Why I’m a Social Justice Vegan
Social justice is about creating a just relationship between individuals and society. Often this means creating more equal opportunity by sharing resources with those who have not been similarly gifted. But when I think about animal agriculture, it also has a great deal to do with the lives of workers who are endangered every day in their work for low wages. It’s about the native populations of Brasil and around the world who are losing their land in order to provide more room for cattle grazing. It’s about nations in the developing worlds suffering from drought and other problems caused by human induced climate change led by fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world. All these issues should matter to people everywhere, including vegans.
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Hey there Modern vegans and vegan curious, it’s Margaret. And today I want to talk with you about why I am a social justice vegan.
Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not we should even be social justice vegans. What does it mean to be a social justice vegan? All these kinds of issues. And I want to tell you guys here today that I am a social justice vegan, but I also want to give you some background as to why. And also, some information about whether or not you need to be a social justice vegan yourself.
Now, as a vegan I believe that we need to fight for the liberation of animals. I am an ethical vegan, and so I’m not only concerned about my health, and the health of the planet, but I also think animals deserve to be liberated from the circumstances that they live in. That they shouldn’t be the slaves of anyone. That they have the right to determine their fates for themselves, and that human beings should be interfering as little as possible, that we should not be using animals for our own purposes, that they have their own lives, and have the right to live those lives as they choose, within reason, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.
A lot of vegans also believe in social justice. And social justice is about the equitable and just relationship between the individual and society. And so, that also would relate to groups in society, how groups relate to society as a whole. And different people define social justice in different ways, even though fundamentally social justice is about that just and equitable relationship between individuals and society, different people define it different ways, and for example, the United Nations tends to define social justice as relating more to the division of capital between individuals in society and things like that. Kind of a redistribution of wealth, although not exactly the redistribution of wealth, but I’m just going to say that because it’s the simplest way to put it. But that’s kind of what the United Nations defines social justice as. And a lot of other groups would agree as well, that a lot of it has to do with redistributing money between different groups and things like that, but at its most basic, and the real basic definition of social justice, is that just relationship between an individual and society.
And so, part of social justice would be giving people equal opportunity in life. And of course, when we think about equal opportunity, we need to think about where people have come from, we can’t just assume – and some people who care about social justice to think that we can just assume that people will automatically be able to participate in society in an equitable way, even if they are coming from behind. So, if you think about issues like racism, some people are going to argue that there’s no need for any further social justice for, say African Americans, because now we have the civil rights act, the voting rights act, and since people are technically able to get jobs at the same rate as anybody else in America, then they should be able to do just fine, and we don’t need to do anything else. So there’s that argument, and then there’s people who argue that social justice is about more than that. I would be in this group that would say, no we need to make sure that we look at underlying inequalities and things like that, and address these issues on a more basic level.
Now, a very understandable question would be “what does social justice have to do with veganism?” Obviously, when we’re looking at the animals, we have to acknowledge the fact that we don’t know exactly what animals want, and aside from giving them the right to live their lives free from human objectification, interference and abuse, what else do they want?
We don’t really know. So that is a fair question, and I do understand where people are coming from. But I also do think that in terms of social justice, there isn’t just the animals that we’re concerned with, it’s also people as well. Animal agriculture has had a disproportionate effect on some communities, and that’s important to take into account as well.
Also, there’s the fact that, if you have a background in issues relating to social justice, that’s naturally going to be where you tend to come from when you are portraying issues within animal rights. I care about animal rights, but I also care about human rights. And my academic background is in more human rights related issues. I did my Masters’ degree on the drug war in the nation of Colombia, and part of that was looking at issues like land reform and things like that, and the historical repression of certain peoples and stuff like that. And so, it’s given me more of a deep concern for social justice, an understanding that when you are looking at issues that might seem not to relate to social justice, like drugs – people might initially think that drugs have more to do with other issues, but when you’re looking at source countries like Colombia, there’s a lot of social justice issues there that are important today. And, for example, in the case of land reform, the fact that so much of the land is tied up in just a few hands has made it very difficult for people to have equal access to opportunity, and that can lead to all sorts of other issues.
I understand why certain vegans lately have been saying that they don’t believe in social
Justice. Because, to them, social justice has more to do with an equality of outcomes sort of thing…that it’s about some kind of socialist utopia or something, I’m not really sure exactly what the criticism is, but I understand that there are vegans that believe that social justice is not important. I do think some of this comes from the fear of being labeled a “Social Justice Warrior”, which is a criticism which I have received quite consistently, which is interesting, because I am not a particularly politically correct person, I do my best to be sensitive to people’s issues, but I also approach issues from a very rational, scientific standpoint, and I don’t think that’s problematic, particularly. I believe in telling things the way they are. And that’s one of the reasons I do believe in social justice. I think that it is unfair and it is definitely short-sighted to try and imagine that we can solve problems without looking at those deeper inequalities that are problems for all of us.
Now, I understand some people may just not be interested in social justice. And that may be because of their background, maybe they’ve never really faced these kinds of issues, maybe they’ve never really encountered people who definitely face injustice every single day, and the relationship that they have with their societies.
I do think that this is more of an issue, obviously, when you tend to go to developing nations and look at people there, who suffer in a way that we really can’t imagine. When you look at the developing world as I often do, you realize that a lot of the relationships between the individual and society – especially for the less advantaged individuals – hasn’t changed much over time. And when we’re used to the way things are here in the developed world, we don’t often realize that they may be years behind. And that is a challenging thing to see, and it’s something that is very upsetting.
When you do happen to come from a more advantaged background, I do think these issues are still important. I still think that social justice is important when you’re looking at the lives of, say, slaughterhouse workers. As a vegan, I do care about the people that work with the animals. And I realize that this is not necessarily popular within the vegan movement, I know a lot of you are very angry at the people who work in slaughterhouses, who work in meatpacking and things like that. But it’s really important to recognize that most of those people are immigrants, they are people who are being paid less than standard wages, it’s an extremely dangerous job, and the people that are engaged in it are risking their lives on a daily basis. They’re risking their health. And they’re doing this for extremely low wages. Such a dangerous, dangerous job. And part of my social justice interest is about helping those people. Not just the non-human animals, but the human animals involved in this as well.
There are people that are involved in the animal agriculture industry on all sides that are being affected by it. You look at also developing nations like Brazil, where people are being forced to give over land, where native tribes are being forced to give over their land, so that it can be used for animal agriculture. These are all really big issues, and I think to pretend that we can focus on single issue campaigns without any concern for social justice is actually a bit naive. Because life is more complicated than that. And often, if you’re involved in one issue, other issues will play into it. And I also think it’s a bit alienating. I think it’s a bit of a mistake to think that social justice, on its own, can be disadvantageous to the vegan movement, when In fact, it’s actually it’s something that we are going to be running into repeatedly.
And for this video as well, if you want to ask me more questions about why I think social justice is important, I do think that it would be beneficial to any vegan activist to understand how social justice issues play into veganism. I think it’s always fair and important to mention the fact that we don’t know exactly what the needs of the animals are, and when we’re talking about non-human animals we’re often putting words in their mouths. And we can only have a very small understanding of what the animals need, so in terms of creating social justice for animals, that’s a little bit harder.
But one thing that we can do is work for social justice for other human beings, and we know that with animal agriculture we are impacting the planet on a huge scale. We are increasing global warming, we’re increasing Greenhouse Gas emissions, and we know that the people who suffer from that most are people in developing nations. And if we want to have a global society that is just in the distribution of resources, that at least allows people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, then we need to care about social justice in my view. And I’d love to know if you guys agree with that, it is something that’s very important to me, I’m very interested issues like poverty and stuff like that, again, because that’s what my academic background was before I got into veganism and things like that, I was very interested in social justice, particularly in Latin America, and I think that it’s an incredibly important issue, and I don’t think that it can necessarily be divorced from veganism.
Perhaps if your only concern is health, you may be able to avoid the issue of social justice, but even then, it’s a challenge, because when you’re looking at, say, providing school lunches and things like that, you have to look at areas where maybe people aren’t so advantaged, and maybe they don’t have the money to pay in for certain kinds of vegan food, and stuff like that.
There are issues that social justice will bring to us that will ask us to look deeper into ourselves and try to find solutions that are going to work for everyone, that are about the just relationship between all of us within a society, and trying to really make sure that nobody gets left behind. I hope you enjoyed this video, if you did, give it a like, and share it with someone you think will enjoy it, and subscribe if you haven’t already.
Thank you so much for watching, have a great day, and I’ll see you soon.