Now is the Time for Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy

“In the fight to protect farm animals, our metric should be progress, not perfection”

At the bottom of this post  –  forgive the reblog, since it is always and only for the animals – you will find the link to an exerpt from Tobias Leenaert’s book, “How to Create a Vegan World.” The gist of it is that there will be a time for pure vegan idealism, but we’re not there yet. Right now guys, pragmatism is the name of the game. It seems like the HSUS and its CEO Wayne Pacelle are on the right track.

“HSUS’ anti-meat crusade is taking its toll on the beef industry and convincing kids to go green will only make matters worse.”
 The Humane Society of the United States “has almost single-handedly forced pork producers to change their policies.”
“The Humane Society of the United States is hitting the meat industry where it hurts. They’re convincing cooks to reduce the amount of meat from their menu.”

What is the relevance of this to us vegans and animal advocates here in the UK? Well, apart from the obvious – that HSUS‘s progress improving the welfare of farmed animals and encouraging people to cut back on meat, means fewer animals enduring less suffering – HSUS is the biggest animal charity in the world, and with its high public profile possibly the most influential ideologically.

CEO Wayne Pacelle opens what is clearly a deeply felt and thoughtful post in Alternet with those quotes, because they’re confirmation that his (and the organisation’s) pragmatic approach gets tangible results.

So it is hardly surprising that both the charity itself and Wayne personally are subject to frequent hostile onslaughts from Big Meat. That’s no more than you would expect. But sadly, vocal and sometimes vitriolic attacks also come from fellow activists, especially hardcore abolitionists. They have no time for HSUS, regarding the charity as paddling around in the shallows, or worse, fraternising with the enemy. (The charity also finds itself under attack from Big Meat stooges posing as hostile fellow animal activists)

Abolitionism condemns welfarist single issue campaigns such as those HSUS runs to get gestation crates and veal calf cages banned, for instance. The argument is that s-i-cs divert focus, time, energy and resources away from the only acceptable aim, which is to achieve full animal rights, to arrive at a world where animals are liberated from their present status as property for human use. That is what we all want and work towards, it goes without saying.

And that’s not the only perceived problem with ‘welfarism’, the dismissive term opponents apply to the one-step-at-a-time strategy employed by HSUS and other animal charities like CIWF, and here in the UK the RSPCA. Opponents argue that focusing on welfare improvements implicitly condones the use of animals for human purposes and allows people to keep right on eating meat and dairy with a clear conscience. We’ve all heard that old chestnut, “Oh yes, but I only buy high welfare meat.”

But activist-on-activist attacks, not welfarism, are the real waste of time and energy, taking the focus away from what really matters – the animals.


As a vegan of 31 years standing Wayne knows all too well the frustration many of us feel, and the sense of urgency to end the horrific treatment and slaughter of billions of animals -the anger, the grief, the emotional pain of knowing what these poor animals are enduring this very minute at human hands.

But dogmatic insistence that everyone sing from the same hymn sheet, accepting nothing less than total animal liberation, and hostility towards those with a different approach to animal issues will never get us where we want to be. Idealism alone, without pragmatism, rarely produces the goods. Diplomacy rather than confrontation, getting people on side, moving the animal agenda into the mainstream inch by inch, practising the art of the possible, is proving a very good way, maybe the best, to progress our common cause.

“Do you ever win friends by scolding others? If you want to repel someone, there’s no better way than to act like a know-it-all, condemn them and show that you have all the answers and that others are fools or callous and heartless.”  

(That just alienates people, as I’ve learned the hard way!)

“The fact is, you win friends by earning trust, by listening and responding to their views, by showing respect and tolerance. Why should we expect these principles not to apply when we are trying to win people over on the matter of eating with conscience?”

There’s no denying that HSUS’s strategy is working. In the last year it has got 175 companies including McDonald’s to agree to phase out cage confinement of laying hens. And nearly 100 companies – including Burger King and Safeway—to make the same commitment for gestation crates.

That is huge. It’s making life more tolerable for millions of farmed animals. And just as importantly, it is moving the case for animals and their rights higher up the agenda. It is focusing attention, opening the doors on what is happening inside those factory farms and slaughterhouses. Making people more aware. Concern for animals has become so mainstream now that 30% of Americans believe animals should have the same rights as humans. So the cause of animal rights has clearly not been harmed by advances in animal welfare. On the contrary,

“It’s no accident that the biggest gains in reducing meat consumption have been coincident with the biggest reform efforts to reduce the most suffering on factory farms. Nor it is coincidental that nations which have stronger farm animal protection laws tend to also have higher rates of flexitarianism and vegetarianism. I cannot tell you how many people have told me, after they saw our television ads in Florida against gestation crates or in California on battery cages that they decided right then and there to go vegetarian. You prick someone’s conscience on a single subject, and you never know where it will lead.”

So true. It’s hard to argue with such a common sense approach. The proof of the pudding and all that.

I’m sure I’m not the only vegan though, who sometimes feels tugged first this way and then that by the seemingly polar opposites of animal advocacy ideology, the pragmatic and the pure. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be either/or. I think I’ve found a kind of way of reconciling the irreconcilable. I’ll be a welfare-abolitionist hybrid, embracing both – like Wayne himself.

I remain an abolitionist at heart, in  faith, in hope and in making my life as free from animal use as is humanly possible. Who can there be who does not yearn to see all animals freed and given back their intrinsic rights? Until that day comes, I’ll just keep signing all those single issue petitions, keep supporting every cause that’s making the world a better place for animals, and keep trying to push our fellow earthlings to their rightful place – at the top of the agenda. Here’s to the peaceable vegan hybrid and more and ever-increasing wins for the animals!

All quotes from Wayne Pacelle. Read his full article on Alternet – it’s well worth it.

“Our play is for the mainstream, to reach the millions of people who have yet to make any move at all, to help as many animals as possible”

Link to Leenaert’s piece on Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy from his book “How to Create a Vegan World.”

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A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy Part 2

8 thoughts on “Now is the Time for Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy

  1. Veganism alone will not lead to abolition, not for the foreseeable future. Only one-half of one percent of the USA population–or 1.63 million–is vegan. More depressing is that there are more lapsed than active vegan/vegetarians, at approximately 8 million.

    Politically that means we do not have the numbers to influence elections, and we obviously do not have the deep pockets of Big Ag to pay lobbyists or bribe legislators.

    Ideologically, we have discovered that veganism as a purity test for altruism and animal rights activism does not work. We are often perceived as a chorus of sanctimonious scolds who drive away more converts than we attract. Accepting vegetarians and omnivores into the ranks of animal activists does not have to reduce our zeal. It merely adds greater numbers to the fight.

    It also does not mean that vegans have to abandon PETA and flock to HSUS. Personally, I am a member of both. I work toward abolition, but I never miss a chance to support single issue campaigns if they will alleviate some of the misery we inflict on other species. It is not reasonable or fair to ignore the incremental improvements of single issue campaigns just because they do not constitute an abolitionist victory. And even PETA, while it does great work in persuading corporations and individuals to abandon products of cruelty (such as fur) and taking action against specific abuses (such as the lab torture of baby monkeys) has not been able to stop all fur use or shut down animal research. But PETA does adversely affect the industries involved and reduce the number of victims.

    If we could move beyond the current polarization and join forces—vegan, vegetarian, and humane omnivores—we could form a much bigger interest group to target abusive industries. But we could increase the numbers fighting abuse still more if the animal welfare and rights organizations could more beyond their competition with each other and mobilize their members to join together. It is said that PETA has 6.5 million members worldwide. HSUS apparently has numbers in the millions also. In 2005 the HSUS and the Fund for Animals joined forces to advance their common goals. Adding members from more willing organizations would give still more power to our common legislative efforts. Numbers big enough to shut down the email and phone systems of legislators would send a message that there are too many of us to ignore.

    An example would be the benefit to farm animals by focusing on (and winning!) single issue campaigns.

    Just to make suggestions, I would like to target the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, the bureaucracy tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Its history of protecting animals is deplorable. It does not do enough inspections. It does not punish all the infractions it finds. It issues the same citations over and over again. The USDA also needs more laws in place to protect farm animals.

    A broad coalition of rights/welfare organizations and activists could promote legislation such as the following:

    • Redefining “standard farming practice” as what is is—abuse. Castration, dehorning and tail docking without anesthesia; kicking animals, as well as punching and hitting them with fists and work implements; euthanizing baby pigs by slamming them into concrete floors; macerating baby chicks and throwing spent hens in wood chippers. All such abuse should be illegal with mandatory punishment.
    • Requiring euthanasia for “downers.” Sick and injured animals should not be allowed to suffer or be dragged on and off transport trucks for an arduous trip to slaughter.
    • Requiring training for slaughterhouse workers. Most of the slaughterers are now immigrants from countries that do not have a history of humane laws. But all slaughterhouse workers, regardless of origin, need to be given warnings against abuse of animals, even those (especially those!) who are about to lose their lives. Beating injured/sick animals to make them move faster to the slaughter line, shoving them with fork lifts, forcing water in the noses of sick or injured cows to make them get up (waterboarding for helpless animals!), dismembering still conscious animals or allowing pigs and chickens to fall into the scalding tank should be illegal. Even workers who have empathy to begin with often become desensitized by the very nature of the work and need to know abuse will be punished.
    • Requiring owners and managers of slaughter facilities to install video cameras to monitor workers, to document cruelty, and to inform authorities.
    • Requiring the USDA to inspect facilities, to examine records, and to issue citations/punishments for abuses.
    • Demanding the USDA restore the thousands of records to its web site. The records contain information on the enforcement (or non-enforcement) of the federal Animal Welfare Acts and Horse Protection Acts. The records included findings from 9000 animal facilities under the USDA’s jurisdiction, including slaughter houses, research labs, zoos, circuses, dog breeders, and horse shows. The removal of the records is ominous. These reports window provide the only information some people get on the workings of these facilities.

    The USDA did restore a small number of the records but not all. They are still available under an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), which is an expensive and time consuming process. The USDA would potentially stall for months or years. This is the kind of bureaucratic evasiveness and dishonesty that allows cruelty to become a chronic condition for animals in facilities.

    If such laws as suggested above were passed, the effect would still not amount to abolition. The laws would be just single steps to less cruelty. But in the life of every long-suffering farm animal and at his or her death, every abuse banned is a blessing.

    Pacelle is correct that fighting for animals while knowing the suffering they continue to undergo at human hands is depressing and frustrating. Competing ideologies and competing organizations have not been able to do enough. It’s time to move beyond egos and attachments to purity tests and just focus on whatever will help the animals, even incrementally. We don’t have to forsake our dedication to abolition, just admit that for the time being less suffering, however we can attain it, is good.

    NOTE: I have to add an aside here. I did not support Wayne Pacelle’s decision to be part of Hoofin’ It. You might remember that was an event in Denver, involving the Mile High Business Alliance and promoting sustainable food systems. The event featured four meat dinners with bison, goat, pig, and cow each on a different night. It was, justifiably, criticized by many HSUS members. Hopefully, it won’t be repeated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your important contribution. I did not know about the Hoofin’ it:( I am totally at one with you that all of us, of whatever persuasion, who care about animals should work together to improve their lot, never forgetting that our ultimate goal is equality, reverence for life, a biocentric rather than anthropocentric view of the world. Infighting and angry insistence on all-or-nothing simply turn people off. I think single issue causes that draw people’s attention to some particular abuse do increase a general awareness. Progress is painfully slow, and the rate of recidivism from veganism is depressing.


  2. Great article, and have to agree that any incremental advance is preferable to doing nothing. Maybe enough small steps will get us where we need to go, total animal liberation and legal recognition of other species’ rights to exist for their own purposes. One quibble though; the citing of 30% of Americans believing animals should have human rights seems way off. If true,at least 30% would be vegan, unless they also believe people should be subject to the myriad abuses animals suffer by the billions. As much as I wish this stat was true, I have to think these people believe their own pets, and possibly primates and cetaceans, are entitled to the same rights enjoyed by even the worst specimens of humanity, but don’t expand this reasoning to include other species. But following the logic espoused in this post, some of these people may come around to broader-based animal rights positions eventually, once they’re exposed to these ideas. I have to believe this, or I’d be even more depressed over the slow rate of progress on this most important issue. I’m a recent follower of your blog, which is great, so keep it up.


  3. Thanks so much for your kind words Pam, and valued contribution. The 30% figure came from a Gallup poll

    I think you can put the discrepancy between what people say and what they do down to cognitive dissonance!

    Yes, progress is disappointingly slow and meanwhile so many animals suffering. But just look for example at the global coverage Anita Krajnc and Toronto Pig Save got last year. There are so many good people making a difference for the animals.

    I’m encouraged by the number of restaurants offering vegan menus and the ever-increasing range of vegan products in supermarkets. It must mean something. We live in hope and keep working x


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