The Problem with Ableism and Animal Rights Activism

The more I delve into the deep dark world of Facebook vegan discussion groups, the more I wonder – are we losing sight of the end goal? I’ve only been vegan for two short years, but even I remember the good ol’ glory  days when vegans talked about how we all want the world to embrace veganism, and for plant-based food to be the norm rather than an anomaly for which we are mocked. Do we want to be stared at like we’ve grown another head, when we ask a waiter whether a vegetarian dish can be made without eggs or dairy? Are we not all tired of repeating yet again if there is a vegan menu, as if we hadn’t enunciated our syllables?

I’ve taken part in activism before, though of course I haven’t been to every march, demo, or panel meeting. My first foray was a Free The Nipple march back when I first started blogging here a few years ago, and I’ve since been to panel discussions and focus groups for actions against violence against women, pro-choice rallies, and of course the Anti-Trump, Anti-Racism march earlier this year. I’ve also missed many that I was unable to attend; the Women’s March was one of them. I take part in online activism, both on my personal Facebook and on my public Twitter. I keep my business social media channels non-partisan, though of course we do sell and promote products that are pro-feminist and anti-patriarchy.

Earlier this week, I had a quick scroll through my Facebook feed before work to find a member of a local vegan group berating the other 3000+ of us vegans in the Central Belt for not attending a “hunt sab” meetup they’d organised. What is a hunt saboteur, you ask? These are Animal Rights Activists who choose to sabotage a hunt through various means. As far as I knew, hunting foxes with dogs was banned in Scotland since 2002; I won’t claim I know enough about this to say with any conviction that how the sport takes place now, or even very much about the sport at all. I also understand that this is very difficult to regulate. What I’m getting at here is the issue of aggressions by vegans, towards other vegans, for their unwillingness to participate in a specific type of activism. 

“What kind of vegan even are you if you won’t take part?”

What elitist, ableist BS. I have absolutely no time for vegans who try to shame or belittle other vegans because they don’t participate in this type of activism. There are so many factors why someone may not want to or be able to take part in a hunt sab. Or a demonstration, march, protest, get a vegan-themed tattoo, or take part in “direct action” activities such as open rescues. It’s no one’s place to dictate what kind of activism others choose to engage in. There are so many extenuating factors going on that are no one else’s business, and no vegan should feel the need to justify why they choose not to take part. 

Now the question is, in a group of over 3000 members, with nearly all members already vegan or in the process of transitioning – is there a responsibility for members to engage in direct activism? I’m using the term to describe “in the field”, rather than online activism.

First of all, even if a person had an interest in joining a particular kind of activism, and was physically, psychologically and mentally able, being shamed for not doing so by some self-righteous individual hiding behind an online persona would likely put them right off. Aside from physical and mental constraints, there is also the issue that it is still a dangerous activity, and one that could potentially lead to an arrest in some cases (which might result in a loss of earnings, loss of job, or loss of livelihood).

Everybody’s circumstances are different. It’s unfair to assume by a person’s online presence or the photos they share publicly that they are both willing or able to engage in a potentially dangerous activity. To challenge someone’s bravery without an understanding of their circumstances is incredibly ableist. To tell them, en masse, that they are not making a difference because “just being vegan is not enough” is trivialising the very movement we are all want to be a part of. The idea of this intangible “perfect veganism” as something unattainable is actually damaging to the cause, because it’s overwhelming to new vegans and to those interested if they are led to believe that it is always impossible to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle.

When it comes down to it, face-to-face activism doesn’t exactly cater for people who are not “conventionally” able-bodied. It’s all very easy for someone who is able to walk and stand for prolonged periods of time without experiencing pain to say that all vegans must take on the responsibility of direct activism. This already excludes most people with limited mobility or anyone who requires a mobility aid such as a scooter or wheelchair, and comments become ever more disturbing when directed at those who do not have outwardly presenting disabilities. What about invisible conditions such as autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and Ehlers-Danlos (to name just a few)?  What about anxiety? Depression? There are any number of physiological, psychological and mental health issues that can’t be seen by the naked eye and may exclude someone from taking part, or feeling able to take part.

Activism can be a very personal thing. What is right for one person may not be suitable for another; some people love volunteering for organisations like Vegan Outreach and Go Vegan Scotland to speak to the public, or handing out leaflets and approaching strangers on the street, but for others, this could be detrimental to their mental wellbeing. Imagine having severe social anxiety, and being ignored or sworn at by strangers who don’t want to talk to you about veganism, or imagine having to approach or speak to strangers at all. It’s not quite so simple as just a case of “if you are not physically able to do x, you should do because it doesn’t involve walking or standing”. We need to adopt a holistic approach, and one way to start is to stop trying to dictate what kind of activism others should take part in. It’s not prescriptive. Every human, as well as every non-human animal, is an individual.

Almost every day I’ll see a post on one vegan Facebook group or another complaining that veganism has now become more about the “tasty food” and the “vegan cakes” than about the promotion of veganism as a lifestyle. Whilst I can understand the frustration, I also don’t see the harm. I was always someone who didn’t really enjoy the taste of meat, even as a child. I ate it because that was what I was socially conditioned to do, but became increasingly vegetarian and then vegan initially for health and environmental reasons (not to mention the fact that I just didn’t “like” eating animals). Though I was primarily vegetarian for years, I never quite made the leap to vegan until 2 years ago because…well, I thought it would be difficult. In fact, I even remember posting on my Facebook to ask for help because I had no idea what vegans ate. One of the main things that worked for me, personally, was plant-based pals sending me links to their favourite vegan foodie resources, Instagram accounts, and blogs. I was not happy to live on salad, and it was through the help of the visual stimulation of tempting animal-free treats that made me realise that being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean depriving yourself of anything tasty, cooked, or filling. It’s easy to dismiss the impact something as simple as food can be on the psyche, but when I realised that all the foods I knew and loved, and more importantly, found comfort in, could be easily veganised? The world was my oyster mushroom.

Humans tend to be creatures of habit. The familiar is comfortable, and it can be difficult to step outside our comfort zone with a major lifestyle change. I know my fellow vegans would all love for the world to be vegan. We’d all prefer if our lifestyle was the norm, and a way of doing this effectively is to encourage more and more people to embrace veganism. Not alienate people who are already vegan.

My question is – would you rather encourage more people to become vegan, or would you rather just preach at other vegans that we aren’t “vegan enough” for not taking part in direct activism?

 

Comments

  1. This is actually what stopped me being Vegan. I had a a friend (now ex friend) who consistently badgered me about attending saves and other events to face off the public. Not only did they ignore the fact that I am disabled (plus during that time period I was in and out of hospital every couple of weeks) but they didn’t seem to be thinking about things like my 4yo. As if I am taking him to something that could turn into a riot. I got sick of the whole you’re not vegan if you’re not an activist bs and stepped away from it all.

    1. While I can understand you feeling pushed away, why let animals suffer because you’ve had a bad experience with another vegan? If they don’t think you’re vegan enough because you’re not actively doing something they think you should then that’s they’re problem, not yours. But if you decide not to be vegan because of it, non-human animals will be the ones to suffer, not the idiot who made you feel bad

  2. I went vegan at 42. Its a big change for anyone. In my case, my parents had both passed away, I was raising my kids in a completely different part of the world, and having little to no family left food is my connection to family, memories, comfort and connection. Unfortunately the emotional comfort food is 90% animal based. So while not missing the actual food, I miss the emotional comfort that comes with sharing a meal with my family, that I shared with my parents when times were good. Hence, I’ve had some slips, (but 7+years later, i’ve still not ate meat so that is a HUGE personal win for me). So sometimes, being vegan isn’t easy, and it drives me crazy when so many other vegans say its easy, you’re not trying hard enough.
    Through my business i’ve introduced thousand of people to vegan food. Even when I am not 100% I still heavily promote vegan food, and lifestyle. But , having seen how others have been treated for not being 100% or feeling that they were unable to continue due to health issues, I chose not to speak about my non-vegan moments. I was raised catholic so I am pretty good at self judgement and shame thank you so I do NOT need anymore from anyone else! haha
    i have seen really lovely people pretty much shunned after they were berated for not looking at more solutions, its horrible.

    So, long story short, when my husband and I began leaving out the animal products, we said, if there is something we REALLY REALLY wanted, we should have it, just question it first. So yes I had the eggs and quorn ham steak on christmas morning, as growing up that was a chriistmas tradtion, but I did not have the sweet and sour spear ribs at new years, and after 7 years I have become the master of the seitan turkey!

    I know for a fact my choices have caused at leat 20 people to re-evaluate their food, and have moved to a plant based diet, or a predominantly plant based diet, as far as I am concerned THAT is activism, and my choices are making the world a better place to live in and that is enough. Do what you can, when you can, where you can..

  3. Totally agree with you about not pushing people into doing things they aren’t necessarily able to do – few people become vegan oyr start being active against something because of feeling forced. So I generally agree with the point of your post.

    As someone who is vegan and has the time and ability to sabotage hunts, I just wanted to get in touch and say that, as well as adding that the majority of hunts in the UK are actually breaking the law and continuing to kill foxes, hares, deer and otter on a very regular basis. Most hunt saboteurs do not use violent means, though there will always be some that do, as with most things.

    I’m part of a group called Three Counties Hunt Sabs and also run Gloucestershire Badger Office, and while we’re far from perfect ourselves, we try to make it clear that there is something that everyone can do, regardless of how much time or energy they have and how able-bodied they are and regardless of whether they’re vegan / veggie or eat meat. IF they want to be involved. There’s no point pushing people away who are on their own journeys. And no point trying to push someone into something they’re not comfortable with.

    There’s something for everyone who wants to be involved, whether it’s online work, research, infiltration, pretending to be a ramble or dog-walker to avoid potential confrontation, active (non-violent) sabotage, checking badger setts for signs of illegal interference, driving, sitting in one place, activism from home and so on.

    So, thank you for the post and I hope you know that we’re all individuals… ignore the pushy ones, know they don’t represent the rest and carry on with what is right for you x

  4. Could not agree more with this post, Lucie! I’m so glad to see the “pushy vegan” issue coming to the fore front and being challenged and discussed. We’re in an interesting time where interest in veganism and concern over animal welfare and the environment is growing, leading more people to learn about the cause. With this, I think there’s a certain amount of gate-keeping going on, unfortunately. More long-term vegans are ready and waiting to trip up newer vegans or even flexitarians, because in their eyes if you’re not perfect there’s no point and you’re as bad as a carnist. Facebook seems to be a hotbed for it – I can’t believe people would be annoyed over the popularity of vegan cakes, as if that detracts so terribly from the cause!

    In maintaining a blog and social presence where I talk about a lot of the points you’ve raised in this post, I feel as though I am doing my part in terms of activism. I have the privilege of being abled enough to attend sabs or vigils if I wanted to, but to be perfectly honest I have other priorities with the little free time I currently have and so for the most part choose not to take part in that type of activism.

  5. Hi, I am a sab and have been for many years. I think that you are absolutely right in that shaming people is not the way forward. However, sometimes it is a fine line between keeping a campaign/group/whatever going, keeping interested people in the loop and trying to recruit new people and seeming to pushy.
    I will just say that sabbing is not just about running around getting into confrontations, we try and avoid it. Nor is it about being a young, super fit super hero. I know sabs who have a multitude of health problems and some who are in their 70s. Much of it is boring and much of it is preparation. Those who may wish to get involved will find many things that need doing which don’t even require leaving the house. Fundraising, banking, keeping accounts, research (massive this…who owns what land, who the hunt officials are,trawling through old books and maps finding meets…it’s endless with each answer posing new questions) answering emails, meadia, press releases, video editing…….massive/huge/thing, social media, someone on the end of a phone to sort stuff for sabs in the field when they get into deep doo doo.
    Then there is other stuff which could really help. Dog or baby sitting, driving to pick up sabs, leafleting etc.
    Same for other campaigns/sanctuaries etc. I am one of the coordinators against the cull in Gloucestershire and we always do our best to be as inclusive as possible whilst recognising that it is not for everyone and that there are many other ways of helping all animals. It is not for anyone to judge someone else’s life if they are not harming others.

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