MANEKA SANJAY GANDHI
Vegan festivals are probably good, in that they create a climate for you to turn into a non meat/milk/egg person. But these are events meant to peddle goods, not to advocate for the rights and freedom of other animals, or inspire political and social activism. Instead of advising people to consume less, they push people to buy more and, in doing so, send the message that veganism is a personal, consumer choice, instead of a moral imperative.
‘Vegan outreach’ and ‘the power of the wallet’ are unquestioningly upheld as the most powerful tools we have in the fight for animal liberation. But this is a damaging mix of dogmatic naivety, privilege and single issue reformism. This consumerism promotes capitalism by actively advocating for an increased demand of vegan products. It upholds the same structures that commodify and oppress all beings. How easily capitalism has accommodated vegan consumer choices in many countries— how easy it is now to shop vegan anywhere.
A vegan needs to truly see beyond the walls of his/her privileges. Why have we allowed the world to degenerate into a hellhole? Why is the superiority of humans and their right to kill and use all other species, the normal way to live? Why is western development superior to native societies – when clearly every indicator of mental and physical health indicates otherwise? Why do we allow a capitalistic company to decide what and how we live and what we use? Why do we allow governments at every level to do nothing, when the signs of global warming are all around us? Why do we allow governments to listen to pesticide companies rather than cancer patients? Why do we allow governments to ban e-cigarettes on the grounds that 500 people a year die from them, when normal cigarettes kill 500 people per second? Why is meat eating normal? Why are 80 per cent forests dying because they are infested with animals that are grown for meat? Why are people who oppose tree cutting regarded as anti- development – when the development is simply a hotel, or some other useless capitalistic structure? Why are animals regarded as commodities when they clearly are as sentient as humans? Vegans need to be radical, to think their way through these issues before it is too late.
Veganism is sold by companies to people as an individual lifestyle choice, ‘ethical consumerism’. Animal liberation is on offer, reduced to a choice of products to make us feel guilt free, that we’re “doing our bit”.
But the refusal of vegans to eat animal products has not led to fewer animals being slaughtered. Many companies selling “ethical” products are directly involved in, and profit from animal exploitation. There is no such thing as ethical consumerism under capitalism. As Animal Liberation says: “The interconnected atrocities of petrochemical, weapons, fashion, pharmaceutical and agribusiness industries, alongside the meat and dairy industry, make ‘ethical consumption’ of any kind, an illusion.” The abolition of non-human animal exploitation must be part of a wider struggle to bring about freedom and autonomy for all living things.
Rather than revolving around consumption, veganism should commit to combating the deeply embedded ideology of speciesism, as well as all other violent ideologies. Veganism needs to put its efforts to create a society with empathy; not to be the fifth wheel of the consumer train. As Professor Steven Best of the University of Texas, an
award-winning writer and seasoned activist, notes: “veganism seeks radical social transformation at the institutional level, rather than a lifestyle with occasional and perfunctory efforts at ‘education’”.
For author of critical animal studies, professor John Sanbonmatsu, “what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society– of a way of life that has become inimical to life”.
“Capitalism, as a global system with an unprecedented level of technological power, is the first to carry ecocide to a global scale. The biodiversity and biomass of Planet Earth today is the lowest it has ever been in human history. There is obviously a connection between capitalism’s abuse of animals, its destruction of the environment, and its oppression and abuse of humans.”
Because the meat industry is the ghastly face of abuse, the vegan movement has responded with a prohibition on meat consumption. But do these people also ban fertiliser and pesticides on their lawns and on agricultural produce? Is it easier to boycott the meat industry, or easier to change policies at government levels? I would say that the latter is easier, and that is where the vegan movement should be going.
Can veganism’s boycott of meat alone destroy the meat industry? Within capitalism, a decrease in demand can lower prices, and increase total consumption. While the number of vegetarians and vegans in the US exploded from almost none to millions in the last decade, total meat consumption did not decrease. In fact, it increased as prices decreased. More animals died. Veganism has become a religion rather than a liberation strategy. And, like all religions, it accommodates every wish that its followers have.
Do vegans not kill animals? With our consumption of industrially farmed vegetables, use of plastics, dependence on petroleum-fuelled transportation, coal, hydro, solar- (mining for panel and battery construction) powered electricity, we kill thousands too. And those vegans who wear silver and gold, and pearls and any stone, kill millions. The shoes may be rubber but they are held together with glue made of animal bones. The insulin injection is made with cow/pig pancreas. The point is, everything we use causes suffering. So the answer to being a vegan is to use very little. Consumerism is killing the planet. What is needed is for a generation to call a halt to this.
Will simply stopping meat, and carrying on with the rest of your extravagant lifestyle, change the world? Do the banks, they put your money in, invest in any supermarkets, or any other industries involved with the meat industry? Does your insurance agency also insure slaughterhouses? Are these not issues that vegans should look into? Products that should not be available should be off the shelves, not available as alternative choices. But for that to happen, vegans have to make time for policy.
Direct action, for me, is more acceptable for a vegan. Go and liberate an animal from a laboratory or a slaughterhouse. Surround an abattoir and make it impossible to work. Stop trucks that carry animals. These actions are brave, passionate, and inspirational – even though they save small numbers, but each individual is worth saving. They are also important for spreading consciousness of the viciousness of our civilisation towards other living things. Vegans, raise environmental consciousness, clean waterbodies, grow pesticide free crops, eat locally grown food only. Be an activist, rather than a consumerist and a person who sits on a computer and passes along t-shirt messages on veganism and listens to lifestyle gurus.
To commit to veganism is good, but it is just the starting point to a more nonviolent and just world. We need to educate, disrupt, resist, confront, and change institutions that shape policies and culture and make animal abuse possible in the first place. It’s a tall order that requires discipline and courage; not vegan ice-cream.
Decide what your issues are, and what difference you can reasonably make with the time and energy you have available. What are your skills? Who else can you get involved? What effect do you want to have?