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How to Create a VEGAN WORLD - a pragmatic approach by Tobias Leenaert

Pragmatic’ : ‘Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical, rather than theoretical, considerations

In his forward, Peter Singer says ‘There are many selfish people in the world and even more people who, if not exactly selfish, do not extend their ethical gaze beyond themselves, their family and friends. For these people, the fact that a meal they enjoy causes animals to suffer will not lead them to a different menu choice. Nor will the fact that their meal contributes more to climate change than other meals they could easily choose. They will change only when they are persuaded that it is healthier for them, or more convenient or less expensive or, perhaps, when so many people become vegan that they begin to worry about standing out from the mainstream and being publicly shamed for a diet that has come to be seen barbaric

To me, this sums up the frustration felt by many in the vegan community.

At the start of his introduction, Tobias suggests that ‘To end the killing and suffering of animals at human hands may be one of the greatest challenges ever undertaken by a group of people. We’ll need to use any means at our disposal

He makes 4 very sensible points :

  • Rather than saying ‘Go Vegan’, we need to encourage people to reduce their consumption of animal products.

  • We need to let people change for whatever reason they want

  • We have to make it easier to change

  • We have to develop a more relaxed concept of veganism

He also introduces ‘Veganville’ – an imaginary vegan town at the top of a mountain. The aim is to get as many people as possible up the mountain and help them overcome the obstacles on the way up!

Chapter 1 Getting Our Bearings (Where are we going and where are we?)

In this chapter, Tobias suggests that the goals of the vegan movement can be summarised as :

  1. Reducing as much animal suffering as possible

  2. Reducing as much killing as possible

  3. Reducing injustice towards animals as much as possible

One of the major obstacles to achieving these goals is the fact that the enormous amount of animal product being consumed supports a massive, economically significant industry . It has been calculated that, in America alone, the annual revenue might be as much as nearly 3 Trillion dollars!

Another obstacle is explained by Melanie Joy, when she cites the 3 Ns :

‘Eating animals is seen as Natural, Normal and Necessary’

Tobias suggests there is really a 4th N – many people find eating animal products to be Nice.

As a result, meat eaters tend to envisage going vegan as abnormal, unnatural, unnecessary and unattractive.

The other point made by Melanie Joy is that when people are asked why they eat meat of certain animals (but not others) it becomes clear that they’ve never really thought about it and respond with ‘well that’s just the way it is’.

In other words, ‘Most people eat meat because most people eat meat’

Tobias then outlines three reasons why the vegan cause is rather different from other causes:

  • Animals are not people – basically, most people will acknowledge that humans have rights, but find it difficult to see that other species of animals also have rights.

  • Fighting without the victims – the animals themselves do not take an active part in helping to create a vegan world.

  • Changing something ancient – meat and other animal products have now been consumed for such a long time, and play such a central role in our culture, it is very difficult for so many people to see that there might be anything wrong with it.

Here, he also explains that, taking an idealistic or dogmatic approach is less likely to achieve our goal than being more pragmatic. Basically, telling meat eaters or vegetarians that they must go 100% vegan may not have the desired result – though, ultimately, this is what we want. Making the change easier, by suggesting that they reduce their consumption and use of animal products is likely to be much more effective. If people do reduce significantly then it might become possible to take a more dogmatic or idealistic approach.

Chapter 2 The Call to Action (What do we ask people to do?)

Whilst, ideally, we really want as many people as possible to live in Veganville, this is going to be extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

The reality is that we might achieve more by encouraging people to live somewhere on the road to Veganville (by reducing their consumption of animal products or cutting out certain types of meat from their diet) or visit Veganville for some time – such as trying to go vegan for a month, as encouraged by the incredibly successful campaign, Veganuary.

It is interesting to make a comparison with the abolition of slavery in the early 19th Century. In fact, rather than introducing an abolitionist bill, the British parliament took a more pragmatic approach and, initially, made it illegal for British subjects to be involved in the slave trade – eventually, this had the desired effect and brought an end to the slave trade.

Another interesting comparison is with the increased availability of gluten free products. For those with coeliac disease, the consumption of gluten is a matter of life and death. However, in recent years, a large number of people (who don’t have coeliac disease) suspect that they are allergic to gluten and therefore have increased the demand for gluten free products. In fact, there is little evidence that such gluten allergies actually exist (it may be that the allergies are to chemicals and pesticides used in the growing of wheat) but it had led to a large increase in the availability of gluten free products.

In the same way, vegans are currently a very small minority, but an increased demand for vegan products by meat reducers means that more vegan products are now available – which must also mean a reduction in the number of foods containing animal products.

Tobias argues that encouraging people to reduce their consumption of animal products is crucial in moving towards a vegan world. Meat reducers significantly outnumber vegans and vegetarians – so they can have a much greater effect on changing the system and reducing the number of animals exploited and slaughtered.

Indeed, he quotes some producers of vegan food products who confirm that, although vegan customers are very important to them, they are certainly outnumbered by meat reducers.

Chapter 3 Arguments (How do we motivate for Change?)

A majority of vegans believe there is only one true motivation to cease the exploitation of animals – an ethical one.

However, if we are to persuade meat eaters to stop or reduce their consumption of animal products, it is quite possible that we will have more success if we are pragmatic and prepared to accept reasons other than moral ones e.g. health reasons or to reduce environmental degradation.

Tobias again makes a comparison with the end of slavery and points out that, although most people like to believe that it came to an end primarily for ethical reasons, in fact, the reality is that the American Civil War played an important part, as did the industrial revolution, which helped reduce the demand for human labour.

A similar argument applies to the cessation of commercial whaling. THE LAST American whaling ship to return to port was in 1924 – by that time, the demand for whale oil as a source of fuel had pretty much collapsed because of the development of kerosene in the 19th Century. It was almost certainly practical, rather than ethical, reasons which really led to the end of commercial whaling!

Today, of course, most would entirely agree that ending slavery and whaling was ethically the correct thing to do!

It is very clear that, whilst many non-vegans can be persuaded by the moral arguments against animal exploitation, very few are actually prepared to allow that to change their behaviour! Most would prefer to maintain the ‘status quo’ and not have to confront the reality of the barbarity of animal agriculture and slaughterhouses. They are more comfortable removing all that from their conscious thoughts and, in practice, giving no thought to what might have gone on prior to their purchase of neatly packaged animal products from the supermarkets.

However, there is plenty of evidence that, if people can be persuaded to eliminate or reduce animal products for other reasons – maybe health or environmental – then they will eventually accept the moral position.

Clearly, the animals don’t care about the reasons why people may choose to cease their exploitation. On the other hand, there is much evidence that meat eaters often see vegans as somewhat irritating moralisers who often try to preach to them, rather than discuss or persuade.

Chapter 4 Environment (Making things easier)

Many vegans do not entirely understand how difficult and daunting it can be for meat eaters to cut animal products out of their lives. Most people need a huge amount of help and support – this includes the wider availability of vegan alternatives in the shops, how to prepare these alternatives and how to make sure they are consuming the range of nutrients required to keep them healthy.

Basically, meat reducers need more than ‘just eat plants’.

They need plant-based products which are an equivalent alternative to what they have been used to eating. Some vegans can have a problem with this – they don’t understand why it is necessary to have plant-based products which are designed to seem like animal products. This would include the many plant-based burgers (one of which even ‘bleeds’), sausages, chicken pieces, cheeses etc – not to mention ‘cultured’ meat i.e. animal protein cultured in a laboratory from animal cells – removing the need to raise and slaughter animals.

Equally, some can have an issue with the companies creating, marketing and profiting from these products. Of course, some are start-up, vegan companies, who in no way profit, either now or in the past, from the exploitation of animals. Others are huge, multi-national companies whose success and profits have been based entirely on meat and other animal products. In many of these cases, they would appear to be experiencing a shift in demand towards plant-based products and feel that it is in their best commercial interest to invest in these alternatives.

Given huge profits made via animal exploitation, many would question whether it is ethical to purchase a vegan burger from McDonald’s or a vegan ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s?

Tobias argues that we need to encourage a reduction in the consumption of animal products – and that we should therefore support the wider availability of plant-based products, irrespective of the companies involved.

Chapter 5 Support (Encouraging every Step)

This is the longest chapter in the book and will be quite difficult for many vegans. Throughout the book, Tobias argues that, if we want to reduce the exploitation of animals, our best approach is to encourage as many people as possible to REDUCE their consumption, rather than, necessarily,

eliminate it altogether. If we are to be successful in this, we need to understand what it is like from their point of view. For most non-vegans they have been brought up to consider the use of animals as ‘normal’ – indeed, necessary. To change this can be daunting and represents a change of lifestyle which will mean rejecting much of what they have been brought up to believe.

Criticising or judging them for their non-vegan lifestyle, as well as pontificating and preaching about veganism are hardly likely to have the desired effect. The reality is that most vegans were once non-vegans (though, of course, some will have been brought up as vegans from birth) – and need to understand that, for many, it is not easy to change. We need to see things from their perspective and we need to LISTEN.

It is interesting to note that, when Donald and Dorothy Watson founded the Vegan Society, in 1944, they defined veganism as ‘a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all exploitation of animals’ (NOTE: the word VEGAN was obtained by using the first 3 and the last 2 letters of VEGETARIAN)

On the face of it, this definition seems a little vague – and, today, true vegans would probably prefer to remove ‘as far as possible and practical’.

However, the fact that this phrase was included suggests that the Watsons were only too well aware of the all-pervasive use of animal products in so many aspects of modern life that, in practical terms, it is very difficult to be 100% vegan.

There are many in the vegan community who need to take this on board. Those who pontificate and preach about veganism will criticise and judge non-vegans, but can equally criticise vegans for not being ‘vegan enough’. This does nothing to enhance the image of veganism, nor does it provide the sort of support or encouragement needed by non-vegans trying to change.

I suppose, in an ideal world, we vegans want to encourage everyone to become vegan – but it isn’t going to happen. Instead, we need to reassure would-be vegans that we are not, necessarily, asking them to become 100% vegan – in our aim to reduce animal suffering, although this would be desirable, it is not a necessity. They need to realise that there is no need to beat themselves up if they continue to eat their Grandmother’s delicious cake, which contains eggs and butter.

Chapter 6 Sustainability (How to Keep on Keeping on)

For most vegans and vegan advocates, it often seems to be an uphill battle – it is all too easy to become frustrated and, sometimes, angry and we all run the risk of burnout – when we may begin to wonder whether we are wasting our time.

Tobias is optimistic – and the rest of us need to remain as optimistic as possible.

The main thrust of such optimism has to be the clear evidence that more and more people are considering a reduction in their consumption of animal products and a move towards a vegan lifestyle.

The publication of this book in 2017 seemed to coincide with a huge increase in the availability of vegan alternatives in the supermarkets – as well as report after report outlining the decline in sales of dairy products and the increasing demand for non-dairy alternatives.

Veganuary gets a mention in the book. Their target for signups for January 2018 was 150,000 – a figure that has now been reached and exceeded! This must be good news for the animals!

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