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Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain?

Activists in San Francisco protesting Chipotle. 

Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain? 

by Wayne Hsiung

(Repost with permission from an article last week at BeyondChron. )

San Francisco is a city of animal lovers. It was one of the first cities in the nation, along with progressive bastions such as Boulder, Berkeley, and Amherst, to legally recast “pet owners” as “guardians.” Dogs now outnumber human children in the city. And it was the birthplace of the no-kill movement in animal shelters.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that vegetarian eating is a big part of the city’s culture. Even fast food chains that cater to the Bay Area are starting to move in an animal-friendly direction. That is exactly what happened two weeks ago, when Chipotle announced the introduction of a vegan option. Chipotle, the third largest publicly traded restaurant company, has experienced explosive growth in recent years that outpaces even industry behemoths such as its former owner McDonald’s. Introduction of its vegan “sofritas” therefore portends a significant expansion in options for animal-friendly eating.

So why are Bay Area animal rights activists protesting the chain?

That is the issue taken up by a Salon article asked last week in a scathing review of the company’s marketing and practices. And, as a Bay Area organizer for the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, which is leading the international “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign against Chipotle, it is a question that I am well-equipped to answer.


Chipotle is one of the leaders in what animal rights activists describe as “humane washing” – attempts to disguise the brutal reality of animal agriculture as “humane,” “responsible,” or even “compassionate.” The company’s website, for example, is littered with beautiful pictures of happy animals in green pastures (often baby animals to maximize the cuteness factor). It distinguishes its animals products from competitors’ with the marketing moniker “Responsibly Raised”–and charges a hefty premium for the distinction. And its CEO Steve Ells made a public promise to “run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals.”  

Yet even meat industry publications have noted that the company sources from factory farms, where animals often go insane from confinement in dark, terrifying cages. The company uses marketing language – such as “natural” – that has no regulatory significance. And, as the pig farmer Bob Comis has pointed out, standard practices at even “humane farms” involve brutal mistreatment of animals. It is because of these discrepancies that consumer fraud attorneys, with no connection to the animal rights movement, have filed class action litigation to challenge Chipotle’s deceptive practices.

But the problem with humane washing is even more fundamental than a mislabeled burrito. Because the basic question our campaign asks is not whether we have been duped by a single company… but, rather, whether we, as an animal loving society, have been duped by an entire industry that wants us to believe its violent lies. After all, even McDonald’s now trumpets its commitment to animal welfare. And nearly three out of four people believe that we should “eliminate all forms of animal cruelty.” But how can we say we love animals, and that we oppose cruelty against them, when we are cutting their throats (in necessarily violent and frightening fashion) for our financial or gustatory benefit?

Chipotle’s fraud, in other words, is problematic, first and foremost, because it reinforces the violent lie that our dominant industries and culture are already telling us: that animals are merely things for us to (responsibly) use, kill, and eat.  But, as the New York Times columnist and one-time food critic Frank Bruni recently discussed, there is increasing understanding, both morally and scientifically, that animals are beings who deserve the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.


Still, many even within the animal rights movement question the strategy behind focusing on a “good” company such as Chipotle. “Aren’t they at least getting a conversation started? Their CEO promised to be kind to animals. And don’t forget they have a vegan option!”

But praising corporations as a strategy for social change is doomed for failure. Using the example of electoral politics, the prominent social justice activist Randy Shaw (founder and director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic) explains that activsts must make powerful interests fear the consequences of breaking promises. From Shaw’s The Activist’s Handbook (2013):

“[A]ctivists often view elected officials as allies without their having done anything to earn the moniker. Politicians need only agree to take certain positions in the future to earn the support of many progressive organizations. This makes strategic sense for politicians but not for advocates of social change…. Adopting a ‘fear and loathing’ approach toward elected officials, particularly self-identified progressives, is essential for achieving social change. Activists most focus on results, not promises; they must pursue their agenda, not the politician’s.”

What is true of politicians is even more true of profit-seeking corporations, whether in housing, banking, or food. They do not have our movement’s agenda at heart. And, as Shaw points out, it takes pressure – not just praise – to ensure that progress is achieved and sustained. Moreover, corporations such as Chipotle, whose brand and profits are so heavily linked to progressive issues, are precisely the ones that should be pressured because they seek to appeal to (and therefore profit from) the progressive market. They, and not their more oblivious competitors, are the parties most likely to take action in response to pressure.

In short, even supposing that some of Chipotle’s actions are indications of real progress, a strong campaign is the best way to ensure that those baby steps are sustained.


The third and perhaps most important reason for our campaign against Chipotle, however, is that it presents an opportunity to create an empowered network against animal abuse. It takes on industry’s strongest argument, and one of its biggest and most popular players… with the confidence that it can win. This change in strategy – focusing on the industry’s strongest arguments and biggest players—is absolutely vital because, despite widespread sympathy for animals and compelling arguments by the most distinguished scholars of our age, the animal rights movement has made little progress in recent decades. Activists too often feel the need to appeal to flawed conventional wisdoms and accommodate to a false neutrality, even to achieve the most toothless reforms.

Why Chipotle? This infographic sets out the reasons. 

In this regard, the animal rights movement is not unique.   Paul Krugman has written for years about how conventional discourse on fiscal austerity has been deluded by popular acceptance that so-called “Very Serious People” (such as the deficit hawks of the Simpson-Bowles Commission) must have merit to their views—no matter the lack of evidence. Concerted action against climate change has been stalled by the public’s acceptance of false neutrality on the causes of climate change, and activists’ unwillingness to push back hard against this narrative. What these examples show us is that, to achieve success, social movements cannot concede to a problematic conventional wisdom; they must challenge it and attack the monolithic institutions that hold it up.

The Very Serious People of the animal rights movement – even seemingly radical organizations such as PETA – believe that we cannot push the animals’ agenda with the strength, confidence, and honesty that the issue deserves. They believe that we have to compromise with conventional understandings of animals – and offer support for even the most deceptive and violent multinational corporations – in order to be heard. But, as with the debate on fiscal austerity and climate change, this is a false compromise that inhibits growth of a truly empowered network.

Chipotle, in other words, is a platform for us to test, strengthen, and expand our movement’s message. When a movement is confident in the need for fundamental change, there is no need to apologize, or accommodate, or beg for the smallest of concessions from supposedly good corporations. Successful movements – such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring – assert themselves confidently even against the most powerful opponents.

Animal lovers are, in fact, everywhere. The trick, as with so many other progressive issues, is to politically realize the public’s latent sympathy into an empowered network for change. And that is exactly what we plan to do with the “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign – take on our most powerful and wealthy opponents, have confidence in the integrity of our message, and have faith that the arc of the moral universe will bend toward justice. 

Pork Network: "We love Chipotle, and you should too!"

Pork Network: "We love Chipotle, and you should too!" 

by Wayne Hsiung


The Pork Network, the "business leader" of the pig killing industry, condemns DxE's campaign in a recent editorial and calls the piece BeyondChron published on our campaign a "savage screed." The Pork Network editorial discusses the supposedly humane conditions at Chipotle's farms, the CEO's "widely recognized.... pledge to 'run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals' ", and even the famed vegan option. And it concludes that, rather than protesting, the animal rights movement ought to be supporting "one of the acknowledged leaders in the humane husbandry movement."

What the Pork Network does not realize, however is that the grassroots animal rights movement does not take advice on effective activism... from, well, the Pork Network. And while animal killing industries (particularly the big players) are falling over themselves to get a piece of Chipotle's explosive profit, the grassroots movement is not so easily duped or corrupted. 

The greatest irony of the piece? The Pork Network understands our campaign's approach and objectives quite clearly.

There’s no “promise” in “compromise.” [The DxE activists are saying] [e]ither go all the way and abolish the entire business of animal husbandry, or don’t come around seeking activist approval.

For once, the people at the Pork Network may have gotten something right. The industry should not "come around seeking activist approval." Because we will never approve of an industry that kills even a single one of our non-human brethren. 

Join our campaign on March 29

Intrinsically Moved: The Main** Reason Consumerist Advocacy is the Wrong Approach

Intrinsically Moved: The Main** Reason Consumerist Advocacy is the Wrong Approach (by Kelly)

I write this in response to this article from 2010 by George Monbiot, called, "It goes against our nature; but the left has to start asserting its own values" and the WWF "Common Cause" report that Monbiot refers to.

Excerpts to summarize the Monbiot article:

"Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement... Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance... Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone's extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals."

"Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it."

"Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake."

"The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns."

"Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – that make us insecure and selfish."

"People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see."

What can we learn from this?

Our framing has to be about caring for the oppressed, not about the benefits for the oppressor of ceasing (er, minimizing*) that oppression. So stop talking about how healthy and convenient and tasty it is for a human to abstain from buying products of nonhuman oppression.

We should focus our efforts on creating a culture that values non-discriminatory empathy, not on trying sell nonspeciesist products of the consumerist (self-interested) machine. So confront people about speciesism and violence and oppression and atrocity, disrupt spaces of oppression, and challenge discrimination and domination when and wherever you see it.

So stop talking about veganism. Stop talking about vegan products. Stop talking about individual humans. Talk about speciesism. Talk about the animals. Talk about culture.

And shout about atrocity.

*Don't forget that NO ONE who exists in a speciesist society can completely abstain from participating in speciesist institutions. Notably, we pay taxes that subsidize the violence, we give money to an animal killer (and humanewasher) when we buy tofu from Whole Foods, and we perpetuate the invisibile hegemony of Speceisism in every single instance that we see a product or act of speceisist oppression and say nothing.

**Additionally, the vegan consuemrist model of activism is problematic for several other reason, as I have written about here (how consumerism perpetuates objectification of the animals), here (how a consumerist focus on the consuming human oppressor distracts from the oppressed nonhuman), and here (how focusing on plant foods distracts us from the atrocities happening beside them).

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase (and Other Reflections on the Chipotle Campaign)

by Wayne Hsiung

Activists at a recent Chipotle protest in San Francisco. 

We set out the case for the Chipotle campaign in a recent talk: Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins. But for those of you who want to dig a little deeper, here is a Q&A with some information about our campaign's strategy and goals. Enjoy! 


What do you think of efforts to increase humane treatment of animals and increase vegan options, as compared to an overall strategy for achieving animal liberation?

Incremental reforms are necessary, but they should be sustainable and part of a long term movement strategy. Unfortunately, that's often not the case. Consider the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. The Act, which is far more ambitious in scale and scope than any animal welfare legislation considered by Congress since, was passed with widespread public support, so much that President Eisenhower is reported to have said, "If I went by mail, I'd think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter." But, without a broader liberation movement behind it, the Act has had little effect in stopping violence against animals. Violations of the HSA are routine, inspectors often feel powerless to enforce it, and there has been a massive increase in animal abuse since its passage.

The difficulty is that the world we face, as animal advocates, is like a sticky staircase rather than a slippery slope. Incremental reforms are easily reversed or ignored -- the strands of the sticky staircase pull you back to the last step -- because prevailing norms and structures undermine a reform's continued relevance. Whenever we consider a reform, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Is this reform sustainable in a speciesist world (or, instead, does it depend on institutions and actors -- such as the USDA or Chipotle -- that have an interest in undermining our movement's momentum)?
  2. Does this reform help build a movement for animals that will foster new progress (or, instead, does it pacify outrage about animal abuse and lead to institutional backsliding)?

When we ask these two questions, I think we'll find that conventional efforts to improve treatment and increase vegan options are problematic precisely because they lack any strategic long-term mooring. The two efforts, incremental reform and long-term strategy, must go hand in hand for either to be effective.


What is your response to Chipotle's claim that the company shares some "common ground with your group"?

The classic distinction between direct action and other forms of activism is the distinction between confrontation and compromise. As advocates of nonviolent direct action for animals, we have to be vigilant about compromising our values to the status quo. We have to, as William Lloyd Garrison put it, be as "harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice." The truth is there is little common ground between animal advocates and a multinational corporation that murders millions of animals. We want the world to someday see animal abuse as equivalent to human abuse, and we can only do that by calling out corporations such as Chipotle for what they truly are: engines of violence.


What is your response to those who say that animal rights activists should not protest companies like Chipotle because it is making an effort and has vegan options--in short, that activists should protest the bad/worse companies and that Chipotle is better?

The first response to this question is that Chipotle is not a better company. Indeed, that is exactly the point of the campaign! Chipotle is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world. It is increasing its violence against animals faster than virtually any other corporation on the planet. And it profits immensely off of claims of humane treatment. For example, it instantly doubled its sales of carnitas after it switched to a supposedly "natural" supplier, and began marketing its meat as "responsibly raised." 

But as industry reports, mainstream media, and even independent class action lawyers have found, Chipotle's marketing claims are a fraud. In fact, brutally violent acts such as debeaking and castration are standard practice in "natural" or "humane" farming. The company still sources from so-called factory farms, which drive animals insane from confinement. And, most importantly, killing can never be a "responsible" or "humane" act. Killing is not a kindness; it's horrific and brutal violence. 

When you look at Chipotle's cultural impact (i.e. its effect on memes), the picture gets even worse. Chipotle is leading the world in spreading pro-meat propaganda -- financing a documentary called American Meat, putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT", and hosting huge festivals with hundreds of thousands of attendees who hear about how we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. Fifty years of research in psychology and social change has shown us that ideas matter. And Chipotle, perhaps more than any other company, is laying the ideological foundation for the mass murder of animals. In short, even if all of the marketing claims were true -- and they're not -- that would not make Chipotle a "good corporation." It would still make Chipotle one of the worst.

The second response to this question goes to a fundamental question as to what the animal rights movement is about: is it about helping vegans perpetuate a consumer lifestyle? Or is it a social justice movement focused on stopping violence against animals? If the latter, the vegan options at Chipotle are irrelevant. Chipotle is one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world, regardless of whether it has vegan or humane options. Indeed, if the so-called humane options are offered as part of the prevailing "What we eat is a personal choice" narrative, then those options can actively undermine our momentum. Instead of being inspired to protest companies like Chipotle, potential activists and allies are pacified by the vegan bribe. "You choose meat. I choose tofu," they say to themselves. Left unspoken, however, is the stolen choice of the individual whose body was violently and involuntarily taken to sustain that compromise.

There is a long history of corporate interests attempting to co-opt a movement with false concessions, and it is often the companies that engage in moral posturing (the Enrons and BPs of the world) that have the most to hide. We can't allow our movement to be co-opted or deceived by cheap marketing tricks. If all it takes to convince us to put down our signs and our bullhorns is a cheap vegan burrito, then our movement will never muster the mettle it needs to succeed. But the momentum behind our campaign, in a very short period of time, tells me that our movement does have what it takes. We're tired of apologizing and compromising and begging for even the most meaningless reforms. We're ready to speak and act directly for what we believe: the right of every animal, human or non-human, to live a life free from violence.

Third and finally, it's important to note that campaigns are not collaborations. They are adversarial in nature. You would not stop to praise your opponent in an election campaign, the moment you scored a political point. Neither would you back down in an important lawsuit , simply because your opponent made a minor concession or change. There is this quite admirable notion in the progressive left that all activism (indeed, all politics) should be done with a friendly face. But this has little basis in the science or history of social change. Indeed, it is contradicted by the example of successful animal rights movements such as Israel's, which has jolted an entire nation and tripled the population of vegans in merely one year. To succeed, we have to be, not meek and accommodating, but strong, confident, and unrelenting in pursuit of our goals. (Bill McKibben makes a similar point about climate change activism. The plague of the climate change movement is that it has never, until now, had an enemy.) 

Corporations are not sensitive souls that need constant praise to continue on the right path. They are ruthless, profit maximizing engines that are legally obligated to focus only on shareholder returns. To sustain any concessions -- and even more importantly, to sustain public dialogue -- we have to keep their feet to the fire. Indeed, if you are concerned about the vegan option, then our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that it stays on the menu


Some people say that protesting against companies like Chipotle -- i.e. companies who have embraced humane treatment of animals and offer vegan options -- will confuse the public.  What is your response?

The truth is that our entire movement's message is too often confused. We say that we believe in animal rights, but we are not confident enough to say that we believe in a world where every animal -- even those that are traditionally ignored such as farm animals -- is safe and happy and free. We yell and scream when defending one species that is cute and cuddly, but smile and apologize when advocating for another species that is even more brutally abused. And, too often, we compromise our mission and our values for the sake of temporary and superficial victories.

The irony is that, if we stick to our basic values, the message is powerfully clear. "It's not food. It's violence." That's not a difficult message to appreciate. And in the context of human oppression, no one would argue that being opposed, for example, to Apple's sweatshops is "confusing" because Apple also sometimes sources from non-sweatshop conditions. (In fact, Apple is one of the most responsible corporations on ethical sourcing.) Doing one good deed, for manipulative marketing reasons, does not absolve a company from responsibility for doing many other bad ones.

In short, the confusion over the Chipotle campaign is a product of our lack of presence and confidence. But if we can develop a real presence in progressive politics -- by saying clearly and strongly and constantly that violence is wrong, period -- the message of our movement suddenly becomes very clear. Indeed, inspiring that dialogue within our movement is one of the most important (albeit unstated) objectives of our campaign. As a movement, let's take on our opponent's strongest case and still be confident that we can win. Let's be absolutely clear about what we believe: that violence against animals is always wrong.


Are you calling for people to boycott Chipotle?  Why or why not?

Boycotts are a tactic and not a value, and they are a tactic that is only effective when you have sufficient support to either affect a company's bottom line, or trigger public dialogue.

We did some preliminary estimates that suggested that, even in a best case scenario, a boycott would affect less than 0.05% of the company's revenue. There are simply too few animal rights activists to make any dent, via boycott, on a company this big. And while passively deciding not to buy from a store can be a meaningful symbolic action (I personally do not eat at Chipotle, or any other restaurant that serves dead animals, for this reason), it's a small part of what makes a great campaign great. As a tactic, it lacks the emotional impact, drama, and energy of a truly inspirational campaign. 

So I would much prefer that supporters speak or act against the company. Organize a protest. Tell your friends about humane washing. Or even just mention to the manager that you're an aggrieved customer, if and when you buy a burrito. Staining the company's reputation in the public sphere -- through creative and nonviolent protest -- can affect not just the tiny handful of activist consumers but the millions of non-animal rights activists who shop at Chipotle all over the world and, more importantly, trigger a much-needed dialogue on the status of non-human animals. 

How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans


How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans (by Kelly)

When we use the "go vegan" message and talk about "vegan options" we immediately -- by the implicit construction of a dualism -- frame the animals whose rights are being violated as mere commodities. When we tell people to choose one product over another, we're reinforcing that the bodies of those animals who did not want to die are "products." We are therefore not challenging people to see those animals as conscious entities deserving of the same protection of their inalienable right to life that we ask for ourselves -- which is what we need to do to challenge speciesist society.

No matter what we say about those animals and their right to live and be free from violence and oppression, when we tell (or ask of) people what personal choices to make, through that consumerist framing, we're telling people to think about themselves, and we're perpetuating the idea that the animals are just other consumer commodities.

So should we even identify as "vegans"? (I put that in quotes because, let's remember, even those of us who don't eat animals or things made in their bodies still pay taxes that are funnelled into the violence, and fund an animal-killer and humanewasher when we buy kale at Whole Foods, and participate in a corporate machine that is wrecking havoc on our planet and contributing to the displacement and death of countless animals in every ecosystem whenever we buy anything at all, which is especially not particularly aligned with the apparent "vegan" ethic if it's more than we need for our bare minimal survival). I think that the label is counter-productive, since it focuses on the human instead of the animal, and since it frames the animals as the commodities they're already being treated as. Yeah, we who are trying to move society away from speciesism should be behaving as nonspeciesistly as manageable, as part of our vocal and uncompromising demand that the animals' rights be acknowledged and protected. But we should not be framing the conversation about the animals' rights in ways that distract people from the matter of their rights.

We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors. The animals need the systemic change that will come from a societal shift in perspective, not from a shifting chain of demand and supply.

We would call for an end to speciesism even if all it left our plates with was rice, because it's the right thing to do. Fruits and veggies are nice, but ultimately irrelevant. We can't make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence, we have to make not hurting animals -- and further, demanding that our entire society stop hurting animals -- a moral imperative. Demanding an end to injustice can't just be the easy and enjoyable and nice thing to do, it has to the be right thing to do. (Not to mention that we're not even encouraging people to do that when we merely tell them to "go vegan," to not intentionally participate to whatever degree comfortable in speciesist violence, to by-stand.) Because it IS the right thing to do. Because doing anything less than demanding justice for all is the wrong thing to do.

And when we talk to an individual about personally eating "vegan" we leave the systems that run the speciesist injustice and violence we're attempting to combat completely invisible -- and invisibility is how the most oppressive power structures remain in power.

Forget about the tasty tofu burrito, there's a baby pig screaming and writhing in the hands of a human with a knife right now. Which of the two messages will motivate people to demand action for that baby pig, and other oppressed innocents?

The stakes are extremely high. Actually, they really don't get any higher. The animals cannot afford for us to make their interests look as low in value as the stakes of someone choosing a favourite band.

Love Chipotle's Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Love the Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

by Wayne Hsiung

Fast Company reports today that Chipotle's vegan option -- sofritas -- is now going nationwide. This is the first ever menu addition in Chipotle's history, as the company has prided itself on a simple, elegant menu. And the addition comes despite paltry sales: less than 3% even in the locations targeted as especially suitable for the introduction. 

I've previously blogged about how vegan options are mostly irrelevant to the animal rights movement's success, and might even serve as a significant obstacle, if framed in a way that reinforces the traditional "personal choice" narrative of veganism.  But even if you disagree, what the sofritas introduction shows us is that our 6 month old protest campaign has had exactly the effect that we predicted all along. It has solidified the company's commitment to the vegan option. 

Why? It's quite simple. As the pioneering social justice activist Randy Shaw writes in his wonderful book, The Activist's Handbook (Berkeley Press) , we cannot smile our way to success. With powerful people and institutions who have no intrinsic interest in helping our movement, we have to use a strategy that Shaw calls "Fear and Loathing." We have to show these powerful institutions that we are not afraid to criticize them when they fall short of their rhetoric because if they feel there is no cost to betraying us, companies like Chipotle will do so in a heart beat. 

In fact, that is exactly what Chipotle did in 2010. It introduced vegan Gardein in a few restaurants, watched as the positive press (and endless praise from animal rights groups) came in, then quietly threw away the vegan option when the press and public stopped paying attention. A few activist groups who had previously praised Chipotle gave the slightest bit of a whimper in protest. But it didn't matter because the news cycle, in both mainstream and social media, had already passed (and activist groups did now want to admit defeat to their fundraisers). So Chipotle had its (bloody) cake, and ate it too. The animal rights groups got to claim a victory (without having to actually ensure that the "victory" was sustained). And everyone was happy... Except, of course, the animals who continued to scream in terror at Chipotle's massively growing engine of violence. 

We can't allow ourselves to be duped by these corporate shenanigans again. Chipotle is not an ally to the animals. It is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world, and a corporate empire that has a legal duty to focus single-mindedly on maximizing profits. To effect real and permanent change, we have to show companies such as Chipotle that half measures are not enough, that they will face continuing pressure to do the right thing, and that if they want to claim the mantle of "integrity," "love," and "compassion", they will have activists watching them to ensure that their behaviors match their rhetoric (and calling them out the moment they fail). This is exactly what Shaw calls Fear and Loathing. If you want to be successful as a social justice activist, you have to show powerful institutions that there is a cost if they betray or lie to you. 

Activists in Vancouver pointing out the obvious. And yet so many have fallen under Chipotle's marketing spell. 

Unlike the Gardein fiasco of 2010, that is exactly what we did, this time around, and lo and behold, the vegan option has stuck around. 

But that is not the end of the story. Because Chipotle continues with its brilliant manipulation of our movement. As I discussed last weekend in our most recent open meeting -- Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins --  Chipotle has followed the exact divide-and-conquer strategy (bribe the opportunists; persuade the moderates; attack the radicals) that was set out by a meat industry PR firm two decades ago. And the very Chipotle executive who is interviewed by Fast Company, about the wondrous vegan option at Chipotle, was also quoted in the New York Times (in a moment of inadvertent honesty) as saying, "You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it." 

When a corporation is this blatant and obvious in trying to manipulate and deceive, not just the public but our movement... when it is going out of its way to mock the exact rhetoric it is using, and to the flagship newspaper of our times... how can our movement possibly continue to believe these lies? How can our movement continue to support one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world? And yet our movement does support Chipotle, with many of the most prominent voices not only aggressively defending Chipotle's empire -- but going out of their way to attack and undermine a grassroots campaign to protect animals from Chipotle's violence.

There are many complicated answers to the question of why our movement has fallen under Chipotle's spell. Some answers (corporate bribery) are darker than others (earnest faith, however misplaced, in the good intentions of a multinational empire). But the reasons are irrelevant. The question is what we do, going forward. And what our protest campaign has shown is that we can not only speak truth to power -- even in the face of withering criticism and hate by Chipotle's corrupt or misguided defenders -- but we can inspire activists all over the world to join us. 

Our Enemies are Clever

Our Enemies are Clever

We CANNOT let animal killers divert our attention away from their violence.

Humanewashers like Chipotle are trying to manipulate the public into believing that killing someone who doesn't want to die is not only perfectly acceptable, but that if you're nice enough to that innocent individual first* then that greedy violence is a good, positive thing.

That insistence that speciesist violence is not only acceptable but a positive thing is moving our culture deeper into speciesism and complacency with violence, and further away from liberationism.

Which is why perpetuating the humane myth (and focusing on welfare, while ignoring the violence of the murder that life ends in, however nicely the animal was treated beforehand) is a threat to the liberation movement.

I'll also insist here that distracting liberationists from violence with plant-based options is a threat to the liberation movement. Being vegan-friendly =/= being animal-friendly, let's not confuse the two, nor let the former distract us from a failure of the latter.

I mean look, Chipotle even has us "animal RIGHTS activists" talking about plant-based food options for human consumers, instead of talking about the animals' rights, which are being violated beyond my human-privileged ability to even begin to comprehend in the slaughterhouses beside those tofu burritos and cute cartoons, RIGHT NOW.

That is why we have to target humanewashers. Utilizing the humane myth and offering plant-based options are a concerted effort by clever advertisers aiming to appease and distract the public so that no one challenges the company's speciesist violence. If Chipotle were genuinely moving our culture towards liberation, they would be challenging speciesism, and they would be saying that violence against innocent defenceless animals is wrong. But they're doing just the opposite, they're staying silent on speciesism (letting it perpetuate itself in its invisibility) and they're insisting that violence against innocent defenceless animals is a GOOD thing. What Chipotle is doing is not "a step in the right direction," it's a pull AWAY from liberationism, intended to keep people from realizing that the violence they engage in is wrong.

No compromise with slavery. No union with slaveholders. Especially the ones who are manipulating the public into believing that slavery and violence are positive things.


*To make matters even worse, this ideology of raising the exploited animals in pastures instead of factories is not one that Chipotle lives up to, but is merely a marketing ploy taking advantage of the lack of regulation in such advertising. Chipotle sources from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

(Video) Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

by Wayne Hsiung

Prominent voices in the movement have attacked our nonviolent campaign as an "assault" and talked about how they love Chipotle so much that they want to give the CEO a hug. But this is precisely why the "It's not Food, It's Violence" campaign is so important. It dispels the illusion conjured up by a violent corporate empire (now the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world), and replaces it with a bold vision of a better and more truthful world. 

Check out the video to learn about:  

  • The numerous, bald-faced lies told by Chipotle about their "love" and "respect" for animals -- lies that have led to scrutiny even by consumer activist lawyers with no connections to the animal rights movement
  • How a public relations firm that was responsible for the defense of Big Tobacco set out the insidious plan of action being used by Chipotle and its ilk to divide our movement. 
  • How Chipotle performed the exact same trick ("We love animals! Check out our Gardein burrito!") on our movement in 2010, by offering a vegan option to gain wonderful press, only to drop the option the moment the "warm glow" dissipated
  • The centrality of the "Food with Integrity" marketing to Chipotle's explosive growth
  • How the campaign, if successful, would be roughly equivalent to ten years of operation by the most effective vegan advocacy groups in the world, even under the most conservative statistical assumptions.
Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

There's so much more to say, especially about the path forward. But if you're wondering, "Why Chipotle?", take a look. And please share with a friend! 

Slides here

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Speciesism is the underlying disease of which all human exploitation of nonhumans is a symptom. If our goal as liberationists is to dissolve speciesism, to bring about a robust cultural change that will ensure lasting change for the animals, then the perspective of the "animal rights" movement and its advocates needs to shift:

Right now the dominant perspective, goal and message is about limiting the number of future animals brought into the world. ("Go vegan" and "this company kills animals but we'll ignore that and praise it for the plant-based option they offer on the chance that someone who is not yet ethically aligned with the idea that violence against animals is wrong might purchase it instead of a violent option, thereby slightly reducing the demand for more future violence."*)

We need to shift that to a focus on how the rights of the trapped animals who are suffering and crying and being forced onto a kill floor at this very moment are being violated. The goal here is to get people to realize that the violence is wrong and that these animals are in a state of emergency and need to be fought for. These stakes are much higher, which makes this framing much more compelling. Not only will the currently popular goal of reducing the demand for exploited animals be achieved through this pushing of anti-speciesist, anti-violent ideology anyways, but this is how we will actively combat the disease of speciesism, instead of just pumping drugs into the system to relieve a few symptoms.

*Just to be brutally redundant with this: No one who has decided to stop eating animals and products of their exploitation is going to buy a burrito with someone's flesh in it, and no one is going to decide to stop eating animals because they ate a single plant-based burrito. People don't need convenient access to nonviolent food options, they need motivation to not by violence-based products. What they need (and what the animals need from them, in the interest of a cultural shift in how humans perceive nonhumans) is to become ethically aligned with anti-speciesism. And even if one's goal is "more individual humans eating plants instead of animal products" then making anti-speciesists out of them is their most compelling reason to do that.

How a Debate Between Two Friends Reshaped a Movement


In a recent online discussion, a former high level staff member at a prominent national animal rights organization suggested that "Chipotle going out of business= bad for animals. We should be supporting and encouraging them, not protesting them. I want to meet the CEO so I can give him a hug." This is a common view in the modern animal rights movement. If we don't praise people for tiny baby steps, even when they're still engaging in horrifically bad behavior, then how do we make progress? (In this case, the sentiment apparently extends even to massive multinational corporations. Corporations, by some accounts, are people too.) But while this debate ties our movement into intellectual knots -- liberationists v. welfarists, radicals v. conservatives -- it shouldn't. Because it's not a new debate. Indeed, it's a debate that has been held in every liberation movement. And in every past movement, the radicals have won. 

Consider, for example, the movement most similar to our own: antislavery. In the early stages of the antislavery movement, around the year 1830, there was a debate between two friends: Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison. Lundy, a gentle and compassionate man, believed that one ought to educate slaveholders to free their slaves, one by one, and provide positive encouragement every step of the way. The dominant “antislavery” organization of the day – the now-infamous ACS – agreed with this approach. The problem of slavery, they thought, was the lack of realistic options. Options for products. (“We have to move our economy away from production that relies on slavery!”) Options for labor. (“Let’s expand the pool of free labor!”) And options for placing the slaves once they were freed. (“We need somewhere to send all these colored people; let’s make a colony in Africa!”)  Give slaveholders options, Lundy and the ACS believed, and slowly, the system will disappear.   

Garrison, a fiery activist and orator, fundamentally disagreed. He believed that slavery was a basic injustice, regardless of what supposed "efforts" slaveholders made to improve their victims’ lives. He believed that the public could be won over with an honest message of liberation and equality. He believed that the question of slavery was not one of “options” for the oppressor but of “justice” for the oppressed. The goal of the liberationist, in Garrison's mind, was not to appease slaveholders with more and better options (and by doing so, reinforce the notion that the life of the slave was subject to the whims of his master) but to re-frame the debate on behalf of the oppressed... to protest slavery and slaveholders regardless of what "options" were offered. Ironically, taking such a strong and honest position, Garrison believed, was the only way to ensure that even incremental reforms could be sustained. 

There are two important points we should make about the Garrison-Lundy debate. 

1. Psychological research shows that tradition and conformity push people in the direction of greater accommodation of brutal institutions, even when such accommodation is unjustified. Those who have studied violent systems of discrimination are struck by how even good people can shrug their shoulders in the face of the worst atrocities in history. The leading scholar of prejudice – John Jost at NYU – has shown that the dampening of moral outrage is key to maintaining systems of injustice.  When we think about how we respond to atrocities against animals, we should always ask ourselves, am I really looking at this in an unbiased way, focused on effecting change for the victims? Or are my message and tactics and even my most basic emotional responses biased by the corrupt institutions that surround me (including marketing by corporations such as Chipotle)? We are, in so many ways, naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy. 

2. The data is out on the Garrison/Lundy debate, and Garrison was right. Garrison’s confident and inspirational message led to an exponential surge in the antislavery movement – a 45000% increase (yes, 45000%) in the number of antislavery societies in less than 10 years, according to numbers tabulated by historian Paul Goodman. Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel notes, moreover, that this incredible growth occurred despite the fact that slavery was becoming even more indispensable to the economic structure of antebellum America. Slavery, Fogel shows, was upended not by economic options but by moral and political pressure: "There is such a thing as morality, and morality is higher than economics." In short, though we are naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy, what social movements need, more than anything else, is people like William Lloyd Garrison. 

That's not an easy thing to do. The human mind usually thinks incrementally. It is limited by habit and tradition. And revolutionary leaps in our basic understanding of the world are few and far between. That is precisely why the Garrisonian perspective -- revolutionary and radical though it may have seemed -- was so vital. It set out a new framing, a new anchoring point, a new vision of the way the world ought to be. But its importance was matched by its difficulty. Garrison was attacked, ostracized, and even imprisoned for his uncompromising views. 

The Chipotle campaign, similarly, was never intended to be an easy one. Neither was it intended to be noncontroversial. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that direct action forces out the prejudices in a community. He believed that it polarizes the debate, and forces the public to take a stand. And, in an important sense, that is the ultimate goal of our campaign: to push our society to take a stand. To push our movement to take a stand. Because if even the animal rights movement can't muster up the confidence to stand against the largest animal killers in the world, who can? 

So ask yourself, where will you stand? When we look back on these days, will we say that we stood with one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world... a $16 billion corporation that enslaves millions every year; that is being called the "New Model" for fast food; and that, in an unending parade of violence that is hard to even imagine, slits the throat of frightened and shrieking child, after frightened and shrieking child, over and over again, all while portraying these brutal acts of violence as integrity, love, and kindness? Or will we stand with a grassroots movement --- simple, honest, and confident --  that seeks to stop the violence, that portrays corporations such as Chipotle for what they actually are -- engines of brutality -- and that protects that desperate child from a horrific and bloody fate? 

We must choose wisely. Because the allies we choose will determine the fate of billions.