nico stubler

nico is an activist and a scholar. They completed their M.A. in Animal Studies from New York University, and has led grassroots animal rights and environmental protection campaigns in Colombia, Colorado, New York, and California. Their work focuses on addressing Big Meat's devastating harms with the urgency they demand, and is currently working working on a book, "Ban Meat? A Not-So-Radical Policy Proposal."

The past year nico has worked on Animal Law and Policy with Harvard Law School, Richman Law & Policy, the Cambridge Centre for Animal Rights Law, and Compassionate Bay. During this time, they have published articles and chapters with the Journal for Critical Animals Studies, Routledge [forthcoming], Lantern Publishing [forthcoming], and Sentient Media.


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The Liberation Pledge

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).

The Liberation Pledge

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).

The Liberation Pledge

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.

The Liberation Pledge

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.

The Liberation Pledge

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).

The Liberation Pledge

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.

The Liberation Pledge

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):

(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).

The Liberation Pledge

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.

The Liberation Pledge

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).
The Liberation Pledge

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.

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