“How do I deal with cravings for animal products?”

Cravings can come from any radical change in diet, and is a natural part of any shift away from a previously enjoyed food. Not all people who go vegan will experience cravings but you shouldn’t feel bad if you do, what matters is whether or not you act on them. Cravings generally pass on their own, but in the meantime there are a few things you can do to help alleviate them.

First of all, recognise what it is you’re actually experiencing. It isn’t a moral failing, it isn’t an indication of any defiency, it is a purely psychological urge for a food you used to enjoy and which you body is not used to being deprived of. When we crave specific foods, it’s seldom the case that our body is actually craving the food itself, it’s much more likely that what’s happening is that we require something which we usually obtain from that food. If you body needs something fatty, high calorie or high in protein then it will signal to you that it this is what it needs, so you will crave the foods which usually satisfy those requirements, animal products certainly tick all three of those boxes. The key is associating the fulfilment of those needs with foods which aren’t animal products, but this “re-wiring” does take a little bit of time.

So for example, if you are craving red meat, instead eat something else which is high in protein and is high calorie, something like hummus, nuts or acacado would fit the bill. These foods are of course nothing like red meat, but they will fill you up and will meet the same requirements as red meat does. This may not feel very satisfying at first, but over time your brain will learn to associate a craving for fats, protein or calories with these plant based replacements, rather than with red meat. Most people reach a point eventually where they not only stop craving animal products, but just don’t really see it as food anymore. People often cite 30 days as the time it takes to break a habit, and I’d say in my experience that’s about right, by this time most people will at least see a significant reduction in the intensity of their cravings.

In the meantime, there are all kinds of products which do a great job of imitating animal products, and you can find a vegan version of pretty much anything you enjoyed before. If you expect these products to taste exactly like their animal derived counterparts then you’ll be disappointed, so don’t go into it expecting that. The purpose of these products is to be pretty close to the real thing, but also to just provide the same function in a meal. If you’re craving bacon sandwiches, you can do that with soy bacon too, it won’t be the same of course but you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll stop craving meat and just start craving the vegan alternative instead. Some of these faux alternatives are surprisingly close to the alternatives, butter, fish, chicken and beef are probably the easiest to imitate, and there are a massive variety of pretty realistic vegan cheeses to choose from, so you’re bound to find something you like. You may choose to avoid faux meats altogether and that’s fine, you just need to replace those items you’ve given up with something else, because if you don’t then veganism will always feel restrictive, which makes it less likely you’ll keep it up.

These methods will help most people manage their cravings, but it may be that despite all this you still crave animal products, and that’s perfectly okay. What matters is that you don’t give in to those cravings and go back on your values. Eventually you will just stop seeing these products as food, that’s what happens to most vegans over time, but every individual is different and the time that takes is going to vary. In the meantime, as unhelpful as it sounds, you do just having to tough it out and stick with it. Keep engaging in animal rights material, watch the videos, read the books, and remind yourself why you’re doing this. Most of the time when people go back to eating animal products they’ve allowed themselves to become disengaged, and they lose that cognitive connection they’ve made between the food, the animal and the suffering required to obtain it. So stay educated, keep yourself inspired and never lose sight of why you’re doing this.

So long as you are always willing to put your values before your pleasure, then you won’t give in to these cravings. This isn’t to say that mistakes don’t happen, but if you mess up then the important thing is to treat it as a learning experience and to get right back to it. Just remember that ultimately it isn’t really about you, how you feel or what you crave, it’s about reducing the harm you cause by withdrawing your support for this incredibly exploitative industry. No one is saying that animal products don’t taste good or that you’re not allowed to crave them because you’ve gone vegan, the key is that you place the lives of animals above your personal desires and preferences. After all, no taste, tradition or habit can ever be worth taking someone’s life for.

“Can my pet be vegan?”

This is a highly controversial topic, though it tends to be a more sensitive topic for people who aren’t vegan than those who are. Relatively few vegans feed their pets a vegan diet, but those who do are often accused of animal abuse and are the subject of a lot of derision. Since many vegans do disagree on this, I can’t claim to speak on behalf of all vegans or even on behalf of mainstream veganism, all I can offer is my own, unqualified perspective on the matter.

Firstly, it is important to understand the context in which discussions on plant based diets for pets take place. Many, I’d in fact argue most, meat based pet foods are made from low quality meats which are often leftovers from slaughterhouses, or parts of animals which humans don’t generally eat. Some of this is not only incredibly low quality and nutritionally poor, but dangerous and unsanitary. Pet food recalls due to the use of dangerous meats or “ingredients of undeclared origin” are still shockingly common, and the use of non-slaughtered animals is a recognised concern in the industry. In this context some will argue that whole foods, plant based diets for omnivorous animals are in fact less risky for their health than meat based commercial foods are.

The most pressing concern for vegans however, is an ethical one, mainly regarding how the food they are feeding their companion animals is contributing towards the meat industry. Though many of the meats used in commercial pet foods are leftovers from slaughterhouses, purchasing this meat nonetheless does help make the rearing and slaughtering of animals a profitable concern. Vegans want to boycott the meat industry, so some will extend that to everything they purchase, including purchases made on behalf of their pets. The environmental concerns behind feeding the vast number of domesticated pets meat based diets is also not inconsiderable, and this will factor into many pet owner’s decisions on what they choose to feed their animals.

In terms of the suitability of these diets, the least controversial animals are those who are already primarily herbivorous and those who are completely carnivorous. In the case of herbivorous animals, or those who can and do survive herbivorously in the wild, feeding your pet a plant based diet will cause no issues for their health. I would caution doing your research before acquiring an animal you think is herbivorous, as there are some misconceptions around the diets of certain animals, especially in the case of reptiles. For carnivorous animals like cats, it is fairly uncontroversial to say that these animals cannot and should not be fed on a vegan diet. Though synthetic alternatives exist, they should only be used in cases of diagnosed health issues and under advisement from a vet. There is no significant research to suggest that cats, or indeed any obligate carnivore, can be healthy on a vegan diet, and no responsible animal care professional will recommend it for a healthy carnivorous pet.

More controversial is the case of omnivorous animals, such as dogs. It is important to acknowledge that whatever views you have on dogs being fed a plant based diet, some dogs do subsist on diets like this and they are by all appearances and blood work, healthy animals. Vegans who claim to look after vegan dogs who have been healthy for many years are not just lying, nor are the vets who monitor these animals. The claim that it is impossible for an omnivorous animal to survive on a plant based diet is therefore a falsehood. Vets can and do recommend plant based diets for certain health conditions, and there are fully tested and nutritionally balanced plant based dog foods available online and in many stores, a short list of the best selling brands can be found here. If your vet has approved or even suggested a plant based diet for your dog and you are making sure that they are having frequent checkups and blood work  then there should be no cause for concern.

However, whether they can eat plant based and whether they should are different questions entirely. While anecdotal evidence and testimonials from vets shows us that at least some dogs can be healthy on plant based diets, there does not yet exist a significant body of research to suggest that there is no risk involved in this, or that it will be appropriate for all breeds of dogs at all life stages. That it has worked for some dogs is no guarantee that it will work for yours, or that there will be no risk of causing them real harm or discomfort. In the absence of any significant, peer reviewed research on this there absolutely is still a risk involved in any significant alteration of your pet’s diet, which is why I cannot recommend that it be done unless under the advisement of a veterinary professional.

Regardless of my own views on the matter, I know that this is something many will still choose to do, so I just want to take the time to emphasise that significant changes in diet must be discussed with your vet before you begin the process, not just to make sure there has been no harm caused after the shift has already taken place. If your vet advises against doing it, then please listen to them, they are likely far more qualified in animal nutrition than you are, they know the condition and needs of your specific animal and you should trust their advice. If you are set on doing this and have gotten the support of your vet, then take care to follow these guidelines set out by Pets WebMD:

  1. Never feed vegetarian or vegan diets to puppies and kittens or to dogs and cats you plan to breed. (Though as a vegan you shouldn’t be breeding any kind of animal regardless).

  2. Only consider or feed commercial diets that have gone through feeding trials and meets the requirements for AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) compliance.

  3. Consult with a veterinary nutritionist who can analyze your commercial or homemade vegetarian pet diet and make recommendations for additional health safeguards.

  4. Schedule more frequent wellness exams, including blood work, with your family veterinarian — at least twice a year, even for young pets eating vegetarian diets.

As pet owners, our primary concern must be the welfare of the animals in our care. We have a moral responsibility to look after their best interests, which includes providing them with a balanced, nutritionally adequate diet, irrespective of our feelings on the matter. If you are already feeding your dog a plant based diet, they are clearly healthy and are being monitored closely by your vet then you are properly looking after their welfare. Choosing a diet which is in their best interests is ultimately your responsibility and your decision to make. If however, you are in some way uncomfortable with feeding your companion animals meat and have no intentions of doing so regardless of what your vet might advise, then my suggestion would be to adopt or rescue a herbivorous animal instead, so that there is no chance of your moral objection to animal products compromising the health of an animal in your care.

“How do I deal with all the cruelty?”

Out of all the frequently asked questions in this series, this is probably the one I get most often. Being vegan in an overwhelmingly anti-vegan world can be a profoundly isolating experience, and having to live in a society which is built on animal suffering can have a real impact on mental health. As any vegan will tell you, the most difficult part of the lifestyle isn’t the food, it’s coping with constant exposure to animal cruelty and dealing with other people.

The sense of sadness and anger that comes from knowing the things we know will be familiar to every vegan, where you used to see sausages and bacon you now see dismembered bodies, and what used to be innocuous adverts make you angry and disgusted, as cartoon caricatures of animals are used to advertise the sale of their own dead bodies. This knowledge can be hard to cope with, especially when people dismiss these facts as propaganda, call you a “preachy vegan” for even talking about it, or just make bacon jokes at your expense when you try to share the things you have learned. Knowing about the horrific atrocities being committed can be a burden, and can create a sense of powerlessness, especially when others just don’t seem to care about it.

One of the issues is that vegans don’t feel able to really talk about this in public spaces, for fear of being mocked, which has the effect of isolating people and discouraging them from airing these feelings openly. Vegans are very far from being an oppressed group, but there is a very real stigma surrounding veganism, and several unhelpful stereotypes which are the topics of frequent criticism and public ridicule. Every vegan is expected to be able to “take a joke” when the content of that joke is making light of animal suffering, and we are all expected to want to, and be able to, defend ourselves against almost constant questions, criticisms of veganism and imaginary scenarios. Vegans are one of the few groups who it is considered socially acceptable to bully and insult, even among social justice advocates, since vegans are unfortunately still widely disliked. All of this can lead to some real difficulties, especially if you are shy or socially anxious.

There is nothing I can really say that will solve any of these problems for you, I can only advise based on what I think are good ways of coping. Firstly, though you may feel isolated with few or no vegan friends, know that there is an active and welcoming community of vegans on every social media platform, finding them and getting involved with them can be a great way of transcending those feelings of isolation. Being among like-minded people can be a really healing experience, and it helps remind you that you’re not extreme, you’re not alone in thinking this way and that so many other people are dealing with the same issues and struggles that you are. This can also help you become a better advocate for animals, we can make contacts and we can earn from each other’s arguments, as well as finding healthier ways of coping with the struggles which being vegan can bring.

My chief recommendation would be to channel that anger and sadness into something positive, whether it’s through an outlet like writing or art, or through actively engaging in activism on the streets or online. This can be a really positive and healthy outlet, not to mention the difference it can make for animals by encouraging others to go and stay vegan. Activism can be really challenging, but it is incredibly rewarding and it is a good way to counter those feelings of helplessness and isolation. Even on your worst days, knowing you’re making a difference and helping people to go vegan is a really positive thing. You should be prepared for failure in advocacy too, you will get negative reactions and more often than not people will be unwilling to hear the message, but just the act of being out there and doing something can make you feel much less powerless and much less alone.

Besides that, there are many others positive aspects of veganism which you should immerse yourself in. Reading books, watching documentaries and communicating those messages to others will re-ignite your passion for veganism if you are beginning to find it difficult, and the facts and argument you inevitably learn from doing this can help you deal with the objections and criticisms of non-vegans much easier. I’d really recommend visiting or even volunteering at a farm sanctuary if you have the opportunity to do so, even if it’s something you can only do once, seeing animals in such a positive setting can do wonders for your mental health, and it’ll remind you of the reason we do all of this, and of the fact that not all animals live miserable lives. That connection to nature is something we need as humans, and it can have a profound impact on your mood and your perspective on veganism going forward.

Just as there are many things you should be doing, there are some things you should avoid. While watching documentaries, reading books and keeping up to date on what is happening in the world of animal rights can be really positive, there is just no need to subject yourself to graphic scenes or descriptions if they are going to upset you. Once you’ve seen Earthlings once you don’t need to see it again, and since you’re already vegan it’s perfectly fine for you to avoid engaging in images of animal abuse, since you aren’t contributing to it yourself. This sounds so obvious, but I have met so many vegans who watch these videos on a regular basis and find it deeply upsetting, but they continue to do so out of some sense of wanting to bare witness. If you already know what happens to farmed animals then it’s perfectly reasonable for you to protect yourself by avoiding watching the footage unless you are going to make use of it in your advocacy, in which case you should know what you are sharing.

There are several things about being vegan which are not easy, but veganism is a profoundly positive thing, and even those who struggle with these issues will tell you that their only regret is that they didn’t do it sooner. Being vegan is not something to mourn, but something to celebrate. We are a movement with a long history, we have a vibrant and diverse community all across the world, our own inside jokes, our own culture, music, literature, philosophy and art. By being vegan you are doing something unequivocally positive, and though it may not feel like it, you absolutely are making a difference. We are on the right side of history, and when you are being mocked or dismissed, take comfort in the fact that this is the same treatment which activists of all types have been subject to all throughout history. You are most definitely in good company.

“Is it okay to kill pests?”

This is one of those areas where the lines can become a little bit blurred for some vegans. Whether it’s through fear, convenience, or just not knowing what else to do people can often contradict their values and act in ways which aren’t consistent with vegan ethics. There are several different opinions on this within the vegan community, all I can really offer here is my own and try to justify as best I can, but I am by no means speaking on behalf of all vegans.

Firstly, I think it’s necessary to distinguish between pests who are deemed so because they pose a genuine risk to human health, and those we call pests simply because we don’t like having them around. Having a rat or mite infestation in your house is a pest problem, because they can post a genuine risk to humans, will make life uncomfortable, could destroy your property and will make living conditions unhygienic. A spider who has wandered into your house to get out of the cold or to hunt is not a pest, and unless they are venomous they pose no genuine safety risk to you or your family.

Even if an animal genuinely is a pest, that is not a good reason to inflict unnecessary cruelty on them. Where a humane alternative exists, which it usually does, there can be no moral justification for choosing to kill an animal when it isn’t necessary to do so. That an animal occupies the same space as you is not a reasonable reason to kill them unless there is literally no other reasonable option available to you.  You might be disgusted by an animal in your home, or genuinely frightened of them, but how you feel about a specific animal doesn’t have any impact on whether they deserve to be treated humanely, including allowing them to live where it is possible to do so.

The most humane option for dealing any pest is preventive measures to ensure they don’t enter your home in the first place, including storing food in proper containers, cleaning any food waste regularly, sealing cracks in walls and blocking space under doors, or any other potential points of entry. When a pest problem emerges in a home, it is usually because these steps have not been taken adequately. For specific animals you might have a problem with, there are usually natural deterrents which are very effective, ranging from fruit juices, specific herbs or flowers, and chemical deterrents depending on the animal in question. There will almost always be a way to deter an animal from entering your house in the first place if you know there is a risk of them doing so.

Once a pest has already established itself in your house, deterrent may no longer be an option for you. If capture and release is possible, which it usually is, this should be the first thing you attempt. Humane traps for rats and mice are widely available, cheap and effective, such as this one. When using catch and release traps, these should only be active when you are in the house and can check the traps at least every two hours. Animals become extremely agitated when trapped like this, and can go into shock or harm themselves trying to escape if not released in good time. A local park is the best place to release, do so gently by opening the trap and setting them in the grass, giving them plenty of time to leave of their own accord rather than forcing them to. For insects and arachnids, humane bug catchers like this one are very effective and don’t require you to get close to the animal in question if you’d rather not do that.

If you are dealing with a true infestation and there is no chance of dealing with the issue in a non-lethal manner, then that may be your last resort. If an animal poses a genuine risk to your health or that of your family, then self-defence can be a reasonable cause for killing, when all other options have been exhausted. This is never a good thing and it’s deeply unfortunate, but it can be necessary in some scenarios, particularly when dealing with insect infestations or animals which pose a real risk of infection, like mosquitoes and cockroaches. Keep in mind that veganism is about avoiding unnecessary harm to animals, but we have to acknowledge that not all harm is unnecessary in all circumstances. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to tolerate an infestation in their home out of a strict adherence to veganism,  since all moral frameworks have to be practical or they will become useless and unobtainable.

When it comes to dealing with pests, we need to make sure we don’t leave our veganism at the door and act out of instinct, fear or discomfort, no matter how tempting that might be. That we don’t always like the animals who share our homes with us is no excuse for treating them unkindly, and our personal feelings towards them should have no impact on whether or not they deserve to be alive. We should apply the same logic to rats, mice, insects and arachnids as we do to all animals, that we should avoid harming them wherever possible, and treat them as individuals whose rights and lives must be respected. No matter how small, how scary or how different they are to us, all animals have the right to life a life free from unnecessary suffering, and we should grant them that right whenever it is in our power to do so.

“What is the difference between welfarism and abolitionism?”

The difference between welfarism and abolitionism is one that rises often in debates within the animal rights community, even though it’s not a distinction most of the general public know exists. The differences between these two philosophies are profound however, and understanding them can shed light on where a lot of the disagreements between advocates comes from.

The theory of animal welfarism basically holds that it is okay to exploit and kill animals, so long as they are treated humanely. An animal’s welfare is the primary concern, not their rights, and so advocates of this philosophy generally support animal welfare reforms such as bigger cages, cleaner conditions, CCTV in slaughterhouses and proper stunning procedures. Most people who aren’t vegan are welfarists, though there are many vegans who are as well, as paradoxical as that might seem to many. A good example of an animal welfare organisation is the RSPCA. They support inspections of slaughterhouses, stricter slaughter standards and better conditions, but they are not opposed to killing animals for food, and even host barbecues as fundraising events.

By contrast, abolitionism holds that the issue isn’t how we use animals, but that we use them at all. Abolitionists therefore don’t generally support welfare reforms, since their ultimate goal is a vegan society and for all animal agriculture to be abolished, hence the name. For an abolitionist there is no such thing as humane slaughter, and the act of killing an animal is intrinsically wrong, regardless of how is done or what measures are in place to take care of the welfare of the animal before and during slaughter. Abolitionists will often dismiss campaigns for larger cages or cleaning conditions on the grounds that they are welfarist, and instead see advocating veganism and for a legal change to the property status of animals to be their primary concerns.

A lack of understanding of this distinction is what leads non-vegans to often ask why we aren’t “doing something useful”, like petitioning animal agriculture corporations to treat animals better, or supporting local farming instead of large animal abusing enterprises. It is also the reason people are confused when we tell them that we don’t support eating eggs from backyard hens, or why we won’t join protests which people view to be in the best interests of animals. For many of these people, the concept of abolitionism is almost unthinkable, so they assume that when we say we are advocating for animal rights, we are advocating for their right to good living conditions and a quick death, not for their right to life and bodily autonomy.

Mainstream animal rights is still very driven by welfarism, and all of the larger animal rights charities have campaigned for welfare reforms, even if their mission statement is abolitionist. The reason for this is primarily financial, in order to gain supporters and financial backers animal rights groups need to have wins, so they can inform supporters of where their money is going and advertise the good work they do. So animal rights groups will pressure a company like Tyson to stop using veal crates, Tyson will co-operate and just keep them in slightly larger enclosures so that they’re not called veal crates anymore, the animal rights group sends out an email blast claiming victory and praising Tyson for co-operating, which gets them more supports. Tyson, in turn get to tell everyone that their veal is humane, and it must be because even the animal rights groups support it, and they get to increase their sales by easing the conscience of their consumer. A short time later conditions usually return to normal with little to no fuss, though sometimes they do result in permanent changes, even if they are only small.

The issue with this is that despite almost 70 years of legislative welfare reform, things are worse for animals now than they have ever been. When welfare reforms are won in courts or agreed in boardrooms, like the CCTV in slaughterhouses campaign in the UK, the impact on the animals themselves are small. The real impact is on consumers, since it makes people feel better about consuming animals, which in turn increases demand. Consumers will respond to anyone asking them to give up meat that the animals are treated really well, how could they not be, since CCTV will be in all slaughterhouses in the UK? They won’t know that these CCTV videos aren’t made public, or that they’re monitored by a small number of vets who would have anywhere near enough time to watch even a tiny percentage of the animals being processed, and many have a direct financial incentive not to challenge what they see. Consumers will also not know that almost all the cruelty inflicted on animals in slaughterhouses is perfectly legal, and so a vet seeing it won’t make any practical difference to the procedures themselves, or what animals suffer. All they will know is that their meat is humane, so why should they give it up?

This is why companies like Tyson, who very obviously don’t care about animal welfare will nevertheless still negotiate with animal rights groups, because they know these reforms will make people buy their products. The result is that more animal products are bought, which increases demand, which in turn increases the number of animals being consumed. We saw this start in the 1970′s in the boom of “ethical meat,” when people began to become aware of the cruelty of animal agriculture, and producers realised that they could capitalise on this concern for animals rather than losing profit from it, and so marketed their products as humane alternatives, free range, cage free or humane approved, despite the fact that these labels legally mean very little. This is how consumers can see RSPCA approved sausages and humane certified veal, and never question why a group supposedly devoted to protecting animals would support products which cannot be acquired without their exploitation and death.

Animal welfarism plays into this idea that it is somehow possible to clean up the slaughterhouses and to make the industrialised slaughter of 60 billion land animals humane. Many argue that it is unrealistic that we will ever stop animals from being slaughtered, but the same could be argued of many other cruelties inflicted upon humans and animals. We don’t advocate for people to treat prisoners of conscience more “humanely”, we argue for them to be released. Similarly, westerners don’t generally advocate for dogs to be treated more humanely when they are eaten elsewhere, or when they are used in dog fights, they recognise that a change in living conditions alone would not be enough. In no other context would the idea of reforming exploitation, violence and death be taken seriously, and it seems to me that the only reason it is advocated in the case of animal agriculture is because it’s victims aren’t human.

None of this is to say that animal welfare isn’t important, animals must always be treated well wherever they are kept, but so long as an animal is viewed as property, as a commodity to be bought, sold and killed, then their welfare will never be taken seriously. No matter how “kind” the farmer, the needs and preferences of farmed animals will always come second to profit. If animals are to have any rights, surely the most fundamental of these should be the right to life, not just the right to have their life ended slightly less horrifically, or to live in a better cage before they have their throats slit. Those of us who claim advocate animals must surely defend their right to life as a bare minimum.

(More resources available at Acti-veg.com)

“Should PETA be supported?”

PETA are a controversial organisation by any standard, and barely a week goes by where a post doesn’t circle online about something PETA have allegedly done or said. The mere existence of PETA is often used against vegans as if PETA speak for our movement, so it’s something that is necessary to address.

PETA are the largest and by far the richest animal rights charity, but that does not not make them the voice of our movement, nor are their views representative of what all vegans think and feel. In fact, in my experience most vegans don’t support PETA, and many are publicly critical of their tactics, behaviour and message. There are many vegans who do support them and their work, as veganism as a movement which is as diverse as any other, but to suppose that the existence of PETA and the way they choose to advocate is somehow a reflection of the entire animal rights community is more than a little unfair.

As to why they are so controversial, PETA are problematic for many reasons. They are notorious for using shock tactics like sexist ad campaigns that purposely compare women to meat, fat shamingracism (literally dressing up as KKK members), ableist slogans and a whole host of other offensive campaigns. PETA’s main tactic is, and always has been, to grab the attention of the public by being as outrageous as possible. In this, they are highly successful, regardless of how negative the attention is, everyone knows who PETA are because of these highly divisive campaigns. This is not to say that these campaigns should be supported, or even that there is any real evidence that they work, but in terms of publicity PETA never fail to make headlines.

These are very legitimate criticisms of PETA, but they are not usually the ones that people reference when they are being critical of the organisation. The chief concern is that PETA are hypocritical because they kill animals, since they operate kill-shelters. The more outlandish claims range from PETA abducting pets and them taking strays off the street in white vans and murdering them, neither of which have any credible evidence to support them as far as I can tell. Many of these accusations come from a notorious website named PETAkills, which is reportedly funded by the meat and dairy industries in response to PETA’s campaigns. I can’t speak for the truth of this but it would not be unusual; propaganda against animal rights campaigns and charities has been well documented throughout the history the animal rights movement.

As for kill shelters, PETA are open about the fact that they do run them. Their own statement on the topic is as follows:

The majority of adoptable dogs are never brought through our doors (we refer them to local adoption groups and walk-in animal shelters). Most of the animals we house, rescue, find homes for, or put out of their misery come from miserable conditions, which often lead to successful prosecution and the banning of animal abusers from ever owning or abusing animals again.

As long as animals are still purposely bred and people aren’t spaying and neutering their companions, open-admission animal shelters and organizations like PETA must do society’s dirty work. Euthanasia is not a solution to overpopulation but rather a tragic necessity given the present crisis. PETA is proud to be a “shelter of last resort,” where animals who have no place to go or who are unwanted or suffering are welcomed with love and open arms.

Regardless of how you feel about kill shelters, the fact of the matter is that PETA are not alone in this approach. Many animal shelters kill animals who cannot be re-homed and several reputable organisations also advocate this, yet they do not come under nearly as much criticism for it as PETA does. The RSPCA for example, kill 53,000 animals per year, many of them healthy, yet they are an organisation who enjoys wide support, often from the same people who are highly critical of PETA for their kill shelter policies. I suspect that this is purely because PETA are asking people to stop eating animals, whereas organisations like the RSPCA are actively encouraging it. Animal rights organisations have always come under more scrutiny than animal welfare organisation, and this seems to be little more than ammunition to use against them.

Personally, I don’t believe that PETA should be supported, not only for the reasons outlined but also because I don’t find them consistent in their message.   Even if you genuinely don’t care about their sexist or racist campaigns, from a solely animal rights perspective, they are not good advocates for animals; they have praised animal agriculture corporations for tiny welfare concessions, have supported “humane meat” in the past, have campaigned for welfarist legislation and have rubbed shoulders with huge animal abusing enterprises.

I am not ignorant of the good PETA have done in bringing animal causes into the public eye, in advocating veganism and offering resources for vegans, this work doesn’t offset the harm they have caused. We have to remember that PETA is a corporation; even if their heart might be in the right place their practices are often abhorrent. I just do not believe that we as a movement have to throw other movements under the bus just to get our point across. I don’t believe that people who choose to eat animals have any business being critical of how PETA treats animals, and I think that they often do so purely in an attempt to discredit our cause. However, as advocates for animal rights we need to be critical of any organisation which behaves the way PETA does, regardless of whether or not their goals align with our own.

“How can I get involved with vegan activism?”

Becoming an activist is an obvious next step for any vegan, since once you come to terms with the atrocities committed against animals it is only natural that you should want to oppose it in any way that you can. Trying to convince your friends and family to go vegan is usually where people start, but once you decide you want to take that advocacy to the general public it can be a little-more difficult to know how to get started.

I think the first step is to establish what is already going on in your area. Facebook is a good place to start, any active group will usually have a facebook page, so trying to search for animal rights events locally or within short travel distance will usually show you events run by local groups. Message the group admin or request to join, and just see what is happening and how you can support it. Animal rights groups usually have plenty of members but not enough people who are active at events and protests, so they are usually really keen to get new members on board and involved in events. Going to these can be a great way to make new friends, and will also yield more contacts in the animal rights community in your area, it’s just about getting your foot in the door and the rest is very easy.

If you can’t find a suitable group in your area, you can always start your own. This doesn’t need to be done by some official process, just find some like minded individuals and start with something small. The Earthlings Experience is a really popular route and is very effective, there are innovative methods like offering free vegan baked goods for people who will watch a short clip (so long as you warn them if it’s graphic) otherwise you can try more traditional methods like signposting and leafleting. You can request leaflets from the bigger animal rights groups, and they’ll usually send them free if it’s for an event. There are many, many other options, but these all have the advantage of being activities that you perform in very small groups. I would caution against doing these alone however, while it’s rare for people to become the general public to genuinely aggressive towards protesters and activists it still does happen, but it’s much less likely if you’re in a group and you’re advocating in a public space.

Whether you’re planning on starting your own group or joining another, it’s best to try out different methods and different areas of activism. There are a whole range of things you can become involved with, whether it’s Pig Save vigil events outside slaughterhouses, public outreach, marches, protests or hunt sabotage events. If you want to get involved with the larger, national protests, you can do some fundraising in your local area to pay for travelling expenses or placards, and you can usually organise carpooling with local groups as well. There are humanitarian activities you can get involved with too, many AR groups organise things like outreach among the homeless, preparing and giving out plant based food to local shelters or homeless people directly.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be on the streets and in protests to be an effective advocate. If you can’t find a local group, you have some anxiety about public events or you are just introverted and more inclined towards writing than marching, then online activism can be just as effective. Social media is incredibly important for raising awareness and shaping public opinion, and since vegans are so outnumbered every online advocate we can get is a good thing. Starting a blog or a facebook page is a good step, just keep creating original content and connecting with others online and you’ll see your audience and reach grow over time so long as you keep working at it.

If you’re going to become involved with online activism, I’d recommend looking at what other bloggers/websites are doing and finding a “niche” which fits your skills. My background is in philosophy, so my approach has always been advocate veganism using philosophy and reason, but you might choose create more emotive content, persuasive arguments, a science focus, environmentalism, purely questions and answers, humour, satire, art, creative writing, veganism mixed in with film or popular culture, or a mix of everything. The possibilities are endless and there are plenty of things that no one is doing yet, you could quite easily carve out a unique place online and have a real impact. If need some help getting started or you’re a new blogger or have made a website and want me to boost a particular post of yours then I’m happy to do it, so long I agree with the content.

Whatever kind of person you are you can be an activist, no matter your strengths, weaknesses, disposition or interests, you can turn it into a form of advocacy if you are creative with it. Small groups of writers, artists and activists are the people who have shaped our world for the better, and we can do the same by advocating veganism and spreading facts, hope and compassion. There are too few of us and too many animals suffering for us to remain silent, we all have our part to play and we can all have an impact, on animals, and the planet and on each other. If you need any help or resources then feel free to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to support you in any way I can.

“Can you love animals and still eat them?”

This is a topic that causes some controversy, and still surfaces very often in debates surround animal rights and veganism. Most people consider themselves animal lovers, so having that challenged by vegans makes people understandably defensive, since for many people it is a large part of their identity. When vegans call this into question they are not suggesting that people who choose to eat animals don’t love any animals, only that you cannot claim to love an animal if you also eat that same animal.

It’s important to acknowledge from the outset that loving animals isn’t synonymous with veganism. You can be vegan and have no personal affection towards animals whatsoever, or even be scared or disgusted by them. People tend to assume that all vegans are animal lovers, and while many of us are, there are still plenty of vegans who have no strong feelings about animals either way, because veganism is about justice, not love. You don’t have to love an animal to care about their well-being, however, you do have to care about an animal’s well-being in order to claim to love them. What is being claimed then, is that you don’t have to love all animals to be vegan, but you do have to be vegan to love all animals.

The basis for this argument is quite simple; you cannot claim to love someone if you are choosing to actively cause them harm. By choosing to eat meat and other animal products, you are quite literally paying for those animals to be bred, exploited and killed. Interestingly, this argument becomes much less contentious when we change the animal in question to any other animal which isn’t traditionally farmed. If a dog owner paid someone to kill their dog when that dog was perfectly healthy and posed no risk to human safety, you would seriously call into question how much that person really loves their dog, regardless of what they said. People may argue that this is different since a dog is a pet, however, our designation of them as such does not make them inherently any different to pigs or any other farmed animal, nor should it change their moral status in any way.

Objections will come to mind at this point, that vegans can’t possibly claim to know how someone feels about animals. You do love animals, you know you do, you’re fascinated by them, they make you happy, you have a deep personal connection with them and you always have, but you do still eat animals and those two things are not incompatible. It is important here to realise that when we talk about people not “loving” animals, we aren’t doubting that people are interested in them, and maybe even feel a deep connection with animals. However, love is not just a feeling, it is a doing, it requires certain behaviours. If a human claims to love another human but then directly contributes towards harming them, regardless of how strong their feelings were for that person, we would call into question their claim to love the person they hurt because their behaviour would not be consistent with love. If we allow people to say they love humans or animals regardless of how they choose to behave towards them, then the term itself becomes utterly meaningless.

It may be that you genuinely do love some animals, and would always act in their best interests, but if you are paying for an animal to be shot in the head or have their throat slit then do not love that animal, under any reasonable definition of the word. You therefore love some animals, but you specifically do not and cannot love the animals you are eating, because you are contributing towards their exploitation and death. If you are eating animals because you have no choice then that is a completely different scenario, since you cannot be judged for actions you do not freely choose, but if you are by choice causing harm to some animals then it logically follows that you do not love all of them.

If when you say love you simply mean you are interested in them, have a personal connection to them and have positive feelings towards them, then I can accept that you can “love” animals and still choose to eat them, but only under that very limited definition of love, the kind of love we mean when we say we love an object, like a phone or a car. But real, meaningful love, the kind we have for other sentient beings, has to involve loving behaviour. We judge people by their actions, not by their feelings or their words, and we all know intuitively that someone who chooses to harm us when they could do otherwise does not really love us, regardless of how sure they are that they truly do. We do not truly love someone if our behaviours is in direct contradiction to that professed love, and the same has to be true for our treatment of animals.

“Do I have to love animals to be vegan?”

It’s natural that animal loving has become synonymous with veganism, and it’s not something that animal rights organisations or activists have really tried to discourage. We often try to appeal to the love people have for animals to convince them to go vegan, and slogans like “love animals? Go vegan” are used very often. Most people like animals in some capacity, so it is an effective way to try to appeal to people. It does ring a little hollow for people who don’t have any real love for animals though, and can make them feel like veganism isn’t really something that’s for them, but this just isn’t the case.

What is being argued is that you have to be vegan to love animals, but not that you have to love animals to be vegan. Leaving animals off your plate and advocating for their rights is a loving thing to do, just as paying for someone to slaughter them is inconsistent with loving them, but that does not mean that if you do not love animals you should be okay with them being exploited and slaughtered. Vegans do tend to be animal lovers, but you can still be an active part of the community without having any particular affection towards animals, after all, vegans don’t just stop eating those animals which they like.

The very idea that veganism is something that only an animal lover should consider is a very strange one if you think it through. The implication here is that only someone who is really personally invested in animals would care if they are being hurt and killed unnecessarily, but we would never dream of making this argument about humans. Even if you are less likely to personally sacrifice for a stranger than you are for someone you know, it is hard to make any kind of moral argument that a person does not deserve to be treated well just because you don’t personally know or love them. A being’s fundamental rights should not be dependent on how you personally feel about them. In fact, in an ideal world these two things would have no correlation whatsoever.

Veganism is defined as “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.” The essential belief behind this is that animals are not objects, they are sentient beings with needs and preferences which should be respected, and lives which are just as valuable as our own. This means that it is wrong to exploit the for our own personal gain, or to treat our desires as more important than their needs. None of this in any way requires us to love animals, and in fact I’d argue that it doesn’t even imply it. Veganism is a moral philosophy which can be arrived at intellectually, with no sentiment, emotion or connection to animals required.

Veganism can help us view our love of animals in a different light, and can make us feel closer to animals than ever before. Kafka once wrote about fish he could look at them in peace now that he didn’t eat them anymore, and I think that a lot of us can relate very strongly to that. We should still be careful though, because when we equate veganism with a love of animals it becomes easier to dismiss for people who just don’t care about animals at all. Veganism is not some generous sacrifice we perform on behalf of animals because we love them, it is the minimum moral requirement for how we should treat fellow sentient beings, regardless of how we personally feel about them.

“Should I date someone who isn’t vegan?”

Who you choose to date is a purely personal decision, and no one can really answer this one for you. It’s something I get asked a lot though, so I’ll just try to run through some of the main issues people experience with dating non-vegans and some things to keep in mind.

It’s important to realise that there aren’t that many vegans in the world. While there has been no international polling on vegan numbers, most estimates place it at 1% of the population or less. If you have a particular gender preference as well, that lowers the number of compatible vegans quite considerably, making your chances of finding a suitable vegan partner pretty low. There is always the chance that you will meet someone who isn’t vegan and becomes one while they’re with you, due to finding out more about animal agriculture from their conversations with you, but you’d have to be willing to date someone who isn’t vegan in the first place for that to have any chance to happen. If you’re willing to settle for vegetarianism that improves your chances considerably, but they too are still in minority in most countries. Despite the lower chances, there are some obvious reasons why you might want to hold out for one, or at least someone open to it.

Firstly, on a purely practical basis it makes life easier, being able to share the same food makes living together a great deal easier (and cheaper), and sitting down to eat a meal you have prepared for the both of you is an intimate thing. If you are vegan you may be uncomfortable with having animal products in your fridge too, so if you’re with a vegan you have the opportunity to have an entirely vegan household. There is also the issue that you will probably be unhappy for your money to go towards paying for animal products, so your partner may end up having to buy and pay for some of their food separately to you, as well as preparing it separately. You will also enjoy going to the same sorts of restaurants, meaning a more enjoyable experience dining out for the both of you. Finally, there is the disgust factor from watching someone cook and eat animals in front of you, particularly if you are sharing a cooking space.

What will likely be a bigger issue than any of these will be the divide it creates between people when their views on a particular topic are in direct opposition. This is especially prominent with animal rights, because it tends to be something that vegans are extremely passion about, and in contrast, the general public tend to have a very negative view of it. You can explain the principles behind veganism to your partner, and they can understand the logic, but they will never understand how you feel about it, nor will you ever be able to really understand how they could know what you have told them about animal agriculture and still eat animals. These things do create a divide and can limit how close you can get to someone.

As to whether or not you should, my advice would be to have an honest conversation with your potential partner about veganism, make sure they are at the very least open-minded about the concept, and they aren’t going to mock you for it. If you do decide to start dating someone who eats animals, while it is possible they will become vegan while they are with you, you should never enter a relationship with this as the goal you have in mind. You either need to enter a relationship with them accepting who they are, or stay single, but you shouldn’t start dating someone with the intention of changing them later, even if you think it would be changing them for the better. Nor should you get into a relationship with someone if you suspect you might not be able to handle the fact that they aren’t vegan, or it’ll result in unnecessary pain for the both of you.

If you do decide to date someone who isn’t vegan, it’s important you set some boundaries in place. Help them understand why you’re vegan, ask them to watch documentaries with you, this doesn’t take long and anyone who really cares about you should want to understand you better. This will help make sure they treat your veganism with the seriousness and the respect it deserves, and will make them appreciate why you feel so strongly about the issue. If you don’t want animal products in your house then warn them of that from the outset, equally, you should tell them if you have any other limits, like not kissing them after they’ve eaten meat, or not wanting them to eat it in front of you.

Ultimately this has to be your decision to make. It doesn’t make you any less of a vegan to be dating someone who eats animals, and we don’t all have the luxury of being able to have a partner who shares our values, and we can’t always choose who we develop feelings for. Relationships can work even if you are very different people, but in those cases having absolute honesty from the outset is even more importance, so that both of you know what to expect from the other. Regardless of what you decide, stick to your values and don’t be willing to bend on them for anyone else, but nor should you expect anyone else to change theirs for you.