AR-News: Vegan Outreach: The Impossible Quest for Purity & The
brucef at peta.org
Mon May 17 22:26:12 EDT 2004
The Impossible Quest for Purity
When you first discover the reality of modern animal agriculture, you might
feel compelled to try to root out every single product associated with
animal suffering. Unfortunately, personal purity is impossible. All around
us are items connected in some way to animal exploitation: organic foods
(animal manure used as fertilizer), cotton (animal products in the bleaching
process), bicycles (animal fat used in the vulcanization of tires), books
(hooves and bones in binding glue), roads and buildings (animal products
used in curing concrete), water (tested with animal products, often filtered
through bone char), etc. Even many vegan foods result in killing some
animals during planting and harvesting. (See also this article.)
Vegan Outreach's View: A Results-Based Approach
We believe that framing veganism as the avoidance of a specific list of
"bad" ingredients is not the best way to achieve results. When looked at
closely, any ingredients-based definition of vegan collapses into
inconsistencies. This is why we stress that the essence of being vegan is
working to end cruelty to animals.
Working to end cruelty to animals is a clear motivation that can be easily
comprehended by others. When discussing veganism, we admit there are not
always clear-cut answers and explain that it's not a matter of making the
"right" or "wrong" choice in every situation. This practical, goal-oriented
approach shows that being vegan is an active, progressive means by which we
make the world a better place.
Although all views of vegan include not supporting factory farms and
slaughterhouses, there are many instances where a results-based approach can
help animals more than the ingredients-based approach. For example, a
consistent vegan dedicated to an ingredients-based view of veganism wouldn't
use film (which contains gelatin) under any circumstances. Yet how many
animals have been saved from great suffering, because of the visual impact
of the pictures and films that have documented so many abuses?
Not Just What We Avoid
Some would argue that vegans should replace their current cameras with
digital ones. However, we have to ask if spending money replacing a
functional object with a new one is the best way to oppose cruelty to
animals. (This is also an issue with leather and wool goods we had purchased
before becoming vegan.) Might the extra money be better spent creating
resources to spread vegetarianism, such as printing literature?
We believe that being vegan isn't simply avoiding a list of products. We
seek to maximize the good we accomplish with our decisions. As vegans, what
we do is as important as what we don't do.
Some vegans and non-vegans alike are quick to call others "hypocrites" if
they don't avoid a certain hidden ingredient. But if your goal is to
alleviate suffering, it isn't hypocritical to believe that avoiding all
hidden ingredients can be prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, and make
veganism appear impossible to others. It is also worth noting that animal
byproducts will disappear as the meat, dairy, and egg industries fade.
Spending our time and energy focused on minor ingredients rather than on
spreading vegetarianism may not be the best use of time.
The Vegan Example
In general, people do not want to believe that they are supporting cruelty
by eating animal products. They don't want to give up convenience and their
favorite foods, and they don't want to separate themselves from their
friends and family. So it is unlikely that people will even listen to our
message-let alone think about changing-if they perceive vegans as joyless
There often appears to be a contest among vegans for discovering new
connections to animal exploitation (of course, links can be found everywhere
if one looks hard enough). This attitude makes us appear fanatical and gives
many people an excuse to ignore our message.
Some vegans claim sugar (and products containing sugar, like Tofutti) isn't
vegan because some sugar processing uses bone char as a whitening agent.
Bone char is also used as a source of activated carbon in some water filters
and by some municipal water treatment plants. (These plants also use tests
that involve animal products, and water itself has been tested on animals.)
So should we say water isn't "vegan"?
The vast majority of people in our society have no problem gnawing on an
actual chicken leg. Yet we make an issue of honey, despite the fact that
insects and other animals are killed in the process of planting, raising,
harvesting, and transporting our vegan food. It is no wonder that many
people dismiss us as unreasonable and irrational when they are told (or when
it is implied by our actions) that they must not eat veggie burgers cooked
on the same grill with "meat," drink wine, take photographs, use
medications, etc.; some vegans even tack on other political or religious
ideologies. Busting the Vegan Police
It is imperative for us to realize that if our veganism is a statement for
animal liberation, veganism cannot be an exclusive, ego-boosting club.
Rather, we must become the mainstream. Fostering the impression that "it's
so hard to be vegan-animal products are in everything," and emphasizing
animal products where the connection to animal suffering is tenuous, works
against this by allowing most to ignore us and causing others to give up the
whole process out of frustration.
The way veganism is presented to a potential vegan is of major importance.
The attractive idea behind being a "vegan" is reducing one's contribution to
animal exploitation. Buying meat, eggs, and/or dairy creates animal
suffering-animals will be raised and slaughtered specifically for these
products. But if the by-products are not sold, they will be thrown out or
given away. As more people stop eating animals, the by-products will
naturally fade, so there is no real reason to force other people to worry
about them in order to call themselves "vegan."
We want a vegan world, not a vegan club.
Practical and Symbolic Vegans
Most vegans have multiple motivations, but primary motivations often
distinguish vegans, such as "health vegans" or "spiritual/religious vegans."
I see another type of distinction as being useful: "practical vegans" and
"symbolic vegans." Practical vegans avoid the specific products for which
animals are bred, raised, and eventually slaughtered. Every product they
choose to avoid can be directly and causally linked to animal suffering.
Symbolic vegans, in addition to avoiding those products, go beyond this to
some level (e.g., avoiding sugar but not
water) so as to be able to make a statement (about solidarity with the
animals, personal purity, etc.). Illustration
The gelatin in film makes many vegans uncomfortable. However, film companies
won't use something more expensive because of this discomfort. As long as
animals are slaughtered for their flesh, gelatin will remain a dirt-cheap
by-product. This won't change because of a relatively few symbolic vegans.
It will change, however, as the number of practical vegans expands and there
isn't an endless string of animals being slaughtered for food, making a
In dealing with others, practical vegans can explain: "I don't buy products
that directly cause animal suffering-things for which animals are bred,
raised, and slaughtered. A symbolic vegan could add: "Personally, I choose
to go further and avoid film [sugar, etc.] as a symbolic gesture."
Once the demand for primary animal products shrinks and the by-products are
no longer so cheap, companies will find new filtering methods, new ways to
cure concrete, new means of producing steel and rubber, new blood-test
methods, etc. As more people are concerned with animals, farming practices
will be altered so fewer animals are harmed and killed during planting and
harvesting of vegan food.
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