If we take the position that an assessment that veganism is morally preferable to vegetarianism is not possible because we are all on our own journey, then moral assessment becomes completely impossible or is speciesist. It is impossible because if we are all on our own journey, then there is nothing to say to the racist, sexist, anti-semite, homophobe, etc. If we say that those forms of discrimination are morally bad, but, with respect to animals, we are all on our own journey and we cannot make moral assessments about, for instance, dairy consumption, then we are simply being speciesist and not applying the same moral analysis to nonhumans that we apply to the human context.
An abolitionist is, as I have developed that notion, one who (1) maintains that we cannot justify animal use, however humane it may be; (2) rejects welfare campaigns that seek more humane exploitation, or single-issue campaigns that seek to portray one form of animal exploitation as morally worse than other forms of animal exploitation (e.g., a campaign that seeks to distinguish fur from wool or leather); and (3) regards veganism, or the complete rejection of the consumption or use of any animal products, as a moral baseline. An abolitionist regards creative, nonviolent vegan education as the primary form of activism, because she understands that the paradigm will not shift until we address demand and educate people to stop thinking of animals as things we eat, wear, or use as our resources.
I am opposed to animal welfare campaigns for two reasons. First, if animal use cannot be morally justified, then we ought to be clear about that, and advocate for no use. Although rape and child molestation are ubiquitous, we do not have campaigns for humane rape or humane child molestation. We condemn it all. We should do the same with respect to animal exploitation. Second, animal welfare reform does not provide significant protection for animal interests. Animals are chattel property; they are economic commodities. Given this status and the reality of markets, the level of protection provided by animal welfare will generally be limited to what promotes efficient exploitation. That is, we will protect animal interests to the extent that it provides an economic benefit.
The rights paradigm, which, as I interpret it, morally requires the abolition of animal exploitation and requires veganism as a matter of fundamental justice, is radically different from the welfarist paradigm, which, in theory focuses on reducing suffering, and, in reality, focuses on tidying up animal exploitation at its economically inefficient edges. In science, those who subscribe to one paradigm are often unable to understand and engage those who subscribe to another paradigm precisely because the theoretical language that they use is not compatible.I think that the situation is similar in the context of the debate between animal rights and animal welfare. And that is why welfarists simply cannot understand or accept the slavery analogy.
We should not be surprised that more and more people feel comfortable about consuming animal products. After all, they are being assured by the experts that suffering is being decreased and they can buy happy meat, free-range eggs, etc. These products even come with labels approved of by animal organizations. The animal welfare movement is actually encouraging the compassionate consumption of animal products. Animal welfare reforms do very little to increase the protection given to animal interests because of the economics involved: animals are property. They are things that have no intrinsic or moral value. This means that welfare standards, whether for animals used as foods, in experiments, or for any other purpose, will be low and linked to the level of welfare needed to exploit the animal in an economically efficient way for the particular purpose. Put simply, we generally protect animal interests only to the extent we get an economic benefit from doing so. The concept of unnecessary suffering is understood as that level of suffering that will frustrate the particular use. And that can be a great deal of suffering. Killing Animals and Making Animals Suffer
I am not well-versed in theory, but in my view, the cow deserves her life. As does the ram. As does the ladybug. As does the elephant. As do the fish, and the dog and the bee; as do other sentient beings. I will always be in favor of veganism as a minimum because I believe that sentient beings have a right not to be used as someone else's property. They ask us to be brave for them, to be clear for them, and I see no other acceptable choice but to advocate veganism. If these statements make me a fundamentalist, then I will sew a scarlet F on my jacket so that all may know I'm fundamentally in favor of nonviolence; may they bury me in it so that all will know where I stood.