Thursday, October 30, 2008

Omnivore Outreach

I was recently reintroduced to a Vegan Outreach article the group touts called ‘How Vegan?’ by Matt Ball.

VO (Vegan Outreach) is very troublesome, in my opinion. They purport to promote veganism, but fail utterly to acknowledge where veganism even comes from (which seems ridiculous for an organization labeling themselves as such to do.) A search on their website for Donald Watson, who coined the term and defined veganism yields zero results on the date of this publication.

Of course, to recognize Donald Watson, or the Vegan Society would be a further step towards admitting that what they’re advocating isn’t actually veganism.

It’s very clear from VO literature that they’re all about suffering. We must do what we can to reduce animal suffering, even if it means eating or using the animals themselves (as suggested in the article I reference above.)

Imagine if I were to say that to better combat sexism, we should occasionally behave in a sexist manner in order attract more people to the cause.

The fallacy of this is evident, yet VO thoughtlessly makes this specious claim when dealing with veganism (or speciesism).

Isn’t this actually an argument against veganism? That it’s such an unimportant cause that we can at times participate in the system we supposedly oppose, in order to appear more acceptable to the general public? Must we put ourselves down and demean our own activism in this way?

This is patently wrong, just as how VO defines veganism, as some systematic approach to reducing animal suffering. Veganism has virtually nothing to do with suffering. Watson was keen, and the definition of vegan does not mention suffering at all. It is very explicit that animal exploitation is what is to be of concern to vegans. And this is a radical way to deal with the issue: exploitation is the root, and it is the cause of this suffering. To try and combat suffering is to respond to a symptom, but ignore or bypass entirely what’s causing the symptoms…and in all likelihood will only allow the illness to fester.

VO would likely define veganism as a diet. To me, this would be akin to defining feminism as ‘equal pay’. It totally strips away the rich and progressive views that are imbued in feminism -- and veganism.

More thoughtful activists would describe veganism as a lifestyle, but this still misses key points. To me, and others who have spent time reading what Watson wrote, it’s very evident that veganism is most accurately described as a philosophy. It is an outlook or perspective that seeks to actively oppose the exploitation of animals (including humans).

To ignore this is to ignore why veganism was brought about in the first place.  Watson was well aware that even in 1944 vegetarianism was becoming vague. There were vegetarians who ate animal products (dairy, eggs), which undoubtedly led to the deaths of the animals being used, not to mention that the exploitative mentality was also very present.

Vegetarianism was fundamentally veganism, but this message was being eroded away in order to make it more popular or acceptable. So, Watson envisioned a more consistent and progressive movement, and coined the term ‘vegan’ to label this outlook.

Today as you’ve probably already concluded, veganism faces this exact same problem. Instead of being a vivid and clear message against exploitation, it’s been dumbed-down to a diet – and in VO’s terms, not even a consistent one (as they try to include non-vegan things like honey as being vegan).

Sadly, very few ‘vegan’ groups have any idea where veganism came from, let alone the deep and important message that is trying to be conveyed. (I’ve seen that some even believe that VO or PETA came up with veganism!!)

It seems to me that Vegan Outreach is really Omnivore Outreach, as they seem entirely fixated on farm animals, and how they’re treated and should be treated. And at the end of the day, they’re missing entirely the scope that veganism covers, from the wide array of other animal products such as leather and fur, to free-living animals (who are the ones benefiting from a vegan human society.)

There is so much more to vegan advocacy, and for them to have ‘vegan’ in their name, and this degree of ignorance and divorce from the term itself is nothing less than shameful.

It’s time vegans consider more deeply what this movement is about, and recognize that we’re a part of a serious and important social movement, and by thinking and acting this way, we’ll eventually be accepted as such. I, for one, want to be recognized for more than being an advocate of a ‘diet’. That isn’t veganism.

(Note: I don’t mean to put Watson on a pedestal, hero worship is something I oppose strongly, however he is a handy reference point, and deserves credit for the vision and social movement he initiated.)

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