Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why Do Vegans Love Non-Vegan Companies So Much?

For some years now, I have been outspoken in my criticism against LUSH Cosmetics, a non-vegan company that regularly engages misogynistic stunts to promote its products. Among other things, LUSH sexually objectifies female employees, blames women for speciesism (although the forms of speciesism LUSH concerns itself with are male-led industries), and uses women's bodies as stand-ins for graphic displays of speciesist violence, drawing on clear scripts of violence against women for the stunts to "make sense."

But, with every renewed complaint about the company, I can expect a number of LUSH devotees to come to the company's defense. This has always been rather curious to me, as LUSH isn't even a vegan company. Indeed, LUSH not only profits from the exploitation of women, but it also profits from the exploitation of other animals.

By way of an example, one anti-speciesism non-profit leader who was familiar with my work approached me seeking advice as to whether or not to solicit a grant from LUSH. They were unsure about the decision given LUSH's treatment of women. I suggested they try their luck with The Body Shop, a similar company that doesn't advertise with misogyny. I was told that their non-profit would never consider The Body Shop because it is owned by a company that engages vivisection. So, this non-profit was completely writing off The Body Shop, a non-misogynist, almost vegan company that does not test its own products on animals, in favor of LUSH, a clearly sexist company that is nowhere near vegan.

What's the disconnect here? Why are vegans so committed?

In a nutshell, companies invest quite a lot of time and expertise into facilitating consumer trust and brand loyalty. There's a neuroscience to it.

First, we can form actual, physical relationships with a brand. When researchers measured participant skin response to pictures of beloved brands in comparison to their response to images of good friends:
They found no significant differences in skin arousal. It is, of course, true that this is just a physiological response, which a number of things can elicit. But the researchers argue that, if we don't quite fall in love with brands, we are at least capable of falling in deep like with some of them. 
Relatedly, brands can also become tied to people's own identity:
The authors of one recent paper in the Journal of Consumer Research argue that people feel ashamed and insecure when a company betrayal is discovered, much like what would happen when trust is broken in an interpersonal relationship, precisely because of the fact that their self-concept has been tied up with their products. 

So it's no wonder that folks become so adamant about their Karma soap and LUSH bath bombs. There's a serious psychological relationship here.

Certainly, this research will also have implications for other vegan outreach. Strong consumer relationships with "meat" and dairy brands like Oscar Meyer, Jimmy Dean, Carnation, and Cadbury's will certainly complicate activist efforts.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Buyer Beware: Animals WERE Harmed In the Making of Desert Essence

A disturbing trend among "natural" companies in an increasingly competitive market is the use of "animal-friendly" labeling to describe decidedly unfriendly ingredients.

While shopping on Lucky Vitamin, I almost bought a product from Desert Essence marked as vegetarian and "cruelty-free," until I carefully read the ingredients:
Desert Essence - Exfoliating Shea Butter Body Scrub
Water (Aqua), Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Coco-Glucoside, Pumice, Hydrogenated Jojoba Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Juglans Regia (Walnut) Shell Powder, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax, Cereus Grandiflorus (Vanilla Cactus) Extract, Opuntia Vulgaris Leaf Extract (Prickly Pear Cactus), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (Green Tea), Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Royal Jelly, Honey, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract*, Citric Acid, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Extract, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Glycerin, Glyceryl Oleate, Glyceryl Caprylate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Magnesium Silicate, Sodium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzoate, Natural Fragrance (Parfum)
*Certified Organic 
Animals were harmed to obtain ingredients
Animal Testing
Artificial Fragrances/Dyes
Petroleum compounds including mineral oil, petrolatum and paraffin
Parabens, glycols or phthalates 
Recyclable, biodegradable and renewable resources
Cruelty free
This item contains at least two animal products, and yet it is falsely marketed as non-harmful to Nonhuman Animals and "Cruelty free."

I decided to investigate further. From the Desert Essence website:
Are all your products Vegan? 
While all our products are 100% vegetarian, not all are vegan. The Organics line, excluding the new Mineral Sunscreen which contains beeswax, is 100% vegan. Although several of our products have small amounts of beeswax and honey in their formulas, no animals are ever harmed to get these ingredients.
But honey and bees' wax is not cruelty-free; these products do harm animals.

What's going on here?

First, animal ingredients are cheap. Second, animal-friendly/cruelty-free labeling offers a competitive advantage, an added value for which more can be charged. Instead of switching to vegan ingredients which can be more expensive in a world where animal agriculture is heavily subsidized and animal industries are keen to push their byproducts into the marketplace, "natural" companies simply change their labeling to appease concerned customers. I documented a similar phenomenon with LUSH Cosmetics and The Body Shop. This is a tactic also used by the "meat" and dairy industries. Animal flesh and other products inherently entail exploitation and suffering to be obtained, but clever labeling can disguise the process. It can also help a company to stand out  justify a higher markup.

Post-speciesism is a profitable illusion.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Report Finds that Vegan-Avoidance Outreach Results in Vegan Avoidance

Little girl grimaces and turns away from a piece of broccoli held toward her

A colleague passed on some new research conducted by The Humane League (see here and here) (a non-vegan, pro-welfare organization dependent on grants and fundraising for survival) and has asked for my input. I will not go into the details of the methodological issues with the report, as the same issues surface time and time again and I have written about them in previous posts (see here and here) as well as my upcoming book to be released this month, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. But in a nutshell, here's what's going on: a non-vegan organization that does not promote veganism or support veganism seeks evidence to support that its approach reduces the most harm and is thereby better than a vegan approach.

The organization's status as a non-vegan entity is important. As I told my friend, The Humane League (THL) investigating veganism with it's non-vegan approach is akin to an atheist organization investigating to what extent people will become religious after reading its promotional material. THL is not in the business of veganism, just as an atheist organization is not in the business of bringing folks to god.

The tendency for welfarist organizations to conduct their own research with staff members is also extremely problematic. These employees will understandably exhibit a strong conflict of interest. They will be expected to find data that supports the organization's grant-friendly, compromised approach. This just isn't good science. Seriously--imagine if the research found that a strong vegan message worked, do you think that this data would see the light of day, much less inform the organization's operations?

Welfarist organizations have invested decades of energy and billions of dollars into manipulating the social imagination into viewing veganism as unrealistic, weird, and undesirable. They even refer to veganism as a matter of "purity" in the language of the report--this loaded language demonstrates bias from the onset. Large charities have made reductionism the "common sense" approach for anyone who cares about animals.

As with many things that become "common sense," we forget that there are other possibilities. "It's better than nothing" logic obscures the fact that we aren't really dealing with compromise vs. nothing; there are options. We also lose sight of the powerful economic interests behind the enforcement of this ideology. It's no accident that alternatives are so difficult for activists to conceptualize. As I've been uncovering in my dissertation research, these organizations work very hard to keep the activist community and the public at large acquiescent.

Veganism is a radical, life-saving, capitalist-threatening political force. There is a reason why anti-vegan organizations like THL rise to power: elites that control the funding will certainly not fund organizations that threaten their livelihood. They are more likely to fund groups that are not threatening. In fact, they're even more likely to fund groups that are not threatening and help to delegitimatize the vegan grassroots collectives that do pose a threat. More bang for their buck.

To see a vegan world, it's not just a matter of supplying vegan pamphlets. The onus is really on the large charities to start promoting veganism as something that is admirable, desirable, and within reach. It's on these groups to start breaking down the systemic barriers to veganism. Unfortunately, as it stands, these groups are the systemic barriers to veganism. Sure, food accessibility is a problem, as is unfamiliarity with vegan food, or even social conformity. But anti-vegan groups posing as Nonhuman Animal "rights" organizations do the most damage in my opinion.

Here's the bottom line: just as we would not look to the beef and dairy industry for unadulterated, unbiased research on nutrition, we should not be looking to funding-focused large non-profits as an authority on effective activism. I think it's great that more organizations are actually taking some time to figure out if procedures are worth the investment, but it seems that science is simply being wielded as an ideological defense for corrupt tactics. These reports aren't intended to guide activists; they're intended to please funding agents.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Vegans on the Bus Go Round and Round! New Campaign Announced

I am pleased to announce that The Abolitionist Vegan Society (TAVS) has launched its crowdfunding campaign to place vegan advertisements on the back of buses in major American cities. This is a cost-efficient means of bringing the vegan message to a large demographic of people, directing them to the TAVS "Why Veganism?" website where introductory anti-speciesism theory and vegan shopping resources are readily available.

This media tactic has already been widely adopted by groups like PETA and Mercy for Animals, but never in a coherent manner that takes the interest of Nonhuman Animals seriously. TAVS seeks to bring a truly vegan, truly anti-oppression message to the American public. I had a chance to speak with Sarah K. Woodock, founder of TAVS and designer of the campaign. She explains, "This campaign gives us the opportunity to reach literally millions of people with veganism. It would take us tens of thousands of hours of leafleting and tabling to reach the same number of people that we will reach over a period of months instead of years."

"Furthermore," she adds, "as abolitionist vegans, we talk about all of the ways not to do advocacy (i.e. engaging in nonabolitionist campaigns, using sexist tactics, using racist tactics, etc.). But here is a campaign that all vegans can confidently support—one that promotes veganism as the moral minimum and that is run by an organization that takes a pro-intersectional approach to vegan advocacy."

TAVS is hoping to meet their target by the end of 2015, can you help make it happen?

Click here to offer your support

Monday, September 7, 2015

How Do I Positively Engage My Non-Vegan Family?

Unhappy kid picking at a piece of celery

One of the most important factors to going and staying vegan is a supportive network (Cherry 2006). Unfortunately, some individuals find themselves at odds with their non-vegan family, as most people do not associate a capacity to suffer with animals who are categorized as food (Bratanova, Loughnan, and Bastian 2011). Vegans are sometimes perceived by non-vegans as “thinking they’re better than everyone else.” This chastising of morally-motivated individuals is something social psychologists have termed “do-gooder derogation.” However, research shows that individuals who feel threatened by veganism will be more open if they are given the opportunity to combat the perceived moral threat (Minson and Monin 2011). So discussing veganism with family members, even if that discussion becomes uncomfortable, could actually reduce their need to bolster non-vegan attitudes. Unfamiliarity with new foods may also be a barrier to eating vegan with family members. A 2013 study found that non-vegans who were repeatedly exposed to vegan alternatives to “meat” began to view them more favorably. However, participants also reported boredom with the same three products included in the study, indicating the importance of variety (Hoek et al. 2013). Indeed, the human brain is programmed to respond to novelty (Gallagher 2011). The variety offered by vegan foods and even the provocativeness of animal rights issues might actually pique the interest of family members.

Active involvement in preparing the food can also be advantageous. Parents may be familiar with overcoming picky eaters by having their children help prepare their meal. This works because effort increases liking. Known as the IKEA effect, creating something leads to pride and positive association with that something (Norton, Mochon, and Ariely 2011). Family members who are encouraged to prepare a vegan meal may find themselves more favorable to that dish if they have created it themselves. For example, Dad might really get a kick out of figuring out a tasty vegan dinner for their vegan daughter.

Furthermore, research has demonstrated that individuals who are given snacks to munch on when presented with new information were more likely to be persuaded (Janis, Kaye, and Kirschner 1965). The positive associations with food seem to spill over onto the message. Sharing vegan food with family members will not only increase their familiarity with that food, but it also creates positive associations with veganism, and hopefully reduces tensions. Just be sure that the food is tasty—as Nathan Winograd argues in All American Vegan, nobody is going to be won over by bland, flavorless health food.

  • Give family members a chance to express their discomfort with your moral choices;  an open dialogue may reduce negative attitudes
  • When possible, expose family members to vegan foods to increase familiarity and liking
  • Try to include a variety of vegan foods to peak interest and avoid boredom
  • Encourage family members to create vegan meals themselves, as creating increases liking
  • Provide delicious vegan food for family members when discussing veganism; snacks positively influence persuasion
  • Opt for tastier foods over blander health-focused food when sharing with family members

Further Reading
  1. Adams, C. 2001. Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook. Three Rivers Press. 
  2. Askew, C. 2011. Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager. Tofu Hound Press. 
  3. Torres, B. and J. Torres. 2009. Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, 2nd ed. Tofu Hound Press.

  1. Bratanova, B., S. Loughnan, and B. Bastian. 2011. “The Effect of Categorization as Food on the Perceived Moral Standing of Animals.Appetite 57: 193-196. 
  2. Cherry, E. 2006. “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5(2): 155-170. Gallagher, W. 2011. New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. Penguin Press. 
  3. Hoek, A. et al. 2013. “Are Meat Substitutes Liked Better Over Time? A Repeated In-home Use Test with Meat Substitutes or Meat in Meals.” Food Quality and Preference 28(1): 253-263.
  4. Janis, I., D. Kaye, and P. Kirschner. 1965. “Facilitating Effects of Eating While Reading on Responsiveness to Persuasive Communications.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1: 181-186. Minson, J. and B. Monin. 2011. “Do-Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally-Motivated Minorities To Defuse Anticipated Reproach.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(2): 200-207. 
  5. Norton, M., D. Mochon, and D. Ariely. 2011. “The ‘IKEA Effect’: When Labor Leads to Love.” Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper No. 11-091.   

This post was originally published by VegFund on May 7, 2013.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

If You Care About Animals, In Vitro Meat is Not the Answer

In vitro replications of Nonhuman Animal bodies ignore the problem of speciesism, exclude millions of species, and perpetuate prejudicial and violent attitudes.

On July 15, 2012 the Humane Research Council (now Faunalytics) posted the following on their Facebook promotional page:
If you care about animals and the environment, you should support in vitro meat. According to this interview with New Harvest ( [link is no longer valid], "Research at Oxford University looked at that question and estimated that mass production of cultured meat would reduce water and land use and CO2 emissions by 90% or more.
Animal advocates are often posed the question of in vitro meat. PETA has famously offered a one million dollar reward to the first scientist to create and market it. However, it is my stance, and the stance of many abolitionist advocates for that matter, that in vitro meat is not the answer.

Simply put, in vitro meat, while theoretically sparing millions of nonhumans the torture of agricultural industries, completely overlooks the millions of other nonhumans not directly raised and slaughtered for their flesh and those in non-"food" industries. The in vitro scheme overlooks speciesist attitudes in general.

In vitro meat purports to meet the supposedly insatiable public demand for Nonhuman Animal flesh (a demand that is, incidentally, artificially controlled by industry) without the guilty conscience of killing Nonhuman Animals and polluting the environment. But, only a portion of the nonhumans we exploit are specifically raised for "meat." In vitro schemes beg the question as to what will happen to nonhumans who are indirectly killed for flesh when their bodies become unproductive in other industries. Dairy cattle, veal calves, wool producing sheep, and layer hens, for example, all go to slaughter when their bodies become "spent" and they become a burden on the industry. In vitro schemes speaks nothing to their plight. Unless dairy and eggs become obsolete, these animals will still be sent to their deaths regardless of in vitro markets.

And what of leather and fur? In vitro meat does nothing to reduce the demand for animal flesh used for fashion. What of rodeos, horse racing, and circuses? In vitro is totally unrelated. And vivisection? Not only does in vitro fail to solve the problem of animal testing, but it will inevitably require considerable amounts of animal pain and death to create in vitro meat.

The in vitro meat scheme ignores speciesism. It ignores an ideology of oppression. Beyond excluding many other facets of animal exploitation, it also condones the consumption and oppression of Nonhuman Animals as a symbolic matter. To "okay" this behavior, even if it is not directly hurting the nonhumans represented, is hugely detrimental to the advancement of nonhuman rights. Consider a campaign to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women that provided blow up dolls for men to insult, beat, or otherwise have their way with. Surely, women directly benefit in having the wrongs usually inflicted upon them inflicted on their non-sentient representations. But, one must consider the symbolic consequences that will inevitably arise in a society that has normalized sexist and violent attitudes towards women. One could not expect that the position of women would be advanced to any significant extent if representations of women were made freely available for the privileged to dominate. Sexism and violence would (and do) continue against women. This happens because such a strategy only supports women's subjugated status and aggravates their objectification.

Face of a blowup doll, a woman with pig tails, blue eye makeup and a bright red mouth open wide.
Technology has provided a number of substitutes for women's bodies, but real women are still hurt at epidemic levels in a society that objectifies them and normalizes violence against representations of them.

If our job is to fight speciesism, then we have no business supporting in vitro meat. In vitro meat, as we see in the quote provided by the Humane Research Council, is really concerned with environmental issues. It's also concerned with assuaging human guilt with the unnecessary consumption of sentients. The environment and personal conscience are completely removed from the core issue: the rights we owe to Nonhuman Animals. (In vitro meat schemes also ignore the terrible damage that animal products inflict on the health of vulnerable human communities).

For this reason, in vitro meat is a manifestation of post-speciesism. Post-speciesism supposes that speciesism is a thing of the past, or is otherwise being attended to. Species difference is thus made irrelevant, and systemic discrimination is made invisible by the fantasy. It is an ideology that works to squelch political opposition and the potential for contentious action.

In vitro meat will reduce some violence against some nonhuman animals, but it will allow for many other forms of violence. It also reproduces the notion that Nonhuman Animals are "food" and the institutions slaughtering them for food will not realistically end simply because in vitro becomes available. So long as we leave the prejudices and violence against other animals unchallenged, the exploitation and death will continue indefinitely.

Considering the limited nature of our time and resources, I suggest we focus on promoting veganism and fighting speciesism. The results will be far more socially rewarding: environmental destruction will be reduced, human health will flourish, and, more importantly, the Nonhuman Animals we are representing will be afforded the equal consideration they deserve. In vitro science is only a display of domination and privilege.

This essay originally appeared on The Examiner, July 17, 2012.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pro-Intersectionality Veganism is EASY!

Consider the following meme which displays the popular "veganism is easy," "no excuses" theme:

A muscular, bearded man identified as a "Strong Man" competitor from Germany looks directly at camera with arms folded. Quote attributed to him reads: "We must all do our part to make the world a better and more just place. Nowadays, everybody can easily be vegan - there are no excuses anymore!" Organization: Animal Equality

In considering the image, keep in mind that the quote is attributed to someone who appears to be a white able-bodied man living in a food secure nation.

Look, there is nothing wrong in trying to present veganism as accessible, but the privilege behind our framing must be acknowledged. It just had to be.

I have seen several abolitionist vegans complain about pro-intersectionality, annoyed that they are made to feel as though they must add a disclaimer to their outreach. Political correctness gone wild? Perhaps to some, but the reality is that political correctness (which is really just a fancy phrase for "treating people with respect") is what we need to do. If we want to grow a vegan movement beyond the borders of white, middle class society, that is what we need to do.

To put it in words they can relate to: "Pro-intersectional veganism is EASY!"

Really, it is not that hard to treat others with respect. Neither is it especially taxing to consider how the vegan message will be interpreted by others. It's simply a matter of being mindful of your social position and the social positions of those you are addressing. The advocate's experience in the world is not the universal experience. Good advocacy is advocacy that acknowledges difference and can adjust accordingly.