What is The Liberation Pledge?

Those who take the The Liberation Pledge strive to meet the following three goals:

  1. Publicly refuse to eat animals (live vegan)
  2. Publicly refuse to sit where animals are being eaten
  3. Encourage others to take the pledge.

The key message behind this pledge is that as someone who opposes violence towards animals, you refuse to sit at a table with people eating the bodies of the victims of violence.

This could mean forgoing social events such as Birthday meals, Christmas dinners, and work parties, which understandably may put people off taking the pledge. However, the Liberation Pledge website emphasises that the aim is not to remove yourself from social situations, but to encourage people adapt their idea of a social situation revolving around a centrepiece of violence (e.g. a Christmas/Thanksgiving turkey) and enjoying a vegan meal instead. Another suggestion they give is to offer alternative social activities that don’t involve food at all, like a trip to the movies, a games night, or a gig.

So what are the pros and cons of taking this pledge?

PROS

1. IT MAKES A BOLD STATEMENT AND MIGHT ENCOURAGE CHANGE

Persuading your friends and family to alter their traditional idea of a social event, so that it doesn’t involve violence, may help to deconstruct social norms. Even if you do not alter their underlying beliefs, and they only avoid meat when you are present, you could still be making an impact for animals: Imagine if your family switched from a roasted chicken to a veggie option for their Sunday lunch every week, that’s only one meal a week, but it would prevent around 52 dead chickens being bought every year.

Similar tactics have worked in the past for other causes: In the 1890’s, a successful campaign against foot-binding in China involved encouraging supporters to publicly make the following pledge: 1. Not to bind their daughters’ feet, and 2. Not to allow their sons to marry women with bound feet [1].  By taking this pledge, not only were parents refusing to inflict this suffering on their own daughters, but they were refusing to condone the suffering inflicted on other women by not allowing their sons to marry them, thus challenging the societal norm. A similar strategy was utilised by groups campaigning against Female Genital Cutting (F.G.C) in Senegal (i.e. not only persuading parents to prevent their daughters being subjected to F.G.C, but also to encourage the males in their family to marry women who had not undergone this procedure).

2. IT MEANS AVOIDING PERSONAL DISCOMFORT

For many vegans, the sight of an animal carcass on the table is unpleasant, and may make them feel deeply uncomfortable. It’s not just the gross-factor that puts vegans off; for many it can be upsetting to watch their loved ones engaging in activity that goes against some of their most strongly held values (this article explains the feeling in more detail…).

CONS

1. IT MAY NOT BE THE MOST EFFECTIVE FORM OF ACTIVISM

Although it could be argued that taking the pledge may stimulate discussion and lead to change, different types of activism work for different people. If your family and friends are willing to adapt their meals and events to include you, then that’s fantastic, but another scenario is that people stop inviting you to things because they feel preached to, and are unwilling to make changes. This could cause tension and conflict, which is unlikely to lead to productive conversations. Furthermore, it could be argued that attending a meal and providing a vegan option is a more positive way of stimulating discussion; people won’t feel like they’re being “forced” to eat vegan food, but they may be willing to try some if offered. Some prominent animal activists, such as James Aspey, respect the Liberation Pledge, but feel that being present at non-vegan tables and events is important for raising awareness and starting conversations.

Adhering to the pledge may make veganism seem less accessible. Imagine a large family group going out for pizza, what will give a more positive message; the only vegan family member refusing to attend, or the only vegan family member going along, ordering a vegan pizza, and enjoying their meal with everyone else? Of course, the best-case scenario would be the whole family eating vegan pizza, but realistically that’s not going to be possible for all families, which moves us to the next point…

2. IT’S NOT REALISTIC FOR EVERYONE

There many situations where living by the Liberation Pledge is incredibly difficult. For example, if your job requires you to attend business lunches it is probably unrealistic to expect all of your clients to eat vegan; your boss may not be happy if you alienate a potential business partner by dictating what they can and can’t order while they are with you. Other examples include people living at home with their families (particularly young people) who feel unable to either influence or forego family meals, or people for whom sharing food is a huge part of their cultural identity, and they may risk being distanced from their community for missing important social occasions.

I would like to think that my own reservations about the Liberation Pledge stem from doubts about the effectiveness of this type of activism, but in reality, the main barrier to me would be not wanting to upset or alienate my friends and family. I respect people with the strength in their beliefs to abide by the Liberation Pledge, but I also think a positive, vegan presence at a non-vegan event can have a subtle yet meaningful impact.

References

[1] Rejali, S. (2014) From Tradition to Modernity: Footbinding and Its End (1839-1911) – the History of the Anti-Footbinding Movement and the Histories of Bound-feet Women in China. Prandium – The Journal of Historical Studies. 3 (1): 1-8. (link)

Image source: http://www.liberationpledge.com/