Jordi Casamitjana, the zoologist who secured the legal protection of vegans in the UK, discusses the concept of “Blood Footprint” as a new clearer way to explain what ethical vegans do.

Who hasn’t seen the video clip of the presenter UK Pierce Morgan ranting against vegans in his former morning TV show saying the following? “The vegans don’t care about the little guys, The billions of bees that get killed every year (…) the billions of those little things are killed every year so that these vegans and vegetarians can have their avocados and almonds flown on jets.” Can you imagine him lashing a similar rant against doctors for not caring enough about patients who were not cured in their first medical appointment? Can you imagine him fuming against firefighters for allowing fires to destroy a building or smoke to spread through the city after they were alerted to an emergency?

Why someone who tries to save human lives and property can do what they can within their possibilities and capabilities, but someone who tries to save all human and non-human animal lives (clearly a more demanding task) is expected to save them all and is accused of a hypocrite when this is not achieved instantly? The answer lies in a misunderstanding of what an ethical vegan is.

Defining “ethical veganism” is an important part of my book “Ethical Vegan. A personal and political journey to change the world.” It has an entire chapter where I explore in detail the definition of veganism of the Vegan Society, the concepts of “sentience” and “speciesism”, and how the environment has always been an important part of the vegan philosophical belief. Ethical vegans, as opposed to dietary vegans who only apply veganism in their diet, seek to exclude, as far as practicable and possible, all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals. Therefore, different vegans can achieve various levels of success in attempting to avoid animal exploitation as their different circumstances will determine what is possible and practical for them. 

Ethical vegans are not “absolutists” who pretend they have already attained the ‘‘enlightenment’ of a cruelty-free life, as Pierce Morgan seems to think we claim to be. In a carnist world, it is quite hard to completely avoid animal exploitation, as it is also hard to cure all ill people immediately and extinguish all the fires instantly. The willingness to do it without excluding any animal or type of exploitation, and the effort put into it, is what counts. 

The Concept of “Blood Footprint” 

carbon footprint made of a drop of water

In further chapters of my book, when I discuss the types of vegetarians and vegans there are, I propose a new concept that may help people to understand better what ethical vegans are about: “Blood Footprint”. When discussing the effects on global heating and climate change, we are all familiar with the term “Carbon Footprint” (the total greenhouse gas emissions caused, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent). I propose to use a similar concept for veganism. This is how I define it: 

“Blood Footprint (BP): The total amount of suffering caused to other sentient beings by an individual, event, organization or product”. 

This is, of course, a theoretical concept at this stage, as we cannot measure suffering accurately. But if we work on it, we could devise an agreed method to roughly quantify it in a relative way. Nevertheless, it is already a useful concept to help us understand what ethical vegans try to do: to reduce their blood footprint, in whatever ways they can manage.

Ethical vegans are people who try to minimize as much as possible their blood footprint by the choices they make in their everyday lives, knowing that sometimes they can be very successful (for instance, with their choices of food and clothes, as labeling will help then to learn about the connection with animal suffering), and sometimes not (such as in financial products, medical treatment or transport). In my book I wrote:

Just as we don’t go out and criticize companies with ‘green credentials’ for not having achieved an absolute zero carbon footprint, we shouldn’t brand ethical vegans as ‘hypocrites’ when it turns out some insects were crushed during the harvesting of the vegetables on their dinner plate, or they paid for it by using a credit card from a bank which invests in wool production.” 

Every time we have a choice of something we need, if there are several alternatives available to us, one will be the most vegan-friendly, even if it is not entirely disconnected from animal exploitation. Finding out which one is the skill ethical vegans develop over time, getting better at it with the help of other vegans sharing information of what they know about these options. 

For instance, when a former employer of mine auto-enrolled me into a pension fund which I discovered was investing in pharmaceutical companies that test on animals, I complained as I knew there were available funds labeled as “ethical” that do not do that. And when I was fired after letting my colleagues know about such alternatives, I took my former employer to the Employment Tribunal.  I managed to win this case, and fortunately, along the way, I also managed to secure the official recognition of “ethical veganism” as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 — so the world could now learn how serious, cogent, coherent, and important such philosophy is. 

Veganphobes and Vegan-deniers complained about this landmark legal victory, but nobody complained when several years earlier an environmentalist secured the same protection for the belief in human-made global warming. That may be because people understood what trying to reduce the Carbon Footprint means. Perhaps we can now use the concept of blood footprint so they can understand what we are all about, and begin to get rid of their denial, fear, and hate.

COP27 Should Be Discussing Blood Footprint Too

Milano, Italy October 1, 2021:

While the world’s leaders are meeting in Glasgow during the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to discuss how to stop the catastrophic human-made climate change we are inflicting on our planet, one issue has been underrated: animal agriculture.

The obvious ignored “cow in the room” is the overwhelming fact that animal agriculture, with its huge CO2 emissions, and especially with its more dangerous methane emissions, is one of the leading causes of global heating. The minimum percentage of such impact accepted by everyone is 18% of all humanity’s greenhouse gases emissions, but recent studies have suggested that it could be as high as 87%. Many scientists have been highlighting this important omission, but as CO2 has become much more popular than CH4 (methane), the political leaders seem only interested in cars and power plants.

However, like the obsession with CO2 is making many people miss essential elements of the solution, I think the obsession with Carbon alone also makes most people miss another key component: animal exploitation and the suffering it causes. Those who disregard Nature and unscrupulously try to exploit it as much as possible for profit are the same ones that apply this irresponsible and violent attitude to both animals and the environment. To solve the problem, we need to change this destructive attitude, not only where it is being channeled into. And that is when the blood footprint can help.

If we measure how much we harm other sentient beings and seek to minimize such harm by consuming the products and services of the providers that cause lesser harm, we will be able to reduce our negative impact not only on other sentient beings but also on the planet. We will be getting at the core of the problem: the harming. 

Seeking to minimize blood footprints will help to minimize Carbon Footprints too. That is because the lowest Carbon Footprint option in any situation will probably also be the option ethical vegans will choose (as the production of vegan food and fibers have a much lower Carbon Footprint than their animal alternatives).

Perhaps in COP27, the next time politicians and experts meet to discuss how to solve the climate crises, both animal agriculture and the blood footprint will be in a prominent place on the discussion table. And if not in that conference, in the next. Until we address the core issue of the problem, though, we may not get that far.

In the vegan world, we all dream about, all this would be solved, and therefore ethical vegans currently building it should be respected, heard, and taken seriously. But as you know, that often does not happen, and we should find ways to overcome this communication barrier.

If you are an ethical vegan and ever find yourself attempting to explain why you make the choices you make, try using the concept of blood footprint to see if it helps. After all, if we want to be respected, we should explore new ways to show we are just regular people trying to do our best to not harm anyone or anything, in a world that is set up for us to fail. 

If we are not always entirely successful, we should not be hated for that. It’s that simple.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.