A Month of Vegan Research: Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature

effective-animal-advocacy

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Humane Research Council.  2011.  Readability of Vegan Outreach Literature.  HRC:  Olympia, WA.

Increasingly, advocates are becoming aware of how whiteness, class, and privilege have shaped the anti-speciesism movement in a way that makes it almost inaccessible to disadvantaged populations.  The fact that most vegan literature reads at a level far beyond that of the average American speaks volumes to the lack of reflexivity in anti-speciesism outreach.

Literacy inequality especially impacts people of color, non-natives, people living in poverty, and others subject to educational barriers.  This report shows that the movement is shaped by well off, educated white elites writing about ethics in language and conceptual frameworks that only other privileged persons can understand.  This significantly restricts the ability of the movement to expand.

vegan-outreach-literature

Summary of Results (from report):

  • The average U.S. adult has a 9th or 10th grade reading level, and 44% of adults have an 8th grade reading level or lower.
  • HRC recommends developing vegan outreach materials at a 7th or 8th grade reading level in order to ensure comprehensibility for a large proportion of the target audience.
  • However, all of the vegan outreach materials evaluated in the current study are written at an 11th grade reading level or higher, indicating that the vegetarian movement’s most popular materials might be incomprehensible to half or more of the target audience.
  • Based on six readability tests, the average readability scores ranged from a low reading level of 11th grade for PCRM’s vegetarian starter kit to a high of 15th grade (beyond college level) for the Humane Myth brochure.
  • Additional research including focus groups (and possibly one-on-one interviews) would allow a more comprehensive evaluation of the materials beyond basic readability. HRC recommends a collaboration to conduct additional qualitative research at a cost of $8,000 to $12,000.

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about effective Nonhuman Animal rights advocacy in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 3, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Recruiting Strangers and Friends

animal-rights-moral-shocks

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

J. Jasper and J. Poulsen.  1995.  “Recruiting Strangers and Friends:  Moral Shocks and Social Networks in Animal Rights and Anti-Nuclear Protests.”  Social Problems 42 (4):  493-512.

Social movement theorists have taken interest in Nonhuman Animal rights activism for a number of reasons, one of them being recruitment.  As I discussed in my review of Elizabeth Cherry’s article, most become vegan because they know other vegans in their social network.

But what if a person doesn’t know any other vegans?  Moral shocks might do the trick.

moral-shocks

For instance, I grew up in a rural Appalachian town where the notion of “animal rights” is about as alien as it could be. At 13, I was watching a cooking show with my mother in which the host was visiting a butcher’s shop with pigs’ heads hanging from the ceiling.  Suddenly, it became clear to me where “meat” came from and what it entailed.  I went vegetarian on the spot. Soon after, I wrote to PETA and I received literature that contained even more morally shocking information and images.  I immediately decided to go vegan the day I moved out of my parents’ house and was in control of my food choices.

For a little girl living in Appalachia with no vegan-positive social networks, moral shocks were able to recruit me. Readers should acknowledge that moral shocks are not as straight forward in their effectiveness as they may appear. I explore the nuances of moral shocks in an article I published with Society & Animals, arguing that moral shocks have limited value in an environment inundated with welfare reform and “happy meat” ideology.

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about effective persuasion in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 20, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment

animal-rights-sexism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Carol Glasser.  2011.  “Tied Oppressions:  An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment.”  The Brock Review 12 (1):  51-68.

All oppression is rooted in the same system of domination and so embracing any form of oppression reinforces all oppressions. Unless social movements recognize oppression as rooted in the same system of domination, they will not be able to reject the foundations upon which their oppression is rooted. Dichotomous epistemology and value-hierarchies are the main characteristics of patriarchy that enforce both sexism and speciesism. I illustrate this by examining two animal rights advertisements that use sexist images. I demonstrate how sexism bolsters speciesism by reinforcing dichotomous epistemology, establishing value-hierarchies and accepting that positioning women as animals is degrading to women.

Many organizations and activists support a “sex sells” notion when promoting misogynistic tactics in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, but there is no evidence to support that objectifying women encourages people to stop objectifying other animals.

Glasser explores this irrational assumption in “Tied Oppressions,” reminding us that oppression works intersectionally.  Treating women like meat only reinforces social norms in treating other vulnerable group like meat, including Nonhuman Animals.

lizzy-jagger-naked-tuna-fishlove-jerry-hall-mick-jagger

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 17, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The China Study

the-china-study

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

T. Colin Campbell.  2006.  The China Study:  The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health.  Dallas, TX:  BenBella Books.

While most people go vegan and stay vegan for ethical reasons, a common stereotype is that advocates face is the belief that humans need to consume Nonhuman Animal products for optimal health.  Research, however, warns that this simply isn’t true.

The China Study relies on decades of research conducted by Dr. Campbell that compares the diet and health of preindustrial China to Western nations.  What he finds is that Chinese people (usually rural inhabitants) who consume a plant-based diet have much better health.  As people migrate to bigger cities in China or to the West (where animal-based diets are more common), they start to accrue illnesses quickly.

the-china-study

He also explores hundreds of other scientific studies that support this dietary link.  Plant protein and animal protein are broken down very differently in human bodies.  Animal products are linked to a litany of debilitating and life threatening diseases including heart disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases (like diabetes), mental diseases (like Alzheimer’s), eye diseases, kidney diseases, and even osteoporosis.  This book is worth reading so that we can have a basic understanding of the health consequences of non-vegan lifestyles.

The immense suffering of speciesism impacts humans as well as nonhumans and the environment.  In this way, ethical veganism is as much about human rights as it is about Nonhuman Animal rights. Campbell considers the political reasons for obscuring this life-saving information and provides practical solutions for changing diet.

A glaring flaw with the piece is the overwhelming reliance on data obtained from Nonhuman Animal testing, which is counterintuitive to a vegan ethic and is usually indicative of bad science.  Considerable research demonstrates that tests on other species do little to inform human biology and can often present misleading results.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism and its potential benefit to human society in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 22, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance

animal-resistance

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

This essay has a content warning for discussion of extreme racial violence.


 

Jason Hribal.  2010.  Fear of the Animal Planet:  The Hidden History of Animal Resistance.  Petrolia, CA:  AK Press/Counterpunch.

fear-of-the-animal-planet

The Nonhuman Animal rights movement is relatively unique in that humans must fight on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves.  Or so we think. Activists often frame Nonhuman Animals as “innocent victims,” “the voiceless,” “helpless,” etc.  Their concept of other animals becomes paternalistic and often assumes a “human savior” complex.  In doing so, activists erase a long history of Nonhuman Animal agency and resistance.

Hribal uncovers the strange social construction of animality over the centuries. Medieval Europeans, for instance, did not consider other animals innocent in the least.  Nonhuman Animals were sometimes put on trial and punished the same as humans.  Nonhuman Animals were thought to possess rationality, free will, and moral agency, just the same as humans. They were even thought capable of premeditation.

By holding other animals accountable for their behavior, the criminal justice system functioned to control other animals.  Many nonhuman “crimes” could be linked to their resistance to enslavement and exploitation.  Today, humans have stripped other animals of all personhood and cognitive abilities, allowing for full objectification and control.

pig-on-trial

This process was also present in early America, when African slaves were often put on trial.  Although whites highly animalized people of color, whites did presume they had some degree of rational intelligence.  In my rural Appalachian community, there was a famous trial of a black slave named “Blue” (Daniel Wright) who, refusing to obey orders, killed his “master” with a cradle (a multi-pronged sickle) while harvesting grain in the fields.  Strangely, instead of executing Blue outright, they proceeded with a trial.  Because he was considered property, not human, the county actually reimbursed the owner’s family with $320 after the hanging (the first legal execution in the county).  One must consider that the added effort of a trial must serve the additional purpose of social control (demonstrating law, order, and the power of the state).

In nearby Richmond, Virginia (capital of Virginia and later the capital of the Confederacy), slaves (and free blacks) utilized the court system (with certain restrictions, as in, African Americans could not testify against whites).  Obviously, the court system was intended to uphold the interests of whites and “slaveholders.”

After slavery, these discriminatory trials persisted (Remember To Kill A Mockingbird?).  The US criminal justice system is known to be extremely racist even today, with 1 in 3 African American males imprisoned at least once in their lifetimes.  Lynchmobs, parading Klansmen, and police with high-pressure hoses and trained dogs can maintain an unequal social system, but the quieter, more “civilized” court system is more efficient and effective.  It’s also least likely to inspire outrage and organized retaliation.

animal-fights-back

Hribal covers instances of escape and fighting back, providing both historical and current examples of nonhuman resistance.  He argues that these actions are deliberate.  Nonhuman Animals are acting with intent and they are asserting their own desires for freedom.  This is an important point.  The ideology of oppression would have us believe that those we enslave and exploit benefit from it and are content with the system.  When oppressed persons (human and nonhuman alike) resist, it is important evidence against the “naturalness” or “normality” of the prevailing system.  Hribal’s work is important in placing the Nonhuman Animal movement in the forefront of civil resistance movements.  It recognizes the personhood of other animals and challenges our human supremacist view that infantalizes other animals as helpless victims.

You can read in depth reviews of the book here and here.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 9, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The History and Legacy of Animal Rights

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The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Diane Beers.  2006.  For the Prevention of Cruelty:  The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States.  Athens, OH:  Ohio University Press.

animal-rights-historyThere are several historical accounts of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement available, but this is perhaps the book I cite most frequently.  Beers’ exploration begins with the pre-World War II era where advocate organizations were (not unlike today) “predominantly white, male, urban elites led groups, while a middle- and upper-class constituency dominated by women supplied the rank and file” (8).  Before 1945, she reports, “most women asserted their voice through their impressive financial support and extensive volunteerism as members, not leaders” (9).

Many advocates were simultaneously involved in other social justice causes, with many from the ranks of abolitionists and suffragists.  Beers reports that England was several decades ahead of the United States in spearheading anti-speciesist efforts.  She cites America’s growing pains as one reason for the slow growth, but the abolitionist mobilization around the Civil War era did inspire an anti-slavery imagination.  Indeed, early  Nonhuman Animal activists relied heavily on slavery analogies.  “Back to the land” movements of the same era also inspired vegan ethics.

Humanitarian efforts of the Progressive era pushed for animal issues alongside other reform efforts.  Gender stereotypes and elitism continued to plague the movement, however, typing women as natural caregivers gave them the leverage to become active outside the home.  At this time, organizations were also under fire for their preference for conservative agendas.  Critics called these organizations a serious barrier to anti-speciesist progress.  Beers explains:

In part, evidence supported their charges.  As the national organization’s reputation and influence as apolitical insider spread, its policies increasingly reflected the interests of the opponents, and conventions increasingly ousted radical delegations.  Furthermore, industrialists generously funded the association, and that patronage created inherent limitations for campaign strategies and reforms.  More radical groups might simultaneously publish explicit exposés, prosecute companies for violations, admonish consumers for eating cruelly produced meat, and even endorse vegetarianism, but the AHA carefully avoided any tactics that would antagonize its proindustry beneficiaries.  (71)

Predictably, organizations defended this compromise as both a pragmatic necessity given political and economic realities and a benefit to the movement overall.   They also charged that abolitionist goals were utopian and only served to make the movement look fanatical, thus alienating the public. Sound familiar? Following World War II, the welfare movement and the animal rights movement had, for all intents and purposes, split ways.

This era also saw the rise in humane education, with activists hoping to reach young people with messages of social justice and compassion before they could be indoctrinated with the oppressive ideologies of the state. All was quiet on the animal rights front in the strained years surrounding World War I, but the movement grew alongside the growth of Nonhuman Animal exploitation following the war.  Post-war consumption practices made advocating concern for Nonhuman Animals especially difficult. Though successes were marginal, this period did pave the way for the radical activism of the post-1975 period.

Of course, the wave of social justice activism of the 1960s breathed new life into the movement:

Just as the abolition and suffrage movements of the nineteenth century created precedents for the ethical consideration of all creatures, the civil rights and feminist struggles of the late twentieth century blazed a trail of liberation ideology that animal defenders inevitably walked. (149)

A history of  moderate tactics in tandem with anti-communist sentiment would stifle radical advocacy to some extent, although key publications in anti-speciesism in the late 20th century would popularize the goal for liberating other animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the history of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 16, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Movement is My Life

vegan-networks

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Harold A. Herzog Jr.  1993.  “‘The Movement is My Life’:  The Psychology of Animal Rights Activism.”  Journal of Social Issues 49 (1):  103-119.

I used a qualitative research approach to investigate psychological aspects of involvement in the animal rights movement. Interviews were conducted with 23 rank-and-file activists, focusing on cognitive and emotional aspects of involvement with the movement, concomitant lifestyle changes, effects on interpersonal relations, and the happiness and well-being of the participants. Three main themes emerged from these interviews. First, there was a surprising degree of diversity in attitudes and behavior of the activists. Second, animal rights activism usually entailed major changes in lifestyle: almost all interviewees strove to achieve consistency between their ideals and their actions. Third, there were several parallels between an involvement with the animal rights movement and religious conversion. The potential for increased communication between the animal protection and scientific communities is discussed.

animal-rights-demographics

Hal Herzog has a large body of research on the identity politics of Nonhuman Animal rights activism. The article highlighted here is about 20 years old and relies on a limited sample (23 persons living in the U.S. South), but it nonetheless offers a useful overview of movement demographics.

Herzog finds that many of these activists experienced profound attitude and behavior changes upon joining the movement.  He also reports a measurable tension between reasoned argument and emotions (some stick to rational logic, but most activists engaged emotions to some extent).

Most activists rejected violence from their tactics and were motivated by a strong desire to spread the message by educating the public and participating in demonstrations.  All considered themselves vegetarians (many of whom continued to eat chickens and fishes), and over half were vegan.  Most felt they were morally superior in some way, what Herzog defines as “the belief one has discovered a truth of which others are not yet aware.”  All but one were members of professionalized organizations (namely PETA).  Several were living with partners who shared their beliefs, but many were living with those for whom it created considerable conflict.  Most found that friends and relatives were largely supportive.

Overall, activism seems to have mixed results as far as life happiness.  In many ways it is a fulfilling calling, in other ways, it means exposure to a lot of painful knowledge and frustrations with structured oppression.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the psychological consequences of anti-speciesist activism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 12, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation

pet-overpopulation

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Nathan Winograd.  2007.  Redemption:  The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America.  Almaden Books.

winograd

I first learned of Nathan Winograd’s work from a Vegan Freaks Radio interview many years ago.  Like most, I had been indoctrinated with the “common sense” of “euthanasia.”  Too many dogs and cats, not enough homes, what else can be done?

Well, a lot, actually.  Redemption demonstrates that “overpopulation” is a misnomer.  The problem is not a lack of homes, the problem is shelter management.  Bureaucracy and out-dated procedures have created a pathway dependency. There is an ethos of, “This is how it has always been done; this is how it will continue to be done.” Change is perceived as “risky” or otherwise unattractive.

Winograd outlines a practical solution to “overpopulation,” including working to make shelters more inviting to the public (instead of sad houses of death that we all avoid because we don’t want to feel sad and guilty), lengthening hours of operation, emphasizing adoption, and coming up with creative solutions to overcrowding.

My own personal experiences with shelters exemplify this irrationality. One of my cats once went missing in Fort Collins, Colorado (one of the biggest cities in the state).  The shelter would not allow citizens to phone in to check to see if their companion was there and its online records were not kept up to date.  I had to get up very early before work and drive 30 minutes into the prairie to the outskirts of town, only to find out that the shelter didn’t open until 11 A.M. I had to drive 30 minutes back home, then repeat the procedure after work.

Having previously volunteered at the shelter, I also knew that unclaimed animals were put on the kill list after five days.

Redemption asks readers to consider how these structural issues could be altered for efficiency. Lives would be saved if this shelter was located where people could easily access it, accepted phone calls about missing animals, had an updated online listing, was open during regular hours, and housed animals long enough to give them a legitimate chance for rescue or adoption.

Redemption is an “Ah ha!” book the challenges speciesist ideologies that we’ve taken for granted as true and necessary.  For that matter, PETA can’t stand him, often labeling him a radical–so you know he must be on to something!  You can also sign up for his newsletter and follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more information.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 25, 2013.

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Fat Vegan Politics: Why Health-shaming, Body-policing, and Fat Stigma Hurts Humans and Other Animals

This month I published a qualitative study on fat vegan experiences in the journal of Fat Studies. Sixty-one respondents kindly gave their time to fill out a questionnaire asking a range of questions about their experiences as vegan activists. The results were surprising.

PETA ad reads, "'I hate men's guts.' Don't be a whopper go vegetarian." Has a blond white woman in an American bikini giving a beer belly the cold shoulder

Veganism is a food-focused movement that consistently banks on fat-shaming rhetoric and ideologies of thin privilege to persuade its audience to go vegan. In a sea of fat antagonistic claimsmaking, where does this leave fat vegans? After all, veganism is not a diet and many people do not lose weight after going vegan (some may even gain). Sizeist claimsmaking not only alienates fat audiences, but could also alienate fat activists.

What I found was that size discrimination was common, with one in four self-identified fat vegans having experienced it. What I also found, however, was that most were not deterred from participating. They resisted or sought out inclusive communities.

PETA billboard that reads, "Save the Whales. Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian." Features a fat woman in a bikini on the beach

While their resistance is admirable, it should not detract from the inappropriateness of sizeism in a social justice movement. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a long history of banking on human inequalities to shock, shame, or scare its audience into compliance. It is inconsistent with movement goals and is not sustainable. Rather than burn bridges and flame bigotry, the movement might instead appeal to intersections of oppression and shared identities. Like Nonhuman Animals, the fat community has been vilified, marginalized, an exploited, their bodies otherized and butchered (with diets and surgeries). Empathy will encourage behavior change, but scientific studies reliably demonstrate that stigma will not.

PETA ad that reads, "Obese in the USA? Go vegetarian." Image of a fat man's behind in front of an American flag

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems of aggravating human inequality to advance anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

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A Month of Vegan Research: The Political Economy of Animal Rights

political-economy-animal-rights

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Bob Torres.  2006.  Making a Killing:  The Political Economy of Animal Rights.  Oakland, CA:  AK Press.

making-a-killingRemember Vegan Freak Radio?  Today’s vegan research is a publication by VFR host, Bob Torres. Torres takes a sociological, anti-capitalist approach to problematize speciesism.  The first part of the book situates Nonhuman Animal exploitation in the Marxian critique of capitalism, that is, the labor of other animals is exploited and their bodies commoditized.

The real value in the piece is his placement of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement within capitalism.  Advocacy groups become rather cozy with exploitative industries as they professionalize. As a result, they begin to craft reforms and abandon liberatory goals. This is a relationship that is mutually beneficial for non-profits and industries, but does nothing for Nonhuman Animals.

Torres calls this the animal rights industrial complex and argues that activists cannot “buy the revolution.” That is, activists cannot simply “vote” vegan with their dollars, buying vegan products or donating to large charities, and expect to create the structural shift needed to eradicate the root of oppression.

For that matter, Torres challenges the ideological control these large organizations have over “common sense” advocacy. Rather than determining if strategies are beneficial to Nonhuman Animals, the movement tends to judge their utility based on their ability to fundraise. Successful fundraising keeps organizations in business, but it is not likely to liberate, as it requires a substantial compromising of our values and goals. Torres takes an anarchist approach, insisting that an egalitarian social structure which does not delegate rule to a few privileged elites will be essential to achieving true liberation.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the Nonhuman Animal rights industrial complex and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 28, 2013.

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