Abolitionism From The Mouth Of A Former Welfarist – guest blog by Keith Berger

It’s always a great pleasure for me to find that I’ve influenced a pre-Vegan so much that they’ve become Vegan. This is the only form of activism that Vegans en masse need to be doing, without a doubt. However, there is only one thing that gives me greater pleasure – seeing someone who was seemingly hopelessly mired in the morass of welfarism have that light bulb moment and recognize that they need to reject the single-issue campaigns and switch over to only Vegan Education efforts.

The change from welfarist to Abolitionist Vegan is the single most important change we need, for everyone, and it can happen at different points for everyone, whether or not they were still consuming non-Vegan food or had any particular stance on any non-food form of exploitation (When it happens with pre-Vegans, they go straight from non-Vegan to AbVegan). Unfortunately, with some people, it never happens, but that is true of most movements.

If we educate pre-Vegans correctly we get this automatically, but it’s even rarer that we can get someone who’s still engaged in welfarism but has already taken a stance against using animals in a behavioral sense to recognize the wisdom in our position. This is why it’s my supreme pleasure to note that I have a guest blog today from someone who I personally influenced to learn about the difference between welfarism and Abolitionism.

Without further ado, I’ll let you hear it from the man himself, Mr. Keith Berger:


In defense of abolitionism… again

I had a light bulb moment recently when thinking about welfarism vs. abolition. I’m sure it comes from Professor Gary Francione’s work (www.abolitionistapproach.com) and exists in much simpler terms, but I suddenly saw it so clearly that I practically danced around the room:

When we educate a person that veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species and s/he stops eating animals and starts living vegan, that person pretty quickly ceases complicity in most of the atrocities and abuses that single-issue campaigns (SICs) focus on and will usually carry the vegan message to others, hence much is accomplished. Conversely, when any of the donation-based welfarist groups I call Donations Over Animals educates a person that fill-in-the-blank-single-issue is wrong and leaves out the vegan education component, that person *may* withdraw their support from that particular issue while remaining complicit in all the rest, hence nothing meaningful is accomplished and a valuable opportunity is wasted.

I’ve been accused of having an attitude of “you have to choose one or the other”, however that is not my attitude.  Everyone is free to do as s/he chooses and will make the choice that suits them, their morals and their ethics.  My belief after a decade of welfarism is that if we have the opportunity to choose to educate people about veganism as the moral baseline, then as vegans it is incumbent upon us to do so.  Educate one person to become vegan and you eliminate support for dozens of animal exploitation issues. Educate ten and you multiply the effect accordingly. Educate one person that fur is bad and s/he may or may not stop wearing fur, and probably won’t make the connection about animals not used in the fur trade. Which sounds more effective?

Once a person stops going to the circus… well… they stop going to the circus. For most people, that’s pretty much where it ends: “Look, people with signs!  Losers!  Get a life! –>Huh? Circuses hurt elephants? That can’t be! –>Oh, here’s some literature about circuses, maybe they’re right  –>Well, I don’t want elephants to be hurt –>OK, I’ll stop supporting circuses –>I did a good thing! —–>I’m hungry, I think I’ll have a cheeseburger and a glass of milk (it’s elephant-free)”.  They don’t necessarily go vegan or stop being complicit in any other form of animal exploitation, and why would they if no one has taken the time and effort to educate them properly?

And again, it’s my belief that single-issue campaigns too often leave out the vegan piece almost entirely. I can point to numerous publications and campaigns by Peta, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, “Vegan” Outreach (more like outrage…) that either don’t mention the word “vegan” at all or bury it so far in the conversation that it’s hardly noticeable. After all, donation-based orgs don’t want to alienate the donor base and risk losing the donor dollars.

One of the SICs I worked on passionately for ten years, both through protests and legislative means, was Ringling Brothers and their treatment of elephants and other exploited animals.  When the news broke recently that Ringling is planning to “retire” their performing elephants, everyone and their mother trumpeted “VICTORY!” from every last mountaintop.  I also thought we had achieved a victory – for about five minutes, until I looked a little more closely and saw the reality of the situation: Ringling has agreed to do nothing more than move their slaves off the road – years in the future – and back to their own breeding facility in Florida (it ain’t no sanctuary…) – the SAME facility in which these suffering individuals were tortured (Ringling calls it “training”), had their spirits broken as babies, were introduced to bull hooks and electric prods and completely subjugated to the will of men. What kind of victory is that?

They’re returning them to the exact location where their physical and psychological trauma was born, which is tantamount to sending a neglected foster child back home to her abusive parents except that, in the elephants’ case, they’ve been with their abusers the entire time. Does anyone believe life is gonna get better for them once they’re “home”? Oh, and they’re also going to loan them out to zoos (I believe that’s being done already) for breeding purposes, as they are still property to be used as Ringling sees fit, which continues their enslavement and brings in a new generation of slaves. The slaves remain slaves – we just don’t get to see public displays anymore. Also, Ringling is bringing other animals on the road to replace the elephants, so we’d better hurry and get out our markers and change our protest signs from elephants to camels.

This is not a victory – this is a ploy to appease some activists and remain profitable. Ringling didn’t suddenly have a change of heart and realize that what they’ve been doing for over a hundred years is wrong. They just found a way to do damage control.  I never once saw anyone doing vegan education at a Ringling protest, as these events are simply not conducive to that. When we did manage to turn people around from entering the circus, we can rest assured they simply went home a few hours earlier to the neighbor’s barbecue and stopped at McDonald’s on the way. I find that kind of “victory” hollow at best and counterproductive at worst.

I’ve been told by animal welfarists that “there is room for us all”, which is almost an exact quote from a presentation I attended by World Heavyweight Champion welfarist Wayne Pacelle, CEO of H$U$, “the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization” (I recall him using the phrase, “We’re a big tent movement”, which at the time I thought was great. I washed it down with a cup of Every Little Bit Helps Kool-Aid). This guy is head of an organization that, in the course of raking in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, offers bacon coupons(!!!) on their Facebook page, has a pig farmer for a vice president(!!!!) and cozies up with animal agriculture/exploitation organizations while promoting countless SICs every year to make sure the animals their friends are going to kill, butcher and eat are comfy in their slave quarters beforehand. Animal protection, my ass. I can’t be the only one who finds those kinds of mixed messages maddeningly confusing, utterly disheartening and completely unacceptable, and yet the donations keep pouring in.

If we should be out protesting something, it should be against welfarist organizations like that, which gives us the perfect opportunity to blend protests and vegan education: “Hey, if you’re vegan, why are you picketing Peta?” “Because, while Peta is pointing you in these fifteen directions, here’s the most important thing they’re NOT telling you…”.

I was asked if I want a vegan world. Absolutely. That’s why I’m doing what I believe will have the greatest impact and leaving behind that which I believe will not.

When it comes to SICs, my contention is that we are striking at the branches of a very diseased tree rather than at the root where the problem begins, and are therefore keeping the status quo rolling along. Working to find acceptable ways to do unacceptable things normalizes the unacceptable thing – namely, killing animals for food – and makes it seem acceptable. While doing welfarist outreach, I’ve spoken with countless non-vegans who said the same thing – “Eating animals is fine, it’s normal. I’m never gonna stop. They shouldn’t abuse them, though.  That’s just wrong”.

If we work on minimizing the discomfort of the animals who will be killed and eaten regardless of their comfort level, it only serves to make it even easier for people such as I’ve described (again, those were actual experiences and quotes) to keep on eating animals, drinking their excretions, wearing their skins and lining up for seconds. If those people felt a twinge of conscience for a second about the abuses we showed them, that’s sure to be alleviated once the abuses seemingly stop. So it seems when we work to reduce – but not eliminate – animal suffering (as is the hallmark of the welfarist organizations), there’s a secondary gain – non-vegans can keep eating animals now with a clear conscience and no reason nor desire to ever stop.

From my perspective, that’s the opposite of progress.

Keith Berger, June 23, 2015

For more information –






The number of people who are recognizing that SICs and welfarism are immoral is rapidly growing. Please use your best judgement and join the movement?

If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.

To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:

Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.