“How can I be an effective advocate for veganism?”

This is always a very difficult question to answer, because there is no one method which is guaranteed to work for everyone, or even for the majority of people. I am by no means an expert on this and there is no real research data to draw on in terms of why people went vegan and whether or not they were persuaded by a particular approach, so all I can really do is draw from their own experience and advise on that basis. I don’t claim to be any authority on this, but I can tell you from experience that these things are effective.

Remember that most people already agree with us. I think that the first truth to acknowledge when you’re trying to be an effective advocate is that most people are at least in partial agreement with us about the fundamental principles of veganism. The vast majority of people do believe that animals should never be harmed unnecessarily, the issue is that they don’t apply that logic to eating animals or make the connection that if we don’t need to consume animals, then any harm caused to them so that we can eat them is by definition unnecessary.

Establishing the fact that most people don’t need to eat animals is therefore one of the first steps, luckily there is a wealth of research available to prove that beyond reasonable doubt. Further to this is that many people just don’t apply normal ethical reasoning to their food in the way they do about any other purchase, so it is necessary to remind people that food choices are subject to the same ethics as anything else we consume.

Try to relate to people. I have always found that by the time someone has a conversation with a vegan, they have already made vegans very “other” in their minds. They imagine that vegans are very different to them, that they have some special quality which allows these strange people to be vegan but which they themselves somehow lack. Usually this is what is behind those “I really respect your discipline” or “you must really love animals” statements; they’re not compliments so much as re-enforcement of the idea that we are different than they are in some key way, and therefore that’s why we’re vegan and they’re not.

Relating to non-vegans is therefore incredibly important, and we must work very hard not to give them more reason to believe that we are somehow just better, or more disciplined than they are, or that we love animals more than anyone else. When they talk about how much they used to eat meat, tell them that you did too, tell them how you were convinced you could never give up cheese too, but what happened when you did and why you decided to.

People respond to stories more than stats. In terms of methods, I find that people respond to narrative far more than they respond to statistics. Telling someone how you went vegan, what that was like and how it makes you feel to be vegan is generally far more effective than telling them how cruel they are. Stories of farmed animals really tend to resonate with people; things like rescued animal stories, or the lives of specific animals and what they endure when they are being farmed or slaughtered can be very effective.

Sixty billion land animals slaughtered per year is a hard figure to even grasp, and even harder to empathise with, whereas Lucy who was rescued from an egg farm and is walking on grass for the first time is easier to feel emotionally connected to. Draw on those existing stories, one of the key reasons people cite for not going vegan is that it won’t make a difference, but these remarkable animals in sanctuaries, or even those who didn’t make it out, are living proof of the consequences of our choices.

Don’t assume that people don’t already know. I find that many advocates tend to assume too little of the knowledge of the people they’re talking to. When you first find out about animal suffering, your first instinct is that if you can just tell everyone about this thing that you learned, they’ll have the same response as you did and they’ll be so horrified that they’ll want to go vegan.

The truth is though that everyone makes the connection for different reasons, and what you were utterly horrified by may have no impact on someone else, or they may already know. People generally know far more about how animals suffer in the meat, dairy and egg industries than they like to admit, so often you’re not actually telling them something new.

Jonathan Safran Foer once said that whenever he told anyone he was writing a book about eating animals, people always assumed it was a book about vegetarianism, which is deeply revealing, and he concluded from that assumption that people already know that any in-depth look into how our food is produced will inevitably end up making the case for vegetarianism or veganism. It’s like that knowledge is already there, somewhere, disavowed and hidden from ourselves.

This will resonate with many of us who have given up animal products, we often think to ourselves, how could I have ever not known? The truth is, we probably all at least suspected it, we just didn’t let ourselves know these truths we knew would force us to re-evaluate our lives and our choices.

Don’t assume bad intent. When people engage with your posts, talk to you personally or start an online conversation, one of the fastest way to stop a potential conversation dead in it’s track is to assume bad intent. People don’t usually comment on vegan posts just to troll them, people don’t usually approach protesters or question vegans over dinner just to antagonise them, they often feel attacked, are questioning their own morals or are trying to justify the fact that they don’t believe what you do. Even when someone is rude and aggressive, more often than not they sincerely believe that what they are saying is ethically the right thing.

It isn’t always obvious, but these are advocacy opportunities. It is so tempting to believe that because our “side” is so obviously right that we don’t need to defend our position, and that anyone who disagrees with us must be a bad person. But try to remember that many non-vegans feel exactly the same way as we do, that it is so obvious that there is nothing wrong with eating animals, sometimes that means they respond to our advocacy with mockery or derision, because they just cannot understand how we arrived at our position, just as we can’t understand how they arrived at theirs. It is our job as advocates to breach that divide and help them understand.

Help them connect their actions to the harm being caused. However you get their attention, the real difficulty is getting people to go from admitting that this is wrong, to realising that they should go vegan. It is such a strange phenomenon, but people can view footage of a pig being slaughtered, be horrified and saddened by it, but never for a second think that they are in any way responsible for it. Either they believe that this is something happening far away, or a long time ago, or they assume it is an isolated case of animal cruelty and that the bacon they eat couldn’t have possibly been produced in this way.

This is why obtaining up to date footage and facts from the country you are advocating in is so important, it means you can say to people that this is happening here, right now, in our country and it is happening all the time. Earthlings is powerful stuff, but it’s very easy to dismiss it as being old, or something that just happens in America. It’s worth mentioning here that almost every country thinks their animal welfare is significantly better than anyone else’s, so people will always assume that whatever is happening in that clip would never happen where they are.

So ask them, what do they believe in? How did they arrive at the conclusions they’ve arrived at? Why do they feel it is justified to eat animals? Should they be treated a certain way? Why? Is there any animal rights issue they do care about? Seaworld, poaching, chick culling, eating dogs? If they care about these, what is the difference between those things and eating pigs? Is that distinction a legitimate one? If you can lead someone to their own conclusions by tracing out their logic, they’ll be much less resistant than they are when they’re just told what they should believe.

Be patient. While you’re engaged in these conversations, be mindful of your tone and how you’re putting yourself forward. It is sometimes incredibly difficult to maintain your cool when someone is expressing harmful views or is being rude to you, but I can’t tell you the amount of times someone has messaged me with something abusive, I’ve responded with manners, questions and offers of resources, and the tone of the conversation has completely changed. People tend to mirror the person they’re speaking with, and it is surprisingly difficult to be cruel to someone who is being kind to you.

Don’t escalate, don’t resort to personal attacks and don’t simply try to “win” the argument by putting the person down with some witty but hurtful one-liner. Our goal shouldn’t be to shut people down, but open them up. It is completely understandable to lose your cool when dealing with such an emotive issue, and by rights we shouldn’t have to tone police ourselves when speaking up on behalf of animals, it should be perfectly legitimate for us to be upset. While it is understandable to behave that way, patience is much more effective. This is easier said than done, and it is something I am continually having to work on myself, but it is up to us to set the tone of these conversations since we are the ones with something to prove.

Be sceptical of our arguments as well as theirs. The “fake news” of the right is discussed often, but less so the fact that this can be a real problem in socially progressive movements as well. There are a whole range of false claims put forward by the vegan community, from the idea that you can’t be fat on a vegan diet and it will solve all of your health problems to dairy making the blood acidic or “causing autism.”

As a general rule if you can’t source it you shouldn’t say it, and no one has ever been able to show me any credible evidence that this is a real term that that the dairy industry uses. Animal agriculture industries spend millions of dollars on propaganda and trying to discredit vegan arguments, so we need to have our claims accurate and properly sourced. This is why we should avoid saying “all” when it comes to the treatment animals endure, as there are always exceptions, and if they can show you even one then your argument falls apart. Nothing will turn someone off what you are saying faster than them being able to find out that one of your claims isn’t true just from a quick google search.

Don’t shame people. In terms of what doesn’t work, I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone effectively “shamed” into going vegan. Calling people out on their behaviour and holding them to account isn’t the same as shaming them, but offering condemnation with no advice, help or alternatives will only make people bitter towards veganism. You can win the argument, everyone will like and share it and you’ll feel great, but what you’ll have created is someone who is wrong but will never go vegan. The key is to show them what they’re doing is wrong, why they should stop, then how to stop.

If you just hit step one and skip the rest then you just end up with someone who is angry and possibly ashamed, but is not changing their behaviour. Sometimes it is a case of treating people in a way that is most likely to result in them being vegan, rather than treating them in a way you think they deserve. That is not to say that we have to be super nice to everyone all the time, and there is a genuine place for anger and passion in activism, but it has to be applied intelligently, rather than just hurling abuse at people without any real argument being made. We have to be honest with people about the fact that we think what they’re doing is wrong, but also acknowledge that we used to do it too, and offer them help on how to set it right.

Have difficult conversations. On that point, and I cannot emphasise this enough, if you want to be an effective advocate you must be willing to have difficult conversations with people who disagree with you, and maybe even people who are unkind to you. That sounds obvious, but our online world is now almost wholly made up of echo chambers, and it’s really easy to find reasons to just shut someone down and refuse to engage with them because they have caused us offence. Regardless of the fact that you find the views of these people abhorrent, if you don’t listen to what these views are, you will never be able to dissect them and effectively argue against them.

This isn’t to say that you should waste your time on people who will never listen to you in return, or will personally attack and abuse you, but we cannot dismiss people out of hand solely on the basis that they think it’s okay to consume animals, at least not if we expect them to ever change. End a conversation which is going nowhere by all means, but make sure they know that if in a week, a month or a year they changed their minds, they could come to you and you’d still help them out.

Accept that you can’t win them all. A final thing to keep in mind is that you just cannot allow yourself to take it personally when people will not go vegan. You can have all the best arguments, offer extensive resources and be polite and thoughtful during the entire exchange, yet still get told to fuck off. Some people just aren’t ready for the message yet at this point in their lives, and no amount of arguing with them is going to change that.

As advocates we need to be able pick our battles, and not allow ourselves to become jaded and bitter by using up all our energy on people who don’t care about animal suffering and won’t listen to anything we have to say. You will burn yourself out if you fight every fight and try to shoulder responsibility for every person you speak to who doesn’t go vegan because of your arguments. The truth is that you can’t “make” anyone go vegan, all you can really do is plant seeds, offer your help and hope for the best.

So keep trying, keep advocating for animals and above all try to remember what it was like when you weren’t vegan. When people are unkind to you or express views you find abhorrent, it is so tempting to respond with righteous indignation, and it’s a trap I’ve fallen into myself on many occasions. But we have to remember that it isn’t about us or our pride, it isn’t about being right, it’s about what is most likely to help them go vegan. Be the kind of vegan you would have wanted to meet when you weren’t one, and offer the kind of help that you wish someone would have given you.

Ask questions. Once you do have their attention, ask questions rather than making assumptions about what they behave and why. Asking questions helps people feel heard, and it helps establish where your values are similar, and where they are different, giving you a framework for constructive dialogue. It also gives the other person in the conversation permission to ask you questions in turn, and learn more about animal rights.

“How can I get involved in vegan activism?”

Becoming an activist is an obvious next step for any vegan, since once you come to terms with the atrocities committed against animals it is only natural that you should want to oppose it in any way that you can. Trying to convince your friends and family to go vegan is usually where people start, but once you decide you want to take that advocacy to the general public it can be a little-more difficult to know how to get started.

I think the first step is to establish what is already going on in your area. Facebook is a good place to start, any active group will usually have a facebook page, so trying to search for animal rights events locally or within short travel distance will usually show you events run by local groups. Message the group admin or request to join, and just see what is happening and how you can support it. Animal rights groups usually have plenty of members but not enough people who are active at events and protests, so they are usually really keen to get new members on board and involved in events. Going to these can be a great way to make new friends, and will also yield more contacts in the animal rights community in your area, it’s just about getting your foot in the door and the rest is very easy.

If you can’t find a suitable group in your area, you can always start your own. This doesn’t need to be done by some official process, just find some like minded individuals and start with something small. The Earthlings Experience is a really popular route and is very effective, there are innovative methods like offering free vegan baked goods for people who will watch a short clip (so long as you warn them if it’s graphic) otherwise you can try more traditional methods like signposting and leafleting. You can request leaflets from the bigger animal rights groups, and they’ll usually send them free if it’s for an event.

There are many other options, but these all have the advantage of being activities that you perform in very small groups. I would caution against doing these alone however, while it’s rare for people to become the general public to genuinely aggressive towards protesters and activists it still does happen, but it’s much less likely if you’re in a group and you’re advocating in a public space.

Whether you’re planning on starting your own group or joining another, it’s best to try out different methods and different areas of activism. There are a whole range of things you can become involved with, whether it’s Pig Save vigil events outside slaughterhouses, public outreach, marches, protests or hunt sabotage events. If you want to get involved with the larger, national protests, you can do some fundraising in your local area to pay for travelling expenses or placards, and you can usually organise carpooling with local groups as well. There are humanitarian activities you can get involved with too, many AR groups organise things like outreach among the homeless, preparing and giving out plant based food to local shelters or homeless people directly.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be on the streets and in protests to be an effective advocate. If you can’t find a local group, you have some anxiety about public events or you are just introverted and more inclined towards writing than marching, then online activism can be just as effective. Social media is incredibly important for raising awareness and shaping public opinion, and since vegans are so outnumbered every online advocate we can get is a good thing. Starting a blog or a facebook page is a good step, just keep creating original content and connecting with others online and you’ll see your audience and reach grow over time so long as you keep working at it.

If you’re going to become involved with online activism, I’d recommend looking at what other bloggers/websites are doing and finding a “niche” which fits your skills. My background is in philosophy, so my approach has always been advocate veganism using philosophy and reason, but you might choose create more emotive content, persuasive arguments, a science focus, environmentalism, purely questions and answers, humour, satire, art, creative writing, veganism mixed in with film or popular culture, or a mix of everything.

The possibilities are endless and there are plenty of things that no one is doing yet, you could quite easily carve out a unique place online and have a real impact. If need some help getting started or you’re a new blogger or have made a website and want me to boost a particular post of yours then I’m happy to do it, so long I agree with the content.

Whatever kind of person you are you can be an activist, no matter your strengths, weaknesses, disposition or interests, you can turn it into a form of advocacy if you are creative with it. Small groups of writers, artists and activists are the people who have shaped our world for the better, and we can do the same by advocating veganism and spreading facts, hope and compassion. There are too few of us and too many animals suffering for us to remain silent, we all have our part to play and we can all have an impact, on animals, and the planet and on each other. If you need any help or resources then feel free to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to support you in any way I can.

“How do I keep calm while advocating?”

We are all familiar with the “sensitive” or “angry” vegan stereotype, and that can be good enough reason on it’s own to try not to fall into the trap of becoming too aggressive or visibly angry while arguing. There is a real place for passion and emotion in advocacy, but it has to be channelled in the right way, and becoming aggressive with those you are trying to advocate to is seldom an effective method of advocating veganism and animal rights.

It’s important to acknowledge first of all, that despite instance to the contrary by those who claim to value logic, becoming emotional in an argument does not mean you have lost. That you make your point with emotion or even anger has no impact whatsoever on the validity of your argument. It is natural that for us animal rights is a deeply emotional issue, we understand how high the stakes are, whereas those we are debating with seldom do, for them the topic is often merely an academic one.

That people often dismiss emotional arguments out of hand is the reason that many of us choose to try to stay calm in our advocacy, not because arguing emotionally is any less valid or understandable. Being calm in a debate can often be the difference between it being a slanging match and a constructive conversation, and it helps protect the advocate from being upset and wasting their energy on conversations which will not have any impact.

Remember that you weren’t always vegan. The longer you’ve been vegan, the easier it is to forget what it was like when you weren’t. Try to keep in mind that you likely held the same views you find appalling now, and that people who consume animal products don’t do so because they want to be bad people, they were raised that way and it is not easy to admit you are wrong and make such a dramatic change.

That doesn’t mean we should be any less insistent about the fact that going vegan is the right thing to do, but it does mean that we need to show a little understanding to those who are in a different stage of their journey than we are. It also doesn’t hurt to remind the person you’re talking to that you used to be like them, and you used to think you could never give up meat or dairy, but then you did, and you can use that opportunity to tell them why.

It’s still a person you’re talking to, not a representation of the global evil of animal agriculture, just someone who doesn’t know any better, or does and hasn’t acted on it. It’s your job to make them understand, not to make them hate themselves. Breaking the world into “us and them” is simplistic and ineffective, it is easy and satisfying to distance ourselves from and even attack the “other”, but it is a much braver thing to acknowledge the fact that we used to be exactly the same way, and maybe these people are not as different to us as we like to tell ourselves.

Find common ground. In conversations related to animal rights, both sides of an argument may agree, for example, that animals shouldn’t be harmed unnecessarily. These common principles can help conversations remain calm and avoid them escalating into anger in the first place. If conversations begin to descend into personal attacks, try to draw them back to the points you agree on and, and build up from there. Starting conversations with things like “okay, so we agree animals shouldn’t be harmed unnecessarily, so you do you think that harming animals to produce meat is necessary?” is less likely to result in a confrontation than “you hurt animals unnecessarily”, even though the implication is identical in both cases.

People become defensive when they feel like they  are being accused of being a bad person, because despite what anyone says, we all care about how we are viewed, we are hard wired with the desire for social approval. Keeping conversations centred around what you share and then figuring out how to breach the gaps in where you differ is generally far more effective than starting with what you disagree on.

Remember that you know what you’re talking about. For the same reasons that we are emotionally invested in the topic at hand, we also tend to be better informed. The person who cares about a given topic has almost always done more research on it, and since we are used to the exact same arguments being made over and over, we will usually have counters readily available to most of the points being made against veganism.

This is especially true when it comes to the general public, while people know far more about how animals are treated than they like to admit, most people avoid finding out or particularly witnessing these truths for themselves, for fairly obvious reasons. Even those involved in the industry themselves like farmers or slaughterhouse workers tend to have a surprising lack of knowledge about any area of agriculture outside of their own profession, or their own specific role in that profession. This confidence can help you keep your cool, knowing that in any debate about veganism and animal agriculture, you will usually know more than the person you are debating.

Keep the conversation focused. One of the easiest ways to become frustrated in a debate is to allow the person you’re debating with to lead the discussion. If once you’ve disproved someone’s point or sufficiently countered an argument they just immediately move on to the next point without conceding, then you will never get them to admit that they are wrong. Do not allow people to sidetrack, or simply overwhelm you with too many points to answer all at once. Pin the person down to a specific premise or argument they have made, if they are arguing that we need animal products to survive, do not allow the conversation to move on until you have sufficiently proved that we do not.

This doesn’t have to be aggressive, but phrases like “before we move on, your original point was that humans need to consume animal products, do you we agree now that at least most people can survive without animal products?” If they still won’t agree, stay on that topic, even if you never move past it. If you allow them to simply blow past any point without conceding it then you will never pin them down to making any concessions, you will not make any progress, and you will likely become frustrated in the process.

Avoid antagonistic language. Despite the reputation vegans have for being sensitive, anyone who has ever debated with meat eaters will know how quickly people can become agitated and aggressive. Sometimes there is little you can do about this, but there are particular words and phrases vegans use which can set people off. I’ve discussed my aversion to holocaust comparisons before, but regardless of what you think about them it cannot be denied that they make people angry and tend to escalate conversations into conflict.

The same is true of using the word “carnist,” while this is a really useful descriptor for the belief system behind meat eating and is not at all a slur, we all know that it is often used as if it is in conversations with meat eaters. Most people don’t know what this term means and simply interpret it as an insult, so use it in your conversations with vegans, but I’d recommend avoiding it when debating with meat eaters, unless you are fully explaining what you mean by it or exploring the beliefs involved with carnism and how they compare with veganism.

There are plenty of other examples, and while some these terms are often perfectly accurate and legitimate, if their only impact is to sidetrack conversations into debates over semantics then they are not helpful for the purpose of advocacy.

Attack the argument, not the person. That someone holds an argument you believe to be wrong does not make them stupid, nor does it necessarily make them a bad person. Try not to let your responses become comments about that person, but  solely focus on the argument, as if it has been presented before both of you from a third party for you to dissect.

Look at the premises and the conclusions, figure out if the argument is good and if it works, it isn’t about you being right and them being wrong, what matters is whether their arguments and their conclusions are wrong. This can keep you focused on the topic at hand, and avoid the temptation to take any counter-points personally, or to resort to personal insults.

Deescalate when necessary. Even following all of these methods, it is still likely you still experience debates which are emotionally charged. If you or the person you are talking to is becoming angry, or upset, it is time to deescalate the conversation. This can be done simply by putting it on hold, explaining that you you’re going to go away and have a think about the points which have been raised, and suggest they do the same.

Alternatively, change the angle of the debate if you have struck on something too emotive, as a new question, ask them to expand on an older point, or return to the common ground you share and build on it once again. Just some human moments, like a self-deprecating joke, a compliment, can be enough to ground someone and remind them that they are talking to a real human being, and that they should speak to you accordingly.

If someone does become so angry they resort to personal insults, or even start with them, it is so tempting to respond in kind but it is far more effective to respond with honesty. “There is no need to be rude, I’m just trying to talk to you,” or even openly saying “that’s a little hurtful” can have a surprising impact in cooling down a heated discussion, and reminding both people that a constructive conversation is only possible if you can talk to each other respectfully.

Manage your expectations. It is important going into any discussion that you don’t expect too much from it. If you are expecting to convert everyone you debate with you are going to be disappointed, and that is likely to make you frustrated and angry. It is extremely rare for even the most gifted advocates to convert someone on the spot, most of what we are doing here is just planting seeds in the hope that they’ll bear fruit later on.

Keep this in mind when your arguments are not landing the way you hoped, or the person you are debating with is resisting conceding anything at all. It is incredibly difficult for someone to admit they are wrong in front of someone they are exchanging views with, regardless of how polite or civil that person is. So make your points, defend them, but maintain your cool enough so that the person you’ve debated with would feel able to come to you if they ever wanted to continue that discussion, or even seek out your help to go vegan should they decide to do so.

Remember that particularly in public debates and online ones, even if you have no impact on the person you’re talking to, you may be having a much larger effect on those who are watching.

Don’t be afraid to walk away. There is no reason a conversation can’t be revisited at a later time, but if a discussion continues along aggressive lines the inevitable conclusion will be both parties destroying any chance of an agreement or concession. More than this, you will wear yourself out and make it less likely that you’ll be able to advocate calmly and effectively later. If it is clear that someone is looking for confrontation, then don’t waste your time and energy by giving it to them. Activists have a tendency of burning out if they aren’t careful to conserve their physical and emotional energy, it is far better to spend your time finding someone who will listen to you than continuing a discussion with someone who you know never will.

Above all, try to be to the advocate you would have wanted to meet before you went vegan. It can be easy to forget how daunting it was when you first gave up animal products, and people are much more likely to make the attempt if they know that there is someone in their corner. Keep in mind that we are often the only vegan the person we are talking to has ever spoken to at any length, we are their sole representation of the vegan community, and we want to represent that community as something they should want to be a part of. This is unlikely to happen if we isolate people with our activism.

Angry responses and put downs are easy, they are satisfying and people applaud us for them, but our primary concern must always be what works, not what feels good. The stakes are simply too high for us to indulge our anger and negativity towards those who consume animals, tempting as it is. The focus must always be to uplift people, not to put them down.

“Should we support PETA?”

PETA are a controversial organisation by any standard, and barely a week goes by where a post doesn’t circle online about something PETA have allegedly done or said. The mere existence of PETA is often used against vegans as if PETA speak for our movement, so it’s something that is necessary to address.

PETA are the largest and by far the richest animal rights charity, but that does not not make them the voice of our movement, nor are their views representative of what all vegans think and feel. In fact, in my experience most vegans don’t support PETA, and many are publicly critical of their tactics, behaviour and message. There are many vegans who do support them and their work, as veganism as a movement which is as diverse as any other, but to suppose that the existence of PETA and the way they choose to advocate is somehow a reflection of the entire animal rights community is more than a little unfair.

As to why they are so controversial, PETA are problematic for many reasons. They are notorious for using shock tactics like sexist ad campaigns that purposely compare women to meat, fat shamingracism (literally dressing up as KKK members), ableist slogans and a whole host of other offensive campaigns. PETA’s main tactic is, and always has been, to grab the attention of the public by being as outrageous as possible. In this, they are highly successful, regardless of how negative the attention is, everyone knows who PETA are because of these highly divisive campaigns. This is not to say that these campaigns should be supported, or even that there is any real evidence that they work, but in terms of publicity PETA never fail to make headlines.

These are very legitimate criticisms of PETA, but they are not usually the ones that people reference when they are being critical of the organisation. The chief concern is that PETA are hypocritical because they kill animals, since they operate kill-shelters. The more outlandish claims range from PETA abducting pets and them taking strays off the street in white vans and murdering them, neither of which have any credible evidence to support them as far as I can tell. Many of these accusations come from a notorious website named PETAkills, which is run by the Centre For Consumer Freedom; a notorious corporate propaganda machine.

As for kill shelters, PETA are open about the fact that they do run them. Their own statement on the topic is as follows:

The majority of adoptable dogs are never brought through our doors (we refer them to local adoption groups and walk-in animal shelters). Most of the animals we house, rescue, find homes for, or put out of their misery come from miserable conditions, which often lead to successful prosecution and the banning of animal abusers from ever owning or abusing animals again.

As long as animals are still purposely bred and people aren’t spaying and neutering their companions, open-admission animal shelters and organizations like PETA must do society’s dirty work. Euthanasia is not a solution to overpopulation but rather a tragic necessity given the present crisis. PETA is proud to be a “shelter of last resort,” where animals who have no place to go or who are unwanted or suffering are welcomed with love and open arms.

Regardless of how you feel about kill shelters, the fact of the matter is that PETA are not alone in this approach. Many animal shelters kill animals who cannot be re-homed and several reputable organisations also advocate this, yet they do not come under nearly as much criticism for it as PETA does. The RSPCA for example, kill 53,000 animals per year, many of them healthy, yet they are an organisation who enjoys wide support, often from the same people who are highly critical of PETA for their kill shelter policies. I suspect that this is purely because PETA are asking people to stop eating animals, whereas organisations like the RSPCA are actively encouraging it. Animal rights organisations have always come under more scrutiny than animal welfare organisation, and this seems to be little more than ammunition to use against them.

Personally, I don’t believe that PETA should be supported, not only for the reasons outlined but also because I don’t find them consistent in their message.   Even if you genuinely don’t care about their sexist or racist campaigns, from a solely animal rights perspective, they are not good advocates for animals; they have praised animal agriculture corporations for tiny welfare concessions, have supported “humane meat” in the past, have campaigned for welfarist legislation and have rubbed shoulders with huge animal abusing enterprises.

I am not ignorant of the good PETA have done in bringing animal causes into the public eye, in advocating veganism and offering resources for vegans, this work doesn’t offset the harm they have caused. We have to remember that PETA is a corporation; even if their heart might be in the right place their practices are often abhorrent. I just do not believe that we as a movement have to throw other movements under the bus just to get our point across.

I don’t believe that people who choose to eat animals have any business being critical of how PETA treats animals, and I think that they often do so purely in an attempt to discredit our cause. However, as advocates for animal rights we need to be critical of any organisation which behaves the way PETA does, regardless of whether or not their goals align with our own.

“Should holocaust comparisons be avoided?”

I don’t see this comparison made nearly as much as I used to, but it remains a contentious topic. It comes from an understandable place, because there are obvious similarities between the treatment of farmed animals and victims of the holocaust, both in terms of methods used for murder and attitudes towards those who suffered, particularly with regards to Jewish victims of the holocaust. I will outline here some of the facts and myths which form the basis for some of those comparisons, but also explain why I don’t think that these sorts of comparisons are appropriate for animal rights advocates to use.

Firstly, it is often stated that the Nazis drew their inspiration from slaughterhouses when figuring out how to mass murder so many millions of people, but no one has ever been able to supply me with a credible source to back this up. It most likely comes from Henry Ford’s comment that slaughterhouse kill floors were what inspired him to make cars on an assembly line, and the fact Henry Ford in turn influenced the Third Reich and their creation of concentration camps. This link is tenuous it best.

It seems far more likely, as has been remarked by the Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer John Toland, that Hitler was in fact inspired by the US Indian Reservation system, and the Armenian genocide is often cited as another influence. As for the actual method,  the effectiveness of Zyklon B was discovered when it was first used upon Soviet prisoner’s of war, not on animals, and the creation of concentration camps in the form they eventually took was built around this.

The other comparisons which are made generally involve how animals are transported, how they are treated during the slaughter process in factory farms and the use of gas as a method of slaughter, which is still common. More than this, I think it comes from trying to find any human atrocity which even comes close to the sheer scale of animal slaughter in terms of numbers and organisation, and the holocaust is unfortunately an obvious example to use of this. Every single death from the holocaust and the battles of world war 2 combined still doesn’t even come close to the numbers of animals killed per year, but the comparison is often used in the context of slaughtering a large number of individuals all at once, and how those who died in concentration camps were certainly treated no better than we treat farmed animals now, and similarly were viewed as objects, as less than human.

I explain these things so the context in which these comparisons are drawn but I vehemently oppose their use, because they are both offensive and unhelpful when trying to advocate for animals. While all oppression is linked, what we are talking about when we discuss  the holocaust is the shared experience of millions of people in a specific time and a specific place, with specific cultural ramifications still felt today, which unless you are Jewish yourself are impossible to understand.

Unless you are a holocaust survivor or are in someway emotionally and culturally involved in that event it is simply not your comparison to make. Most Jews still eat meat, and while I think that’s wrong, I don’t think that makes it okay to tell them that they are taking part in the same thing that was done to their ancestors, because drawing on that pain and using it as a way to provoke guilt is manipulative in the extreme. This is all these comparisons ever really do, they don’t sway them to our cause; more often than not they just end up hurting people, and often they are used to do exactly that.

It is inappropriate to compare animal agriculture and the holocaust not because what animals experience is any less horrific but because animals are the victims of an entirely different system of oppression, with very different causes and consequences. The holocaust is unique in all of history. It is not comparable to the Rwandan genocide, it is not comparable to ethnic cleansing Darfur, it is not comparable to the mass slavery of black men and women in Europe and the Americas.

Even if this comparison were philosophically appropriate it still wouldn’t be appropriate for advocacy regardless; all it does is isolate and further distance people from the animal rights movement; it makes us sound like extremists. We can advocate for our own movement and talk about animal suffering without being insensitive to the suffering of others, or hijacking someone else’s cause and using it for our own ends.

Most of the time when these comparisons are used they are used simply to make a point about animal rights, they aren’t exploring the interlinked nature of oppression, they aren’t empathising with the suffering of humans, they are essentially just using victims to further our own agenda, and that is wrong regardless of what our intentions are. If a holocaust survivor or someone deeply involved in that event wants to compare animal suffering to what they or those they loved suffered through, like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Ellie Wiesel did, then that is their decision to make, but it is not ours, however similar the means of murder used for holocaust victims and farmed animals alike may be.

The mass slaughter of animals is uniquely and profoundly immoral in a way that has no comparison in all of human history. We don’t need to rely on comparisons which offend and isolate because what is happening to animals is horrific enough by itself. These comparisons may be understandable, and I’m sure they grab people’s attention, but it is exactly the wrong sort of attention for our movement. These comparisons are offensive, inappropriate, and the fact of the matter is that they just don’t work. If we want to be taken seriously as a movement then our advocacy has to be better than that.