Anyone who is vegan knows the challenges of choosing not to exploit animals in a world where nobody else ‘gets it’. When it comes to social occasions, in particular, it seems the greater the celebration is, the more fixated society is on the need to consume animal flesh and secretions in enormous quantities. Yet despite the deep distress, it causes us to be among them, many of us still feel obligated to grin and bear it for the sake of not offending our friends and colleagues, or upsetting our family.
I used to feel that way too. I’d try my best to be lighthearted and not look too weird at social gatherings and family dinners. I’d sit with everyone else and pretend I didn’t care as they carved enthusiastically into what used to be a chicken, or chew on what was once a cow, saying how fabulously tender and juicy it was and I ‘didn’t know what I was missing.
The day I took the Liberation Pledge several years ago, however, all that stopped. I can’t even remember where it was I first heard about it but I was instantly drawn to it and knew it was what I wanted to do. I was through with trying to please people who didn’t care. It was time to make my commitment to the animals official. I signed the pledge, my husband signed it straight after and since that day, neither of us has looked back.
What is the Liberation Pledge?
The official website contains a good amount of clear and concise information and explains the history and logic behind it. The pledge itself has three components, where people vow to:
- Publicly refuse to eat animals – live vegan
- Publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten
- Encourage others to take the pledge
Part one and three are straightforward enough; especially when you are already vegan. It’s the second component – to publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten – which is the most controversial. While it’s an easy commitment to make to the animals, there’s a good chance it won’t go down well with your family and friends. Activists such as Rehana Jomeen shared show her decision to take the pledge most likely meant she would never be able to share a meal with her father or other family members again because they refused to eat vegan with her. For many vegans, the thought of not being able to do that would be too much to bear, but Rehana felt strongly enough about her choice and that it was the right thing to do, that she was OK with the situation.
I can totally identify with that. It doesn’t bother me at all that I will never get to share a table with carnists again, even those I love. I didn’t take the pledge to offend or annoy anyone. I did it for the animals I fight to protect, out of respect for them, and I did it for me, as a form of self-care, to protect myself from further emotional distress. The horrendous gutwrenching distress I never imagined I would feel in social situations when I first went vegan five years ago. Back then, I swore I would never turn into one of ‘those’ vegans and assured everyone else around me that it wouldn’t change me. At first, it wasn’t a problem. I would try not to look too disdainful at my friends as they sat around me eating takeaway pizza covered with bacon and salami, dripping with gooey cheese. But before long, all I could see were dead souls on that pizza. Innocent pigs and cattle who endured a life of misery and suffered beyond any of our worst comprehension were served up with molten goop which started out as milk intended for a calf, taken from a mother cow who’d had her baby stolen. As if that wasn’t enough, it began to really upset me to see my friends and loved ones shovelling so much carcinogenic, fat-laden, hormone-filled animal protein into their bodies with so much gusto, particularly those who were already living with the consequences such as cancer and diabetes. Taking the Liberation Pledge meant that while I couldn’t stop them from eating it, at least I no longer had to witness it, or be traumatised by the vision of who they were eating.
For me, living with the pledge has been easy. I don’t have a large family and I don’t see them often as we all live a great distance apart but when I do see them I don’t eat with them unless they also eat vegan. This is never going to happen with my 80-year-old mother and stepfather but they know I will not share a table with them and they understand that and are OK with it. It’s actually led to some really positive and productive conversations, not just with my parents but also with their similarly elderly peers. I don’t find socialising with others a problem either. If I get invited to a barbecue or dinner I ask what time people will be eating and either go along to chat with people before or after the meal is over. People understand I still value their company and want to make an effort to see them and they are totally happy with that. To date, I’ve never had a problem with anyone.
It’s not for everyone – but it’s workable
I realise it is not so easy for everyone, however, so I asked some other vegan activists to share their experiences to gain more of insight. Award-winning author M C Ronen told me her reason for not formally taking the pledge, although still doing her best to live by it:
‘Socially, we do not accept invitations to events unless they are fully vegan. It did mean that our social circle has changed considerably and is now made mostly of other vegans. Yes, we still get the occasional friendly non-vegan BBQ invitations, to which we always reply with a polite ‘no’ and an explanation of why providing us with vegan options isn’t good enough. Family-wise it’s simpler, as our families live overseas, so we are at least spared the need to navigate explanations about why we would not come to a family dinner/holiday/weekend.
The reason I haven’t taken the pledge formally is that there are still occasions when I simply cannot control other people eating corpses in my vicinity. Work, for example. I never go to work events like Christmas parties, but even on a normal day, as I have my beautiful vegan lunch at a table in the kitchen, a corpse will be eaten at the table next to me. Stolen milk will be poured into countless mugs of coffee as I watch with a hollow heart. There are also big events, like conferences, that I attend out of interest or relevance to my job, where the majority still have their blood food, even as I would be perfectly catered for with lovely, cruelty-free food – and you would be surprised how many times my vegan food – clearly labelled!- is snatched by carnists. But while my husband and I haven’t taken the pledge formally, we do try to follow its principles as much as we possibly can.’
Zero tolerance for speciesism
New Zealand activist Chris Gordon shared the many positives he has found in taking the Pledge:
‘For my first year and a half or so as a vegan, I continued to sit at breakfast, lunch and dinner tables were meals that were made using animal flesh and made using things that come out of animals and their bodies (a cow’s milk and a hen’s eggs) were being forked into the mouths of the others around me. I always felt extremely uncomfortable with that, and why in my right mind would I not?
As a vegan, by definition, I am actively and vocally opposed to violence towards animals. Not specific animals, but all animals. Not specific sorts of human violence towards animals, but all human violence towards animals. Where you might not tolerate seeing a dog being kicked and beaten, but you might happily sit and eat a product that involved a cow being shot in the head and cut into pieces in order to produce, I will not tolerate either of those forms of violence, towards either of those animals. Where you might leave an angry comment on a post about a poacher having killed a lion, but you might happily give a thumbs-up to the picture of your friend’s BBQ where a dead pig’s body spins on a spit, I will not tolerate either of those forms of violence, towards either of those animals. If in fairness, I would not be expected to sit quietly and comfortably at a table where other forms of violence and discrimination are taking place in front of me, then why should I be expected to sit quietly and comfortably while others consume products of violence and abuse towards animals who I care about across the table from me?
When I first took the Liberation Pledge, I suspected that I might lose some friends who did not wish to eat fully vegan meals with me. I was actually surprised with just how many people will agree to eat a fully vegan meal that you’ve prepared, or will go with you to a fully vegan restaurant, or will at least choose a fully vegan meal at a restaurant that is not fully vegan when you are actually prepared to make it very clear and to stand firm, in that you are not comfortable being sat at a table with somebody consuming meals that contain the bodies of animals whose lives you care about. You might think that I stopped being able to attend any and every family dinner, work function, and every other event where animals and their bodies were being served. On the contrary, the most recent meals that I have had with family members have been fully vegan ones, as my family now understand that is the option
What did I do when it came time for the first “dinner outing for staff” at my workplace? I bit the bullet and I told everybody the truth. Boom! Staff dinner was held at a fully vegan restaurant, and that happened not once, but twice! The Liberation Pledge encouraged me to stand proudly and firmly for animals, and while not everybody around me has agreed to go to fully vegan meals with me, plenty of people have, and we have had some fantastic and progressive conversations around animal rights and veganism, as they realise that vegan options “aren’t all that bad!”. I should mention that I myself became vegan after sharing a vegan meal with somebody who insisted that we eat vegan…’
‘Taking the Pledge is the best thing I’ve done since going vegan’
Plant Based Briefing podcast host Marian Erikson told me of her joyful and surprising wins as a result of her pledge:
‘I took the Liberation Pledge after being vegan for just over six months. The more I learned about the horrors of animal agriculture, the more I struggled with the idea of being around people eating animals. Even walking past animal body parts in the grocery store became difficult. I started making excuses to avoid situations where I knew animals would be eaten. I was thinking there was something wrong with me – other vegans didn’t seem to mind being around people eating animals. Maybe it was just a phase I was going through, being a new vegan, and I’d eventually get past it. But that wasn’t happening, in fact, it was getting more difficult.
I then heard a podcast where the hosts were discussing the pros and cons of something called the Liberation Pledge. That was my answer! I immediately researched it and saw that thousands had taken the pledge before me – there was nothing wrong with me after all!
Taking the Pledge is the best thing I’ve done since going vegan. I initially took it for my mental health. I can’t stand the thought of being around people eating animals; if I sit there I’d be condoning animal abuse. I wouldn’t sit quietly by and condone racism or child abuse either. Turns out the Pledge is a great tool for activism as well. By telling people about my pledge ahead of time I have good conversations and they don’t feel judged, as they might if I tried to discuss animal abuse while they’re eating animals. When I explain it as, “a pledge I’ve taken” they often respond by saying something like, “of course, I’ll respect your pledge”, and “wow, that must be tough but good for you!” And by suggesting they join me for a vegan meal, I’ve helped others try vegan restaurants or menu items they normally wouldn’t. The Pledge has even led my husband and me to invite non-vegan friends over for dinner, and we actually started a vegan dinner club with non-vegan friends – at their request!’
Honesty is the best policy
‘One particularly memorable and lovely result happened one day after playing tennis with some women I didn’t know very well. We had just finished our first match when they asked if I wanted to go back to the beach house a few of them were staying in, for lunch. ‘I’ve actually taken a pledge to not be around people while they’re eating animals, so I’m going to a nearby vegan place I just found, I told them. ‘But I’d love to come by after our next match, for a drink, before you go to dinner. Will that work?’ That was all there was to it. After that second match, we went shopping and the store owner was recommending all kinds of seafood restaurants to the team. I figured they’d choose one of those for their dinner and planned to be on my own. But when I got to the group house, they said they all wanted to eat dinner at a vegan restaurant with me! I hadn’t even asked! I got teary-eyed and hugged them! It was funny … they were saying things like, “this will be a first for me!” and, “you’ll have to help me order, I’ve never done this before”. It still makes me laugh – I thought, it’s just food! Anyway, we went to an amazing vegan place with fantastic food, craft beers, and an interesting cocktail menu with kombucha drinks. They were blown away! It was inexpensive and cool and delicious. There were also so many conversations around that table too. What’s wrong with eggs? What’s wrong with dairy? How do you make cheese without milk? How do you avoid leather? It was AWESOME! None of those conversations would have happened if they had been eating animals at that time. Nor would any of them have tried vegan food if I hadn’t told them about my pledge.’
As Nico Stubler, who has written and talked about the pledge extensively says, it’s not about sitting alone at a vegan table, it’s about expanding the vegan table. According to Direction Action Everywhere founder, and acclaimed activist Wayne Hsuing, one high school student who took the pledge inspired his entire school to go vegan by inviting more and more of his friends to join him to eat. If the idea still sounds too daunting though, DXE also explains how you can make the Pledge work for you on their website, which may be easier for a good number of people. The Liberation Pledge website also contains a multitude of advice, resources and avenues for support both before and after taking the pledge.
Ultimately of course, the choice is yours. I know many vegans who have taken the pledge and just as many who haven’t. I feel it has strengthened my activism and is an effective barrier which prevents me from caving in for the sake of pleasing people. Like the others in this article it has also opened up avenues of communication I would not have otherwise had. And I love taking a stand for the animals this way; the people in my life know I’m serious and would never dream of asking me to make allowances ‘just this once’. Given the chance, were I to do so, would any of the animals at that table ask my dining companions, or anyone else, not to eat them ‘just this once?’ I think not. Hence I will never regret signing the pledge for their liberation.
More information about the Liberation Pledge –
What is the Liberation Pledge? Should you take it?
The Liberation Pledge by Nico Stubler