This manifesto is over 5000 words and will take most people about half an hour to read. PDF and ereader formats coming soon.
I would like here to outline a manifesto for a new way of dealing with animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, and the like.
Despite being a vegan myself, I dislike how my movement alienates people. In veganism, things are considered black and white; you’re either vegan or you’re not. I believe that a more effective movement will have room for people who wish to move in the direction of veganism, but not necessarily become vegan per se, or not necessarily do it overnight. These people will still be recognised for their worldview, even when their actions are (currently) not entirely aligned with it.
Redefining the boundaries of the movement seems impossible to me, so I’d like to propose a new, complementary movement, which I will call “philosophical veganism” or “veggie-ism”.
The latter term is chosen for its intentionally vague sound. Its proponents will be “veggie”, as in, vegetarian, vegan, or something along those lines.
Anyone can call themselves veggie, so long as they understand that exploiting or hurting animals unnecessarily is bad, and that the ideal lifestyle to prevent that is veganism. You do not have to be actively vegan in order to believe that veganism is the ideal. Consider Christianity; you do not have to follow all of the precepts of Christianity to call yourself a Christian. You might call yourself a good or a bad Christian according to how well you follow the precepts, but no one will tell you you are not actually a Christian.
Veggie-ism being a vague-sounding term is intentional, but when you need to emphasise that someone is Veggie according to the ideas in this manifesto and not just any old veggie, you can use a capital V. “Veggie-ist” is also presumably a possibility, unambiguous in spoken language.
Note: this manifesto pre-assumes that you have some understanding of the basic logical reasons for going vegan. Micro-summarised they are: Animals feel and their suffering matters. Factory farms nowadays are like concentration camps; the conditions are, without exaggeration, torture. Animals intended for eggs and milk are slaughtered if they are born male or stop being useful. Veganism works, as evidenced by millions of healthy long-term vegans. Therefore, the suffering caused by eating animal foods is unnecessary. Compassion dictates we avoid it.
The documentary Earthlings, which you can watch for free online at Earthlings.com, also provides a convincing argument, by showing you firsthand what animals go through.
One of the foundations of veggie-ism is the understanding that going vegan does not take zero resources* (time, energy, money, focus, and so on) and that people do not have infinite such resources. Going vegan takes different amounts of resources from person to person, and individual people also have different amounts of available resources.
One such resource may simply be something we could call strength. Someone might say, “I know I should become vegan, but I don’t feel strong enough to become vegan right now.” Instead of dismissing such a statement, a Veggie will respond to it with understanding. Even if, from one person’s perspective, going vegan seems easy, we must accept other people’s perspectives when they say that they find it hard. Dismissing them is hurtful, and doesn’t serve the vegan cause.
As a trans person myself, I find it very painful when people dismiss my perspectives, for instance by telling me that gender is nothing but a matter of genitals and chromosomes, and that therefore I must be hallucinating when I mention the profound female self-understanding I have.
Sometimes, some people simply ignore what I say about myself because they feel attached to seeing things in a certain way. I believe, however, that when someone earnestly tells us how they experience the world, we should update our worldviews to accommodate their perspective.
That isn’t to say that some omnivores might not simply be speaking out of defensiveness when they say that going vegan is too hard. I also believe that things might seem harder than they are before one tries to do them. But I do believe that some non-vegans tell us that they find it too hard earnestly, or after making an earnest attempt, and therefore, we should take their viewpoints into account.
*”Resources” is a term that will be used throughout this text, and should be understood to mean the sort of resources mentioned in this section, internal resources such as time, energy, and strength, and mostly not physical resources.
If you’re active in the vegan scene, you’ve probably heard some person or another say that they tried to go vegan but felt bad and had to stop. How did you respond to that? Many vegans just dismiss such ideas. I did, once, on the internet. Then, a real life friend of mine told me this and seemed earnest. I felt like I couldn’t dismiss her experience. Doing so would feel violent, and I wouldn’t be acting like a real friend.
Is it true that some people really can’t be healthy on a vegan diet? I don’t know. I am open to that possibility, however. But, actually, I don’t think that this even matters. Let us come back to the principle that going vegan does not take zero resources and people do not have infinite resources. What my friend was telling me was that going vegan took more resources than she had.
Perhaps she could have kept trying, kept changing her diet until she found a way of feeling okay as a vegan. Perhaps she could have gone online and looked for different possible solutions and tried them all. Perhaps I could have put on my super-vegan cape and tried to give her possible solutions to try. But, she found, in her subjective experience, that going vegan was too hard for her.
So perhaps if she had kept trying, she could have found a way. But then perhaps she simply didn’t have enough of this strength resource to keep up the battle until that point. Or perhaps she really could not have found a way, no matter how hard she tried. In any case, it’s presumptuous of others to try and tell her that what she did wasn’t good enough. We don’t even know what her experience was like, so we can’t really tell her that she had enough time, energy, and focus resources to go vegan when she said she didn’t. And we all have had times when we didn’t feel strong enough to do something which we knew was right.
I consider the case of Lierre Keith*, author of The Vegetarian Myth. Many vegans have torn down her arguments online, and well, I also strongly disagree with almost everything she writes, both intellectually and ideologically. Yet, in her introduction she describes how she had tried very hard to be vegan, and yet experienced terrible health problems as she did so. When she gave up being vegan, her health conditions improved. We can forgive her for thinking that veganism caused her health problems. I have a similar process of deduction myself when I try out different dietary modifications, and that process led me to give up gluten. I believe gluten makes me, personally, sick. It doesn’t make everyone sick, but it makes me sick.
It seems Lierre Keith read opinions on vegan message boards which attempted to deny all possibility that vegan diets can make some people feel worse, pushing away any such ideas as heresy. Keith’s language is loaded throughout her book but from my own experience I can certainly imagine this description at least being accurate, as some vegans do indeed treat certain concepts like religious dogma. (I actually had the memory of reading about her message board interactions more in detail, but I couldn’t find it in her book just now so I will leave out the bits I’m unsure about). I wonder if reading such opinions online that so violently dismissed her experience shaped Keith’s extremely negative views towards veganism. Her negative views caused her to write a book which surely harmed the vegan cause quite a lot. I imagine these views also caused her to rather give up on the idea of reducing her animal product intake, a goal that might have been possible even if the goal of giving up animal products entirely had not been.
Should she have continued the vegan diet that seemed to harm her? Some would say yes. I don’t know what I would have done if I were in her situation. I know I am a very intense person (my autobiography is called Stubborn Soul), so maybe I would. Yet, not everyone is like me. I cannot expect everyone to be like me.
In terms of “ethical mathematics”, she “should” have stayed vegan even if it hurt her. The hurt to her would have been far smaller than the hurt she would have caused to other beings as an omnivore, even if she had died. But not everyone is determined enough to make such a decision. It can be hard to sacrifice ourselves for the wellbeing of others, and it is even harder to make a sacrifice when those we help are unknown to us, abstract. She would have never met the animals she saved, and so the pain she personally experienced would have seemed much more present, more convincing.
The concept of strength comes in here again. Even if she had mentally understood that sacrificing herself was the right thing to do, she may not have had enough strength to do so. And we cannot simply expect people to have enough strength, and to dismiss the possibility that they might not.
For the record, I do believe that there must be other solutions for people who are in Keith’s situation. For one, if you’re ready to lay down your life for animals, you could also spend up to and including all the life energy you have at your disposal to finding a solution. If, after many permutations, you really couldn’t find a way of feeling good on a vegan diet, you could eat animals who had died naturally, or eggs from chickens you had personally saved from death at the hands of farming and who you do not hurt in any way at all. (Buying chickens and keeping them in good conditions is unfortunately not a cruelty-free option, because in order to provide you with female hens the males are all killed as soon as they have hatched).
That’s something I might have tried in her situation, because I am stubborn as hell. But there is another, more moderate solution, for those who don’t have as much in the way of that particular strength I mentioned above. That is: simply reducing animal food consumption.
*Apropos of nothing I discovered while researching this manifesto that Lierre Keith is a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist a.k.a. a TERF, the very sort of person who dismisses my perspectives as a transgender person just as some vegans dismiss the perspectives of those who find it hard to go vegan. My Zen attitude hardened a little towards her at that point, but luckily I’d written all the compassionate-towards-her bits by the time I found this out.
Supposing that some people really cannot thrive on a vegan diet, and do not have the strength to make large sacrifices, I believe it is reasonable that they instead try to make a reduction in the amount of animal foods they eat. Through trial and error, they can find out the minimum amount of animal foods they need to eat in order to feel okay. I believe that this is likely to be less than the amount they started out at.
By making this reduction, they save a proportional number of animals from awful living conditions and death. I believe we can all celebrate this outcome. This is what veggie-ism is about; many vegans would simply abandon someone who says they can’t go fully vegan, but a Veggie will embrace anyone as part of the movement who wants to make an improvement in their diet and/or lifestyle.
A Veggie who feels unable to go fully vegan will attempt to make smart decisions regarding the animal foods they eat. Asides from just reducing animal foods, they might attempt to eat larger animals rather than smaller ones, on the logic that a larger animal provides more food and therefore a given amount of food requires less suffering. They might also eat more wild animals and particularly wild fish, as these creatures lived free and only suffered at the end of their lives. There is the issue of sustainability here, but it still might be an okay compromise, depending on an individual’s point of view. Finally, they might also try and find a “small farmer who raises their animals kindly”. Despite the fact that unnecessary killing is a cruel act, and these small farmers are unlikely to have a strong ethic about only killing when necessary, this might be genuinely better than factory farmed meat.
And yes, I know a lot of defensive omnivores use the argument “It’s okay if it’s a small farmer who gives their animals a happy life”. This hypothetical Veggie who eats meat from a small farmer would have to ACTUALLY eat their meat from a small farmer. I’m aware that most of the time this idea is brought up it is disingenuous, because most defensive omnivores don’t actually seek alternative sources for their meat.
As well as this, I am skeptical that the animals live a genuinely happy life; they are obviously not happy to be killed, anyway. But this may still be better than factory farmed meat, so long as we don’t romanticise what is still a violent and cynical job.
Now, I wanted to go deeper into the concept of going vegan does not take zero resources and people do not have infinite resources. Perhaps my own experience can illuminate a little how this is so.
In the last couple of years since coming out as transgender and beginning my gender transition, I have been assailed with difficulties. I have experienced unbelievable levels of discrimination and harassment, my social life has crumbled, and I have had to grapple with the transphobic ideas that are lodged into my own subconscious mind, whether I want them there or not. Inner work was a full time job for me for two years; I genuinely had very little time for anything else. I eventually got to the point where the largest part of my inner work was done, and also, my external appearance had changed sufficiently that I no longer attracted huge amounts of discrimination. I was, however, exhausted. I had also moved to another country and gone through an excruciating breakup. The accumulation of everything caused me depression and panic attacks. In this condition, I found myself attempting to make lifestyle changes, and failing because I simply didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have energy, and the stress from doing something hard could easily push me over the edge into more panic attacks and depression.
Could you see that in this state, going vegan would not have been so easy for me? Of course, I was already vegan, and maintaining a vegan lifestyle is much easier than transitioning to one. But supposing I hadn’t been vegan and had only then been struck by the necessity? I don’t know if I would have been able.
Another case is that of a friend who eventually did go vegan. He found it easy enough to go vegan except for one thing: cheese. According to him, he was addicted. His first attempts to simply give up cheese ended in relapse-binges, so he decided to dedicate large amounts of resources to tackling this. Several times, he bought large quantities of his favourite cheese, and spent hours eating it VERY slowly in a meditative state. The idea was to overload himself, to somehow satisfy his craving for that experience, or perhaps to make himself tired of it. It seems that this process worked, because eventually he was able to give up cheese and never go back. However, from how he described this process to me, it took a lot of energy and work to get there.
The interesting thing in this case is that my friend DID eventually go vegan. So his report of the transition to vegan being difficult cannot be dismissed as simply the quotes of a “defensive omnivore”. He had no hidden agenda in describing his transition to vegan as difficult; if he had any agenda, it would have been the opposite. And yet, so it was.
As I said, going vegan takes varying amounts of resources depending on the person, and people have varying amounts of resources available. In the case of my friend, going vegan required a lot of resources, and he happened to have those resources available.
What if he had been suffering from depression, panic attacks, and emotional exhaustion like I have been recently? I know that he couldn’t have transitioned to vegan with that level of resources. No amount of cajoling and blaming could have changed that.
I’d like to make another example, that of a current romantic partner of mine, called Tina. Tina has various health conditions, including Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. This disorder causes her to act in certain patterns whether she likes it or not.
I won’t say that this disorder forces her to be an omnivore, because it doesn’t. But it does make it very hard for her to go vegan. For instance, she has compulsions that make it very hard for her to eat foods that imitate other foods, or to buy a certain food if an alternative is cheaper. She also has very little energy to spend on cooking or preparing foods, and has to depend on pre-prepared foods. Most vegans I know cook most of their food simply because they cannot depend on other sources for that. In Tina’s case, that is impossible.
Tina believes that veganism is ethically the ideal way of being. She previously made an attempt to be vegetarian, and failed because of a compulsion. She gave the idea up for a while, and then, some time after meeting me, gave vegetarianism another go. So far it has stuck, though she might eat a little meat if she makes a mistake while ordering her pre-prepared foods (this has happened). The key to her being able to continue as a vegetarian is not to be too hard on herself; otherwise the effort might simply collapse again.
And yes, she is not a vegan, despite believing that that would be ideal. I still think she is doing great, by using her limited resources to go as far as she is able. Perhaps one day she might take another step. For now, I think it is simply cruel to try and tell her to do better. She is already doing amazing.
I might also mention the example of an ex partner of mine who identified as vegan and whose diet was mostly just that. They did, however, find eating extremely difficult, to the point where it had been implied by a doctor that they had a borderline eating disorder. They also suffered from depression and often had very little energy with which to do things, including buying food and eating it.
At one point they decided to eat less tofu, because they believed it might be harmful for them. I disagreed, but obviously I wasn’t going to push the point if they had already made their decision. Because of the difficulty they had with food, they made a compromise on their veganism then by starting to buy mozzarella cheese as a “tofu substitute”, an easy food that felt satisfying that they could eat when they were too weak to prepare anything else.
They also ate shop-bought pizzas sometimes. Once when they were depressed and needed food fast to stabilise their mood, I agreed to go to the shop and buy them a pizza. Perhaps if I had had the mother cow in front of me who was abused to create the cheese, I might have felt different, but at that moment the cow’s suffering was abstract and my ex partner’s suffering was real. Besides, it was simply not my place to tell them they were wrong. What good would that have done? It would have only exacerbated their pain, and changed nothing. And as far as I could see, they weren’t wrong anyway. They were doing the best they could with the resources available to them. If this wasn’t good enough for some overly zealous vegans, then, sincerely, screw those vegans.
The last two stories are examples of situations where people genuinely do not have the resources to go fully vegan, but still attempt to reduce their impact on animals as much as possible. While they are not 100% vegan, they are still, undeniably, Veggie.
I believe it is cruel to judge them, dismiss their perspectives, or to deny that they might not have had the resources to be fully vegan. I believe that is simply not what a friend, much less a partner, does.
I suspect that the tendency of some vegans to dismiss the difficulties of Veggies and aspiring vegans might be part of the reason why vegans are often perceived as judgemental. In turn, this view of veganism does nothing but hurt the cause. I believe we must be understanding and accepting first, and then do what we can to help people clarify their ideas and take action on them. We also must not push our ideas on people when they don’t want to hear them. Most people are open to hearing alternative ideas some of the time, but might not be happy about you criticising them in the middle of a shopping trip.
Quite aside from the cruelty involved in dismissing perspectives, and the ineffectiveness of it, I believe that it is not our place to tell people what to do. Each person has their individual path. I believe we are all evolving towards greater kindness and awareness, but the way we get there will be different for different people.
So, supposing we all continued to evolve towards ever greater kindness and awareness, what would the world in 1000 years look like? Another, related question is, what would a hypothetical “perfect world” look like?
I am not certain whether there are really people who absolutely need to eat animal foods to be healthy. Perhaps people like Lierre Keith were missing some piece of the puzzle, and could have been healthy as vegans if they had had it. What is clear, however, is that most people are physiologically able to be vegans. Therefore, in our more-evolved world, we could imagine that most people would not eat animal foods. It somehow seems strange to me that the remaining people would be eating medicinal meat, prescribed for their rare health condition. This strange feeling is just an instinct I have; I have the sense that in a perfect world, veganism for everyone would work out. But, I admit that it’s just an instinct, a hypothesis. I could be wrong.
In our current world, it is normally not physiology but time, energy, focus and strength resources that limit people who want to go vegan. I believe that in the “perfect world”, these resources would not be needed, because veganism would be the default and we wouldn’t need to spend energy in transitioning to it. We wouldn’t need to go to specialist vegan shops, we wouldn’t need to work out alternatives for the foods which we’ve been raised with, and we wouldn’t need to educate ourselves about nutrition and provide answers to the skepticism of the people we encountered.
As we approach the “perfect world”, the resources we need to transition to vegan become less and less. Specialist vegan items become more widespread, or even default. It’s easier to find recipes for alternative foods, and we might have already learnt them before we tried to transition. It’s easier to find proper information about nutrition, and we might not have heard the most absurd myths about vegan nutrition in the first place.
The more vegans and Veggies there are, the easier it is for new Veggies to transition to a less harmful diet and lifestyle. Each generation of vegans and Veggies are laying the groundwork for the next. Already, there are vegans in this generation who would not have had the resources to go vegan in previous generations. In future generations, it will be even easier for people to go vegan or Veggie.
I believe many readers will have a strong negative reaction against this manifesto. If you are such a person and are reading this, I’d like to invite you to investigate those feelings a little.
Do you feel uncomfortable with giving non-vegans some measure of acknowledgement for their understanding of what is the best path to help animals, even if they don’t fully actualise that lifestyle yet? Would you prefer to reject anyone who is not fully vegan from your community, no matter how much effort they are making to improve?
I believe that these feelings are not truly motivated by the desire to help animals. I believe they are baser instincts; that is, clique-ism, anger, ego. Veganism gives you the opportunity to feel righteous, separate; and it gives you an excuse to lash out at certain people (directly, or perhaps only indirectly when talking about them with other vegans).
I don’t mean to tell you you are wrong for that, by the way. Not wrong in the sense of condemning you, at least. I used to be like that; I would argue with non-vegans and get angry at them; I would think of them as murderers. I had this righteous anger in me.
But the more I argued with non-vegans, the more it seemed that it wasn’t really about them at all. If I was honest with myself, I couldn’t have really expected a positive reaction from vilifying non-vegans. I think I was simply giving my ego an excuse to unleash itself, to hurt others.
We all have this side of ourselves. I think we have to identify it, and to be clear on this one fact: lashing out at others does not help any cause. At most, it might be a way of venting, but not a very good one as the feedback you get will just make you more angry. Anger is never helpful for explaining things or winning people over to your cause. Instead, we need compassion with others, the ability to see their point of view. When we come from that standpoint, people listen to us.
Veggie-ism is an attempt at bringing compassion and understanding to the vegan cause. Instead of rejecting people who are not yet fully vegan, we embrace them. There is no in-group and out-group; anyone can be a part if they choose to be. I believe that this way, many more people will be open to listening to our message.
I’d also like to address another possible issue some will have with Veggie-ism: namely, being able to call oneself veggie will “let them off the hook”.
My answer to that is, of course it will let them off the hook! The idea is to let them off the hook. This is because they’re not on trial in the first place.
Will the idea of Veggie-ism cause some people to make less effort to go vegan? Maybe. But I’m unsure how happy I am with effort that is made at the cost of self-unforgiveness. I suspect people who take such an approach and succeed with it will become the sort of unforgiving vegans which put so many people off the cause in the first place.
Veggie-ism is not intended to be a way of saying that any diet we choose is harmless. It’s possible, even probable, that some will twist it this way, but that is ignoring the definition of Veggie-ism I placed at the beginning of this manifesto: Anyone can call themselves veggie, so long as they understand that exploiting or hurting animals unnecessarily is bad, and that the ideal lifestyle to prevent that is veganism.
We are not holding back from telling the truth here, only from being excessively harsh and exclusionary towards the people who currently feel unable to live in full alignment with what they believe to be true.
I feel that Veggie-ism will actually cause people to make fewer defensive excuses about why they can’t go vegan. That’s because Veggie-ism already accomodates people who feel they lack enough resources to go vegan. I believe that in this environment, it will be easier for some to say, “Actually, I agree that veganism is the ideal, but I don’t feel I have enough resources for that at the moment”. The magical thing about this is, they might later find out that this is not true, or that they later gain more resources. However, if they shut down out of defensiveness, and deny that veganism is the ideal, they will never get to that point.
A little philosophical flourish to end this manifesto:
I believe to become Veggie we must get two points straight. One is whether we believe the suffering of animals to be real. The other is whether we intend to care about it.
I think most people get caught up on the first point. Our society’s culture – perhaps we could say propaganda – makes it very easy to believe that animals don’t suffer. This can either be by ignoring what actually happens in factory farms, or by believing that animals simply do not feel pain like we do. (Once upon a time, it was a common belief in White society that Black people did not feel the same pain as White people did).
The second point is somewhat interesting. Suppose you understand that animals do go through real suffering. The question still remains, do you care? Do you take the suffering of another living being to matter, or do you decide that you are going to intentionally shut off your compassion in order to serve your own self-oriented desires?
Shutting down your compassion is an option. I don’t believe it’s a good option, but it is an option. I think we should consider its existence as an option, because I think many of us are doing it without realising it. When we consider that point, the question is, shall we go all the way and really see what life without compassion is like? Or, shall we let compassion take over, and tear down this block which has been preventing it from being fully realised?
When we have gotten these two points clear – that the suffering of animals is real, and that we intend to embrace our compassion and not shut it down – then I believe veganism as an ideal becomes clear. This is when we are a Veggie. Even if you plan to transition to vegan right now, you still can’t quite say you are vegan yet. You’re Veggie. Being Veggie comes before being vegan. Sometimes, it exists without being vegan. And that’s okay.
To believe in an idea requires very few resources. Going vegan requires more resources. We can spread the Veggie idea without obliging everyone to go vegan just because they agree with us. We don’t have to throw people out of our club just because they don’t have enough resources to actualise their belief. We don’t have to make our support and social validation conditional on such actions. We can support the idea first, and then some kind of relevant action will surely come of its own accord.
It’s not up to us to judge that action. We spread the idea, then people will do with it as they will.