Problems with Focusing on Convenience and Taste in Animal Justice Work

Hi, folks! Today I want to expand upon a point that I made fairly briefly in my “Veganism & Consumerism” post way back in December–a point critiquing animal activism that focuses on increasing the availability of vegan products:

“[Vegan consumerism re-centers] the human experience; in other words, vegan consumerism becomes a project to benefit humans who eat a vegan diet rather than other animals oppressed by speciesism, and thereby proves completely ineffective in manifesting a world in which humans no longer view other animals (including other human animals) as commodities for our use. Kelly Atlas of the fantastic anti-speciesist organization Direct Action Everywhere explains that actively advocating for humans to engage in vegan consumer behavior – i.e., to demand vegan products over animals products, and to encourage others to do the same – focuses attention on the comfort and convenience of humans, while upholding a framing of other animals as commodities (undesirable ones, but still…).”

To directly quote Atlas: “We can’t make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence […]. We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors.”

Sure, I love me some Chaos cheese and Vegenaise as much as the next vegan consumer, but if my animal justice work stops at making such products more widely available, I’m merely making the world more comfortable for myself, not less speciesist against non-human animals. I mean, certainly no one is going to stop eating animals for the long-term simply by seeing vegan convenience products in the grocery store. And even if they did, without an understanding of anti-speciesism, they would almost definitely continue to perpetuate oppressive ideologies against non-human animals.

Heck, I know plenty of people who eat only vegan food but — from what I can discern — still understand non-human animals to exist on this planet for the sole purpose of human use, or think of themselves as “saviors” of (and therefore superior to) non-human animals. They might refer to themselves as the “owners” of their companion animals, they might dress up those companion animals, they might support wildlife culls in the name of “biodiversity,” they might eat the eggs that come from chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys who life on sanctuaries, etc.

And we all engage in similar behaviors to a certain extent, right? Because we don’t act in these harmful ways out of individual biases or shortcomings, but rather because virtually all of us have been indoctrinated into a speciesist system. That’s why vegan eating must exist as a manifestation of a radical anti-speciesist politics, rather than as an end goal in and of itself.

In my view, telling people that “eating vegan is so easy!,” or “vegan food is everywhere nowadays!” — focusing on the consumer aspect of why someone would adopt a vegan diet — as an argument for why we should stop eating animals upholds that speciesist system, not to mention dismisses people in circumstances where, shocker, eating vegan actually isn’t easy, convenient, or readily available/accessible.

Those arguments uphold a speciesist system by making someone’s consideration of animals conditional upon how comfortable they are eating vegan food, and how tasty that vegan food is. So what happens if vegan convenience products disappear? What happens if vegan cheese goes back to tasting like squishy cardboard? Do we stop advocating for a shift in humans’ moral consideration of non-human animals? Anti-speciesism must be our priority, while our ability to eat yummy food can come later.

Additionally, those arguments discount those who don’t live in a consumer paradise, or don’t have financial or cultural access to that consumer paradise. A position of more inclusive anti-oppression work is accessible to everyone, while a position of specialized consumption is not.

So let’s put vegan eating where it deserves to be in importance: behind radical anti-speciesism. Because I don’t care about soy ice cream nearly as much as I care about folks like Tyrion, Sansa, Amy, Gracie and the rest of the residents of Heartland Farm Sanctuary being able to enact their complex life-worlds free of exploitation by humans.

In solidarity, Ali.

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