Applying Utilitarianism Theory to Nonhuman Animals

Written by Alaina

If you ask an omnivore to picture a vegan, he or she might say they’re envisioning a sign held amongst a group of people on a sidewalk, and while we want to do the most good in our day to day lives, the question might be how do we get there? If we believe in the golden rule, or strive to uphold utilitarianism theory, then as vegans, we must strive to do the most good for the interests of others and only then can we arrive at the greatest net satisfaction. Utilitarianism theory is a philosophical view that can easily be applied to nonhuman animal advocacy. This notion “is said to be universalist, welfarist, consequentialist, and aggregative” (Singer, 2006). Since we are striving to rid nonhuman animals of not having human rights, and counteract our active opponents by occupying areas that oppress this marginalized group, considering utilitarianism theory is our best course of action.


Circus protest in Portland

As an activist, I oftentimes come across new information that I believe is worthy to share with the vegan community. I’d like to present a new idea and model of living a utilitarian lifestyle since it is coherent with a spectrum of how to approach advocacy for nonhuman animals. This spectrum reinforces that “Communities rarely win campaigns by overpowering the opposition — you win by shifting your target’s support out from under them and growing your community of allies” (Spectrum of Allies). Now, The Real Food Challenge provided a set of guidelines, but this new idea does NOT stem from the goals of this organization. I merely am employing that we use this theory, The Spectrum of Allies, and apply it to nonhuman animal advocacy.

Consider the chart below. As we see to the far left, we have active allies. In this category, we can group together people who are nonhuman animal advocates and vegans. As we go further right, we would see passive allies. This group includes those who are vegan and are not yet activists (but might be interested in becoming one!) Continuing to the right of the spectrum, there is the neutral zone (those who are not sure if they want to become vegan or do not know about it yet), to passive opponents that disagree with active allies yet do nothing about it. At the very end of the spectrum are active opponents. When I think about this category, I picture those that work in the animal agriculture industry, an owner of fur store, people actively contradicting posts about veganism online, and so on.

The Spectrum of Allies


Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich have written a guidebook to help nonhuman animal advocates. In the book The Animal Activists Handbook: Maximizing Our Positive Impact in Today’s World, Ball and Friedrich discuss the golden rule and have reminded us that today “Most ethical systems have become a list of do’s and (more often) don’ts” (Bruce and Friedrich, 2009). Ball and Friedrich also point out “From a rational and universal starting point, we can choose to author our life’s story, rather than following the narrative set for us by our genes and our culture (Bruce and Friedrich, 2009). Gaining rights for nonhuman animals focuses on social justice movements similar to what we have achieved for marginalized groups. However, this is with the exception that every prior social justice movement has been for human animals. Nonhuman animals have always been marginalized to every extent we can imagine and no species is exempt.

To sum everything up, using the utilitarianism theory in conjunction with the spectrum of allies will help enable us to occupy areas at a greater magnitude. Our presence will be seen and those who continue to marginalize nonhuman animals will not be able to ignore us. If you already identify as a nonhuman animal advocate, please strive to find others who will help us in this movement. If you are a vegan who has yet to identify as an activist, please consider joining us at a protest or leafleting event and consider this last fact. As a vegan, you can save up to a hundred or so lives every year, but as an activist, “for every 100 leaflets you distribute on a college campus, you’ll spare, by a conservative calculation, a minimum of 50 animals a year a lifetime of misery” (Cooney, 2013). In the references section below, I’ve added links to resources you can use if you are interested in becoming an activist. Let’s uphold the utilitarianism theory and live out our day to day actions to do the most good.




Ball, M., & Friedrich, B. (2009). The animal activists’ handbook: Maximizing our positive impact in today’s world. New York: Lantern Books.

Cooney, N. (2013, January 13). The Powerful Impact of College Leafleting (Part 1). Retrieved July 1, 2016, from

Singer, P. (2006). In defense of animals: The second wave. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Spectrum of Allies. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2016, from of Allies.pdf



 Resources to Join in Various Activism for Nonhuman Animals (Animal Action Network) (The Humane League – Denver)

We Have Taken Their Power

Written by Alaina

I have a challenge for you. The challenge requires you to name one animal, just one, that is not exploited in any way. What is the meaning of exploitation? The action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work (synonyms: taking advantage, abuse, misuse, and ill-treatment). Take some time to think about it if you like, because in all retrospect, all species are misused, mistreated, and exploited in some fashion.

Our own species has an obsession with conquering others whether it is other human beings or animals. Industries have taken advantage of this fixation and have used it solely to gain profits. Not for conservation efforts, not to educate, but at the forefront, their primary concern is pleasing the shareholders and funneling more money into their pockets. Our obsession with animals has led these creatures to severe cruelty and sometimes irreversible emotional distress. A loss of loved ones, traumatic physical pain, and a lifetime of this cycle only to be repeated again and again to further profits.

Tigers, orcas, elephants, camels, dolphins, cows, chickens, fish, bees, dogs, cats, and hundreds more live in this cycle every second of their lives if they are included in exploitation. Their power is not ours not lock in a cage, dump into a bathtub, or parade around in a coliseum. Their majesty is not ours to slather on our faces, rub in our hair, our outline our eyes. Their splendor is not ours to throw on a grill, stir in our coffee, or fry in a pan. Finally, their beauty is not ours to use a sweetener in our tea, moisturize our body, or use to cure a sore throat. There are plant based options for any manner you seek to nourish your body, enhance features, or use to cure an ailment.


Let me go back to my original question. Did you think of an animal that isn’t being exploited? Think of all sectors that humans exploit for their benefit, but let me continue on before you make a final decision.

Humans strive to be happy and throughout our lives we are always making changes to reach goals that will enable us to be content and pleased with our efforts. As we are exploiting animals in the manners we are today, we are directly excluding them of the basic rights we give each other. We do not go about our lives and tell or act in ways that deny other human of being happy. Why are we doing that every second of every day to millions upon millions of other species?

We are obsessed with their power, their beauty, their majesty. As humans we do not have all of the traits of these animals and we try to justify our exploitation in endless way.

Industries that market conservation are for profit and this is in order to remain in operation and keep up with maintenance at these facilities. Regarding of all of the safeguarding efforts of zoos and aquariums, why is poaching and hunting still as detrimental as it was decades ago? Shouldn’t these “conservation” efforts be helping animals in the wild too? We can’t keep all exotic animals locked up in cages away from the poachers, but true conservation efforts is looking towards the wrong doing of animal agriculture, because they are responsible for clear cutting the land for animals to live in order to raise livestock and grow food for livestock.

When Marius, a healthy 2 year old giraffe was slaughtered and fed to lions at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, there was no empathy and “individual wild animals, whether captive or free-roaming, are not deserving of consideration as individuals—only ‘populations’ matter” (Wells, 2014) in the eyes of these establishments.

International policies need to be stronger and governmental officials need to enact laws that strengthen the safety and overall well-being of these animals. Education is the most vital route and for example, people in Asia eating shark fin soup is on the decline because of animal activists taking direct action against this industry and using education to help communities understand the importance of keeping these species thriving in the wild.

Regardless of the species, please remember that “The path of the norm is the path of least resistance; it is the route we take when we’re on auto-pilot and don’t even realize we’re following a course of action that we haven’t consciously chosen” (Joy, 2009). Take the challenge to reduce your exploitation on the creatures that roam this earth with us. Everyone has the capacity to take the path of least resistance, it is simply a matter of making mindful decisions everyday and recognizing that every step leads to greater happiness for yourself and others.


Joy, M. (2010). Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: An introduction to carnism: The belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others. San Francisco: Conari Press.

Wells, S. (2014, February 14). Legally brief: no zoo animal is “surplus”. Retrieved

March 21, 2016, from

The Science Behind Animal Advocacy

All of us want to help animals in one way or another and it could be rescuing a dog or cat from a shelter, attending a circus that only features people, or buying a nut based cheese. Since we were children, our fascination with animals has continued to captivate us day by day. Now studies are available to aid us in our advocacy and lead us towards becoming effective campaigners for animals. It can be overwhelming to think about the how far we need to go for animals, especially those raised for food, but it is helpful to step back and think about the big picture. This helps us re-focus and think about how we can restructure our advocacy based off studies instead of just making assumptions.

As animal advocates, following the golden rule is very important and we should treat others the way you would want to be treated. Act respectfully, dress nicely, and listen to what the other person has to say. Bruce Friedrich has taken ideas from the corporate world and explains “you might think that certain people just aren’t reachable, but I can tell you from experience that some of the people who seem the least receptive are actually the ones who are really challenged and on the verge of changing their behavior. That’s why they react so defensively. We must always strive to respond with respect and kindness” (Friedrich).

Friedrich noted several key points from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Staying optimistic and approachable is vital. For example, while you are leafleting, a smile goes a long way and even if people do not take a leaflet, be sure to tell them to have a nice day. Getting defensive is easy when people do not seem to care, but you never know if (even that same day) they’ll change their minds and take a leaflet from someone else.


The front page of a vegan leaflet that features all messages.

At some point in your day to day advocacy, you might contemplate what messages are the most effective? Perhaps you debate this with a large group of people you are about to encounter or it might be one person that you know very well. The Humane League has conducted a multitude of studies that help us pinpoint exactly which messages are best when working with a small amount of information on hand such as a one page leaflet. Study results found that “a combination of animal and health messaging may be best for a general audience. A trio of animal, health, and environmental messaging may be best for targeting 18- to 24-year-olds” (Doebel & Gabriel, 2014). Everyone has different experiences and interests. When speaking with someone you have never met before, be sure to listen carefully to their concerns and then respond with your own positive personal experiences. Make sure that your discussion is well rounded and includes all of the messages (if you have very limited time with your discussion, answer any questions and then point out that the organization who created the leaflet has a website that they can go to for further information).

Veg recidivism is when a vegetarian or vegan backslides and begins eating animal products again. While enlightening those about the health benefits of a vegan diet is one important piece of the puzzle, unfortunately “former vegetarians/vegans were likely to stick with it less than a year with one-third lasting three months or less… when making a resolution to improve one’s health, people often start strong and quickly fade” (Norris, 2014).  I used to contemplate what would cause a vegan or vegetarian to backslide, because as far as I am concerned, veganism is a way of life and I cannot see it any other way. I have met quite a number of people who used to be vegan since I moved to Denver, and during a protest one Saturday, I was engaging in conversation with two men and one used to be vegan. When I asked why he was no longer vegan, he replied that he simply was hungry all the time. I laughed on the inside, because this was problem with a simple solution. Eat more vegan food.

A study in 2013 proved that “ethical vegetarians scored higher on the conviction instrument than health vegetarians and exhibited somewhat greater dietary restriction (significant when grouped by current motivation) and had been vegetarian for longer” (Hoffman, 2013). Friends, family, and people we have never met all have potential for becoming vegan. Sharing this optimism with others, and knowing that even those who backslide are willing to try again makes it worth the while since “more than one-third of former vegetarians/vegans said they are interested in resuming the diet” (Norris, 2014). If we hold meaningful discussions and get to the root of why they backslid, as well as provide new and interesting materials such as watching popular documentaries on veganism, then there is a higher success rate of that person reintroducing themselves to a vegan lifestyle.

Given the tools we have today from studies to help us focus on how to be better advocates for animals, we no longer have excuses on how we should behave or what messages to share. I believe that using science, we can lead the veganism movement forward in a manner that aligns with our beliefs.

To learn more about how to be an effective advocate for animals, please visit the links below where you can access additional articles and videos.


Additional Videos and Articles:

Farm Sanctuary

The Humane League



Doebel, S., & Gabriel, S. (2014, September 22). Report: Is one message or multiple messages more effective for inspiring people to reduce meat consumption? Retrieved May 04, 2016, from

Friedrich, B. (n.d.). Effective advocacy: Stealing from the corporate playbook. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from

Hoffman, S. R., Stallings, S. F., Bessinger, R. C., & Brooks, G. T. (2013, February 13). Differences between health and ethical vegetarians. Strength of conviction, nutrition knowledge, dietary restriction, and duration of adherence. Retrieved March 4, 2016, from

Norris, J. (2014, December 15). Humane research council survey on vegetarian recidivism. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from


Written By Alaina