As we head into a new year and a new decade, this is a good time to review our progress with animal rights and veganism. In many ways, in general, the movement appears to have made great strides. When we launched Go Vegan World in Ireland more than four years ago, the word vegan was greatly misunderstood: many people could not even pronounce it. The public, and the media who interviewed us, were frequently hostile, comparing us to bullies and to Isis. They laughed, uncensored by interviewers, at our warnings of climate change as a result of animal agriculture, and the depletion of fishes from the oceans as a result of the fishing industry. On one occasion a listener phoned in to rue the day that women in Ireland had won the right to free speech.
Four years later veganism is a household word. More and more people, particularly young people, are researching animal rights and going vegan.
But have things really improved? Can we afford to congratulate ourselves on the success of our efforts? Absolutely not. The media are reluctant to air the animal rights point of view, unless they can sensationalise it by misrepresenting it as an anti-farming position, despite the logic that farmers will be assured a livelihood in a plant based economy, something that is far from assured in the current animal agricultural model. Every year an increasing number of animals are bred to be exploited and killed. Veganism might be a household word but how accurately is it understood? Many people confuse it with a diet or a restrictive way of living. Others misunderstand it as a means to health or a safer environment, but completely divorce it from its animal rights and social justice origins.
There are few voices speaking about the accurate meaning of veganism and linking it to the rights of other animals. There are far too many people who call themselves vegan but speak about animal welfare instead of the end of animal use. Everyone who educates others about veganism has an obligation to accurately portray it as the manifestation of one’s respect for the rights of sentient animals not to be used or killed. Perhaps people fail to do this for fear of alienating the public, believing that they need to avoid challenging the status quo and need to pander to fashion, self-interest and a light hearted portrayal of veganism. If you have these fears please ask yourself if any past social justice battle was won by presenting it in this manner? There is plenty of room to celebrate the benefits and ease of veganism without compromising its link to animal rights and animal rights violations. Perhaps the people you speak to will not accept or understand the animal rights position immediately, but what hope do they have of gaining any insight into animal rights if we, as activists, fail to speak about them?
Our New Year campaign of 2020 is going live in Ireland and the UK now. Let’s hope that a new decade sees a change in how the animal rights movement represents the issues affecting those on whose behalf it exists.