Can you be an Animal Rights Activist and Still eat Meat?

Eating meat seems counterintuitive to being an animal rights activist, and in many ways and circumstances, it is. Then again, most people claim to dismay animal cruelty, yet vegans are far in the minority when it comes to our food choices. Is it possible to love, support, and advocate for animals all while consuming them and their products?

Most animal rights activists don’t eat meat because they are conscious of the reality behind a piece of meat in the shop, an animal who didn’t want to die. However, circumstances such as your environment, health status, and knowledge determine if meat consumption excludes you from being an animal rights activist. 

Bear with me as I explain how the above factors determine the extent of your moral duty as an animal rights activist.

(Most) Animal Rights Activists Don’t eat Meat

Earthing Ed, a UK-based vegan activist argues that veganism is a moral duty if it is accessible to you in a youtube video titled “You Can’t Love Animals and Eat Them.” He explains to opponents of his viewpoint that in the UK there are abundant amounts of vegan options in grocery stores, the same holding true for the USA and other countries, so therefore there is no reason to not be vegan since it has also been proven to be a healthy lifestyle. 

“Here where we have that luxury we have an obligation to fulfill our responsibility of not causing harm when it’s not necessary” 

I agree with Ed’s assessment and think most vegans would as well.

Modern factory farming imposes tremendous amounts of pain and suffering on animals not to mention the complete alteration of their natural state and way of life.

It’s pretty straightforward: if you care about animals enough to call yourself an activist, you don’t support the killing of animals or the use of their products for food. 

In this article, we ask if it’s possible to be an animal lover and still eat them.

But, unlike most articles on this topic, I’m not going to go into detail on the meat, dairy, and egg industries, exposing their cruel ways.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important information, especially if you aren’t vegan; you should learn where your food is coming from and who you are consuming.

This information is already available, there are videos and documentaries that depict such cruelty in a much more real and eye-opening sense than my writing ability. 

So, instead? I, a vegan, am going to defend the non-vegans. Not the standard steak-loving omnivorous human but, the non-herbivorous animal rights activists, because they do exist. I will be diving into who has the luxury to be vegan and who doesn’t.  

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I have always been an animal rights activist; I’ve always cared for all creatures and wanted them to be treated right. But, I didn’t always know everything that I know now and my actions certainly did not reflect my beliefs in the way that they do now.

I used to go to SeaWorld until I knew better and gave a speech on why SeaWorld is wrong. I used to go to zoos until I knew better and encouraged my friends to boycott zoo field trips with me. 

And for a long time, I ate meat, until I knew better and went vegetarian. For a while longer I ate dairy and eggs until I knew better and went vegan.

See where this is going? Did my actions on behalf of animals not count until I went vegan? I think they still did; I was learning how to become a better animal rights activist and I still am. 

You don’t know what you don’t know and you will never know everything. I’m sure there are a handful of “pure” vegans who have never tasted flesh, but I haven’t met a single one.

Yet, most of the vegans I’ve met have said they’ve always loved animals. It all comes down to the information you have. There is a blinding disconnect between the animal and the product you eat that it can be easy to advocate for animals, and never think about the ones on your plate. 

Earthling Ed, who didn’t go vegan until his 20s, goes on in his video stating that: “If you don’t know then you can’t make all the decisions. If someone doesn’t have the knowledge then they can’t be held morally accountable for all the actions they make.”

If you’re an animal rights activist who has the knowledge that led you to the decision to go vegan, you must spread this information to create stronger animal rights activists.

And begin to think about other areas of your life, is the clothing you use wiping out habitats? How is the pollution from your car affecting animals? What about the plastic you use that might end up in the ocean?

This isn’t meant to stress you out and make you feel like you have to do everything perfectly to be a “true” animal rights activist because when people try to be perfect, they usually end up giving up and that’s not what they want.

It’s meant to show you that there are other ways to act on behalf of animals besides veganism and maybe some non-vegans are doing something you’re not, something you can learn from them.

Being an animal rights activist is not a checklist that you have to meet and then you made it: congratulations. It’s more complicated than that.

An animal rights activist uses the information they have to make moral decisions that support the wellbeing of animals within the realm of their own abilities and health.

They educate others on how they can make changes to become a stronger supporter of animals and animal rights activist searches for new information and new ways they can act for animals. 

But, animal rights activists will not always be the same or have the same actions. Although veganism is often the basis to an animal rights activist and veganism is certainly important, we, as animal rights activists will never know everything and we will never be able to do everything; we will never be able to confine the term to a singular dietary lifestyle. 

Food Deserts 

Earthing Ed talks about areas around the globe where plant-based meals are not accessible and it’s impossible to survive as a vegan, excluding them from being morally responsible for the suffering of livestock.

We often think of these areas as being in developing countries, but communities without access to healthy food are present all over the US and other wealthy countries.

Such areas are called food deserts and in the US, are the product of systematic racism. Food markets followed segregation patterns and policies in a way that put supermarkets in white neighborhoods. In the 1980s fast-food chains began to target black and brown neighborhoods and this inequity is still heavily present today, affecting almost 40 million Americans. 

Iyeshima Harris, an urban farmer in Brooklyn, New York explains that “Healthy food is stigmatized to be a white thing: expensive.” The food justice advocate explains that corporations like McDonald’s, strategically place restaurants in poor neighborhoods, because they know that’s all these communities can afford, and that supermarkets are either not around or overpriced. 

“It’s not fresh, it’s not organic, and it’s expensive,” Harris told Vice in a video interview. 

Food justice is often left out of the vegan discussion, excluding communities of color and those who live in food deserts.

Vegan activists need to recognize food injustices and extend their work out to these areas by creating plant-based, affordable solutions like Iyeshima Harris did by working with sustainable, youth empowerment programs and becoming the Program Director of East New York Foods, an urban garden in New York. 

When Health Gets in the Way 

“Why I’m no longer vegan…” was the title of Bonny Rebecca’s youtube video in 2019. Bonny was a seriously popular vegan influencer and this announcement struck other vegan creators as a betrayal of her identity and moral duty.

I remember when I saw this video suggested for me, I hadn’t ever watched a Bonny Rebecca video but I immediately thought why would she quit? 

After watching Bonny’s video in its entirety I understood her decision, she had tried so hard to make the vegan lifestyle work. She was vegan for five years, but no matter how much she switched up her macros, her skin and digestive issues kept getting worse, and the doctor told her she needed to eat animal products to feel better. 

Her partner, Tim, also a former vegan was told if he didn’t put on weight, he would be hospitalized and the only foods that helped him gain weight were animal products.

While still maintaining a mostly plant-based diet, Bonny and Tim are no longer vegan and it’s not because they aren’t animal rights activists. Bonny said the switch was hard on her mentally and that for a long time she sacrificed her health to maintain a vegan lifestyle. 

“I had such a strong ethical connection to it [veganism], I was turning a blind eye to my problems” 

Many vegan activists made videos disappointed in their choice, saying that no health studies can support their problems and that veganism is the healthiest diet. Freelee the banana girl exclaimed that ‘the animals don’t need your excuses” 

The thing is, these health studies explain the best diet for the majority; veganism is healthy for most people. No study claims veganism is the answer 100% of the time for 100% of people. And although veganism has been around many years, it’s a relatively new concept in modern, American medicine. Doctors don’t have a vegan-friendly answer to every type of health problem —yet—. Because of this, I plead for the former vegans who didn’t give up but who tried their best and in the end had to choose themselves over veganism. 

And the Answer is?

While it is wrong to prioritize your own taste buds or convenience over the life of another species, it is in no way wrong to prioritize your own self and your own well-being over the well-being of another species. 

Most dedicated animal rights activists are vegan or will become vegan at some point along their journey fighting for animals.

But, I hope this piece showed you that if you feel like veganism isn’t available to you, that you’re not alone. In all honesty, the vegan community, especially online can be toxic and discouraging.

I challenge you, vegan or not, to change that culture. As animal rights activists, let’s not judge or shame each other, but educate, listen, and come up with solutions that will make veganism less of a luxury and more accessible to everyone. 

Most of all, have compassion for others’ circumstances because isn’t compassion what veganism is all about anyway? 

Sarah Eichstadt

I am a student at UW Madison where I study Political Science and Journalism. I have been vegan for over four years and love educating people about the lifestyle and learning more myself. Besides writing, my hobbies include running, cooking, hiking, reading, and any sort of outdoor adventure.

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