some difficult or daunting thing. It is not. In fact, veganism is really quite easy and, these days, people can find vegan alternatives to just about any animal food that they like. How about a Viva! “veganism is easy” campaign?

I reiterate: if you make veganism a clear moral baseline, those who are concerned about this issue may choose to do less but at least they won’t be able to point to Viva! and claim, quite accurately, that you have placed a stamp of approval on the choice to continue to consume “less bad” animal products.

4. I ask that Viva! please stop selling cookbooks that promote the use of animal products and stop advertising restaurants/inns that serve animal products.

Thank you.

Gary

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

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Postscript added September 26, 2010:

In an aditional reply by Viva! posted on Opposing Views, VIVA! states:

In every instance our definition of vegetarian is vegan – in-so-much that we advocate veganism as the most ethical of all diets, but recognise that people get there at their own pace.

That assertion is factually incorrect. Viva!’s materials and websites constantly and consistently make a distinction between “vegetarian” and “vegan.” Viva! does not define “vegetarian” as “vegan.”

Moreover, if Viva! wants to advocate veganism, there is no need for linguistic confusion–just use “vegan.”

And as I stated above, we can recognize that people will “get there at their own pace” but not concede that the “there” is anything less than veganism. At present, Viva! is sending the message that there is a morally coherent distinction between flesh and other animal products. There is not.

Finally, I see that as of today, Viva! is still selling cookbook that have non-vegan recipes and promoting restaurants/inns that serve non-vegan food. That speaks volumes.