Monday, June 8, 2009

NZ Vegan Podcast Ep. 25 - Abolition in NZ cont'd-my reaction to the factory pigs welfare campaign +My intepretation of the concept animals are persons

Listen HERE

Today I make an announcement, and also finally respond to the hugely publicised campaign by the NZ animal welfare group S.A.F.E to promote "free range" pork consumption. I must admit I really let the side down. I wallowed in a level of self indulgment that is really inexcusable, especially from someone such as myself who claims to be such an activist. I apologise. I didn't write any letters to the papers or participate in any discussions, because I allowed myself to be negative. Well, now I finally made a comment on an animal welfare page (not a local one), maybe it was the wrong place to do it -maybe all the people who read that blog are vegan, I don't know. Here is the article if you want to comment also:
Animal Welfare Examiner

That is the comment I should have left on every NZ paper opinion page and every discussion board across the country while everything was going on, and I didn't. I admit I let everyone down especially all of the poor suffering pigs. The story is still out there though, so I will now be participating - better late than never.
I want to thank all of you who did respond on these opinion boards and to the papers and talk about veganism. For example Bea Elliot wrote in, and she lives in America, where they have so many detrimental welfare campaigns of their own to deal with, and I live here and I didn't write anything, so I am put to shame. No excuses, I let the side down. However, I have addressed the issue in this episode and I welcome comments. I am not trying to turn this podcast into a rant, or into a negative website dedicated to criticising S.A.F.E - in fact I hope to not mention them again - they do what they do, I do what I do. However, it was so highly publicised, and I was so disturbed by it that I needed to get it off my chest, and now I feel so much better. This is really a good way to resolve inner conflict - I recommend starting a blog or podcast! It is worth it. Also, as I told someone recently, we can't let the others do all the work for us. Grass roots means community level, and that is what we need, in all languages, by actual members of those communities in their own words. And that is what grass roots activism is all about. Also, in light of campaigns such as this one, we need it more than ever, so that is what I hope to do in New Zealand. Also, I would like to acknowledge another abolitionist vegan in New Zealand! I hope I am not incorrect in pinning this description on you Bron - but I think you get it! Thanks for keeping in touch, and I am sorry I didn't include you in the tally. Now we are FOUR!
Finally, coincidentally as I was uploading this post, I checked my email and there was a new update from the Abolitionist Approach about an article in which Gary Francione mentions the importance of seeing animals as individuals - this is how I understand it to be when they are described as persons. So I thought it was a good coincidence.
UPDATE: check the comments section of this post to see input from Roger Yates where he also mentions Professor Francione's book Animals As Persons and some quotes to explain some of the concepts as presented in the book.

P.S I am aware that Anthony De Mello passed away many years ago, so although I did talk about him and his writings in the present tense I do know he is no longer alive.

P.P.S The following is the passage I referred to in this episode. Mr. De Mello was primarily concerned with the human condition, was a Jesuit Priest, and was not a vegan, but even as a non-religious vegan I find his writings very helpful. It appears the Krishnamurti is the originator of the quote.

"...The great Krishnamurti put it so well when he said, "the day you teach a child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again". How true! The first time the child sees that fluffy (sic), alive, moving object (sic) and you say to him, "Sparrow", then tomorrow when the child sees another fluffy, moving object similar to it he says, "Oh, sparrows. I've seen sparrows. I'm bored by sparrows".

If you don't look at things through your concepts, you'll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It's a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It's a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it's also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual..." - Awareness, Anthony De Mello


  1. Hi Elizabeth. Just to add to your comments about 'animals as persons,' here are a couple of quotes from Francione from the book of the same name.

    It is worth noting that both these points highlight the fact that animal persons is a legal and philosophical idea and also quite a modest one with, admittedly, wide ramifications.

    p. 61.

    If we extend the right not to be property to animals, then animals will become moral person. To say that a being is a person is merely to say that the being has morally significant interests, that the principle of equal consideration applies to that being, that the being is not a thing. In a sense, we already accept that animals are persons; we claim to reject the view that animals are things and to recognise that, at the very least, animals have a morally significant interest in not suffering. Their status as property, however, has prevented their personhood being realised.

    p. 62.

    If animals are persons, that does not mean that they are human persons; it does not mean that we must treat animals in the same way that we treat humans or that we must extend to animals any of the legal rights that we reserve to competent humans. Nor does this mean that animals have any sort of guarantee of a life free from suffering, or that we must protect animals from harm from other animals in the wild or from accidental injury by humans.

  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    Great show, please keep it up :)

    I was just back home to visit my family for a few days, usually I only see them around the holidays. To celebrate my Grandparents held a BBQ! I was pretty annoyed that they decided to celebrate my being around with an event that glorifies the consumption of non-humans. Apparently the irony was completely lost on my entire family and I had to endure the sight and smell of their slaughtered commodities. It was horrible!

    My family also seems incapable of engaging in a real conversation about veganism, it really hurts me that such a profound change in my life doesn't warrant any inquiry from them. You'd think that they might try to understand, but that, apparently, is too much to hope for.

    Having read Animals as Persons I had conceptualized the personhood of non-humans along the lines of the quotes Roger provided, it was really interesting to hear your interpretation of persons as individuals. I think it helps get the point across and is perhaps a bit more accessible to people.

  3. Great podcast, Elizabeth.

    I particularly liked the analogy comparing the moral discomfort of eating with non-vegans in a society that completely condones consuming animal products with a child being gagged and raped in close quarters in a society that completely condones it and considers you unreasonable if you strongly object. For those who think sex with children is far-fetched, think again: the ancient Greeks thought of sex with older children as no worse than our society thinks of consuming animal products today.

    I already avoid eating with non-vegans as much as possible (although a few times annually my job more or less requires it; it would be several times annually if I never declined at work). I think eating with non-vegans is a nasty catch-22 for us unless everyone is eating vegan food. If we comment or try to educate on what’s on others’ plates, we’re being “rude” or “unreasonable”; but if we don’t comment or try to educate, we’re complicit in and even condoning of the non-human holocaust. The best option is to decline whenever reasonably possible. Declining allows us to avoid condoning the behavior while not being forced into an awkward or negative social situation.

    I visit my childhood family only about once every two years (they’re pretty far away). Next visit, I’m telling them that every food event I attend will be vegan, or I will not be there for that event (I’ll stay at a hotel so I can guarantee control over the situation unless I’m guaranteed a 100% vegan visit).

  4. Hi Elizabeth,

    I'd like to express my appreciation of your podcast. I'm a German abolitionist in Germany, an ex-welfarist, like most of us, for whom it took quite a while to sink in'.

    In the latest episode, you point out that we need to get people to discuss the right issue, which is animal use, not treatment, and this cannot be stressed enough. We don't have to accommodate people who couldn't care less about animals, but to present those who do care with the right message. Some will never get it and remain insusceptible, but others will be responsive, and these are the ones we are interested in.

    All of us, I suppose, who engage in vegan education keep considering and reconsidering ways of approaching people and what to say in which situation. And most of us, especially when we have little experience in activism, are (extremely) self-critical – which is a good thing; without self-criticism, there is no improvement. Some find it easier to talk about the issue, have more opportunities to do so, or are more eloquent than others. But whichever situation we find ourselves in, on the basis of being familiar with the relevant facts and arguments, we can't go wrong, and there is no 'failure'. Even if we think we could have done better, each time we present the right message, this is a piece of a puzzle which will be completed in the minds of those who can be reached; and those who can't are not our concern at this point in time.

    I'm glad that you have decided not to attend family meetings any more where non-vegan food is being consumed, and I think that the reason for this decision applies to all social events, whether it concerns family, friends, or co-workers. I go along with Dan Cudahy's comment. Whenever we are sitting at the table where animal corpses or products are being consumed, we are complicit in what we seek to abolish, if we don't comment or try to educate. But even if we do, attending non-vegan meals sends an implicit affirmative message. Moreover, I would expect people to be the least responsive to vegan education when they are eating nonvegan stuff, and to be more defensive than in other situations. For both reasons, such events are, in my view, possibly the least suited opportunity for vegan education.

    To be clear, this is not about avoiding contact with nonvegans; without the former, there is no way of educating the latter; but if we would not attend an event where people indulge in uttering racist sentiments or in child molestation, why would we attend one where people indulge in causing sentient beings to be tortured and slaughtered? The fact that the latter occurs everywhere, because it is regarded as morally perfectly acceptable, and the former does not, provides no good reason for treating things differently.

    Animal exploitation in its myriad forms is ubiquitous, but as you are absolutely right to point out, food is the issue which we need to focus on, given that the vast majority of animals are killed for food, and that eating and sharing meals has an important social function. Dan says the best option is to avoid such events wherever reasonably possible; I'd say where not necessary. What is necessary? This question everyone has to answer for themselves, keeping in mind that not avoiding such events is self-defeating with regard to vegan education.

  5. In earlier episodes, you argue in favour of tolerance and explain in which sense you use that word, pointing out that you don't mean acceptance. I agree with everything you say about the way to educate people, not being aggressive or even violent (in another episode, you speak of being diplomatic); it just has nothing to do with tolerance. Tolerance means, by definition, accepting, or taking a permissive attitude towards, ideas, values, or actions deviating from one's own. But ethics, as we know, is about things being right or wrong, approving of or rejecting them. So, while we can't force others to think and act the way we want them to, and while abolitionists don't consider violence a legitimate means to a desirable end, we can't reasonably speak of being tolerant towards what is not in our power to change.

    I loved your interview with Gary.

    Thank you for doing what you do.

    Warm regards,


  6. Hi thank you so much for your insight! Really great stuff, I have be re-thinking all of this as well, and from seeing JonBen's comment and after reading Dan's comment it made me continue on a bit in something I started to think about, which you have all helped me to clarify! I won't be sharing any meals with anyone under circumstances where animal products are being consumed, for the reasons which you guys have already figured out :-).
    The cool thing is - I was already coming to that conclusion by myself, because after a while it seemed the logical thing for me to do - it just took me a while.

    Also, thanks for your comments on using the word tolerance. I know you won't believe this, but last night, I absolutely swear to you, I was thinking I had to re-clarify that. With your permission, I will read your comment on my next episode.
    Thank you so much for listening!

  7. Elizabeth... I echo the praise - this is one of your best talks! You focused on so many critical issues. One of the most important being the "happy pig" campaign in your area. Yes, it's sad so much energy there (and here) go into convincing people to eat the same animal raised a different way. My answer always is - that these animals still meet the same butcher's knife in the end... and that none of it is necessary to begin with.

    Your second point of great interest to me was the decision to abstain from eating with non-vegans. When I have had to attend meat-eating functions - it's torture! I cannot remove myself from the sorrow I feel for the slain animals being consumed. It's impossible for me to "switch off". So rather than make my own meal miserable... I just refuse eating with non-vegans. I also avoid going to grocery stores... The tons of body parts in the *meat* cases... and in people's buggies, is very upsetting. In some ways it is like living on a different planet!

    But we do know the reason why people don't want to engage in discussion is so they don't have to critically examine their precarious position. If they refuse to ask questions - it means everything they believe cannot be challenged. Don't ask - don't tell. Of course it's just narrow minded and it betrays one's own intellect. I don't know how many times I've heard people say "I just try not to think about it". Society condones and encourages this cowardice... and vocal vegans destroy that numb bubble they are in. Exposing this reality isn't welcome, nonetheless - it's imperative to do; and I don't back down an inch either.

    I think you're right that your family may actually discuss veganism more in your absence - good move! Great podcast! Thanks so much for all you do! :)

  8. Thanks Bea, for all your support. Thank you for all you are doing also. I am wondering how many other people do or don't eat with other people unless it's a vegan meal? I know that is is a more complicated issue than I thought, for many people, not just for me, and I am not the only one who has been struggling with it.... More to come :-)

  9. Hi Elizabeth,

    I'm grateful for this exchange of thoughts with colleagues about an issue which I agree is a complicated one. After I had posted my comment, an abolitionist friend of mine called me and expressed his disagreement with my view. He argued that my analogy between attending an event where people indulge in racism or child molestation, and attending one where people eat animal products is invalid for the very reason that I have claimed to be not a good reason for treating things differently: that the latter conduct is pervasive in our society and generally regarded as perfectly acceptable, whereas the former is not. If my analogy is invalid, so is any moral judgement derived from it.

    Sitting at a table where people are causing animals to be tortured and slaughtered by consuming their corpses and products would cause me emotional distress which I tend to take as psychologically reflecting the awareness that I should not be sitting there. The psychological reaction is rooted in moral judgement, i. e. , the idea that my analogy is valid; but one must not mistake the former for a criterion of the latter. As a welfarist, less than 3 years ago, I used to think that eating animal flesh was morally worse than consuming animal milk or eggs, and this notion made me feel distressed watching people eat meat, but not watching them eat dairy. The emotional distinction vanished along with the moral distinction, once I had understood that there is no moral distinction is to be made.

    It is one thing to say I don't attend nonvegan events when I can help it, and another, to deem doing it morally problematic. Confusing feelings and normative claims is, I suppose, as typical of welfarist thinking as are reactionary concepts of human psychology which serve as the ideological foundation of activism that is inimical to abolition. Realizing and clearing up one's own confusions is what makes an abolitionist. If my analogy is invalid, sitting at a table where nonvegan food is being eaten is no more complicit in immoral conduct than is visiting nonvegan restaurants or shopping in supermarkets.

    In short, reconsidering my view, I have come to the conclusion that I can't make it a normative claim that we should not be sitting at a table where nonvegan food is being consumed because doing so would as such be condoning it. Whether or not it does depends on the circumstances.

    As for my point that this situation is possibly the least suited opportunity for vegan education because people tend to be more defensive in this situation that in others, this is a strategic claim about effectiveness of activism. However, I acknowledge the possible objection that, when someone feels distressed, she is not likely to perform as well as an activist as she would otherwise, in that, for example, she is confrontational, and that this may result in no or less susceptibility on the part of those she is talking to than they might have shown otherwise. Someone whose activism is not afflicted by considering this situation as essentially different form others, may well experience it as perfectly suited for vegan education and use it effectively.

    I think it is important to reflect (self-)critically on this issue, but doing so should not result in discouraging anyone form using any situation she can to educate others about veganism.


  10. Thanks for your great input and comments, I think you have made some very good points and I hope a lot of people are thinking critically about this issue as well. It seems they already are, and I will be that's for sure. I haven't had to make any decisions about any meals because right now I am a hermit, studying at home, so it hasn't come up yet. I am constantly thinking about these things, as are we all. That's why we do what we do.
    Thanks Karin! :-)

  11. Hi!

    Just wanted to say that i appreciate what you are doing, and that you can add another NZ Vegan Abolitionist to your tally, though.. i now live in Australia. I was born in wellington and lived in a few places in nz for the first half of my life.. i need to return for a visit sometime soon.

    I'll be keeping up to date with your writings/thoughts : )

    Have a nice day.

  12. Hi Darryl!
    Come back! hee hee :-)
    Thank you so much for getting in touch

  13. Hi Elizabeth
    just a little correction re the 60 minutes programme.
    The programme was put together by TVNZ, not SAFE. and no it was not funded by the pork industry, they hated it.

    you will be pleased to know that SAFES new pig video does show slaughterhouse footage and does promote vegetarianism. mainstrasm TV arent intersted in it, so if you want it you have to contact SAFE yourself.

    Mr G

  14. Hi Mr. G
    thanks for your comment and thanks for listening! In this episode I actually wondered out loud if the show was endorsed by the Free Range pork industry specifically, not the pork industry in general as you mentioned in your comment. Also, vegetarianism is not veganism. So I am not interested in the promotion of vegetarianism, as that means nothing with regards to helping non humans (the only exception being Colleen Patrick Goudreau's Vegetarian Food for Thought Podcast which is actually promoting Veganism and the Abolition of all use of all animals for all things - not just food. Which is what I am promoting with this podcast.) Thanks for listening!