David Swanson argues that veganism has been given a bad rap on the left and that the movement could be a key contributor in the fight to save the planet – and change society.
The topic of veganism continues to divide the left and prompt debate. Often associated with twee liberals and pacifists wheeling their trolleys around the local Waitrose, a narrative has emerged that it is closely associated with a privileged lifestyle.
Elements of the mainstream media and animal agriculture industry are happy to accept and promote this description in an attempt to smear the movement. This has resulted in the true meaning of veganism becoming confused and distorted. In one of the biggest injustices of our time, an ever-accelerating revolution is being overlooked and shunned even within our own quarters of the radical left.
Vegan activists are tirelessly exposing the internal flaws that capitalism is renowned for. The movement is entirely compatible and indeed moulded on the principles of socialism. Campaigning to take control of a corrupt industry which maximises profit over ordinary lives is a fundamental ethos. Agitating to liberate those who fall victim to an exploitation ladder moulded by economic influence: everyday practice. By directly challenging the integrated custom that some lives are more important than others, veganism aligns itself with radical campaigns throughout history.
The most well-known aspect of veganism is the rejection of meat and other animal products. This in itself is a revolutionary act, in more ways than is often realised. Most obviously, it highlights that animals are treated as commodities raised and slaughtered for cash. By refusing to open their wallets to support this industry, vegans aim to kill corrupt profits and encourage consciousness that animals are also living inhabitants of the earth who have as much right to freedom as we do.
However, the rejection of these products has other aims which epitomise socialist values. Those of us on the radical left publicly agitate against the inequalities of global food distribution. Boycotting the animal agriculture industry is one of the most stable methods to do this. To use a compelling example, it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. When placed in the context of capitalist society, this statistic becomes a frightening and nauseating reality. If all the grain currently fed to livestock in Europe was made available for human consumption, it could feed over 800 million people. In a world where 20 million die of malnutrition, an animal agriculture industry propped up by capitalism has literal blood on its hands. By readily making plant sources reserved for the animal agriculture industry available to humans, world hunger would become history.
Whilst these arguments alone should convince socialists of veganism’s legitimacy, there are many other aspects of the movement which are drawn from radical tendencies. In one of the most appealing ongoing traits, activists continually enter land owned by farms and corporations to document and film the unethical practices of the industry. This showcases an ongoing element of leftist agitation: the abolition of private property.
One of the main principles of socialism is that the land and means of production belong to the people, not to our present occupiers. The animal agriculture industry throws this issue into very public view. Backed by wealthy billionaires and a state police, a small group of capitalists exploit workers and animals on plots of land which should rightfully belong to the ordinary citizen. Vegans are slandered publicly by farmers and labelled as trespassers, highlighting the capitalist nature of the animal agriculture industry. Some face criminalisation for daring to challenge these outdated norms. It is the duty of the radical left to warmly embrace this struggle and to aid it accordingly.
Perhaps the most common slander of veganism is that it simply focuses on the liberation of animals whilst ignoring human suffering and exploitation. This issue should be addressed. An animal agriculture industry rooted in capitalist thought preys on the weakest and most vulnerable of society to complete its objectives. To use a current example, slaughterhouse workers around the world are often resettled refugees of poor economic status. Fleeing from war-torn countries ravaged by Western imperialism, they are exploited by the very national immigration offices which destroyed their homeland. They use their situation as a bargaining chip; a pass into the western world is often subject to filling the void of an industry which many national citizens refuse to partake in. This results in very little negotiating power; freezing environments and desperately poor working conditions produce many injuries and higher levels of PTSD as a percentage than those serving in national militaries. Through these actions, animal agriculture highlights an integral pre-requisite of capitalism. Non-workers steal the produce of all labouring classes and insist that they are the rightful inheritor of wealth. Vegans strive to abolish this inherent flaw in society. Liberation of all species remains a primary demand.
More still, the damaging effects that the animal agriculture industry imposes on the environment has the potential to drastically alter life as we know it. Two acres of rainforest are cleared every day to sustain the demand for animal products, a process which has seen 91% of the Amazon rainforest destroyed. A meat eater needs 18 times more land than a vegan. In perhaps one of the most frightening statistics, overinflated livestock breeding programs are responsible for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If these sobering statistics remain unchecked, they will contribute towards the destruction of our planet. Projections show that in the next forty years alone, climate change will produce over 150 million refugees. We must respond now to prevent this. As animal agriculture is the leading contributor, we should embrace the campaign to boycott it by creating a united front with the vegan community. The message is clear: vegans realise that a society of individuals cannot fight climate change, we must collectively organise. Instead of internally squabbling, we should unite to protest against those most responsible. This process will not only show solidarity with our more vulnerable international brothers and sisters in the battle to protect their indigenous communities, but strike directly against the divisions that neoliberalism has enforced upon our society.
In short, veganism is not only compatible with the left but also firmly rooted in socialist principles. It should be embraced and encouraged as many of the issues within the movement naturally align with ongoing campaigns. Far from a campaign of privileged ideologues, this radical, ever-accelerating movement is continually striking at the heart of capitalism. The emancipation of humankind and the battle for socialism remains unfinished business, but the radical left can find a trusty ally and companion in the vegan community. Through education, agitation and organisation we can create a better world in which everyone, human or otherwise, has equal opportunity to flourish.