In March of last year, renowned (and controversial) animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky retired from his decades-long career of speaking out in defense of animals. He toured the world, delivering speeches to large audiences on the immense suffering of animals and the virtues of a vegan lifestyle. He spoke with reporters on TV and gave interviews, never backing down from his strident views.
He is best known for one speech in particular, dubbed the “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear.”
He’s a remarkable speaker. He alone is likely responsible for hundreds of thousands of people deciding to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
But he’s probably the most polarizing figure in the vegan world. Before he gave more than 2,000 speeches, in 1997, he and a group of four ALF activists saved 1,542 mink from a fur farm in Ontario. This isn’t what makes him a controversial figure, however; far more controversial are his numerous statements advocating violence.
For instance, he told a reporter in 2002 that he is in favor of those who test on animals dying in fires set by the ALF. He has repeatedly expressed his wish that people who wear fur should be brutally raped; that everyone who eats animal products should endure a violent death. He has also been criticized for referring to animal agriculture as a “holocaust,” though he is remarkably popular in Israel. (As a side note, though the comparison is likely not very effective, it is not without merit.) He’s also a misanthrope, arguing that humans are the most destructive species on the planet and everything would be better without us, apparently overlooking the fact that humans are animals, too.
Whatever your thoughts on all of that, he’s also spread numerous falsehoods. For example, in his most popular speech (embedded above), he claims that “humans are 100% herbivore,” that veganism is the antidote to virtually all modern diseases, and that the roots of all violence lie in speciesism.
We’ve talked about the problems with claiming that humans are herbivores before, so I won’t go over that again. We’ve also discussed the issues surrounding advocating for veganism for health reasons. But the claim that violence is rooted in how we treat animals is entirely baseless; it seems that one would have to argue that vegans never commit violence against others in order to back this up — an argument that, ironically, Gary seems to have debunked. (Notably, he reversed course on this in his retirement announcement.)
This is not a hit-piece on Gary. I have enormous respect for his energy and dedication to the cause. Like I said, he is probably responsible for hordes of people deciding to go vegan. Despite his troubling rhetoric, his work overall has had a positive impact on the animals he wishes to save.
One wonders what may have been different if Gary omitted the falsehoods and justifications for violence. I would certainly like to think that even more people would have gone vegan if that were the case. But what if it had the opposite effect, and it turned out that these troubling tactics helped convince people to go vegan? In other words, is it permissible to lie if you are trying to save lives?
Again, my inclination is that lying is almost never justifiable. But this is a tough question, and one that I will continue to struggle to answer every time I think of Gary and his contribution to the cause.
Gary, I think I speak for the entire vegan community when I say that we hope to learn from your hard work and carry the torch for decades to come.
Thank you for all that you’ve done.