Wow, what a week. Animal rights activists in Australia put veganism front and centre of rolling news coverage.
For those of you who missed it (where were you?), a group of animal rights activists staged protests around the country, notably shutting down Melbourne’s CBD, to mark the one-year anniversary of Dominion, an Australian doco that investigates our treatment of animals — not just in agriculture (meat, dairy and egg industries), but also in the clothing and entertainment industries.
While a lot of the coverage was negative, there were plenty of positive pieces, too. Social media was awash with debate (even within vegan groups) about whether this sort of protesting hinders and alienates or moves the movement forward. Which poses the question – does it?
Let’s start with the right to protest. I came across a great article on The Brag (which you can read in full here), written by Luke Girgis, an non-vegan CEO of media company Seventh Street Media. He explained that what took place was pretty much your standard 101 by way of a protest. Disruption. Tick. Inconvenience. Tick. He asked people to check their double standards – if this had been a protest on climate change, women’s rights or refugees would the general public have such a venomous response? He argued that history shows protests are a driving force in social change and concluded that any resistance to the protest itself was directly linked to cognitive dissonance!
If we put aside people’s right to protest, then the question becomes “is there a better way?” For many, the answer is “yes”. Let’s make veganism palatable. Let’s not make people wrong in their choice to eat meat. Let’s not be the angry, annoying vegan at the dinner table. I understand this position all too well. Despite a strong conviction that we should not be eating animals, the gently-gently approach is the one I’ve always taken.
As one of the founders of Meat Free Week* – a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of factory farming, as well as the impact excessive meat consumption/production has on human health and the environment – we specifically chose to take the middle ground. In doing so, we were attacked on all fronts: by the farmers of Australia (and then the UK) and by vegans who said anything short of demanding total abstinence from meat was unacceptable. For us, we felt there was room for different messaging – that one person’s hard core was another’s ah-ha moment.
When I stepped away from the campaign several years ago, I made the decision to not place myself in the firing line again. The level of hatred aimed at us was too much. I vowed I would promote what I stood for rather than what I was against. This led to the launch of The Vegan Company – a go to destination for vegan fashion and beauty, with the aim to make vegan living stylish, desirable and accessible – connecting people with the ever-growing collection of sustainable, cruelty-free vegan fashion, beauty and feel-good news.
In starting a business that focuses on the positives rather than the problems, I joined many others trying to make a difference and a better world for animals. Yet, what happened this week has reminded me of why there is a need to also focus on the ‘problem’ – the ugly reality of how we treat animals. Because it raises the issue of ‘speciesism’ – whereby we value certain animals over others.
If these same activists had staged a protest or stormed a puppy farm or research lab, they’d more than likely be held up as heroes. This sort of activism is acceptable. It falls into line with our values – where we can all agree that animal abuse is wrong. Yet, somewhere along the line (due to conditioning and the above-mentioned cognitive dissonance), we’ve decided that this only applies to certain animals – our domestic pets, whales, koalas, Africa’s big game and the like. We make an exception for these animals that we will not to extend to others, despite knowing that they too are sentient beings. Simply because we like the taste of them. Or to wear them. Yes, speciesism extends beyond food. It’s alive and well in the fashion industry too – while fur has become the pariah of the fashion world, shunned by leading brands globally, the extensive use of leather remains; in fact, it continues to be marketed as a luxury good.
I understand that people will argue for their right to eat meat. However, I’m of the firm belief that if this is your decision, then at the very least, understand the process by which that animal has come to be on your plate (or on your feet). If you don’t know, get educated. Watch Dominion(you’ll find both the trailer and full documentary below). You won’t be alone. It was reportedly viewed 55,000 times within 48 hours of the protests. There are plenty of other documentaries you can watch too – Earthlings, Lucent, Cowspiracy, Vegucated, What The Health, The Ghosts In Our Machine, Forks Over Knives are all a great place to start. Then make your decision based knowledge rather than what powerful industry bodies want you to believe.
Despite the anger levelled at the activists, I applaud them. For all those alienated by their protesting, there are countless others like me, who have been passive and quiet for too long and are now re-engaged in the movement again. I found the protests both humbling and inspiring. As a direct result, I watched Dominion. I have been reminded me of why I started a vegan business in the first place and what I’m fighting for. Animal rights. It’s akin to throwing a pebble into a calm body of water and it ripples out. It’s where conversations start, and change happens. It’s well overdue.
*Meat Free Week was a recipient of the VoicelessGrants Program in 2012 and 2013.