Cameron Blewett Interview
25 September 2010
Cameron is an abolitionist vegan residing in Brisbane, Australia. Cameron has been vegan for over 17 years and approaches veganism from the abolitionist position, which holds that animals have an inherent right not to be exploited.
Cameron writes for The Scavenger, which is an online portal of features, commentary and news that you’re unlikely to find in mainstream media.
Cam is also President of V.EX (Vegan Existence Inc.). V.EX (an abolitionist animal rights organisation) is the only solely vegan group in Queensland.
After spending many years as an avid hunter along with serving time in the Army Reserve, Cam now sees the futility in both activities.
More recently, Cam’s achievements have been as an advocate for workers’ rights within the trade union movement. Being a keen writer he is rarely seen without his cherished fountain pen and notebook, taking them almost everywhere he goes.
Some of Cameron’s more recent rants and waffles can be found at cameronblewett.wordpress.com and ausvegan.wordpress.com
ARZone: Cam, could you please tell us what it was like for you growing up in a family that hunted?
Cameron Blewett: At that time as it was something that the family did, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. we spent more time going fishing than we did going hunting. and can I honestly say that I am grateful for that experience…
Because it puts me in an almost unique position of having been on the other side of the fence in a ‘past life’ also, we weren’t a family of trophy hunters. What was hunted and killed was given to dogs or other family members to eat. I hope that answered your question.
Could you tell me more about V. EX (Vegan Existence) please, Cam. How would someone go about being a part of V. EX and what does your group aim to achieve in the short term?
To join V.EX it’s as simple as downloading a membership form off the website, filling it in and sending it off. And presto.
In the short term, V.EX’s main goal is to increase the presence of veganism in Queensland, by holding monthly talks at the Brisbane Square Library, on a variety of subjects ranging from what do vegans eat, to general abolition discussions.
V.EX is about getting an interaction with and from people about veganism, not just holding monthly social dinners.
In your April 2010 blog entry “Abolition Vs Welfare reform/regulation Part I,” you discuss the economic efficiencies in animal welfare initiatives, giving Temple Grandin’s slaughterhouse designs and the RSPCA Qld’s “Chicken rights, farming wrongs” as examples. Many animal advocates seem to simply assume that any change in production will automatically cost industry money and that MUST be a good thing, driving up costs and ultimately impacting on profits.
Law professor and animal rights philosopher Gary Francione has written and spoken about this, explaining that the inherent welfare problems of industrialised farming are only now being addressed by the user industries themselves – after WWII, the focus was on tightly packing animals into intensive systems of use and dealing with problems by, for example, debeaking and tail and teeth removal.
Do you feel that animal advocates are still reluctant to accept such points and, instead, are seeking some example when reform has negatively impacted on industry? Is this not a rather hit-and-miss strategy compared to the straightforward advocacy of veganism as a moral baseline, and as the basic duty we owe to nonhuman animals?
That is a great question. Firstly, I am not aware of any sort of ‘reform’ that has negatively impacted on industry in the long term. Secondly, we all know animal agri-business has a very well oiled PR machine that has a virtual unlimited budget when compared to actual AR groups. They can put press releases out about how well they are doing, when compared to something else, and an easily misled public will lap it up. We are seeing this out here in Australia now, with the advertising campaign that Steggles is doing. And yes, veganism MUST be the very first thing that we promote, everything else is secondary.
When considering that veganism and abolition are part of what is essentially a Peace movement, can you address how it might be possible that MDA, which some view as violence, can further the goal of peace?
Thank you for this question and it will probably get a little bit tricky here… Firstly, it depends on what a person defines as violence. For some, property destruction is not a violent act. And whilst I am not advocating here that we all leave our computers and torch a butchers, some of the MDA tactics create a greater economic cost for industry. A cost that is ultimately passed on to the consumer…
We all know that there are some people that don’t really care about the vegan message or animal rights, because the only thing they care about is how much things cost. If MDA makes it more expensive for people to buy animal products, then I am all for that. We all know that the true cost of animal products is hidden behind layers of subsidies and tax breaks, so maybe it might be time for that cost to come out in other ways.
Cam, you’ve been vegan for more than 17 years, that’s a great achievement, congratulations! Can you describe some of the difficulties you must surely have faced becoming vegan in Australia in the 1980/90’s?
Now that is an interesting question. Way back when I did go vegan, yes it was difficult initially, though I would say a lot easier. Because back then there wasn’t the abundance of vegetarian suitable foods, that is vegan. In the early days I made a lot of the food myself, and there wasn’t the sneaky animal ingredients in things that there is now. When I was vegan, vegetarian was starting to become a trendy and acceptable term, so I had to explain what a vegan is a lot, though sadly to say, it is something that I still have to do here in Qld, though there is a lot more ready made food, which makes it easy for someone that is culinarily lazy like me 🙂 As for the difficulties, I didn’t face many as it was a relatively unknown term where I was, and sadly still is.
You have written about “factionalism” in the animal advocacy movement. Since division is pretty standard in all social movements, what are your main concerns about this?
Yes, I know there are divisions in almost every social movement. What concerns me is that the ‘enemy’ knows this too and is more than happy to exploit that weakness in the media and do things to keep one side happy, whilst further alienating those on the other side. Codes of practice and phase – ins, keep the welfarists happy today, and both parties can hold hands and say we are making great change, etc. Though what has it really accomplished? It is a divide and conquer tactic that is used over and over again. The more that there is seen to be division within the AR movement, the less ‘credibility’ the actual AR proponents have when it comes time to talking to the general population
You approach veganism from the abolitionist position. Why do you feel it not to be beneficial to focus on the other animals who are imprisoned now, suffering now and in need of help now?
Some suggest abolitionists have given up on animals who are currently suffering. How do you reply to those people?
That is one thing that totally confuses me. How can promoting veganism, and only veganism be giving up on the animals that are suffering? Telling someone to go vegetarian or eat happy meat still means that people are consuming animal products. Then what about the animals they wear? Their leather shoes, wool jumper, etc. What I usually ask them, is how they can justify an X yr phase in for some incremental change, when veganism and abolition STOP all animal use, not change the way they are used.
Its all about getting them to justify their position, not me explaining mine.
Cam, could you please explain how you came around to veganism and, if you do fully accept the abolitionist approach, how did you come around to that?
I originally became vegan due to a book called “fit for life”. Whilst it was and still is a ‘diet’ book, some of the things that were mentioned in there made a lot of sense to me. I looked at what I ate, objectively and without emotion, then made the decision to go vegan, after reading other books about it, and realised that I wouldn’t end up in hospital somewhere, being protein or iron deficient. I think the turning point for me for adopting the abolitionist position was one of the epiphanies that I had when reading through a hunting magazine, and came to the conclusion that ALL animal use is wrong, regardless of whether they are a cute and cuddly seal pup or an ‘ugly’ 300kg wild pig.
Where is the future of vegan activism heading? Do you see a future for the large organisations, or do you see online activism becoming more relevant?
I think there is a need for both. There needs to be a public organisational appearance to portray a professional image to the media, and give the message a greater impact to get the message out there. The online activism is good for those people that are curious and want to know more, yet for peer group reasons be unable to ask someone about it in person.
Your involvement in the Scavenger looks interesting. There is a discussion of contemporary feminist issues in the Feminism and Pop Culture section, and you also wrote about the commodification of women – http://cameronblewett.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/what-has-happened-to-the-modern-feminist-movement/
You’ll know that feminist issues are current in the animal advocacy movement, not least due to PeTA-inspired juvenality.
So-called postmodern feminists insist on their “right” to self-commodify, seemingly indifferent to wider socio-political consequences. What are your views on this?
I see this as one of the hypocrisies of the modern feminist movement. They can and as we are living in a ‘free’ society, commodify themselves as much as they want, dress any way that they want, and so on. I just think it is a confusing position. Motor racing uses ‘pit girls’ to promote their products at racing events, though how do lettuce ladies and go naked for fur promote it? All it really does is promoting the PETA brand.
These same feminists, whilst not having a problem with that woudl jump up and down about strip clubs and other adult industries, because they exploit females. Yet in western society, everyone has a choice about what tehy do and how they earn their money.
Are against working on single issue campaigns, and if so, would you recommend that others do nothing to try to stop the camel cull of 100s of thousands of camels within the next 4 years? If you think it’s a good idea to continue on with it, what would you suggest to be the best way to go about it, and if not, why not?
I do see single issue campaigns as counter productive, and confusing to the general public. From what I understand, the camels will be exported overseas to a foreign market. So the more productive thing would be to stop demand not supply. Because, if they aren’t killed here, they will be killed somewhere else. As for the best way to go about preventing the slaughter, question the govt dept that has allowed them to be slaughtered in the first place.
Draw attention to what ever false argument they have used to justify killing the camels, and promote ALL animal use as being wrong regardless of what the animal is.
Are you suggesting that others withdraw from this campaign?
That really depends on what they are doing now. If they are writing letters and things like that, don’t stop. They might just have to change tactics a little bit.
In your essay “The Future of Vegan Activism” you highlight some of the different approaches to ending animal exploitation but stop short of reaching any conclusion about which approach is best. Can you do that now?
I think the best approach is to focus on the issues, not the person. The issues are:
A) Animal use is increasing every year
B) Animal use not only exploits the non-human animal, it expliots the workers and environment
C) If we are going to win this battle, we need to start thinking like the ‘enemy’
D) we are talking to people that will draw on our infighting as indecision and weakness.
To talk a little about my job, when various unions are talking to an employer, whilst we may have different views on things, we talk with one voice, that way it is harder for the employer to exploit any weakness. This is something that we should all be doing. Speaking with one voice. And I think we should be using a multi-faceted approach, because one size does not fit all.
Could you tell us what the Brisbane Vegan Meet-up entails?
Brisbane vegan meet-up, is really more of a little social group than anything else, just a place where we can do social things etc. And just another way to get the vegan message out there.
Cam, you said “we weren’t a family of trophy hunters. What was hunted and killed was given to dogs or other family members to eat.” (…) At what point do we stop making excuses for our “forefathers” and just insist that we have been on the wrong path all along? Animals are on this planet for their own existence.
I wasn’t making any excuses for what my faimly did. I was trying to make a difference between the two. Most people think hunters have mounted heads on walls, etc. The point I was trying to make was that I wasn’t surrounded by ‘stuffed’ animals, etc.
Did that answer your question?
Hunting for any reason is no longer necessary, in your view?
Thats right. It is not necessary nor can it be justified, regardless of what ‘spin’ is put on it.
When you talked about MDA, you said that some acts against animal exploiters might increase their costs which would reduce supply. But in talking about welfare reforms, you note that cost increases are ineffective as ways to combat exploitation. Can you expound on this?
If industry increases the end cost, it is usually done as a justified expense, i.e. all our eggs are cage free, so you have to pay more. or our animals are all organic fed and free range, so you have to pay more.
The price increase is justified because they are doing something to reduce the cruelty conscience of the public. Increase costs due to MDA activity would be ‘hidden’ because I don’t think the public would accept it quite as easily does that make sense?
Do you believe video-based vegan advocacy, whether using so-called “blood and guts” videos such as PETA’s Meet Your Meat or not, is effective, and if so, can you recommend some videos?
I think that footage that is available on the internet at the moment can still work, just so long as people know that we are using it to promote veganism, and that by becoming vegan ALL animal use and exploitation will stop.
As for what is effective. It really depends on the people that you are talking to. Earthlings works for some, yet not others. I would try an individualised approach when talking to people; drawing on whatever it is that you have available to you.
Thanks Cam, ARZone sincerely thanks you for your contribution today.
Thanks for having me, and the interesting questions!
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is a voluntary, grassroots, abolitionist animal rights social network created in December 2009 with the aim of encouraging rational dialogue in the animal protection movement.