July 10, 2007

HSUS, Veganism, and Cutting Back on Meat

Posted in animal advocacy, vegan, veganism at 2:41 pm by nevavegan

Wayne Pacelle of HSUS just wrote an entry on his blog about his personal veganism, HSUS’s commitment to farmed animals, and his advice to others on the issue.

I think it’s great that Wayne has come out and said the dreaded “v-word,” vegan on his blog. I think it’s wonderful that he emphasized that he, himself is vegan.

But then he proceeds to only discuss animal agriculture as a welfare issue and talks about cutting back on meat consumption as a valid option. While he doesn’t specifically speak to “cage-free” or “free range” animal products in this blog entry, he provides embedded links that go to pages that promote these things as a better option.

What I would love to see Wayne talk about is why he personally is vegan. Why, when he tells others it’s acceptable, does he not just eat vegan 3 days a week and eat dead animals the other days? Why isn’t he eating free-range eggs and grass fed beef? This must mean something to him beyond the thing he emphasizes, the worst aspects of cruelty in intensive factory farming.

If all factory farms were eliminated and meat became an expensive delicacy because all farmed animals were raised outside in sunlight on a nutritious diet, do any of us believe that if that were the case that Wayne himself would then start eating lamb with some veal on the side. Would he serve his guests bacon, cheese, and goose liver pate?

Of course not. But is the issue that he holds himself personally to standards he believes are not attainable for others? Or does he simply think that speaking honestly and from his heart regarding his own personal beliefs and choices is just too threatening somehow?

I’ve had many people in the movement tell me that they feel asking people to cut back on meat is a positive step. For those who will never become vegan, it’s a reduction in the animals that suffer and die to go on their plates. For others they hope cutting back on gnawing the corpses of animals will be a first step toward vegetarianism which would hopefully be a step toward veganism.

I personally know people that slowly became vegan by cutting back. For example some quit eating beef, then chicken, then finally fish, and then eggs and so on. Does this mean that cutting back on animal products leads to veganism? In some cases it probably does. But one thing was consistent in these cases. These people decided to cut back on animal products on their own as they were bombarded with mailings from Peta and FARM telling them that the only way to be kind to animals was to become vegan. They read it and doubted their ability to be vegan, so they decided to cut back. Then the next mailing came and their guilt was triggered again, so they cut back a little more. Nobody was telling them that simply cutting back was an acceptable goal. The message was always for veganism as the goal.

The counter argument is that too many people believe veganism is an all or nothing endeavor and therefore will do nothing. I’m not sure of the accuracy of this without any actual research on the topic. My personal experience in chatting with friends is that if we keep pushing veganism, many people decide to cut back on their own, and may decide to cut back even further in the future. But there’s also the idea that I always refer back to on this blog—it’s still better to convince one person to go vegan than to convince two others to cut back on meat consumption, because the vegan becomes another ambassador for veganism, another living example that veganism is simple and fulfilling and very livable for ordinary people. That is more powerful than the guy who gave up bacon except for on Sundays.

My next issue with asking people to cut back on the animal products is that in my experience very few people are aware enough of what they’re eating to make a successful judgment of how to cut back. That sounds a little weird, but let me put it this way: with a few notable exceptions almost everyone I meet who learns I’m vegan says “I actually don’t eat very much meat myself.” Then they pretty much always proceed to eat really huge amounts of meat right in front of me, because they are poor judges of amount.

When we ask people to cut back on meat, many will feel that they already eat very little, so they’re already doing what we ask and they’ll see no reason to change. I’m not sure who these people are comparing themselves to when they say they don’t eat much meat (competitive hot dog eaters maybe?), but they do seem to eat a fairly large portion of animal products with every meal.

This is probably just human nature to some extent. I find myself saying from time to time “How could I possibly have gained weight? I don’t eat that much!” Apparently my standards for the volume of food I should consume are based on someone either much larger or a lot a more active. I must think myself a six foot tall marathon runner.

Asking people to eat vegan meals from time to time might help with this tendency to misjudge food volume. At least they’ll see that vegan food can be tasty and satisfying. I support that idea. But when we ask people to simply eat less meat, they often still view a dead animal as the focal point of their meal. Also, without fairly clear instruction that eggs and dairy are just as bad as meat, many people make cheese the new main dish of their “meatless meals.” They’re probably also more likely to abandon the effort since rather than enjoying a delicious vegan main dish, they merely feel deprived with what they feel is a skimpy portion of meat.

To HSUS’s credit they do hand out information including vegan recipes, so if someone follows up on the suggestion to cut their meat consumption with further reading on the website or sending in a request for recipes, they will wind up with vegan suggestions. But why the cloak and dagger? Why can’t we all just say outright: Even in “humane farming” there is immense suffering for the animals and all are eventually slaughtered. If you care about animals the best way to help them is to go vegan. Here are some recipes to try, here are some tips, here is further reading.

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3 Comments »

  1. Sean said,

    This was the case for me. I started cutting back on dairy and eggs because PETA, in those days, kept sending me newsletters asking me and others to go vegan, and explaining why. I found the idea of veganism a bit daunting at the time and simply cut back, until I finally decided to be vegan after a year of newsletters.

    Somehow there is now this perception that you can ask for too much, that people will either do everything you ask them, or nothing at all.

  2. Vincent Guihan said,

    I laughed about the people who say they don’t eat a lot of meat and then proceed to eat a lot of it right in front of you. I had a similar discussion with a guy about pesticides (and how he was concerned about them in vegetables and didn’t understand that residues can be concentrated in meat) who insisted he didn’t eat that much meat. We went through what he had eaten over the last several days — meat at every single meal, including breakfast.

  3. Adam Kochanowicz said,

    Yeah, I don’t get it. I mean, does he not understand non-violent principles? I think he surrounds himself with a false sense of accomplishment when he is “successful” in getting a gestation crate an inch wider or focuses on some random feedlot for not knocking unconscious all the cows that come in…It’s nice to know there’s a vegan in charge of HSUS, but not if he’s going to cave in to the pressure of being the first, making a welfarist out of a vegan lifestyle. Ughh. HSUS…


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