This morning I am stuck in my house because the air conditioning guy is here doing a check up on my system. This ends up taking hours because we have three different oldish AC units, and it’s never really just a simple check up. You know how that goes. In order to pass the time, I decided to watch a video of animal rights activist/abolistionist, Gary Francione debating about why animals have rights. Once again I am blown away by his brilliance and uncompromising moral stance.
I became vegan after watching movies (Vegucated, Speciesism) and hearing Howard Lyman (The Mad Cowboy) speak here in Tucson. Shortly thereafter I began immersing myself in many books on the subject of ethical veganism, and this strengthened my resolve to stop supporting animal exploitation in any way I could. But no single person or book had quite the impact on me that Gary Francione’s “Eat Like You Care” had and continues to have.
While watching Gary debate (you can watch it here), I am reminded of the simple clarity that underlies Gary’s “veganism as a moral baseline” position. In this debate, he suggests that if we believe that it is immoral to torture and/or kill animals for our pleasure then we ought not to be eating or otherwise using animals. Billions of animals are tortured and killed annually simply because we like the taste of animals. We know now that it is not only possible to live healthfully without animal products, but there is ample evidence to suggest that eliminating animal products from our diets will do much to improve our health.
Gary Francione illustrates his position by talking often about Michael Vick, the NFL player who was convicted of running a dog-fighting operation. The American public went wild around this issue, understandably vilifying Vick for torturing and killing animals for his pleasure. The name Michael Vick became synonymous with dog-fighting and torture, and the public will probably never forgive him even though he paid his debt to society and expressed remorse. I, and everyone I know, was sickened by the images that emerged from this story. It was truly overwhelming that anyone could inflict this kind of torture on innocent animals for entertainment.
Yet isn’t this what happens when we eat meat, dairy and eggs? There is at least as much suffering inflicted on farmed animals (factory-farmed or “happy”) as there was in Vick’s dog-fighting operation. These are all sentient beings. Any distinction we make between the dogs and the cows, chickens or pigs is speciesist and self-serving. And there’s no comparison when it comes to the scale of the torture and death. Admittedly, when we eat animals we are usually paying other people to do the torturing and killing for us, but as we know from the law, there is no moral distinction between murdering someone and paying someone else to do it for us. As Gary says, “we are all Michael Vick”. In 2009 Gary wrote an Op-Ed entitled “We’re All Michael Vick” and you can read his compelling words here.
Gary Francione is a passionate, outspoken champion for the rights of animals yet he is often seen as a polarizing figure because he actively campaigns against single issue welfare campaigns (SICs). His belief is that our time, energy and money are better spent educating people about veganism. I happen to agree with this which is why I choose to take my advocacy in that same direction. In addition, Gary is against any effort on the part of activists to promote “happy” animal products, because a) he doesn’t believe there is such a thing and b) he believes it enables people who might otherwise be vegan to continue to consume meat, dairy and eggs without feeling guilty. I agree with him on this point as well. To me, the term “humane slaughter” is a complete oxymoron.
As I continue to educate myself on all the issues pertaining to veganism (in order to be a more effective vegan coach), I often find myself mired in details surrounding nutrition facts and cooking techniques. I anticipate that many people I work with will be going vegan “for health”, and being a resource for all of this information is certainly important. I happen to believe that a plant-based whole foods diet is optimal for health, but it’s not difficult to find staunch proponents of other ways of eating to optimize health. We can always find our own “expert” willing to tell us exactly what we want to hear, and at a certain point, when it comes to nutrition it’s all about who we choose to believe.
Yet this is not the case with ethics, and spending this morning online watching Gary Francione provided a much-needed and timely reminder that I do this for the animals. If you are someone who cares about animals I strongly recommend that you read Gary’s work. I believe it will change your life. You can get started by visiting his website here.
Thank you Gary, for speaking the words in the just the way I need to hear them.