Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
I tend to say – and this is common of many long-time vegans such as ARZone podcast or “chat” guests Ronnie Lee, Kim Stallwood, Lynne Yates, Will Tuttle, and Gary Francione – that being vegan is considerably easier now than it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when all these poor, sickly, malnourished, and half-dead souls went vegan.
Whilst the relative ease of modern-day veganism is undoubtedly true - and applies without a doubt to well-off middle class professionals, many single people, and many others in certain geographical locations - the “veganism is easy” line should be regarded as sociologically rather crude and more than a little naïve given the varied circumstances and social inequalities that exist in all societies. While the "going vegan is easy" slogan has campaigning utility, it should be recognised that such a message can be very disheartening for those who find, for whatever reason, that they are struggling.
This blog entry explores the likely difficulties of vegan parents living with teenagers, young children and/or infants, and looks particularly at two issues that may impact on them and their children’s veganism: junk food advertising and bullying.
Processes of socialisation are core concerns in sociology. Ironically, they are so core that the actual details are often neglected in many sociological accounts. However, most people are aware of the common-sense basics of socialisation: that most children are raised and brought up, first of all, within the confines of their nuclear or extended families and then they gradually become exposed to the norms of the larger community and ultimately, in our globalised age, to the generalised values of the wider world. Sociologists call the type of socialisation we get from our family, primary socialisation, and that which follows, secondary socialisation.
In theory, and speaking in general terms, primary socialisation can be rather limited but also fairly consistent: family members tend to share core beliefs about fundamentals such as religion or political persuasion. However, once children are “liberated” into the wider world and, as some sociologists have put it, “escaped” from their families, they are confronted with a wide(r) range of competing ideas on just about everything one can think of.
What social pressures may bear down on vegan households which have children – and what problems can vegan children face outside of a supportive home environment?
The Power of the Junk Food Ads.
In September 2011, the BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme took a critical look at food advertising aimed at children. In Britain, there have been restrictions in recent years on fast food advertisements aimed at children, especially those found in children’s TV programming. For example, figures suggest that between 2007 and 2009, adverts for fast food aimed at kids were fewer by 40%. At the same time, there are health concerns as one third of British children are judged to be obese.
There are similar obesity estimates in relation to the USA. The limitation of fast food ads aimed at children has been concentrated on dedicated children’s programming, children’s TV channels, and now the internet, comics and online gaming are coming under increased scrutiny. The problem for regulators is that many children watch TV outside of dedicated children’s slots and watch so-called family programming and also programmes produced for adults. The “food” advertised outside of children’s TV slots is mainly for fast foods, salty snacks, and sugared breakfast cereals.
Of course, manufacturers are not passive when regulations are imposed on what they can sell or advertise. For example, since Ireland has had a historically low level of breast feeding of infants, the Irish government attempted to encourage more mothers to breast feed their babies. This included limiting infant formula advertising. Industry responded by inventing two new types of powdered milk, which they carefully labelled “growing up milk” and “follow-on milk” in order to side-step government plans.
Advertisers of junk food likewise circumvent attempts to restrict advertising to children by shifted their ads to adult air time, while still using motifs that are engaging for children, such as “fun and fantasy themes.” Other persuasive techniques include the use of brand characters, licenced characters (e.g. Shrek, The Simpsons, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.), celebrity endorsement, bright colours, and appealing musical jingles. When The Food Programinterviewed young children, they remembered adverts for sweets such as Skittles and Snickers, ads for fast food outlet KFC, and one child said that advertising made her buy the confectionery M&Ms even though she had previously “hated them.”
Jane Landon of the National Heart Forum explained in the BBC programme that marketing works, particularly TV advertising, especially that relying on the “pester power” of kids who nag their parents for what they “want.” Emma Boyland, of the Biopsychology Research Group at the University of Liverpool in the north of England researched how children respond to junk food adverts. There is little research on the effect on children of adverts about healthy foods for kids because not many of such ads exist (a point made by Gary Yourofsky in his well-known college lecture) – when there has been research on the few ads that exist, then they to increase children’s awareness of products such as fruit and vegetables, and also increase children’s willingness to try them. As a general matter, however, studies focused mainly on TV advertising with other sources of influence emerging (youtube and other internet channels, etc.) suggest that children are being targeted with unhealthy age-specific food advertising.
Often the non-TV advertising is “disguised” since younger children have been found to not have the ability to distinguish advertisements from, for example, website content. Children spoke of internet games which have McDonald’s advertising that moves around attracting their attention. They also talked about the influence of fast food advertising when toys are “given away” with meals and linked with the latest cinema releases. One unregulated method of advertising junk food on the web is known as peer-to-peer advertising when children may get points and prizes for forwarding on details to other internet users. Children in particular, but this is also an issue for adults, have been found to be keen on spreading around the news of “what’s cool” on the internet, and some of this information is sent to them to pass around by advertisers.
Tim Lobstein of the International Obesity Taskforce suggests that it is the branded junk foods that bring in the profits and so these are the ones pushed the hardest and most frequently in advertising. He argues that research has now established direct evidence of kids responding to advertisements. He says, for example, that if children see an ad for high fat junk food, then they are likely to consume that food in the next 30 minutes. This is now regarded as an international problem because countries with relatively strict controls, such as Sweden for example, cannot regulate what children see on the internet.
Bullying for "Being Different."
Bullying is the most common form of violence - with cyber bullying cited as a growing modern day problem. Research published by Oliver, Hoover, and Hazier (1994) found that approximately 45% of boys and 30% of girls believed that bullying has an educative purpose. That is, bullying can "teach" the victims about unacceptable behaviour. Moreover, 64% of students surveyed said victims brought teasing on themselves and 61% of students felt bullying helped the victim by making him or her "tougher." In addition, both boys and girls stated that they regarded bullies to have a higher social status than the victims of bullying.
Exploring both sides of the issue, students’ perceptions of why they were bullied or why they themselves bullied others were examined across the sixth, seventh and eighth grades by Swearer & Cary (2003). External attributes, such as “being different,” “being weak,” and “(not) wearing certain branded clothing,” were consistently cited across social classes as reasons youth were bullied. Reasons for bullying given by bullies, victims of bullying, and observers (bystanders) seem remarkably similar.
Worryingly for both vegan parents and vegan children, simply “being different” is often cited as a major reason why people get bullied. Also, for bullies themselves, others’ manner of talking, the clothes they wear, or perceptions of the other as weak,* were cited as reasons for bullying. Victims report being bullied for being different, or for achieving good educational grades, being overweight, or wearing certain clothes. Those not directly involved in bullying reported that students are bullied because they are weak, overweight, different, and wore certain clothes.
There is anecdotal evidence that vegetarian and vegan children are subject to being bullied for this apparent crime of “being different.” A vegan who was a vegetarian at schools reports other schoolchildren throwing “meat” into her vegetarian lunch box, and also being chased around the playground by children threatening to force-feed flesh to her.
Of course, parent-child relationships can suffer if the child suffers at school for the diet and lifestyle “imposed” on her by parents - Eating the flesh of other animals is such a social norm that attempts to reduce access to this “food” can meet resistance. Famously, “celebrity chef” Jamie Oliver tried to “improve” school meals only to find that parents bought junk food and delivered it to their children, passing the rubbish "food" through the school fence in what was dubbed the “junk food run” on the grounds of doing their children a nutritional favour. One “rebel” parent, “Julie,” said, “I started doing this for my kids and a couple of their friends, but every day more and more are wanting us to do the food run.” She added: “We go up at 11 o’clock and take down orders through the fence. Then we go back at 1pm to deliver the food and give them their change. We’re now delivering 50 to 60 meals a day and there are four of us doing it. We’ve no intention of stopping. We don’t make a penny on it, we just want the kids properly fed.They don’t enjoy the school food and the end result is they’re starving.”
With parents as brain-dead as this – those buying on a daily basis cheeseburger and chips, cones of chips, and sausage, chips, peas and a “can of pop” - is it any wonder that their kids may waddle over and bully vegetarian and vegan children?
In her Q&A book, Being Vegan: Living with Conscious, Conviction and Compassion, Joanne Stepaniak addresses the issue of bullying in schools and youth groups. However, in relation to schools, parents report that their children are subject to some degree of bullying from teachers as much as fellow pupils. A vegan parent tells Stepaniak that she gets a very negative response from closed-minded teachers she attempts to educate about veganism, resulting in a “difficult situation” at a school Thanksgiving party. Stepaniak responded by saying that vegan parents should not expect teachers to take much of an interest in the reasons some of their pupils may be vegan; the issue was that the parent needs to ensure that teachers do not allow their children to be picked on for their veganism. Vegan parents need to tell teachers not to allow their children to be bullied, pitied, ridiculed, or shamed because they are vegan: for “being different.”
Another parent reports how her 16-year-old vegan daughter was mocked and insulted by other children at a youth group gathering while the teaching staff just smiled at the incident. The daughter says she will never eat with the group again because of her experience. Stepaniak rightly says that, during teen years, peer group pressure is intense and, at this in people's lives, “it takes guts” to be different. Sociologically, the easiest thing to do is conform and, during teenage years, that may mean conforming to peer group norms and values. Stepaniak suggests that vegan parents have the responsibility to ensure that teachers and youth group leaders fulfil their guardianship role and that includes preventing vegan children from being bullied.
This blog entry has tried to provide some context to those crude "being vegan is easy" slogans which many animal advocates trot out rather unthinkingly from time to time. For those for whom "going vegan" was relatively easy and quick (I include myself in that group since I never had a "vegetarian phase" - thankfully), it may be particularly necessary to sit down and calmly consider the many social pressures - which are real in people's lives - that make going vegan difficult for others perhaps in different and/or less favourable situations.
Those with children, for example, who are daily set upon by advertisers, and may well also draw the attention of bullies - may feel that social pressure rather more than others.
* It is common on internet forums for the accusation to be made that vegans (and vegetarians) are weak and, sometimes, that they are weak and sentimental individuals.
Oliver, R., Hoover, J. H., & Hazier, R. (1994). 'The perceived roles of bullying in small-town Midwestern schools.' Journal of Counseling & Development, 72, 416-420
Swearer, S. M., & Cary, P. T. (2003). 'Perceptions and attitudes toward bullying in middle school youth: A developmental examination across the bully/victim continuum.' Journal of Applied School Psychology, 19(2), 63-79
A Sociological Exploration of Speciesism.
I was wondering about the order, thanks for clarifying, Roger.
I find it interesting to recall the story of how some of these amazing people became vegan. Their stories are all so very different and they all seem to have become vegan for different reasons and in very different ways. Kim's time in a chicken slaughterhouse is interesting to hear about in his recent ARZone podcast [http://arzonepodcasts.blogspot.com/2012/01/arzone-podcast-29-kim-st...], Ronnie started thinking about veganism and vegetarianism because of someone he knew who was vegetarian, and Gary Francione was vegetarian until Ingrid Newkirk pointed out his inconsistencies and hypocrisy whilst emptying out his fridge of animal products.
It's interesting that very few people ARZone have interviewed, if any (I can't think of any, but we have interviewed almost 100 people, so I could easily be mistaken) came to veganism through abolitionist literature and being given a "consistent "unequivocal" vegan message".
I think it's also interesting that Gary Francione is the last of the people you mentioned to become vegan, yet he feels he is responsible for veganism being the "moral baseline" of the animal rights movement, which he rejects being a part of. It seems many more advocates came to realise this before he did, which makes his claims kinda odd.
Thanks for mentioning that. I think it's very important to make it clear that the Francionists describe themselves as being opposed to the animal rights movement, and believe themselves to be their own little countermovement.
I think it's important for us all to remember that the Francionists believe that the existing movement is beyond education, that any individual who see themselves as part of it is a lost cause who is "morally confused," "vile," and working "in partnership" with the animal user industries.
They seem to be certain that they have the best message, but, for some reason their message continues to be ignored, so they blame the audience, rather than reassessing their message. They also seem to delude themselves that, by some form of magic yet to be explained, there is a public audience that "gets" the Francione abolitionist message while other vegans are incapable of understanding it.
On your other point, I think that advocates such as Tom Regan, Kim Stallwood, Ingrid Newkirk and yourself were asking for veganism to be a requirement from those who advocate for other animals quite some time before Prof. Francione decided to take credit for being the saviour of others by dreaming up such a concept. But, you will obviously know a load more about that than me. I tend to find it offensive when others take too much credit for too little work.
Roger Yates said:
I’d argue that even though Francione was the last to go vegan in terms of the others listed, he still deserves a good deal of credit for helping to establish veganism as the moral baseline of the animal advocacy movement.
Of course there is an irony here in that Francione and his core group currently declare themselves to be completely apart from the existing movement and indeed opposed to it because scummy “welfarists” (like you and I and all supporters of the “vile” ARZone) cannot be educated. They are effective operating as a separatist countermovement mobilisation to the existing animal advocacy movement, not interested in educating those who they suggest cannot be educated – and that means every single existing animal advocate except the 30 “abolitionists” they recognise as abolitionists. They current charge ARZone with being in a partnership with the animal user industries, that is how dislocated they have become.
The general issue was highlighted in Kim Stallwood’s podcast, I think, in the sense that Kim pointed out that there was a vegan base to the movement before Francione was even part of it but it was a latent vegan base, and vegan claims-making certainly was not the usual thing for campaigners in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I perceive a generation gap here in the sense that veganism is so central now for younger advocates that they can hardly imagine a time when the “v-word” was hardly ever mentioned in campaigning organisations.
I would agree with almost everything you have said here. I think what you have said is extremely important, and I think it's vitally important for other advocates to understand the points you have made and the reasons you have made them.
I think it's very important to understand that this small group of people feel bitter hatred for the current animal advocacy community, and wish to destroy us - all of us. But, I also think it's important to remember that they are just that, a small (smaller every day) group of people, who fail to make any attempt to understand how to educate others and to create more vegans in the real world.
"As suggested, the Francione-style of abolition needs to have no care about hurting those it criticises because those it criticises are constructed as "other" and, moreover, an oppositional other."
I think that any person or group of people who honestly have no care about hurting others, any others, for any reason, and in fact have been known to gloat about hurting others, need to seriously consider what their goals and methodology is, and why they are doing what they're doing. I find it odd that these people would claim so fanatically to be THE saviours of others and against all isms, but happy to "otherise" those they cannot control.
I think the current movement has begun to leave this group behind, and I think it's time to move on and get on with the job, without feeling we need to answer to any countemovement or opposition who are out to destroy or control us.
Roger Yates said:
I think it is necessary for us to understand that the Francione-style abolitionists would not see themselves as opposed to the animal rights movement but to the existing movement which is welfarist-based. The issue is that they do not regard other animal advocates to be animal rightists - just as they do not recognise anyone other than in their small group as abolitionists.
In their view, when one is not "one of them," then one is an animal welfarist working against animal rights. I think that is why they believe they have no responsibility to conduct themselves politely when talking to, or about, the existing movement. Just listen to the hatred in Elizabeth Collins' voice as she describes others she sees as not abolitionist. Even vegans from birth may be attacked by this 2007 vegan. The Francione-style abolitionists have a model in their heads derived from Francione's writings which they impose on others who cannot be abolitionist if they deviate to any degree from Francionian structures.
This model dictates that animal welfarists (the rest of the world) are not vegan or, if they are vegan, do not promote veganism or, if they promote veganism, do not do it in a way that satisfies their model. Therefore, even other vegan advocates are, in their minds, consistently acting against veganism and abolition. For example, others "promote" welfare or welfarists (the charge against ARZone) and support initiative such as Meet-free Mondays and single-issue campaigns - and violence.
The definition of all these things is imposed by Francione, so there is no escape. Whether anyone recognises themselves in terms of this model does not matter.
I have written and taught quite a bit on the relationship between social movements and their countermovements including, of course, within the sphere of animal advocacy. Sociologists have a fancy term for this relationship, the "movement-countermovement dialectic."
In the Alice in Wonderland world of the Francione-style abolitionists, organisations like ARZone work in a partnership with animal exploitation industries - this is because we "promote" animal welfarists who may actually do that. We do not invite guests to ARZone and then question them, we "promote" them. There is no doubt about this in their minds because they have their model to rely on and, anyway, in this case, Francione has said it of ARZone. He has also suggested that we are not animal advocates but "so-called animal advocates."
As suggested, the Francione-style of abolition needs to have no care about hurting those it criticises because those it criticises are constructed as "other" and, moreover, an oppositional other.
In their construction of the world, since ARZone and all other "so-called animal advocates" are partnering animal exploitation, only they stand for animal rights, "proper" veganism, and abolition. They stand aside from the existing compromised and corrupted animal movement and act as its countermovement. In their minds, we are glued to the animal exploitation business, locked in some partnership, and only they are the saviours of other animals. In their minds, we are part of the countermovement to their animal rights movement.
They do not want to change or educate the existing movement - that's ARZone's bag - they want to harm and destroy it as "The Abolitionist Movement" grows from strength to strength.
How will it grow from strength to strength? Here we have more Wonderland moments because the Francione-style abolitionists suggest that existing vegans in the existing animal movement are not allies or potential allies - they are enemies lost in a World of Welfare from which there is no escape. Therefore, there is no point in talking to the existing vegans who are corrupted by the welfarist bug. No, their unstoppable global Abolitionist Movement will spring forth from... wait for it... the meat-eating general public who, they say, they can more easily talk to than existing vegans and, moreover, more fully "get" the Francione-style abolitionist message.
And so, this explains their closed groups on FB and elsewhere. Their fear must be that any vegans they create will somehow "leak" into the animal welfare movement. Hell, some of them may become so lost that they'll join ARZone and then they are "gone" forever.
I think what members of the existing animal movement need to appreciate, whatever you call yourself or stand for - that is irrelevant - is that the Francione-style abolitionists mean to do your movement harm. They are a separatist countermovement out to injure your movement as much as they can. They think that you are a "lost cause" because you are embedded into the welfarist movement from which, apparently, there is little hope of escape into the world of "real" animal advocates - meaning the 50 or so of them.