A Jewish Vegan Perspective
What is the issue?
Currently, there is a debate in the vegan and animal rights community, over whether or not vegans should be drawing comparisons between human and non-human animal oppression, or using terms like “animal holocaust” to describe what happens to pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, fishes, and other sentient beings who are exploited and killed by humans. Some individuals feel that vegans using Holocaust and Slavery analogies such as using the phrase “the holocaust on your plate”, are offensive, antisemitic, and work to uphold white supremacy. They argue that when vegans (especially white non-Jewish vegans) call animal slaughter a “holocaust”, that can be triggering and traumatizing to Jews and other people who suffer from generational trauma related to the Jewish Holocaust or other human oppression, thus harming human individuals in the effort to helps other animals. Other animal rights activists believe such comparisons are nothing but accurate and truthful, and that any offense taken is inherently due to speciesism and humans devaluing non-human animals. They argue that such comparisons are simply the most accurate language and apt way to describe how human treat non-human animals, and that not doing so hurts the animals cause and prioritizes human feelings over the actual death of sentient beings.
Validity vs. Effectiveness
As a Jewish vegan women myself, I see that there are two separate issues here. There is a question of the validity of such comparisons, and then there is the question of when/how it’s appropriate to use the term “holocaust” and if that is even effective or necessary. In my view, a comparison or analogy can be valid, and that doesn’t mean it’s an effective tactic or something we should be using all the time in any context.
To be clear, this post is NOT about getting into the validity comparing human and non-human animal oppression. That is a much longer and complex conversation that other Jewish vegans and scholars have already written extensively about. I’d encourage everyone reading this to go read Sherry Colb’s essay Decoding “Never Again”, and her take as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and an ethical vegan animal rights advocate. I am simply writing this post to share my personal thoughts and recommendations as a Jewish vegan who thinks Holocaust comparisons ARE VALID, yet also generally avoids making them. Although I believe there are many parallels that can be drawn between the Holocaust and how humans exploit and kill non-human animals, I also recognize how triggering and upsetting terminology like “the holocaust on your plate” can be for many individuals. Because the reality is, many Jewish people (and especially the families of Holocaust survivors), perceive ANY short/casual comparison or reference to the Jewish Holocaust, as showing disrespect to the survivors and families of Holocaust victims, regardless of how valid the actual comparison is.
I’ve also found in my personal experience with activism, that using the term “holocaust” to refer to what happens to non-human animals is rarely, if ever, effective or necessary. Drawing parallels between different oppressions with nuance, context, and further discussion is one thing, but throwing around the term “holocaust” for shock value is another. I am not convinced that throwing around that term “holocaust on your plate” as a snappy slogan or quick social media post results in actually changing anyone’s beliefs and behaviors in a way that other terminology wouldn’t.
Through my activism experience, (and yes I did used to share memes and frequently use phrases like “animal holocaust” in the past) I’ve found that people have one of two responses to short, snappy Holocaust comparisons and terminology; A) they are offended, shocked, and outraged, and end up blowing off me, veganism, and all vegans as a result, or B) they are open, acknowledge the comparison, and lean towards reconsidering their beliefs and daily habits. For the individuals who have have the second response, they were usually already concerned about or open to understanding the plight of animals regardless of what specific terminology I used, and thus the term “holocaust on your plate” wasn’t necessary. But for the individuals who were extremely triggered and offended by the term “holocaust”, I lost them entirely from considering the animal’s cause altogether by my choice to use that word. Now, in many cases I don’t think the terminology I used would have made a difference for the individuals that blew me off because they simply weren’t open to veganism at all. But in other cases, I think I probably did lose some people that might otherwise have at least considered what I was saying had I chosen different language. I figure now, if I can advocate for animals and share their suffering and oppression WITHOUT flippantly using terms like “the holocaust on your plate” what do I have to lose? Maybe reaching more people with my message of animal liberation while avoiding causing unnecessary emotional trauma to other humans? Seems like a better choice to me.
To be clear, I am NOT against drawing parallels and pointing out the similarities between the Holocaust and what happens to animals. I simply think we need to be careful and thoughtful about when and how it’s done. So in that vain, I’ve put together my personal recommendations for when and how to talk about the Holocaust in relation to non-human animal oppression.
- Don’t throw the word “holocaust” or “holocaust on your plate” around casually without elaboration or more context.
- Don’t use the comparison just for cheap shock value.
- Don’t devalue or disrespect the experiences and trauma of Holocaust survivors and their families.
- Be conscious of the depth of oppression of the Holocaust and recognize how triggering the comparison can be for many people.
- Ask yourself if the comparison or term “holocaust” is really necessary in a given situation, or if there are other words and phrases you can use instead.
- Draw parallels between the systems of oppression and the mindsets of the oppressors, rather than the particular experiences of the victims.
- Research and read personal accounts and stories of Holocaust survivors and their families, and educate yourself on the oppression you are speaking about.
Other recommended resources for delving into Holocaust comparisons and human and non-human oppression in general: