Vegan Advocacy at Eden

Figure 1 Yoshoda, rescued from slaughter, Spring 2015

How to advocate on behalf of other animals is a topic that is discussed at length in the animal rights community. Some people suggest that we educate others to take incremental steps in adopting a vegan lifestyle. Others suggest that we appeal to the selfish nature of many people by focusing on humanocentric concerns such as the health benefits of a plant based diet or the environmental destruction that animal agriculture causes. Others suggest that we demonstrate the intersectionality of veganism by including issues such as women’s or workers’ rights.

There is room for all kinds of advocacy. Everyone advocating for other animals does so with good intent. However, despite their good intentions some people advocate for strategies that damage the notion of veganism and in doing so have the potential to greatly compromise the rights and future that other animals are entitled to. I am referring to a very compromised style of advocacy that is tolerant of exploitative behavior (as distinct from tolerance of people who engage in exploitative behavior: there is a difference). I am referring to advocacy that terms itself reductionism, almost as if veganism is an act of charity that makes us better able to live with ourselves by contributing less suffering instead of aiming to eradicate all unnecessary suffering.

So, how is advocacy approached at Eden?

Eden offers several educational programmes: vegan education programmes for non-vegans; clinical programmes that include veganism as a fundamental part of compassion for ourselves and others; and programmes that are specifically designed for individual interns to help them move from personal veganism to animal rights activism.

The people who attend the programmes vary from the enthusiastic and dedicated to the confused and resistant. There is a respectful way to engage with people who are resistant to animal rights; there is something within almost everyone, a sense of justice and an innate compassion that we can appeal to, without compromising other animals by diluting the notion of veganism.

The best education comes from empathizing with those on whose behalf we advocate. If we had the ability to understand them, what advice would they give us? Every time I communicate deeply with one of the residents at Eden, I am confident that they would ask us to be uncompromising in asking for abolitionism. Now.

We have already harmed other animals so badly. Why compromise them any further by our impoverished imaginations or our own lack of confidence in the human capacity to evolve to a more just way of being? If you model reductionism, reductionism is the most you can hope for. Remember that reductionism does not call for an abolition of animal use; it condones using other animals, albeit less frequently. That infrequent use translates into living, feeling, thinking beings who are still regarded as being of lesser value to the reductionist who uses them and who suffer very badly and die because of this view.

The style of advocacy and education that is offered at Eden is patient, gentle, compassionate and respectful to those who attend. This style of engagement sits very comfortably with the abolitionist ethos of the organization. The programmes are successful; with the exception of one young vegetarian, every volunteer and intern who has attended Eden’s residential programme has gone vegan, remained vegan, and most of them also engage in activism educating others. Some people have gone from silent, shy vegans to people who run successful campaigns that recruit others to be vegan and activist at their places of study, their workplaces, and sometimes even in their personal lives (the most difficult context in which to be an activist).

What gives them the backbone to do this work? Time and time again, past interns have reported that it is their connection with the individuals they knew at Eden who have been transformed from the status of property to personhood, such that their personhood becomes visible.

“Before my time at Eden, I understood animals did not deserve the treatment animal agriculture puts them through. I went vegan. But…I did not see them as equals. At Eden, I learned

[that]… the residents are people. They experienced hardship and loss unimaginable to many, and they persevere in their own way. It was when I realized the individual nature of every resident’s existence that I was able to connect with them.

It is because of this connection that I can now say I am vegan for the sake of the animals. Every life I encountered at Eden had a story to tell and one to make. To compromise the possibility of a future for them is unimaginable. These lives—whether they came close to me, like Holly, or kept their distances, like Yoshoda—deserve respect. Their dignity, compassion, and devotion to one another is immeasurable.

I now can put a face to the cause of veganism. I am not vegan for myself, but for Krishna and for Justin and for Ruby; I am vegan for the lives freely thriving at Eden and those put to rest there after battling unimaginable pain and diseases from their use. Nothing is worth their suffering.”

(Sophie, Intern Summer 2015)

If there is something about our advocacy that is not in the animals’ best interests or that is actively limiting justice for them, then let’s change how we advocate. Let’s ask for everything that we would want if we had to swap places with them.

2017-05-18T20:40:41+00:00 September 27th, 2015|