Jordi Casamitjana, the vegan zoologist and author known for having secured the legal protection of ethical vegans from discrimination in the UK, has written this blog for the Vegan Edge about one of the most common controversies within the vegan movement:

Hear me out before you judge me.

For those like me, who have been vegan for over a decade, it is satisfying to see how much veganism has spread within society. Although we are growing in terms of numbers, we are still a small minority but the increasing occurrence of the term ‘vegan’, and the increasing recognition of veganism as ‘a serious real thing’, is what is making this philosophy a noticeable trend cruising towards mainstream adoption.

We are no longer seen as an extremist fringe tribe but have become an international pan-cultural transformative socio-political movement present in most nations, and at least protected in one of them, the UK, who in 2020 declared ethical veganism a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, one of the outcomes of the litigation I initiated two years earlier. However, such growth comes with a price: an increase of diversity, and with it more differences of opinion, more infighting, more conceptual dilution, and a greater risk of schism.

One of the slogans we hear more often to illustrate some of the most notorious internal disagreements within the vegan community is “veganism is not about (blank)”… where the blank can be filled with many terms – ‘the environment’, ‘health’, ‘food’, ‘fitness’, ‘religion’, ‘politics’, ‘beliefs’, and, most often, ‘humans’.  Many vegans, perhaps as a reaction to the intersectional approach, say “veganism is not about humans, but about animals”, and they fervently oppose any vegan related activity that may move the focus of attention away from animals.

I am a long-term animal rights abolitionist ethical vegan dedicated to working in animal protection for decades, so you may think that I agree with such a statement. Well, I don’t. I think veganism is primarily about humans.

Don’t worry, it’s not that I have lost my way, or that I have been corrupted by militant human rights advocates. I’ve always disagreed with this way of thinking, but it was only recently, when I was writing my book Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world”, that I was able to explicitly articulate why. In the book, I write…

Veganism has always been about what people do to animals. It’s a human movement directed at humans. Humans are the perpetrators of the exploitation, and sometimes they may be their victims too. If we ignore people or don’t understand why they do what they do, we will never be able to stop animal exploitation and eradicate carnism. Animal rights as a socio-political movement will only progress if it focuses on human behaviour, which is what it aims to correct.”

We, vegans, do not demand that non-human animals should change what they do. What happens to them is not their fault, so we should not ask them to change anything in their behaviour. They are not the intended target of vegan outreach, human consumers are. They are not the intended target of vegan lobbying, human decisionmakers are. They are not the intended target of animal rights campaigners, humans who exploit other animals are. It’s all about humans. Humans that buy what they shouldn’t buy; humans who behave as they shouldn’t behave. Humans who exploit other sentient beings as if they are morally entitled to do so.

Of course, non-human animals are the most common victims of humanity’s systemic discrimination and oppression of ‘the other’, which is the consequence of millennia of carnist indoctrination, but they are not its only victims. Yes, ‘carnism’, this term first used by the psychologist Melanie Joy in 2001 (popularised by her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows) defined as the prevailing ideology in which people support the use and consumption of non-human animal products.

Other humans –such as those belonging to marginalised communities – and the environment are also the victims of carnism. Why? Because the victims of human carnists are not responsible for their victimhood. The indiscriminate abusive behaviour of the carnists is, caused by a combination of their primaeval brains, egocentric psychologies, oppressive relationships, traditional ethnicities, speciesist policies, capitalist economies, consumerist habits, greedy industries, imperialist politics, and patriarchal societies.

Veganism, this anti-speciesist inclusive philosophical belief which in its original form (now known as ‘ethical veganism’) seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of any sentient being, is nevertheless so human-centric, that not only does it attempt to correct a human problem by addressing humans directly, but, as far as we know, everyone holding such belief happens to be a human being too. Although there are many herbivore species in this living planet, their members do not avoid animal products because of a philosophy or ideology they have adopted, but because of biological adaptation alone. Their diet is not based on actively rejecting animal products (or the exploitation of other animals), but for naturally seeking plants or fungi for food (without taking any precaution of ensuring no tiny sentient animals may be harmed while they eat).

The other animals, the environment, and oppressed humans are passive victims of the carnist humans and their indirect allies, the guilt-ridden omnivorous and the obstinate typical vegetarians. Therefore if we only focus on non-human animals we will only manage to rescue a few without eradicating the problem.

We should focus on the human carnists, the human reducetarians, the human pescatarians, the human flexitarians, the human vegetarians, and the human plant-based ‘healtharians’, and help them to realise the consequences of their actions and how they all can become ethical vegans. . We need to focus on how they think, how they communicate, which languages they speak, which things make them tick, which triggers make them stop listening, which arguments they can easily follow. We should not assume that they are all the same and that they all do what they do for the same reasons or that they will all interpret our messaging in the same way.

Deeply understanding the diversity, motivations, idiosyncrasies, and responsiveness of the opposition is the key to the success of any campaign, any revolutionary struggle, and any transformative social movement. Failing that, our efforts may become futile echo-chamber ping-ponging or wasted protests to contemptuous imaginary gods.

It seems to me that if we want to be successful in the vegan movement, it would be better if we stop targeting our messaging to our fellow ethical vegans (including those who do not manifest their veganism as we do), and focus on carnists and their enablers, helping them becoming ethical vegans for everyone’s benefit.

There, I said it.

To find out more about Jordi:

His website: http://jordi-casamitjana.animal-protection-consult.com/

Buy his book: https://www.waterstones.com/book/ethical-vegan/jordi-casamitjana//9781912836581