Blogger Quarrygirl recently published an expose showing that VegNews magazine was using stock photographs of meat and dairy dishes to illustrate articles about vegan food. In one case, the magazine actually photoshopped out the bones from a photo of spare ribs to make the dish look vegan.
While she has plenty of admirers, she also has detractors, many of who claim her expose is harmful to veganism – or, as it is often put, “doesn’t help the animals.” This saddens me, actually, because not only did she absolutely do the right thing, but if anyone hurt the cause it has been VegNews, which compounded its initial ethical blunders by justifying them with a breezy and unconcerned and (in the corporate-damage-control sense) incompetent, “Everyone does it.”
The issue is not, in fact, what “helps the animals,” but what “helps the movement,” which is a different thing. Movements involve strategy, and for strategies to be effective, they must be built on a strong and consistent moral framework. Moreover, every activist authority I know of talks about the crucial tactical importance of telling the truth. That truth may be a partial truth (as all truths necessarily are), or strategically framed, but it must, as presented, be unimpeachable, because otherwise you’ve not only damaged your credibility but given your opposition terrific ammunition. Here’s Peter Singer writing about famed animal activist Henry Spira in Ethics Into Action:
Never deceive the media or the public…Those who do this eventually lose credibility. Henry’s credibility is extraordinarily high, both within the animal movement and with its opponents, because he regards it as his most important asset. It is therefore never to be sacrificed for a short-term gain, no matter how tempting that may be at the time. (p. 187)
In fact, lies are what you hope the venal opposition will be forced to resort to, since they’re so easily shot down – particularly in the Internet age.
The truly valuable thing Quarrygirl did was prove that the vegan community has integrity, and that we are not so weak or authoritarian or cultlike that we cannot challenge the lies of our leaders. She also exposed lies that were not just wrong on their own merits (a violation of journalistic ethic as well as veganism), but that would have been exposed eventually, and probably in ways that would have done infinitely more harm.
I think (hope) that, over time, many of the people criticizing Quarrygirl will come to the conclusion that she was right to publish her expose after all. When they do, I hope they have the decency to say so with at least as much vehemence as they are currently condemning her.
The above post originally appeared on www.hillaryrettig.com. Hillary may be reached in the comments, below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hillary is author of The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way (Lantern Books, 2006), and the forthcoming The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer's Block (Infinite Art, Summer 2011).