Dan Cudahy of “Unpopular Vegan Essays” – a popular essay blog amongst the abolitionist-leaning “logical vegan” crowd – has written a generally ignored and ostracized essay addressing the excitement over “A Vegan No More”. In “On Ex-Vegans”, Cudahy writes that ex-vegans don’t exist, by definition, because the definition of true veganism includes the word “lifelong”:
For some of us, “vegan” means a strong, lifelong, and morally internalized commitment to avoiding the use of animals and animal products as much as is reasonably possible in an extremely speciesist society that uses animal products ubiquitously. … There may be a lot of “ex-vegans”, but when they were “vegans”, what did that mean? Did they go without animal products for several hours daily (“vegan before 6pm”)? Did they go on a “vegan health diet” for a few weeks, months, or years only as a fad diet right after their Atkins diet? If they were vegan for “animal rights” reasons, what did they mean by that? Are they referring to a concern about animal welfare?
If you aren’t vegan for life, you never had the commitment that true veganism entails, which means you were never vegan. So much for the ex-vegan problem. Although this may create a new problem if “lifelong” is taken to mean “covering the entirety of one’s life,” since that would exclude everyone except for vegans from birth to death at an old age, which so far is no one. Hopefully Cudahy doesn’t mean that.
Cudahy goes on to explain that any and all defects hovering in the vicinity of veganism belong to the ex-vegan and not veganism:
The point here is that ex-vegans are at least partly a reflection of their own character traits at this point in their lives (characters can be built and improved upon or diminish throughout life), not a reflection of veganism. …
The point here is that vegans often become ex-vegans at least partly due to the poverty of their reasons for previously being vegan, which is no reflection of veganism or the many excellent reasons for being vegan. …
Again, the negative grandstanding is a reflection of the ex-vegan’s ego and character at this time in life, not a reflection of veganism. …
So ex-vegans have personality problems and were never really vegan. You know, the usual. The reason I’m bringing up Cudahy’s post is that at the end of it, he makes a point that Messina implied in her “Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Veganism?” entry that I didn’t address in my response.
In her entry, Messina said that Tasha (the vegan no more) enjoyed her new meaty diet so much that it made her “suspicious.” Suspicious of what, Messina doesn’t quite say, but she’s getting at something that Cudahy spells out more explicitly: if you are going to quit veganism because of failing health, you should re-introduce animal products only reluctantly and in the minimal amount possible required to thrive. Animal products should be your medicine – and every time you take them, you should hold your nose and gag.
If such ex-vegans are serious and genuine about a “failure to thrive”, we should expect them to continue veganism in every other way they are reasonably able, and to continue to fully support the ethical reasons and environmental benefits they previously did. If they do, and they are genuine and sincere about their health issues, and consume limited, prescribed quantities of animal products with the strong reservation that a person who was prescribed a highly undesirable medicine took the medicine, I see no reason why they should announce that they are no longer vegan. …
While I’m almost certain that, based on significant reading of materials written by experts in nutrition science, absolutely no animal products are necessary for any human to thrive, I could believe in the sincerity of someone who embraces veganism in their lives as much as they believe they possibly can, even if they consume some “limited, prescriptive amount of certain animal products” with the regret and reservation of someone who undergoes a painful treatment to maintain their health. Sadly, I have yet to see one case among ex-vegans that would even remotely fit this description.
And of course Cudahy doesn’t forget to say:
It is also worth noting here that the mainstream American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegan diets concludes that well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for people of all ages and all stages of life.
Now that’s a twist. He calls it “the mainstream American Dietetic Association” instead of “the conservative American Dietetic Association”. I’ll have to start looking out for that one.
As for his point that failure-to-thrive ex-vegans need to treat animal products as a dreadful tonic that you take only when absolutely necessary, that actually kind of makes sense… but only if you’ve never had to change your ethics in order to quit veganism.
Messina makes an allowance for ex-vegan ethical revisions in her own entry:
I understand that someone who believes they require meat may need to tweak their overall perspective to make it feel ethically okay to eat it. But, there is a big difference between choosing to include small amounts of meat in your diet for health reasons versus absolutely reveling in meat consumption as is reflected in Tasha’s recent twitter post: “Bacon, bacon, bacon…how did I ever live without you for so long?”
Along with revealing their ascetic streaks, Messina and Cudahy underestimate the significance of the change required to go from “It’s always wrong to eat animal products and veganism is perfectly healthy” to “Veganism is not perfectly healthy and this makes it okay to eat animal products.”
For any vegan other than the most undogmatic “personal choice” style vegan who is ever-aware that veganism is at best an attempt to reduce suffering rather than a perfect moral philosophy that everyone must adapt as a minimum standard of decency, this requires more than a tweak. Just admitting that veganism might not be entirely healthy is enough to shatter many vegans’ conception of their philosophy. Cudahy, for instance, is “almost certain” that “absolutely no animal products are necessary for any human to thrive.” (Any? Including humans with deadly allergies to multiple vegan staples?) When personal experience teaches you that animal products actually are necessary for some humans to thrive, everything else about veganism is up for review.
But the main reason that ex-vegans don’t mimic vegans as best as they possibly can is a lack of motivation.
There are a number of things that keep people vegan: A negative emotional reaction at thought of eating animal products (what I call guilt and what vegans call compassion); a logic-based belief in the inherent wrongness of animal product consumption; a place in the vegan community; habit – you are so used to avoiding animal products that eating them again requires an effort; avoiding backlash from vegan friends and family members; purity – repulsion at the prospect of animal products crossing your lips and being inside of you; disgust/no longer having a taste for animal products; fear of animal products making you feel ill; fear that animal products are detrimental to your short-term and long-term health; and the sense of identity that comes with being a vegan.
Those are the main things that keep vegans vegan, and you lose every single one of them when you become an ex-vegan. It’s no wonder Cudahy says, “Sadly, I have yet to see one case among ex-vegans that would even remotely fit this description [of being as close to veganism as health allows].” Messina and Cudahy are expecting ex-vegans to hew as closely to veganism as possible without having any of the motivators that make people vegan.
True, ex-vegans can be concerned with suffering and still see animal products as a contribution to that. But once ex-vegans accept, as they must, that their existence is going to cause suffering no matter what (something vegans will admit when pressed but mostly overlook, as we can see in one vegan’s recent revelation while reading The Vegetarian Myth), they don’t usually worry as much about the suffering-causing potential of every single thing they do. Nor do they tend to leave animal products in their special category of the most significant suffering contributor. Ex-vegans lack a binary view of suffering as something that you create by eating salmon and shut off by eating tofu. Allowing yourself to eat even a tiny amount of meat for health reasons makes the vegan idea that “you’re either moral or you’re not” go haywire.
Even if ex-vegans maintained the vegan idea that animal products are what cause suffering above all else, it isn’t easy to recalibrate your internal guilt alarm to permit some animal products but then go off whenever you exceed a limit determined to be the minimal amount needed for health. Few ex-vegans are willing to venture back into eating animal products with guilt still being an issue, so they find a way to lose the guilt entirely. If you feel zero guilt about eating one piece of cheese, multiply that by an entire wheel of cheese and you still have zero guilt. What’s to keep you from eating the wheel of cheese, then, besides the size of your stomach and haranguing from vegan dietitians?
Combine this lack of motivation to be vegan-like with ex-vegans realizing that omnivorous food is usually more delicious and satisfying than vegan food – and makes socializing easier – and you have a recipe for ex-vegan love affairs with meat.
If the direct effects of animal product consumption were readily evident, it might be easier for ex-vegans to take the minimal animal product approach. The problem is that any positive effects that come from reducing animal product consumption are abstract. This is one reason vegans tend to be so concerned with personal purity. Any less-negative effects they have on animals and the environment is invisible to them. Vegans can’t see any suffering they (possibly) prevent by lowering the demand for animal products enough that fewer farm animals come into existence; all they can see that they don’t allow even trace amounts of exploitation products into themselves. So they have to put a lot of importance on that part. Ex-vegans, on the other hand, no longer have personal purity to make it look like they’re accomplishing something.
When you can eat a small amount of animal products without guilt, and nothing horrible happens that you can see, the spell veganism casts is broken. Many ex-vegans are left with the feeling that they have nothing to show for their years of veganism (one reason to stay vegan as long as possible is to delay having this realization). That kind of mitigates the desire to curtail your animal product consumption to the absolute minimum, especially for ex-vegans who come to love the taste and nourishment that animal products offer.
Vegans are prone to equating animal products with suffering and veganism with non-suffering. For ex-vegans concerned with other issues such as overpopulation, human suffering, oil extraction or agriculture, and who think they can make a positive impact by supporting small farms, it’s not that simple. These nuances make it difficult for ex-vegans to keep track of the fluctuations in suffering that their behavior causes, something which is immeasurable anyway, but which vegans think they can gauge by their purity.
Besides, as long as most vegans see veganism as an all-or-nothing thing, most ex-vegans are going to have to agree with them. Why should ex-vegans bother trying to get close to the vegan ideal when most vegans despise ex-vegans more than any other group and disbelieve them when they say they need animal products to feel healthy?
Vegans like Cudahy promote the idea that you either are or are not vegan, and there are no meaningful degrees. In “On Ex-Vegans”, Cudahy dismisses the true veganness of anyone who doesn’t meet his stringent definition, such as Mark Bittman with his “Vegan Before 6pm” idea. You’re either vegan for a lifetime or you were never vegan at all, Cudahy says. So why is he upset when ex-vegans don’t find anything compelling about near-veganism? How could they when vegans refuse to allow anything other than pure veganism to count for anything?
And when vegan dietitians go after well-meaning ex-vegans, trashing their claims and attempting to destroy their credibility with the usual tedious tactics of linking them to organizations and individuals that vegans loathe, what ex-vegan would be stupid enough to try to be as vegan as possible and expect vegans to accept them?
--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--
--Tagged under: SelfDenial--
--Tagged under: ExVegans--
13 March 2010
Dan opposes animal exploitation and rejects the notion that welfare reforms can ever provide any justice or meaningful protection to sentient nonhuman beings. Dan promotes healthy and enjoyable vegan living as an imperative to respect the lives and the most basic moral rights of nonhuman individuals who are every bit as interested in their lives as we are in ours. It is only through dogmatic cultural prejudice and blind tradition and habit that we fail to acknowledge these basic moral rights.
We have overcome similar prejudice in our societies over the past four hundred years in ending the sanctioned torture and killing of heretics and “witches” and abolishing the institution of slavery. We can also overcome our prejudice regarding the view of nonhumans as commodities for us to exploit and kill. As a society, it will take a while to eliminate the prejudice, but as individuals, we can choose a paradigm shift and change immediately by going and staying vegan.
As a practicing accountant, Dan volunteers his time and accounting skills to animal rights related non profit organizations.
Thank you and welcome, Dan!
ARZone: Congratulations on the enormous success of ‘Unpopular Vegan Essays’. I was hoping you may be able to offer some information and advice to other people thinking about setting up their own blog site. How to go about starting out etc. Do you think podcasting is a good form of communication?
Dan Cudahy: Thank you. I think it is best to start with a purpose. When I started the blog, my purpose was to provide a resource for both myself and others when discussing animal-related issues.
A strong purpose will keep you interested and keep your blog more
interesting. If you want to reach more people, involvement in social networking sites is important…
I also learned to shorten my posts. People’s on-line attention spans are shorter than magazine or book attention spans. Lately, I’ve tried to keep my essays under 1500 words
Podcasts are popular, so I think they are a good form of communication. Again, keeping them shorter will gain more listeners.
Besides your most excellent blog, what other kinds of activism do you do? What do you feel are the 3 most effective and important forms of activism a person can do?
These days most of my advocacy is online on various forums where I explain to non-vegans what speciesism is, why it is wrong, and how to go vegan. I used to table at festivals in Denver and Boulder. There are two main reasons I stopped. First, I live 2 and 3 hours away from D&B, and the opportunities for effective tabling or leafleting are slim in the rural area where I live. Second, I think on-line advocacy can be more cost effective if done right in the right venues (popular, non-vegan venues). In daily life offline, I look for opportunities to engage people in discussion. I’ve found everyday off-line discussion to be effective in at least getting people to respect the issue and vegans, even if they’re not yet willing to go vegan themselves. If we’re giving people the right information, getting this respect and breaking down speciesist prejudice alone is important to long term success….My wife, who is trained as a chef, is planning to hold vegan cooking classes at our home during the warmer seasons (it’s cold and snowy here for 5 or 6 months a year)
I think the 3 most effective forms of activism in our era are education, education, and education (both why and how to go vegan) online and offline.
Could you please tell us why new welfarism doesn’t work for the animals, in your opinion? Some people believe that it’s just as, if not more, important to “save the animals who are suffering now”, rather than focusing on the bigger picture of vegan education.
New welfarism does not and cannot work for animals for precisely the same reason it did not and could not work for human slaves in the 19th century. Animals and chattel slaves are commodity units without basic rights.
Without *basic* rights (e.g. to life, not to be property of another, etc), it is useless to talk about what other “rights” someone may have Our “protection” has *only* two purposes: 1) to use the animal in the most cost effective way possible, and 2) to make consumers feel better about exploitation and killing. Different legal treatments exist among species because there are different human uses for each species. We will never resolve those differences or reduce the severity of the treatment as long as we see animals as “here for us to use”
Welfare regulations only entrench animals deeper into the property and commodity paradigm by creating additional layers of bureaucracy and “inspector” jobs that reinforce the exploiting institution. We must shift from the property, commodity, and use paradigm to a vegan, animals-as-persons, non-exploitive paradigm. Otherwise, we will continue to exploit and kill more animals in more cruel ways than ever before….A *commodity unit* VERSUS a *property rights holder* who owns the commodity: Who wins? We
are not even reducing suffering in any meaningful way with attempts at welfare reform, much less “saving the animals who are suffering now”….
OK. In an ideal scenario the whole world would be vegan. But what about the people who live in the Arctic, Iceland and other extremely cold places, where –they say– alternatives to fur, would let them freeze to death. Do people in the Artic have a moral get out of jail free card? People are everywhere, even where, in my opinion they should not be at all ! Could we just leave some pristine places untouched by our footsteps?
As a mountain climber with lots of experience in extreme temperatures and wind chills (wind chills down to -60F / -51C) successfully relying only on synthetic clothing for warmth, I can assure you that fur and feathers are not necessary.
Many alpinists prefer synthetic insulation over feathers in extreme high altitude conditions (some of the coldest on Earth) because feathers, like cotton, are worse than useless if they get wet. Again, fur and feathers are completely unnecessary. Vegan food can be shipped to the Arctic and stored as easily, or more so, than animal products (things freeze well there). In short, I see no reason why someone could not be a vegan in extreme climates in the 21st century.
Finally, I agree that there really should be a good reason for living in an extreme climate, even if you are living as a vegan.
Dan, I have a very serious question to ask, How does a new welfarist change a light bulb?
A new welfarist tries in vain to fix the light bulb instead of changing it. When we say that it should be changed, they get angry and sad and call us divisive.
What’s an abolitionist to do?
You have written, “People often ask if insects are sentient. I don’t know to what extent they are. The question of where to draw the line on sentience, particularly its degree, is a difficult and lengthy topic to cover, and I will not address it in this essay. What we do know for certain is that birds and
mammals are sentient in a way and to a degree highly similar to humans; so much so that any differences in sentience are morally immaterial. We have good reason to believe thatother vertebrates, such as fishes, reptiles, and
amphibians are also sentient to a high degree; although as we get further from biological similarities to humans, such as in the case of insects, it gets more difficult for us know what a being’ssentience or experience is like, in kind or degree.” Given Oscar Horta’s definition of Anthropocentrism-
“disadvantageous treatment or consideration of thosewho are not members (or who are not considered members) of the human species,” do you think you exhibit anthropocentrism in the above quote?
No, I do not in any morally relevant sense. We agree that sentience is the relevant characteristic (to think otherwise is almost always anthropocentric)
Whether or not sentience exists in a certain species is purely an empirical question, not a moral one. Yes, it has moral implications, so we should be very careful to leave biases aside, but it is empirical, not moral….We are limited to our own experience and knowledge of neurological anatomy and function in making empirical estimates of
sentience….Empirically, we have no choice but to attempt to relate a being’s experience to our own. So the more unlike us a being is physiologically, the more difficult it is to know what it’s like to be that being….This is especially true when nervous systems (e.g. of a gnat or mosquito) are significantly different….If we were dogs, we would have no choice but to relate a being’s experience to our “dog-experience”. It would be “canine-centric”, but we can’t empirically transcend that. So it’s not species-centric in a way that we can do anything about….Morally, however, we can make up for our inherent ignorance by giving the benefit of the doubt where it is reasonable to do so (e.g. insects). As long as we do that, I think we’re clear of anthropocentrism.
What would it take to make the whole world vegan and how long would that take?
It will take a gradual understanding and wearing down of the cultural prejudice of speciesism via relentless educational efforts over many years on the part of many vegan advocates.
That is why the quest for new vegans who reject speciesism is so important. We need more vegan educators. The prejudice of speciesism will have to
become as familiar in society as the prejudice of racism….I think it is
impossible to know how long it will take. Social change can be amazingly rapid and exponential, but it can also remain stagnant or go the other way.
Like the weather, it is unpredictable….For now, it largely depends on how quickly vegetarians go vegan and vegans embrace abolitionism and vegan
education. Too many vegans are enthralled with welfarism and single-issue campaigns for anything much to happen now.
You reviewed the “Gary books” (Francione & Steiner) in 2008 – ‘Animals as Persons’ and ‘Animals and the Moral Community.’
Can you say why these texts are important for the animal advocacy movement?
The short answer is that both strike at the root of the problem of speciesism and how to solve it with clear and cogent reasoning from overwhelming empirical evidence. Both are also very accessible and jargon-free….Gary Francione’s book is a good summary of his work overall and adds enough material formerly restricted to academic journals to make it well worth reading even for someone who is very familiar with his work. Gary Steiner’s book, as its title suggests, examines the mental life, moral status, and our kinship with nonhuman animals.
Conceptual abilities are utterly irrelevant; our kinship lies in our common striving for life and well-being….There is so much more to say about these books, so to those who haven’t seen the reviews yet, please check them out on Unpopular Vegan Essays: http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/2008/12/recommendations-on-animal-rights-books.html
The issue of the supply –V- the demand side is a current debate. What are your thoughts on this?
The no-brainer is that
1) demand drives supply and,
2) the customer is always right (the marketing corollary to #1).
Marketing and advertising can realize potential demand, but cannot create demand. There must be potential demand for marketers to take advantage of itInvestors who decide where to allocate financial resources don’t care what is being sold (animal products or vegan products); they only care about the demand and resulting profit potential of a product….Industry is extremely resilient to supply-side efforts to make animal products cost more. Indeed, such efforts almost always play to their strengths. However, industry is vulnerable to major changes in social beliefs and attitudes that change demand and potential demand. This is especially true when (the animal) industry has so many social negatives….If consumers want vegan products instead of animal products, then animal-specific industries will suffer the loss in market share and profits.
This loss will, in turn, fuel more resources to go toward vegan products, perpetuating the cycle. The obvious implication is that we must focus solely on demand through vegan education, including education about speciesism and how to go vegan….For more on this, consider reading the following
For more on this, consider reading the following
is a difficult thing to counter, but notice what they’re doing: NON-vegan education!
Dan, what’s wrong with vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism used to mean something much closer to vegan, but over several decades, it has come to mean consuming certain animal products (e.g. dairy and eggs) but not others (e.g. flesh). Vegetarianism, because it includes easily avoidable animal use and animal product consumption, directly contributes to and condones the exploitation and intentional killing of animals, and all of the misery and terror that inherently goes with it….If we are going to rid ourselves of speciesism and take animals’ interests seriously, we must go vegan. If we wouldn’t contribute to the misery and unjust killing of humans, we shouldn’t do so with nonhumans either. For more reading, consider reading the following link: http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-is-wrong-with-vegetarianism.htmlDONE
Dan, any insights into what we can do to unify the movement? There are so many obstacles from within, such as the large animal orgs.
Keep on doing what we’re doing. Unfortunately, as long as there are non-vegans, there will be welfarism, so this battle will go on for decades, but hopefully we’ll gain more abolitionist vegans as time goes on. And hopefully it will be exponential.
Would you accept that at some point in the future, there might
be a time and place for non-violent illegal direct action?. Militancy does not equate to violence, in my view.
Could you provide an example? How illegal? Generally, I don’t think
illegal activities are effective when legal activities can get the job done.
For example, an illegal strike by workers at a meat-processing plant they block lorries etc. assume, that a large portion of the population is vegan at this point 30%+
As a form of political protest when we have sufficient political support (e.g. at
least 30 or 40%), yes, I think that could raise awareness. One caveat: As long as it remained non-violent. Such strikes sometimes become violent.
I believe you have a “vegans against PeTA” link on your blog. I have seen animal advocates say they don’t understand that. Could you explain?
PETA is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights organization, despite calling themselves one. They are contradictory in most of what they do. They are an obstacle to animal rights….I’ve written two blog essays that
address PETA’s contradictions and how they are harmful to animal rights and
vegan education. PETA is one of the biggest obstacles we face.
Both blog essays are under the label “PETA”, btw
Any chance your work might make it onto a podcast or have you been invited onto any yet ?
Maybe. We’ll see. I doubt I’d do my own podcast. I’m more of a writer. Go ahead Vincent!
Pain is one sufficient criteria to consider an animal to be sentient. Do you think there are others? For example, do you think cuttlefish/other cephalopods are sentient?
I don’t know enough about cuttlefish and cephalopods to say, but yes, I think
there are many strong indications of sentience. For example Immediate reactions to stimuli, evidence of sight, hearing, sonar, etc Also, nervous system anatomy can help us identify sentience. Any being who moves or evades immediate harm within seconds is very likely sentient.
Dan, related question – What do you say to someone who says you’re not really for animal rights, its only rights for sentient animals, and some animals (i.e sea cucumbers) are almost certainly not sentient? Is this annoying or what! 🙂
What’s annoying is that these people know better. They are playing dumb, and making us jump through hoops to evade and avoid personal responsibility. That said, we have to take the question seriously and ask them why they don’t agree that sentience is relevant.
I am very troubled by something and I was hoping you could give me your
opinion. While in the process of abolishing domestication, I often think that we will still be responsible for many obligate carnivores, such as domestic cats and big cats in sanctuaries who may not be able to rehabilitated into the wild in other words; we abolish domestication, yet we have many animals still to take care of, many of them obligate carnivores and of those, many who are unable to thrive on a synthetic vegan diet. Obviously we don’t want to kill
any animals to provide food for them, all our newly rescued chickens and ducks and cows etc will be allowed to live. So what do you think about the concept of using this new “in vitro” meat to provide food for the refugee carnivores until we finally completely abolish domestication and have no more carnivores relying on humans for their food. Does that make sense?
Wow, good question. I’m ambivalent about in vitro meat because I wouldn’t want it to be considered a long-term “solution”. However, if speciesism was reduced enough, I see it as probably the best option in a very messy situation. My certainty on that answer, like many moral dilemmas, is weak. There is a right answer, but I’m not sure that I gave it.
Dan, you are critical of single issue campaigns. Can’t they play a role in animal advocacy?
Generally, I think not. Even if there was a much larger % of vegans, I think it would still be most effective to get more vegans. Also, I think SICs promote speciesism.
I cannot think of an example where SICs would be effective, but I’m open to
Thanks so much for taking the time to be here, Dan! We really appreciate it
Thank you everyone for attending. Again, the questions were great, and I think this was very productive! Great audience!!!
ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.