vegan, people, animals, veganism, activism, sentience, communities, food, organise, deforestation, based, transformative change, angela davis, exploited, episode, bigotry, basic, fairness, injustice, production
Emilia Leese 00:09
Hello, I’m Emi Leese and welcome to the first episode of Think Like a Vegan. This is a companion podcast to our book, also entitled Think Like a Vegan. In each episode, I’ll explore one topic related to veganism. One that might not be the focus of an everyday conversation, some we touched on in our book and here we’ll have the chance to take a closer look. I hope these short talks will inspire you and expand the conversation around veganism.
Because this is the first episode, we need to lay a foundation. So I’ll break down veganism to its fundamental ethical component show why it must be part of social justice discussion. And I’ll demystify activism while I’m at it. Sure, I know it’s a tall order. Stay with me and it’ll be worthwhile.
Veganism isn’t complicated, and it’s for everyone. These simple statements can start meaningful discussions, which can lead to transformative change. We need a lot of that right now in a variety of spheres. And to make change happen, we must engage with ideas and one another however we can. This means we’re all activists in some way.
First, we’ve got to go back to basics, even if you know it all already. Simply put, veganism is the ethical practice of avoiding using animals to the extent possible and practicable. The most compelling reason for it is because it’s their right not to be exploited as objects. Rights are inherent, and aren’t a matter of kindness or compassion. Those things, they’re important, for sure. But we can choose whether to be stow them on someone. A right is based on basic fairness, accord the same moral treatment to everyone, unless there’s a morally relevant reason not to do so.
As vegans, everyone means including animals in our moral community because all animals, including humans, aren’t objects. We’re all sentient creatures. And sentience isn’t whether one animal or another has imagination, or is able to do some activity based on what people can do. To be universally meaningful. The recognition of sentience must be based on something broader. What we mean by it is simply having a desire to live. Our shared sentience is the only morally relevant starting point from which to analyse whether the basic rule of fairness also applies to animals. And we’ll hear in a later episode, how some vegan thinkers go even beyond sentience. All our differences in needs, wants fears, abilities, intelligence skills, social habits, and emotions. They’re not morally relevant when it comes to the fundamental right of not being exploited as an object.
So let’s bring it all back. veganism isn’t complicated, because it recognises we owe animals basic fairness, and it’s unjust to the nine of them of it.
Second, although we’ve focused on the injustice of animal use, we recognise society’s systemic and justices are related and interconnected. Seeking a fair world for animals means we must also seek to reject and redress the injustices perpetrated on people. These aren’t mutually exclusive goals or even mutually exclusive ideas. Seeing the vulnerability of one will open our minds eyes and hearts to the other.
All human and justices may be opposed, fought, addressed, dismantled, read, written, learned and talked about whilst being vegan. Rejection of bigotry must be a component of veganism and vice versa, with respect to each basis of discrimination, whether based on race, class, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, sex and gender, physical and mental ability or appearance and age, precisely because of basic fairness. It applies in all cases.
If all sentient beings are morally equal, as we believe they are, they deserve and are entitled to equal moral treatment. These are simple moral baselines. No more and no less.
I’ll pause here for a moment. It’s a good spot for a breather. Here’s a magical soundscape recorded by Derek Solomon during the midsummer in Mashatu Game Reserve in the southeast corner of Botswana, there’s a herd of elephants feeding in the extensive patch of grasslands on the edge of the woodland right by a river.
Let’s get back to our topic, we’ve just looked at the core ethical basis of veganism. So, what do we mean when we say veganism is for everyone?
Veganism is for everyone because it’s a matter of social justice not just because the fundamental ethical principles are the same, but also because of the very real negative consequences animal exploitation brings to people’s doorsteps. For example, animal farming, slaughter and processing industries rely particularly heavily on poor communities in terms of their location, and to supply a workforce. These industries result in environmental degradation and ill health, both physical and mental, domestic violence among slaughterhouse workers, worker exploitation because of limited or no other work opportunities, and dangerous working conditions.
We’ll find another example in some poor communities, particularly in the west and often of colour, suffering a much greater proportion of lifestyle or food related illnesses than rich, often white communities. As a result of limited food choices, lack of access to affordable and healthy food, or limited availability of information to healthy eating. In some rich Western countries, poverty can limit access to plant based foods fresh or otherwise, which is an outrageous injustice. But simply, McDonald’s can be cheaper than fruits and vegetables. These realities are appalling and ghoulish in vulnerable and exploited segments of our global communities. There’s a disproportionately large reliance on or access to food that will ultimately harm the health of those community members and the environment surrounding them. In the same way, these communities are vulnerable and exploited. so too are the animals who are the embodiment of that limited food supply. The community’s food becomes a physical representation of their vulnerability, both in terms of human and animal concerns.
An example farther afield is deforestation in Brazil. The overwhelming reason for it is soybean farming, followed at significantly lower numbers by sugar, coffee and logging. The vast majority of soya ends up as feed for chickens, pigs, cows, and farmed fish worldwide, not just Brazil. Only 6% of global soybean production becomes food for people. And deforestation, whether in Brazil or elsewhere, has always been and continues to be a land grab, displacing and killing indigenous people. And we all know how deforestation contributes significantly to the increase in global levels of carbon dioxide that will affect everyone.
Once again, animal agriculture isn’t only about our concern for the animals, but for the very real and deadly effects on humans. There’s no avoiding that.
Finally, to create the necessary foundations for transformative change, we need to persuade others to see these connections between all of us and recognise our shared interests and living in a more just world which will benefit everyone. It’s a big ask, I know. Sure. To achieve it, we must all become activists. But we need to reassess activism.
Activism isn’t something exclusively Street and protest based because not everyone can or wants to engage in those methods. I’ll share with you something I heard Angela Davis say a few years ago. For those who aren’t familiar, Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, scholar, author and vegan.
She had three suggestions for engaging in activism, one, mine our own talents to develop ourselves. She said, not everyone wants to be an organiser, which is a good point, and three question how we can express our own individuality.
In the process of pushing forward a collective endeavour, the more we inform ourselves and talk to people educating them about being vegan, and the related issues we’ve touched on here, the more likely we’ll find those who are interested in thinking about the issues, or who show an interest in or intention to possibly changing their minds and diet. We may only be comfortable speaking with people we know personally, or we might enjoy the challenge of organising events, we may meet like minded people with whom we could collaborate and organise. If we’ve got talents like cooking, art, music, writing, or whatever else, we might be able to incorporate those talents into our activism.
And if we’re not interested in any conventional activism, then that’s okay too. Living life as a vegan who rejects all forms of bigotry is sometimes all the activism one can or may want to handle. In the end, we need an economic system that isn’t an amplifier for all kinds of bigotry and injustice. And that includes speciesism we need one that looks after people, animals and all of nature. We must strive for that, through international solidarity demanding a fair production process with equitable sharing of profits, and fair wages and living conditions for all people. We can create solutions if we can organise the political will to do so. Let’s get active and fight for these changes. Ours and so many lives depend on it.
In this episode, I’ve shared with you a basic framework I use to make sense of the world and try to make an even tiny bit of difference. And hopefully this will put us in the mindset for all our upcoming episodes. Next time, Professor Jason Hannan will talk to us about why and how veganism should be part of a leftist practice.
That’s it from me, Emi Leese. Thank you for listening. I’ll post the transcript in due course along with links and references to the materials we’ve discussed today on our website, think like a vegan.com and the audio will also be available on Think like a Vegan YouTube channel. Remember you can get in touch by email at Thinklikeaveganbook@gmail.com or find @thinklikeavegan on most social media or find me at emisgoodeating.com and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to this podcast, share it with others and leave us a review. And for our book Think Like a Vegan it’s on bookshop.org or anywhere you buy books and on your favourite audio book platform to or ask your local library to carry it.
Production credit goes to Jim Moore of Bloody Vegans Productions. Music provided by Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business. The opening tune is Flashbacks and we close with Tear Things Up.