Pythagoras defended vegetarianism, just like Rousseau and Voltaire. Plato made the ideal city a vegetarian city. Pope John Paul II even opened the doors of paradise to animals. But still. Between philosophical principles, spiritual concepts and concrete actions, veganism is still looked at askance today. And it is to explain the main lines and deconstruct certain ideas, even caricatures, that the researchers Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert and Alexia Renard have written What do vegans want? – The animal cause, from Plato to the anti-species movement.

The day when The duty spoke with the two authors, there were thousands of them walking in the streets of Quebec to voice their concerns about climate issues. “There is a youth who is super committed to ecological, ethical and environmental issues. Personally, I find that really admirable and I believe that we are going in the right direction thanks to them, notes Alexia Renard, whose doctoral thesis deals precisely with vegan adolescents. For more and more young people, it is not even an option anymore, being vegan is the norm. “

“They tend to influence their parents and their families,” adds Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert, citing in passing the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. So even if it is a fight which is carried by the young people, there is really a big potential for political expansion. […] We have a lot of hope. “

This is, in part, the conclusion of their essay; a condensed version of some 150 pages which exposes all the historical and philosophical complexity of the vegan movement. The authors, two doctoral students who are mainly interested in animal ethics and the social currents that surround the animal cause, end their document by emphasizing the challenge of synthesis they had in the face of the multiplicity of developments in the animalist movement. .

“This book is for people who want to know more about social movements, but also about the history of philosophy. Because, finally, through the history of animal rights, we come back to a central questioning: who is proper to man? Are we different from animals? These are eternal questions, ”emphasizes Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert.

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We thus approach the political history of animal rights, with in particular the “vegetarian renaissance” in the Age of Enlightenment until the founding of the Vegan Society in 1944, while underlining in passing the contribution of women in the animal cause, as creation of the first shelters in Pennsylvania.

“At the end of the XIXe century, more and more women will engage in the movement for the rights of animals, supported until then rather by men of the bourgeoisie. And they will recognize the common oppression between their status as women and the status of animals. It will really lead some women of the left and also families of the social reformist movement to campaign for both women’s suffrage and animal rights. […] Even today, statistics say it is a movement made up largely of women. “

For more and more young people, this is no longer even an option, being vegan is the norm.

Is it moral to eat meat?

Our contemporary world brings its share of issues and questions about animal exploitation. In addition to detailing the consequences on the environment, to take the example, we present various debates within the same vegan movement by exploring the philosophical and sociological dimensions. How far do moral duties end? ask the authors. “If we are moved by the plight of the many animals that die in the bush fires, should we not also be concerned about the suffering of the gazelle devoured by the lion? they write in their book. Do our moral duties stop when the threat is no longer of human origin? How far can humans intervene in nature? “

“I think anyone who watches slaughter videos is not condoning this practice. I think it’s a matter of personal consumption, yes, but also of moral progress, of changing our outlook on animals, ”says Alexia Renard.

Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert adds: “Our goal was not to defend our own [opinions], but to allow people to have as much information as possible about veganism and to answer several questions. “

“We are no longer in a position of observation and understanding of social phenomena,” specifies M.me Renard. [Notre livre] is not going to advocate for a particular cause. I consider myself to be an intellectual activist. “

We then understand the full scope of the last part of the essay, which deals with the sociology of the animal cause by painting the portrait of the members of the animalist movement and by exposing their motivations. From the reformist or abolitionist approach to anti-speciesism, so many variations in thoughts and actions around the animal cause clearly show that the question of veganism is as philosophical as it is concrete.

“It touches on questions of food justice and it helps answer questions that are often asked,” notes Alexia Renard. Like the one on aboriginal communities that depend on the seal fishery, for example. What are we doing ? Obviously, we don’t have an answer, but we explain that there is more convergences than we think between aboriginal communities and veganism. We also talk about ecological struggles where young people link questions of individual consumption to political questions. It’s not “we are vegan in our corner”. They engage and demonstrate. We are in the middle of current affairs. It’s fascinating ! “

Intersectional veganism

What do vegans want? The animal cause, from Plato to the anti-species movement

Alexia Renard, Virginie Simoneau-Gilbert, Fides, Montreal, 2021, 200 pages

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