Veganism and antispeciesism

Veganism and antispeciesism

Is being vegan the same as being antispeciesist?

Rejecting speciesism means opposing all the ways nonhuman animals are discriminated against. Being vegan is very important, as it means ceasing to exploit nonhuman animals. It is, however, not the only thing we can do for nonhuman animals. Sometimes there are vegan people very committed to helping humans in need of aid but they don’t have the same attitude towards nonhuman animals because they think that humans are more important. This is a speciesist attitude, though fully compatible with veganism. We shouldn’t be only trying not to exploit animals ourselves by going vegan, but also trying to not discriminate against nonhuman animals in other ways. The situation of nonhuman animals should concern us even if we are not the one causing them to suffer or to die.

Speciesism is widespread in our society and nonhuman animals are victims of injustice even when they are not exploited by us. Animals in nature, for instance, suffer from hunger and many different preventable diseases among other harms that cause them to suffer intensely and die prematurely. From an antispeciesist point of view, their situation should also concern us all. Rejecting speciesism means we should not only refuse to inflict harm upon nonhuman animals by adopting veganism, but we should also try to help them whenever possible, relieving their suffering and trying to prevent their premature deaths.

Which ethical theories support veganism?

The defense of the moral consideration of nonhuman animals and the rejection of speciesism is supported by all the main ethical theories. Different moral views disagree about the reasons for why we should act in some ways and not others. However, all the different arguments used arrive at the conclusion that we should take the interests of all sentient beings into consideration. This is because the arguments against speciesism are not particular to one ethical theory. You can learn more about the different ethical theories and how they differ from one another when it comes to defending the interests of nonhuman animals in our section about ethical theories and nonhuman animals.

Do we need to talk about the health advantages of a vegan diet to promote veganism?

Some people have doubts about whether veganism is healthy, as the information which shows it is fully healthy1 isn’t always available. It is helpful to emphasize the fact that everyone who decides to respect animals and become vegan can be perfectly healthy if they eat a well-balanced diet. However, this is different from saying people should be vegan because it can be healthier, or from assuming that we need to stress the health benefits of vegan diets.

First of all, we must not lose sight of how important it is to take advantage of the chances we have to speak in favor of respect for animals. In addition to ceasing to harm animals with the ways we eat, there are other ways through which we can trigger a change for animals. We can talk with other people and do advocacy work. It’s important that more and more people change their attitudes towards nonhuman animals. Due to this, we have strong reasons to argue against animal exploitation and discrimination.

Moreover, being more or less healthy is seen by many people as a personal, individual choice. However, harming and killing other sentient animals shouldn’t be seen as something that can be justified as a personal choice. It is sometimes pointed out by vegans that while choosing to stop exploiting animals may be healthy for us, it will be above all healthy for the animals involved. What this means is that it is a choice that is very important to the lives and the wellbeing of many animals. If our personal choices affect only what we do, our decision to stop harming animals will go well beyond being a personal choice.

Finally, promoting veganism for its health benefits might give the impression that even those who care about nonhuman animals still consider the health benefits of a particular diet more important than what happens to animals.

We encourage all vegan advocates to speak up about the need to respect all sentient beings as a very important issue which should not be considered secondary to human non-vital issues.

Does the promotion of veganism have to be related to holding an environmentalist view?

It is sometimes believed that in arguing for veganism we should point to some environmental consequences of animal exploitation (because raising animals for food implies using important amounts of food and water to feed them, and it also results in large amounts of waste, among other factors). However, there are important reasons to reject that the idea that veganism should be related to environmentalism.

It is sometimes believed that environmentalism and the defense of animals are linked. However, they are two very different things, that may have opposing consequences. While there are some forms of animal exploitation that environmentalism rejects, there are others that it doesn’t, including the exploitation of small animals such as invertebrates, or organic farming which still entails making animals suffer and killing them. Sustainable hunting and fishing is also fully acceptable from many environmentalist viewpoints. Due to this, promoting dietary changes for environmentalist reasons can lead to encouraging the exploitation of some animals instead of others.

This is because environmentalism is concerned with the conservation of entities such as ecosystems or species, not with individual sentient beings. However, those who can suffer and be harmed when we exploit them are individual animals, not ecosystems or species.

If what mattered were what happens to ecosystems or species, it would be justified to harm animals for the sake of environmental conservation. In fact, many environmentalist organizations have defended this, for instance when they have supported that certain animals such as deers be hunted because their population is considered “too high,” or when they have promoted animal experimentation to test how polluting certain chemicals are. If, however, we disagree with this, it is because we think that sentient beings should be respected and that this is more important than the promotion of aims such as these. Therefore, as concern for animals and environmentalism may have conflicting goals or consequences, we can see why it can be a problem to appeal to environmental ideas to promote veganism.

Can animals who live with me such as dogs and cats be vegan as well?

Yes, vegan canine and feline diets can be nutritious and safe, provided the animals are offered nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced foods specially prepared to meet all their nutritional needs. What every animal needs is the right amount and combination of nutrients, not specific types of food. Nutrients found in meat, for instance, can be given to animals such as dogs and cats by using products that obtain them from other sources. Several commercial brands such as Vegepet, V-dog, Benevo, Evolution and Amì offer a range of vegan cat and dog food which are becoming increasingly popular. Some people make their own vegan dog food.

For more information, you can visit this page where this is explained in detail.

Is there any other way I can help animals beyond going vegan?

Yes! If you want to make a difference for animals you may help to raise awareness about speciesism and the need to respect all sentient animals. In addition to not harming animals ourselves, we can encourage others to stop using animals too. Moreover, to increase the impact you can have in making the world a better place, you can get involved and volunteer with an organization defending all sentient beings. You can help Animal Ethics or another organization working to see an end to speciesism.


1 Melina, V.; Craig, W. & Levin, S. (2016) “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian diets”, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116, pp. 1970-1980 [accessed on 21 January 2017].