You will probably be surprised to learn that our rights as vegans actually began as long ago as 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, just four years after the ‘birth’ of veganism with Donald Watson’s invention of the V-word. Both events world-changing, but entirely unconnected of course!
There are 30 Articles in the UDHR, but Article 18 is the most important one for vegans. Under Article 18 people are entitled to their beliefs and have the right to both practice and teach others about their beliefs. And beliefs that qualify for protection under human rights law concern a life lived with deep convictions, which can be religious or non-religious in nature.
A few months ago Care2 published the good news that Ontarian vegans’ legal status has gone up. My apologies for being a little late with the news. I’m afraid this particular post’s been sitting neglected in my drafts since last December. So much for New Year’s resolutions. But it’s still worth taking it out and giving it a good dust off because it shines a light on Vegan Rights and why they matter for animals. And anything that matters for animals MATTERS!
“Some people view veganism as a diet, others as a way of life. Critics equate it to a religion and the Canadian province of Ontario has recently subscribed to that definition — but that’s a good thing” says Care2
“Since 1995 when the policy was last updated, discrimination cases based on ‘creed’ were only considered if they involved prejudice against religion-based beliefs, but now the Ontarian commission has ruled that, ‘Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life,’ veganism stemming from ethical concerns included.
So what does the official recognition actually mean?
From a practical standpoint, it means Ontario’s vegans are entitled to have their diet, vegan-oriented choices, and beliefs legally respected.” Care2
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Why did their policy need updating? Why the need to define veganism as a ‘religion’? Deep convictions of a non-religious nature are already covered under Article 18 of UDHR. Well, it seems it isn’t quite as clear cut as it at first sounds. Signatories to The Declaration have quite a bit of leeway in interpreting Article 18. Some chose to allow it to apply only to those with religious beliefs, which means that veganism could only come under Article 18 if defined in law as a religion. So Ontario’s vegans actually had no vegan rights under UDHR – until that momentous re-definition in December last year. Other states and nations though, like the UK, already apply Article 18 to both religious and secular beliefs.
But why is that important and why do vegans need legal rights anyway?
- Vegans could be discriminated against in hospitals, schools, prisons, care homes and other institutions by not being provided with suitable food
- Certain educational courses require students to undertake experiments on, or dissections of, animals. Because of their ethical beliefs, vegans need the legal protection of the right to be exempted
- Vegans could be discriminated against in the health service if suitable medications are not provided
- Vegans are still marginalised socially, in restaurants etc, where vegan choices are very restricted or non-existent
International law requires nations to implement EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL and prohibits discrimination. European case law has recognised VEGANISM AS A BELIEF FOR THE PURPOSES OF RIGHTS LEGISLATION. As such we believe that society has a moral duty to accommodate vegan belief and generate wider respect for veganism – International Vegan Rights Alliance
IVRA’s prose style – and this topic itself – may seem about as dry as some heavy old legal tome gathering dust in the archives, but what’s being said there does really matter. Not just to us, but to the animals too. Why? Well sadly, as yet we don’t have an equivalent UN sponsored Universal Declaration of Animal Rights – if you think like me, that the nations of the world signing up to UDAR would be just about the best thing that ever happened, please add your name to the petition below and share far and wide. Thank you in advance friends and animal-lovers.
So it is in the light of animals’ almost total lack of rights the world over, that it’s beholden on us to insist loud and clear, that our belief system – our belief in the innate rights of animals – has an absolute right to be respected. This is Vegan Rights. This is why they matter. It isn’t really so much about whether all we can get to eat somewhere is chips and salad (though that would be very important if we were in hospital or prison). Or whether we’re made to feel like we’re a nuisance if we ask for plant milk. It is about the animals. The more we insist (politely, kindly and gently) on our rights as vegans, the brighter the spotlight thrown on what veganism is all about – the animals and their lack of rights in the world of humans.
2016 started with a zing for vegan rights here in the UK. Gourmet Burger Kitchen plastered around London a series of what they considered lighthearted ads poking fun at vegetarians. Take a look for yourself here:- We CAN Change the World. A group of vegan Facebook friends countered with a social media campaign #gourmetmurderkitchen which trended on Twitter and hit the national news. I tried to make the point with one of my own tweets “Veganism is not a joke. Animals matter. Join us 2 demand gourmetmurderkitchen remove insulting ads”. We won! GBK got a ton of bad press, were forced to issue public apologies and remove all the ads. Their brilliant advertising idea backfired on them big time.
A year or so earlier, a regular feature writer in our local rag thought he would entertain his readers one November by ridiculing the oh so absurd idea of having a World Vegan Month – whatever next! And while he was at it, sneering at vegans.
“As if November isn’t depressing enough some masochists have declared it Vegan Month. Why is it that every veggie I meet looks like they have about 48 hours to live? No-one spends more time with animals than I do but if we all forgo meat what’s to become of all those beasts? Unless of course every vegan plans to adopt a cow, sheep and a couple of pigs. Soon as they’ve settled in they can move on to geese, turkeys, ducks, hens etc. I have noticed in restaurants that whenever a steak is served in error to a vegetarian they never send it back – they don’t have the strength. Almost every veggie I know is either a student or unemployed. They used to taunt me with that much loved question, “Would you eat meat if you had to kill it yourself?” Until I asked, “Would you eat vegetables if you had to get a full-time job?” I have a pal that grows his own potatoes, cabbage, carots, lettuce and owes his entire existence to …. benefits.”
I wrote a firm rebuttal of his nonsense which the rag eventually published, and afterwards sent the following to the editor: In brief, Mr Barlowe depicted a minority group (vegetarians and vegans) as masochistic, weak-willed, spineless, unhealthy, unemployed benefit claimants. And after slurring the character of this group of people, wrote, “I’m joking”, as if that made it amusing. If you are in any doubt about this piece’s offensiveness, just substitute the word “Muslim” everywhere Mr Barlowe wrote veggie or vegan, and see if you would then be happy to allow that to go into print under your editorship – there would be public outrage. But vegetarians and vegans are clearly seen as a soft target for cheap laughs. It’s pitiful the way your paper feels the need to poke fun at anyone who has beliefs and principles, and who is actually doing their bit to make the world a better place.
You are probably wondering why I’m woffling on about this. The reason is, both this and the GBK episode are good illustrations of why vegan rights matter so much for the animals. It isn’t that we feel personally insulted. It isn’t that we are delicate over-sensitive flowers who can’t take a joke. It’s that in mocking vegetarians and vegans, our beliefs about the rights of animals were themselves being mocked. Our beliefs are not funny. We need to tell that rag, that feature writer, GBK and everyone else who is listening, that billions of animals suffering miserable lives and dying cruel deaths at the hands of human beings IS NO LAUGHING MATTER.
As it stands, the law endorses, no, actually protects the human-centric, speciesist world order. In its role as protector of humans’ property it stands as a very real barrier to animal rights. If we want to turn the tide of the terrible abuse animals suffer, we need as IVRA puts it, to “raise the profile of veganism as an important, workable, reasonable, rational and intelligent belief system.” It is a belief system that has the absolute right to be respected. Absolutely no apologies for being different, being inconvenient, being a nuisance, putting people out, refusing to allow our beliefs to be mocked. We are entitled to our vegan meal in school or hospital. We are entitled to our right not to carve up animals. We are entitled to vegan medication. We are entitled to be served a suitable meal in a restaurant. We are entitled to our beliefs and not to have them mocked. We have legal rights and by insisting on those rights, by demanding our beliefs be respected, we are laying claim to the rights of animals.
This is why what happened in Ontario last December matters.
This is why Vegan Rights matter.
And also here
Know Your Rights – International Law Check out your vegan rights here if you live outside the UK or Europe
Know your Vegan Rights – European Law for UK & European vegans
16th August 2016 The Independent Italy’s proposed law to jail vegan parents for up to 4 years condemned as discriminatory attack on human rights
10th March 2017 It’s now illegal not to offer vegan food at prisons, hospitals and schools in Portugal – The Metro