From The Vegan
(Winter 1986 edition):
The article which follows is published with a view to removing what
the author - Father Francis of the Motherhood of Our Lady - sees as
self-imposed barriers to the effective spread of vegan ideals. Father
Francis, who has served the chantry altar of Our Lady of Cheshire since
1968, has been a vegan for 25 years and publishes occasional CARE
(Concern for Animals, Respect for the Environment) sheets seeking to
show that vegan living need not mean being cut off from the rest of the
world, as well as battling to make manufacturers more aware of the needs
of vegans and of the need for adequate ingredients labeling.
As someone who is, apparently, an expert at treading on toes, I know
a thing or two about how to put people off! I hope this article does not
put too many backs up, however, because the points it makes are, I
believe, important and almost totally ignored.
Debate continues as to whether 'direct action' helps or hinders our
cause - do superglued butchers' shop doors attract valuable publicity,
or do they turn people against us? Apart from being unable to understand
how this actually works (superglue will not even stick a picture frame
for me), I doubt if there can ever be a cut-and-dried answer, for such
action clearly alienates some people and attracts others.
What is the point of activism? It is, of course, a valid means of
demonstrating our disgust at animal cruelty. It is also a valuable means
of giving and receiving support in what can often be an isolated fight.
Its main value should, however, be measured in terms of how far it
brings our message to others.
The primary target
The torturing of animals in laboratories is appalling, as is the
hunting of animals for 'pleasure', but compared to the awesome quantity
of animals that are ill-treated and killed for food, the numbers
involved in vivisection and hunting are positively minute. What's more,
in the case of food animals there is not even the rudimentary defence
available which can be used for vivisection or hunting. How much value
vivisection is to medical research is debatable - but it can be
debated; how much need there is for hunting as a means of controlling
'vermin' is debatable - but again, it can be debated.
It is not even true that vivisection and hunting provide more graphic
illustrations of cruelty. True, rabbits having substances tested on
their eyes, or hares being torn apart by hounds are gruesome spectacles
- but why is so little use made of the still more gruesome
spectacle in every town of flayed and dismembered animal corpses
displayed in butchers' windows?
This does not for a minute mean that we should not campaign against
hunting or vivisection. Of course we should, and must. But our
primary target should surely be campaigning against the cruelty
inflicted on food animals.
Why do so many activists help critics by, for example, picketing fur
shops but ignoring the cruelty to cows involved in the wearing of
leather shoes or to sheep in the wearing of woollen coats? I applaud
their activism, but not their selectivity. To take another example, why
attack pink-coated huntsmen, while ignoring the far larger number of
fish mutilated and left to gasp out their lives by working class
Axes to grind
Any Conservative should rejoice at the number of socialist,
'feminist', and student animal activists. We must hope that, eventually,
those of every party and none will agree with us. But when activism is
widely perceived as being the preserve of socialists, 'feminists' and
students - so much so that people in other groupings are actually put
off and alienated - something is badly wrong.
Socialist or 'feminist' or student vegetarians and vegans are a
welcome advertisement for animal concern among other socialists,
'feminists' or students. Among others their personal beliefs and habits
should neither help nor hinder that concern unless people in general
see animal concern as exclusive to such groupings. If that happens,
it not only puts off those who disapprove of them, it also gives
opponents a stick with which to beat us - "They only oppose hunting
because it's done by the rich", "They're all a load of bolshies", etc.
It is not a question of actual proportions, of whether or not the
impression is valid, for even quite a small number of people readily
identifiable as having other axes to grind will lead to the label being
applied to the rest of the group.
Sadly, this danger is apparently not seen. When the objection is made
a defence is even advanced that most activists are socialists,
etc. Those who advance this argument fail to grasp that if it is true it
could well be precisely because those who hold other views have been
alienated. It would, of course, be just as harmful if campaigning
were to be identified, rightly or wrongly, as the preserve of
Conservatives, men's libbers, etc.
Apart from exposure to occasional reports of demonstrations, the
majority of people have little contact with those concerned with animal
welfare. A means of contact open to those who become interested as a
result of the present level of publicity is vegetarian restaurants.
Such restaurants are potentially first-class ambassadors for our
cause. A really good restaurant, which provides good food at reasonable
prices, will be frequented by those who are not vegetarians. Sadly, most
such 'restaurants' (really cafes charging restaurant prices) do not
manage to attract even vegetarians; of the vegetarian restaurants listed
in a recent handbook, nine of the ten I knew personally closed within a
year of being listed.
Both profits and putting the message across should certainly result
if the food and environment are right. But what sort of advertisement is
the restaurant which offers a limited and high-priced menu ("all
flapjacks and quiche", as one observer has put it), with poor service
(if any), pretentious or dreary surroundings, and is festooned with
activist posters which have no connection at all with animal welfare,
and are inevitably alien to many 'outsiders' - and for that matter to
many vegetarians and vegans?
Even more important a factor is, of course, the food. 'Outsiders'
already see us as odd and different - to whom else would they serve a
plain salad when everyone else is enjoying a multi-course 'feast'? "What
on earth do you eat?" they ask, genuinely believing that without
animal ingredients there really is nothing left. Contrary to the
impression given by commercial vegetarian establishments, food without
animal ingredients is cheap; has at least the variety of
'ordinary' meals; and can have the same regional basis as any
other food. How many people have been put off by the belief that to
become a vegetarian or vegan means living on the international 'ethnic'
cuisine which predominates in vegetarian restaurants? Not eating animal
products does not have to mean giving up Lancashire Hot-pot or
Chips with Everything in favour of a wine-bar menu. It is now often
easier to find an acceptable meal in a Chinese or Indian restaurant than
in an English one, and the increased variety of meals without animal
products made possible by the adoption of such cuisines is welcome, but
not everyone wants to abandon the way they have always liked - and
certainly not as a first step.
It is surprising how many animal welfare campaigners are vegetarian
but do not see the logical need to be vegan. It is sad when they fail to
appreciate that there is no such thing as 'vegetarian' cheese whilst
bulls are killed, cows beyond 'economic' milking are slaughtered, and
there are still veal units; and are oblivious to the fate of the
cockerels and the post-laying hens when consuming their 'cruelty-free'
It is sadder still when such people actively oppose veganism,
as so often happens in vegetarian restaurants. No doubt the proprietors
expect reasonable concern for their diet in other establishments,
even if - sometimes quite aggressively - they refuse to cater adequately
for vegans in their own. Certainly this does not affect 'outsiders', or
would-be vegetarians, but since increasingly young people are becoming
vegans directly rather than via vegetarianism, it must have an
off-putting effect on them.
My prime concern in writing this article has been to underline the
importance of not selling animal activism, including veganism, as part
of a package which ensures that the message's potential receivers are
needlessly limited. From experience, however, I suspect that many
readers will see it as, in the trendy jargon, 'patronising'. In spite of
the fact that its whole message is tolerance, it will be accused of
being intolerant. I ask only that before you tear it to shreds
you make sure that what is annoying you is what I actually wrote, not
what my perhaps clumsy wording has made you think it says.
'Postbag' response to Father Francis' article in the Spring 1987
With mock self-depreciation Father Francis pre-emptively attributed
hostile responses to his article ('How To Put People Off!', The Vegan,
Winter 1986) to a misunderstanding of its badly phrased content. It was,
however, readily comprehensible and angered me.
It is a tactical necessity that animal rights campaigners should
'target' specific forms of animal abuse, abuses to which a greater
number of a still largely meat-eating general public is also (if only
vaguely) opposed. It is a question of the need to establish priorities -
to choose which 'dominoes' to attempt to knock over. The same principle
applies to 'prioritising' fur over leather and wool, and hunting over
shooting and angling.
The good father's snide and repeated summoning forth of 'socialists,
feminists and students'' startlingly reveals his own range of perverse
prejudices and anti-intellectualism. His is a glaring failure to
acknowledge the view that animal abuse does not take place in isolation
from human affairs but exists in the context of a human society based on
power, class and greed; that animal liberation might be actively opposed
on political and 'economic' grounds, by such as the Conservatives, is
implicitly discounted by him. His plea for 'apolitical' animal activists
is ironic, given that one charge sometimes levelled against us is that
we do not care about 'human' issues at all.
Does Father Francis think I should stop being a 'feminist' because it
puts people off veganism?
Not an easy choice to make as both are equally important to my
personal philosophy, and completely intertwined. I also fail to see why
I should pander to other people's prejudices - they should listen to my
arguments, not try to label me; then they can decide for themselves.
Oh yes, and why does he put the word 'feminist' in inverted commas?
Father Francis' reply in the Summer 1987 edition:
Tim Wilson (The Vegan, Spring 1987) may be willing to limit
veganism to socialists, but I'm sure the animals are glad of help
regardless of the giver's politics. And no, I did not suggest that H.
Gipson give up deeply held beliefs - only that the general public be
allowed to see enough different beliefs held by vegans to show
that all are welcome.
Of course Mr Wilson is right that our concern for animals will not
exist in a vacuum, but should he not have the tolerance not to expect
everyone to share his personal conception of the exact nature of the
framework? And not to allow his 'targeting' to be suspected of owing
more to politics than to the needs of animals?
Reproduced with thanks to the Vegan Society.