Baby steps toward veganism

Sunday, October 04, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

I can’t count the number of heated discussions (read: ugly arguments) among members of the Facebook group Manila Vegans, myself not exempted, after someone makes a declaration that it’s okay for anyone to take small steps to go vegan.

Usually, it goes down like this: Whoever says baby steps are okay is shot down with an explanation of how, just like other social justice movements, asking people to take their time is to still support injustice. Nobody is likely to pat a rapist on the back if he says he’s raping just one woman each year instead of ten, and nobody should be congratulating a non-vegan for participating in the killing of just one animal each week instead of seven.

Then, whoever explains veganism as the above ethical stance gets told that they’re wrong, for several reasons:

1. It is allegedly self-righteous to call out baby steps as “not enough”;

2. It is unrealistic to expect the entire population to go vegan immediately;

3. Every small step is a big contribution; or

4. It is unfair to make an analogy between animal slaughter and human injustice issues, such as rape.

Perhaps there are more reasons thrown in as to why it is wrong to call for immediate justice towards animals. But everyone joins in the fray and it becomes an online war instead of a discussion centering around animals.

veganism as moral baseline

 

Veganism as justice

At this point, I want to be crystal clear: Moral consistency in veganism dictates that to advocate justice means to advocate it in its entirety. Not in part, not in single measures, and definitely not in baby steps. Whenever we spot oppression towards animals, we demand complete justice and we ask oppressors to stop. And if oppressors decide to simply minimize their oppression instead of halting completely, then that is on them — but it would be absurd for any sane person to demand only partial non-violence, only partial equality, or only partial fairness.

But the reasons given above as to why it is unfair to clamp down on non-vegans taking mere baby steps seem compelling, don’t they? Well, if we still think of animals as deserving of commodification, then, sure. We can take our sweet time and occasionally pay for some of them to have their throats slit.

But once you see animals as completely deserving of the right to live, once you see animals as creatures who do not deserve to suffer for our benefit — that is, once you see that supporting any kind of animal use is an unjust act — then baby steps will look exactly the way they should: too small and too slow.

That might seem unforgiving towards people at least trying to go vegan, especially if you’re one of them, but please bear in mind that this is not an attack on anyone’s character. It is instead a clarification of the ethics underscoring veganism, and the moral expectations we should have of each other if we were to fully understand veganism in its essence.

So, let’s look at the four reasons enumerated above and why they don’t really hold water.

 

‘Self-righteous'

We wouldn’t be in a situation where vegans are dubbed “self-righteous” if they were fighting for human rights instead of animal rights.

If the topic was slavery, anyone asking for an absolute stop to it wouldn’t be called self-righteous. If the topic was misogyny, anyone asking sexists to just stop being sexist wouldn’t be called self-righteous. If the topic was racism, anyone asking a racist to completely stop harassing people of another skin color wouldn’t be called self-righteous.

However, since we’re talking about animals, we suddenly have a different set of standards (read: moral relativism). Suddenly, it’s okay to not stop completely, and to just take small steps. Suddenly, it’s acceptable to still partially contribute to speciesist violence (you can read about speciesism here), even if it’s something that can be stopped completely.

argument against veganism

In other words, saying it is self-righteous for a vegan to discourage baby steps is to remain supremacist. It is to think we remain superior over animals, and that this imagined superiority excuses our bad behavior towards them.

If we want to be consistent in terms of our values — that is, if we truly value justice and fairness — then we would demand veganism in its entirety. Not baby steps.

Veganism will become a moral baseline to anyone who no longer wants to remain speciesist.

 

‘Unrealistic'

No vegan ever expects everyone to go vegan tomorrow, in the same way no black rights activist ever expects everyone to respect the black community tomorrow. However, a BLM activist will still fight for black rights in its entirety, in the same way a vegan who respects animals is expected to still fight for veganism in its entirety.

Making the ethics of veganism clear — and making moral expectations clear, even if they are not to be met by everyone — is something a vegan would do if they wanted to remove all confusion about our behavior towards animals.

Let us not underestimate the capacity of any person to change. To tell anyone they can take baby steps to veganism is assuming they’re not adult enough to take adult steps. It is assuming they are somehow less capable than someone who went vegan right away. It is assuming that they are not intelligent enough, or morally upstanding enough, or compassionate enough.

baby steps veganism

We tell students not to cheat, even if it seems unrealistic to expect that none of them would try to copy from their seat mates. We tell government officials not to steal, even if it seems unrealistic to expect that none of them would be corrupt.

We don’t tell students to “cheat less”, and we don’t tell government officials to “steal less”. No; we tell them our baseline expectations based on our own values. And if they don’t meet those expectations, that is no longer on us.

 

‘Small steps, big help'

This would have been true if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic caused by a zoonosis — a disease that came from animals — just because we can’t leave them well enough alone. This would have been true if we weren’t in the middle of a climate crisis, a top driver of which is animal agriculture. This wouldn’t have been true if entire areas weren’t on fire and entire species being pushed into extinction, thanks to our need to flatten forests just to grow more cattle.

Most importantly, this would have been true if we weren’t talking about trillions of animals being bred into existence and murdered for no good reason.

About 60 billion animals are being killed each year. Can you wrap your mind around that number? Imagine that you were to earn PHP 1 million every single day. Can you imagine how much money that is? Now, imagine that you were to earn PHP 1 million for the rest of your life — nah, for two entire lifetimes. Yes, imagine earning PHP 1 million every single day for 164 years.

That’s how much PHP 60 billion is. And that’s how many animals are being killed for us every single year.

Is this something we truly want to continue paying for with our hard-earned money?

At this point, given the immense suffering of sentient creatures who have done us no harm, do small steps really feel like the right steps to take?

 

‘Unfair to compare rape to eating animals'

Rape should always be treated with utmost sensitivity, as it is violence that disrespects the sexuality and takes away the dignity of a person. Whenever a vegan compares speciesism to rape, the analogy isn’t meant to be insulting to victims of sexual violence.

Much of what happens in animal industries does involve sexual violence. In the dairy industry alone, a male cow is forced to expel semen. A female cow is then sexually violated: a human inserts their arm inside her anus to guide an instrument that deposits the bull’s semen through her vagina. The female cow’s pregnancy reaches term after nine months — just like with human pregnancies — after which her baby, whom she loves just like we love our own children, is taken away from her, usually within a day of being born, and either murdered or returned into the cycle.

That way, the milk she produces for her child is taken from her and sold to us as cow’s milk, butter, and cheese.

The mother cow, initially raped then deprived of the chance to love her child, will grieve her loss. Her cries will be heard for weeks.

However, this sad story of sexual violence does not stop there. This sequence of events is repeated once the female cow’s milk production goes down. She gets pregnant over and over her entire life, losing one child after another, her being female abused over and over, until her bones become brittle from producing too much milk and giving birth to too many children. Once keeping her alive is no longer profitable, she is then hauled off to the nearest slaughterhouse, where her miserable life comes to an end.

This is the reality of being female if you’re not human. This is the reality of being an animal born in a world where there is one species who lords over every creature, treating them the way they see fit.

Does the analogy between human rape and animal rape still seem unfair?

 

Abolitionism as a bare minimum

Abolishing animal use is the least we can do. Yes, least. You might think that’s overreaching, but hear me out.

Not eating or wearing animals alone is a non-action. Abolishing animal use alone is just choosing to not do any harm. It is the least we can do to spare animals from suffering and death.

Veganism, as a philosophy that simply leaves animals alone, is a bare minimum. There are many other things we can do beyond going vegan. There are many other things we can do above the bare minimum of abolitionism (you can read more about abolitionism here).

vegan comfort zone

For instance, we can actively get out of our comfort zones and speak up for the animals. We can actively ask chefs in restaurants to prepare vegan menus. We can actively ask our loved ones to go vegan with us. We can actively join initiatives that promote animal rights. Activism goes beyond abolitionism, and abolitionism is the least we owe the animals.

 

Getting out of the speciesist mindset

We do not want rapists to rape less; we want them to stop raping altogether — and, to be morally consistent, this abolitionist mindset has to be applied to all ethical situations, including animal use.

We do not want non-vegans to eat animals less; we want them to stop eating animals altogether. We do not want vegans advocating baby steps; we want them advocating the abolition of animal use.

I hope this deep dive into why baby steps are unfair steps reframes how you think about animals. Speciesism is deeply ingrained in our society, so it may take this kind of conversation to undo all that social conditioning.

baby steps in veganism

I myself have a lot of work to do to completely abolish my speciesist tendencies. I sometimes call an animal “it” instead of he or she. We all have to work on ourselves, and it starts with the realization and admission that we are being speciesists if we support “baby steps” in veganism.

 

Vegan homework

Now, for your self-directed learning, it’s time for you to do a little scientific research. Try to answer the question below by looking at studies about addiction among humans. (In case you haven’t read yesterday’s post on overcoming “meat” and dairy addiction, do check it out.)

Why is quitting animal flesh and secretions completely more effective and ethical than taking baby steps?

If you want to write down your answer in a notebook (or digital notes), go ahead! It might make sense to go back to your notes later as you go through the 30-day veganism guide.

I won’t leave you hanging, however, so here are a few articles you can start with. You don't have to read them from start to finish, especially because the takeaways have already been enumerated below.

Reading assignment 1: The "baby steps" approach is speciesist, ineffective, and unproductive. (source: Gary L. Francione)

Reading assignment 2: "The most important ingredients in quitting addictions are the person's belief that they can, and their commitment to doing so. These elements represent a basic life shift; they are inescapable aspects of overcoming addiction in the long run.” (source: People Control Their Addictions)

Reading assignment 3: People who preferred either abrupt or gradual cessation of smoking were BOTH likelier to successfully quit smoking when asked to stop smoking abruptly. (source: PURLs: “Cold turkey” works best for smoking cessation)

This is Day 5 of our 30-day veganism guide for Filipinos. You can check out the first four daily posts here. If you want a more convenient way of learning about veganism, subscribe via email, which you can do after you scroll down. If you’re on social media and want to share your thoughts, don’t forget to use #GustoKoMagingVegan as a hashtag.

If you’re not a member of Manila Vegans on Facebook yet, consider joining. If you want to see photos of the delicious vegan food I eat (and I post a lot of junk food there, by the way), you can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

Paalam na muna. Bukas ulit!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!

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