My interest lies in animal liberation, not making more vegans

By on June 23, 2012

I purposefully chose a provocative title, so before you spend time formulating the hate mail in your head that you intend to send me, be patient and listen to my argument.

animal liberation: (noun) the freeing of animals from exploitation and cruel treatment by humans.

The main mission in the animal rights movement at present is towards creating more vegans. Sadly, this obsession has caused us to subordinate animal liberation. It has also created a mentality of “do whatever it takes” to make more vegans. This mentality has moved us away from the ethical/animal argument and more toward health, consumer lifestyle and environmentalism. This has created enormous compromises in the both the message and the outreach.

For instance, there is an inordinate amount of attention paid to celebrities who have gone “vegan” – meaning celebrities who have made a self-serving choice to eat plants. Very few of them ever mention their shift was due to animals or ethics. Not only are we countering a shallow culture with a shallow argument for why people need to support animal liberation, but we are bastardizing the philosophy of veganism. It is shocking to me how many vegans get upset when you point out that veganism encompasses food, clothing, entertainment, and vivisection – and that it is not a diet. What is so radical about using the term for the philosophy properly?

There is so much effort made to express what veganism is going to do for the person being reached out to, rather than what using animals actually does to animals. I see so much outreach about weight loss, reversing or preventing diabetes, heart disease, cancers, clearing up your skin, silkier hair, vegan cupcakes, how delicious the food is. What does any of that have to do with animal liberation? Veganism is not concerned with your health or your skin. Veganism is concerned with the rights of animals to be viewed as persons and members of the moral community, not as objects to be used for greed, taste and entertainment. The meaning has not changed since 1944, when Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” to mean “a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom,” as well as stating it is “not so much about welfare [of animals] as liberation.”

Then there’s the outreach focused around “humane” meat, dairy and eggs. Well, if we can’t get them to go vegan, we might as well get them to buy cage-free, free range, grass-fed, organic, enriched-caged, gestation crate-free, vegetarian-fed, five-point-animal-welfared animals. Why in the world would vegan activists promote the use of any animals under any circumstances? This does not move us towards animal liberation. It only serves to placate the public into thinking that there is an ethical way to oppress and exploit other animals. Asking people nicely to reduce their consumption of animals is still giving them your ethical blessing to continue exploiting animals.

I get it. We want people to stop eating animals because the large majority of animals murdered are done so for food. I also get that if we can convince people to stop eating animals and their secretions, the possibility of them hearing the animal liberation picture increases. I also appreciate it when people choose to eat plants, but I question whether our tactics are speeding us towards animal liberation or moving us farther away. I see us moving farther away. At what point do we start to articulate animal liberation, the ethical argument for veganism? At what point do we start to articulate the animal rights message? At what point do we tell people that veganism is a social justice movement, not a lifestyle club filled with vegan cupcakes, potlucks and recipe books (not that those don’t rule)?

I don’t live in some fantasy world where I believe that if each and every person is given the ethical/animal argument (or if slaughterhouses had glass walls or if people had to kill their own animals), they would wake up to their role in the exploitation industries and go vegan on the spot. Yet I have enough faith in people that to know that when they are treated like adults, told the truth, and supported, potential future vegans are and will be made. The outreach we are currently focused on is disingenuous and misleading, and backfires if it takes longer for people to understand the ethical message of liberation.

One of the statements that depresses me most is when vegans who were long-time vegetarians say, “I just didn’t know.” As animal liberationists, it is our duty to make sure people know. It is our duty to speak the truth, confront injustice, creatively work together to end the animal holocaust. Let’s bring the focus back to where it needs to be, on the animals.


  1. vegangsterARNP
    June 24, 2012

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    • Amy
      August 26, 2015

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      What does all this matter if we get people to stop eating meat and consuming milk? However this happens, embrace it.

  2. Dylan
    June 25, 2012

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    You make some valid points, but I have to point out your hypocrisy. How is fighting for bigger cages moving us towards animal liberation? And if not, why do you do work for Mercy for Animals?

    Anyone remotely interested in animal rights/liberation or whatever you may chose to call it, more than some “vegan philosophies” or animal rights organizations driven by self-preservation should read this:

  3. Darre Roth
    June 25, 2012

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    I have found there are two types of vegans , those who do it for the animals out of ethical reasons and those who do it for health reasons. The ones who do it as a diet/for health reasons never seem to last in the long run, because they are not concerned with ending cruelty, only their own well-being

      May 11, 2018

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      no one goes vegan “for their health”. they’re plantbased. THIS is an example of how off the path the welfare community has led many vegans…

  4. Monica V Lucas
    June 25, 2012

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    Excellent, Gary. I’ve been of the same mind for quite awhile. Not enough mention of the animals, way too much focus on trying to convert people to vegan diets for personal health, rather than ethical veganism being only one component of animal rights, liberation and the END of the holocaust. Thanks for articulating for we who agree! Hugs.

  5. DaveDandelion
    June 25, 2012

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    The group I organize, Vegan Chicago, has been wrestling with this issue for some time now. While my own agenda was animal rights I found more and more that vegans coming out were of completely different mindsets and that was troubling for a meetup group that tries to get people of like-mindedness together. The other part of that was the plant-based dieters (i.e. rawfood) were spreading their unfounded dietary claims within my own membership derailing the ethical focus. We tried to take a constructive approach to meeting this challenge by dropping the vegan advocacy part of our mission and fostering an environment rich in critical thinking support via our Baloney Detection Guide. There is still some disconnect with the word “vegan” in our name but we haven’t found a solution for that yet.

  6. Elizabet TresCosas
    June 25, 2012

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    Yes. 1,000 times, yes.

    I was researching the unfortunate transition of Bob Harper (from the Biggest Loser) from vegan to meat-eater and the part on celebrities dovetails nicely into my thoughts/concerns. (Not only did Bob stop being vegan, he has 5 “tips” on being skinny in his new book and one is “eat fish”, he doesn’t even give a vegan option. Burns me from the inside, I tell you! I think it’s due to his new Crossfit/Paleo obsession.)

    Anyway, thank you for this article. Thank you.

    @Darre Roth, I agree with you. I just wish the latter (health-only vegans) would realize less cruelty in the world is good for everyone’s health and well being (not to mention the environmental peril caused by increased meat and dairy consumption.) Ugh. Les frustrations.

  7. Randy Sandberg
    June 25, 2012

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    Hi Gary,

    GREAT Post!!! So much so I posted a portion of it on my Quotes on Slavery website. You can find your quote here:


    Randy Sandberg

  8. Mylène
    June 25, 2012

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    Gary, I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. Strict vegetarianism is not veganism. Too many animal advocates seem to have hopped on the same bandwagon that mainstream foodies and trendy celebrities have been riding, focusing on the eating of animal products and then using every single ancillary argument in the book to convince people to stop eating their flesh and (optionally, sadly) their secretions or in just not eating the aforementioned on certain days of the week. They’ll defend this, crying out “Baby steps!” indignantly, not realizing that teaching someone to not eat meat on Tuesdays for environmental reasons conveys no information to them at all about why other animals aren’t ours to use and have rights and interests of their own. It’s not a “step” when you convince someone that she’ll fit into her size 4 dress if she gives up hamburgers and bacon because once she fits into that size 4 dress (likely slipping her feet into leather pumps) what reason does she have to take things further?

    It’s unfortunate that some people have co-opted the term “vegan” and are slinging it around in a meaningless manner, more often than not for profit. We need to redirect advocates to both learn and educate others about the ethical reasons we shouldn’t be using other animals. We should all be vocally correcting those who cling to the term “vegan” while continuing to exploit animals and confusing the public about what the term really means. Teaching people why the very least they can do for other animals is to go vegan — not the welfarist or celebrity manglings of “veganism” — teaches them to stop providing demand for animal products and to reject the industries fulfilling this demand for non-vegan humans. It seems like such a simple thing to grasp. I wish that more would get it, rather than clapping their hands each time a Michelle Pfeiffer or Mike Tyson gets media attention for having purportedly gone vegan. We have a lot of work to do and this shit isn’t helping any.

  9. PythagoreanCrank
    June 25, 2012

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    Vegans in their fervor to “convert” others into their cult will freely employ specious rhetoric but the result is a bubble that is deflating. Vegans are tools with no regard for what they strive to build and worse yet often get in the way of actual animal advocates. Join me and renounce your veganism for the animals!

  10. Butterflies
    June 26, 2012

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    I really appreciated this post – and I feel exactly the same way…except that I do want to make vegans; those who are focused on animal liberation…the real meaning of a vegan.

  11. Stephnaie Newman
    June 28, 2012

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    A wonderfully intelligent article…I want to make mre vegans who want to help liberate animals. I have been vegetarian for most of my life for, I admit, purely selfish reason..icecream, cheese etc and became vegan after watching Earthlings just over a year ago..What has amazed me is how VERY quickly I became completely intolerant of all animal exploitation/slavery. Folk who become vegan for whatever reason need to constantly inform themselves about animal exploitation. It doesn’t make easy reading/watching but how much harder for the animals to have to endure it…

    One more vegan, no meat, dairy, skins, feathers, fur, sport, etc in the world is one less omnivore and one more committed vegan/animal rights activist is something to applaud in my book xx

  12. C Stewart
    June 29, 2012

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    One point i would like to make:

    First, why must a person be consciously aware of the right reasons in order to act right? Couldn’t a person act right even without being aware of the right reasons? I agree that the moral claims of animals are important, but even if people do not base their actions for the benefit of animals, their actions are still consistent with the moral claims those animals make. Look at Timothy Bradley. He is a world champion boxer, a vegan, and believes being a vegan improves his health/athleticism. Even though he does not explicitly base his beliefs on the moral claims of animals, he still acts consistently with them. According to you he is not a vegan proper, but this just begs the question about what veganism entails. If all it entails, as you say, is respecting the moral rights of animals or moral obligations we have to them, then I don’t see how Bradley in principle violates the vegan position.

    So what I don’t understand is why we must assume people act with the conscious belief that they are doing the right thing in order to do the right thing. Either way Bradley’s action is still right because the moral claims of animals are respected.

    Even so, I understand that you want to promote normative reasons. I understand the practical issue here from an activist standpoint. I whole heatedly agree that these reasons should be promoted. However, from a normative stand point, your argument might be making a claim that is not necessarily required for right action.

  13. Elizabeth Collins
    June 30, 2012

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    There is no animal liberation without veganism. But you know that already 🙂

  14. PythagoreanCrank
    June 30, 2012

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    C Stewart, this is why veganism fails animal liberation. It doesn’t requires reasons but ‘so what’ you say. ‘Animals are still not getting killed so the action (non-action) is still righteous.’ The thing is though that veganism is not animal liberation.

    1) Animal liberation goes beyond diet.

    2) A health approach is wrong, or at least more likely right for the wrong reasons.

    3) A health approach lays the wrong foundation and what is built upon it will not be a house of animal liberation. Perhaps a back closet somewhere though.

    4) I contend that it is possible for people to work in animal liberation and still use them. Hypocritical I know, but we are all hypocrites to some extent. Some more than others in certain areas and you know what, get over it.

    5) It’s intellectually dishonest to use an argument that we know isn’t the right one yet we assume will be the most effective at a vegan conversion. Again, being vegan is not the goal.

  15. PythagoreanCrank
    June 30, 2012

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    Elizabeth Collins, you are begging the question. While animal liberation may look like something akin to veganism where animals are not used in products and such, it is not necessary to have veganism to achieve animal liberation. It’s going to take a more dynamic approach to build this movement and veganism is just a hammer in the toolbox of animal liberation. A dumb hammer.

  16. C Stewart
    June 30, 2012

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    I do not understand your objection. My argument is that of veganism is concerned about right action, then expressing certain kinds of attitudes are not necessary in order to act right. Logically speaking, an attitude of respect is not a necessary condition for right action. The Bradley example illustrates this point.

    However, if veganism has to do with embracing a certain type of attitude, then the OP’s article makes more sense. But then it must be kept in mind that though expressing certain types of attitudes are good, such attitudes are not necessarily required for right action. Attitudes and right action are two different things.

  17. PythagoreanCrank
    July 9, 2012

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    C Stewart,

    Ah yes, I see your point. The assumption veganism has to do with “embracing a certain type of attitude” is the crux of the issue and I agree with your assessment. We would do well to recognize this to better move forward. Thanks for the clarification.

  18. Bec
    January 27, 2013

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    I’ve heard this argument many times now, but I have to (partially) disagree. I believe that no matter what the reason for an individual adopting a vegan diet or lifestyle, they will become much more open to the concept that animals ARE NOT OUR FOOD. When I went vegetarian I believed that I did not have an issue with eating meat, rather the horrific conditions the animals were kept in before being slaughtered. As I got used to not eating flesh I realised that more and more the though of it disgusted, and then horrified me. Of course I could not eat a dead animals flesh. It’s so obvious now. I love animals. Why on earth would I kill and eat them, even if they had lived a long, happy life and died painlessly (ha). Despite all my nagging and horrific facts, it was only after doing research into the health benefits that my best friend decided she too would try veganism. We both now refer to ourselves as ethical vegans and have not eaten or purchased animal products in years. While I do believe that veganism and animal rights are interconnected, they are not the same thing. Animal rights activists come from all different backgrounds and have all had different doorways in. I say the more ways in, the more people hear the message and the more chances to find passionate individuals that will become great activists. It’s statistics.

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