This post is the third and last part in a series regarding what is referred as “a non-violent approach”. In the first post we argued that the allegedly historical success of non-violent struggles is a myth and a non-relevant approach when it comes to the animals’ struggle.
In the second post we argued that the allegedly non-violent approach is principally, philosophically and ideologically a violent and speciesist approach.
In this part, to complete the argument regarding the non-violence myth and on the occasion of the World Vegan Day, we argue that non-violence is even theoretically impossible, since practically there is no way to avoid violence. And it is certainly impossible merely by conducting a consumerist vegan lifestyle, which is far from being cruelty-free and non-violent, yet viewed as such by many activists and presented as the ideal to aspire to, by most of them.
Since many activists tend to jump to conclusions, to prevent potential misunderstandings, we want to clarify straight ahead that this post’s aim is not to argue for a better ethical lifestyle option than veganism. Veganism, despite its major ethical flaws, is by no doubt the best option.
As we mentioned in the answer to the question regarding advocating for a vegan world as part of our FAQ, in our article about veganism called Vegan Suffering and in our Manifesto, we are vegans ourselves and for a long time now, since there is no better option. And that is exactly the problem. This is the argument we want to make in this post.
Another clarification is that this post doesn’t aim to be a part of the cynical “debate” that was forced on the AR movement regarding “grass-fad” exploitation as a moral alternative to veganism. Still, too often the responses to Steve Davis, Michael Archer, Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan were too easily dismissive of the evidences of the harm a vegan diet causes (considering the dishonesty in which these anti-veganism claims are made and the damage they’ve done in redeeming the image of animal products, it’s hard to blame activists for putting on their defenses more than looking inward critically).
For our response to their arguments, focusing on Pollan’s article “An Animal’s Place”, please go to A Sentient’s Place.
Some violent practices involved in some plant-based products are known to some activists and vegans, with some even stretching their personal definition of veganism to include for example palm oil, coconut, sugar, coffee, chocolate and etc. But that is because of the specific ways some specific products are currently manufactured, where the violence involved in their production is relatively easy to spot while the whole mechanism is disregarded. The violence is not in the specific production details, but in each of the ways each of the products is manufactured, transported, consumed and disposed of. The realization that violence is built-in and inherent to agriculture and other manufacture processes is too often disregarded.
This post is not about activists being vegans despite the violence involved in it, it’s about veganism presented as a non-violent option despite the violence involved in it.
Clearly when facing animal agriculture, plant agriculture seems as an ethical alternative, but the cruel fact is that one form of violence is offered as the solution for a far worse form of violence.
The non-violent approach is basically oxymoronic. It can’t exist in a world based on violence, where creatures constantly compete with each other over resources, not to mention that for many, other creatures are the resources. Violence is a derivative from life most basic element – consuming energy. It is impossible for any being to live on this planet without hurting someone else and this ambition is particularly absurd when it comes to humans whose massive and violent footprint is with no comparison to any other creature, even vegans with a very high environmental awareness.
It starts with “land clearing”, the clean term for mass occupation, displacement and murder, as every “agricultural land” was once home to a countless number of animals. Though mostly driven by cattle grazing, deforestation also occurs for many crops that most vegans consume on a daily basis and also advocate that others consume as part of the solution to animal exploitation. These are crops like cotton and sugar (most of the vegan cloths are made of cotton and most of the processed food contains sugar), soy oil which is the most widely produced edible oil and palm oil which is the second most widely produced edible oil and is a very important component in soaps and washing powders. And that’s a very partial list.
Like deforestation, in many cases water use is also treated as a harm only non-vegans are responsible for, as if plant agriculture doesn’t involve the plunder of water resources that other sentient beings rely upon.
When activists show the famous tables that compare the water use of producing one kilo of rice, soy and potatoes with chickens, pigs and cows meat, they show how less harmful they are, not how harmless they are. The fact that animal products consume much more water than vegan products makes them more violent than vegan products, but it doesn’t make the vegan ones cruelty free.
And it is not only a matter of quantity, it is the obvious, barely questioned human control over the accessible fresh water. Humans use and manipulate the water flow all over the world, leaving entire regions dried, and all the beings living there are left to dehydrate.
Also, plant agriculture involves the deliberate targeting of other beings, most commonly by using chemicals. A produce shouldn’t be considered vegan if poisons, conveniently called “pesticides”, were spread all over it to intentionally kill other sentient beings who rely on it for food and shelter.
Apart from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are also sprayed to make sure nothing besides the specific crop human desire, grows on that land. All those chemicals severely affect animals living in the sprayed area, as well as many who live far from it but are affected since these chemicals often drift.
In the hopeless search for the oxymoronic suffering-less consumption, some tend to cling on to organic agriculture, most often disregarding the fact that chemicals as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used for organic products as well, as long as they are natural poisons
(with the reassuring “Bio” added to them, as in bio-pesticides). The poisoned animals aren’t consoled by the fact that the toxin was of natural origin.
So “No pesticides” doesn’t mean no disinfestation and it definitely doesn’t mean no violence. Other extremely violent “pest control” methods can include biological extermination, a violent repertory of traps, gassing, smoke bombing, fumigating, flooding and foaming burrows which are the farmers’ main target. Even flammable gases such as propane and oxygen are injected with a hose into the burrows and then ignited.
Burning fields is a common agriculture method which is not necessarily used directly for disinfestation, however it is de facto a vast “pest control” method. Many animals, mostly snakes and baby rodents, are simply burned alive.
Some of the mentioned practices are even more intertwined in organic agriculture.
Other vastly used chemicals are fertilizers, which the violence involved in them is even less visible but not less harmful.
The most common harm is leakage of fertilizers into other environments which results in a nutrient overload. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is a widespread problem in rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal oceans all over the world. Basically it causes a massive algae population increase, and as a consequence of their bloom, some of the algae release toxins that can kill marine animals, and all of them hurt other aquatic beings by blocking the sunlight or by creating oxygen levels decline that eventually lead to the suffocation of fishes, crabs and other marine animals.
One agricultural matter that does get some attention is the use of heavy machinery. However even that discussion is deficient and extremely superficial as all the focus goes to a false conclusion from only a few studies about only one stage which is harvesting, while ignoring truthful conclusions from these studies, ignoring other studies about harvesting, and ignoring other studies about other stages, mainly about plowing which is much more harmful than harvesting.
The reason is, as mentioned earlier in this text, that some meat advocators in disguise of environmentalists, manipulatively argued (mainly based on one research that was conducted about 3 decades ago and while misinterpreting or falsifying its findings) that a vegan diet is responsible for more deaths than animal based diet.
While the ridiculous argument, that a vegan diet is more harmful than an animal based diet, can be easily refuted, the fact that a vegan diet is harmful can’t be.
There was no rational justification to infer more harm from allegedly more deaths during harvesting as Steven Davis did in his notorious article, and there wasn’t even a justification to infer more deaths as he did based on that particular research. However, harm was found in that research and much greater harm was found in other researches who studied the effects of plowing (Jacob, Hempel, 2003) and (Bonnet, Crespin, Pinot, Bruneteau, Bretagnolle, Gauffre, 2013) for example.
Davis, Archer and the alike are biased manipulators but the researches they base their deceitful conclusions on aren’t necessarily. However, authentic or biased, these researches don’t measure the single most important element which is suffering.
Obviously the death toll is measurable but many other aspects are not, and so these kind of researches are bound to ignore how harmful it is to lose your home, shelter, food and water sources, how stressful the noise and trembling must be, how horrible is the situation of panicked, entirely defenseless animals running for their lives, with only a few seconds to decide if they have enough time to carry their young with them or leave them behind to be crushed.
And both harvesting and plowing are “only” two harmful stages out of dozens in a tremendously harmful system.
Heavy machinery is not only used in the fields but also to ship the produce from the fields to the stores.
And since us vegans are particularly selective with what we consume, we are highly depended on world trade. We won’t buy food from a company that involves with animal experiments, we won’t buy certain brands, and overall try to avoid supporting corporations. We check a list of ingredients that might be animal derived, and of course there are the basics – no tinge of some egg, no gelatin, no whey and etc. So vegans in many cases ought to buy from a very distant producer.
To meet our nutritional needs year round, we can’t solely rely on fresh, locally grown produce.
It is hard as it is even for a non-vegan individual consumer to rely on local food only. On a global scale and for vegans particularly it is almost impossible.
Everyone everywhere depends increasingly on long-distance food. Encouraged by food processing innovations, cheap oil, and subsidies, since 1961 the value of global trade in food has tripled and the tonnage of food shipped between nations has grown fourfold. The import and export of food has tripled in the past 20 years. Food is now the largest component of air freight, and air transport is the most polluting and least efficient form of transportation.
The world’s communities are not self-sufficient. Transportation is the life blood of the world economy. So even if you are a strict vegan, as long as you are part of this “driving society”, you’ll be responsible for suffering. Vegans are participating in the destructive distribution system that enabled the food to get to the market. It is inevitable. Someone “has” to drive your vegan food.
Even raw food is in many cases far from being raw and from being unharmful. When it comes to raw fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, besides the earlier mentioned violent growing practices and the just mentioned violent transportation methods, there are several harmful stages which may include: cleaning, sorting, cooling, coating, drying and storage. Unprocessed foods are more sensitive and prone to go bad. Therefore in many cases, some processing stages are done around the produces, and not necessarily directly to it. Usually post-harvest processing is done in mechanized facilities, with conveyor belts, automated sorting, room size refrigerators and etc. The more stages involved, the more transportation and packaging there is. The so called raw foods even receive treatment to improve their looks. Fruits with a greenish tint are placed in special storage rooms where ethylene gas is used to bring out the color. In many cases fruits and vegetables are covered with a wax coating, both to retain moisture and to make them more appealing and shiny in the grocery store. So not only that food items which are considered as the rawest, least processed foods on the shelves go through several harmful processes, they contain bee wax or other secretions of insects as shellac.
And that is not the only connection between bees’ exploitation and allegedly vegan food products. Approximately one out of every three food items humans consume is made possible by pollinators, and honey-bees account for 90% of the pollination.
Farmers, who rely on factory-farmed honeybees for pollination, rent more than two million honeybee colonies every year in the US alone. The hives are mostly transported by trucks and sometimes by airplanes, from field to field according to blossom timings.
In economic terms, honey is not the main activity. Beekeepers earn more from renting “their” bees for pollination than they do from honey production. In other words the two industries heavily rely on one another in a mutual dependence. And so ironically vegan food is what keeps the beekeeping business the profitable industry it is.
Vegan food is grown on the expense of billions upon billions of bees, that go through routine examination and handling, artificial feeding regimes, drug and pesticide treatment, genetic manipulation, artificial insemination, smoking, air blasting, transportation (by air, rail and road), starvation, slaughter and of course theft of their sole source of nutrition. You can read more about it in the article Vegan suffering in the multimedia articles section.
These are only a few of the harms when consuming raw food. And most vegans don’t strictly stick to a purely raw diet and also consume processed foods. The manufacture of products that are considered basic such as soy milk, sugar, tofu, bread, oil, tea and etc can include dozens of sub-processes like: Cleaning and removing unwanted parts such as the outer layers, separating the beans from the pod, extracting the interior which is common with seeds, mixing and macerating as in preserved fruits and vegetables, liquefaction and pressing as in fruit juices and soy milk production, fermentation like in soy sauces and tempeh, baking, boiling, broiling, frying , steaming, shipping of a number of ingredients from different distances, wrapping, labeling, transportation of waste and of course transportation to the stores. All are inevitable. All are comfortably invisible as the finished product lies on the shelf.
It is hard to behold the 4,000 liters of water that were used to produce a cotton shirt.
It is hard to smell the burning wood when sniffing a bar of soap.
It is hard to think of the traps set on the tip of dens when you buy cereals.
And while some activists or vegans personally avoid some of these products, still the call for non-vegans is to consume them as the moral answer to humans’ cruelty towards non humans.
The movement has to promote this systematic violence only because a vegan diet is incomparably less harmful than animal based diet. But it is still very harmful and violent and therefore not a moral alternative. Plant based diet is cruel. The fact that there are lifestyles that are much crueler doesn’t make it moral.
The conventional pretense that a vegan diet is moral, and that the yearned vegan world will be a moral one, hurts the chances for a truly sufferingless world. Activists convince non-vegans and even themselves that there is a cruelty free option, and that it is accomplishable.
We don’t accuse activists for lying to the general public arguing for a cruelty free diet while it most definitely isn’t (it’s hard as it is to convince humans to go vegan). We accuse them of being conveniently ignorant if they truly believe veganism is non-violent, or of lying to themselves and to other activists if they are aware of the violence involved in veganism but still advocate it as a moral and non-violent option. Again, neglecting to mention the horrors of a vegan diet to the general public is totally understandable, considering how difficult it is to veganize humans, the biggest problem with the veganism focus is not perpetuating the conventional lie, but that once activists have found the “answer” they stop looking, and so veganism has become the goal of most activists.
Our aim is to make activists who truly believe in some of the slogans they promote, realize that as long as they aim at a vegan world their slogans are empty. They are calling for animal rights when even they would personally, necessarily and inevitably violate them. They are arguing against speciesism while they personally, necessarily and inevitably participate in a systematical discrimination against beings from other species. They are advocating for non-violence while they personally, necessarily and inevitably support violence every time they eat.
Truly believing that “in suffering we are all equal”, and that “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one”, and that truly the suffering of no one is of less importance than the suffering of another, any other, can’t morally coexist with veganism
The point of this post is that although veganism is a better option, it’s still a horrible one. Veganism shouldn’t be advocated for, let alone as a cruelty free, liberating, rights granting and non-violent option. It prevents activists from searching for truly cruelty free options.
Obviously there are activists who do realize that veganism is not cruelty free and consequently speak in terms of the least harm principle. But why compromise on the least harm option before searching for a no harm option? Compromise should come only after the desired outcome was found unachievable.
As we argued in the former post, activists’ first intuition and unfortunately in many cases also the last sort of action, as a result of a human oriented morality, if not plain speciesism, is to try to convince humans to go vegan. They focus on how to stop human’s torturing and not how to stop animals’ torture. This is not a terminological nuance. It indicates activists’ focus and orientation as broadly explained in the second part of this non-violence series.
Veganism advocators are actually more radical welfarists. Although they don’t want to widen the cages but to break them, when the whole world is a giant oppression system, it is still reformism. It is still compromising on the amount of oppression within the system, instead of abolishing it altogether. Veganism is replacing the cruelest way of accumulating energy with a much less violent and oppressive system which is certainly not equalitarian and non-violent.
Activists love to make clear that they don’t want wider cages but no cages at all. On the same line of thought we don’t want a world with less suffering but a suffering-less world. The only option for a non-speciesist, non-violent world is one with no sentients. That is the goal of our movement and what every activist should wish for and act on.