Making the case for radical veganism


An inclusive framework for antispeciesist advocacy.


By Chloe Kingdom

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY News.


It is part for the course that liberation movements evolve ideologically. However, in the case of the vegan movement, a chasm grows between those who peddle veganism as a ‘lifestyle’ led by dietary change and activists who remain committed to advocating for animal rights by campaigning against systemic oppression. The emergence of plant-based capitalism not only obscures the main message of the movement, but it prevents it from achieving its goal of total liberation for all animals.


The huge amount of exposure in the media and the growing number of vegan food products for sale are testament to the fact that cultural opinions are changing around the exploitation of animals. However, this has not influenced the dismantling of the animal agricultural industry nor has it directly contributed to landmark progressions in the case for animal rights. Notably, the rights of workers in the agricultural industry have also not been impacted by plant-based-focused activism.


Vegans with a comprehensive understanding of animal ethics know that antispeciesist ideology is the all-encompassing, fundamental ethical position with which one needs to align to establish a consistent approach to social justice advocacy. Tom Regan, a philosophical heavy weight in animal rights theory, made the succinct observation that, “To be ‘for animals’ is not to be ‘against humanity.” Our aims are united under the same system of oppression. To dismantle this system, humans need to address all aspects of affected society within their anti-oppression advocacy, and this advocacy needs to include all persons that it harms—both human and nonhuman.


Mainstream veganism does not work hard enough to fight for the rights of workers in the agriculture industry—slaughterhouse workers, in particular. Some activists may find this stance antithetical, but workers, like animals, are exploited by the capitalist system. They often succumb to repetitive stress injuries in a highly dangerous work environment, with little safeguards and pressure from floor managers not to report injuries. They are also sourced from low-income communities—many with immigrant or refugee status—thus, leaving them vulnerable to work-place exploitation.


The industry’s normalisation of violence is also pathological: It has one of the highest rates of worker turnover and PTSD, as workers are forced to kill a huge number of animals in a short space of time. Under capitalism, both the animals and the workers are treated as disposable resources for profitable gain.


Thus, the search for a theory that connects the different experiences of animals within the capitalist system has been the focus of recent attention. Many activists have landed on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory as a possible framework. However, it is meant to be applied to feminism, where the experiences of black and brown women and femmes are to be understood at the intersections of their various identities.


The oversight of human rights in mainstream vegan activism can be addressed by endorsing intersectional feminism within the broader ideological framework–but that is not enough; nor is it appropriate to appropriate a framework developed explicitly for a community to redress specific instances of discrimination and oppression.


Radical veganism has been presented as the solution: As an inclusive framework, it acknowledges and incorporates the shared struggles of marginalised and exploited communities across society. This consolidated understanding of systemic oppression can then be used to navigate the myriad ways in which all animals are bound up within exploitative capitalism.


Mainstream vegan advocacy reflects how far the movement has strayed from its original ideals for total liberation. Radical vegan activists can repair this damage and bring about sustainable societal transformation if we educate the community about our first and foremost commitment to completely rooting out oppression in all respects.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.

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