Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter For The Animals

Sunflower Vegan Society logoYou will probably be surprised to learn that our rights as vegans actually began as long ago as 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, just four years after the ‘birth’ of veganism with Donald Watson’s invention of the V-word. Both events world-changing, but entirely unconnected of course!

There are 30 Articles in the UDHR, but Article 18 is the most important one for vegans. Under Article 18 people are entitled to their beliefs and have the right to both practice and teach others about their beliefs. And beliefs that qualify for protection under human rights law concern a life lived with deep convictions, which can be religious or non-religious in nature.

A few months ago Care2 published the good news that Ontarian vegans’ legal status has gone up. My apologies for being a little late with the news. I’m afraid this particular post’s been sitting neglected in my drafts since last December. So much for New Year’s resolutions. But it’s still worth taking it out and giving it a good dust off because it shines a light on Vegan Rights and why they matter for animals. And anything that matters for animals MATTERS!

i am vegan veganism vegan rights green healthy animals

“Some people view veganism as a diet, others as a way of life. Critics equate it to a religion and the Canadian province of Ontario has recently subscribed to that definition — but that’s a good thing” says Care2

Since 1995 when the policy was last updated, discrimination cases based on ‘creed’ were only considered if they involved prejudice against religion-based beliefs, but now the Ontarian commission has ruled that, ‘Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life,’ veganism stemming from ethical concerns included.

So what does the official recognition actually mean?

From a practical standpoint, it means Ontario’s vegans are entitled to have their diet, vegan-oriented choices, and beliefs legally respected.”  Care2

You may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Why did their policy need updating? Why the need to define veganism as a ‘religion’? Deep convictions of a non-religious nature are already covered under Article 18 of UDHR. Well, it seems it isn’t quite as clear cut as it at first sounds. Signatories to The Declaration have quite a bit of leeway in interpreting Article 18. Some chose to allow it to apply only to those with religious beliefs, which means that veganism could only come under Article 18 if defined in law as a religion. So Ontario’s vegans actually had no vegan rights under UDHR – until that momentous re-definition in December last year. Other states and nations though, like the UK, already apply Article 18 to both religious and secular beliefs.

appetite-1284778__180But why is that important and why do vegans need legal rights anyway?

  • Vegans could be discriminated against in hospitals, schools, prisons, care homes and other institutions by not being provided with suitable food
  • Certain educational courses require students to undertake experiments on, or dissections of, animals. Because of their ethical beliefs, vegans need the legal protection of the right to be exempted
  • Vegans could be discriminated against in the health service if suitable medications are not provided
  • Vegans are still marginalised socially, in restaurants etc, where vegan choices are very restricted or non-existent

International law requires nations to implement EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL and prohibits discrimination. European case law has recognised VEGANISM AS A BELIEF FOR THE PURPOSES OF RIGHTS LEGISLATION. As such we believe that society has a moral duty to accommodate vegan belief and generate wider respect for veganism – International Vegan Rights Alliance

IVRA’s prose style – and this topic itself – may seem about as dry as some heavy old legal tome gathering dust in the archives, but what’s being said there does really matter. Not just to us, but to the animals too. Why? Well sadly, as yet we don’t have an equivalent UN sponsored Universal Declaration of Animal Rights – if you think like me, that the nations of the world signing up to UDAR would be just about the best thing that ever happened, please add your name to the petition below and share far and wide. Thank you in advance friends and animal-lovers.

So it is in the light of animals’ almost total lack of rights the world over, that it’s beholden on us to insist loud and clear, that our belief system – our belief in the innate rights of animals – has an absolute right to be respectedThis is Vegan Rights. This is why they matter. It isn’t really so much about whether all we can get to eat somewhere is chips and salad (though that would be very important if we were in hospital or prison). Or whether we’re made to feel like we’re a nuisance if we ask for plant milk. It is about the animals. The more we insist (politely, kindly and gently) on our rights as vegans, the brighter the spotlight thrown on what veganism is all about – the animals and their lack of rights in the world of humans.

2016 started with a zing for vegan rights here in the UK. Gourmet Burger Kitchen plastered around London a series of what they considered lighthearted ads poking fun at vegetarians. Take a look for yourself here:- We CAN Change the WorldA group of vegan Facebook friends countered with a social media campaign #gourmetmurderkitchen which trended on Twitter and hit the national news. I tried to make the point with one of my own tweets “Veganism is not a joke. Animals matter. Join us 2 demand  remove insulting ads”.  We won! GBK got a ton of bad press, were forced to issue public apologies and remove all the ads. Their brilliant advertising idea backfired on them big time.

images-3A year or so earlier, a regular feature writer in our local rag thought he would entertain his readers one November by ridiculing the oh so absurd idea of having a World Vegan Month – whatever next! And while he was at it, sneering at vegans.

“As if November isn’t depressing enough some masochists have declared it Vegan Month. Why is it that every veggie I meet looks like they have about 48 hours to live? No-one spends more time with animals than I do but if we all forgo meat what’s to become of all those beasts? Unless of course every vegan plans to adopt a cow, sheep and a couple of pigs. Soon as they’ve settled in they can move on to geese, turkeys, ducks, hens etc. I have noticed in restaurants that whenever a steak is served in error to a vegetarian they never send it back – they don’t have the strength. Almost every veggie I know is either a student or unemployed. They used to taunt me with that much loved question, “Would you eat meat if you had to kill it yourself?” Until I asked, “Would you eat vegetables if you had to get a full-time job?” I have a pal that grows his own potatoes, cabbage, carots, lettuce and owes his entire existence to …. benefits.” 

I wrote a firm rebuttal of his nonsense which the rag eventually published, and afterwards sent the following to the editor: In brief, Mr Barlowe depicted a minority group (vegetarians and vegans) as masochistic, weak-willed, spineless, unhealthy, unemployed benefit claimants. And after slurring the character of this group of people, wrote, “I’m joking”, as if that made it amusing. If you are in any doubt about this piece’s offensiveness, just substitute the word “Muslim” everywhere Mr Barlowe wrote veggie or vegan, and see if you would then be happy to allow that to go into print under your editorship –  there would be public outrage. But vegetarians and vegans are clearly seen as a soft target for cheap laughs. It’s pitiful the way your paper feels the need to poke fun at anyone who has beliefs and principles, and who is actually doing their bit to make the world a better place.

You are probably wondering why I’m woffling on about this. The reason is, both this and the GBK episode are good illustrations of why vegan rights matter so much for the animals. It isn’t that we feel personally insulted. It isn’t that we are delicate over-sensitive flowers who can’t take a joke. It’s that in mocking vegetarians and vegans, our beliefs about the rights of animals were themselves being mocked. Our beliefs are not funny. We need to tell that rag, that feature writer, GBK and everyone else who is listening, that billions of animals suffering miserable lives and dying cruel deaths at the hands of human beings IS NO LAUGHING MATTER.

UnknownAs it stands, the law endorses, no, actually protects the human-centric, speciesist world order. In its role as protector of humans’ property it stands as a very real barrier to animal rights. If we want to turn the tide of the terrible abuse animals suffer, we need as IVRA puts it, to “raise the profile of veganism as an important, workable, reasonable, rational and intelligent belief system.” It is a belief system that has the absolute right to be respected. Absolutely no apologies for being different, being inconvenient, being a nuisance, putting people out, refusing to allow our beliefs to be mocked. We are entitled to our vegan meal in school or hospital. We are entitled to our right not to carve up animals. We are entitled to vegan medication. We are entitled to be served a suitable meal in a restaurant. We are entitled to our beliefs and not to have them mocked. We have legal rights and by insisting on those rights, by demanding our beliefs be respected, we are laying claim to the rights of animals.

 This is why what happened in Ontario last December matters. 

This is why Vegan Rights matter. 

Sign the petition for a Universal Declaration of Animal Rights

And also here

cattle cows vegan farm animals

Know Your Rights – International Law Check out your vegan rights here if you live outside the UK or Europe

Know your Vegan Rights – European Law for UK & European vegans


16th August 2016 The Independent Italy’s proposed law to jail vegan parents for up to 4 years condemned as discriminatory attack on human rights

10th March 2017 It’s now illegal not to offer vegan food at prisons, hospitals and schools in Portugal – The Metro


7 thoughts on “Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter For The Animals

  1. Excellent summation of this important issue! Declaring veganism a religion is a matter of social justice for ethical vegans. Perhaps of greater importance is that veganism as an accepted religion would give us a more powerful voice in our fight for animals.

    Some of the work has already been done. For example, in the interim between the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2016 Ontario decision on veganism and religion, there have been relevant court decisions in the United States.

    In 1961, in Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court expanded its definition of religion. The Court stated that “the establishment clause prevents government from aiding those ‘religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.’” That decision clarified that Buddhism, Jainism, and secular humanism are religions.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “to be a bona fide religious belief entitled to protection under either the First Amendment or Title VII, a belief must be sincerely held and within the believer’s own scheme of things religious.”

    In 1985 the District Court of Virginia, in Dettmer v. Landon, declared Wicca a religion for First Amendment purposes. This was followed by similar rulings in other state courts which allowed Wicca religious status.
    In a 1970 ruling, Welsh v. the United States, the Supreme Court “essentially merged religion with deeply and sincerely held moral and ethical beliefs.”

    So it appears that legal groundwork has been laid for accepting veganism as a religion. The rulings on Wicca may not be the best analogy to focus on, since that religion comes with the baggage of its Halloween association, as well as the notorious witch trials in Europe and America and the animosity of Christianity to any “worship” of nature.

    But the examples of Buddhism and Jainism as religions are extremely useful. Buddhism and Jainism began in approximately the 5th century BCE. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, and Jainism evolved with series of Tirthankaras, or leaders, particularly the 24th and last, Mahavira. Those religions have two significant attributes to offer as examples for veganism as a religion: They do not depend on worship of a god, and their central tenet is nonviolence, or ahimsa. However, unlike the three major religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the Buddhist and Jain concept of nonviolence does not stop at the human species boundary but, instead, includes ALL living beings, whose welfare must be considered. Jain monks sweep the path ahead of them as they walk to avoid harming even insects. Jains adhere to a vegan lifestyle, including the foods they eat, the kinds of jobs they do, the clothes they wear, and the charities they support, including animal hospitals and sanctuaries in India.

    So, considering the First Amendment of the Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and multiple court rulings that declare religion does not depend monotheism, or any theism, but includes deeply held ethical beliefs, vegans should have hope.

    As noted in the Animalista Untamed blog, vegan religion will satisfy the social justice issues of making a meatless diet available in prisons, hospitals, and restaurants, allowing vegans to refuse dissection and other educational practices that harm animals, and excusing them from getting vaccines that depend on eggs for production, etc.

    But one of the best effects might be our ability to fight for animals.

    For one thing, veganism as a declared religion will give our lifestyle a credibility and legitimacy that it does not currently have in the eyes of many. As noted our adversaries depend on mockery and ridicule to undermine our beliefs. We’ve all seen such derisive comments sections and articles: Vegans are anemic wraiths too weak from their self-induced malnutrition to have real jobs or lives; they’re mentally unstable masochists who turn down “real food” like steaks for tofu and celery; they’re pro-choice misanthropists who hate people and love animals; vegans kill lettuce and carrots.

    If veganism is given the status of religion, such attacks will be more unacceptable and be can be called out as discrimination. Instead of diminishing vegans and their beliefs through disdain and mockery, those who oppose us will have to go beyond name calling and actually produce a rational argument on their own behalf or be silent.

    But as members of a religion, vegans can fight anthropocentric law, religion, and corporate culture by referring to their spiritual belief in compassion and the rights of animals to be free from human abuse.

    Politically, we can hope for help from progressives, since they are usually more animal friendly than conservatives. They will more likely recognize vegans as a minority who have been denigrated for their beliefs and have experienced discrimination.

    We should be able to depend on support from some animal organizations. PETA, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and In Defense of Animals (who runs vegan spirituality programs), seem likely allies since they are animal rights oriented.

    Maybe what we need most is a plan. We can’t rely on petitions alone. And no social justice movement achieved its demands by not fighting for them. Thousands took to the streets, made sure their senators and representatives heard from them, and boycotted businesses.

    What will our plan be and when do we get going?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for filling in all the gaps! Very interesting and informative. As veganism is growing rapidly, especially among young people where it is now considered the ‘cool thing to be’, so the social ‘legitimacy’ of mockery and hostility is weakened. A much higher profile for the environmental impacts of livestock farming, together with greater publicity around the negative effects on human health of a diet high in animal products is also helping to make veganism more mainstream. Plus we have big businesses keen to take advantage of the growing market for vegan products.

    And futurologists for investment companies are guiding them in the right direction. “It’s time for livestock farmers to start worrying when a group of 40 investors managing assets worth $1.25 trillion launch a campaign urging 16 global food companies to diversify away from industrial farming and into plant-based protein.

    The companies targeted include food giants Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart. The investors in the shape of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return Initiative issued a report, ‘The Future of Food: The Investment Case for a Protein Shake Up.'” From my post:

    As regards a legal requirement to make vegan food available in schools, prisons and hospitals, Portugal has just taken the step down that path

    Ahimsa is my guiding principle too. You may be interested in this email from Gary Francione which was forwarded to me from a member of the Jain community. This is from 2009 when Jains were vegetarian and not entirely vegan. It seems they were receptive of the vegan message and I hope veganism is the norm among them now:

    Dear Everyone:

    Jai Jinendra.

    I have just returned from the 15th Biennial JAINA Convention in Los Angeles. The theme was Ecology: The Jain Way. The Convention was held in Los Angeles at the Temple there, which, by the standards of American architecture, is breathtakingly impressive. There were about 2000-2500 attendees.

    I gave the opening keynote address and, as you might imagine, I discussed veganism. The Convention responded very enthusiastically and I had many people say that they were going to try to go vegan and some say that they were starting there and then. There was certainly NO hostility expressed and no one argued with me about the virtues of “happy” dairy products, wool, silk,. etc. I also had the opportunity to talk with various spiritual leaders who were there and I found them most receptive and open minded. The food was predominately but not exclusively vegan and they had soy milk available.

    I also saw and did a session with Will Tuttle, whom I have known for about 2 decades now. Gurudev Chitrabhanuji also participated. It was terrific.

    It is clear beyond doubt to me that Jainism is moving in a vegan direction. Yes, it will take take, but it will happen. I spent some time with the younger Jains (who were in a different location) and many of them are vegans as well as well as committed to Ahimsa as a dynamic principle as a general matter. As a group, they seemed very much attuned to social justice issues.

    Several members of the UK Jain group were there and we all participated in a discussion about Jainism in diaspora. It is my understanding that their group activities involve all vegan food (I apologize if I misunderstood here) but they seemed very pro-vegan. Moreover, their presentation on at the meeting I attended was first rate.

    All in all, I am optimistic.


    Animal Rights is absolutely a question of social justice. Your question “What will be our plan and when will we get going” is sadly a difficult one to answer. And you are right, signing petitions is not going to be enough. The problems with veganism, Animal Rights and Animal Welfare are all the different factions, between some of which there is outright hostility. As it says in the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

    We do need a leader to bring everyone together. Then what a powerful movement we would be! The Vegan Global Registry may be of interest, just in case you haven’t come across it yet

    At the moment we are all just chipping away at the injustice and abuse, progressing in small steps.

    Thank you again for your fascinating and very valuable contribution. x


  3. I read your information on Jains and daily. Thank you. Frankly, I was surprised. Most of the reading I have done on the religion focused on avoiding any harm to animals, and the diets mentioned were vegan.

    However, I was looking into this and found a number of references to the Jains, in fact, being vegetarian, including the following:

    “In light of this information, you may be inclined to believe that the consumption of these unscrupulously-acquired milk and dairy products directly violates the concept of ahimsa and, consequently, Jainism. Unfortunately, most of the Jain community has not gotten to that point of understanding yet.”

    Apparently, many in the Jain community are adhering to scriptural texts, which are much earlier than the horrors of modern daily farming.

    I hope the Jain community goes on to become vegan to match their belief in ahimsa. Not all Buddhists are vegan or vegetarian either.

    It all reveals how difficult it is for human beings to be mindful of the abuses they may profit from but are hidden behind closed doors.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah yes, I see. Ancient scriptures relate less and less to modern life. This must be true in all religions with sacred scriptures. Our world is so complex that there are bound to be discrepancies between belief and practice in the lives of even the most spiritual or ethical. x


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