For many, the battle for animal rights is a matter of what we choose to consume. Reducing or eliminating meat and other animal products is seen as the key to animal liberation. It’s not a surprising way of seeing things, one which reflects the universal rise of consumerism and a neoliberal culture in which people see themselves as part of economic rather than political systems. It’s a culture our demography helped build, with explosive world population growth and rising inequality ensuring the average person would have little impact on politics - ushering them instead towards markets. Many of the funders behind animal rights have pushed activists in this direction because they are investing in alternative protein companies.
Seeing animal liberation as consumerism is fairly new, and a stark redirection from earlier and more comprehensive views - like ecocentrism - that tied nonhuman and human autonomy together, focusing on things like small family policies and rewilding to achieve liberation rather than just consumption.
Could vegans pivot towards these broader forms of intersectional liberation? The community may have to, just to remain effective.
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Recent studies show that smaller families have an exponentially greater impact on the climate crisis - the largest threat to nonhumans - than dietary change. Moreover, buying veggie burgers does little to honor the intersectional nature of justice, whereas family reforms that promote birth and developmental equity for all children - redistributing wealth from birth privileged white kids to impoverished black kids - does. Finally, some are starting to call funders and investors out for claiming to help animals and the environment while pursuing less impactful tactics - like a pure focus on diet - because they make money on those tactics. If only a small percentage of people born will be vegan consumers, then animal freedom starts with family planning. Watching humanity overrun and drive nonhumans into extinction, while profiting from converting some of that wave to veganism, has little to do with true animal rights.
We may not be able to make mad profits by investing more in family planning and kids, but if that’s what liberates animals and we see ourselves as animal liberationists it is what we must do.
Is there a practical way forward for vegans who want to do more than changing the way they consume? Embracing and espousing a universal ethic - an ecocentric ethic - of smaller families is a good start. That move can help reverse the demographic trends that pushed the average person out of politics and restore a level of empowerment where we see ourselves as capable citizens rather than simply as consumers. That reversal and restoration can be catalyzed if vegans embrace a discourse where family planning incentives and entitlements are seen as overriding property claims because the former are existential and precede property.
Vegans are at a fork in the road, but the crises that will push them towards ecocentrism will also enable them to do what they desire - truly free animals.