Should Vegans Go To KFC?

chicken-1461508580u82

There are always, in a person’s life, some meals consumed that will remain in their memory for years at least, if not for life. These will commonly include such rare culinary delights as an engagement dinner, or the last meal a beloved family member prepared before their death, or perhaps one that facilitated some unforgettable conversation, the recollection of which cannot detached from the food. Pathetically, my first mighty bucket from KFC was one such ineffable experience.

I sat alone on a small table during some lunch break or other when I first tasted the eleven herbs and spices which came to dominate my diet for years (this is no exaggeration: on my regular visits to the restaurant the staff, recognising my face, would start bagging up a large popcorn chicken meal and a Pepsi with no ice before I had even drawn the breath to request it). It was on this same table that I first tasted these same spices without an animal having died to grant me the privilege, and the only thing dulling my excitement was the memory of the last time I was there, knowing that I should have known better.

On the 2nd January, 2020, KFC rolled out its new vegan chicken burger as a permanent fixture of the menu across its nearly nine hundred branches in the UK, amongst a wave of similar moves from all manner of food outlets, marking the power of voting with our wallets for a cruelty-free future of the food industry. The launch was an imperfect one; a few vegans have been accidentally served bona fide flesh despite ordering a plant-based burger, and amongst the mocking comments underneath reports of such stories on social media, one thematic question was constantly lurking: what the hell is a vegan doing at KFC, anyway?

Less antagonistically, and when genuinely asked rather than propped up as though it were an argument, this question is being sincerely considered by a number of those who have taken the step to eliminate animals from their diet, many of whom are made to feel queasy at the thought of visiting an outlet that generally relies on their exploitation and slaughter to retain its profit margins. Does it make sense for a person who is ethically convinced that funding animal cruelty is inexcusable to hand money to companies which are so tied up in it that they have become its metonyms?

The Nature of Boycotting

Veganism is a form of boycott. As with all boycotts, it is a refusal to partake in an immorality, for purposes of achieving economically demand-driven change. Unlike with other boycotts, however, we do not refuse to purchase products of the food, clothing, and cosmetic industries to force them to change some unrelated policy or behaviour, but because the products are themselves in ethical need of change. Refusing to buy a product from a company because it pays its workers a low wage is one thing; refusing to buy a product because the product itself is immoral is another.

To consider why this is the case, the question should be reformulated in this manner: is veganism a boycott of animal products, or a boycott of companies and institutions which supply them? Reflecting on the implications of both should lead us hold the former to be the case.

The most immediate problem with attempting the latter is something all too obvious and familiar to vegans: animal products are everywhere. Not just in almost every food outlet, but everywhere. Refusing to fund any institution which benefits from them is not practically feasible.

From where should we purchase books? Myself, I generally opt either for Blackwell’s of Oxford, or the local Waterstones, both of which have cafés, both of which serve a variety of meat, dairy, and egg dishes and drinks. If my boycott is of the type that refuses to buy products due to a company’s immorality rather than a product’s immorality, I am committed to refusing to shop at either retailer, until their cafés become entirely plant based. This would not be an impossible mission, yet I would have some nerve to claim that this is required of anybody wishing to call themselves a vegan.

And what of less straightforward monetary decisions? I am a university student, and last year my college opened a brand new £13.5m library, furnished with designer ‘Bodleian Readers’ Chairs’, which retail for £1,824.00 each. This excruciating sum will get you a single seat made from ‘light oak and Muirhead leather’, meaning I will be studying for my finals sitting on a dead animal’s skin. The library was in development whilst I was deciding where to study; should I have chosen a different university, or refused to go at all, to avoid my tuition fees being used to fund, in part, such furnishing? This must be the reductio ad absurdum of this kind of boycott.

Perhaps, were I feeling particularly radical, a better approach would be to study in my own room instead, sat on the more (physically and ethically) comfortable fabric desk chair whose production involved cruelty to no animal. Yet this would not be enough, were I attempting to boycott any institution that funds animal exploitation, since I would still be paying my fees, which would still in turn be used for replacing broken leather furniture, subsidising meaty meals, providing academic grants to be spent by other students on leather-bound books, and a myriad of other forms of indirect immoralities that I could not hope to comprehensively list even if I had the time and will to. I would have to simply pack my bags and go home, making sure not to do so in a taxi with leather seats.

Clearly, veganism is a different kind of boycott. It does not wish to defund restaurants, farmers, universities, or booksellers, but incentivise them to adapt their behaviours so as to avoid the suffering of animals. It is not only impractical but also ill-advised for vegans to remove their influence from such places.

Yet an argument remains: it may be totally impractical to refuse to study at university, or visit the other institutions I have discussed, but it is certainly possible to avoid certain particular institutions if their transgressions are severe enough. Further, most organisations which partake in the exploitation of animals do not principally rely on it as a business model, with this instead being something of a side effect that can, therefore, be feasibly abolished. Chains like KFC and Burger King, however, are involved in killing animals as a main focus of their brand and product line, and it is this which justifies avoiding their premises, regardless of what we buy there.

An Opportunity For Change

Here we must avoid making the mistake of acting in a manner that will potentially bring about the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. The thrust of the argument above comes from those who suggest that, since we cannot know where our money specifically is going, we should minimise the chances that it might get recirculated into factory farming by boycotting the most obvious offenders in fast food. The logic of this implies that, as a rule, the higher the ratio of animal products to vegan products that an outlet offers, the less likely vegans should be to shop there.

This is a calamitous mistake. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not arguing from a tendency towards any softness or flexitarian tendencies; if there is such thing as an absolutist vegan, I am proud to call myself one (I am absolutely against the torture of the innocent). It is precisely for this reason, in fact, that I encourage vegans to shop at KFC and Burger King. When even the most iconically animal-based outlets begin testing the plant-based waters, the consumer market is presented with an opportunity to incentivise fast food companies to become more sustainable and ethical, increase the visibility of the animal rights movement, and drive the attention and spending of corporations away from a total reliance on cruelty to animals.

Consider the previously established rule of basing our purchase decisions on the ratio of animal to vegan products offered by a restaurant. By following this guidance, we focus our economic energy on those institutions least in need of diversification. We must still, naturally, support vegan establishments to sustain their presence, but a refusal to indicate the existence of a new market to food companies which may reactively modernise their product line is a refusal to vote for change. It is comparable to refusing to vote in a political election as a protest against the electoral system, despite this allowing a malevolent candidate to rise to power.

It is not therefore merely morally permissible to buy plant-based products from companies that otherwise rely on slaughter for profit; it is an imperative. We should be doing everything we can to demonstrate to these outlets that the world is changing, and that we will embrace such moves from them to the extent that they needn’t worry about any financial risk in deciding to dedicate ever larger sections of their menus to ethically permissible food.

What is the alternative? Will we as revolutionary activists allow (cause?) the appearance of such headlines as, ‘KFC reverts to fully animal-based menu’ or ‘See vegans? Nobody agrees with you’? Are we to expect those who never asked for vegan options to become available to be the ones who popularise their consumption? It would be a fatal error to refuse this opportunity to change the face of fast food and make a far more impactful statement than any placard on the streets of London ever could. (Though please, don’t underestimate these, too.)

But not only does our purposive decision to buy a vegan burger cause the executives of Burger King and KFC to begin scratching their heads to create ever more innovative cruelty-free fast food, and not only does it tempt those meat-eaters browsing their menus to see what the fuss is about. By making these choices we also begin to procure the holy grail of all ethical and justice movements: normalisation.

Wherever veganism throws off its ‘fringe’ persona and becomes an omnipresent and viable option for even the most stubborn of taste-driven human beings, it simultaneously becomes impossible to stop. Who, except perhaps that insufferable and self-defeating kind of person who ingeniously posts GIFs of someone eating a steak beneath online animal rights content, could possibly morally embarrass themselves so much as to continue exploiting innocent creatures when, in the world quite possibly separated from us by only a few short decades, all of their favourite outlets offer perfectly serviceable plant-based alternatives? (I was nearly tempted to remark that we shouldn’t worry about such people, since history will forget forget them. It won’t: it will loathe them.)

The first step towards this world begins with our making strategic economic decisions. We should not think of ourselves as congratulating a company or condoning its practices by purchasing one of its products, especially when our reasoning for doing so is precisely to express our dissatisfaction with the rest of the options on offer. Don’t just begrudgingly agree to go with your friends to KFC and eat the minimum required to sustain sociability—go of your own accord, and get yourself a drink, too. Demonstrate to this bastion cruelty that at the earliest available opportunity provided to us we are willing to fully embrace what we have been wanting for so long: change.

To support content like this, please consider visiting my Patreon page.

6 comments

  1. Well I probably would’ve gotten the veggie option at these places anyway, but being introduced to its counter argument and your stronger counter-counter argument has convinced me that I should actively seek it out. Well done.

    Like

  2. I’m interested in your opinion on the moral case for eating vegetables and cereals.

    Pesticides are used in vegetable and cereal farming. (Yes, even in organic farming.) Small animals are often caught in combine harvesters and other farming equipment. By my estimations, far more animals die in these ways than for meat. Many are insects, so are arguably less sapient than, say, pigs or cows. But it’s hard to argue that field mice are less sapient than chickens or fish.

    But even if we can reduce the number of animals that die because of farming techniques, the existence of farms at all destroys natural habitats and causes animals to suffer and die because of that.

    It seems inevitable that if people want to eat, animals will suffer for it. Veganism reduces this problem, but I don’t think it reduces it as much as most vegans seem to believe it does.

    (I have been vegan on and off in the past, and I’m currently what some people would call a flexitarian or semi-vegetarian. I do eat meat, eggs, and dairy, but not much.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why do you think the world would care about saving insects and small rodents that are accidentally killed in crop harvesting when we literally murder over 60 billion land animals each year on purpose? As veganism rises, veganic farming will grow as well, but right now we don’t have that option. The animals we eat have to get fed as well. When you want to avoid crop deaths then it will always be more efficient to eat plants rather than animals due to thermodynamics. The animals only convert a small amount of calories that we feed them into calories for us to eat. Also at least when it comes to small rodents, plants kill WAY less animals per million calories than animal foods. We don’t have data on insects I believe. https://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc

      Like

    2. Hello Toby Inkster,
      I find interesting your point about insects that are killed in cropping. I guess organic farming together with veganism is trying to reduce it at minimum.
      Have health.

      Like

    3. Veganism isn’t about being perfect, it’s about not paying for animals to be intentionally tortured and killed when an option exists that does not do so. Yes, a few small animals will die from time to time because of plant farms. This is not comparable to the millions that die in bloody slaughterhouses each year.

      As an addition to what you said about flexitarianism: if you already agree that you shouldn’t pay for animal products, why do you only reduce, rather than remove it entirely? I feel like that’s comparable to saying that buying from sweat shops is wrong, so you only do it sometimes. I feel like it’s just not consistent.

      Like

  3. Hi Mr. O’Connor. I rarely comment on “things” on the internet, but I thought I’d share something with you regarding Christianity and the Bible. I’m a son of an Anglican vicar so I have (not surprisingly) acquired quite a good knowledge and understanding – perhaps – of the Christian teachings and its book) I’ll just point out (in case you don’t know how to suck eggs, or your granny doesn’t know how to suck eggs) that the Old Testament is the Jewish book., the New Testament is what it says, a NEW testament based on Jesus’s teachings with little or no reference to the old Jewish testament. If you leave out a lot of the ravings of his disciples, much of what Jesus taught is similar to, say, Buddhism. Except he doesn’t actually say that the physical Samsaric world is horrible and the source of most suffering. (jesus taught that each human has an inherent value in the eyes of God and that God loves us as we are as an individual, faults and all, whether we’ve homeless, beggars, criminals or even rich, despite him saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. He also said that at the end the last shall be first and the first shall be last and the meek will inherit the earth, and so on) As far as I recall Jesus did not make any strict rules (or relaxed rules, or any rules at all) with accompanying punishments for breaking them. His main message was love, that we should love everyone, ourselves, others, children, animals, and all other things of this earth. he even says love your enemies. Loving your friends is pretty easy. Loving your enemies is not. But he advises that you should do so. He also advises

    “do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If
    anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

    There are many other examples of this completely new and radical approach to human relations and human relations with the world. I’m not a Christian believer – I don’t believe, sadly, that there is a divine being who cares about us. It’s just I believe the New Testament as taught by Jesus (or someone like Jesus) contains much that is useful. The sad thing is, no-one follows his advise. So, when criticising the Bible or Christianity, do differentiate between the TWO quite separate systems being taught in the two books of that text. Additionally, Jesus largely condemned the Rabbis of his time as being arrogant, rules-ridden hypocrites, so you shouldn’t conflate the book of the Rabbis with what he was trying to teach.

    My worldview is largely in line with Albert Camus and Sartre (and good old Sam Beckett) which makes life a meaningless, cold and indifferent existence, and a very very short one. If it wasn’t for human relationships and our indispensable delusions we’d probably all kill ourselves. As Camus said, in a world of meaningless absurdity, football is the most important thing, especially goalkeeping.

    Also, I agree that exploiting and torturing animals for our own selfish ends is despicable. In an interview with Douglas Murray (or was it a video taking apart Dennis Prager? hmmm) you implied (or actually stated) that you believe humans have more value than other living beings on earth. Why do you think that? That’s a very human-centric view of the world, isn’t it? And is there a hierarchy of value in the animal world – a great chain of being – with us at the top, then cats and dogs (because we love them like people) and then useful animals like horses, cows, pigs, sheep and then down to cockroaches or rats or whatever? Objectively, I see no more inherent value in humans to any other creature on this planet and thinking otherwise is viewing the world through the above-mentioned human at the centre of all things viewpoint.

    My last comment is, even though human lives have no value per se, and what we do and our lives themselves have absolutely no meaning (meaning is a human concept so means nothing outside the human context) we must live our lives AS IF things matter and AS IF our lives have meaning. And they do, but only within the human context. As soon as you leave that context we are as if we don’t even exist.

    Keep up the good work.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Toby Inkster Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s