In the week before spring break, there was considerable discussion on this campus about veganism and encouraging students to take part in veganism. This is a continuation of what I have seen in my past three years here — this includes graphic depictions of animal killings and conditions directly outside the dining hall; comparisons to rape, stoning, and homophobia; as well as general online guilt-filled rhetoric to encourage students to try giving up animal-based products.
While I agree that there are issues regarding animal cruelty and abuse that veganism does address, these methods in pushing the vegan issue on campus are harmful to students and to the community overall. Some of these approaches might seem acceptable to raise awareness of the harms of eating and using animal by-products. However, the dangers that these extreme comparisons bring to this campus are not worth it.
There are students on this campus who have issues with food. Disordered eating and a plethora of food allergies are present on this campus and make simply getting access to healthy and safe food difficult. Personally, I’m allergic to gluten, wheat, barley, rye, sesame seeds, and soy. My diet in the dining hall consists of Chex and skim milk. Guilting me, and other students like me, into further restricting my diet is not helpful for my health, mentally or physically. For students who have disordered eating, being faced with graphic images or posters that force them on a dramatic guilt trip can be enough for them to turn around and leave the dining hall, without eating at all. There is enough food guilt involved in simply eating within a society that favors the thin without adding in animal-based guilt. Not to mention that a movement that can only attract new members via guilt-tripping is a movement that really needs better methods of recruitment to its cause.
Now, perhaps those reactions seem like a fair threat — not eating is better than taking part in the system! If you believe that, this article isn’t for you; personally, I think that survival on this campus is the number one goal, and for some that means eating dairy or meat — or eating anything at all.
So, my argument isn’t that veganism is bad, or that vegans should not talk about their issue, or that this is a systemic issue rather than a personal one. My argument is about how some activists are framing non-veganism as the new sexism, racism, homophobia, or rape culture. Sarina Farb’s article regarding this issue compared veganism to stoning. There are posts on Advancing Animal Compassion Together’s Facebook page (see below) that compare eating meat to holding slaves, raping, and the “starving kids in Africa” trope.
I never really thought that my thinking that people had more rights than animals would be that shocking, especially when faced with the idea of dehumanizing minorities and belittling their deaths and struggles as those of animals. The keeping of slaves is not the same as keeping animals for the purpose of eating them for human survival, nor are dairy cows rape victims based on any reasonable definition of consent. Suggesting that these issues are comparable dehumanizes people that need our help more desperately than animals.
On some level, our fundamental differences may prevent us from engaging in productive dialogue. For instance, I do not believe that speciesism is a meaningful term. I think there are implications of that concept that need to be addressed — for instance, where do we draw the line? Are mammals the only animals that should receive rights nearly equivalent to those of humans, or do we extend those rights to birds? Fish? Insects? What constitutes sentience; what constitutes consciousness? What implications would this have on stem cell research? Should dogs vote? I can argue my computer is sentient, or at least as sentient as an ant — is my code an abuse? If speciesism does exist, what arguments justify placing it on the same level as homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, or rape culture? These are questions that need to be answered, or at least considered when using this hostile, open-ended humanistic logic. I do not believe that someone who is pro-animal rights must also be vegan, and I do not believe that a movement that needs to resort to coercion in order to further its cause is a movement that deserves my full respect.
You can be a vegan and have it be an important issue for you without threatening people and guilting people into a choice. Activism takes energy and being a vegan is a choice that affects you on a daily basis. It’s also expensive, and there are only so many battles that one person can take on at a time, especially on a campus that is so politically active and exhausting. Your political guilt for making the food choice that best suits me, personally, is wrong; your activism is not expressing a freedom, but a public shaming that makes people feel guilty for eating, for surviving.
Make the argument for the animals being cute, make the argument for health reasons, make the argument based on environmental reasons. Don’t come at me with starving children tropes, comparisons to human pain and problems because it makes you look less human. Convince people and educate about your cause. Make people want to be vegan for themselves, not because they fear being on the “wrong side of history” for a cause that isn’t exactly proven, nor ethically always considered, the “right side”. Don’t make your arguments inherently racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic when trying to align with those movements by abusing the past wrongs that have already happened and are still happening.