Profile of Roger Yates by Alexis Winters
Roger Yates grew up in Yorkshire, England being taught the principle, “Be kind to other animals but we may eat them.” He recalls a specific instance from his childhood when his mother called him into the kitchen to witness a chicken’s head being cut off and its torso set on the floor, a reference to the “running around like a headless chicken” joke. While this instance is not what spurred him into veganism, it is a pivotal moment from his childhood.
Yates explains that his sister, who’s eight years older than he, became involved with conservation issues first. The “save the elephant” envelopes sitting on their mantel growing up were what caught his attention. This memory coincides with the financial scandal in the RSPCA, so he wondered how much, if any, of his sister’s donations were getting to the groups they were meant for. In 1977, Yates remembers seeing an advertisement for the Hunt Saboteurs Association asking for action instead of monetary donations. This is what he marks as his launch into the field of animal rights activism.
It’s common for vegans to start out being vegetarian to ease themselves into the lifestyle, but that often leads to them being stuck in vegetarianism for many years. Yates began following the vegan lifestyle cold turkey in 1979. He recalls a TV news report he saw about a seal cull (kill) in Scotland. One of the killers states that they “had” to kill the seals because they were “eating our fish.” This comment rubbed Yates the wrong way and stuck with him for months and is what inspired him to go full vegan. Yates draws his inspiration from Tom Regan, a philosopher and author of The Case for Animal Rights (1983), and he got his “rights-based position” toward animals from there.
The guiding principles of veganism were first established in the 1940s by the founders of the vegan social movement. Yates’ personal guiding principles are much of the same. The guiding principles of veganism amount to the idea of justice-for-all, the belief that animal liberation was also human liberation, the belief that veganism is part of the peace movement, and that a vegan world would represent the moral evolution of humanity. Yates holds that while the focus of veganism is on the relationship between humans and other animals, the scope is much wider as it affects all of humanity, the planet, and more. He finishes with a quote from Donald Watson saying that “Veganism is the opposition to the exploitation of sentient life,” and a summary from Eva Batt, “Veganism is about animal rights, human rights, and environmentalism, all entangled.”
When I asked Yates how he would speak to non-vegans about veganism he says that veganism is a radical philosophy that would assist both humans and other animals. Veganism is about peace, non-violence, and the moral evolution of humanity. Veganism is an animal rights position: it sees other animals as rights bearers and the human use of other animals as rights violations. He also uses social media to reach out to people and advocate for veganism. He has a YouTube channel, blog and a Dublin-based group, The Vegan Information Project, which educates people on the city streets.
Yates explains that veganism is more than just a diet change. It’s a lifestyle, a philosophy, which he believes would destroy the culture of speciesism and that, if given the chance, could probably end the climate crisis. The problem is to achieve these goals veganism may need to abolish capitalism which is a huge part of American society. The values of veganism also frequently align with those of the Left or can be viewed as left-leaning which doesn’t earn points with those in power, who are generally right-leaning. Yates states that the goal of veganism is to change the world. Not necessarily just to change the diet, or health, of one person, but to change humanity’s relationship with animals and the environment as a whole.
Yates practices veganism in his life beyond what he’s eating. To him, veganism is a moral imperative, and if we want to recognize the rights of others across the board, veganism is required. If we want to end human-on-human violence, veganism is required. If we want a world in which justice comes before profit, veganism is required. To truly implement a vegan lifestyle, one has to embrace it in every aspect of their lives.
Social media has contributed much to our world and especially to social movements like this one. However, Yates began his vegan journey before the age of social media and because of that he recognizes the danger in how social media is used by vegans. The way many activists use social media places the argument in the animal welfare paradigm and not the animal rights paradigm. He argues that the words activists use are important because these types of social movements are claim-makers. The emphasis needs to be removed from the idea of being an “animal lover” and instead shift to viewing animals as our equals, not something we have to protect and take care of. They do not need humans to “love” them but for humans to respect them as the individual rights holders they are. All animals demand to have their rights respected, not just levels of cruelty removed or reduced.
The connection between animal rights and human rights is deeply engrained. Yates notes that there are a growing number of vegans who are promoting an “animals only” version of veganism. He stresses that this is an incorrect concept, and the betterment of humans is linked to veganism. It is also in direct contradiction to the original founders of veganism who recognized that link and thus emphasized both the rights of humans and animals in their movement. In the words of sociologist David Nibert, “Human rights and [other] animal rights are ‘entangled.’” He also quotes from Tom Regan saying, “The animal rights movement is a part of – and not opposed to – the human rights movement.” And Kath Clements paraphrases veganism saying it has, “a consistent approach to human rights and animal rights, ecology, and world food problems” are connected. These prominent figures of veganism are who Yates draws his inspiration and motivation from.
You can find more about Roger Yates on his website, HERE.
Copyright c. 2022 by Alexis Winters. All Rights Reserved.
Photos Copyright c. 2022 by Roger Yates. All Rights Reserved.