The welfarist vs. abolitionist debate is a waste of time

March Against Speciesism – Geneva 2015

“One of the statements that depresses me most is when vegans who were long-time vegetarians say, “I just didn’t know.” As animal liberationists, it is our duty to make sure people know. It is our duty to speak the truth, confront injustice, [and] creatively work together to end the animal holocaust. Let’s bring the focus back to where it needs to be, on the animals.”
~ Gary Smith (June 23, 2012)

I am an abolitionist and yet I do what some would call “welfarist” campaigns or single issue campaigns like the anti-fur, anti-foie gras, anti-hunting, anti-bullfighting demos, etc. and of course vegan education. When I was living in the USA, talking pure Veganism was not that easy but at least people knew what the word “vegan” meant there. It’s not the same in France. We have “vegetarian”, « végétalien » (plant-based) and vegan(e) but the latter is still a word which brings wide clueless eyes from most people.

I started as welfarist many years ago, not knowing anything else, then discovered certain authors and became this absolutist who believed that only talking about veganism would create change and that everything else was useless. I still believe it is true with a few people on the street. But the big majority, even with the best arguments, don’t want to hear about pure veganism in the first place.

Coming back to France, I had to come to the realization that vegan education only wasn’t yet possible but that taking any opportunity to bring it into the conversation within the context of a seemingly “welfarist” campaign worked better. In fact, our campaigns are indeed single-issue but you won’t find an activist here who wants bigger cages, or less fur or just no meat. You will find activists who want a total abolition of any animal exploitation. We just try to tap into people’s psyches any way we can to bring them to at least be open to discuss more and go further.

And it works. The association I volunteer for (among others), l’Association Végétarienne de France (The French Vegetarian Association – I hate the name obviously) doesn’t have any vegetarian recipes on its website. It does promote a 100 % plant based diet from a nutritional perspective. This is not an animal rights association in the usual sense (even though it also addresses ethics and the environment and everyone in it is mostly there for ethical reasons), it is more about nutritional educati
on. As a holistic vegan health coach, I found a way to use my learning in order to also bring ethics and environmental issues into the discussion.

The absolutist approach is something I am tired off. It can work on a few people but to say that some single issue campaigns are a waste of time is denying their usefulness when they are done right. From my experience doing many single issue campaigns in France now (and in the US), I found out that it is easier to approach people with one single issue and then engage an intelligent dialogue which brings to the vegan dialogue because I noticed that they can get overwhelmed rapidly and turn away even faster.

As any vegan activist who’s been “on the field” knows, I have found those who don’t want to hear anything and just mock the very idea of being vegan or just anti-speciesist. We’ve all been there. But I found more people being in fact open to discuss veganism, through way of a seemingly single issue campaign, than when I did pure vegan education on the streets.

And believe me, I never thought I would reach this point of view after many years of being convinced by the absolutist argument. The fact is that now, more and more news programs on television discuss the meat issue or even Veganism and vegetarianism in France. The growing vegan movement in France is palpable and we’re riding on a new wave.

What made this change possible? I believe that it is the number of events organized not only around veganism (as L214 or the Association Végétarienne de France and FUDA do) but also all the other campaigns showing the reality of animal agriculture and the (sadly) growing fast food industry (thanks McDonald, KFC and others!). When we show footage of the cruelty of foie gras to some people, I often hear from them that they are going vegetarian or even vegan already. People get it. And it’s not being absolutist which brought them here; it is one thing after another.

Some are touched by the cruelty of foie gras, others by the cruelty of the fur industry. Others are worried about their health or the environment. Whatever made them “tick” and triggered their empathy in the first place and reach new conclusions is something which matters. I don’t know many vegans who went vegan immediately. Most (including myself) did it gradually as they learned more and felt less and less the challenge of changing difficult (and it’s not the easiest thing still in France or even some parts of the USA – not everyone lives in L.A. or New York).

So I am basically tired of the so-called welfarist versus abolitionist arguments. The only welfarists I can’t approve off are those who want to regulate slavery, care only about dogs and cats, not those who use single issue campaigns with an abolitionist goal.

I showed a French news report on the growing vegan trend in France and the fact that L214 is doing “vegan places” all over the country. One person’s response (in a US group) was “pfff L214, they’re just welfarists”. I was thinking: « Can’t you just be glad that veganism is on NATIONAL news and in PRIME TIME and that it is growing? You have to complain about an organization because it doesn’t meet your perfect criteria? » Yes, it’s true that they are partly welfarists in the sense that they want better regulations on certain issues but no other organization here does more to promote Veganism everywhere yet. I don’t and will never agree with the welfarist part but it has the advantage of showing the reality to a blind population. They also do an enormous amount of undercover investigations which just got a slaughterhouse in the south closed down just recently and was seen as a scandal all over French newspapers and Television. Should I therefore push L214 under the bus because they’re not perfect? I might as well push all the sincere activists under the bus because none of us is the “perfect abolitionist” according to some people’s books, which is probably 99% of us.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the abolitionist theory of anti-speciesism and I agree with most of what abolitionists write. But besides criticizing and trashing others (as some of them who I won’t name do but that all activists I’m sure can name on Facebook), I don’t see much action done based on their approach. However, I see a lot of people who don’t waste their time trashing others and do some great work at educating people any way they are able to because they don’t waste their time arguing with others and actually do something! Usually, they don’t spend much time on Facebook. That is not a coincidence. The loudest critics are the ones doing the least.

None of us are perfect. And frankly, instead of throwing stones at each others, we should start having a good look at ourselves as humans and do some inner work. We are all different; we all came to Veganism in various ways (as I noticed by listening to various interviews on AR Zone over the years as an example). So how can we pretend that one way is better than another? I got people to go vegan by first approaching them about their health, others it was the environment, others yet, it was just an issue like the violence of the fur industry. We don’t know what may make people suddenly re-discover their empathy! All we know is that we want them to get to Veganism and therefore anti-speciesism. And it’s possible any of these factors can do it. I met enough people who proved this rule to me.

However, staying vegan is NOT about diet, is NOT about the environment, it is FIRST about the animals and then everything else.

When we fail is when we don’t teach them the main reason to do it in the end. But let’s open all the doors which can bring them to the vegan conclusion.

As a famous expression says: all paths lead to Rome. So it can be true that all paths can lead to Veganism as well.

March Against Speciesism – Geneva 2015

Photos: March Against Speciesism – August 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland

© Copyright October 2015 – Vegan Empowerment/Veronique Perrot – All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or publication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


The Los Angeles Weekly newspaper from July 27-August 2 featured an article about the fur ban in West Hollywood. The article interviewed the people behind the seemingly successful fur ban: an animal activist named Ellen Lavinthal and John D’Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood.

From the perspective of animal activists, this fur ban seems like a great thing and I am not one to dispute that I want fur gone from stores forever as well. However, reading this article, I started perceiving the usual welfarists, self-serving, hypocritical view points. I am not faulting the Los Angeles Weekly interviewer who is obviously not an animal activist and falls into the majority speciesist (and therefore, doesn’t see how his dog and his leather shoes are part of the same issue).  However, this ban is based on a hypocritical premise. Here we have a (well meaning) activist, Ellen Lavinthal, who pushed a ban on fur by teaming up with the upcoming Mayor of West Hollywood eager to be elected. I can’t tell, from the article, if Mrs. Lavinthal is Vegan. I may surmise that she may be (according to her comment about owning a Stella McCartney faux leather purse) but it is not clear.

The mayor himself is a typical example of the speciesist society at large as his disconnection says it all: « I do own leather shoes and eat poultry and fish, and I am confident that not selling fur in West Hollywood is not just good public policy, it’s good for our economy, too. It sets us apart in another new and exciting way… I am still excited about how this changes the discussion and how this can potentially change people’s behavior. Do I think I am hypocritical? I do not ». Yes that is disconnection. So is this ban about making West Hollywood look cool or is there a real concern for animals? From our animal activist’s point of view, that is certainly the case; from the political side of things, it is about reputation. West Hollywood is after all big on « image » and « looking good ». Reputation matters more than the lives and suffering of countless animals.

As good as a fur ban may seem, it is in fact useless, as all single issue campaigns are when they are not done in the larger context of Veganism. According to the article, some of the fur sellers are already setting shops outside of West Hollywood to continue with the cruel business. This ban has not stopped fur sale whatsoever, it just slowed it down briefly. Going after the animal abusers does not change the system. If you cut the supply in one place, the demand is filled in another place as Pr. Gary Francione has pointed out many times. These so-called victories can also easily be overturned with new votes once the current Mayor is out of office. In essence, if all the money that was spent on this single issue campaign had been spent on Vegan education in the area, the number of people buying fur would have naturally gone down because more and more new Vegans would refuse to buy it. Gary Francione, also interviewed in this piece, correctly points out that 30 years of anti-fur campaigns have not made fur go away.

No one really talks about the real issues here; the big animal corporate groups provide only the usual window-dressing and well-meaning advocates think they make a difference with small « victories » which accomplish nothing in the long term. Please note also the PETA-like sexist cover of the newspaper which is another symptom of the problem (but that’s a discussion for another blog). The real issue is that animals are still considered properties. As such, animals will always be exploited. The only answer is Veganism which kills the demand. The ban sends the message that some animal products are bad while other are good. Is there a difference between leather and fur? The Mayor thinks so and most people don’t realize their own disconnection. Does it help people to see how all use of animals is a moral problem? It doesn’t.

I respect Mrs. Lavinthal’s dedication but she, like the big welfarist corporations (HSUS, PETA, etc..), is wasting her time and money by not educating people on real change. This ban will likely be overturned soon enough. Bans or new laws also never guarranty compliance from the industry. More often than not, the industry in fact doesn’t really comply and just give the impression of the opposite. What Mayor John D’Amico says above is a clear indication that he is as disconnected as all the non-Vegans who live in West Hollywood and most of the welfarists. Ellen Lavinthal gets upset at Gary Francione because of his rejection of this campaign: « So let’s not do anything? It’s shocking that someone would say that. Most laws are incremental ». And what exactly has she accomplished? She just displaced the problem by making the industry move a few miles out of West Hollywood? How is it a victory for the animals? Pr. Francione also correctly points out the hypocrisy of the ban as it doesn’t apply to all fur products.

As long as animals are considered properties, you can try to change all the laws that you want, it will never work. Consider that you can « depreciate » a horse (obviously a sentient being) on your tax return as if it was a piece of furniture. That says a lot about human’s views of animals. The only way to change people is by instead educating them (those willing and open minded) about Veganism which is the only way to transform a society for the long term. We waste our time if we go after those who are profiting from the abuse of animals (and those who don’t but get a kick out of it). The more Vegans we create, the more changes the rest of the population will be willing to accept. We have to create a ripple effect of Vegan education which is so powerful and convincing that people can no longer ask the question: « Why should I go Vegan? ». We are slowly getting there but it is the only viable way to make a real difference for non-humans and humans alike. Why is it slow? because of campaigns like this one who confuse people and make them believe that fur is bad but their burger is still ok. Let’s stop going to the suppliers, let’s educate the ones who create demand in the first place: the public.

I applaud Ellen Lavinthal for her passion. I just hope that she connects the dots more fully and realizes that her efforts could be better spent in a different and more efficient way.

See the LA Weekly Issue here