“The most important thing you can do [to achieve abolition] is go vegan” is what Gary Francione says on his website The Abolitionist Approach. I would have to disagree. I have been practicing veganism since 2004, and my reasons for going vegan were with animals in mind. Decolonization, ecological living, spirituality, health, and my own animality didn’t come until four years later when I seriously began to question the multiple directions of veganism in the United States. I have since come to view veganism for what it is–a contextual practice that provides no foresight for long-term strategy. In animal liberation, this is definitely the case.
The first experience I had with a vegan that wasn’t based in an animal liberation ethos was in my junior year of college. It was the day of “La Comida Para La Gente“, an event sponsored every spring by Alianza Latina at the University of Vermont. A cook in the kitchen of ALANA Student Center was preparing a whole chicken for the feast and commented on how delicious the body smelled as she pulled him out of the oven. My close friend, who was also present, lamented her loss due to her veganism. When I learned she was vegan, I felt initially excited, like I might have found another person of color who was vegan and cared about the lives of other animals. She stopped me before I even had the chance to talk about animals. She snapped, “I’m not vegan because of animal rights. I don’t care about any of that. I’m vegan for social justice and environmental reasons.” And she turned back toward the roasted chicken, signaling she was done with the conversation and didn’t want to discuss veganism further with me (given that I had a reputation by then for being an “out” animal rights activist due to the club I founded called Students for True Animal Rights). She ignored me for the remainder of my time there and spoke to my friend instead. That was at least three years ago. Since then, I have met more vegans of color in person and in cyberspace—some who match her motives in varying degrees, others whose sensibilities are similar to my own. Regardless, the encounters have reaffirmed my thoughts that veganism alone will not bring abolition or animal liberation (whatever you want to call it). In a utopian fantasy, veganism will only appear to work if its motives are entirely based on some animal rights philosophy. Veganism for these reasons alone (whether it’s solely for animal liberation, human decolonization, environmentalism, personal health, or religious/spiritual practices) will not guarantee that the biosphere will experience liberty and world peace. In fact, in an extreme scenario, it may further sever us from our animality and reciprocal place in the world (of course, this doesn’t have to be the case).
Veganism is becoming more and more a subculture to pre-existing subcultures or scenes (i.e. straight-edge punk, anarchist, afrocentric—to name a few). As a result, the emphasis in veganism as a whole has been to focus on the lives and identities of these self-proclaimed vegans (for example, there are some self-identified vegans who eat honey and use it as healing conditioner on their bodies). Unfortunately, animal rights activists who are also vegan proponents have become so involved in identity politics to the point where the ultimate concern is being vegan. We’re at the point where you can talk about veganism and make no mention of animals or being animal at all. Veganism in the United States has successfully booted nonhuman animals out of the picture and once again focused majority of our attention on human experience.
And yet, despite all that, veganism isn’t entirely without purpose and profundity. The vegan diet is an excellent way of practicing mindful eating. It forces the individual to pay attention to what and who goes in and out of her body. Though one could argue that this could easily be done in an omnivorous diet, I think that because of the heavy meat consumption of our culture, veganism challenges us to pay attention all the time because society is not structured to readily accommodate our eating.
From an animal liberation perspective, veganism is the most basic tactic in boycotting industry that oppresses animals. We can never boycott industry entirely, as long as we are participating members of civilization, but we can resist major sectors long enough until they are forced to change in response to a new market. However, this change doesn’t guarantee a positive one. We could always wind up with a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” scenario, where the increasing demand for soybeans and rice further destroys the tropical world and its indigenous peoples. Under those circumstances, even if veganism could lessen the extent of animal commodification, the process of commodification would still exist and continue to bring ruin to indigenous peoples, poor laborers, and the natural world. I, for one, don’t think that animal commodification can end without commodification as a whole dissipating. And veganism will not bring the end to commodification. Widespread, long-term veganism in the civilized world would only aggravate it….