Gary Francione Responds

Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have an interviewee contact us after an episode and extend The Conversation further. Gary sent me this note in response to the discussion Neil and I had at the conclusion of his interview. –Aengus

First, I maintain that being vegan is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being nonviolent. That is, we cannot claim to embrace nonviolence but continue to consume animal products, which necessarily involve violence, given that our best justification for doing so is that they taste good. There is no other compulsion or necessity. We certainly do not need animal foods for optimal health. Therefore, we cannot consistently claim to embrace nonviolence at the same time that we are participating directly in the unjustifiable suffering and death of sentient beings. Yes, there are other things that we should do to live a nonviolent life. But veganism is certainly the least we can do given that consuming animal products cannot be justified.

Second, as to the impossibility of living a perfect nonviolent life: I never denied that. Indeed, it would be absurd to do so. The most conscientious practitioner of nonviolence necessarily causes some harm. The point is that if we take nonviolence seriously, there’s a great deal of harm we could avoid with relatively little or no inconvenience to ourselves. So I was not proposing any “purity” with respect to nonviolence. I was simply saying that not being able to live a nonviolent life perfectly does not justify continuing to engage in violence that is easily avoided.

Third, although Jainism and other spiritual traditions inform my thinking about nonviolence, so do other things, such as moral realism. In any event, my theory about animal rights has never relied on any notions other than traditional philosophical concepts. Most of us accept that, other things being equal, the fact that an action results in the suffering or death of a human or nonhuman counts against that action for moral purposes. The imposition of suffering or death on a sentient being requires a justification and whatever else may suffice, pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot suffice. To the extent that we do accept this basic moral idea—and, again, I think most of us do—we are committed to veganism.

Fourth, the idea that being “pragmatic” requires that we regard veganism as too “abstract” or “impractical,” and that we have to accept some utilitarian thinking and, perhaps, aim for better conditions for animals, misses the point. Because animals are property, human interests will always outweigh animal interests and animal welfare standards will, as a result, always remain low. That is, animals are chattel property and have only an economic value. It costs money to protect their interests and we generally do that only when we get an economic benefit. This ensures that welfare standards are always low and generally linked to the level of protection necessary to exploit animals in an economically efficient way. Think about it: we have had animal welfare for 200 years now and we are exploiting more animals in more horrific ways than at any time in human history. So I would regard the utilitarian approach as profoundly unpragmatic!

Fifth, “tipping point” studies indicate that we need only to get about 10% of the population to accept veganism as a moral baseline before that belief becomes widely accepted in the society. When we consider this, along with the undisputable facts that animal agriculture is destroying the environment and is detrimental to human health, promoting veganism as a moral baseline is most pragmatic.

Sixth, both of you seem to assume that going vegan is difficult. On the contrary, it’s extremely easy and far less expensive than a diet involving animal foods. A minute—literally—on the Internet will produce thousands of healthy, inexpensive, and easy recipes.

So Aengus, Neil: are you vegan yet?

If not, it’s because you don’t want to be, and not because there’s any inherent difficulty in consuming a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts, or because there’s any tension between theory or practice, or because going vegan requires that you accept a “pure” version of nonviolence.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Professor of Law
& Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Distinguished Scholar of Law and Philosophy
Rutgers University School of Law
Gary L. Francione