Veganism as a Moral Imperative

Principle Three of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights is that veganism is a moral imperative:


Abolitionists agree with welfarists that animal exploitation is not going to disappear “overnight” and that we need to take incremental steps—what welfarists call “baby steps”—to get to the goal of abolition. But abolitionists reject welfare reform campaigns and single-issue campaigns (SICs) as incremental steps because they are inconsistent with the idea that nonhuman animals are morally significant and have the right not to be used as resources for humans. Additionally, as a practical matter, these tactics do not work and, by their very nature, cannot lead to abolition.

Despite claims by welfarists that abolitionists have no practical plan for change, abolitionists have a very clear program for incremental change on both the individual and social levels: veganism and creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy and education. Veganism means not eating, wearing, or otherwise using animals to the extent practicable.

We should state at the outset that no one maintains that it’s medically necessary to eat animal foods. Mainstream professional organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the British Dietetic Association, the British Nutritional Foundation, Dietician’s Association of Australia, Dieticians of Canada, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation; research and teaching institutions, including the Mayo Clinic, UCLA Health Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; governmental agencies, such as the British National Health Service, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and even large managed care organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, all acknowledge that a sound vegan diet is perfectly adequate for human health and some of these groups claim that vegan diets may have significant health benefits over diets containing animal products.

It is also the case that there is little, if any, serious disagreement that animal agriculture is resulting in an ecological disaster. Animal agriculture results in the destruction of grasslands and top soil, deforestation, water depletion and pollution, and on all accounts, is a significant contributor to global warming with Worldwatch Institute estimating that at least 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gases are attributable to animal agriculture.

In any event, let us focus on veganism as a moral principle.

The word “vegan” was coined by Donald Watson in 1944, coinciding with his founding The Vegan Society in Great Britain. Watson was opposed to animal exploitation and, in the first issue of the Society’s newsletter, The Vegan News, he wrote, “We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies.”

He maintained that abstaining from meat was not enough, “The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the ‘full journey.’” Watson also rejected eating eggs. “Vegan” comes from the beginning and ending letters of the word “vegetarian,” as Watson thought that veganism was the logical place from which vegetarianism stemmed, as well as the point where vegetarianism would ultimately lead. He avoided wearing leather, wool, or silk; and used a fork, rather than a spade, in his gardening to avoid killing worms. Watson was opposed to hunting, fishing, blood sports, and the use of animals in experiments or for testing purposes.

Watson touted (and exemplified) the health benefits of a vegan diet but he clearly saw veganism primarily as a moral principle. He regarded the vegan movement as “the greatest movement that ever was” because it provided a solution to the crisis of greed and violence that affected and afflicted humankind and that threatened ecological disaster. Although he was not religious in a traditional sense, he had deeply held spiritual beliefs, which included the idea that being a nonvegan violated natural law and that, as a general matter, our violence against nonhuman animals was a violation of spiritual laws that resulted in our psychological unhappiness and physical ill-health.

The Abolitionist Approach embraces and develops Watson’s position and sees veganism as representing a fundamental moral principle. The Abolitionist Approach maintains that veganism and creative, nonviolent vegan education are the most important forms of activism and advocacy in which we can engage. Indeed, it is only through vegan education that we will shift the paradigm away from animals as property and toward animals as persons.

[Note: We do not in any way support The Vegan Society as we believe it does not promote veganism as a moral baseline and that it is abandoned Watson’s vision. See this essay and other essays about The Vegan Society on this site.]

The Abolitionist Approach regards veganism as a moral imperative. By this we mean that if animals matter morally, we are morally obligated to stop eating, wearing, and using them. That is, going vegan is not just an option for someone who agrees that animals matter morally; it is a fundamental moral obligation. Abolitionists do not see veganism as a matter of “compassion,” “mercy,” or anything other than as what is necessary to discharge their moral obligations to animals. Similarly, although some people may adopt a vegan diet for health reasons, or out of concern for the environment, an abolitionist vegan sees veganism first and foremost as a matter of moral obligation. It is what they owe to animals. An abolitionist vegan may have health or environmental concerns as well, but the primary motivating force for the abolitionist vegan is morality.

The Abolitionist Approach is clear: if one is not a vegan, one is participating actively in animal exploitation. Since abolitionists reject all animal exploitation, even supposedly “humane” exploitation, abolitionists have no choice but to be principled and consistent vegans.

Abolitionists see veganism as a rejection of the status of nonhuman animals as commodities. Humans exploit animals because they are viewed as things. They are property without moral value. Abolitionists reject the property status of nonhuman animals and refuse to participate in their institutionalized commodification. Abolitionists recognize that every time humans eat, wear, or use an animal product, they are reaffirming the insidious system that treats nonhuman animals exclusively as resources for humans.

Abolitionists see veganism as representing a fundamental principle of justice: it is simply unfair to treat nonhumans as replaceable resources, and to deny them the one right that we accord all humans irrespective of particular characteristics.

Abolitionists see veganism as an act of nonviolent defiance, as a refusal to participate in the oppression of the innocent and the vulnerable, and as a rejection of the insidious idea that harming other sentient beings should be considered as a “normal” part of life.

Abolitionists see veganism as applying the principle of abolition to one’s life. Animal advocates who claim to favor animal rights and to want to abolish animal exploitation but who continue to eat or use animal products are no different from those who claimed to be in favor of human rights and the abolition of slavery but who continued to own slaves.

Abolitionists see veganism as a necessary element of a nonviolent life. That is, if someone embraces nonviolence, they have an obligation to be vegan. They must also embrace nonviolence in other ways: veganism is not sufficient but it certainly is necessary.

From the foregoing, it should be clear that, as far as abolitionists are concerned, veganism applies not just to diet but to wearing or using animals. In other words, a vegan is one who does not eat, wear, or use animals in their life to the extent practicable. It is impossible to avoid all animal products. Given that we kill billions of animals every year, animal by-products are available cheaply and are included in many things, such as road surfaces, plastics, and in glues used to make shoes. But when we do have a choice—and that is just about always, unless we are on a desert island or shipwrecked—we are morally obligated not to eat, wear, or use animals. We also believe that veganism means not participating in or patronizing activities that involve animal exploitation, such as circuses, zoos, rodeos, or horse racing.

We do not believe, however, that veganism is synonymous with “everything morally good.” Although we talk about the rejection of human discrimination and it is an element of the Abolitionist Approach (see our discussion of Principle Five), we think it unhelpful to say, for example, that a person who is sexist is not a vegan. A person who is sexist is not an abolitionist as we use that term. But a sexist can be a sexist vegan. There is a tendency on the part of some vegans to use the term so broadly that it becomes shorthand for all the elements of that person’s view of ideal morality. That simply causes confusion.

Vegetarianism as a “Gateway”?

Although, as a moral matter, Watson rejected the consumption of all animal products, he thought that, as a psychological and sociological matter, it was necessary for people to pass through a period of vegetarianism first before they became vegan. He saw vegetarianism as a sort of “gateway” because he saw veganism as representing the conclusion of an evolutionary process that started with vegetarianism. Watson did not object to vegans promoting vegetarianism precisely because he viewed it as an essential part of this evolutionary process.

Abolitionists reject this notion and maintain that we should be clear that vegetarianism involves animal exploitation and must be rejected. There is no morally coherent distinction between flesh and other animal products. Promoting vegetarianism as part of an “evolution” supposedly culminating in veganism is equivalent to saying that we ought to promote consuming some animal products as a way of eliminating the consumption of all animal products. In this sense, the “gateway” argument concerning vegetarianism is exactly the same as the argument for welfare reform: that we should promote “humane” exploitation as a way of supposedly achieving no exploitation. Abolitionists reject the “gateway” argument in both contexts.

If humans and nonhumans are all equal in holding a right not to be used as property, then just as any sort of human slavery is a violation of that right, so is any sort of animal exploitation a violation of it. Abolitionists do not promote vegetarianism because there is no morally coherent distinction between flesh and other animal products. There is no coherent distinction between meat and dairy or eggs. Animals exploited in the dairy and egg industries live longer, are treated worse, and end up in the same slaughterhouse as their counterparts killed for meat. To not eat beef but still drink milk makes as little sense as eating flesh from large cows but not from small cows. Moreover, there is also no morally relevant distinction between a cow and a fish for purposes of treating either as a human resource. We may more easily recognize the pain or suffering of a cow because, like us, she is a mammal. But that is not a reason to ignore the suffering and death of the many billions of sentient fish and other sea animals whom we kill annually.

Abolitionists do not promote campaigns like Meatless Monday, which, among other things, reinforce the idea that there is something morally worse in eating flesh than in eating dairy or eggs. All animal products involve suffering; they all involve death; they all involve injustice. Veganism is a moral imperative; it is what we ought to do and we ought not to do anything less.

An excerpt from Gary L. Francione & Anna Charlton, The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights (Exempla 2015), pp. 70-75 (footnotes omitted).

©2016 Gary L. Francione & Anna Charlton. All rights reserved.


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, Rutgers University

©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

“Silencing” Fellow Advocates

Casey Taft, who co-owns Vegan Publishers with his spouse, has written an essay in which he attacks a “well-known advocate” for “silencing fellow advocates.” He is well aware that the essay is being interpreted to refer to me and that is precisely what he intended.

I have several responses:

First, Taft claims that I “silenced” advocates in connection with their inclusion in his book, Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective. He states:

I sent out a manuscript draft to a well-known advocate for feedback. This individual told me that if I didn’t remove references to certain pro-intersectional activists, all of whom were women and/or people of color (and therefore already struggle to have their voices heard), he would withhold support for the book.

If there was any “silencing” of “women and/or people of color ([who]…therefore already struggle to have their voices heard),” it was Taft who did the silencing. He had total control over the content of his book. He is the author. He is the publisher. He chose to make whatever edits he made.

Taft sent me his manuscript (which I still possess) and asked me to review it. In a telephone call, I pointed out that several of the people he used as references promoted speciesist positions and rejected veganism as a moral imperative or had dishonestly and irresponsibly characterized the Abolitionist Approach as racist or sexist, or both. Taft seemed largely unaware of the problem. I discussed it with him.

Taft and I had a subsequent email exchange in which Taft explicitly recognized in writing that several of these people did have problematic positions. For example, in response to my concerns that these people promoted speciesist positions, he admitted that he cited the book of one of these “intersectionalists,” a woman of color, before he read the book fully. He stated in writing that, after reading her book, he recognized the speciesiesm problem. When Taft’s book was published, the reference was removed.

With respect to another “intersectionalist,” also a woman of color, I pointed out where she had mocked the idea of veganism as a moral baseline. Taft admitted in writing that her statement was problematic and he removed a reference to her and to her organization from his book. Taft later told me that Vegan Publishers was no longer publishing this person’s book (she had apparently been under contract with Taft).

With respect to yet another “intersectionalist,” a man of color, I provided Taft with considerable evidence that this person advocated a speciesist position. Taft claimed that this person was not the same as some of the other “intersectionalists” that he acknowledged advocated speciesist positions. (I disagreed and offered support for my view; Taft did not.) Taft nevertheless removed this person entirely from the text of the book (he was discussed over several paragraphs) and left him as a single citation.

Taft retained citations to two white women whom I had identified as promoting problematic positions. With respect to one of those women, Taft stated in writing (several times) that he recognized that her position was problematic and that she was responsible for “drama.” Indeed, he grouped her with one of the women of color whose reference he had removed because of the substantive problems with her position.

In any event, given that he and his spouse are the publishers of his book, there’s an easy solution to the problem of the people he “silenced” by removing from the book: reprint the book, which Taft could do because he’s the publisher, and replace those references. He could replace them in the Kindle version immediately. He could even add more about them. Problem solved. Whining stopped.

Taft now characterizes his actions as responding to a “threat” from me and claims that my concerns had “nothing to do with the actual book content” (Taft’s emphasis). He is claiming that I wanted those references removed for personal reasons. Taft has repeated his remarkable claim that my concerns about the inclusion of these people in his book did not involve theoretical differences:

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“[S]worn enemies”? Oh, the drama.

Taft’s claim is contradicted explicitly and repeatedly by the email exchange between us, which focused very much on the philosophical differences of the people we were discussing. There was nothing of a personal nature (i.e., concerns that did not address some aspect of substance) discussed. All our discussions focused on speciesism, claims that my work was racist or sexist, or both.

It is also contradicted by my writing on the topic of so-called “intersectionality.” See my essays here: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6.

But let’s for a moment ignore the facts of what happened. For the sake of argument, let’s look at the situation as if we were to accept Taft’s false statement that I just wanted those people removed for some “personal feelings rather than philosophical disputes” and that I “threatened” him with my not supporting his book in order to vindicate those “personal feelings.”

Does that help Taft? No. On the contrary, it makes matters worse for him.

If Taft made the edits he made not because I had made substantive arguments that convinced him, but only because he wanted to indulge my “personal feelings,” and to thereby get me to promote his book, then he silenced those women and people of color only so that he could sell more books. If that is what he did, then he should be ashamed of himself.

So if Taft thinks that my recommending that he remove references amounted to “abuse” of the people who would have been referenced, then he—as the person who had complete control of his book and who chose to remove them—is the party responsible for that “abuse.”

I should add that at no time during those exchanges did Taft say a single word about my supposedly “silencing” or “abusing” anyone. On the contrary, he engaged my comments and he deleted certain references from his book. Indeed, in March, after the book was published, he thanked me for my comments. He even stated, in writing, that he found “irrational” the claims of people who had “personal” issues with me and who, as a result, rejected my work, which he claimed, all advocates should read. Taft’s accusations of “silencing” and “abuse” are not only baseless and absurd; they were made in manifest bad faith.

In the interests of not embarrassing Taft and the people that he and I discussed, I will not quote the email exchange we had.

Second, Taft claims that I “caus[ed] others to lose their jobs on the basis of personal grudges.” That statement is false and Taft made that statement knowing that it was false or acting in reckless disregard of the truth. I do not employ anyone and I have no ability to “caus[e] others to lose their jobs.”

Third, Taft claims that I have “silenced” and “abus[ed]” people by “having speakers removed from conferences.”

Taft’s position is absurd.

If I am invited to speak at a conference, and I respond to the invitation by saying that I refuse to participate in an event with people who promote animal exploitation, or who engage in other behavior that I find to be fundamentally morally wrong, and the organizer of the event chooses to have me there, I am not “silencing” or “abusing” anyone. I am exercising my right to choose the activities in which I participate and the organizer is making a choice as to whom they wish to have at their event.

There are a number of welfarists who refuse to participate in an event if I am also speaking. It has never occurred to me to claim that I was being “abused” or “silenced” by virtue of their exercise of their choice. I was disinvited from speaking at VegfestUK. Taft knew I had been disinvited but he spoke there anyway. As far as I know, Taft did not raise any claim that I was “abused” or “silenced.”

Taft’s characterization of not being invited to a conference as analogous to physical abuse (which he does in an earlier essay that he also intended to refer to me) is an absolutely breathtaking insult to those who suffer domestic abuse and other forms of physical abuse.

And it is 2016. No one who wants to speak can be silenced anymore. Everyone has their websites, YouTube channels, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. To claim that not being invited to any particular event constitutes “silencing” is, as an empirical matter, not only false, it is absurd.

As a general matter, in addition to Taft’s co-opting the narratives of domestic abuse, I am concerned that Taft is misusing his status as an expert in trauma and abuse to retaliate against people who have different substantive views from his own, or to protect his company, Vegan Publishers, or both. Taft is unable or unwilling to deal with substantive arguments. So he’s just going to attempt to win those arguments by declaring his opponents to be “abusers” or to have various problematic psychological characteristics.

In addition to declaring those who disagree with him to be “abusers,” Taft appears to be willing to discuss the psychological status of other advocates. For example, Taft made statements to me on the phone (and I have very good notes) about another animal advocate whom he said had made certain accusations against him. He stated that this person was a victim of PTSD and suffered from all sorts of anxieties and insecurities in connection with her academic career.

If Taft had assembled his psychological profile of this person based on direct contact with her, then his comments to me were at least ethically questionable as I would have thought he would have some duty of confidentiality. If not, and he was just “guessing” about her based on her behavior, then he perhaps should be writing psychological profiles for fortune cookies or tabloid astrological columns.

In any event, Taft needs to stop misusing his position and attempting to psychologize substantive disagreement on matters of animal ethics. That is dishonest and dangerous.

Fourth, Taft admonishes us “to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of conduct if we want to help teach others to behave ethically with respect to nonhuman and human animals.”

I could not agree more.

That is precisely why I object when I am called names in response to my substantive criticisms of the so-called “intersectionalist” position as speciesist.

For example, a Staff Writer for Vegan Publishers who identifies as an “intersectionalist,” has publicly accused me of racism and sexism because I object to the overt speciesism of this person and certain others who claim to be “intersectionalist.” In addition, he has called me more colorful names, such as “asshole” (actually, he called me an “ASSHOLE” in all caps in a Facebook comment) and “a complete piece of shit” on a public YouTube video. He participated in a Facebook page that Facebook agreed constituted harassment. Facebook removed the entire page, which is a very unusual action for Facebook to take. That page attacked me and members of my family, including posting pictures of my home and menacing comments suggesting actual physical violence. Taft’s Staff Writer even “liked” a suggestion that the harassing page be revived.

Taft has given his unqualified support to his Staff Writer.

Taft himself regularly participates on Facebook pages and groups in which I am attacked in ad hominem ways.

Taft pontificating to anyone about their need to observe “the highest possible standards of conduct” is, I fear, hypocritical in an extreme way.


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 must be a moral imperative. Veganism is not a matter of the “who you are space” and insisting on veganism as a moral imperative is not “divisive,” “fundamentalist,” “racist,” “sexist,” “ableist,” or a matter of any “journey.”

If animals matter morally, veganism is a simple matter of justice.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

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

©2016 Gary L. Francione

ADDENDUM (May 15, 2016)

I posted this essay on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook Page. A victim of domestic abuse posted this comment, which deals with the trivialization of violence:

Dear Professor Francione,

I understand that you have requested that there be no comments on this thread, but I was very distressed by a recent post of Dr Taft’s that talked about interpersonal disagreements in the context of domestic abuse, and he has not responded to me.

This is what I wrote in the comments section on his blog post. He hasn’t responded to me, and it is a month on. I thought I was being civil, and I really thought my comment warranted a response:

“As a survivor of domestic violence, I am very worried and hurt by what I feel to be a rather reductive view of psychological abuse, especially given the author’s training and expertise. Your list of sources cited places this discussion firmly within the context of domestic violence, and I therefore feel the need to speak out. I am writing anonymously because my abuser still has such a hold over me that even years later I still fear my own shadow, and am working hard to try to recover from something that I have trouble acknowledging as not my fault.

Here’s the thing: psychological abuse in domestic relationships relies on a psychological bond between victim and abuser that is utterly unlike anything that we find in online spaces. The abuser works to make the victim feel that they are dependent on them for everything. The abuser undermines most of the victim’s independence from them: they often exert financial control, even when it is the victim who is earning the money; they often tell the victim how to dress; they may control not only where the victim goes and who they see, but also how they get there. This is a relationship of total control, where the abused is ground down so far that they feel thankful to the abuser for moments of “permitted” independence. This is not a series of isolated incidents that interfere with an otherwise pleasant day. This is in no way comparable to someone trying to persuade someone else to remove references to an author, or name-calling, or no-platforming. Domestic abuse permeates every single aspect of one’s life, and I can tell you that years after it ends you’re never free of it.

The DV relationship is markedly complex, and it involves periods of pleasantness (that experts in domestic abuse refer to as “honeymoon periods”) followed by periods of isolation, denigration and demeaning. This is cyclical, and it repeats itself endlessly. The periods of pleasantness build the victim up and create trust in the abuser, and the rapidly-following and unexpected periods of isolation, denigration and demeaning cause the victim to believe that it is they who caused the episode of unpleasantness, and that they therefore deserve whatever comes of it: beatings, locking up, prolonged silent treatment, insults, etc. Again, this is in no way comparable to an online situation where we do not experience the intimacy, level of control, dependency, or cycles of good and bad that define the abusive relationship of DV. When you are in a situation of domestic abuse, you cannot escape your abuser. They are everywhere you turn. And even when they’re gone from your life, if you’re lucky enough to get away from then, they’re everywhere you turn.

Is unfriending of a relative stranger on Facebook psychological abuse? Is factionalism psychological abuse? Is removing someone from a food group because they won’t adhere to the rules of the group psychological abuse? Is deciding that someone can’t speak at a conference because it’s a conference on nineteenth-century German railroads and they want to speak on quantum physics psychological abuse? Is telling someone directly or indirectly that you can’t trust them, and therefore won’t associate with them, psychological abuse because they’re buddying up to someone who is intent on defaming you or trashing you?

None of these things, nor the things listed by Taft are instances of psychological abuse. At worst, they could be described as unpleasantness . But that is not abuse. And that doesn’t even come close to what the victim of domestic violence will have experienced every day for many years: that sense of self-doubt that permeates every moment of their lives, the sense of internalised resentment they feel towards themselves, their gratitude to the abuser for showing them kindness from time to time.

And I am extremely angry, hurt, and disappointed that someone who works with those involved in domestic abuse situations would dare to co-opt something so deeply traumatic and so difficult to recover from in order to create a “gotcha.””

Someone responded that they didn’t have a problem with the term. I replied with this:

“I appreciate that you have no problem with the author’s use of the term, and I’m glad for that. I do have a problem with it, however, and writing the comment that I wrote left me in great distress; it brought things back to me that I am trying to keep buried because I’m not ready to deal with them yet. But I had to write what I wrote because I know that it’s easy for people who have not been where we were, and, speaking for myself where I still am, to recount our narratives and to try to see the world through the lens of intimate partner violence without understanding what the world is like for us on an experiential level. If I make assumptions about Dr Taft personal life, then I apologise, but often when I see these casual references to domestic abuse it is not from someone who still jumps when they hear certain sounds or smell certain smells; it’s not from someone who dreads a ring at the doorbell, or who can’t visit certain places in case they run into the person who abused them.

That’s why I urge people who don’t have first-hand knowledge of domestic abuse as the abused to please step back; not to reduce what we have gone through by trying to adapt other narratives into our deeply traumatic, inescapable, ever-lingering experience.

I have had deeply unpleasant experiences online. I have been the target of online shaming campaigns and have watched with baited breath to see if a particular person was going to post something else about me. I have experienced the discomfort when they do. I write what I write not to trivialise anyone’s experience.

What I am asking, however, is that these situations not be conflated. They are in no way analogous, and it is damaging to survivors of domestic abuse to suggest they are.”

I don’t even know why I’m posting this here. I just wanted someone to hear my story and to acknowledge my perspective. Thank you in advance for reading this, and apologies for commenting on a thread when you asked us people not to.

Guest Essay: This is Why New Welfarists Should Stop Equivocating on Moral Principles Concerning Animals: A Response to Mercy For Animals

Mercy for Animals has posted a rather breathtaking essay entitled, This Is Why Vegans Should Stop Being Mean to Vegetarians, in which MFA characterizes as “mean” those who promote veganism as a moral baseline or imperative. Here is a response from Dr. Frances McCormack, who is also one-half of the Grumpy Old Vegans. In order to get the full impact of this essay, you should brace yourself and read the MFA essay first.

This is Why New Welfarists Should Stop Equivocating on Moral Principles Concerning Animals: A Response to Mercy For Animals

Dr. Frances McCormack

We Abolitionists are very thankful for all the engagement we get from followers on our social media. And our followers are an eclectic bunch: vegans, nonvegans and…well, any other distinctions are ludicrous.

While positive feedback and conversation on social media is essential to raising awareness and bringing about change, there’s a trend we’d like to address that we feel is very unfortunate: New Welfarists equivocating or being downright disingenuous when dealing with vegetarians.

First of all, really? I mean, really? We don’t condone being nasty to anyone (and framing vegan advocacy in that way is an utter misrepresentation), but why on earth would we not make the point that there’s no distinction between meat and other animal products to people who already care enough to eliminate one form of animal use from their lives?

Currently 99 percent of Americans still use animals. Yeah, you read that right. That means that vegans are a very small (but thankfully steadily growing) segment of the population. Instead of watering down the moral message, we should be supportive, kind, and helpful by encouraging more people to be vegan.

Yes, of course all animal use is sickening. Yes, of course we should raise awareness about it for people who may not know. And claims that we are attacking those who are most likely already open to that information is just ridiculous. Instead of telling people they’re doing enough by reducing consumption or being vegetarian, how about giving them the information on why and how to be vegan?

And one more thing: We should always remember who we were before we went vegan. Most of us grew up eating meat. For a majority of us, going vegan was a gradual process. But if we’d received a clear moral message, we’d have been vegan sooner, and there’s not one of us who wouldn’t wish that that had happened. Today’s Meatless Monday enthusiast could very well be tomorrow’s vegan activist, so talk to that person about veganism, rather than encouraging them to stick with the baby-step nonsense about which the animal orgs have got them to feel good. People will transition how they will, but as vegans we ought not promote anything less than the principles that we claim to embrace in our own lives.

OK, we’ve said our piece. 🙂

However you like to categorise your nonveganism—meat reducer, vegetarian, or anything else—please be vegan. All animal use is morally wrong. And remember, if you want to stand up, stand up. There’s no point doing what MFA asks: to take a stand every time you sit down to eat. All that up-and-down and you might hit yourself in the bellybutton with your fork.

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Incremental Reform in the Human Context Is Not Analogous to Welfare Reform and Single-Issue Campaigns in the Nonhuman Context

A question we received:

If we think that the prison-industrial complex is wrong and we want to abolish it, we would all think it would be okay to work at the same time for single issue campaigns to improve the lives of the prisoners who are presently stuck in the system, right? So why isn’t it okay in the animal context?

To begin with, this person is confused about basic terminology. The example she is using involves what would be characterized as welfare reform measures in the nonhuman context, not single-issue campaigns. That is, she thinks that her prison campaign is similar to saying that we want to abolish animal exploitation eventually but we want larger cages in the meantime. That is the classic new welfarist position. In any event, here’s an excerpt from Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach which shows that the welfarist claim that in human contexts, we do promote measures that are analogous to animal welfare reform measures and single-issue campaigns is just wrong:

In response to the abolitionist position that it is speciesist to promote more “humane” animal exploitation when we would not support “humane” slavery, “humane” rape, or “humane” violations of other fundamental human rights, welfarists claim that we do support more “humane” violations of fundamental human rights.

The usual example they give is that of Amnesty International. Amnesty International opposes imprisonment for political reasons and they work to get those political prisoners released. But if they cannot get the prisoners released, they will oppose any torture of those prisoners. Welfarists liken their efforts to those of Amnesty International, claiming that they can’t get the animals out of the oppressive conditions but they can fight to stop the torture.

The analogy fails in several ways.

All animal exploitation involves subjecting animals to treatment which would, were humans involved, constitute torture. That is, the entire process of raising animals for food, for instance, involves suffering, fear, and distress from the moment of birth to the moment of death. The welfarists arbitrarily pick practices that are already “low-hanging fruit” because they are economically inefficient and they fail to recognize that the entire process of animal exploitation involves torture. Welfarists are not analogous to Amnesty International, which objects to imprisonment on political grounds and, if release cannot be secured, demands that prisoners not be tortured. Welfarists are working with industry to reform torture; Amnesty International does not do that. When welfarists promote an “enriched” cage or a “cage-free” barn for laying hens, they are not demanding that torture end; they are, instead, promoting alternatives that also result in the torture of the birds. The idea that an “enriched” cage or a “cage-free” barn does not involve torture could only be advanced by someone who knew nothing about these alternatives to conventional battery cages. What animal welfarists do would be analogous to Amnesty International promoting the position that when prisoners receive electrical shocks, the shocks should be administered for no longer than three hours without a one minute break. And Amnesty International does not support such positions because torture involves violating a fundamental human right and should not occur at all.

Moreover, as we saw above, welfare campaigns necessarily promote animal exploitation because they portray the reformed situation as “compassionate” or otherwise describe it in positive normative terms, which is the only way that coalitions can be formed around these reform campaigns. Although this is true of all welfarist campaigns, it is particularly true of the modern welfarist approach where animal groups have entered into explicit partnerships with institutional exploiters and publicly express their “appreciation and support” for supposedly “humane” reforms upon which they put a stamp of approval and give awards and accolades to institutional exploiters. Amnesty International does not give awards to dictators who promise to whip their political prisoners nine times a week rather than ten.

Welfarists also claim that Amnesty International opposes the death penalty but proposes more “humane” methods of execution. That is simply false. Amnesty condemns the death penalty irrespective of method.

Another example relied on by welfarists is civil rights reforms. They argue that animal welfare reforms are similar to civil rights reforms and that, since we supported the latter, we ought to support the former. But, again, the analogy does not hold. Civil rights reforms occur in the context where we are talking about those who are regarded as persons and not things, as are slaves, torture victims, rape victims, or other humans whose fundamental rights are being violated. The question presented by a civil rights reform campaign is whether the reform is necessary to assure equal treatment of equal interests in order to resolve competing claims of persons. To say that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a U.S. law that outlawed racial segregation in theaters, restaurants, and hotels and rejected the claims of property owners that they were free to exclude whom they wished from their property) is analogous to a reform of slavery that prohibits a slave owner from beating his slaves more than ten times a week or a reform that requires a one-minute break in the torture sessions of political prisoners, is absurd. We could not reform our way out of slavery. The institution of slavery had to be abolished before civil rights initiatives could provide greater equality to people who were no longer considered to be property.

Welfarists also note that we pursue SICs in the human context. For example, we may have a campaign that targets genocide in Somalia but does not address genocide in Burundi or any other country. Welfarists claim that if SICs are problematic in the animal context and that if animal advocates should not pursue them, then it follows that SICs are similarly problematic in the human context and human rights advocates ought not to pursue them either.

Once again, welfarists do not recognize that there are important differences that make SICs in the human context relevantly different. When we oppose genocide in Somalia, we are not making any statement that genocide in Burundi or in other places is in any way more morally acceptable, or that the genocide in Burundi is the sort of genocide that Somalia ought to adopt. Our starting position is that genocide as an activity is morally wrong. So a campaign against genocide in one country cannot be understood as giving a green light to genocide in another country. But in the animal context, the starting point is that animal exploitation is morally acceptable (at least as long as it is “humane”), so a campaign against foie gras can only be understood as maintaining that foie gras is morally worse than other animal foods, which, by implication, are morally acceptable. A campaign against fur can only be understood as giving a green light to wool or leather.

A campaign against genocide in Somalia does not require the participation of people who support genocide in another country. On the contrary. Those opposing genocide in Somalia are not likely to want to include in their coalition anyone who supports genocide anywhere. SICs that involve animal uses or products require the participation of those who actively support and participate in relevantly indistinguishable forms of animal exploitation.

Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, at pages 50-52. © 2015 Gary L. Francione & Anna Charlton

There is another essay on this topic here.


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, Rutgers University

©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

The Animals Need YOU!

Shifting the paradigm from animals as property to animals as nonhuman persons with inherent value requires a grassroots movement of people who are educated educators–people who understand the arguments in favor of veganism and can discuss them calmly and in plain language with the other people that they interact with in their day-to-day lives. We need people who can explain to others why “happy” exploitation, reducetarianism, and other speciesist approaches are not the solution and, indeed, are part of the problem.

There are all sorts of ways to do creative, nonviolent grassroots advocacy. But, in the end, the most important component of a grassroots movement for animals is the individual–YOU!–communicating with other individuals.

If each of us convinced one other person in the next year to go vegan and that was repeated over a period of years, we’d have a vegan U.S. in about 12 years and a vegan U.K. in about 9 years.

Each of us can be an effective agent of change. It does not cost anything to educate ourselves. Indeed, one of the primary purposes of this website and of our Facebook page is to provide you with free educational resources.

The alternative is supporting the bloated animal charities that do nothing but sell out animal interests and make people feel better about exploiting animals in return for a donation.


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, Rutgers University

©2016 Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton

A Report from the “Intersectional Justice” Conference

I have written about those who identify themselves as “intersectionalists” but who embrace a very speciesist position. I have also written about a recent conference on “intersectional justice.” The following essay is from Dr. Mark Causey, Lecturer in Philosophy and Liberal Studies at Georgia College and State University. Dr. Causey attended the “intersectional justice” conference. I have never met Dr. Causey and I do not know him other than in connection with his reaching out to tell me about this conference. He wrote the following essay, which I am posting in its entirety exactly as he sent it to me. He made no changes in response to any observations I made.


I recently attended the Intersectional Justice Conference on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Based on the way the conference billed itself as dealing with the intersections of animal rights, human rights and justice issues, I naively assumed that it would deal with the intersections of animal rights, human rights, and justice issues. I soon learned the danger of making assumptions. The main focus of the conference seemed to be voicing the anger and rage that many of the speakers felt at their being marginalized within the animal rights (or “animal whites”) community. The Abolitionist Approach, which oddly enough doesn’t even consider itself part of the mainstream “animal rights” community in the first place, came in repeatedly for explicit and pointed criticism [well, criticism is not really the correct term because that would imply a substantive engagement with ideas which was not so much on offer here]. As far as I could gather there were at least 3 main complaints about the Abolitionist Approach:

1. Veganism as a moral baseline is too simplistic and assumes (white) privilege
2. Calling it “abolitionist” appropriates the lived history of the African-American experience and seems to assume that since legal slavery has ended that there are no lingering issues of systemic racism
3. Abolitionist veganism focuses too much on nonhumans!

I will attempt to address each of these in turn now.

1. Veganism as a moral baseline is too simplistic and assumes (white) privilege:

Indeed, it would seem from what I gathered that having any sort of universal or at least potentially universalizable moral principle, like veganism as a moral baseline, is a sign of patriarchal, white male privilege that takes its viewpoint as the universal and thus erases the perspectives of differently situated others [the truth of a proposition being determined more by who the speaker is than by what it is they say]. Telling someone to “go vegan” implies that they have money and access to vegan options. It is consumerist. The whole notion of “voting with our forks” implies buying power and privilege to vote. One speaker, I honestly don’t remember which one, was thanked, to much applause, for not asking us to all “go vegan.”

Now I certainly see the point that not everyone has equal access to fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables [not to mention all the analog vegan products that so many falsely assume necessary for a vegan diet] based on where they live and their socio-economic circumstances. I also know that statistically the majority of those so disadvantaged are people of color. I absolutely agree that this is a fundamental human justice (food justice) issue that must be addressed and that vegans should be at the forefront of such efforts. As we were reminded, and I fully agree, that unlike natural deserts, “food deserts” don’t just happen. They are constructed by systems of discrimination both racial and economic. Now that is an intersectional issue. Enabling disadvantaged peoples to be able to go vegan would save animals’ lives as well as the lives of these humans who also disproportionately suffer from diet related diseases. But as Gary Francione has repeatedly explained, the necessity for some to eat animal products in order to be adequately nourished doesn’t mean that it is just to consume animals, it only means it is justifiable given the circumstances—unjust circumstances we should be working hard to change! It is possible, as Ellen Jaffe Jones has demonstrated, to eat vegan on $4 a day (the amount of the average SNAP allotment). We even learned at the conference about some amazing work being done in inner-city Baltimore to introduce people to vegan diets, so why not ask people to go vegan and then help them do it rather than ridicule the very notion? Eating a vegan diet [and I by no means want to imply that veganism is only about diet] in these circumstances then becomes a powerful means of non-violent social protest against a food system that is admittedly rigged against these communities. Indeed, the conference seemed at times an odd combination of people with solutions and people with complaints with the two never seeming to connect.

As to the notion that having any sort of universal or at least potentially universalizable moral principle, like veganism as a moral baseline, is a sign of patriarchal, white male privilege that takes its viewpoint as the universal and thus erases the perspectives of differently situated others—this is simple moral relativism. Now here’s the thing: I am a philosopher who has actually published on Nietzsche, one of the chief proponents of what he called “perspectivalism” and a darling of the critical theory crowd. Nietzsche was one of the chief practitioners of what Paul Ricoeur called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” which sees power dynamics and hegemony behind all claims to “truth” and even “morality.” But what I see in this criticism of veganism as a moral baseline is a speciesist power play that maintains our human hegemony over nonhuman others. It is a claim that whenever human rights interests conflict with nonhuman animal rights interests, the human interests always win. Nietzsche to one side, the very notion that we shouldn’t have moral absolutes is counterproductive to any justice struggle. The very fact that these speakers are complaining about the very real injustices they have experienced as non-dominant group members demonstrates that they have a universalizable concept of justice—it’s just that they apply it unevenly across the species-divide. I do not doubt for a moment that they care about animal justice nor wish to suggest that they are in any way insincere. Many of them have been vegan longer than I have and have done far more justice work than I have or perhaps ever will do. I am only suggesting that speciesist attitudes have created inconsistencies in their own positions. If animals matter at all morally, that is if they are members of the moral community as we all agree that they are, then our treatment of them is just as much a justice matter as our treatment of each other. We should never be doing things to them that we would consider unjust when done to another human.

2. Calling it “abolitionist” appropriates the lived history of the African-American experience and seems to assume that since legal slavery has ended that there are no lingering issues of systemic racism:

I was told at the conference that the term “abolition” implies that slavery and the racist attitudes that made it possible are simply a thing of the past. Done and dusted. Time to move on to liberate someone else now. Such an attitude ignores the persistence of slavery (albeit not legalized slavery, like that of the Immokalee tomato pickers) and the systemic racism. Despite the Abolitionist Approach’s 5th principle which clearly rejects all forms of human discrimination, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and classism, I was told that it is not enough to just say it. A fair point. I was told that veganism is not like some badge to be earned but something you have to do every day. It is more like a verb than a noun. Amen. So what are we arguing about?

The thing is, and someone please correct me if I am wrong, I have never seen where Gary Francione [who was called out by name in the conference] has ever denied that racism, sexism, heterosexism….. still exist and are still active justice issues. He explicitly states that, “We cannot say that we reject species as a morally objectionable criterion to discount or devalue the interests of nonhumans but that we do not have a position on whether race, sex, or sexual orientation/preference are morally objectionable criteria when used to discount or devalue human interests. Our opposition to speciesism requires that we oppose all discrimination.” Comparing human slavery and abolition to animal slavery and abolition, I am told, is to try to compare suffering. African-Americans were “animalized” and denied their proper recognition as full human beings, so to then compare their suffering to animal suffering simply repeats this dehumanization. But the intent here is not to compare suffering. We can’t. The intent is to highlight the systems of domination operative in both cases [here we all can agree on blaming the white males who set up this system and still profit from it]. Indeed, I would argue that speciesism is the original form of domination. That is why every subjugated group in the past, women, people of color, members of nondominant religions, and so on have always been “animalized” in the minds and depictions of the oppressors. Our domination of animals back at the beginning of domestication led to the domination of other humans as well (especially the appropriation of female bodies and reproductive capabilities). All humans still profit in various ways (but not all equally) from our continued domination of the nonhumans. I suspect the real complaint here is related to number 3 below: that abolitionist vegans spend too much time focused on nonhuman animals rather than human ones.

3. Abolitionist veganism focuses too much on nonhumans!

I suspect that much of what is behind this complaint is the notion that until we have solved all the human problems, the animals will just have to wait. Needless to say, that is hardly an intersectional approach. The idea seems to be that human justice simply matters more. That is speciesist. In terms of sheer quantity of suffering [oops, I was told not to use this comparison!]—trillions a year—animal suffering is on a scale that simply defies comprehension. This is not to compare the quality of the suffering, it is just a fact that humans have never been bred , slaughtered, imprisoned, enslaved, etc., on anywhere near the scale that we are currently doing to nonhumans. What I expected to hear at the conference was how attacking our speciesist exploitation of nonhuman animals would be actually striking at the root of all forms of oppression. That is what I thought would be the intersectional message here. Instead, the message seemed to be more a complaint that animal activists weren’t more engaged in the various struggles for human justice. But that seems to reinforce the idea that these are separate struggles rather than truly intersectional ones and that the human issues are more important and pressing than the animal ones. It also ignores the important differences between the abolitionist approach and other “animal rights” groups that explicitly reject the vegan moral baseline.

Mark Causey, M. Div., Ph.D.
Philosophy and Liberal Studies
Georgia College & State University

Why Welfare Reform Campaigns and Single-Issue Campaigns Necessarily Promote Animal Exploitation

The purpose of welfare reform campaigns and single-issue campaigns (SICs) is to build coalitions that include those who believe that animal exploitation per se is morally acceptable and who just object to the target of the particular welfare reform campaign or SIC. Such campaigns must play to the lowest level of the spectrum or they will lose that part of the coalition.

And that is precisely the problem.

A welfare reform campaign that aims to phase out gestation crates for pigs seeks to build a coalition that includes people who eat animal products, including pork, but who agree that the gestation crate is not “humane.” A welfare reform campaign that aims to phase out the traditional battery cage for laying hens seeks to build a coalition that includes people who eat eggs from hens confined in an “enriched” cage or in one big cage known as a “cage-free” barn. An SIC that targets foie gras seeks to build a coalition that will include people who eat meat but who think that foie gras is morally distinguishable from other meat. An SIC that targets meat seeks to build a coalition that will include people who consume dairy and eggs. An SIC that targets fur seeks to build a coalition of people who wear wool, leather, or silk instead of fur.

Because welfare reform campaigns and SICs seek to build coalitions of people, many of whom engage in conduct that is indistinguishable from the target of the particular welfare reform campaign or SIC that they are supporting, these campaigns necessarily promote the animal exploitation that is not the target of that welfare campaign or that SIC. That is, the reform campaign must characterize the reform of the use or the products that are not the target of the SIC (but are morally indistinguishable from it), as more “humane” or “compassionate,” not just as a factual matter (it supposedly causes less suffering), but as a normative or moral matter. In other words, welfare reform campaigns and SICs communicate to the public that the supposedly reformed use or the non-targeted product is what people ought to support.

So a campaign against the gestation crate must promote non-crate pork as a normatively desirable choice—as what people ought to support and consume. If the campaign even suggested that all meat consumption or even all pork consumption was morally wrong, those who object to gestation crates but otherwise think meat or pork consumption is fine would not support or donate to the campaign.

To put this in simple terms: if Mary consumes meat but agrees that the gestation crate is cruel, she is going to donate to a campaign that she understands as saying that consuming animal products other than crated pork is morally better than consuming crated pork and that she is behaving more morally than people who consume crated pork. She is not going to support and donate to a campaign that says that what she is doing is no better morally than what those who consume crated pork are doing. As we can easily see, this situation results in promoting the idea that Mary’s animal exploitation is morally acceptable.

An SIC against foie gras must promote the idea that eating a piece of steak, chicken, or fish, or pâté from the liver of a goose that has not been force fed is what people ought to do. If the campaign even suggested that people should stop eating all animal products or even just all meat, those who think that force feeding geese is wrong but that eating animal products is otherwise fine would not support—or donate to—the campaign. An SIC against fur must promote the idea that people ought to wear wool or leather instead of fur. If the anti-fur campaign even suggested that it was also immoral to wear wool or leather, those who think that it is tragic that seal cubs are clubbed or foxes are caught in leg hold traps but who wear wool and leather would not support or donate to the campaign. A campaign against the gestation crate cannot be understood to be promoting the eating of no pork, no meat, or no animal products, or it would fail to create a coalition because those who eat pork or other animal products would not support it.

All of these regulatory campaigns must engage in the pretense that the targeted activity or product is morally distinguishable from the activities or products that are not the subject of the regulatory campaign and that the latter are morally desirable alternatives. If those who are continuing to participate in animal exploitation are not told that their exploitation makes them “compassionate” people, they will not support the regulatory campaign. People must be made to feel comfortable 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.

So, in effect, the coalitions for welfare reform and SICs all have one thing in common: they involve a broad spectrum of people who “care” about animals promoting exploitation that is supposedly more “humane,” or promoting animal products or uses that are not the target of the welfare reform campaign or SIC.

A particularly pernicious effect of coalitions is that they render the moral imperative of veganism, which we will explore in greater detail when we come to Principle Three, as meaningless. By bringing together nonvegans and vegans (that is, vegans who support welfare and SICs) in order to form a group of people with a common goal, a coalition creates the false notion among its members and among the public that there is no moral difference between someone who deliberately exploits animals by being nonvegan and someone who does not do so by being vegan. Coalitions portray the act of not eating, wearing, and using animals as irrelevant or negligible to doing justice to animals. This, in effect, prevents veganism from being viewed as a moral requirement.

Is it possible for these campaigns to not promote animal exploitation? No. The only way that these campaigns can build coalitions is by promoting animal exploitation. Could welfarists reformulate these campaigns and promote welfare reform with a campaign that explicitly said, “We are promoting larger cages for laying hens but we oppose all animal exploitation however ‘humane,’ and we regard veganism as a moral imperative yet are seeking larger cages for chickens as an interim measure while we move toward the abolition of all animal exploitation”? Could they promote a single-issue campaign that explicitly said, “We regard all animal ‘foods’ as equally unjust and violative of animal rights, and we regard veganism as a moral baseline but we are targeting foie gras now and, as soon as we prevail, we will move on to other animal foods”? Sure, those are campaigns that could be promoted. But the only people who would support—donate—to such campaigns would be those who embraced animal rights. Such campaigns would have a great deal more moral integrity but they would be completely ineffective from a fundraising point of view. And that is precisely why no animal advocacy group has ever promoted those campaigns.

Gary L. Francione
Anna Charlton

From: Gary L. Francione and Anna Charlton, Animal Rights: The The Abolitionist Approach (2015), 41-43.

When “Intersectional Justice” Means Promoting Meat, Fish, Dairy

The latest organized rejection of veganism as a moral baseline is found in the position of certain people who call themselves “intersectionalists.” In an earlier essay, I discussed how these “intersectionalists” were promoting a brand of moral relativism (at least as far as animals were concerned), and that they were combining this relativism with an appeal to identity politics. The result was what I maintained was a most speciesist vision of animal ethics.

I pointed out how there was an “intersectional justice” conference coming up in March 2016 that was being sponsored by none other than the the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which very clearly rejects veganism as a moral baseline and actively promotes “happy exploitation.”

The “sponsor” section of conference announcement no longer lists HSUS. But it does list Vegan Outreach, which explicitly rejects veganism as a moral baseline, and VegFund, which promotes individuals or groups that espouse “happy exploitation” and reducetarianism, as well as other problematic groups.

Most disturbing, however, is that the conference is promoting as a sponsor an entity called The Star Store:

ScreenHunter_1739 Mar. 05 12.03

Click to enlarge.

When you click on “The Star Store,” you are taken to a website that gives you, among other thing, the Weekly Ad of the The Star Store. This week, the ad is as follows:

ScreenHunter_1739 Mar. 05 12.05

If you enlarge the ad, you will see that The Star Store sells, among other things:

cheddar cheese
pork loin chops
organic whole chicken
sockeye fillet
swiss cheese
Babybel cheese

They have a clothing store as well. I called. It is not a vegan clothing store.

So “intersectional justice” is consistent with promoting a business that sells the corpses of animals and products made from animals?

Let’s think about this in the context of a group that opposed the abuse of children. Imagine that this group had a conference that was sponsored by someone who made child pornography and the conference promoted this pornographer on the page advertising the conference.

See the problem?

This model of “intersectional justice” is not intersectional at all. A true intersectional approach would treat nonhumans as full members of the moral community. Promoting humanocentric privilege is neither intersectional nor just.


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.

Embracing veganism as a moral imperative and advocating for veganism as a moral imperative are, along with caring for nonhuman refugees, the most important acts of activism you can undertake.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Learn more about veganism at

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

©2016 Gary L. Francione

Imagine If There Were a Real “Animal Rights” Movement

Imagine how different things would be if there were an animal movement that: (1) focused on use and not treatment; (2) that promoted veganism as a moral imperative; and (3) did not promote (and fundraise off) welfare reforms, “happy exploitation,” reducetarianism, single-issue campaigns, etc.

Industries that promoted animal exploitation would respond by trying to keep the public focused on treatment and convincing the public that animal exploitation was really “humane.” Industry would promote the same sorts of “reforms” that animal groups promote—larger cages, more “humane” slaughter, etc.

Individuals who cared about animals but who were not ready or willing to go vegan would reduce their intake of animals and consume supposedly “happier” animal products.

In other words, if we had a movement that sought justice for animals that promoted veganism as a moral imperative, industry would do exactly what it is doing now and individuals who cared but who were unwilling or not ready to go vegan would do exactly what they are doing now.

The difference would be that we would finally have a social movement that no longer partnered with industry and that took a position that is inherently speciesist. The moral message would be clear: “animal rights” means that all sentient beings are equal for the purpose of not being treated exclusively as resources, and that we cannot justify participating directly in animal exploitation irrespective of how (supposedly) “humane” that exploitation is.

The difference would be that we would have a movement that promoted animals as nonhuman persons—beings that mattered morally in their own right—and not just “things” to which we have, at best, duties of “mercy” or “compassion” to exploit in a more “kind” manner.

We would no longer have a movement that is, in essence, a business that sells “happy” slavery. We would have a real movement that rejected *all* slavery.

We would have a movement that made clear that if animals have moral value—and so many people already share that moral intuition–then the only rational response is to go vegan and stop eating, wearing, and using animals.

We would have a movement that finally focused on the fundamental moral issue—animal use—and that stopped promoting and fundraising off the idea that it is better treatment, or substituting other animal products for foie gras or veal, that mattered.

Think about that. And if it appeals to you, then join the worldwide grassroots effort to shift the paradigm from property to personhood.


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

©2016 Gary L. Francione

Challenging Peter Singer’s Paternity Claim


Peter Singer initially gained fame by popularizing utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s idea that just as race should not be used to exclude humans from the moral community and justify their enslavement, species should not used to justify treating animals as things. Singer borrowed the term “speciesism” from psychologist Richard Ryder and argued that using species to discount or ignore the interests of nonhuman animals was no different from using race, sex, or sexual orientation to justify discrimination against certain groups of humans. And Singer’s position as “father of the animal rights movement” was thereby secured. Gary Varner refers to Singer as “[t]he veritable Moses of the animal rights movement.” (Varner, Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition, 2012, p. 133).

But is that title merited? And does Singer really reject speciesism or does he just promote a different version of speciesism?

Like Bentham, Singer is a utilitarian. He maintains that what is morally right and wrong is determined by consequences. Because rights require that certain interests be protected irrespective of consequences—a human can’t be used as a non-consenting biomedical subject even if the benefits of such use would be great—utilitarians, including Bentham and Singer, categorically reject the idea of rights. Singer categorically rejects the idea of animal rights. Singer claims that he uses the notion of “animal rights” simply as a rhetorical device; he is very clear that he ultimately shares Bentham’s view that rights are nothing but “nonsense upon stilts.” But to say that Singer’s paternity status as father of the animal rights movement is merely “rhetorical” is somewhat odd when we are talking about a rights movement. After all, the notion of a right is a legal and moral concept that by its very nature is irreducible to mere rhetoric.

A possible reply here is that Singer rejects rights for humans as well as for animals, so at least he’s being consistent. Yes and no. Singer does, indeed, reject moral rights for humans as well. But there’s a catch. Even though he rejects the notion of rights as categorical entitlements, he insists that, generally speaking, human beings are morally superior to nonhuman animals. He regards humans, or at least “normal” humans, as being self-aware and having a sense of self over time and hence an interest in continued existence. These characteristics support a presumption against using those humans exclusively as replaceable resources for the satisfaction of others’ needs and desires.

This presumption is rebuttable, of course, which is to say that it can be overridden if utilitarian considerations warrant it. If, for example, using one human as a non-consenting subject in a biomedical experiment would result in saving the lives of a million people, Singer would, other things being equal, have a difficult time as a utilitarian arguing that we should not use the human in the experiment. (This is precisely the kind of use that advocates of rights seek to preclude.) But otherwise, Singer’s presumption functions very much like a right—it protects the interest of humans in not being used exclusively as resources in all but cases where the balance of consequences is clear and significant.

And here’s where Singer’s claim to reject speciesism becomes problematic.

Singer believes that nonhuman animals do not have an interest in continuing to live in the way that “normal” humans do. According to Singer, “normal humans have an interest in continuing to live that is different from the interests that nonhuman animals have.” (New York Times, The Stone, May 27, 2015). That is because beings with the ability to be self-aware over time and plan for the future have a greater interest in living than beings who don’t. And Singer thinks that even if animals, or some animals, are self-aware in some sense, “they are still not self-aware to anything like the extent that humans normally are” (Singer, Practical Ethics, 3d ed. 2011, p. 122). So there is a qualitative distinction between humans and nonhumans, and this leads Singer to conclude that there is a moral difference between humans and nonhumans. Indeed, Singer sketches a moral hierarchy in which “normal” human beings are categorically superior to nonhuman animals.

Nonhumans, on Singer’s view, have no interest in not being used as replaceable resources. Singer thinks that “a being with the ability to think of itself as existing over time, and therefore to plan its life, and to work for future achievements, has a greater interest in continuing to live than a being who lacks such capacities” (New York Times, The Stone, May 27, 2015). For a human being to lose its life, on Singer’s view, is to suffer the loss of all the future opportunities for satisfaction that it is capable of contemplating. For a nonhuman animal to lose its life, in comparison, is essentially like going to sleep and never waking up—an animal cannot be said to “lose” anything by dying because it has no conceptual or linguistic access to its future.

For Singer, this translates into the view that the lives of nonhuman animals are of lesser moral value than the lives of human animals. Unlike humans, nonhumans can be used as replaceable resources, whereas “normal” humans possess a status that, even though Singer would deny it, is inseparable from the notion of inherent dignity that advocates of rights attribute to human beings. This privileging of humans leads Singer to make comments like: “[M]illions of chickens are killed every day. I can’t think of that as a tragedy on the same scale as millions of humans being killed. What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future. That seems a plausible answer to the question of why it’s so tragic when humans die” (Indystar, March 8, 2009).

Now, how is this not speciesist?

Singer’s response is that speciesism involves treating the interests of nonhumans in a way that is different from the way that we treat similar human interests. According to Singer, animals do not have an interest in not being used as replaceable resources because they are not self-aware. And even if they are self-aware, their self-awareness is, according to Singer, qualitatively inferior to the self-awareness of normal humans. So to treat nonhumans as replaceable resources does not present a problem of speciesism because there is no similar interest involved—humans have an interest in continued existence, whereas nonhuman animals do not. There simply is no arbitrary privileging of human beings here.

According to Singer, animals are not indifferent to how we use and kill them, but they don’t care that we use and kill them. Because animals are not self-aware, “it’s not easy to explain why the loss to the animal killed is not . . . made good by the creation of a new animal who will lead an equally pleasant life” (Singer, Animal Liberation, rev. 1990, p. 229). Animals are utterly indifferent to their futures because they cannot think conceptually about those futures; all that an animal can care about is its immediate circumstances. Thus, for example, an animal caught in a painful trap will certainly want to get out of the trap and have the pain stop, but s/he cannot have any interest in surviving and living even another day.


Why would anyone think that a cow, or a pig, or a chicken, or a fish does not care about whether we use and kill him or her but simply about how s/he is used and killed? When one of our dogs or cats gets ill, do we think that, by dying, s/he loses nothing because s/he did not have an interest in continuing to live in the first place? We would venture a guess that most of us would reject as absurd the idea that animals do not have an interest in continuing to live, and would consider it indisputable that animals are harmed when we kill them—however “humanely.”

So how does Singer justify a contrary conclusion?

The answer is found in the work of Bentham. Singer is Bentham’s modern proponent on many issues, and on this issue Singer stands shoulder to shoulder with Bentham. Before the nineteenth century, animals were excluded from the moral community because they were thought to be our cognitive inferiors on the grounds that, unlike humans, they did not reason, use abstract concepts, or engage in symbolic communication. Bentham argued that we could not use cognitive differences to justify excluding animals from the moral community. The only characteristic that was required for membership in the moral community was the ability to suffer. If an animal can suffer, we cannot, on the basis of species alone, ignore or discount that suffering.

But did that mean that Bentham thought that cognitive characteristics were completely irrelevant? No. On the contrary, Bentham thought that although the supposed cognitive inferiority of animals did not mean that we could use them for whatever purpose we wanted and treat them however we wanted, it did mean that animals were not self-aware. And that meant that we could continue to use and kill animals—at least for food—as long as we accorded appropriate consideration to their interests in not suffering.

Bentham objected to human slavery, but he did not object to the institution of animal property because he did not see humans and nonhumans as similarly situated: the former were self-aware; the latter were not. Singer agrees with Bentham: animals are not self-aware so that, other things being equal, we can use them in ways in which we would not use (at least most) humans.


We find this idea that animals are not self-aware and that, other things being equal, we do not harm them when we use and kill them, to be quite peculiar. Not only does this idea not accord with our own experience in relating to nonhuman animals; it is problematic on theoretical grounds. Indeed, we think that it’s downright speciesist.

We certainly agree that nonhuman animals think differently from the way that humans think because human cognition is linked with the capacities for conceptual abstraction and language. Humans are the only animals who use symbolic communication. So it’s probably true that only humans have the autobiographical sense of self that humans have. But so what? The question we are faced with is this: is humanlike self-awareness the only sort of awareness that results in having an interest in continued life sufficient to give rise to at least a rebuttable presumption against killing?

Let’s assume with Singer that most nonhuman animals live in a sort of eternal present. Does that mean that they are not self-aware? Consider a human with  a total amnesia in which the person is unable to recall memories of the past and form new memories and, therefore, lives in an eternal present.  We submit that it would be inaccurate to say that the person is not self-aware. There is certainly awareness of self in the present moment and then the next moment and so on. It is certainly the case that continued existence is in the interest of such a person—she or he prefers, or desires, or wants to get to the next instant of awareness—regardless of the manner in which she or he thinks about self and even if they don’t have an autobiographical sense of self.

The notion that animals are not self-aware is based on nothing more than the unargued assumption that the only way to be self-aware is to have the self-awareness of a normal adult human. That is certainly one way to be self-aware. It’s not the only way. As Donald Griffin, one of the most important cognitive ethologists of the twentieth century, noted in his book Animal Minds, if an animal is conscious of anything, “the animal’s own body and its own actions must fall within the scope of its perceptual consciousness.” In this respect, an animal’s consciousness is comparable to that of a human with transient global amnesia. It is on these grounds that Griffin concludes that “[i]f animals are capable of perceptual awareness, denying them some level of self-awareness would seem to be an arbitrary and unjustified restriction” (Griffin, Animal Minds, 2001, p. 274). The idea that one must be able to think in detached, abstract terms of an “I” who is having these experiences as part of one whole life trajectory is nothing more than a device for depicting human beings as unique and as superior to all other animals.


Moreover, there is something seriously wrong with Singer’s view that we can nevertheless accord equal consideration to the interests of animals. We maintain that we can’t do it except, perhaps, as an abstract matter. And we’re not sure it can be done even then.

Animals are legally classified as property, namely, as things that have no inherent or intrinsic value. They are chattel that are owned by humans. This, combined with the generally accepted view (which Singer promotes) that animals are cognitive inferiors, makes it almost impossible for us to think of animal interests as similar to our own in the first place. And even if we were to think of an animal having an interest that is similar to a human’s, the status of animals as property provides a good reason always to decide in favor of the human interest where there is any sort of conflict between human and nonhuman interests. When we, as owners of animals, balance the interests of animals against our own interests, we will always privilege our own interests and devalue those of animals.

Interestingly, although Bentham was a utilitarian, he opposed human slavery as an institution. Why? The standard explanation is that he thought that slavery would inevitably become the “lot of large numbers” and slaves would invariably be treated badly because such treatment would be justifiable on utilitarian grounds as contributing to the happiness of the majority. But there is another explanation. Bentham recognized that the principle of impartiality, or equal consideration, could not be applied to slaves because the interest of a slave would always count for less than the interest of a slave owner.

Bentham did not recognize this problem in the context of animals. Neither does Singer. Bentham thought that an enlightened utilitarian society could continue to eat and use animals even while according animal interests due consideration: in effect, on Bentham’s view, killing and eating animals did not entail that animals were being “degraded into the class of things.” But the fact is that there is no way to respect the vital interests of animals as long as they are legally classified as things that we are entitled to use. It can’t happen. It’s a simple matter of economics. Animals are property. It costs money to protect their interests. Given the nature of markets, and particularly in light of “free trade” and international markets, we will, for the most part, spend that money only in situations in which we get a direct economic benefit. That is why animal welfare standards mandated by law are and have always been very low and prohibit only gratuitous suffering. For the most part, the owners of animal property are required to change their behavior only when they are arguably acting in economically inefficient ways. So, for example, we require large animals to be stunned before being shackled, hoisted, and butchered not because of any real concern for animals because not doing so increases worker injuries and carcass damage.

Perhaps in recognition of the limitations of animal welfare standards imposed by law, animal advocacy organizations, led by Singer, have in recent years changed their focus from law reform to working with industry to secure voluntary changes to improve animal welfare. In 2005, Singer led an effort involving just about all of the large animal advocacy groups to endorse and promote the efforts of Whole Foods Market to formulate a program of “humane” improvements. But like Bentham, Singer fails to appreciate both the interest that sentient animals have in not being killed in the first place and the reality of economics in light of the property status of nonhuman animals. At the very best, animal welfare efforts can do no more than result in the creation of niche markets for affluent consumers whose consciences can be assuaged by paying a higher amount for animal products that may involve slightly less cruelty than conventional products. This is not consistent with any sort of “animal rights” view.


The idea that animal life is of lesser value than  human life is one that permeates the welfare position as it has been developed by utilitarian philosophers, such as Bentham and Singer. But this position also surfaces in the work of rights theorist Tom Regan.

Regan rejects both utilitarian moral theory and the theory of animal welfare. He maintains that we have no moral justification for treating at least adult mammals exclusively as means to the ends of humans, so he does not rely on the lesser moral value of nonhumans to justify animal use as did Bentham and as does Singer. Regan does, however, argue that in a situation in which there is a conflict, such as a situation in which we are in a lifeboat and must choose whether to save a dog or a human, we should choose to save the life of the human over the dog because death is a greater harm for the former than for the latter. According to Regan, “the harm that death is, is a function of the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses,” and death for an animal, “though a harm, is not comparable to the harm that death would be” for humans. Indeed, Regan would argue that we should sacrifice any number of dogs to save one human. (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1983, p. 324).

Regan’s position is problematic because if death is a qualitatively greater harm to humans than to nonhumans, then there is a nonarbitrary way to distinguish humans from nonhumans. Although Regan rejects using animals exclusively as resources, his argument that moral patients (such as nonhuman animals) have equal inherent value is based on his view that there is no nonarbitrary way to separate moral agents from moral patients. So his position on humans having a qualitatively greater interest in their lives seems to undermine that position. At the very least, to the extent that Regan thinks that situations of true conflict ought always to be resolved in favor of humans based on species, his position invites mischief depending on how “conflict” is interpreted.

We do not agree that we can say that death is a lesser harm to nonhumans any more than we can say that death is a lesser harm to a human with amnesia than to one without it, or that death is a lesser harm to a less intelligent person than it is to a more intelligent one. In situations of genuine conflict, we think that choosing a nonhuman over a human is perfectly acceptable. But we also believe that if we took animal rights seriously, we would stop manufacturing conflicts between human and nonhumans that result from bringing nonhumans into existence to use as human resources.


We conclude by noting that Singer says that we should not use animals in situations in which we would not use similarly situated humans. But it is clear that Singer allows for the use of nonhumans in situations in which we would never consider using any human being, be that human being “normal” or mentally disabled. From what we have said here, it should be clear that there are no legitimate reasons for categorically privileging human beings over nonhuman animals, any more than we would privilege a more intelligent human being over a less intelligent one. Thus New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is entirely right to acknowledge, as he has done repeatedly in his New York Times op-ed pieces, that he is being a “hypocrite” when he deplores our treatment of food animals but resists the call for veganism.

Singer advocates precisely the kind of speciesism that he purports to decry. Until we find the courage and honesty to acknowledge the unjustifiable violence against animals that Singer’s ideas sanction, we will continue to read articles in the pages of major newspapers with titles, such as “Saving the Cows, Starving the Children” (New York Times, June 26, 2015), whose authors insist, entirely speciously, that conflicts between animal and human interests are irreducible and that the life of a nonhuman animal comes at the cost of a human life.

Gary L. Francione, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law and Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy, Rutgers University School of Law.

Gary Steiner, Professor of Philosophy, Bucknell University.
© 2016 by Gary L. Francione & Gary Steiner