If you’ve frequented Sound Transit's Capitol Hill Station recently, you can’t have missed the comprehensive marketing campaign by Be Fair Be Vegan. The Colorado-based, non-profit organization’s ads blanket the walls with striking, poignant photos of animals, birds, and fish and blunt pleas for their right not to be killed and consumed (e.g., MOTHER NOT MILK MACHINE; A LIFE NOT A MEAL). That this billboard barrage directly followed a similar one by Washington Dairy Farmers was not lost on people who seek karmic balance in the universe.
If you have any empathy whatsoever, you have to be moved by BFBV's images. While I and other vegans are surely sympathetic to the cause of Be Fair Be Vegan (which launched in New York City in 2016), this campaign made me wonder about the activists behind it and whether it actually was motivating change in people's eating habits and clothing-buying behavior. I reached out to BFBV's leader, Joanna Lucas, via e-mail to explore this question and others regarding its goals and philosophies.
The Stranger: How effective has this campaign been? Is there any tangible evidence that you’re convincing people to adopt the vegan lifestyle?
Joanna Lucas: The Seattle chapter has led to a significant (over 1,600 percent) spike in traffic to our website, and we do get e-mails and messages from people who have decided to change as a result of seeing our billboards. As a general rule, though, it’s impossible to know how many people become vegan as a result of this (or any other) advertising campaign. The combined number of impressions of the Seattle chapter is estimated at 26,594,457, which is excellent for raising awareness, and, considering that most ads go unnoticed, it’s a pretty big deal that the activists in Seattle are telling us that everyone they talk to has seen the ads everywhere and, even more significant, that they have made an impression on them.
A recent study found that only 3 percent of Americans are vegan.
If you don’t mind us interjecting here, you might want to check out this study, which suggests that 6 percent of Americans identify as vegan. The increase in the number of vegans is not only fast, it’s huge! Veganism has increased 500 percent since 2014.
I stand corrected. However, this still seems like a startlingly low number for a country where awareness of meat/dairy production’s detrimental environmental effects and the health risks of diets heavy in those elements should be widespread. Is it BFBV’s belief that we can’t rely on ecological impact and medical studies to sway people into veganism and that emotional appeals to the well-being of animals, birds, and fish are the last best chance to change destructive habits?
Environmental and health concerns can certainly go a long way toward changing destructive habits, but that’s not enough. For one thing, eating a plant-based diet is not synonymous with veganism. We advocate veganism as an ethical stand against speciesism and the violence inherent in it.
Diet is very important because it causes the greatest suffering to the greatest number of nonhuman animals, not to mention its devastating impact on the environment, world hunger, and human health. But our advocacy is focused on changing the very way we see other animals and our relationship with them, in the interest of ending the entire animal trade, not only the use of animals exploited for food.
For that reason, we aim not to persuade people to become vegan for personal gains, but to persuade people to become vegan because it’s something we owe other animals regardless of whether, or how, it benefits us. Veganism does happen to benefit us greatly, and in a great many ways (as covered in sections such as THE PLANET and THE PEOPLE on our website), but even if it didn’t, it would still be a moral imperative, much like the imperative to not murder, not rape, not commit violent crimes—not because respecting others benefits the aggressor, but because justice demands it.
While the images used in the campaign capture the often sad and anguished faces of our victims, BFBV’s calls to action appeal to reason, not emotion:
• Be Fair. Be Vegan.
• If you condemn violence, don’t consume violence.
• Different but Equal.
• See WHO they are, not WHAT we force them to become (Someone, not Seafood; Person not Possession; Sisters not Specimens, etc)
It’s true that we do want people to truly see the faces of those we force to suffer for products we don’t need, we do want people to look into their eyes, see them as individuals with complex inner lives (not just suffering bodies, numbers, or statistics), and connect with them at the heart. But what we want everyone to understand is that, while the animals we exploit are emotional beings, becoming vegan is really simply a refusal to cause unnecessary harm and as such, it is not ultimately an emotional decision. It’s not an act of kindness, compassion, or charity. It’s an act of justice. Indeed, it is the most basic act of human decency.
What do you perceive to be the biggest obstacles to getting people to convert to veganism?
We believe the biggest obstacle we need to overcome is human supremacism manifested as speciesism. This is why our goal is to address and eradicate speciesism, not to change diets or reform a system that is brutal fundamentally (not merely peripherally), and whose very existence is a violation of the individuals it enslaves. We strive to help people see other animals as moral persons who deserve respect, not as “appropriate victims” of human appetites and desires.
Who is responsible for the content on BFBV’s FAQ section and what are their qualifications?
All of the content on our website was written by volunteers with many years of experience in educating others about veganism.
How does Be Fair Be Vegan sustain itself? These ad campaigns can’t be cheap... or maybe they can be?
The ad buys are not cheap, and the campaigns are funded by individuals who are determined to see factual information given to the public about what is usually concealed by the animal industry, in order to help consumers understand the consequences of their actions. Our supporters obviously believe that it is time for this issue to be granted the public attention it deserves, and with the animal industry spending many billions of dollars on advertising every year, we hope that the comparatively small amount we spend will be well worth the investment.
What is the campaign’s ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal of the BFBV ads is to challenge and change the speciesist paradigm. Our collective attachment to a non-vegan way of life is sustained and upheld by our society’s underlying prejudice against all those who are not human. Our behavior toward other animals will never change unless we explicitly address the issue of human supremacy, and the injustice of imposing our will on others who have a right to live free from human oppression. We are not calling for better treatment (as suggested by the phrase “the well-being of animals”), we are calling for the cessation of all our uses of animals, on the basis that owning and exploiting sentient beings is inherently wrong no matter how “well” we may treat them while depriving them of their fundamental right to life, liberty, and justice.