Friday, March 29, 2013

VO and NPR: Want To Help Animals? No Vegan Extremism Required

Ron Chapple/
The NPR report referenced in the previous blog post has been published; thanks to Barbara King for the fair and well-done piece. She chose the best quotes from The Animal Activist's Book and our discussion. Here are the full answers:

Do vegans who insist that such medicines or medical products should be refused by other vegans undermine what VO tries to accomplish, and if so, in what specific ways?

Every time we put the focus on the undeniable suffering of animals on factory farms -- rather than making the issue about our personal choices / definitions / labels / philosophy -- the world is a better place. Again, this is something that took me years to discover; initially, my veganism was all about how "dedicated" and "consistent" I was. Everything centered around how committed I was / how amazing my veganism was, not the animals nor helping them as possible.

Being an effective advocate for the animals -- including being a positive, selfless example -- is much more difficult than memorizing a list of animal ingredients. But if we really oppose cruelty to animals, we need to do everything we can to end factory farms, even if that is more difficult than personally being ever-more "vegan."

The good thing, though, is that today, the "vegan police" / ingredient- and "consistency"-obsessed types are an incredibly tiny minority, compared to all the pragmatic activists who are focused on the animals. They may be loud in some circles (and featured in news reports trying to ridicule those concerned for animals), but they aren't impeding the progress we're making changing people's minds about eating animals, nor are they preventing the abolition of modern agribusiness' worst abuses.

Photo c/o Linda Bower
Is a person a better, more committed vegan when s/he refuses medicines or medical products that include animal products?

A few decades ago, I thought a person's dedication was measured by how much they "gave up" -- how hard their life seemed relative to mine. It took me a while to realize the question isn't how "vegan" anyone is; rather, the only issue is the animals' suffering. 

All that matters is the impact we have for the animals in the real world. What we personally consume (especially at the margins) is almost irrelevant compared to what we can accomplish with thoughtful, honest advocacy for the animals. For example, influencing just one person to stop eating chickens and eggs -- or even simply cutting back! -- has an almost infinitely larger impact than if I avoid yet another obscure, minuscule animal product.

Specific to medicine -- I'm alive and functioning today because of "non-vegan" medicines. This is also true for many of the people who are doing the most good today. The point isn't to suffer or die to be "vegan" -- the point is to lead a meaningful life that reduces as much suffering as possible, making the world a better place than if we hadn't existed.