Students and Veganism

It’s World Vegan Month: What better time for students studying law to raise the profile of veganism

by Dr Jeanette Rowley

Students returning to their academic studies may be thinking about their ideas for compulsory independent research projects. For vegan law students, the requirement to pursue independent research is a great opportunity to contribute to dismantling speciesist prejudice by raising the profile of veganism in the law schools of universities, developing this growing body of knowledge and, in doing so, encourage the transformations in laws and policies that we desperately need to see, whether in food labelling and marketing, the provision of services, education, social work and health care or in human rights and equality law. The new academic year and the requirement to plan for independent research is close to World Vegan Day and Month and what better time for vegan law students to discuss the relationship of veganism to law.

Law is a very powerful institution and the rule of law aims at justice and fairness. But judicial decisions and statutory laws are not static; they evolve over time and articulate new understandings of what constitutes justice. For example, in Europe we know that veganism is within the scope of human rights protection, the European Convention on Human Rights itself is a ‘living instrument’ that can be amended, and equality and employment law are areas of legislation in which we observe changes within short periods of time. Vegan law students are well placed to contribute to discourse and influence change.

The subject of veganism does not currently have a very high profile in law schools. This is not because there are no vegans studying law. It is likely to be due to a variety of factors, including the implementation of specific programmes of study that students must follow if they want to become practising solicitors. Law students are also pointed in the direction of specialist areas of law that will be of benefit to them in their future careers. Some of these areas may come close to the subject of veganism, such as human rights law, equality, environmental and animal law, but it is highly unlikely that real and important connections to veganism as a way of life that promotes ethical, social justice will be made in these areas of study. This is where vegan law students can make a tremendous difference by seeking to undertake research projects that make important connections between vegan anti-speciesist theory, current jurisprudence and law. See, for example, my recent law school blog and Barbara Bolton’s discussion of Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v. GmbH*

Studying law is interesting and exciting. From the outset of study, consideration must be given to the idea and development of the rule of law and jurisprudence. Legal theory seeks to establish the principles of law and, in this area of study, vegan law students can bring the exclusion of nonhuman animals into this classical debate. In the area of human rights, topics for consideration can include emphasising that the elimination of suffering is the origin and purpose of protective rights but that the suffering of nonhuman animals has been overlooked. Law students can also consider how prejudice against nonhuman animals is a way of life that has not been tested against the criteria for a qualifying non-religious ‘belief’ under human rights provisions. An obvious topic is how, on the basis of human rights and equality principles in our respective countries, can we explain the idea of rights for vegans? What rights for vegans can be realised and what implications might they have for existing social policies and practices.

In equality law, questions can concern the extent to which vegans are provided for in different social and employment contexts. Current European equality law must be consistent with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights; this raises a very interesting and important comparative analysis. We know that States have a wide margin of appreciation, but to what extent does the interpretation of law, legal principles and legal terms disadvantage vegans and veganism in different parts of the world, and how can problems be addressed and rectified?

Discussing these topics, and more, are critical to transforming our justice system into one that respects veganism and accommodates vegans. This transformation requires us to highlight that veganism is within the scope of protection of human rights, but that the rules we live by are grounded by a rule of law and a system of protective rights that entrench prejudice against nonhuman animals. Vegan law students can argue, in their subject areas, that these circumstances suppress the development of laws, policies and practices that are fundamental to justice.

To ensure that the moral standing and the rights of nonhuman animals are respected, that future generations do not have to dissect nonhuman animals in school, that free school milk is plant-based and that the older generations do not have to worry about establishing a power-of attorney to ensure that their veganism is respected in the winter of their lives, we need to encourage a paradigm shift in the foundation of law; from one that does not protect nonhuman animals to one that does. It is by promoting the legal protection of veganism and the implications for law and policy that we can encourage the changes we need to see.

The really great thing about studying veganism and law is that we start to develop a vegan anti-speciesist jurisprudence that can inform changes in policies and practices to accommodate vegans and transitioning vegans. But most important is that transforming our laws, social policies and practices means that we address, simultaneously, prejudice against nonhuman animals.

*please email Barbara directly for a copy of her paper at [email protected]