In this guest blog, communications scholar and animal activist Carrie P. Freeman writes about framing veganism -- and her new book. 

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In deciding which appeal to use in their campaigns to end exploitation of nonhuman animals killed for food, the animal rights movement faces a significant framing challenge.

As a long time animal activist and communication scholar, when I was writing the book Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights, I wondered, how could animal rights activists speak authentically to promote animal rights ideas and values when attempting to persuade meat-lovers to stop eating animals?

I argue that this isn’t fully accomplished by the movement’s common focus on the grotesque suffering caused by factory farming, which is largely an appeal to widely-held beliefs in animal welfare and the wholesomeness of ‘family farming’. This isn’t necessarily transforming society’s beliefs about the place of nonhuman animals in the world (we need to be anti-exploitation not just anti-industrial).

By contrast, some argue that “go veg” messages should take a more expedient approach of primarily appealing to people’s self-interested health concerns against cholesterol, toxins, disease, or pollution caused by agribusiness, hoping any behavioral changes toward eating more vegan foods (even for self-centered reasons) will eventually open people’s minds to seeing animals differently.

Contributing to classic framing debates faced by all social movements, Framing Farming examines the animal rights movement’s struggles over whether to construct farming campaign messages based more on utility (emphasizing animal welfare, farming reform, dietary meat reduction, and human self-interest) or ideology (emphasizing animal rights and ecological ethics and a belief in abolition of enslavement). I prioritize the latter, “ideological authenticity,” to promote a needed transformation in worldviews and human animal identity, not just behaviors (See Crompton & Kasser’s book). This would mean framing “go veg” messages not only around compassion, but also around principles of justice, liberty, and ecology, reframing these values less anthropocentrically, to convince people that “it’s not fair to farm anyone” (with nonhuman animals included as someone).

For example:

  • In problematising the unsustainability of animal agribusiness and commercial fishing, animal activists should highlight how it is unfair to wildlife (free animals), killing them, polluting their habitats, and using an excessive amount of the shared resources (like land and water) that many living beings need. This altruistic, biocentric appeal highlights sharing and is preferred to talking about environmental pollution primarily in terms of human interests, such as making appeals to “our clean water” or our risk of mercury contamination from eating fish.
  • To do the hard but necessary work of challenging speciesist discrimination and the human/animal dualism, animal activists should remind us that we too are animals (to include them in our ingroup). For example, “we animals are more than just protein.”

In the book, I not only describe what 21st Century animal rights campaigns are communicating and why leaders make these strategic choices, I also prescribe recommendations for values they should communicate to remain culturally resonant while promoting needed long-term social transformation in human identity away from the instrumental viewing of others as resources. Because ‘no cause is an island,’ this helps the animal rights movement contribute to the larger connected goals of all causes – respect for living beings.