Animal rights scholar and proponent of the abolitionist approach Gary L. Francione returns with his latest book, Why Veganism Matters: The Moral Value of Animals. In Why Veganism Matters Francione purports that the only means of ending nonhuman animal exploitation is to give nonhuman animals the rights associated with personhood. Francione explains that nonhuman animals are currently considered by most to be “quasi-persons”, meaning that while we understand that nonhuman animals are sentient, their societal status falls somewhere between “person” and “object”. The only sufficient way to end animal exploitation is to grant nonhuman animals personhood. While Francione certainly makes an interesting argument for the abolitionist approach, he does not necessarily make a compelling one.
The overarching issue with Francione’s assessment is the assumption that all humans are considered persons, thus granting them the privileges and protections of personhood. Most importantly: when someone is considered a person by society that society is, as Francione puts it, “compelled to justify pain and suffering put upon them” (pg. 3). We do not consider nonhuman animals people and, therefore, do not feel morally obligated to justify their pain and suffering. The primary problem with this argument is that, frankly, all humans are not considered persons.
“Person” status is not automatically granted to many individuals, as evidenced by our society’s pervasive dedication to systemic racism, misogyny, and ableism. Though Francione does mention racism, he compares the treatment of animals to slavery. The arguement here being that the end of slavery granted former enslaved persons and their descendants personhood. This is simply not true, as Black Americans continue to suffer ongoing abuse, trauma, and death.
Similarly, Francione often contrasts the treatment of people suffering from dementia to that of nonhuman animals. Though a dementia patient may not have certain cognitive characteristics associated with sentience (and, thus, personhood), we still consider them people, while withholding that status from nonhuman animals. Yet, if this were true, then how do we explain the rampant elder abuse occurring in long term care facilities throughout the U.S.? Notable here is also the fact that Francione repeatedly refers to neurotypical individuals as “normal” and neurodivergent individuals as “cognitively impaired”. I could not help but be distracted by this glaringly ableist choice of words.
Despite flaws in Francione’s theory of personhood, he is a sufficient writer. However, the dense, academic nature of the text will likely be a turn off to most casual readers. It is doubtful that this is the book to convert nonvegans to veganism, as Francione’s writing is fairly esoteric. Ultimately, Why Veganism Matters is a relatively unremarkable entry into the ever growing collection of vegan theory texts.