The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973

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Articles
HOW TO PUT PEOPLE OFF!

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.

Selectivity

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 anglers?

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.

Restaurants

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.

Short-sighted

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' free-range eggs.

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.

Patronising

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 edition:

Put off

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.

Tim Wilson

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. Many do.

Oh yes, and why does he put the word 'feminist' in inverted commas?

H. Gipson

Father Francis' reply in the Summer 1987 edition:

Tolerance

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.

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