Probably many of the vegans you know come across as being somewhat idealistic and alternative; their desire for healthy eating, green living and animal welfare carries echoes of the 60’s hippy counterculture. In the public’s mind vegan philosophy is typified by slogans such as “meat is murder”, a sentiment most of us can sympathise with up to a point — after all, none of us are fans of animal cruelty — only the vegans always seem to take it a bit too far. Often they come across as a bit naive, like the teenager who can’t listen to reason, so we hold our tongue: best let them grow out of it we think.
Unfortunately, for an increasing number of vegans, it’s less a matter of changing the world through love and peace and more about violent revolution and political activism. In this article, we explore the paradox and find out how vegan ideology can lead to domestic terrorism.
Read time: 11 minutes (2100 words)
Ideologies offer something very tempting to their adherents: a single answer for a wide range of complex problems. Such thinking is seductive because it requires little critical thinking, self-doubt or tentative conclusions. Ideology sweeps all that bothersome detail aside providing the ideologue with a set of fully formed solutions that can be applied dogmatically to any problem.
This is particularly true of Vegan ideology: Whatever the problem, and however complex or subtle, veganism will always be the answer in the adherents mind.
- Question: Animal welfare? Answer: Veganism
- Question: Ethical food production? Answer: Veganism
- Question: Healthier diet? Answer: Veganism
- Question: Best for the environment? Answer: Veganism.
You get the point. Veganism tells you how to dress, eat, live and think. If you adopt it you become instantly one of the enlightened ones, the saviours of the Earth, with nature and righteousness firmly on your side.
Initially, and as long as you don’t ask too many questions, many vegans present the case for their diet from a perspective of compassionate rationalism; after all, they are not monsters! Yet one only needs to offer some facts that run counter to their pre-packaged thinking and they can turn nasty… really fast. If you’ve ever challenged a vegan — especially online — you’ll know what I am talking about. The vitriol and abuse if you are not on-side can be quite shocking. Like all dogmas, vegan ideology admits no chink in its armour, no possibility of doubt. To maintain the ideology in the face of a challenge vegans know in advance that it has to be the ‘facts’ that are wrong or the challenger who has bad intentions, never allowing the possibility that the ideology is at fault.
This need to shut out dissenting views, and close down opposition only occurs when reality cannot be faced. Avoiding contrary points of view leads to vegans turning against former friends and relatives who are unwilling to go along with their crusade. An inflexibility in their thinking and unwillingness to consider that anyone else might have a valid point leads to social withdrawal, as they seek out instead like-minded fellows and form meet up groups, and online cliques, hostile to outsiders.
If vegan ideology only resulted in heated discussions and raised tempers it would be one thing, but ideologies have a nasty habit of pushing adherents further — especially as they become more isolated and inwardly focused. Veganism is no exception. As you drill down into their inner circles you find the most disaffected and ideological proponents, those who have taken vegan ideology to its ideological extreme — the high priests of the movement. These guys have the answers, the final solutions, the rhetoric that crushes any lingering dissenting doubts and questions; Here we find the rationale for vegan extremism.
Extreme vegan philosophy sees “meat is murder” as a literal truism. People who eat meat, they believe, are equivalent to actual murderers, or even paedophile murderers as their animal victims are perceived to be intrinsically innocent. In this ‘moral’ framework society is seen as encouraging and promoting a ‘rape of the innocent’, so society becomes the enemy and extremism and terrorism find their justification.
Among the vegan priest class, it is easy to find those who preach an explicit anti-human, anti-family, anti-society philosophy, where the rights of animals trump those of people — particularly meat eaters. Here their hatred for society unites with that of the anarchist anti-capitalists who also see the status quo as the problem. At this level, veganism loses the last thread of connection with the summer of love, replaced by an ad hoc network of political activists and animal rights extremists who are prepared to use violence and terrorism to achieve their ends.
The idea that vegan activists would go as far as planning terrorism might appear far-fetched, but I have witnessed it first hand. Many years ago, in my youth, I had a friend who printed a DIY vegan fanzine on behalf of the local animal rights activists with articles written by the more vocal and politically amongst them. Alongside the expected anti-meat vitriol and half-baked philosophical pieces, each issue contained an increasing number of articles on how to target butchers, smash their shop windows and picket their premises. Anything was justified in their eyes if it contributed to destroying such businesses. This not-so-small band of malcontents were constantly planning something. In the few months that I was aware of their activities, the group took part in fox hunt sabotage, intimidating McDonald’s staff and customers, smashing windows of supermarkets and glueing up door locks of companies in the town who had shares in the meat trade.
Eventually, they went too far, publishing an article that advocated setting fire to the vehicles of ‘animal rights violators’ by stuffing the wheel arches full of straw doused in petrol. That prompted a police raid at dawn, and my acquaintance, his printing materials and many of the local activists were rounded up. In those days the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was considered the second biggest terrorist threat to the UK after the IRA.
All that was thirty years ago, but the militant tendency of the far-(animal)-right(s) has not gone away. In June this year, French butchers had to beg the interior minister to provide police protection following a spate of attacks on butchers’ shops across France. Even a cheesemonger in Lyon was targeted, with the words “milk is rape” and “milk is murder” sprayed on his shop front.
The following, about similar attacks, is from the Telegraph.
Each time they smashed windows and scrawled the words “No to speciesism” on the shopfront. Popular with animal rights advocates, the term “speciesism” suggests that mistreating non-human species is a form of discrimination akin to racism or sexism.
The 18,000 butchers of France were “worried about media overexposure of the vegan way of life”, said the federation chief.
Butchers were “shocked” by a section of society that “wishes to impose its way of life, not to mention its ideology, on the vast majority” of meat-eating French people, he added.
When in March this year, a butcher was among four people murdered by a Muslim terrorist some vegans celebrated. One wrote “So does it shock you that a murderer gets killed by a terrorist? Not me, I have zero compassion for him, there is justice in it”. That activist, quite rightly, received a 7 months suspended sentence for condoning terrorism.
In the same year, in the UK, Marlow Butchers had ‘Stop Killing Animals!! Go Vegan’ daubed on the storefront along with the logo of the Animal Liberation Front. They also received a barrage of online abuse including threats to smash windows and petrol bomb the store. Activists posted dozens of one-star reviews aimed at destroying the business. (See this Metro article). All this, just months after the Countryside Alliance warned that attacks on small businesses by militant vegans was increasing.
Another kind of extremist in the vegan movement is the Anti-natalist. You have probably never heard of them, or the ideology which is shared by some environmentalists, but they are growing in number and influence. They believe it is morally wrong for people to have babies, arguing that humans are overpopulating the planet and destroying the environment. They claim that existence is suffering and that it is unethical to bring humans into the world. Some Anti-natalists go further and think the world would be a better place if humans had never existed, or if they became extinct.
A recent article in the Independent gives a taste of the ideology as expressed here by the UK Anti-Natalist Party (yes, they have a political party.)
The Antinatalist Party in the UK, meanwhile, writes rather cheerfully on its website: “Let’s be the last generations and go out with a liberal and happy party”. The policies in its manifesto include putting people off having children by cutting tax credits; taxing meat to reduce harm to animals; and legalising doctor-assisted dying for those with serious physical and mental illnesses, even those that are not terminal.
A cursory browse through their online groups and forums reveals them to be militant extremists who have no time for parents and non-vegans. Anyone who has challenged them will attest to the vitriol they readily dish out to anyone who does not agree fully with their extreme worldview.
So Is veganism a cult?
Cults can be difficult to define and hard to recognise, especially when, like veganism, there is no single figurehead or organisation to point the finger at. For the most part, cults have been associated with religious movements like the Moonies, and the seven signs you’re in a cult (below) was written with such organisations in mind. It is interesting to reflect on how these six signs stack up against veganism.
- Opposing critical thinking. If you have ever tried to reason with a vegan you’ll recognise this one
- Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving. Just look at Lierre Keith (an ex-vegan and author of The Vegetarian Myth) who has been physically attacked for ‘betraying the cause’.
- Emphasising special doctrines outside scripture.
- Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders. Replace leaders with ideology.
- Dishonouring the family unit. I knew a vegan woman who’s parents were butchers. She wouldn’t talk to them and broke off the relationship. See vegan anti-natalists below.
- Crossing Biblical boundaries of behaviour. Arguing from a moral position, yet advocating violent or criminal behaviour.
- Separation from the Church. Believing that humans are a curse on the Earth. Thinking it would be better if humans were exterminated.
Cause for concern
Vegan rhetoric can sound convincing, especially to the young, and particularly at the ‘easy-sell’ end of the spectrum. Appeals to our infantile love of pets and anthropomorphising of cute-looking animals provide the low-hanging fruit to draw in new recruits. In recent years the message has been promoted most effectively by celebrities promising weight loss, glamour and a badge of moral virtue in one easy-to-digest package. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, there has been a surge in young people switching to veganism in the last year or two.
The Push Back
Ban on ‘misleading’ vegetarian product names
Long ago the EU decreed that soya ‘milk’ could only be marketed as soya ‘drink’ on the basis that it was misleading to imply that it contained milk (or had similar nutritional value for that matter). Earlier this year the European Court of Justice ruled that all dairy-related terms, such as “milk”, “cream”, “Chantilly” and “cheese”, are only allowed to be used on products made with real animal milk.
On the back of this success, the French — famed for their gastronomic savvy – have decided to apply the same rules to other vegetarian simulacra. So vegetarian sausages, bacon and other faux meat products will have to remove their meat-alluding labels. Even phrases such as “bacon flavoured” will have to be scrubbed from vegetarian products sold in France. (The Week, Apr 20)
Meat is crucial to a balanced diet, Michael Gove tells farmers
Meanwhile, in the UK, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove went on the counter-offensive, stating that “Meat is crucial to a balanced diet” and telling UK farmers that they play a pivotal role in the health of the nation post-Brexit. Here-here to that!
Challenging some vegan assumptions
It is one thing to push back by supporting meat-eating, but what is really needed are some robust intellectual arguments that tackle the root ideas at the heart of the vegan ideology. Such pieces are rare on a mainstream platform but recently The Conversation ran an article attempting just that.
In it, , Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Drexel University — who himself is a long-time vegetarian — argues that drawing a distinction between animal and plant suffering is arbitrary. Recent science, he suggests, indicate that plants have an equally complex system of sensing and response which challenge the idea that you can separate species into sentient and non-sentient forms. In preferring plant over animal foods, vegans are as guilty as the next man of speciesism, or in Smiths words of ‘privileging one kind of organic life over another’.
Rather like the farming systems proposed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1930s, Smith suggests that we view the interconnectedness of all life in the nutrient-web, including our part in it, as a ‘sumbiont’. In this holistic view of food production, the role of animals is recognised as part of the harmony of the whole.
Sumbioculture is a form of permaculture, or sustainable agriculture. It’s an organic and biodynamic way of farming that’s consistent with the health of entire ecosystems.
Sumbiotarians eat in harmony with their ecosystem. So they embody, literally, the idea that the well-being of our food – hence, our own well-being – is a function of the health of the land.
This reflective, tentative, non-dogmatic and non-aggressive form of vegetarianism is something we can all live with. It is a far cry from the vicious anarcho-vegan antinatalists and animal-rights extremists who terrorise butchers and proponents of an omnivorous diet. Let’s hope that more sensible debate emerges from among the less extreme elements of veganism.
Slogans are not arguments
Finally, let’s shake off any lingering impressions that the Summer of Love was anything more than an ideological dream: “Make Love, not War” was a slogan bolstered by sentimentality: an earnest desire for a better world, perhaps, but with a naive ignorance of the complexity of the problem. Likewise veganism. However appealing the “meat is murder” slogan appears to be, one thing is certain: it’s not an argument. And real virtue is not built on a strapline.