Hey Team,

Since publishing an article on the Liberation Pledge with the Journal for Critical Animal Studies last February, i've repeatedly been encouraged to share the article to the EA Forum. So here it goes:

The Liberation Pledge entails a commitment to never eat alongside people consuming animal-based foods. In the article, i argue that the Liberation Pledge is an exceptionally effective tactic for individuals to challenge the diverse harms of Big Meat. Relatedly, i also argue that individual veganism absent the Liberation Pledge does little to affect change, and in some cases is counterproductive.

Like my article, i'll spare you the justification for why curbing the harms of Big Meat is urgent and important (as i suspect most on the EA Forum are already familiar). From that assumed starting point, i invite readers to share feedback regarding the merits of the Liberation Pledge, and the argument i lay out to defend it. Copied below is the complete text (you can find the PDF here).

My hope is that the article clarifies the value of veganism to movements (human, nonhuman, and environmental) to end Big Meat, and encourages readers to take the Liberation Pledge themself. Given effective altruists' active work to live more in line with our values, i hope the Pledge will soon become common amongst the community.

PS: If you are interested in exploring the idea on different mediums (or in fewer words), you can view the following:


Silence Abets Violence: The Case for the Liberation Pledge

Abstract: Animal agriculture brutalizes hundreds of billions of animals every year. More and more, veganism has been promoted as a way for individuals to address this violence. However, when passively pursued via personal dietary divestment, a vegan ethic fails to substantively challenge the cultural hegemony of carnism—the ideology that justifies the consumption of certain animals. Rather, in tacitly accepting the carnism of others, passive vegan eaters normalize and perpetuate the very exploitation their ethic stands against. The Liberation Pledge—essentially a commitment to never eat around those consuming animal products—is a response to this understanding. By explicitly and emphatically condemning the dietary violence of others, the Liberation Pledge functions to actively de-normalize the oppressive system, eroding a central tenant upon which carnism persists. Centrally, in this paper I contend that the Liberation Pledge is one of the most effective tools for doing so. It is my hope that readers will leave convinced to uptake the Pledge themselves, and if not, that the seeds for such action have been planted and await germination.


“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
—Albert Einstein[1]

Animal agriculture brutalizes hundreds of billions of animals every year. More and more, veganism is promoted as a way for individuals to address this violence. However, when passively pursued via personal dietary divestment, a vegan ethic fails to substantively challenge the cultural hegemony of carnism—the ideology that justifies the consumption of certain animals. Rather, in tacitly accepting the carnism of others, passive vegan eaters normalize and perpetuate the very exploitation their ethic stands against. The Liberation Pledge—essentially a commitment to never eat around those consuming animal products—is a response to this understanding. By explicitly and emphatically condemning the dietary violence of others, the Liberation Pledge functions to actively de-normalize the oppressive system, eroding a central tenant upon which it persists. The Liberation Pledge is one of the most effective tools for doing so at the individual level.

In line with critical animal studies’ foundational call for linking “theory to practice” the Liberation Pledge advocates the same.[2]  It is the practice of the Liberation Pledge—not merely passive veganism—that constitutes enactment of an animal liberation ethic. That is, the Liberation Pledge turns the theory underlying ethical veganism into its logical conclusion in praxis.

Accepting this argument should lead towards reconceptualizing veganism’s role in the animal liberation movement. This article focuses on the individualized application of this conclusion, namely practicing the Liberation Pledge oneself and urging others to follow suit. However, albeit not the focus here, the same lesson applies institutionally, an application that calls for shifting resources and messaging away from encouraging negative duties (e.g., personal dietary change) and towards advocating positive duties to promote animal liberation.

What follows, then, is essentially an argument for animal liberationists to evolve their activism by adopting the Liberation Pledge. Section I begins with an overview of the Liberation Pledge. Section II explains the Pledge’s theory of change. Section III highlights the Liberation Pledge’s historic impact and its potential for growth. And section IV responds to seven central critiques. Having thus made the case for the efficacy of the Liberation Pledge, Section V concludes by arguing for the adoption of the Liberation Pledge (or similar activism) as a moral imperative.

Despite being the first academic article to address this topic, I hope it will not be the last. Rather, given my belief in the power and relevance of the Liberation Pledge, I hope this article opens space for continued academic dialogue to follow. For not only is this topic rich with research potential—from qualitative research regarding the experiences of Pledge practitioners to theoretical work exploring its institutional applications—but more importantly, such research has the power to affect positive change.

I. The Liberation Pledge

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
—Nelson Mandela[3]

The idea for the Liberation Pledge came out of conversations between activists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Frustrated with the historic trajectory of the animal liberation movement and concerned about its capacity for success moving forward, these activists concluded that neither passive veganism nor the movement’s focus on promulgating it were effective strategies. Instead, they reasoned hegemonic social norms would not change—especially not at the rate they need to—absent direct confrontation and pressure. Given this conclusion, the Liberation Pledge was developed as a way to address passive veganism’s failure to do so.

Since its inauguration in 2015, the Liberation Pledge has historically consisted of three parts: one, publicly refuse to eat animals; two, publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten; and three, encourage others to take the Pledge.[4]  Ideally, the Pledge is a lifelong commitment. While this original version of the Liberation Pledge is not meant to condone any form of animal exploitation, its focus has typically targeted the consumption of animal flesh. Its stated purpose for doing so is to avoid slipping into interrogations regarding the ambiguous veganity of products like bagels, sugar, etc. That said, my interpretation and support of the Liberation Pledge argues for adhering to it whenever another is consuming a product of known animal origin.

Given the Pledge’s focus on dismantling carnism—the ideology that normalizes the edibility of certain animals—it is focused exclusively on boycotting dietary violence. In not applying to other forms of violence done to animals—including clothing production, scientific research, “pet” breeding, and entertainment—the Pledge does not connote tolerance of these industries. Indeed, the ethos underlying many practitioners’ commitment to the Pledge rejects the (ab)use of animals for any purpose. That said, while the Liberation Pledge is specifically designed to dismantle the violence bound up within carnism (the topic of Section II), it can be freely practiced alongside any other liberatory strategies.

In considering nuances to the Liberation Pledge, Torres outlines and endorses three levels it can take.[5]  The most basic level accords with the Pledge’s original framing, and entails abstaining from eating at any non-vegetarian table—i.e., refusing to dine around anyone consuming animal flesh. Torres argues that while this version does condone the consumption of animal products like milk and eggs, it still gets the point across but in a way that can “be touted as a ‘compromise.’” To be clear, I do not endorse this version of the Pledge. As will be argued in Section II, a central power of the Pledge comes from its moral rejection of animal products as edible, and this version patently fails to do so. As a result, I believe this version muddies what should be a clear and coherent position—that animals are not ours to use—to the detriment of the animal liberation movement. We should not make compromises around “tolerable” forms of violence, and the fact that this level does so should be perceived not as beneficial but as disqualifying.

The second level Torres discusses entails abstaining from eating at what he calls “tables of violence”—i.e., refusing to sit at a table where animal flesh and/or animal products are present. At this level practitioners are free to attend restaurants or events that serve animal products, even though doing so might necessitate sitting at a different table or in a different room when it is time to eat. The third level entails abstaining from eating in “places of violence”—i.e., refusing to go to any restaurant or event that profits directly from exploiting animals as food. This is the most challenging level, though it is made easier for individuals who have access to vegan-friendly venues and to those who have plant-based or open-minded family members.

While I myself practice the second level, I equally support the third as well, as both in my view are strategic and morally justifiable, albeit with their own strengths. For example, whereas the second level serves to open the range of events available to the practitioner (and thus their range of influence) without compromising the Pledge’s message, the latter powerfully clarifies that it is morally reprehensible for institutions to profit from animal exploitation irrespective of the practitioner or their cohort’s direct complicity in those profits. Consequently, while rejecting the first level, I do not advocate for adopting the second or third level. Instead, I encourage others to follow whichever option resonates, and do not distinguish between the two again in this article.

While not required, practitioners of the Liberation Pledge are encouraged to adopt the Liberation Band, a fork bent into a bracelet. The symbology of the Band is both informative and inspiring. From the Book of Isaiah comes the passage: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”[6]  “Swords to plowshares” is a concept wherein destructive military weapons, implements of violence, are converted into peaceful tools meant to benefit society. The concept is prominently embodied and enacted by the Plowshares movement, a Christian pacifist and anti-nuclear weapons movement that advocates active resistance to war.[7]

As Gandhi is often claimed to have said, the fork arguably represents the most violent implement in society today.[8]  An estimated 70 billion—70,000,000,000—terrestrial animals are slaughtered in animal agriculture alongside well over a trillion—1,000,000,000,000—hunted or farmed aquatic animals every year.[9]  To put this aggregate number into perspective, only 108 billion humans are estimated to have ever been born, meaning we kill an order of magnitude more animals each year to eat than the number of humans who have ever existed.[10]  As such, like turning swords to plowshares, the Liberation Band seeks to transform the fork from its symbol of violence into a symbol of active resistance.

While motivating, the real value of this symbology comes from its utility in empowering the practitioner to affect social change. First, the band is unique and striking, features that enable it to be employed to fulfill the Liberation Pledge’s third goal of encouraging others adopt the Pledge. A stranger’s offhanded comment—“cool bracelet”—can easily be responded to with an explanation regarding its purpose and significance; moreover, such outreach is often made more effective by others initiating the conversation, as the activist’s ensuing explanation seems warranted. Second, the band helps to show solidarity and build community with other individuals who have taken the Pledge. Practicing the Pledge can at times be isolating; as such, being able to identify others who have made the same commitment affirms the unity and community of practitioners. Third, in the rote daily actions of washing hands, getting (un)dressed, etc., the Liberation Band serves as a constant reminder to the activist of their values and commitment to them. Humans evolved to react to harms that we experience directly, not abstract harms we have read about.[11]  As such, the Liberation Band serves as a way to help regularly remind ourselves of the omnipresent “war against animals” that demands our active resistance.[12]

It is primarily for these three pragmatic advantages that activists are encouraged to don the Liberation Band while in public. However, despite this suggestion, practitioners are free to decline wearing the Band if they so prefer. For as the subsequent sections will make clear, the true power of the Liberation Pledge comes from the interpersonal interactions it facilitates and the psychological benefits that stem from them.

II. Liberation Pledge Theory of Change

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul”
—Edward Abbey[13]

Like veganism, the Liberation Pledge should not be understood as a privileged bourgeois personal choice that makes practitioners feel better.[14]  While it can bring tremendous peace and clarity to the practitioner’s life and relationships, these benefits are incidental. Rather, the Liberation Pledge should be understood as a political tool, one of many, used by activists in working towards “total liberation."[15]  At its core, the central power of the Liberation Pledge lies in its ability to actively challenge the “normalcy” with which we exploit animals for food. By refusing to accept such violence as normal, practitioners of the Liberation Pledge sow the seeds for constructing new social norms and ontologies free from human supremacy.

As first explained by Joy, carnism is the ideology that conditions humans to accept the consumption of certain animals as normal and acceptable.[16]  Carnism can be understood as essentially the opposite of veganism; whereas a vegan ethic derides the exploitation of animals for food, carnism accepts the violence embedded within the consumption of animal flesh, secretions, and other products. Throughout this article, I essentially use the term to stand in for “non-vegan,” as doing so serves to mark carnism as an abnormal system and leave veganism as unmarked;[17]  this reframing—of veganism from marked to unmarked—is essentially what the Liberation Pledge does in practice.

Joy explains that the construction of carnism is built upon and justified by what she names the 3Ns—normal, natural, and necessary.[18]  In essence, the justifications for exploiting animals as “food” can be boiled down to these 3 Ns. And as such, these frameworks are essentially what enable carnism to persist. However, it is not inherently normal, natural, or necessary to eat animals; on the contrary, carnism is a social construction that has been normalized and systemized over time. As Chiles and Fitzgerald explain:[19]

Except under conditions of environmental scarcity, the meaning and value of meat cannot be attributed to intrinsic biophysical value or to the political-economic actors who materially benefit from it. Rather, meat’s status reflects the myriad cultural contexts in which it is socially constructed in people’s everyday lives, particularly with respect to religious, gender, communal, racial, national, and class identity.

By historicizing the apparent naturalness and normalcy of animal consumption—particularly through their demonstration that the political-economic, biophysical, and cultural contexts around meat eating have changed—Chiles and Fitzgerald show that the legitimacy of carnism is not material. Rather, in doing so they elucidate the role that culture has played in the legitimation of meat, an understanding that opens space for the construction of a novel framing of what is and is not normal and acceptable to eat. That is, because carnism is not “natural,” per se, but has instead been socially constructed, so too can it be deconstructed.

Given this context, the Liberation Pledge’s primary value comes from its ability to effectively challenge the normalcy with which we consume other beings. In particular, it does so through enacting and reifying what I refer to as “vegan consciousness,” a framework I adapt from Sandra Bartky’s notion of “feminist consciousness.” Bartky highlights that it’s not that feminists are aware of different things than other people, but that “they are aware of the same things differently. Feminist consciousness, it might be ventured, turns a ‘fact’ into a ‘contradiction’” (p. 22).[20]  Similarly, vegan consciousness sees the world in very different terms than does carnist consciousness. Those who take the Liberation Pledge do so out of their understanding that it is not inherently normal nor acceptable to consume the flesh or products of sentient nonhumans. Nor should doing so be perceived as a morally-neutral personal choice. Rather, practitioners understand acts of carnism as acts of violence, and actively condemn and challenge them as such.

In enacting “vegan consciousness,” the Liberation Pledge primarily operates by targeting two factors foundational to the construction of carnism: one, the perceived edibility of animals, and two, their invisibility as victims.

With regard to the former, the practitioner explicitly refuses to morally accept the edibility of sentient animals or their products. Unfortunately, the zeitgeist conceptualizes both as edible. To demonstrate why that is problematic, it is useful to consider the human parallel. As a society we staunchly reject and stigmatize human edibility as immoral. For imagine how our interactions with other humans would be impacted if that wasn’t the case, if we came to see humans, even just some humans, as edible.[21]  Doing so would fundamentally shift our relationships and the value we give them. It would frame ourselves and others as consumable—as useable—and fundamentally compromise our capacity to respect and relate to one another as free beings.

The same consequences apply to nonhuman animals. Accepting animals and their products as edible ontologically positions them as (ab)useable, a framing that precludes them from being fully incorporated into our moral circle. Consequently, expanding our moral circle to include all sentient animals requires us to see them as inedible. So in the same way most would never entertain eating humans killed unintentionally (e.g., being struck by lightning or hit by a car), we should likewise never entertain the consumption of animals, irrespective of whether or not our consumption fuels future economic demand for their “production” (e.g., flesh qua “roadkill” or “trash”). The Liberation Pledge acknowledges this reality by refusing to condone or tolerate the labeling of any sentient individual as food and challenges others to make the same connection.

Instead, directly challenging the notion of animal edibility functions to cut through problematic distractions and present a clear and coherent message. In practicing the Liberation Pledge, the practitioner rejects any superfluous label such as “humane” or “cage-free” as immaterial. Rather, their actions are informed by the understanding that such considerations are morally compromised from the outset, as they tacitly accept both the legitimacy of animal use as well as the notion that others have the right to its violent products. Instead, by unconditionally challenging the edibility of animals, the practitioner focuses the conversation on what matters: the bottom line that animals are not ours to use.

With regard to the second factor—carnism’s dependence upon hiding its victims—the Liberation Pledge responds by refusing to allow what Adams calls the absent referent to remain absent:[22]

Behind every meal of meat is an absence: the death of the animal whose place the meat takes. The “absent referent” is that which separates the meat eater from the animal and the animal from the end product. The function of the absent referent is to keep our “meat” separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal, to keep the “moo” or “cluck” or “baa” away from the meat, to keep something from being seen as having been someone.

By erasing the victim, the absent referent serves to enable well-intentioned individuals to more easily accept the normalization of carnism. In fact, nearly two dozen scientific studies have found such cognitive dissociation to be one of the most common and important psychological factors for doing so.[23]

Acknowledging this, practitioners of the Liberation Pledge refuse to tacitly allow those they are around to erase the individuality of the persons whose flesh and products they are consuming. Instead, the practitioner makes it clear that they will not condone such actions, and centrally, that their activism is motivated by the individuals who suffered to produce the meal others are eating. Doing so not only forces others to think critically about who they are eating, but emphatically de-normalizes the practice in the process.

While the Liberation Pledge’s theoretical motivations are foundational, their true power comes from the manner in which they are enacted. Most importantly, by taking the Liberation Pledge, practitioners transform their resistance to carnism from passive to active, from an ideology to an applied practice–that is, to praxis. Some may argue that veganism already does so effectively, pointing in part to the economic impact affected by boycotting carnist products in favor of vegan alternatives. But while doing so may in fact decrease demand for carnist products and increase demand for vegan products, given the vanishingly small percentage of vegans today the systemic economic impact of this is unfortunately marginal at best.[24]

Instead, given carnism’s cultural construction, a practice’s capacity to impact cultural norms is a much more salient feature to consider when evaluating its strategic worth. Many readily recognize this and contend that veganism’s true value comes from the way it challenges social norms irrespective of veganism’s marginal economic impact. For example, Smith argues that “Vegetarianism’s anti-hegemonic and anti-industrial stance forces contemporary culture to formulate and defend its principles, to explicitly justify the treatment of animal Others."[25]  I disagree; passive veg(etari)anism does nothing of the sort. At its worst, passive veganism done solely within the privacy of one’s home does absolutely nothing to challenge societal norms; from a cultural perspective, one could just as well eat flesh in secret and have the same cultural impact, i.e., none. At its best, passive veganism practiced in the presence of carnism does little better to challenge hegemonic oppression; while it does, perhaps, demonstrate that eating animals is not necessary, in passively condoning the carnism of others this marginal benefit comes at the devastating cost of instantiating carnism as a morally-neutral personal choice.

But eating animals should not be treated as a morally-neutral personal choice in the way that we treat, for example, one’s decision to wear red or blue pants. Rather, eating animals is an act of violence and should be vociferously condemned as such. Just as passive veganism is problematic for its failure to do so, the Liberation Pledge’s power comes from its commitment to actively reject carnism as a morally-neutral personal choice. Instead, the Liberation Pledge goes beyond simply limiting one’s economic complicity to directly challenge the violent dietary practices of our culture(s). That is, its active practice forces carnism to defend itself. In doing so, the Pledge actuates the moral table turning that Regan called for:[26]

Contrary to the habit of thought which supposes that it is the vegetarian who is on the defensive and who must labor to show how his [sic] “eccentric” way of life can even remotely be defended by rational means, it is the non-vegetarian whose way of life stands in need of rational justification.

Carnism’s deconstruction requires active resistance, and the Liberation Pledge facilitates just that.

The Liberation Pledge’s power is further strengthened by its capacity to showcase the practitioner’s moral conviction via the personal sacrifice that stems from it. Simply put, practicing the Liberation Pledge can be difficult; however, this very difficulty enhances the Pledge’s impact on each of the three imbricated cohorts: (a) those whose ideologies remain conditioned by carnism; (b) the individual practitioner; and (c) the animal liberation movement collectively.

In relation to the first group—those who still eat animals—the practitioner’s personal sacrifice empowers their activism by clarifying its ethical motivation. Practicing the Liberation Pledge is no easy task, and others immediately recognize that. This notable sacrifice makes it clear to others that the practitioner is driven by a pursuit of justice, not personal pleasure, and consequently forces them to contend with the action as a form of activism rather than as a morally-neutral quirk. Whereas one’s choice to eat vegan silently in the presence of carnism allows others to understand it as a personal dietary decision—e.g., akin to eating gluten free[27]—practicing the Pledge serves to shift the frame and force others to seriously contend with the ideology motivating their activism. At the very least, this sows seeds of doubt about carnism within others, powerfully serving to erode the normalcy upon which the system is propped up.

Even better, reifying this position—that carnism is not a morally-neutral personal choice—often helps the activist to win outright ethical support. That is, by centering the ethics motivating one’s behavior, observers are more likely to follow suit for the same ethical reasons.[28]  This strength of the Liberation Pledge is notable when compared to passive veganism, which fails to win ethical support in the same way. Even when passive vegan consumers explain their dietary choice as one rooted in animal ethics, they continue to frame it as their personal ethic. While this framing can readily win converts to eating plant-based for personal reasons like health and fitness (e.g., note the prominence of documentaries like What the Health and Game Changers), it fails to do so at the same scale for ethical reasons. But de-normalizing and dismantling carnism fundamentally depends upon promulgating a moral critique. As such, through emphasizing the activist’s moral convictions, the Liberation Pledge threatens carnism’s cultural hegemony beyond passive veganism’s capacity to do so.

With regard to the second group—the individual practitioner—the personal sacrifice invoked by the Liberation Pledge serves to toughen their resolve. Just as a monk’s asceticism functions to strengthen their soteriological commitment, so too do the practitioner’s personal sacrifices strengthen their moral conviction. Given the depth with which carnism has been embedded within societal norms, unshakable conviction is necessary to uproot it. As such, the Liberation Pledge provides one with frequent opportunities to practice and instill their commitment, every time serving to deepen their resolve and subsequent capacity to change the world for animals. Just as importantly, practicing the Liberation Pledge also protects one from needing to (sub)consciously normalize the carnism of others—an act that is often necessary to amiably dine with others eating animals—as doing so profoundly compromises both their conviction and efficacy as an activist.

The third cohort—the animal liberation movement—is collectively strengthened via the capacity of shared sacrifice to unify activists. Just as grueling pre-season training regimens are meant to strengthen group cohesion within athletic teams, the difficulty imposed by the Liberation Pledge functions in an analogous way. Seeing that one’s comrades are willing to voluntarily shoulder the same difficulties for the animal liberation movement poignantly demonstrates the group’s shared values and commitment to them. Given carnism’s social hegemony and the paucity of animal activists actively fighting it, this shared sacrifice promotes the solidarity necessary to transform the zeitgeist’s conception of nonhuman animals.

Practicing the Liberation Pledge may seem daunting at first, but it is in part this difficulty that makes the Pledge worthwhile. And when we consider our overwhelming privilege relative to the oppressed victims we are fighting for, the uncomfortable social interactions that can sprout from the Liberation Pledge are a paltry price to pay in fighting for their liberation.

III. Current Status & Historical Context

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
—Gandhi[29]

Is there reason to believe the theory of change articulated above is having the intended impact? In short, it remains too early to say. The formal Pledge and its campaign were launched in late 2015 in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Since then, as of October 2020, nearly 5,200 humans from 98 countries and six continents have formally taken the Pledge.[30]

The graph below visually tracks the global uptake of the Liberation Pledge since its launch. Following a rapid spike of over 500 individuals taking the Pledge in the first month, the following six months saw relative stagnancy. However, since June 2016, there has been a remarkably consistent rate of uptake over the past four and a half years, albeit with a minor reduction beginning with the onset of Covid-19 (a reduction that, given the general decrease in activism alongside the limited ability to freely choose one’s social interactions, makes sense). This trend leads one to infer that those practicing the Liberation Pledge have found it worthwhile and have continued to promote it throughout their network.

Global Adoption of the Liberation Pledge

Five thousand humans, it may be said, is clearly only a drop in the bucket. Even so, 5,000 humans actively practicing the Liberation Pledge around the world is still very relevant, very powerful. Everyday these 5,000 activists interact with strangers and challenge their beliefs. They form a bubble of anti-speciesism wherever they go, where this ethic is a defining norm of all their interactions. In doing so, the goal is not to segregate themselves from the carnist milieu, but rather confront and perforate it everywhere they go.

But while these individual bubbles are powerful, the Liberation Pledge’s true capacity for affecting social change is dependent upon concentrated growth. Such geographic concentration is critical for two reasons. First, concentration dramatically empowers the Pledge’s ability to challenge carnism’s perceived normalcy. For in every additional instance an individual meets a Pledge practitioner, the more normal taking the Pledge seems and the less normal failing to do so becomes. As a result, such concentration serves to reduce social barriers to adopting the Pledge while also increasing social pressure to follow suit. Second, as numbers of impassioned activists grow within a community, so too does their capacity to build the political power required to seriously challenge carnism. Laws regulating the consumption of animal products can only manifest once a sufficient threshold of constituents avidly support it, and the geographic concentration of Pledge practitioners function to create this committed base of support.

So while the Pledge’s historically linear trend is a positive sign, its success ultimately depends upon concentrated, exponential growth moving forward. And this is where the importance of the Liberation Pledge’s third goal—encouraging others to take the Pledge—comes in. Carnism’s moral license will dissolve—even if initially just at the municipal level—once the number of Pledge practitioners reaches a critical mass, and it is the role of early adopters to create the foundation for this to happen.

While the Liberation Pledge remains too young to fairly assess its success, there is historical reason to believe that this campaign, beginning with relatively few individuals, has the power to grow rapidly and transform society. The Liberation Pledge’s theory of change is inspired by the successful campaign to end foot binding in China.[31]  For a thousand years, this campaign struggled to gain traction against foot binding’s cultural hegemony. However, it built rapid momentum in 1890 with the initiation of a public pledge where families would promise to one, never bind their daughter’s feet, and two, refuse to allow their sons to marry women with bound feet.[32]  Appiah explains how the campaign transformed a region south of Beijing from 99% to 0% support in a matter of thirty years.[33]  This movement grew exponentially, and rapidly led to the societal stigmatization of the practice.

Notably, as Hsiung points out, the similarities between both campaigns and the oppression they target are striking.[34]  First, carnism today, like foot-binding historically, is an oppressive practice most in society are born into and conditioned to accept as normal. Second, like foot-binding, tradition is used to justify carnism’s continuation. And third, like foot-binding, individuals who attempt to extricate themselves from carnism for ethical reasons are ridiculed and ostracized, a tactic that enables the oppressive practice to maintain its normalcy and cultural hegemony. Given their stark similarities, there is reason to see the Liberation Pledge not only as an appropriate reaction to carnism but as a strategy with the potential to be transformative in the long run.

Early anecdotal evidence lends weight to this claim. While the impact of a practitioner’s moral stance leading to their entire family shifting to veganism are common, larger examples include one individual’s Pledge leading to nearly their entire high school eating plant based on campus.[35]  Although the Liberation Pledge remains in its formative years, these examples give reason to expect its power and efficacy to grow. As activists, it is our responsibility to make that happen.

IV. Critiques of the Liberation Pledge

“The fact that you can only do a little is no excuse for doing nothing.”
—John Le Carré[36]

Critiques of the Liberation Pledge fall into three categories: (a) that it is ineffective; (b) that it is harmful; and (c) that it is immoral. Arguments within the first category—that the Liberation Pledge is ineffective—make the case that adopting the Liberation Pledge does not actually challenge the normalcy and cultural hegemony of carnism, a consequence they argue renders the Pledge unnecessary. This perspective is not a case against the Liberation Pledge, per se, but rather a critique of its relevance and value.

The second and third categories, on the other hand, do argue against the adoption of the Liberation Pledge. Whereas critiques within the second category—that the Liberation Pledge is harmful—may accept that the Pledge is effective in some ways, they argue that it is more detrimental than helpful. Consequently, even if they may hold the ideals of the Liberation Pledge to be admirable, critics from this camp argue against its practice from the basis of a cost/benefit analysis. Similarly, while critiques from the third category—that the Liberation Pledge is immoral—may also accept that the Pledge is effective in some ways, they argue that aspects of its very practice are immoral and as such it should not be practiced or promoted. This article collectively is a refutation of arguments that fall within the first category; as such, in this section I consider and respond to the seven central arguments that fall within the latter two.

1. Misses an Opportunity to Engage with Carnism.

One critique claims that the Liberation Pledge compromises the ability of activists to engage with individuals as they invoke the texts of carnism. As such, it argues that the Liberation Pledge does more harm than good. Activists who hold this position instead argue that we should be eating at carnist tables, both demonstrating that it is possible to eat vegan while also condemning their practice.[37]

However, there is reason to doubt the efficacy of this tactic. As Cato cautioned, “It is a difficult task, O citizens, to make speeches to the belly which has no ears."[38] Arguably one of the least fruitful places to talk with others about the immorality of their action is while they are enacting it. In such situations the cognitive dissonance between one’s actions and values is simply too deafening to fruitfully engage with. With relation to carnism, this cognitive dissonance climaxes at each meal that animal products are present. As so many activists know, for all but the most effective outreachers attempting to convince someone to “go vegan” while flesh is on their fork is a fool’s errand. Midgley clearly articulates this tension, explaining that while meat eaters see themselves as “eating life,” vegan consumers see them as “eating death."[39]  As such, Midgley observes that “there is a kind of gestalt-shift between the two positions which makes it hard to change, and hard to raise questions on the matter at all without becoming embattled.”[40]

Moreover, due to the increased tension present at mealtimes, many activists are unwilling to have these direct conversations and speak truth to power in the first place. Rather, many vegan eaters while dining in the presence of carnism feel silenced and isolated, personally stressed by seeing their loved ones consuming violence while disquieted by not knowing how to respond. Instead, I believe it is more effective to emphatically condemn carnism and boycott every meal it is invoked, enabling thoughtful discussions to be had away from the plate.

Even better is having these conversations over shared vegan food. The purpose of the Pledge is not to limit our interactions with carnists, per se, but rather to bring a wider audience to our vegan table. For while secretly taking the Pledge and eating at home alone is at least not harmful in the way that silently condoning the carnism of others is, neither is it actively productive. Instead, the idea is for practitioners to invite those who eat animals to share a vegan meal with them. For just as there is little hope for fruitfully discussing the immorality of carnism as the other invokes its text, there is no better context to discuss the morality of veganism than when sharing vegan food. Until that is possible, the best alternative remains respectfully boycotting interactions based around carnism. For not only does this patience avoid counterproductive interactions, it expedites the process for others to decide differently and elect to eat vegan alongside the practitioner in the future.

2. Damages Relationships.

A second critique argues that taking the Liberation Pledge can damage relationships, a position that contends the Pledge is consequently both harmful and immoral. This critique is most salient in regard to familial, social, and professional relationships.

Let’s begin by considering the claim that as a result of straining familial/social relationships, the Liberation Pledge does more harm than good. This argument rests on the premise that by taking such a firm stance, practitioners run the risk of damaging their relationships. This risk, the argument goes, further risks compromising one’s mental-health and support system. Given these possibilities, it is thus argued that practicing the Liberation Pledge limits the activist’s ability to be as effective as they otherwise would outside of these contexts.

While an important consideration, it is also important to note that perhaps even more compromising to one’s mental health is seeing loved ones consume the products of violence. Sitting alongside family or friends and feigning normalcy while the scent and sight of cooked bodies floods one’s system is a far cry from nurturing self-health. Rather, in order for an animal liberationist to eat around others consuming animal products they must either (a) accept the normalcy of the action, or (b) deeply bury their true feelings; while the former compromises one’s ability to be an effective activist, the latter compromises one’s mental wellbeing.

Moreover, while taking the Liberation Pledge in some cases can damage relationships in the short run, it lays the foundation for a much stronger relationship in the long term. Healthy relationships are built upon trust and mutual respect, and forcing oneself to stay silent and choke back moral concerns while surrounded by loved ones at tables of violence negates both. Furthermore, many (including myself) find the directness of the approach a salve to previous relational friction. By calmly and explicitly addressing the elephant in the room before mealtimes—our veganism and condemnation of their carnism—we not only clear the underlying tension that would have otherwise existed, but do so in a space away from the plate where our message is more likely to be sincerely heard and received.

Even so, familial tension can often be the hardest, as these relationships are largely out of the practitioner’s control; moreover, family members tend to be acculturated to one’s past habits and can bristle when their loved ones “suddenly” change. However, the depth of these relationships often means that the practitioner’s family members are eager to find recourse, and—assuming the practitioner is compassionate and patient in the process—there is reason to expect this tension can be ironed out in the long run. Furthermore, for many, familial interactions are sporadic throughout the year, and as such the tension that can arise as a result of one’s commitment to the Liberation Pledge is made more tolerable.

While close friendships are often much more constant, so too are they more fungible. In this context, an activist must ask themself if they want to have friends who actively endorse the murder of innocent individuals, or if they should instead be standing with allies against those who brutalize them.[41]  To be clear, that is not to say the practitioner should abandon all their close carnist friendships, but rather encourage their current friends to eat plant based around them while actively exploring new friendships with vegan consumers. While admittedly challenging, the initial difficulty imposed on social relationships by the Pledge provides a valuable impetus to become more integrated within the activist community, a reality with clear positive impacts to the movement.[42]

Much the same argument and responses can be made in regard to how practicing the Liberation Pledge can hamper workplace dynamics. However, rather than just compromising one’s mental health, the concern is centered on damaging relationships critical to one’s professional success, and consequently, their efficacy as an activist outside of work. However, similar to above, is lying to coworkers about one’s feelings in relation to animal exploitation a good foundation for a positive relationship? Moreover, if one would be discriminated against in the workplace based on their activism, is that a healthy or positive space for the individual to be working in the first place?

A powerful rebuttal to these questions justifies the activist tolerating carnism in the workplace when done for the purpose of empowering their activism outside of work, a line of thought analogous to effective altruism’s framework of “earning to give."[43]  But the purpose of earning to give shouldn’t force one to compromise their morality; on the contrary, in Section V I argue that silence in the face of violence is itself immoral. As such, I argue that higher economic gains or economic stability do not justify staying silent to assuage coworker/supervisor guilt.

To be fair, I recognize that the notion of what constitutes a “healthy” or “positive” relationship is fraught with ambiguity. And while I do believe that healthy and positive relationships are built upon trust, others may very well disagree; instead, they may hold that maintaining relationships based upon deception and insincerity is a just cost to pay to facilitate their activism outside of these relationships. In some extreme cases, that may be true. However, more often than not, I believe this argument stems from carnism’s social hegemony and a misunderstanding of how it is perpetuated. Simply put, tolerating the carnism of others does more to promulgate the oppressive system than does filling a role on a slaughterhouse disassembly line, for the root issue lies not with slaughterhouse workers but with those who normalize the demand for such labor. As such, for those who would refuse to work at a slaughterhouse irrespective of how much it facilitated their activism outside working hours, consistency asks them to do the same with regard to rejecting the carnism of others in the workplace.

To be clear, I fully recognize that some of these positions depend upon a level of privilege. A single parent, for example, may not have the luxury of losing their job due to their “anti-social” behavior. Nor may a teenager have the freedom to practice the Liberation Pledge fully. I further recognize that individuals who already face marginalization due to other aspects of their identity may both have less room to navigate added stigma from their activism and may receive heightened stigma against their activism due to their identity.[44]  That said, at least with the regards to the latter, it is worth mentioning how oppressed groups have long taken on veganism as part of their own liberatory struggle. Feminists like Carol Adams,[45]  prison abolitionists like Angela Davis,[46]  and anti-imperialist groups like the MOVE organization[47]  have all helped to show how speciesism is imbricated with other systems of oppression, and subsequently how dismantling one requires dismantling all. Informed by this intersectional understanding, adopting the Liberation Pledge can actually be used as a tool for fighting one’s own oppression.

However, despite this theoretical endorsement, willingly accepting further marginalization is easier said than done. As such, as acknowledged in Section V, such cases may very well merit a modified response. I simply ask that when considering such modifications, the harm of tolerating carnism be weighed similarly to how society considers already stigmatized social harms (e.g., beating a dog in the cultural context of the United States), and not be discounted as an unimportant consideration undeserving of personal hardship. That is, if in a certain context a U.S. resident would be unwilling to passively tolerate watching a dog be beaten, so too should the person object to carnism practiced in an analogous context.

The second dimension of this critique argues that damaging social relationships as a result of practicing the Liberation Pledge is immoral, and as such, that the Pledge ought not be practiced or promulgated. This argument extends from the premise that we have special duties to loved ones that transcend animal ethics and that it is immoral to ignore those. The veracity of this claim—that we have special duties to loved ones that transcend their carnism—is outside the scope of this article. However, refusing to eat with loved ones while they consume violence does not preclude one’s ability to fulfill any moral obligations we accept owing, as practitioners can still spend meaningful time with loved ones between meals. Moreover, if we accept the premise of familial or social duties, then so too do a practitioner’s loved ones have a duty to make the practitioner feel supported and understood. As such, if family members or friends refuse to eat plant based around their loved one, then it seems the best space to collectively fulfill their duties to one another exists away from the dinner table.

3. Overly Radical.

A third critique argues the Liberation Pledge is harmful because it is “too radical.” That is, that its perceived extremeness serves to push others away that might otherwise be open to changing if presented with a more moderate approach, and as a result, generates a net negative impact.

In short, I believe this argument is unfounded and not made in good faith; rather, I believe it is weaponized as justification for individuals to continue their carnistic habit patterns by shifting blame from themself to the “radical” practitioner. While this framework may help to assuage the critic’s own cognitive dissonance, in doing so it demonstrates how deeply entrenched they are within carnism and belies their claim of feigned openness/neutrality. For in reality the commitment to not condone the violence of others is in no way radical. Rather, the reason such critics perceive the Pledge as extreme is due to how normalized this violence has become. On the contrary, given that the Pledge’s theory of change is centered in its ability to undermine this normalcy, its very practice serves as a mechanism for targeting the root of such critiques.

Moreover, these types of vehement rejections are in part what the Liberation Pledge seeks to uncover. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained:[48]

[W]e who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.

It is only in identifying this underlying tension that it can be overcome. In unearthing such conflict, the purpose of the Liberation Pledge is not to convince 100% of the population to support veganism or animal liberation; rather, the purpose of this activism is to force individuals to choose a side, to make complacency and indecision so uncomfortable that they are forced to directly confront the issue and make a concrete decision one way or the other.

In doing so—forcing individuals to explicitly choose sides between oppressors and oppressed—some individuals will inevitably be pushed away. However, this is a necessary and worthwhile cost. Simply put, neutrality within an oppressive context means acceptance of the oppression, a point vociferously made by Martin Luther King Jr.: “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”[49]  However, given the extent of carnism’s cultural embeddedness, most individuals have never been forced to think deeply about the issue; instead, they understandably follow the path of least resistance by uncritically accepting culturally dominant practices. So for many it isn’t that they are consciously remaining neutral, per se, but that they are unaware of the conflict to begin with. As such, practicing the Liberation Pledge serves to demonstrate to others that this conflict exists, and that they have historically been neutral within it.

Thankfully the vast majority of humans in the United States[50] and majority of humans around the world[51] already support animal welfare and oppose animal cruelty. So while uncovering such underlying tension and forcing individuals to confront the violence of carnism head on may indeed push some individuals away, the individuals it pushes away were never allies to begin with. Rather, forcing them to confirm their support of animal exploitation is a necessary cost to empower the greater majority to crystalize their support for animal rights and realign their actions as required.

4. Proselytizing is Immoral.

A fourth critique argues the Liberation Pledge is immoral for pushing one’s beliefs onto others. That irrespective of the veracity of one’s belief, it is immoral to push it unto others without their consent, and as such, that the Liberation Pledge ought not be practiced nor promoted.

While the critique against proselytization is fairly charged with regard to morally-neutral personal choices, it does not apply to decisions that impact others. My right to swing my fist through the air ends with another’s right to not be hit. While having one’s favorite type of cuisine be Italian is a morally-neutral personal choice, electing to have a pasta dish cooked with the dairy and flesh of a cow is not. Consuming the flesh of another should be understood as a morally intolerable action, as it profoundly impacts the welfare of another. As such, neither we nor others have the right to do so.

On the contrary, those of us who have been privileged to break free from social conditioning and develop the understanding of carnism’s violence have a responsibility to share this understanding with others. Practice of the Liberation Pledge is simply the logical continuation of a vegan ethic; once we understand that veganism is not a personal choice but rather a moral imperative, it becomes incumbent on us to extend this understanding and knowledge outward. The vast majority of the world’s vegan consumers were not born as such; after exposure to facts we decided to make the change, and we can play a role in helping those around us do the same.

As an instructive example, society readily condemns sexual violence irrespective of the perpetrator’s sexual desires. In this context, the perpetrator’s personal interests are rendered irrelevant. Indeed, rather than being perceived as problematically proselytizing, unapologetically condemning such violence has become the norm. So too must society come to collectively condemn carnism, regardless of one’s taste preferences.

5. Cultural Differences.

A fifth critique questions the morality of practicing the Liberation Pledge in the context of foreign cultures. It is one thing, proponents of this argument claim, to practice the Pledge while embedded within one’s own culture, but problematic to do so in others.

However, while cultural differences are deeply important and deserving of respect, that is not a justification for moral relativism.[52][53]  I assume that most readers will agree that racism, (hetero)sexism, and other forms of discrimination are wrong regardless of the culture in which they are practiced. For example, just because a specific culture has historically denied personal liberty and freedom to women does not give those conditioned within this culture license to continue doing so. Human supremacy should be dealt with in the same way. Culture simply does not justify the oppression of nonhuman animals.[54]

Moreover, culture is not a uniform nor a static entity; on the contrary, cultures are constantly evolving in large part due to internal contestation. Within this context cultural natives are best positioned to lead change, and examples abound of folk doing so with regard to animal liberation.[55][56]  But while it is often not appropriate for outsiders to lead in affecting social change in foreign cultures, that does not negate the importance of maintaining one’s ethical values and serving as allies to culturally native animal liberationists when in cultures foreign to one’s own. Practicing the Liberation Pledge is a basic but responsible way to do so.

That said, other cultural differences that do not violate the rights of others should be honored and respected. As such, the explanation of the Liberation Pledge can and should look different depending on the cultural context. Stated differently, while it may very well be appropriate to convey veganism and one’s commitment to the Liberation Pledge in varying ways depending on the cultural context, the moral necessity of maintaining one’s own veganity does not shift. Nor do I believe it problematic to maintain one’s Pledge in these contexts. On the contrary, making such exceptions when embedded within cultures foreign to one’s own can be interpreted as a form of chauvinism, in that the practitioner condescendingly believes foreign cultures are incapable of understanding the ethics/rationale of the Liberation Pledge.

As a personal example, I have easily and fruitfully maintained my own commitment to the Liberation Pledge in Nicaragua (where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer), in Colombia (where I worked for nearly a year), and throughout south and southeast Asia (where I cumulatively spent a year). In each of these contexts, while the explanation at times did take longer than it generally does in the United States (my native culture), more often than not it was received with more grace and support. To be clear, I recognize that these anecdotal examples are just that, anecdotal, and simply share them to explain my personal confidence regarding the Pledge’s international feasibility.

In the case of extreme outliers—e.g., Inuit who depend upon seal flesh or Sherpa who depend upon yak milk to survive[57]—the discussion becomes more complex. Given the highly atypical character of these outliers along with the nuance needed to address them adequately, it is an issue I set aside in this article (though the curious reader may find discussions from Kim[58] and Robinson[59] of interest). That said, apart from such outliers the ethics around animal edibility are very clear and should be advocated for as such.

6. Dependents.

A sixth argument against the Liberation Pledge holds that because the Pledge is not universally practicable, advocating for its universal adoption is immoral. For example, there are minors, humans with disabilities, incarcerated individuals, and other exceptions where humans with antispeciesist values are unable to choose their diet or the circumstances in which they are able to eat. I resonate with the unique challenges some individuals face in relation to adoption of the Liberation Pledge and explore the topic in more detail in the final section. However, I do not contend that adopting the Liberation Pledge is universally mandatory and acknowledge the reality that some humans are simply unable to practice it. That said, accepting that some individuals are unable to practice the Liberation Pledge is not a justification against the Pledge itself nor a rationale for others with different circumstances for not maintaining it.

7. Moral Licensing.

Moral licensing describes the practice wherein one justifies their immoral acts based on other moral acts they have taken. For example, someone justifying the carbon footprint of their travel by noting their practice of recycling. As such, moral licensing can give the impression that all one needs to do to be a good person entails what they are already doing.[60]  In the context of this article, the moral licensing critique argues that practicing the Liberation Pledge encourages activists to abstain from taking more poignant and effective activism, thus making the Pledge’s efficacy net negative.

This argument, however, can be made with regard to any form of activism. As such, acknowledging its credibility here would justify never doing any type of novel activism. However, at least in this context, the opposite impact is more likely. Powerfully and publicly acting on one’s values every mealtime helps the practitioner to build their confidence and conviction. And rather than limiting one’s additional activism, this impassioned conviction more often spills over to inspire continued engagement in the movement.

Having canvased and responded to these seven central critiques, I contend that the main arguments against the Liberation Pledge, despite perhaps meaning well, are unfounded. With regard to critiques within the first category discussed—that the Liberation Pledge does more harm than good—I argue that they largely emerge from a failure to understand the mechanisms that make the Liberation Pledge effective and powerful. On the contrary, more often than not these critiques target what I hold to be the most powerful and effective aspects of the action. In response to the second category of critiques discussed—that practicing the Liberation Pledge necessitates immoral actions—I argue that these actions are not inextricably connected to the Pledge itself, and that they can be dealt with in a sensitive way that addresses the moral concern without compromising the practice of the Pledge.

To be clear, this is not to say that practicing the Liberation Pledge is necessarily free from unintended detrimental impacts; rather, I hold that these impacts are not inherent to the Pledge itself. As such, activists can and should work to mitigate the downsides pointed out in these critiques—e.g., bringing those who eat animal products to a vegan table rather than just blocking them out of their lives, communicating one’s position calmly and empathetically, centering messaging around the suffering of individual animals rather than the immorality of others, etc. When practiced thoughtfully and strategically, I argue that the critiques of the Liberation Pledge carry little weight; on the contrary, I contend that thoughtfully and strategically practicing the Pledge is morally consistent and profoundly effective.

V. Ethical Imperative to Take the Pledge?

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
—Elie Wiesel[61]

Is there a moral imperative for one to take the Liberation Pledge? To answer this, we must first consider if there is a moral imperative to eat a vegan diet. Unfortunately, an in-depth exploration of that question is outside the scope of this article. Without delving into the nuances of this question—one that has already been explored at length by writers like Regan[62] and Francione and Charlton[63]—I accept that there is a moral imperative to eat a vegan diet, what Plumwood[64] pejoratively calls ontological vegetarianism.

More specifically, I advocate a position of aspirational veganism as articulated by Gruen and Jones, whereby the practitioner eats 100% plant based in a way meant to minimize harm.[65]  This clarification is important as a cruelty-free diet does not exist. We are entropic beings whose existence requires energetic consumption, and as such our lives inevitably result in the death and suffering of others.[66]  However, eating plant based is a level of magnitude less harmful than a carnist diet, and is a basic requirement of aspirational veganism.

While accepting the framework of aspiration veganism, it is worth noting that carnism’s immorality is not fixed. While accepting ontological veganism—that it is always immoral to consume nonhuman animals and their products—we can also hold that extenuating circumstances can make this position more or less immoral. This perspective is influenced by the framing of contextual moral vegetarianism, a concept that has long been argued for by ecofeminists who recognize that “gender, race, class, ethnicity, and location can create genuine difficulties with choosing a vegetarian diet."[67]

To be clear, acceptance of contextual moral vegetarianism does not imply an acceptance of moral relativism; rather, it accepts that under extreme conditions—e.g., killing an animal to feed one’s child[68]—the moral question becomes less stark, more nuanced. However, the need to feed one’s child does not magically make the killing of another (a)moral; violence, I contend, is always prima facie wrong, even when there are morally relevant justifications. By unequivocally holding violence as prima facie wrong, the onus of justifying violence is put on the individual enacting it.[69]  These justifications, however, tend to be radical outliers from the lived experiences of everyone reading this article; as such, eating 100% plant based is almost certainly possible and I posit morally required for everyone reading this sentence.

However, before answering if there is a moral imperative to take the Liberation Pledge we must also consider if there is a moral obligation to actively resist injustice. This is particularly striking if we accept that veganism made at the individual level is a form of passive—and not active—resistance. In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Singer essentially argues that if we accept (a) that suffering and death are very bad; and if we accept (b) that we are morally required to do something if we can prevent very bad things from happening without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance; then we must accept (c) that we are morally required to work to prevent suffering and death if doing so does not require sacrificing something of comparable moral significance.[70]  As previously noted, carnism necessitates astronomical levels of suffering and death. Moreover, most common forms of activism meant to reduce this harm—the Liberation Pledge included—require sacrifices of low moral significance. As such, accepting Singer’s two premises listed above should lead us to view actively resisting carnism as morally required.

Thus, if we accept the premise that (in most contexts) veganism is morally required, just as accessible activism to promote veganism and condemn carnism is morally required, does it then follow that there is a moral imperative for adopting the Liberation Pledge? In short, not necessarily. If one accepts that the Liberation Pledge is an effective and expedient tool in fighting for animal liberation, then it can be strongly argued that taking the Pledge is morally required, especially because doing so is relatively easy and the issue it targets is devastatingly massive. Conversely, if one rejects the premise of this article and instead maintains that the Liberation Pledge is ineffective, then adoption of the Pledge would obviously not be morally required.

However, even if it can be argued that it is okay to not take the Pledge, that does not mean it is okay to be silent. Rather, choosing to eat around carnism morally necessitates speaking out clearly and directly. Failing to do so—to poignantly and explicitly object to another’s consumption of animal products whenever it happens—empowers the carnistic consumer to continue viewing eating animals as a morally-neutral personal choice, one they have the right to continue choosing. Thus, not only does such silence fail to challenge carnism’s normalcy, but it further serves to license the reproduction of carnism’s cyclical violence. As such, despite not themselves ingesting the products of violence, the passive vegan practitioner is not absolved of culpability. Rather, they too share responsibility for the violence that stems from carnism.

However, as I hope has been made clear, I believe that taking the Liberation Pledge is more effective in deconstructing carnism than simply vocally condemning the practice. Given that position, I contend that adopting the Liberation Pledge is morally required when possible. This caveat, when possible, is important to articulate. I acknowledge that the Liberation Pledge is not universally practicable, and in these instances do not hold the individuals unable to eat vegan or follow the Pledge morally culpable (though again, that does not suddenly make the practice of carnism [a]moral, but simply shifts the ethical derision onto the shoulders of the caretaker). For example, there are minors, humans with certain disabilities, incarcerated individuals, and others with anti-speciesist values unable to choose their diet or the circumstances in which they are able to eat. That said, these examples are clearly exceptions, not the rule. And given my position that the Liberation Pledge is an effective tool for deconstructing carnism, as long as practicing the Liberation Pledge is possible and does not require sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, I do view its practice as morally required.

On the contrary, many may argue that the Liberation Pledge is itself too passive. That accepting the moral urgency of animal liberation alongside Singer’s rationale that favors active resistance should compel us to take much bolder and more direct actions. I emphatically agree. However, a valid critique of insufficiency does not detract from the Pledge’s necessity. I strongly support activists taking further action beyond the Liberation Pledge, and simply hold that it is one tool amongst many that should be employed by liberationists.

What we eat is deeply political, and it is time for activists to live out the consequences of this reality by refusing to condone the consumptive violence of others. It is my hope that in reading this you leave convinced to uptake the Pledge yourself, and if not, that the seeds for such action have been planted and await germination. In accordance with that desire, I end with a reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s shared sentiment: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." [71]

  1. ^

    Corredor, J. M. (1957). Conversations with Casals (p. 11). Dutton.

  2. ^

    Best, S., Nocella, A. J., Kahn, R., Gigliotti, C., & Kemmerer, L. (2007). Introducing critical animal studies. Journal for Critical Animal Studies, 5(1), 5–6.

  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^

    Torres, O. (2015). Making the liberation pledge work for you. Direct Action Everywhere.

  6. ^

    Swords to ploughshares. (2020). In Wikipedia.

  7. ^

    Muller, M. A., & Brown, A. (2010, September 9). The Plowshares Eight: Thirty years on. Waging Nonviolence.

  8. ^

    Tuttle, W. M. (2005). The world peace diet: Eating for spiritual health and social harmony (p. 1). Lantern Books.

  9. ^

    Schlottmann, C., & Sebo, J. (2019). Food, animals, and the environment: An ethical approach (p. 71). Routledge.

  10. ^

    Kaneda, T., & Haub, C. (2020). How many people have ever lived on Earth? Population Reference Bureau.

  11. ^

    Schlottmann & Sebo, supra note 9, at 189.

  12. ^

    Wadiwel, D. J. (2015). The war against animals. Brill.

  13. ^

    Abbey, E. (1989). Beyond the wall: Essays from the outside (Nachdr.). Holt.

  14. ^

    Kymlicka, W., & Donaldson, S. (2014). Animal rights, multiculturalism, and the left. Journal of Social Philosophy, 45(1), 116–135.

  15. ^

    Best et al., supra note 2.

  16. ^

    Joy, M. (2011). Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows: An introduction to carnism; the belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others. Conari Press.

  17. ^

    Chambers, R. (1996). The unexamined. Minnesota Review, 47, 141–156.

  18. ^

    Joy, supra note 16.

  19. ^

    Chiles, R. M., & Fitzgerald, A. J. (2018). Why is meat so important in Western history and culture? A genealogical critique of biophysical and political-economic explanations. Agriculture and Human Values, 35(1), 1.

  20. ^

    Bartky, S. L. (1975). Toward a phenomenology of feminist consciousness. Social Theory and Practice, 3(4), 22.

  21. ^

    Gruen, L. (2011). Ethics and animals: An introduction (p. 102). Cambridge University Press.

  22. ^

    Adams, C. J. (2015). The sexual politics of meat: A feminist-vegetarian critical theory (p. 29). Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.

  23. ^

    Benningstad, N. C. G., & Kunst, J. R. (2020). Dissociating meat from its animal origins: A systematic literature review. Appetite, 147, 104554.

  24. ^

    Kagan, S. (2011). Do I make a difference?: Do I make a difference? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 39(2), 122.

  25. ^

    Smith, M. (2002). The ‘ethical’ space of the abattoir: On the (in)human(e) slaughter of other animals. Human Ecology Review, 9(2), 55.

  26. ^

    Regan, T. (1975). The moral basis of vegetarianism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 5(2), 203.

  27. ^

    Hsiung, W. (2009). Boycott veganism. 8

  28. ^

    Wheeler, L. (1966). Toward a theory of behavioral contagion. Psychological Review, 73(2), 179–192.

  29. ^

    Gandhi. (1936, November 19). Harijan. Harijan, 341–342.

  30. ^

    The Liberation Pledge, supra note 4.

  31. ^

    Hsiung, W. (2017, December 6). How animal lovers are transforming Thanksgiving. Huffpost.

  32. ^

    The Liberation Pledge, supra note 4.

  33. ^

    Appiah, K. A. (2010). The honor code: How moral revolutions happen. W.W. Norton.

  34. ^

    Hsiung, supra note 31.

  35. ^

    Aspey, J. (2017, June 12). Eat at tables where animals are served? (W/ Wayne Hsuing, DxE) [Video]. YouTube.

  36. ^

    Le Carré, J. (2008). A most wanted man. Scribner.

  37. ^

    Aspey, supra note 35.

  38. ^

    Giehl, D. (1979). Vegetarianism: A way of life (p. 128). Harper & Row.

  39. ^

    Midgley, M. (1998). Animals and why they matter (p. 22). University of Georgia Press.

  40. ^

    Id.

  41. ^

    Hsiung, supra note 27, at 9.

  42. ^

    Chenoweth, E., & Stephan, M. J. (2013). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Columbia University Press.

  43. ^

    Singer, P. (2015). The most good you can do: How effective altruism is changing ideas about living ethically (pp. 39-54). Yale University Press.

  44. ^

    Greenebaum, J. (2018). Vegans of color: Managing visible and invisible stigmas. Food, Culture & Society, 21(5), 680–697.

  45. ^

    Adams, supra note 22.

  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^

    King Jr., M. L. (1963, April 16). Letter from a Birmingham jail.

  49. ^

    King Jr., M. L. (1967, April 15). April 15 mobilization to end the war in Vietnam.

  50. ^
  51. ^

    Anderson, J., & Tyler, L. (2018). Attitudes toward farmed animals in the BRIC countries. Faunalytics.

  52. ^

    Brown, M. F. (2008). Cultural relativism 2.0. Current Anthropology, 49(3), 363–383.

  53. ^

    Jarvie, I. C. (1993). Relativism yet again. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 23, 537–547.

  54. ^

    Gruen, L. (2001). Conflicting values in a conflicted world: Ecofeminism and multicultural environmental ethics. Women & Environments International Magazine, 16–19.

  55. ^

    Gaard, G. (2001). Tools for a cross-cultural feminist ethics: Exploring ethical contexts and contents in the Makah whale hunt. Hypatia, 16(1), 1–26.

  56. ^

    Robinson, M. (2013). Veganism and Mi’kmaq legends. The Canadian Journal of Natural Studies, 33, 184–196.

  57. ^

    Arnaquq-Baril, A. (2016). Angry Inuk [Film].

  58. ^

    Kim, C. J. (2015). Dangerous crossings: Race, species, and nature in a multicultural age (pp. 205-2520. Cambridge University Press.

  59. ^

    Robinson, M. (2016). Is the moose still my brother if we don’t eat him? In J. Castricano & R. R. Simonsen (Eds.), Critical perspectives on veganism (pp. 261–284). Springer International Publishing.

  60. ^

    Schlottmann & Sebo, supra note 9, at 190.

  61. ^

    Wiesel, E. (1986, December 11). Nobel Lecture: Hope, despair and memory.

  62. ^

    Regan, supra note 26.

  63. ^

    Francione, G. L., & Charlton, A. (2015). Animal rights: The abolitionist approach. Exempla Press.

  64. ^

    Plumwood, V. (2000). Integrating ethical frameworks for animals, humans, and nature: A critical feminist eco-socialist analysis. Ethics and the Environment, 5(2), 285–322.

  65. ^

    Gruen, L., & Jones, R. C. (2015). Veganism as an aspiration. In B. Bramble & B. Fischer (Eds.), The moral complexities of eating meat (pp. 153-171). Oxford University Press.

  66. ^

    Marder, M. (2013). Is it ethical to eat plants? Parallax, 19(1), 29–37.

  67. ^

    Gruen, supra note 21, at 93.

  68. ^

    Curtin, D. (1991). Toward an ecological ethic of care. Hypatia, 6(1), 70.

  69. ^

    Regan, supra note 26, at 188.

  70. ^

    Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(3), 229-243.

  71. ^

    King Jr., M. L. (1967, November). The trumpet of conscience. Steeler Lecture.

7

50 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:14 PM
New Comment

This post has five comments; one offers a critique, and the other four are extremely positive. All four positive comments come from accounts which, like that of the post, are newly registered with no sign of other interaction. Unlike PabloAMC's comment, none of the four display much familiarity with EA principles or considerations. They have low karma / vote ratios*, suggesting they were upvoted by sub-1000 karma accounts, and possibly strongly upvoted once by a 10+ karma account.

* 6/5, 5/4, 4/4, 4/3 at time of writing.

All four positive comments come from accounts which, like that of the post, are newly registered with no sign of other interaction. Unlike PabloAMC's comment, none of the four display much familiarity with EA principles or considerations. 

This is a good observation. You were not the only one to notice this.

Note that Nico Stubler is an activist and it is reasonable and plausible that he has organically encouraged people to comment. 

Given his activism and public profile, it seems appropriate to show his LinkedIn here that shows his background, which seems pretty extensive. 

hey Charles,

yupp, i did share this post on my instagram story, and invited folk who have experience/opinions (positive or negative) on the Pledge to contribute. it seems to me that  people who have direct experience with the Pledge and/or have spent considerable  time thinking about it prior to this post could contribute worthwhile comments to the discussion 👍

hey Larks. thanks for that analysis.

is it not a positive outcome that this post is drawing new members to the EA Forum and community?

I do think it is good to have the EA forum as a place of discussion and disagreement on how to improve the world.

I think my critique would be different from the ones described above. It would be that convincing people to go vegan (the end goal) takes time for them to interiorize the reasons and agree. It is naive to believe that we are Bayesian beings that have their preferences written in stone, and so if I make a really smart argument they will just change.

Rather, I believe it is more effective to invite them to try out things such as Meatless Monday, Veganuary, or similar. My intuition is that the key is showing that it's not so costly to change (it really isn't).

I acknowledge that the proposed kind of protest might help or might even be necessary in the future, but I'm not sure the time has come for this to succeed at a societal level. Part of this is because you are sending the message that going vegan has a very strong and narrow identity attached and that you expect other potential people going vegan to also pay the social cost of such behavior. If they perceive going vegan as expensive, they are probably even more likely to refuse it. Furthermore, the single fact that every time you eat with other people you refuse to eat meat is a way of signaling that you perceive that as wrong; and every time they decide where to go or what to buy they will be remembered of this fact.

So in summary, I'd rather go with the carrot than the stick here. At least for the time being.

hey Pablo. thanks for taking the time to share this constructive feedback. a few thoughts (in the order presented):

i don't see convincing people to go vegan as the end goal, per se. rather, i view convincing people to understand veganism not as a value-neutral personal choice—but as one carrying deep ethical implications—to be the purpose.

i agree that the majority of people are not [yet] ready to quickly make big personal changes after listening to a compelling argument (i do, however, think many members of the EA Forum might be, which is why I wanted to share this idea here). that said, i do believe that practicing the Pledge plants a much stronger seed in the minds of others regarding the need to change, and consequently expedites the process of changing. it also helps to clarify the purpose of changing (doing the right thing, morally).

by practicing the Liberation Pledge we aren't asking others to follow the Liberation Pledge, just to eat vegan around us.. as such, i don't think the Liberation Pledge makes veganism look any more challenging... on the contrary, it shifts the overton window to make veganism seem more accessible and moderate by comparison. and by [hopefully] getting them to share a vegan meal with us, we help them to see how feasible [and tasty] it can be.

100%. by refusing to eat around those eating animal-based foods we signal that eating animal-based foods is morally wrong. that's the central power of the Pledge.

I don't see convincing people to go vegan as the end goal

I think we should agree that the objective is to have fewer animals suffer from the current animal agriculture system (or even from life in the wild, if we want to go wild 😝). It seems that 90 to 95% of this objective is to make people eat less or no meat. So I'd say that the objective should be something along those lines, such as going vegan, no?

yup, i definitely agree on the objective 👍

i just don't see us getting to that point via individual change (which in the current framing of "going vegan" entails identity change). i see us getting there via structural change. and think a critical factor for achieving structural change is through stigmatizing the act of eating animal-based foods (and the industry that produces them). the sentience institute has done some good work here (https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/foundational-questions-summaries#individual-vs.-institutional-interventions-and-messaging)

of course, it's not one or the other. some level of individual change is required for enabling structural change (perhaps the two best articles i know that argue this are Lessig 1995 and Sunstein 1996). but given this movement's historical focus on the former, i think it's time to start exploring individual strategies for pursing the latter.

So, I think perhaps our disagreement is that I don't think we have reached the critical mass to stigmatizing it yet. In the US or western countries in general veganism is ~1-2%. Vegetarianism and flexitarianism might rise that up to 8 to 10%. My intuition is that at this level one would still be seen eccentric enough to signal that animals are worth welfare considerations, but also eccentric enough that you risk marginalization (and very little impact?) if you attempt structural change.

 i think we are further along than most assume. yes, the percentage of vegans is devastatingly small. BUT, there is reason to believe there is rapid growing social support:

"Yet a 2014 U.S. survey found that 93 percent of respondents felt it was “very important” to buy their food from humane sources. Eighty-seven percent believe “farmed animals have roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans.” And an astounding 47 percent of U.S. adults say in a survey that they support the seemingly radical policy change of “a ban on slaughterhouses.”"
https://progressive.org/magazine/emptying-the-cages/

in my eyes, practicing the Pledge is a strategy for helping others who already feel open to these positions [i.e., the majority] reify their support.

I see, it makes sense. Yet, my belief is that these people are willing to say they would do so if it were "free", but it never is, if only because it requires efforts to change your own habits. If they really wanted, do you think they don't do it for the risk of criticism of others, or why? Notice that the idea of making it simple to eat less meat addresses what I think is the main obstacle: changing routines.

unfortunately, i think shockingly few people are willing to make significant personal "sacrifices" for ethical reasons (i put "sacrifice" in quotations because i don't see being vegan as a sacrifice—the important thing, however, is that others still do...).

i think there are a lot of reasons that hold people back from "going" vegan... the [perceived] hassle, social cost, free-rider effect, associated identity change, etc.

i think the solution is winning  systemic change, i.e., policies that change the entire decision-making environment. e.g., as i argue in my forthcoming book (shameless plug), if the sale of meat was banned, all of society would go vegetarian by default (and the collective transition would make it easier for everyone). this systemic change reduces (or eliminates) the hassle, social cost, fear of free riders undermining us, and the need to change identity that often comes with going vegan.

the key, in my mind, is creating the social conditions that will allow for far-reaching systemic changes to become viable, and i view the Pledge as one action (among others) that individuals can take to help.

Could you provide an example of how a conversation where you would explain why you're refusing to eat at a table where non-vegan food is served? Can you say to what extent you've had to no longer eat with certain people? If I were to take the Liberation Pledge, I think the consequence would be that I end up always eating alone or end up only eating with vegetarians/vegans/reducetarians – more like cutting off relationships rather than convincing people to care more about farm animals – which doesn't seem to be a helpful situation to be in.

(Another consideration is that I think changing people's personal diet is much less cost-effective than institutional reform, and though I am lacto-vegetarian when not around family, I prioritize other cause areas besides present-day farm animal welfare.)

hey Michael. i think that's one of the first questions many people who consider taking the Pledge have, and i'm glad you asked it.

a negative example: an uncle i haven't seen in years was passing through new york city, and invited me out to dinner. i first noted my excitement to see  and share a meal with him, second noted my commitment to never eat around those consuming animal-based foods, and finally asked if he'd prefer grabbing some vegan food with me or would rather just grab drinks. he elected to just get drinks.

while far from ideal, i was still able to connect with my uncle, and ended up having a positive conversation with him over drinks (a MUCH more healthy and positive conversation than i could have had if he were instead eating animal-based foods in front of me).
however, the vast majority of my requests are responses to with immediate excitement (e.g., "of course i'd be happy to eat vegan with you," "i didn't know how much being around meat impacted you. yes, i'll be happy to try a vegan meal with you," etc.).

note that in all of these cases, i prioritize having these conversations in advance of a meal, away from the act of eating animal-based foods. i find this to always be the most effective space to have these conversations.

regardless, my goal is to always to pursue the same relationships, just away from animal-based foods. i.e., i don't just want to cut myself off from non-vegan tables, but invite my relationships to eat at a vegan table with me.

[fwiw, i 100% agree regarding the importance of focussing on institutional reform over individual change. as i responded to PabloAMC above, i advocate for the Pledge because i think it is an important action individuals can take to enable structural change moving forward]

Thanks for your post!

 

My main disagreement is that carnism is far more common than veganism, is the status quo and is in a literal sense 'normal' in most parts of the world. I think this means that eating vegan food around meat eaters actually has the opposite effect to what is argued in this piece, and 'normalises' veganism rather than carnism. This is why I think it is likely that vegans avoiding eating at tables with people who are eating animal products would be counterproductive and make animal liberation less likely (I  think group dinners with multiple non-vegans would only very rarely end up going vegan to accommodate a Liberation Pledger, and the effects of this would not outweigh the harms of all the missed dinners where meat eaters would see a vegan eating vegan food). 

 

Also, with critique 3:

1. I think you did refute the claim that "radicalism is inherently bad", but the claim that "this intervention is too radical because will be less effective at achieving animal liberation than more moderate interventions" was not adequately engaged with. I don't think it was adequetly explained why this was considered to be a bad-faith argument. From my reading, it seemed like the general argument that "a more moderate sounding intervention might be more effective at achieving goal X than a more radical sounding intervention" is being viewed as inherently bad-faith.  But for any radical intervention, it is usually very easy to come up with a more radical intervention that makes the initial intervention sound moderate. For example, it is not difficult to think of 'more radical' proposals than the Liberation Pledge, but it seems irrational to immediately dismiss the idea that "the Liberation Pledge could be more effective at achieving animal liberation than more radical proposals". 

2.  I  think "picking the side of the oppressor vs picking side of the oppressed" is mainly useful as a rhetorical device to build support for movements (admittedly I don't like it for this purpose either), but it is too simplistic a way of thinking about our choices when discussing changing the world on a large scale. There is a very large spectrum of interventions we can implement in terms of the extent to which they make animal liberation more or less likely. Some interventions make animal liberation a lot more likely, some make it very slightly more likely, and I think simply viewing them as 'siding with the oppressed' can overlook these important differences (eg - it's possible that fewer people siding with animals via interventions with large effects could get us closer to animal liberation than more people siding with animals but via interventions with very small effects).

3.  I think if we're forcing people to take sides, the major risk that you rightly consider is that too many people (and too many powerful people) take the wrong side, making animal liberation less likely. But I am not confident that people's claims to be in favour of animal welfare and against animal cruelty will translate to the majority picking the correct side here - I expect that enjoyment of the taste of animal products would overcome worries about animal cruelty, and a majority of people would choose carnism over veganism.

thanks for this thoughtful response! for the most part, i don't disagree (and think with some clarification on my end, we may be able to agree 🤞).

in short, i don't view the Pledge as the only valid option for advancing this movement;  rather, i believe a diversity of tactics are required to push this movement forward, and see the pledge as an important (though currently overlooked) tactic amongst these. given this position, i generally agree with most of your points above—but i don't think that detracts from the importance of a small (but increasingly growing) population practicing and advocating the Pledge.

specifically, in advocating for the Pledge, i don't expect every animal advocate to immediately jump on board (and critiques of the Pledge that assume this is the argument are similar, imo, to critiques of veganism that ask what we do with all the farmed animals currently living if everyone goes vegan immediately). rather, my hope is that for now, the select group of animal advocates most passionate about driving this cause forward (and most willing to make personal "sacrifices" to do so) will adopt the Pledge. in doing so, they will create space for future generations of uptake to become more feasible. just as importantly, in the process they will drag the overton window to make veganism (and other similar measures) seem less radical and more feasible by comparison. i.e., by taking the Pledge, activists create more space for all other animal advocates to move more freely.

so yes, i do think it is important to have people in the movement eating vegan around carnists. i also think that we can be doing more, and for those willing, we should be doing more to push the movement forward. the harms caused by Big Meat are urgent and massive, and deserve activism (at least at leading edge) that responds accordingly.
 

Hi Nico! Welcome to the forum! I appreciate you making the case for a new intervention, that is broadly viable to many people interested in advancing the cause of non-human animals' welfare or rights. 

My intuition is that the liberation pledge will not make the top 10 of most effective ways of having a positive impact on farmed animal welfare. I don't have rigorous (or tbh, any) models here, but things that I would imagine are more effective at similar levels of emotional, economic, and attention costs:

  • working slightly harder at your day job and donating
  • doing research and analysis of high-level questions like what the Theory of Change looks like for animal welfare, or what animal activists can learn from historical case studies.
  • doing research and analysis of specific med/low-level questions like what specific charities are best to give to, or what pathways to alternative proteins exist.
  • signing petitions and other issue-specific political advocacy efforts
  • campaigning for pro-animal politicians within your local jurisdiction.
  • (for multi-lingual speakers) translating important texts in EAA thought to your local language
  • Using the extra time and emotional affordances you have to spend on improving your career capital
  • figuring out ways to increase the general perceived social/PR costs for executives and other knowledge workers (e.g. lawyers, marketing) from working at factory farming orgs.
  • Helping EAA orgs find talent.
  • critiquing and red-teaming EAA orgs.
  • etc.

hey Linch. i like this comment!

while i don't fully agree,, thankfully i'm not sure i need to! the Pledge doesn't require i spend  new resources, i.e., it doesn't come at the expense of other actions i can (and should) be doing in this space. rather, i see it as complimentary. i eat the same number of meals a day, the same types of food, and hopefully with the same people as i otherwise would.

to the extent practicing the Pledge does require additional social/emotional capital up front, i view it as an investment into my future self. (the more i have these convos, the easier they get; the more i have these convos, the less i need to have them (as they've already been had); failing to have these convos kicks the ball down the road, and forces continued [albeit buried] strain upon my relationships).

Thanks for the engagement. I'm sometimes confused when things I perceive as subtly-but-not-legibly costly are not seen as costly by other people. Here's another example that comes to mind.

thanks for that link; i see what you are getting at.

yes, i do think practicing the Pledge comes with some of the costs you mention in other comment. i simply think that the harms of these systems are so devastating comparatively that practicing the Pledge is the least i can do.

moreover, from my experience, practicing the Pledge has increased—not decreased—my capacity for further activism.  in section IV.7 i respond to the issue of moral licensing, which applies here:
"However, at least in this context, the opposite impact is more likely. Powerfully and publicly acting on one’s values every mealtime helps the practitioner to build their confidence and conviction. And rather than limiting one’s additional activism, this impassioned conviction more often spills over to inspire continued engagement in the movement."

I think I may have misunderstood the scope of your post. If you mean to restrict it to (animal) activists, then I'm much less sure about my top comment (though still think it is probably in the right direction). However, the EA Forum have many people who want to do good in different roles, including e.g., entrepreneurs, students, earning-to-givers, professional communicators, bureaucrats, grantmakers, lawyers, operations folks, and (especially) researchers. For most of those roles, seeing yourself primarily motivated by impassioned conviction and activism may be less directly useful than for activists.

i think the Pledge can be an effective tool (amongst others) for individuals to challenge the harms  caused by Big Meat. i.e., it can be used by activists focused on the harms to animals, to public health, to workers, to the environment, etc. the article copied below makes a compelling case for framing veganism in this way (and i think the same applies to the Pledge):

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10455752.2020.1837895

(fwiw, i define activism/activists quite broadly; far from being reserved from grassroots organizers on the street, i think activist can (and should) apply to anyone trying to change the social conditions we were born into. by that definition, i think most EAs fall into that category).

I generally wear clothes that I buy from mainstream stores without looking into the labor conditions at the factory  in which they were made. I understand that there exist truly horrible sweatshops with coercive conditions, but I suspect the scale of the problem and the likelihood of my actions making an impact are such that my finite attention/time/money are better spent elsewhere. However, I am totally open to the possibility that actually, sweatshops with horrible/coercive conditions are more common than I think, that t-shirts I buy on Amazon are causing more suffering than I imagine, and that it's easier than I think to look up which brands are responsible in sourcing labor. 

I think if I had a conversation with an acquaintance who discussed these things with me in a non-judgmental way, I might change my behavior.  But if such a person demanded that I change clothes before I sat next to them, I would not be remotely interested in engaging with them.  I would also not really be that interested in continuing a conversation with them online, given that they were morally opposed to sitting next to me in person so long as I had on my questionably-sourced t-shirt.  It would just feel too controlling, alienating, and hypocritical (what is the likelihood that they have carefully researched every item they have ever used to filter out coerced labor anyway?). No amount of the other person being right regarding the large moral significance of my purchases would change this.

Eating is a little different than wearing clothes in that you are not eating all the time, but it is very limiting to a new relationship if you refuse to eat with the other person unless you have veto power over their food, particularly if (as seems necessitated by this pledge) you make clear you are refusing to do so on moral grounds. So for this reason, I am pretty strongly against this approach.

thanks for this response Monica

i think it's an interesting comparison, but do think there are notable differences between what we eat and wear.
regarding what we eat, the issue is pretty cut and dry. are they eating an animal, or not? (and as i argue in the article, i don't think it makes sense to get into the nitty gritty of whether something is vegan or not. if it's clearly not vegan, i'm clearly against it, but don't require them dig into the supply chain, etc.).
regarding what we wear, the issue is less obvious. and i think that nuance makes a Pledge related to ethical clothing less practicable.
of course, that analysis is surely influenced by the fact that i'm already vegan, but still consume clothing made in what i'm sure are problematic conditions...

regardless, as Singer [persuasively] argues in "Famine, Affluence and Morality" (and as i cite in the article), ethics demand a lot of us. while challenging, i see the Pledge as a feasible  and pragmatic way to address the devastating harms of Big Meat, and as such, think its incumbent upon myself to practice it.

Thanks for your response, Nico. I'm not sure those differences are so significant. One reasonably clear-cut standard you could have for clothing is coercion of labor with violence. This standard would accept conditions of arbitrarily low wages, poor safety conditions, and abuse but would not accept conditions in which workers who tried to walk out the door were in any way physically hurt or restrained. There is an obvious problem of figuring out which clothing was produced in such a condition, but let's imagine for the sake of argument that there exists a list of brands that have been verified as not coercive and that this list is large enough to make it practical for most people to shop exclusively from it. I would not be remotely surprised to learn that such a list does in fact exist and that I am making a pretty substantial moral mistake by not consulting it before buying stuff.

Now let's imagine that I did not know about this list. I know that there forced labor exists, I am sympathetic to the idea that it is a bigger deal than I might immediately appreciate, and I am aware I might be contributing to it through shopping. But let's also say I imagine that searching is time consuming, that verified brands are too expensive to justify , that I have moral uncertainty about using my time and efforts in this dimension where they could be used elsewhere, and am I really so sure that forced labor is a widespread problem anyway? In walks my hypothetical acquaintance Bob.  Bob knows about this list, has answers and evidence to my questions about the prevalence of forced labor, and can give me tips about how to make shopping on my budget easy while steering clear of forced labor. On top of that, he can quietly demonstrate to me how well-dressed one can be while avoiding forced labor. It would be a real shame if Bob started the conversation with me by saying "Hey! I would love to chat with you, but I see that you are wearing a brand-X t-shirt, which is totally immoral, as brand X uses forced labor, so would you mind going and changing your shirt so that we can chat? It would be immoral for me to sit next to you dressed like that. Or maybe we can catch up online later?"

My relationship with Bob would be over, I would never learn about the easy ways to avoid forced labor in my shopping, I would never see how well Bob dresses on a day to day basis, and I would never get my questions about the prevalence  of forced labor answered. It would continue to be some out-of-sight and out-of-mind problem that I contribute to with my shopping. Doing anything about it would feel impractical. All this while in the hypothetical Bob is totally right! Avoiding forced labor while accepting other bad labor conditions is a reasonable binary standard, there are ways to avoid doing it, it is easier than I thought, and continuing to purchase items created by forced labor is wildly immoral. Too bad for me, for Bob, and most of all for the victims of forced labor though, because Bob sent me packing from the start.

yes, if such a standard existed, i do think the similarities between these issues would be closer to outweighing their differences, and could see myself supportive a version of the Pledge in this context besides two remaining differences:

1.  regarding food, both parties are already planning on making a new purchase, whereas regarding clothes, they aren't. so while the liberation pledge is simply asking our acquaintances to make a new purchase they already plan to make in a different way, a pledge related to clothing is asking others to either retroactively make different purchases or make new purchases they didn't plan to make.

2.  the harms from clothing are further removed than with food. with food, the purchase and consumption happens in real time (which is why i think it's so important to oppose/boycott in those moments). with clothes, the purchase occurred in the distant past, and the cost of its use is spread out over time (with every instance one wears it).

these differences, imo, make enforcement of a pledge related to clothing more costly, its messaging less direct, and thus its impact less positive.

[though to be fair, if such a list existed and following it was fairly practicable (as practicable as, say, finding vegan food), i'm sure you could convince of implementing it in some other way directed towards stigmatizing the brands that were on it]

I definitely agree that both of those differences are relevant and and I do understand why you might support one type of pledge but not the other due to these differences. But it's still the closest analogy I can think of for how non-vegans might feel in this situation, so I'm still curious about how you personally would react if someone you barely knew told you that wearing a particular set of brands was a precondition for meeting them. I personally would feel really put off by it and in all likelihood just wouldn't meet them because it would feel weird and controlling.

Do you think that your first reaction to someone insisting you wear something would be to look through your closet to try and accommodate or to think "ehh, do I really want to see this person after all"?

I wouldn't be surprised if you can in good faith say that you would first look through your closet. But even then, consider that you are clearly an outlier among the general population in terms of how much you are willing to change your personal behavior to reduce suffering and also in terms of how comfortable you are with norms around pointing out how others are contributing to suffering. If you can honestly say that you would look through your closet before reconsidering the meeting, I would even push you to imagine being asked to do something even more extreme (I don't know what "more extreme" would mean for you, but something more inconvenient for what seems to you to have a less obvious connection to morality).

I frequently have meals with colleagues and acquaintances that I don't know well. Some of my co-diners have eventually gone on to become vegan or even directly worked on animal welfare issues in some small part because of my influence. But if I had made this pledge I would just never have gotten to know them at all. More than that I think I personally would fail to accommodate closely analogous (e.g. the clothing) version of this pledge and would never learn more about the issue. Do you share that concern?

to answer your last question first, yes, i do share that concern! i think it is a very real and important consideration all Pledgers should center in the way we communicate it to others. (and while i note that a few times in the article, i could definitely have emphasized that stronger. thanks for flagging it). that said, i do think it is possible to communicate it in a way that is open, vulnerable, and engaging.

to answer your first question—how i would react—perhaps its easiest to note my initial reaction to the Pledge. when i first heard about it, i was openly against it. i thought it was problematic and counterproductive. however, the more i sat with the arguments for and against, the more i found myself changing my mind. that's a common feature in my psychology (initial skepticism, leading to gradual warming). i think this reaction is fairly common (and has been my experience with practicing the pledge). so while i don't expect the Pledge to always be welcomed with open arms (though have found the vast majority of people i've asked to accommodate me have been more than happy to do so), in the instances where that isn't the case i believe the Pledge enables us to plant a firm seed that, while perhaps initially uncomfortable, ultimately creates the environment for positive growth moving forward.

I don't believe this policy is viable for most people without suffering meaningful social isolation as a result, with limited benefits.

In particular, if one has few vegan friends, then this precludes participating in group dinners unless the venue is vegan, which may be a tough sell to insist upon every time there's a group dinner. If one is not in a major metro area with lots of vegan options, it may preclude eating out at all, as there may not be any exclusively vegan dining options.

hey Charles,

as i clarify in section I, the Pledge does not require we only attend vegan venues. it simply requires that we  only eat at vegan tables. this essentially leaves all the same venues friendly to vegan consumption friendly to Pledge practitioners as well.

That deals with the venue problem, but not with the group dynamics one. If my social group is eating together, I do not want to be the one insisting that my presence requires everyone else to eat only vegan options. It's just going to annoy people and make them think I'm difficult to be around.

This is different to meeting one friend for food or something where the ask is smaller, but if there's a group of six friends, say, and only one person is vegan, the ask that everyone only eat vegan options every time the group meets is not going to engender goodwill for the vegan at the table, I think.

if i really wanted to be in that environment (i.e., feigning normalcy and pleasure while those in my company eat animal bodies [which, as argued in the article, i generally view as problematic]), i would attend without eating. in fact, i've done so myself on two occasions.

even so, i think if one was open to practicing the pledge in some circumstances but not all, they should still practice the pledge in those limited circumstances! we are all imperfect, and i don't think we should allow a commitment to purity to prevent us from making positive progress. (in my eyes, i just don't see the "sacrifices" that come with the Pledge to outweigh the benefits, but can understand that many don't yet agree).

Thanks for the responses, it's been very helpful! I still do not agree that this is a productive step but I feel I have a better understanding of your approach than I did.

I’ve taken the liberation pledge for the last three years and see it as an escalation of the renormalization that happens through veganism - basically making it a form of activism- and an extension of my personal values.

i love hearing that. i've taken the Pledge for about the same length of time, and the more i've practiced it, the more i've come to believe in its efficacy.

Hi nico, Thanks for the post, I only skim read it as it's quite long so if this is answered in the article already, please link the part.

Do you have any comments from people who have taken the pledge on how it's going? I'd be really interested to read the results of a survey of pledgers with questions asked before and after taking the pledge. Questions like : how often do you eat with non vegans (days per month) ? How often do you eat with vegans? How often do you talk about your diet and the reasons for it with non-vegans? On average how do receptive do non vegans seem to your diet and reasons for it (sliding scale rating)?

My worry with this is the pledge could cause those who take it to be more insular in their vegan communities and engage less with those outside them. For example, they may be eating alongside non vegans and having constructive discussions, but after taking the pledge they only eat with vegans.

It could also reinforce the negative stereotype about vegans being aggressive with their moral views.

So I would be really interested to test these concerns, even it's just anecdotes or a small survey.

hey Matt. thanks for the comment (and my apologies for the delayed response).

it's a great question! the short answer is no, this kind of qualitative study has not [to my knowledge] been done; but—as i conclude the intro—i agree and think it should:

Despite being the first academic article to address this topic, I hope it will not be the last. Rather, given my belief in the power and relevance of the Liberation Pledge, I hope this article opens space for continued academic dialogue to follow. For not only is this topic rich with research potential—from qualitative research regarding the experiences of Pledge practitioners to theoretical work exploring its institutional applications—but more importantly, such research has the power to affect positive change.

i wholeheartedly agree that the Pledge can be practiced effectively, ineffectively, or harmfully (and feel the same way about vegan messaging in general). but when practiced skillfully, i view the Pledge has a particularly useful and effective intervention.

hopefully i'll have time to work on further research in this space, but until then invite others to join in! more research is clearly needed (and in my opinion, more Pledge practitioners to study are needed as well).

Does The Pledge include not eating or "having drinks" at non-vegan establishments?

I'm interested, because I'm wondering if The Pledge is concerned with (a) normalizing patronage of non-vegan restaurants and/or (b) paying money to restaurants whose business model is premised on the exploitation of animals.

hey Jason. i touch on this a bit in section I., and am happy to add further clarification here.

"The second level Torres discusses entails abstaining from eating at what he calls “tables of violence”—i.e., refusing to sit at a table where animal flesh and/or animal products are present. At this level practitioners are free to attend restaurants or events that serve animal products, even though doing so might necessitate sitting at a different table or in a different room when it is time to eat. The third level entails abstaining from eating in “places of violence”—i.e., refusing to go to any restaurant or event that profits directly from exploiting animals as food. This is the most challenging level, though it is made easier for individuals who have access to vegan-friendly venues and to those who have plant-based or open-minded family members.

While I myself practice the second level, I equally support the third as well, as both in my view are strategic and morally justifiable, albeit with their own strengths. For example, whereas the second level serves to open the range of events available to the practitioner (and thus their range of influence) without compromising the Pledge’s message, the latter powerfully clarifies that it is morally reprehensible for institutions to profit from animal exploitation irrespective of the practitioner or their cohort’s direct complicity in those profits. Consequently, while rejecting the first level, I do not advocate for adopting the second or third level. Instead, I encourage others to follow whichever option resonates, and do not distinguish between the two again in this article."

the Pledge is centrally focused on de-normalizing the consumption of animal-based foods (i.e., carnism). some practitioners extend that to target institutions who profit from selling animal-based foods as well. hope that helps (and am happy to respond further if that's not clear).

Speaking of cultural differences, I think what my parents are kind of following a reverse Liberation Pledge, at least for me: it is impermissible for me to not to eat animal products when they are available on the table. 😅 This follows from a general principle that they have about how you should try out everything available.

that's an interesting point (and unfortunately i think quite common). the difference between the two is cultural acceptability of each practice. broadly speaking, most would consider that position of your parents to be reasonable, and the position of a Pledger to be problematic. but that's the very crux of the issue! and as i argue in  section IV.3, practicing the Pledge is itself meant to address it.

Let's say that someone argued to you that many efforts to improve animal welfare through individual dietary change has proven ineffective:

  1. Only a small fraction of the population is vegetarian/vegan and this has been constant for years
  2. Efforts to promote individual dietary change can be confrontational and aggressive, and consumes a lot of willingness/attention/sympathy of animal welfare. Combined with issue 1 above,  this is actively harmful.

Questions:

  1. Do you find the above plausible or not?
  2. Do you think it is plausible there a large supply of efforts like yours in the past or not? If so, do you think your efforts are unique or have some special character?
  3. Under what conditions or what evidence would you need to change your mind about the above? Or would you never change your mind?

hey Charles. thanks for the Qs

  1. yupp. i fully agree with part 1, disagree [in part] with part 2. the point of the Pledge (imo) is to stigmatize the consumption of eating animal-based foods, not to create vegans (per se). the Pledge doesn't ask that we only eat with vegans.. it asks that we refuse to tolerate those around us not eating vegan around us.
  2. yes, i do think the Pledge is unique (to the point of warranting publishing a journal article on it). i think the Pledge transforms the discussion in really important ways (the topic of parts II and IV of the article).
  3. i'm always open to changing my mine (e.g., when i first heard about the Pledge i was openly against it). if i heard a compelling argument or saw reliable data against the pledge, i'd like to think i'd change accordingly (e.g., in the same way i came to eventually support the Pledge).

Our world has many problems that need resolving, many of which are global in nature and require change at a systemic level. The problem of mass slaughter and commodification of animals is indeed a global problem that will, in part, require systemic solutions. But one of the merits of veganism is the opportunity for an individual to make an impact (and quite literally save lives) through their decision to not eat animals three times a day. 

I see the same merits with the Liberation Pledge in that it provides an (additional) opportunity to the compassionate individual to make a daily impact. Still, actions by those that are practicing the Liberation Pledge take it a step further, landing at a mid-point between individual impact and systemic impact. As you so eloquently wrote… 

"At its core, the central power of the Liberation Pledge lies in its ability to actively challenge the “normalcy” with which we exploit animals for food. By refusing to accept such violence as normal, practitioners of the Liberation Pledge sow the seeds for constructing new social norms and ontologies free from human supremacy."

Those drawn to the opportunity for individual impact and attuned to the need for systemic and societal change should consider taking the Liberation Pledge. This article provides a reasonable and meaningful discussion on the above. 

thanks for this L. it seems you took from the article exactly what i was trying to express, and there are few better feelings as a writer.

I fully support this 1000% and more discussion about it!

thanks Ally!

agreed—i think these are super important conversations for us to be having.

This is a fascinating theory.  I believe I watched the author speak at a conference about how the theory of the Liberation Pledge derived from the foot binding boycott in China.  I hope to see more content from this author!

thanks Steve 🙏