Sometimes You Need to Wear the “Vegan Extremist” Label with Pride

peace sign


Being dismissed as an extremist isn’t the worst thing in the world. But as a new animal activist, I used to unconsciously dread this accusation. I carefully worded my responses to avoid it at all costs. No more. Now liberated from fear of being labeled extreme, I whole-heartedly encourage others to abandon their fear.

Why do I think it is so important to do this? Well, for starters, overcoming fear of being called an extremist is not only freeing, but character-building. It promotes our self-esteem, our feeling of moral worth — qualities that our critics want to crush.

Indeed, they hope that upon being tagged an extremist, we will run away with tails tucked. Then, they hope, we’ll come crawling back, badly bruised, and cave in to their attacks, softening our stance enough to make such innocuous statements as, “Well, I guess it’s okay to raise ‘food’ animals ‘humanely.'” The trouble is, those activists who compromise their core beliefs never really believe their softened stance. In fact, they often come to hate themselves for selling out the animals.

Smearing courageous change-makers is a centuries-old defensive tactic employed by those who feel threatened by those very changes. Every great movement has begun with a group of restless activists — brave pioneers who are marginalized by the status quo. But these progressive thinkers and actors have always persevered, and ultimately prevailed. Their campaigns for justice have gone mainstream as their ideas have slowly won acceptance. As social psychologist Melanie Joy recently noted, “[D]efenses evolve and intensify as a movement evolves and intensifies, and they are a sign of the movement’s success, not its failure.”

Now I’m not suggesting that we act or speak in an “extreme” manner. Quite the contrary. I’m saying, “Keep your cool. Maintain your professional demeanor. Provide credible sources. But do not retreat from the ethical position that you know in your heart and in your mind to be right.”

We animal activists have a solid foundation underlying our cause of justice for nonhumans. After all, most of the world already believes in the principle of justice for humans. The vast majority of people don’t make exceptions based on color of skin, country of origin, gender, physical handicaps, and the like. Even if they don’t particularly like some humans, or even if they think of some humans as less intelligent than others, people still believe categorically in justice for all Homo sapiens.

So the notion that other species, too, are deserving of respect and justice is not far-fetched, let alone extreme. It’s simply a logical extension of the principle of equal consideration that most of us have come to accept. This principle has been expressed in texts as ancient as human civilization itself. It puts us in good company with the likes of Patanjali and Pythagoras, Leonardo and Galileo and Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer and Albert Einstein, and the American hero honored this month for his “extreme” love and “extreme” justice: Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we can see, then, justice for animals is common sense. And veganism, an aspect of justice for animals, is common sense. Justice cannot be served by eating animals, a practice that causes 99% of the human-induced animal suffering.

Could it be that those who resist this common sense are really the ones who are supporting a system of thought that is “extreme” and contrary to our core values of kindness and respect? That is, extremely unjust? Extremly unkind? Extremely indifferent? Extremely negligent to humanity’s moral obligation to animals?

Yes. And our job is to make these “extremists” understand, in their hearts and their minds, why animals matter.

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About Robert Grillo

Robert Grillo is the director of Free from Harm which he founded in 2009 to expose the food industry’s exploitation of animals and foster greater empathy for farmed animals. As an activist, author and speaker, Grillo focuses awareness on the animal’s experience and point of view, drawing on insights from sociology, psychology, popular culture, ethics and social justice to bridge the gap between humans and other animals. As a marketing communications professional for over 20 years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts where he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. His new book, Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal Consuming Culture, reveals how popular culture uses a variety of fictions that condition us to consume animal products and perpetuate fasle perceptions of animals that make us feel better about exploiting them


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  3. I admire PETA for taking a firm position and not backing down. They are abolitionists who say we need a new way of judging animals as beings with their own lives and interests, not just commodities for human use. PETA wants an end of cruelty to animals, not just a lessening of their misery (Sure, folks, we can make things better for veal calves. Why, we’ll just make those crates a foot wider and a foot longer, and the little fellows will actually be able to turn all the way around and lie down flat!). People do not want to be disturbed by the sight of documented abuse. Just try to get some of the whistle blower videos of animal cruelty on mainstream media, where they are often refused for being too graphic and upsetting. People do not want to be criticized for their behavior. Just look response of the wolf hunters who are trapping, snaring, and shooting the animals with bullets and bows and arrows and gunning them from helicopters. Then they are enraged when they are criticized for the killing and for their photographs, grinning with glee, over the bodies of their bloody and tortured victims. Thus such people will hate PETA and similar organizations. They will threaten, call names, and fight for the status quo. If it takes a fanatical, extremist, zealotic radical to fight animal abusers, then count me in.

  4. it is only considered “fanatical” and “extreme” to reject and speak out against violence against others by people who are apathetic to the victims suffering. they would be singing a different tune and calling the same people hero’s and saints if they were the victims being oppressed and exploited for pleasure and profit. i found this on facebook a while ago and think it is great:

    “Phrases that you’ll never hear: You’re never going to stop rape with that holier than thou attitude. You’re never going to end child molestation by being so militant and extreme. Look, people are going to continue to murder other people, why not have a small, family murderer do it?”

  5. The timing of this post is fortuitous. Why? Because last week I posted (on my blog) my disdain for fur coats (I saw a woman at my train station wearing a fur coat). One of my blog followers commented on my post accusing me of being “maniacal”. To paraphrase, she said something along the lines of, “No wonder people like her and PETA have such a bad reputation — they are all maniacal”. I took such offense to her comment that I removed the post. I do not believe I or PETA are manaical. I believe from the very depths of my soul that it is my duty to speak for the voiceless and I use my blog as a medium by which to express myselves. That said, I did agree with one aspect of my commenter that there are softer, kinder ways of driving a point home without getting all up in one’s face. Of course, the problem is, I didn’t get all up in anyone’s face. What I did do was write about the dialogue that was going on inside my head. Later that evening I had time to really think about my post aned the comment from a follower. Looking back, I wished I hadn’t removed the post. I also wished I had turned the tables on her because it almost seemed like she is condoning the fur trade business while chastising me for speaking out against it.

    Lessons learned: going forward I plan to stand my ground, especially after reading your post above. In fact, I am going to reblog this on my blog at

    I love the way your write — succinct and yet mindful. Well done!

  6. I absolutely agree. As I read blogs, newspaper articles, and comments sections, I’m finding that people who disagree with a position usually do not have a well-formulated, well-thought argument for disagreeing (besides, how can you reasonably disagree with the evidence of cruelty involved in factory farming, etc.). So the easiest thing to do is start name-calling. We are misanthropes, tree huggers, frog lickers, people haters, fanatics, etc. As for the latter description, “fanatic,” here is what Cesar Chavez (a vegetarian and leader of reforms for migrant workers) had to say: “A reporter once told me that I sounded like I was a fanatic, and I said ‘I am. There’s nothing wrong with being a fanatic. These are the only ones that get things done.'” I’m with Mr. Chavez!!! We should all be extremists in the fight against cruelty.

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