12 Speeches that Define Veganism

Veganism is a broad social movement comprising many different concerns, motivations and strategies. These speeches showcase some of the defining aspects of veganism. Not only are they a great way to learn about animal rights and our health, they also introduce some of the most influential names in vegan advocacy today and how these people choose to discuss veganism effectively.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the speeches do not necessarily represent the opinion of Veggieboards or the author of this article.)

Animal Rights/General

This speeches are the power smoothies that will kick-start your day, or in this case your journey as a vegan or vegan-to-be. Coming in plenty of styles and flavours, you're bound to find one you like.

1. Best Speech You Will Ever Hear

Gary Yourofsky

“I'm not a bullsh*t artist. I don't know how to schmooze people, as you can see. It's kind of beyond me.” Gary Yourofsky confesses. Well, he must be doing something right. Translated into more than 30 languages and with over 6 million YouTube hits, this is arguably THE most famous animal rights speech. Gary Yourofsky argues, with fiery passion, that taking a stand against animal cruelty is not as complicated as people like to make it out to be. Veganism is not about politics, religion or culture, but our commitment, as moral individuals, to act on what we believe in. It really is that simple.

Excerpt: “Are you aware that, for the first time ever, you can now directly participate in ending a massacre? Instead of sitting around and paying lip service to all the massacres, and all the problems that are always going on, on this planet. What is so frustrating to me is that everybody talks a good game. I mean, people always want to tell me – never show me – just how “peaceful” they are because of what they believe in. Or what makes them sad. Since when does 'feeling sad' about an obvious tragedy, or 'believing in' something, make the world a better place or make somebody a good person?”

Gary Yourofsky is the founder of Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPPT). Arrested numerous times for random acts of compassion and kindness, he now takes the softer approach of being a lecturer. As of September 14, 2012, he has given 2,388 lectures to more than 60,000 people in 178 schools in 30 states and 5 Israeli cities.

2. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows

Melanie Joy

Melanie Joy dedicates her life's work to asking two questions. Firstly, why do we eat some animals and not others? Secondly, if there's nothing wrong with eating animals, then why do we try so hard to justify it? She takes an in depth look at the psychological games we play, and argues that the true enemy is not ourselves, but an insidious belief system that pulls its strings from the shadows – with severe repercussions on our health, our future and most of all our conscience.

Excerpt: “We tend to assume it's only vegans and vegetarians who bring their beliefs to the dinner table. When eating animals is not a necessity for survival, which is the case in much of the world today, then it is a choice. And choices always stem from beliefs. What I found is that there's an invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals, and this is the belief system I came to call carnism. Dominant, violent ideologies, such as carnism, need to use a set of social and psychological defense mechanisms to enable humane people to participate in inhumane practices without fully realizing what they're doing. In other words, carnism teaches us how not to feel.”

Dr. Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M., is the founder and president of Carnism Awareness and Action Network. She is the professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, celebrated speaker, and the author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.

3. Debunking the Myths of Veganism

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Who said that veganism is all bitterness? Colleen Patrick-Goudreau shows us just how strange human attitudes towards animals can be in this humorous speech, poking fun at all the annoying questions that omnivores never get tired of asking. Nonetheless, she never comes across as condescending, and maintains faith that we are all compassionate individuals who simply need to be given the opportunity to realise it. A hearty dose of optimism might just be the panacea to these dark times.

Excerpt: “If you wanna know what it looks like to crave meat, think about what a domestic cat is like when they see a bird. You're not even in the room any more! You could chirp, you could call them, you could pet them and kiss them and love them and they could care less about you – all they see is that bird. They get really focused, their eyes dilate, they get down really low, their teeth start to chatter, they make this funny little chirping sound, their tail starts to flicker... Is that what you get like when you see a bird? Is that what you get like when you see a squirrel? Or cows? Or deer?”

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is the author of five books, including the award-winning The Joy of Vegan Baking, the creator of the online multimedia program, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, and the host and producer of the podcast Vegetarian Food for Thought. She also delivers speeches around the country.

4. Animal Consciousness and Emotions

Jonathan Balcombe

Putting to rest the tired Cartesian argument that animals are automatons once and for all, Jonathan Balcombe demonstrates that they are every bit as quirky as humans are, and that they too live for pleasure and love to live. Most of us already know a thing or two about highly individuated animals, and Jonathan Balcombe relies on an impressive wide range of scientific studies and anecdotes to implore us to extend this sense of wonder towards the rest of the lesser appreciated animal kingdom.

Excerpt: "Roosters make a call you might call a 'come-hither' call. Hens have certain, should we say, 'resources' that roosters might perceive as valuable, and so they have ways of maybe earning a little credit, and one way to do that is if they find a grasshopper or a cricket. They will make this call and the hen comes running, and the rooster gallantly points out where the food is, and looks like the rooster's bought himself a little credit that he may cash in on maybe a week later. So it requires individual recognition, it requires patience, and it requires memory. Sometimes roosters will make this call when there's nothing there. It's a deceptive call. Hens will learn to recognise an inveterate cheater, and he will get no payback a week later."

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., author of 4 books including Pleasurable Kingdom and Second Nature, is a passionate advocate for animals and their living spaces. With three biology degrees, including a Ph.D. in ethology, he has has published over 45 scientific papers on animal behaviour and animal protection.

5. The Genius of Darwin: The Uncut Interviews

Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins

Here's something for the ratiophiles (it's not a speech, but using speech as a heading is catchier). The brilliant minds of Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins come together to discuss animal rights and why it matters to moral philosophy. They discuss the moral differences between humans and animals, the evolutionary basis behind caring and the similarities between human slavery and the meat industry. With an immaculate focus on moral consistency, this thought-provoking video will leave you examining yourself and your beliefs.

Excerpt: "For me, living ethically is about putting yourself in the position of other beings who are affected by your action. I think it's something that any tradition of ethical thinking that gets developed to a certain point will start to realise: that, well, I'm just one being here among a lot of others, and there's nothing so special about me that somehow my sufferings are more important than your sufferings, or anyone elses' sufferings – of people out there, or for that matter, of the animals. And of course it's possible not to care, but then you're just cutting yourself off from a part of reality, which is that you're denying that it matters. When you look at it as objectively as you can, it's obvious that it matters to them as much as it matters to you."

Peter Albert David Singer, AC is an Australian moral philosopher, lecturer and the author of Animal Liberation and over 40 other books. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and a Laureate Professor at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.

Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL is the Honorary Vice-President of the British Humanist Association, Trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and author of published works including The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.


Here's where we bring out the MDs. Wondering if veganism is healthy? No worries, we've got you covered.

6. Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death

Michael Greger

A top contender for the most entertaining speech, Michael Greger's speech is a pleasure to watch for his acerbic, medical-establishment-aggravating wit. That doesn't take away from the fact that the speech is an encyclopedia on the health benefits of a vegan diet in itself. Michael Greger walks us through the leading causes of death and the role that animal products play in them, citing an enormous range of studies from vegan physicians to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to some of the more embarrassing ones that the meat industry would prefer to keep behind closed doors. If you enjoy the speech, be sure to check out his follow-up, More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.

Excerpt: "Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death, but what if your cholesterol is normal? Hear that all the time from patients. Have to break it to them, but having a “normal” cholesterol in a society where it's normal to drop dead of a heart attack – not necessarily a good thing. In a huge study last year, most heart attack patients fell within the recommended targets for cholesterol, demonstrating that the current diet guidelines are just not low enough to cut heart attack risk. Close to half of heart attack victims had cholesterol levels classified in the guidelines as optimal. Though I'm not sure their grieving spouses or orphaned children will take much comfort in that fact. What is considered optimal is still way too way high. Yeah, having a below average cholesterol reduces your risk, but we don't want low risk. We want no risk."

Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Greger is licensed as a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition. Currently he serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States. He also maintains the comprehensive site NutritionFacts.org. Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

7. When Proven Lifestyle Interventions are Neglected

John McDougall

This is my go-to video for anyone who is suffering from a debilitating illness, especially a chronic one. There is something very urgent and wrong with the way the medical establishment is handling sick people who entrust their lives to them. John McDougall talks about how conventional treatment only addresses the symptoms of these illnesses and not their root causes, and exposes its patients to unnecessary health complications and debt. This is a speech is a war cry for the doctors who genuinely want to help people, and the patients who want to know that they are in the hands of people who care. Be angry, now.

Excerpt: "Let me give you an example of disease-mongering: the treatment of hypertension. Certainly, blood-pressure lowering medications lower blood pressure. But, do they reduce the risk of dying of heart disease? No, they do not. Do they reduce the risk of stroke? A little bit. Do they have side effects and complications? (Rhetorical laugh.) We are taught by the drug companies that high blood pressure medicine is very effective – it cuts the risk of stroke in half. And you'd think as a practitioner – I would be foolish if I did not treat my patients with high blood pressure pills. Well, if you look at the scientific research, what you find is that the risk of stroke for 5 years if you don't treat them – they have 15 chances of having a stroke out of every 1000 patients left untreated. But if you treat them, their risk is now 9 chances out of every 1000 patients. So, we have a relative risk reduction of 40%. But in terms of absolute risk, that's one less stroke per year by treating 1000 people with medication. Looks a bit different, doesn't it? We talk in terms of relative versus absolute risk reduction, which makes no sense at all. It makes a profitable sense, but no sense in terms of the welfare of our patients."

Dr. John A. McDougall, M.D., has been studying, writing and speaking out about the effects of nutrition on disease for over 30 years, and has cared for thousands of patients. He is the founder and director of the nationally renowned McDougall Program, which promotes a broad range of dramatic and lasting health benefits and can also reverse serious illnesses including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and others, all without the use of drugs. He is a certified internist. He and his wife Mary are also the authors of several nationally best-selling books as well as the co-founders of Dr. McDougall's Right Foods, which produces high quality vegetarian cuisine to make it easier for people to eat well on the go.

8. Chocolate, Cheese, Meat and Sugar – Physically Addictive

Neal Barnard

It's amazing how seriously omnivores take the 'I can't give up meat and cheese because they taste so good' argument. Neal Barnard finally gives them the legitimacy they desire, but not in the way they'd expect. He explains how we crave certain sinful foods because they have opiate effects; in other words, these foods are cheap, deceptive shots that don't deserve a place on that golden gastronomic pedestal. This is good news for would-be vegans who are afraid of 'missing out' – they need only ride out the adjustment period – and vegan food connoisseurs who want to like foods because they are actually delicious.

Excerpt: "My theory is that nature doesn't like leaving anything to chance. If the baby calf did not like nursing, or if a breast-feeding baby turned away from the breast, they wouldn't do well. So nature builds milk with a nice little narcotic effect. The casomorphins go to the baby's brain and cause a little bit of sedation, and for any of you who's ever looked at a baby as he or she is nursing, they get this funny look on their face. I hate to break it to you – you just drugged the kid. Now, nature never figured that we would continue consuming milk, but what I'm suggesting is that the mother-infant bond has a biological basis in drug-like compounds, and that the human-refrigerator bond kinda works the same way."

Dr. Neal D. Barnard, M.D., is a clinical researcher, health advocate, and author of Breaking the Food Seduction, The Cancer Survivor's Guide and numerous other nutrition books and dozens of publications in scientific and medical journals as well as nutrition books. He has made presentations for the American Public Health Association, the World Bank, the National Library of Medicine and other associations.


Yes, vegans are not above criticising themselves. In fact, they do it all the time.

9. Does Veganism Spread Itself: A History of the Farm Animal Protection Movement in the USA

Jack Norris

Jack Norris discusses the evolution of veganism and animal rights in the US through the lens of renown animal rights group Vegan Outreach. He reflects upon the successes and setbacks of animal liberation efforts and the effectiveness of different tactics employed throughout history. He also addresses thorny issues such as purity and why Vegan Outreach prefers to ignore health and environmental issues in its advocacy efforts, focusing on just animal rights. Like him or not, Jack Norris is a true pragmatist – he judges his actions solely on the extent to which they help animals, and refuses to allow a human tendency towards self-righteousness to get in the way.

Excerpt: "During the 90s, we kind of felt like veganism took on a life of its own. Vegan gatherings amounted to basically talking about which products are vegan and which aren't, and vegans were taking a lot of pride in announcing they had discovered how yet another food or product wasn't vegan. There was, of course, activism going on, but we felt like the majority of vegan 'activism' was figuring stuff out about products. There was a lack of awareness by the public that veganism was a serious social issue, and I felt like people saw us as a quirky group of people that didn't wanna touch animal products for some reason that they didn't quite understand. So, in 1996, we published an essay we were very nervous about at the time. It said that obvious animal products should be avoided, but a person's energy and efforts may very well be better spent trying to get others to stop eating burgers than in trying to avoid sugar bleached with bone char or trying to figure out if the monoglycerides in the cafeteria's bread comes from animals or plants. It's really impossible to be 100% vegan. The effort to go from 99.0 to 99.9% is a big effort, and it could be better spent helping animals in a different way."

Jack Norris, R.D., is the President and co-founder of Vegan Outreach, whose Adopt a College program hands booklets to over 750,000 students every semester. He is a co-author of the book Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-based Diet, writes a nutrition blog at JackNorrisRD.com and maintains VeganHealth.org. In 2005, he was elected to the Animal Rights Hall of Fame.

10. Animal Liberation, Tokenizing 'Intersectionality', and Resistance Ecology

Breeze Harper and Iauren Ornelas

Vegans like to claim that animal rights and human rights are two sides of the same coin – you can't advance one while ignoring the other. Is veganism, however, in danger of doing the same? Breeze Harper questions the idea that veganism is a post-racial movement with a post-racial perspective, while Iauren Ornelas highlights the presence of pressing human rights abuses even in the manufacturing of vegan products. If we want to see ourselves as the epitome of compassionate living and a principled commitment towards non-violence, this is an extremely important conversation to have.

Excerpt: "When animal rights organisations talk about chocolate being cruelty-free, there's no comprehension that you can't call it cruelty-free if it's on the backs of children in West Africa. You can't say that our diet is the most compassionate diet and most cruelty-free diet out there if you have farm workers in California dying of heat stroke, if you have them living near the rivers, living in labour camps, because of the fact that people don't wanna pay them a living wage. We tokenize a lot of these other issues for our own gain. Recently, a study came out about workers in the chicken processing industry who were really dying because of the chemicals that are used. You saw vegan tweets and all this about, well, if you care about workers, go vegan. Like again, no consciousness that workers in our own food system are subject to the exact same problems that slaughterhouse workers face, minus the fact that they're not killing animals. We tokenize almost every other movement for our own gain."

Dr. A Breeze Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, which aims to explore veganism through the consciousness of black vegan women. A PhD graduate in Geography, she has published the Sistah Vegan anthology, organised a Sistah Vegan Web Conference, given lectures at universities across the US and maintains the Sistah Vegan blog.

Iauren Ornelas is the founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project. She is also the former executive director of Viva!USA, a nonprofit vegan advocacy organisation. She has been active in the animal rights movement for more than 20 years, and achieved corporate changes within Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and Pier 1 imports, among others.

11. What about Abolition and Welfare?

Gary Francione and Bruce Friedrich

Do welfare reforms such as the banning of gestation crates help or hurt the movement? That is the question at the heart of this heated debate. Gary Francione and Bruce Friedrich debate whether welfare reforms encourage a society that is willing to take its first baby steps towards caring about animals, or one that is all the more comfortable with everything else it is unwilling to do. Although Francione's no-compromise abolitionist philosophy provokes many in the animal rights movement (he denounces lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, for instance), his position has been steadily gaining momentum, and his salient arguments deserve full consideration.

Excerpt: "What animal welfare reform is doing, and I think this is just devastatingly bad, is it's making everybody more comfortable. When PETA and Mercy For Animals and HSUS and all of these organisations sign a letter expressing appreciation and support to John Mackey for his happy exploitation programme at Whole Foods, and on the other hand say, 'we're not encouraging people to consume that stuff', the answer is sorry, people don't discriminate on that level. When you have groups like PETA saying that McDonald's is leading the way in the welfare of animals used in the fast food industry, you cannot tell me that is not encouraging people."

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. He has been teaching animal rights and the law for more than 29 years, lecturing throughout the US, Canada and Europe. He has also been a guest at numerous radio and television shows. He is the author of numerous books and articles on animal rights theory and animals and the law.

Bruce Friedrich is senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, the nation's leading farm animal protection organization. Bruce has previously worked as a public school teacher in inner city Baltimore, as vice president for policy at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C. He has been a progressive activist for 25 years.

12. The New Abolitionism, Animal Liberation and Social Revolution

Steve Best

We save the most controversial for last. Steve Best starts off by arguing that all oppression has its roots in speciesism. That's the uncontroversial part. He goes on to argue that previous liberation movements led by people such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi were only successful because its proponents were willing to break the law, and becomes increasingly critical of the mellow state of animal rights activism today. Regarded as one of the public faces of the Animal Liberation Front (despite not being an activist himself), Steve Best provides much insight on the philosophy of its tightlipped members.

Excerpt: "Let me tell you something about education and veganism. This movement is operating with a infinite model of time. Educate people... be patient... We have very little time to stop the ecological crisis and runaway climate change. I believe in education, but I know the limits of education. Number one, not everybody can be educated. You can talk to some people all day about veganism, racism, capitalism... They will never understand. This movement is very naïve and primitive about this. There are so many ways that people can block messages, block truth and shut you out that education is a highly problematic strategy. We're not sophisticated enough to practice education effectively. And number two, if you're an exploiter with a vested material interest, forget education. There's only one option: that's force. Number three, education's too slow. We don't have the time, and this is what the scientists are telling us. Climate change is happening much more rapidly than we could possibly imagine."

Dr. Steven Best, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer, noted speaker, public intellectual, and seasoned activist with 30 years work in diverse social movements. He is Associate Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso. Best has published 13 books and over 200 articles and reviews (translated into numerous languages), spoken in nearly two dozen countries, interviewed with media throughout the world, appeared in numerous documentaries, and in 2007 was voted by VegNews as one of the nations “25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians.”

Article by: Kwok Yingchen

Kwok Yingchen plans to study Sociology in university. His interest in moral philosophy has always been centered around humans, but has most recently encouraged him to foray into the world of animals rights.

All images cropped from their original videos on YouTube.