Vegan Elitism: Ronnie Lee on “Ordinary People”

A very typical message we get from many “animal advocates” is that we can’t say that veganism is a moral baseline. That is, we can’t say that veganism is a moral obligation and a moral imperative. We can only promote reducing suffering. People just won’t understand it or be able to process the vegan position. People must be manipulated and not educated. And we understand their inability “get it.” After all, they’re not as smart or as good as we are.

Would you like an excellent example of this completely reactionary, elitist, and patronizing attitude?

Ronnie Lee, who founded the Animal Liberation Front, and who calls himself a “socialist animal liberationist,” responded in a blog post to a suggestion that animal advocates promote vegetarianism rather than veganism because the latter is just too “radical.”

Lee had this to say:

I feel there’s a strong case for the toe-in-the-water approach you suggest, Mark. Nick Cooney mentions this in his excellent Science of Animal Advocacy talk ( I attended a similar presentation by Nick in Birmingham a few months ago and was very impressed by what he had to say because, like myself, he believes we need to take into account the limitations of ordinary people and understand how they really operate in order to change their behaviour, rather than bestowing intellectual and moral abilities on them that they don’t, in reality, possess.

Here’s a screenshot from the actual blog post in case you find the quote as unbelievable as I did:

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So “ordinary people” don’t possess sufficient “intellectual and moral abilities”?

That is, as the Brits say, bollocks. And coming from someone who calls himself a “socialist.” Lee’s comment is about as reactionary as reactionary gets.

I don’t expect more from Nick Cooney, who works for Mercy for Animals–a group that openly promotes “happy” exploitation and that joined Peter Singer in inaugurating the “happy” exploitation movement in 2005:

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Mercy for Animals regularly partners with industry to peddle the fantasy that we can exploit “compassionately.” Here’s a recent advertisement promoting Walmart sent out by MFA Executive Director, Nathan Runkle:

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The business model of these groups involves rejecting veganism as a moral imperative in favor of promoting the idea that veganism is just one way of reducing suffering–along with crate-free pork, cage-free eggs, vegetarianism, Meatless Monday, etc. They all are all equally valid. And they trot out Cooney, who cites studies and doctrines that he either does not understand or that he blatantly misrepresents so that he can assure everyone that not promoting veganism as a moral baseline will eventually get people to see that veganism is the moral baseline. But it will take time and manipulation and promoting “happy” exploitation in the meantime.

That’s a great business model if you want to keep your donor pool as large as possible. And I do understand that these corporate charities need to bring in a great deal of money so that they can employ lots of people who have jobs as paid “activists.” These groups, in effect, sell licenses so that people can continue consuming animals with a stamp of approval from these animal welfare groups. All any nonvegan has to do is to buy crate-free pork from Walmart and make a donation and they can be “compassionate” consumers. They can be “animal advocates.”

That’s a terrible model if you want to shift the paradigm away from animals as property and toward animals as persons and educate people about why veganism is the only rational response to recognizing that animals matter morally.

But I expected more from Ronnie Lee. I don’t agree with Lee about a number of things but I am really disappointed to see him buy into the completely reactionary and elitist idea peddled by the bloated corporate charities–that the “ordinary people” are just not smart enough or moral enough to be at “our” level. Lee claims to be a supporter of social justice. How about justice for “ordinary people”? How about not buying into the corporate welfarist view that people are all stupid and immoral? How about educating people in an honest and straightforward manner that respects both their intelligence and their moral sensibilities?

In 2010, I did a blog post/podcast in which I outlined the Abolitionist Approach to Education:

Principle #1: People are good at heart.
Our default position when we talk with people ought to be that they are good at heart, and interested in, and educable about, moral issues. There is a tendency among at least some advocates to have a very misanthropic view of other humans and to see them as being inherently immoral or uninterested in issues of morality. I disagree with that view.

Principle #2: People are not stupid.
There is a tendency among animal advocates to believe that the general public is not able to understand the arguments in favor of veganism and that we must “go easy” and instead of talking about veganism, we should talk about vegetarianism, “Meat Free Monday,” “happy” meat and animal products, etc. I disagree with this very elitist way of thinking about other people. There is no mystery here; there is nothing complicated. People can understand if we teach effectively.

Principle #3: Do not get defensive; respond, don’t react.
Yes, some people will try to provoke us or will ask questions or make comments that we find insulting or that we take not to be serious. If someone is really not interested in what we are saying, they will, as a general matter, walk away. Treat every comment and question—even the ones you find abrasive, rude, or sarcastic—as an invitation being offered to you by someone who is more provoked (in a positive way) by you and engaged than you might think.

Principle #4: Do not get frustrated. Education is hard work.
You will get the same question many times; you will be asked questions that indicate you must start at the beginning with someone. But if you want to be an effective educator, you have to answer every question as if it is the first time you heard it. If you want others to be enthusiastic about your message, you have to be enthusiastic about it first.

Principle #5: Learn the basics. You have to be a student first before you become a teacher.
Many animal advocates become excited about abolitionist veganism and the next thing that happens is that they set up a website or start a blog that is motivated by the right feelings but not informed by clear ideas. Before you teach others, learn about the basics.It’s not hard to learn the basics; anyone can do so.

In any event, one of the things I have learned is that “ordinary people” get it. They get it just fine. The arguments for veganism as a moral imperative are perfectly intelligible to anyone who cares enough to listen. Indeed, most people understand the idea that it’s wrong to inflict suffering on animals for reasons of pleasure or amusement, or convenience even if they don’t otherwise accept the egalitarianism of a true animal rights approach. That is precisely why people respond the way they do to people like Michael Vick and Mary Bale.

If we are going to change the world, we need to encourage critical thinking and not support the business model of the large, bloated welfare corporations, which portrays “ordinary people” as too stupid or too morally depraved to understand a simple message:

If you agree that animals matter morally, if you agree that animals aren’t just things that don’t matter morally, then, at the very least, you cannot justify imposing suffering and death on animals for reasons of pleasure, including palate pleasure, or mere convenience.


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.

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


At my debate with Tony Wardle of Viva! in London at VegFest on October 11, 2015, Tony declared that “single mums” could not understand veganism as a moral principle. You can watch the debate here:

Tony tells us about “single mums” at at about 5:40 into this fascinating debate.

After 30+ Years, Morrissey Goes Vegan But Calls Veganism “Purist”

Morrissey has finally recognized–after three decades of collecting royalties from Meat is Murder–that all animal products are murder.

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Morrissey made this announcement on the Larry King Show. And he made very sure to reinforce the idea that being vegan is anything but a moral imperative. Indeed, his denigration of veganism sounded like the sort of thing you hear about veganism from the large new welfarist charities.

What he said was very damaging and counterproductive.

When King asked him about going vegan, Morrissey responded:

Well, it’s just a gradual thing. Everybody begins as vegetarian. Because to dive straight forward into being completely purist is very hard for most people. Financially they can’t do it. And also you have to find food.

What complete and utter nonsense.

First of all, it’s not difficult. This is the same line we hear again and again from the large animal charities. You will recall Fiona Oakes, Ambassador of The “Vegan” Society, saying on BBC that veganism is not “for everyone” and “it’s not probably for very many people.” That’s just anti-vegan propaganda. It’s hard only if you don’t care about our moral obligations to animals. If you do, it’s as easy as any other decision you make to respect the fundamental rights of other. And so-called “animal advocates” should never say otherwise.

Second, he regurgitates the same new welfarist line that veganism is “purist.” That’s the sort of thing that PETA and Farm Sanctuary say when they are defending non-vegan or flexitarian positions.

It’s not a matter of “purity” any more than it is a matter of “purity” to respect the fundamental rights of humans. We would not say that anyone who rejected slavery, rape, and child molestation was a “purist.” The same applies to nonhumans. Veganism is the least we owe animals if we believe they matter morally. There is no morally coherent distinction between meat and any other animal product. They all involve suffering. They all involve death. They all involve injustice.

In “Meat is Murder,” Morrissey sings:

And the calf that you carve with a smile
It is murder.

And for 30 years he hasn’t recognized that to consume milk, cheese, etc. necessarily involves the deaths of calves? And to recognize and act on that involves being a “purist”?

All animal foods involve suffering and death and the only justification for any of it is palate pleasure. As the song states:

It’s death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder.

But to recognize that and act on it is a matter of being a “purist”?

That’s wrong. Respecting the fundamental rights of nonhumans is not a matter of being a “purist.” It is a simple matter of doing what we are morally obligated to do.

Third, a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and seeds is invariably cheaper than a diet of animal foods. It does not help for him to reinforce the completely false and counterproductive idea that veganism is only for the affluent.

And even if being vegan were more expensive, which is not the case, why would that stop Morrissey from going vegan for 30+ years? He’s quite well off.

Fourth, what is this nonsense that it’s hard to find vegan food? It’s not difficult to find vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, and seeds. Indeed, it’s hard not to find them.

It took him 30+ years to go vegan. That’s strong proof that the “animal movement” has failed miserably in promoting veganism as a moral baseline. Veganism is sidelined as just another way of reducing suffering–along with going vegetarian, consuming crate-free pork, eggs from “cage-free” hens, milk from “happy” cows, etc. And that’s the problem. If animals matter morally, we cannot eat, wear, or use animals.

Morrissey showed King his Stella McCartney non-leather shoes made in Italy. I suppose that was to reinforce the idea that going vegan is difficult because not many people can afford Stella McCartney shoes. That, of course, is also silly. Good vegan shoes cost less than what a decent (not designer) pair of leather shoes cost. And Stella McCartney, supposedly a vegan, produces clothing made from wool. But she claims that the sheep are not mistreated. That, of course, is also complete nonsense.

It’s bad enough that high-visibility people like Morrissey and Paul McCartney pose as “animal people” when they are not vegan. They send a message to people that “animal people” don’t have to be vegan as long as they “care.” Although that is the message that the large animal charities want to promote (it allows nonvegans to feel comfortable in donating), it’s a very wrong and very damaging message.

And it is also damaging to make the sort of announcement that Morrissey made when he decided to go vegan. He regurigated the idea that going vegan is just an option and not a moral imperative, and that it is difficult and expensive.

But I am not sure that it is reasonable to expect more from a person who thinks that the Chinese are a “subspecies”.


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.

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

Vegan Advocacy is the Only Solution

The rich, bloated new welfarist charities tell us we have to promote welfarist “baby steps”–such as cage-free eggs and crate-free pork, and the Whole Foods Animal Welfare Rating system–in order to move things forward. All of these groups reject veganism as a moral baseline. Think about the perversity of their position: they are claiming we need to promote exploitation to move toward no exploitation. These groups partner with institutional exploiters and actually promote supposedly more “humane” animal exploitation. That makes no sense–morally or practically.

The new welfarist group, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) even claims that vegan advocacy is “harmful” and argues that we need to promote “activism” and not veganism. They define “activism” as doing street theater, such as chanting “it’s not food, it’s violence” in Chipotle restaurants. And when someone in a Chipotle’s comes up to you and asks what they can do to help, you are not supposed to mention veganism. You’re supposed to tell them to do “activism.” I am sorry but that is insane.

Consider the following: There are an estimated 7.5 million vegans in the U.S. If every one of those vegans persuaded one other person to go vegan in the next year, there would be 15 million vegans. If every one of those persuaded one other person in the second year, there would be 30 million. If we repeated this every year, the entire country would be vegan in fewer than six years.

And even if the number of present vegans is only 1 million, it would take nine years to get to a vegan U.S. population–still preferable to another 30 years of taking “baby steps” backward.

In any event, if those who claimed to care about animals stopped supporting welfare reforms, happy exploitation, and narcissistic street theater, we could make veganism the prevailing paradigm.

So get out there and talk to everyone you know about why veganism is the only rational response to the recognition that animals matter morally.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.


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.

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

Sea Shepherd Weighs In on Cecil the Lion: Insisting on Veganism is “Purism” and “Elitist”

Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd has weighed in on the controversy over Cecil the lion. Watson takes aim at those of us who make the point that there is absolutely no morally significant difference between killing animals for sporting pleasure and killing animals for palate pleasure, and that our objecting to the killing of Cecil requires us to reject killing the other 60+ billion animals (not counting sea animals) we kill to eat.

In “The Cult of Competitive Purism,” Watson maintains that those of us who take this position are “elitist” and guilty of “purism.”

Watson’s position comes as no surprise. But a simple examination of his position shows why he is in error.

Cecils on the Land and Cecils in the Water

Sea Shepherd is a large organization that brings in considerable amounts of money from donors all over the world, many — perhaps most — of whom are not vegan. Many — perhaps most — Sea Shepherd donors look at whales and other marine mammals in the same way that others look at Cecil the Lion and lament their exploitation at the same time they continue to consume other animals. They think marine mammals are special, in part because they are endangered or protected, and think that marine mammals count for more than do other animals as a moral matter. They think that just as Cecil died a horrible, prolonged death, marine mammals are killed in an inhumane way and are treated worse than the animals we eat.

And guess what? That’s exactly what Paul Watson has been telling them.

Here’s what Watson had to say in an interview in the The Guardian:

You cannot compare the killing of animals in a domestic slaughterhouse to the killing of a whale. What goes on with those whales – or dolphins, say, in Taiji – would never be tolerated in a slaughterhouse. Those slaughterhouses would be shut down. It takes from 10 to 45 minutes to kill a whale and they die in horrific agony. That would be completely intolerable and illegal in any slaughterhouse in the world.

Also they’re an endangered and protected species – pigs and cows are not. They’re part of an ecosystem, which pigs and cows are not. It always bothers me that that comparison is brought up. And especially when it’s brought up by the Japanese, who eat more pigs, cows, and chickens than all people of Australia and New Zealand combined. Only one percent of the Japanese people eat whales; for the most part they eat cows and pigs and chickens. It’s a ridiculous analogy.

Note: Watson says:

1. The exploitation of farm animals is less cruel than the exploitation of marine mammals.

We are not sure whether Watson has ever been in a slaughterhouse, but they’re hideous places and animals suffer a terrible death in the long process from arrival at the facility to their actual death on the killing floor. And the distress that those animals experience during that slaughtering process is palpable and every bit as bad as the physical pain they suffer.

Moreover, Watson’s comparison between the time it takes to kill a marine mammal and the time it takes to kill a farm animal is itself problematic. Marine mammals are not domesticated animals who spend their entire lives suffering; marine mammals live in the wild until the time they are killed. We certainly think that the killing of marine mammals or any sentient nonhuman is morally objectionable. But Watson’s statement that the analogy between the suffering of marine mammals and farm animals is “ridiculous” is itself ridiculous and suggests that Watson thinks that the suffering of marine mammals counts for more morally. That is just plain speciesism.

2. Watson is “bother[ed]” by the comparison between farm animals and marine mammals because the latter are “endangered and protected.”

So what? Does that make marine mammals more morally valuable? Not as far as we are concerned. An endangered marine mammal values her or his life just as a cow or pig or chicken or fish values her or his. It is just as wrong to kill a cow (or other sentient nonhuman) for no reason other than palate pleasure as it is to kill a marine mammal for palate pleasure or any other frivolous reason. What Watson is saying would lead to the conclusion that killing marine mammals would be less morally wrong if they were not endangered or protected. Maybe he would accept that conclusion. We wouldn’t.

In any event, Watson is operating a very wealthy charity that has all sorts of non-vegan donors who think of marine mammals as a group of Cecils who live in the ocean. They want to protect the Water Cecils as they continue to eat their animal products. Watson jumps to their defense.

Watson objects to our making crystal clear that there is a blatant moral inconsistency between objecting to the killing of Cecil the lion and continuing to consume animals because he does not want anyone saying that to those who fetishize marine mammals in addition to, or instead of, lions. In other words, Watson does not want anyone telling his donors that they are morally obligated to go vegan.

That’s no surprise.

What’s Really At Issue Here: Support for Single-Issue Campaigns and Vegansim as a Moral Imperative

We certainly agree with Watson that we should never treat as “inferior,” demean, or ridicule anyone who objects to the killing of Cecil, or the killing of dolphins or whales, or the eating of dogs in China or Korea, or the exploitation of any animal in any situation. That is why we spend a considerable portion of our time discussing animal ethics with people and groups who are not part of any “animal movement.” That is why we wrote Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals. We believe that anyone with a moral impulse or moral concern for animals is ripe for a consideration of the ethics of consuming animals and a candidate for the adoption of veganism as a moral principle.

But we do believe that we have an obligation to be crystal clear and to educate those who are concerned about particular acts or forms of animal exploitation that, if they are not vegan, they are active participants in the very conduct that they claim to decry. That is what we owe to the human who is, by expressing concern about a particular situation, trying to find her or his moral compass. That is what we owe to nonhumans, who are victimized in the hundreds of millions every single day.

We stress that vegan education — the clear, patient, comprehensive discussion of the ethical principles at issue — is the most effective act of activism that any individual can do to move the issue forward. Not yelling, not shaming, but discussion and education. At the same time, we are concerned that the “business model” of the large animal charities has a need for donations that steers them to animal welfare reforms and single-issue campaigns.

Sea Shepherd is an organization that promotes variations of the same single-issue campaign: the protection of marine mammals. What really concerns Watson is that those whom he denigrates as “elitists” and “purists” will not support such single-issue campaigns that are his stock in trade. In other words, those who express concern about Cecil, or whales and dolphins, or seal cubs, or whatever animal is being exploited should be “nurtured.” And what does that mean? It means that those people should be funneled into the web of groups like Sea Shepherd or one of the countless other groups who will “nurture” compassion by soliciting donations for their single-issue campaigns and never confront donors with the reality: Veganism is not an option; it’s a moral imperative. If animals matter morally, we cannot justify eating, wearing, or using them, and until we go vegan, we are active participants in institutionalized animal exploitation.

Single-issue campaigns — however different — are structurally identical. They all involve coalitions of people many of whom engage in behavior that is not morally different from the behavior that is the target of the single-issue campaign.

So a single issue campaign focused on the Taiji dolphins will have many people who object to the killing of dolphins but who shovel animal products into their mouths as they voice their concerns. The only way that such people are going to support such a campaign is if they are made to feel comfortable about their exploitation. And they are made to feel comfortable by an insidious pretense that the target of the campaign is immoral and their own conduct is not immoral, or is so much less immoral that they can never be thought of in the same way as the people who kill the dolphins. This makes people feel more comfortable about their own behavior that exploits animals and perpetuates it — and it also means that they donate.

As part of providing the comfort level that encourages support, these campaigns demonize those people who are involved in the targeted behavior in an effort to distinguish between them and the “good” people who are protesting the killing of the dolphins. This often results in and reinforces racist, ethnocentric, and xenophobic conduct on the part of “animal people.” One need only look at the sorts of vile anti-Asian comments that appear almost immediately following any story about Taiji, Japanese whaling, or the eating of dogs in China and Korea. The campaign against Andre Robinson elicited horribly racist slurs, as did the campaign against Michael Vick.

Watson thinks that to not support and to criticize these campaigns is “elitist” and represents “purism.” He’s wrong. Abolitionists just refuse to participate in and perpetuate the unjust fantasy that there is a difference between killing a dolphin and killing a chicken so that people who care can become “nurtured” by Sea Shepherd and other groups and never be confronted with the moral reality. Abolitionists want to promote the idea that if animals matter morally, veganism is the only rational response. Abolitionists want to promote the idea that we cannot justify treating any sentient nonhuman exclusively as a resource.

Watson disagrees with all of this. He admits that he thinks that marine mammals are special. He makes clear that Sea Shepherd is “promoting veganism not for animal-rights reasons but for environmental conservation reasons.” It can’t get any more clear than that. He rejects the very foundation of the abolitionist movement, which is that all sentient beings are equal in that all should be accorded the moral right not to be used as human resources. And that we ought to make that crystal clear today, right now.

We’re delighted that Watson serves vegan meals on his ships even if he does so for reasons of conservation alone. But go to the Sea Shepherd website. We did. We were unable to find anything that even hinted at the moral obligation to go vegan if one thought that killing marine mammals was morally wrong. We found one essay by Watson where he said:

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is one of the very few, if not the only marine conservation organizations in the world that actively promotes and practices veganism.

Why? Because we see the connections between animal husbandry and pollution in the ocean, diminishment of life in the seas, the destruction of the rainforests and climate change.

Veganism is real conservation in action. It goes beyond talking about climate change and diminishment of biodiversity and actually does something to address the problems.

But he made clear that veganism has nothing to do with any moral obligation that we owe other animals (apart from marine mammals):

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not a vegan or vegetarian organization however, nor are we an Animal Rights or an Animal Welfare organization. We are a marine wildlife and habitat conservation movement.

So why are all the meals on Sea Shepherd ships vegan?

The answer is because vegetarianism and especially veganism are powerful alternatives to eight billion human beings and their domestic animals eating the oceans alive.

Watson’s environmental arguments for veganism are terrific, but they do not in any way involve getting “compassionate” people to see that there is no difference between killing a whale and eating a chicken. Indeed, Watson rejects that position.

Do Chickens Matter as Much as Whales?

Watson claims that:

Social revolutions do not happen overnight. I have watched the vegan movement grow from something no one had ever heard of to the dynamic and ever growing movement it is today. The growth in awareness has been incredible. What we don’t want to do is isolate or discourage potential advocates of veganism.

We have been involved in this movement for about the same period of time that Watson has. We like Watson; we just disagree with him.

We could not disagree more that the vegan movement is doing well, as he seems to think. On the contrary, the vegan movement has been hijacked by the “happy exploitation” movement that is now ubiquitous. Peter Singer, the so-called “father” of the animal movement, declares himself to be a “flexible vegan” and all of the large groups reject veganism as a moral baseline and promote it only as a way to reduce suffering — along with cage-free eggs, crate-free pork and the Whole Foods Animal Welfare Rating program. Abolitionists are trying to create a vegan movement of people who see veganism as a principle of fundamental justice.

Watson seems to think that we cannot make the abolitionist argument because “there are lots of stupid people out there” who just don’t see the connections and who must be “nurtured.” Putting aside that Watson’s characterization of everyone as idiots is curious given that he claims that vegans are “elitists” who look down on others, abolitionists believe that people are not stupid and that most, or at least a great many, care about nonhuman animals. People also know that animal products do not grow on trees and that animals suffer and die in order to end up on our plates. They may not know the particulars of what happens in raising and killing animals and that’s the point — the particulars are irrelevant. Going vegan should not depend on whether there are “abuses” at the slaughterhouse or on the factory farm. Going vegan should depend on a simple fact: that animals die so that we can eat and wear them. Just as those objecting to the killing of Cecil or to the killing of marine mammals would not stop objecting even if the killing process were made more “humane,” the morality of eating or wearing animals does not rest on how the animals are treated but only on that the animals are used in the first place.

We have an obligation to make clear that single-issue campaigns miss the point by perpetuating the fantasy that there is a difference between a whale and a cow, or between fur and wool. And it’s not a matter of “elitism.” Indeed, there is nothing more elitist than the idea that it is acceptable for us to exploit vulnerable nonhumans — and that is exactly what single-issue campaigns perpetuate.

So whenever we see stories in the news involving Cecil or any similar situation that elicits an outcry, we ought to use that story as an opportunity to engage in creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy and make clear that there is absolutely no difference between what those of us who are nonvegans do and what the people who have engaged in behavior to which we object do.

We wholeheartedly agree that a person who looks at an animal like Cecil and wants to kill him — indeed, pays a great deal of money to have the experience — seems to have disturbing psychological problems. Yet, as we all know, the animals who were killed for food or clothing were once living beings, no less important morally than Cecil, with their own interests, families, and biographies. Why does the act of ordering a hamburger or eating an ice cream cone, make us any less petty, oppressive, unjust, or cruel? If we do not squarely confront our relentless, ubiquitous, pervasive use of animals for palate pleasure or fashion, nothing will ever change.

So, we have no more excuse, no more justification for our actions than did Walter Palmer, who killed Cecil. We are all Walter Palmer. We need to stop the carnage. We need to stop the injustice. We need to shift the paradigm from property to moral personhood and the only way that we can do that is by working tirelessly to bring about a vegan world. The stronger an abolitionist movement becomes, the more animal exploitation of all sorts will end. Vegans will not go to zoos or sea parks; vegans will not go to the circus or rodeo; they will oppose the slaughter of any marine mammal, other aquatic animal, or land animal; they won’t wear any animals. Cut off the exploitation at the root and we won’t need countless single-issue campaigns, which, some 40 years into the modern animal “movement,” have had no impact.

Watson observes:

The reality is that most vegans were once not vegan. Many vegans started with feelings of compassion for their pets, or for animals they liked. These seeds of compassion, if nurtured by thoughtful education, can be inspired and motivated through positive encouragement.

This is the same old tired nonsense that we get from all of the animal welfare groups: “We’re all on the ‘journey’ and and as long as we are ‘compassionate,’ it’s all fine and no one should say otherwise or they’re just ‘purist’ or ‘elitist.'”

All of the large groups take this position. And it is explicitly speciesist. In order to see this clearly and easily, imagine the following: John was raised in a racist community. For the first 20 years of his life, John uttered racist epithets to every person of color he saw and he considered them to be inferior to whites. And then, one day, John, for whatever reason, saw that racism was wrong. John now wants to work for social justice and equality. Should John adopt the position that because he took 20 years to stop being racist, rejecting racism is a matter of being on a “journey” and that we cannot say that racism is morally wrong and must stop immediately? Of course not. John should take the position that we must educate people about racism but that we must be crystal clear that racism is morally wrong and must stop.

The fact that it may have taken someone a while to see that something is morally odious does not mean that we should not be unambiguously clear that it is morally odious and must stop. We don’t respond to racism with a campaign for “Racist-joke-free Monday.” We respond with a demand for justice.

Abolitionists are not criticizing individuals who are grappling with a new understanding of animal ethics. Where there are instances of personal clashes, that is unfortunate. What we are talking about, and planning for, is a redirecton of the message put out by the large organizations that dominate the arena — those groups that send out the countless solicitations for donation with the atrocity of the day and the appeal, “Help us stop [fill in the blank]. Send your donation for the animals!”

It is sad that Watson thinks that it’s fine — indeed, obligatory — to spend millions equipping, staffing, and operating ships to save a whale but that a sense of urgency and efforts to make clear that there is no moral difference between the whale Watson saves and the many billions of animals that supposedly “compassionate” people consume represent “purism” or “elitist.” Action, including ramming other ships, is fine where whales are concerned. But insisting on veganism as a moral imperative is not.

So, in the end, the question becomes: Does the chicken whose corpse is sold for $1.99 per pound matter as much morally as the whale Watson seeks to save?

We think she does.


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.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

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

Anna Charlton
Adjunct Professor of Law, Rutgers University

©2015 Gary L. Francione & Anna Charlton