How to respond to vegan abolitionists

At a recent screening of Fair Food – the documentary, where I was to be on a panel after the film, a flyer was distributed at the door accusing me of being unethical for raising and killing animals for meat. It included a number of inaccurate descriptions of the stunning process and the usual highly emotive language I’ve come to expect from vegan abolitionists, and asserted that ‘going vegan is the only way.’

As you can imagine, the organisers of this event – the wonderful people who make up the Hills Food Frontier – were upset that the material was being distributed, and hurried to inform me so that I wasn’t caught unawares. After the initial sinking feeling in my gut passed, I said to Holly, ‘it’s okay, I’m used to vegan abolitionists. I’ve got this.’

When the panel took to the stage, I at first gazed deeply into the crowd of about 100 people to see whether the responsible party was out there taking aim. After a few questions it seemed that maybe they’d left or weren’t going to challenge me during the Q&A session, so I asked Holly if she minded if I raised the issue.

I asked the audience whether they had a copy of the flyer in question. Most nodded anxiously in my direction, a sea of worried eyes.

I said, ‘it seems that there is a vegan abolitionist here who feels they don’t have a voice and who disagrees with what we do at Jonai Farms. I’d like to invite them to join us on the stage for an open discussion about how we raise our animals – I’m happy to discuss all aspects of our system including the slaughter at our abattoir – you can ask me any question you like.’

Nobody stepped forward and some audience members said they believed that they had handed out flyers and left. I said that was a shame, and asked whether anyone else wanted to ask me about how we treat our pigs, and a thoughtful discussion ensued about the ethical rearing of animals for meat. A few vegetarians commented on how pleased they were that farmers like us are working to get animals back on the paddocks where they belong.

It was clear that the vegan abolitionist made no friends that night, and I didn’t suffer the all-too-common tarnishing that happens when livestock farmers react poorly to the abuse we cop from this particular subset of the animal rights movement. And that got me thinking that many other farmers would really benefit from a ‘how to deal with vegan abolitionists’ post. So here we are.

Let me preface this advice by highlighting that we promote principles of slow meat – eat better, less. Our society over-consumes meat to the detriment of the planet and animals grown in massive intensive systems. But that doesn’t mean the same as ‘all meat eating is bad’, hence disagreements with vegans…

So here’s the advice – first of all, in most cases it’s best not to engage with vegan abolitionists. They are the subset of vegans that not only think it’s immoral to eat meat, but that all meat eating (and use of any animal product) must be abolished. They draw comparisons with slavery and tell us that history will judge us harshly. I judiciously ignore or respond to initial attacks with ‘I respect your views, and I disagree with them.’

Online (it’s almost always online that they attack), I finish the interaction with ‘here’s something I prepared earlier‘ on how vegans & ethical omnivores should unite and ‘here’s another thing‘ on how if you want transparency in farming, you’ll have to put up with reality.

But in the rare case that it’s advisable to engage, I have a few thoughts as follows. First of all, don’t get defensive and don’t attack or make silly jokes about how they’re probably unable to think clearly due to lack of meat in their diet. They’ve heard it before and you mostly just look like an arse.

I would also suggest that you not posit the argument that many small mammals are killed in cropping systems and that’s blood on vegans’ hands. They clearly aren’t in favour of those deaths, we’re all implicated in those systems (vegan through to omnivore), and the scale of those deaths doesn’t compare with the number of animals killed purposefully in industrial animal agricultural systems. So sure, everyone has blood on their hands, but this is hardly a compelling argument for omnivorism.

Remember: these people think we’re all murderers, and that tends to colour their view, so principles of civility are often totally disregarded. But here goes:

 

There is no reason to eat meat – you can live without it.

The quick answer is: I agree. And you can also live without bananas, apples, and potatoes, but most people don’t.

The slightly longer answer: For many or even most people this is true at a personal health level. For some it is not and eating meat is important to maintaining optimal health.

But at a systems level, the planet can’t live without animals and plants don’t grow without phosphorous and nitrogen – both abundant in livestock manure. A healthy agroecological system incorporates animals and some of them are then available as food for humans. For more detailed information on this topic see some of my earlier posts on agroecology.

(One vegan actually proposed that superphosphates were the answer to taking animals out of agriculture. Um, yeah, mining can solve everything, right?)

And so incorporating meat into a balanced diet makes good ecological sense as well as nutritional, and properly raised and prepared meat is delicious.

 

You’re speciesist!

Yes, I am. I believe there is a hierarchy of species and I’m really happy to be at the top of that ladder.

 

Would you treat your own child in this way?

No, I don’t think it’s okay to eat children.

 

You wouldn’t kill your dog for a stir fry, there’s no reason you should kill a pig either.

It’s true, I wouldn’t kill our dogs for a stir fry, because I was culturally conditioned not to eat dogs so I have a kind of irrational ‘ick’ response. But I have no issues with other cultures who eat dogs, so long as the dogs are raised respectfully in a manner that allows them to express their natural behaviours.

 

How can you say you ‘love’ your animals and then kill them and eat them?

I don’t say I love my animals, actually. I feel affection for them, I find them quite amusing, charming, and sometimes annoying and quite a lot of work, and I know that we are growing them for food.

 

 

Questions & abuse I don’t respond to (but if I did here are some amusing possibilities):

 

Why are you so heartless?

I haven’t eaten enough heart.

 

You are ‘sick freaks’ / ‘Neanderthals’ / ‘animal abusers’ / ‘murderers’.

Sigh.

 

You have no compassion.

Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.

 

I’m more evolved than you.

One day you’ll be me.

 

Published by

Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community…

15 thoughts on “How to respond to vegan abolitionists”

  1. Bravo Tammi 🙂 and your responses to the slinking-out-of-the-hall-vegans!

    Now – something for the vegans to consider-

    If vegans are totally opposed to harming any living thing, then they obviously have no knowledge, understanding or appreciation for THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS….. beautifully and eloquently articulated in a seminal book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird prove that plants have emotions, feelings, memories and creativity.
    So – if it is morally shameful to eat animals which possess these same emotions, I’d suggest that vegans better start looking around for something that is devoid of these characteristics and eat that / them instead.
    However, as soil is teeming with life, and algae are living creatures, as are yeasts, moulds and the entire fungi family, I reckon purist vegans – exercising their spotless morality and ethics, are going to go very very hungry.
    Vegan abolitionsists are ill-informed and obviously have no compassion for the plants they eat which are, living things.

    Simply give thanks for everything which goes into your mouth, be super vigilant when purchasing food to know it’s been ethically and happily raised and you can eat safely.

    Cheers, laughing and feasting locally every day,

    pennie

  2. Excellent post Tammi, I see these fights on social media all the time and it’s about time all sides just took a breath, realised we are all people with different opinions and different life experiences. To at least attempt to bring some mutual respect into the discussion can only be a good thing, well done.

  3. What I find annoying is that they pick on the easy targets which generally are the ethical small farmers trying to do the right things by their animals and that they are a little myopic in their views. A much greater fight is to take on the large animal producers who aren’t doing the right thing. This is an area where everyone can unite surely?

  4. It’s fine to have tips for how to deal with vegan abolitionists, but you don’t actually address any of their concerns… And the way you dismiss them, while stereotyping all vegans as militant or rude or a nuisance, just shows that you haven’t thought through much of what they or you are saying.

    Your responses to hypothetical questions are revealing… So, you admit that (1) you don’t *need* to eat meat, (2) animals do have feelings, a quality of life, and are entitled to care, and (3) your meat consumption practices are culturally inherited, and so basically random.

    Isn’t the obvious conclusion from that that, at the very least, eating meat should be seriously questioned, instead of dismissed with a few bullet points (that you seem to think are insightful)?

    The idea that you feel like you/humans are at the top of some sort of hierarchy of species is not just silly but anti-scientific. Evolution, biology, genetics, and basically the entire modern history of science has dispensed with this idea. In an age where the interconnectedness of life could not be more apparent, where we are collectively facing a global ecological crisis, the idea that humans transcend it, or rule it, is not just antiquated but dangerous.

    I mean isn’t the very idea of “ethical meat” somewhat/maybe/slightly ridiculous? A liberal fantasy, to have it both ways? On the one hand, meat producers have been forced (by science, activists, the law) to recognize that animals feel pain, are quasi-subjects, live in a social structure, care for their young, and so forth, but on the other hand, we kill them — their *whole* life — for, what, one or two meals? The energy, labor, resources required to indulge this (as you admit, completely unnecessary) habit is … absurd.

    I have no illusions about people stopping eating meat — it’s already clear that the practice is environmentally unsustainable and won’t be possible soon anyway — but I just can’t look away from this increasingly common brand of cynical entitlement. Especially in the comments. (“Bravo, Tammi.” Gross.) And now always hidden behind the cloak of the “small ethical farmer trying to do the right thing.” The *size* of the farm doesn’t matter; it’s the practice. You aren’t good people; you’re just slightly less bad than your big business counterparts.

  5. IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO EAT MEAT…You choose to support cropping. That is, growing one species of plant (eg, wheat, corn, rice etc.). Cropping requires large open spaces, just one type of plant, no weeds and hardly any trees.

    IF YOU CHOOSE TO EAT MEAT…You support trees (animals need shade), lots of different types of grasses and lots of biodiversity. Lots of positive natural cycles are created.

  6. FYI
    Vege v meat
    Transcript of RN program

    Robyn Williams: Now a question, counterintuitive as it seems; does veggie based agriculture cause more harm to animals than actually farming for meat? Professor Mike Archer thinks so, and here’s why.

    Mike Archer: It’s a very interesting argument and essentially it’s built on the understanding…well, what’s the challenge here? The challenge is that some vegans and vegetarians, not all, are kind of inclined to say, well, our diets are more ethical than your diets if you are an omnivore…nobody is a pure carnivore that I know, except maybe Eskimos with seals and stuff, the rest of us eat a bit of meat and a bit of plant material, and after all that is our heritage. We come out of a noble line of omnivores. We did experiment at one point in human evolution with producing a herbivore, this was the ‘Nutcracker Man’, the ugliest sucker you have ever seen, a really hideous looking guy, and it didn’t last very long. So we’ve tried vegetarianism in our family history, it doesn’t work. We are omnivores, we need those nutrients.

    At any rate, all I really wanted to make the point of in this article was there isn’t a free meal. No matter what you eat, animals die to enable that to happen. If you’re going to eat a primarily vegetarian diet, if it’s going to include grains, for example, we have monocultures that have been established at the expense of our naturally bio-diverse environments. Land has been swept clean. 10,000 years ago in the Near East when agriculture started, that was the beginning of disasters for global biodiversity. We swept all this natural diversity aside on all continents to plant just a few species that we valued or to run just cattle instead of all complex ecosystems.

    So in the mere act of producing lots of vegetarian food you are killing so many animals. But the key bit here was what happens when you are growing grains or pulses. What we know is, for example, in all the towns around Australia that are wheat producing towns or centres, on average about every five years they have a mouse plague. And you think, mice…but mice, you know…hey, let’s talk about mice…but they get killed in the millions and millions, mass slaughtered in horrible ways that cause their deaths to be really unpleasant, and that is going into producing grains. Yes, some of those grains are fed to some cattle, but they are also the core of the diets for a lot of people who don’t want to eat any meat.

    But when you think about mice, and we are talking now here about sentient lives, is the vegetarian or vegan’s claim that their diets involve less death of sentient beings correct or not? When you actually do the sums you find, oh no, it’s not clear at all that they are correct because all these mice, among other things, are being killed to make sure that we get those grains. Mice, the research has recently shown, are much more sentient than we ever thought. Mice actually sing love songs to each other…

    Robyn Williams: You’re kidding!

    Mike Archer: I’m not. These cute little guys, you can often see them twitching their nose and looking at each other but we didn’t realise until somebody listened to them with an ultrasonic recorder that they are actually singing. You know, there are Carusos in there just wooing all the little mice. And the experiments have shown that the girl mice just flock to particular singers, and these singers change their songs, it’s not just some kind of rote memory thing that is written into their genes. All of a sudden we have to look at mice in a very different way. I mean, who else sings? Humans, whales. There are very few animals that actually sing, let alone love songs, and mice are among them…

  7. Hee Hee. Good article. Militant and vigilante vegans & some vegetarians are an absolute selfish, self serving, self-defeating joke. Feel so bad about what the real world and reality is all about huh?….then go seek professional psychiatric help or counselling to help you with your mental psychological problems and stop trying to take out your frustrations on normal, balanced, omnivorous humans. Some vegans are very smart and sensible about their life choices and the way they integrate with the majority of the human race, so my advice is not targeted at those good natured people, only to the dumb, rude and hypocritical vegans…a lot of them out there no doubt. Here is a line they use often…. “You meat eaters react to us vegans negatively to hide your obvious guilt”. Hee Hee….What a load of rubbish. It is the vegans and most vegetarians who actual feel very guilty ….that is why the majority of them switched over from meat eating etc. Go and sulk over the realization of your futility somewhere else and leave humans alone. If you vegans and vegetarians want to win over people with your views and arguments, treat all people with respect and tolerance and show that you are rational and reasonable in your views willing to engage in mature meaningful discussion, otherwise you are just going to be ignored. Omnivores will more likely respect and listen to intelligent and mature people, not dumb disrespectful vegans who give the ‘vegan-movement’ a bad name.
    Myself…I don’t mind killing and cooking animals for food. Better than eating then alive and raw (YUK!)… like Lions in the wild are able to do with ease. Most humans on planet earth are omnivores, been so for thousands of years. Vegans… lemme see, been around for a relatively short time, are mostly white, young females from affluent first world cities/societies. Not surprising. Like any cultural virus, veganism will slowly spread over the planet but unlikely to have much of an impact due to its lame premise.

  8. I disagree with you. I don’t believe that meat eating can be ethically justified as it causes unnecessary suffering and environmental degradation.

  9. I recently attended an event at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne called “Beyond the Supermarket: Fair food in a Disconnected System and listened to Tammy speak among other speaks on the panel.
    Following the panel members presentations, I had the opportunity to express my concerns about what I see as the unfairness and disconnect of the neo-carnist (http://www.neocarnism.org/) system, movement, culture, ideology and practices that Tammy represents and profits from financially and in terms of building social status within her movement and community of followers. How is what Tammy believes and practices unfair and disconnected? Firstly, she claims to be an ethical person and makes efforts to show others that she cares about the welfare of the pigs she helps force into existence to exploit and kill by claiming that she provides straw for them to lie on when transporting them in the coolest art of the day to the place they are killed. Once the pigs, and perhaps the cows she exploits too, have been left at the killing factory, her concern for their welfare clearly ends because at that place the harms inflicted on those animals so is so severe that it kills them, proving the term “humane killing” an oxymoron. And this is her intention, to kill them, because she profits from their dead bodies, not their living bodies. How can anyone who claims to be ethical care about the welfare of sentient animals, and then betray them by forcing them into a situation that violently ends their lives?
    Secondly, Tammy claims to respect “the pigness of the pig”, yet she denies the pigs she sends to be killed a full life with family members and the desire of those pigs to continue on living which is clearly what they want to do when their vocal opposition and physical resistance to being killed can be observed by anybody who witnesses what happens to pigs at the slaughterhouse she sends them to (see for yourself at http://www.pigtruth.com ). The pigs die in terror as they asphyxiate and burn as the carbon dioxide gas contacts their sensitive tissues. I doubt whether in her so called transparency, Tammy has been into those gas chambers herself to witness what happens to those pigs she pretends to care about.
    Furthermore, Tammy has also compared pigs to bananas, apples, and potatoes showing her complete lack of understanding of the biological difference (or is it just denial?)between a plant and a sentient animals and the clear disconnect and unfairness in her thinking and behaviour. Her lack of empathy and sympathy for those individuals she breeds, exploits, kills, and dismembers, and consumes is also a clear indication of the disconnect, not only in herself, but in most people who already think it’s wrong to hurt other animals and avoid killing them themselves.
    Additionally, I don’t know how she can expect vegans and “omnivores” (carnist-speciesists/ non-vegans/human supremacists) to unite, when vegans are opposed to all forms of breeding, exploiting, abusing, oppression, domination, and killing of other animals to consume their flesh and body secretions, to wear their skins and hair, to test on the bodies for “research”, to exploit and kill them for sport and entertainment or breed them for any purpose. Vegans do not support “free range”, “grass fed”, “humane”, or any other attempt to dress up avoidable exploitation, oppression, domination and violence and work towards abolishing ALL forms of breeding, exploitation, abuse, and killing, not simply reforming them or regulating them
    As for vegans having blood on their hands, the definition of veganism clearly states that: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” It obvious in Australian society at least and in many other parts of the world that we can avoid exploiting and killing pigs and other animals and live by the definition of veganism if we care at all about being ethical people and the welfare of other sentient animals. And, as for comparing the number of animals killed in cropping systems and those bred and exploited by humans purposefully to be killed, the myth that vegans have more blood on their hands has been debunked here http://freefromharm.org/common-justifications-for-eating-animals/why-plant-crops-dont-kill-more-wildlife-than-pasture-raised-animals/ and here http://www.theflamingvegan.com/view-post/Vegan-Mythbusting-1-Are-wild-animals-killed-when-grain-is-harvested-for-vegans
    Lastly, I agree we need nitrogen and phosphorus in soil to grow plants to feed ourselves, however we don’t need animal manure to do this. Plants don’t need to pass through animals to provide the essential nutrients soils need as stock free, also known as vegan organic or veganic, agricultural systems have proven. See http://veganorganic.net/
    The rise in neo-carnism as a counternarrative to veganism clearly shows the growing threat the vegan/ animal liberation movement is towards the dominant carnist culture and ideology. If we truly aim to be ethical people and care about the welfare of and respect the needs of other animals, and wish to evolve towards a more civilised and socially just society for all, instead of focusing on trying to find the right way to do the wrong thing, wouldn’t it be better to promote and practice veganism? Why breed, exploit, abuse, dominate, oppress, and inflict lethal violence on other animals when we live in a time and place where all that can be completely avoided?

  10. Hi. I just wanted to say that – as an environmental science graduate student – the time has come to seriously consider moving to a plant-based diet. While I was doing my first degree in history, I learned that the Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, the Incas, many of the most powerful and robust ancient cultures of the past (yes including Aboriginal Australians) ate a plant-based diet. The UN advocates for it as well. It’s far better for human health, better for the environment and certainly better for the animals! Moving to cropping will help restore biodiversity and also help farmers gradually transition to truly sustainable farms. There is also evidence that killing animals for a living contributes significantly to domestic violence, violent crimes and rape. There are so many issues that animal farming is interwoven with! Anyway, local, pesticide free, plant-based living seems the best for everyone.

  11. Hi Sarah,
    First of all can I please have some evidence supporting your statement, “There is also evidence that killing animals for a living contributes significantly to domestic violence, violent crimes and rape.” My mother, Tammi Jonas, is one of the most amazing people I know, so I highly doubt that she will become a rapist. I would also appriciate it if you would stay away and not say such rude things about my mum, what good does it do saying such things? I think that what’s ‘best for everyone’ is if we were all just a little bit nicer. 🙂

  12. I’m a vegan in the farming community–permaculture, regenerative, agroforestry–and would never posit that we don’t need animals as part of a farming system–be they wildlife, kept animals, or ourselves (cycling our own manure in composting systems). Many vegans aren’t aware of the damage to all life that many farming practices cause. But you raise an excellent point that we all have blood on our hands. The question I come back to is: IF we can find a way to thrive without taking the life of an animal, are we not morally obligated to do so? I know we are all different in our composition, and some may indeed require meat to thrive and be healthy, but we haven’t scratched the surface of innovating multi-dimensional, ecologically vibrant plant, fungi, fermentation/processing, etc systems that can supply all our needs in perpetuity. After all, we can include animals in a food system without having to kill them. I often tell people in my farming community very many of the same things you outline in your article–you can’t talk to a person embracing an absolutist position. But we all actually DO need plants to live and to be healthy, so we can align on that fact. That’s one point I may disagree with you on–if that’s indeed what you were saying when you claimed we don’t need potatoes, bananas, or apples. We actually do need phytonutrients, and lots of them if we want to be healthy. Animal products contain none. So that’s one universal health fact that we can align with–we all need to eat plants to be healthy. Many animal farmers forget that. We can collaborate on designing the most ecologically sound food system that meets all of our plant needs–and those who want to eat meat can of course do so within the same system parameters.

  13. I’ve been staying on farms in the southern tablelands of NSW. I was supervising some vegans on a Green Army project and taking note of their diets. Seems they rely on foods with an awful lot of food miles, such as coconut oil and sweet potatoes and soy products. Without this reliance on fossil fuels they couldn’t live in the cool temperate climate of the southern tablelands.

    What’s more, I read recently (I think it was in a book by Andrew Saul) that the fats you eat need to come from food grown in the climate you live in. Doing this gives you the Omega 3’s you need, and the only way to do this in a cool temperate climate is to get your fats from animals.

    There is a short ebook called “Letter to a Vegetarian Nation” that contains many good counters to the arguments of those who think a plant based diet is pure.

    And lastly, my personal view is that veganism is an attempt to put oneself above nature and so such a mindset is actually lacking in love for nature. And since I was a raw vegan for five years in my twenties I’ve certainly been able to reflect on the vegan mindset. What got me out of the vegan mindset was a gut feeling that I was lacking something I needed. It didn’t take long for me work out that what I needed was flesh.

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