Q: Why do you break the law?
A: All the members of the group primarily use methods of activism within the boundaries of the law, such as leafleting, demonstrations and tabling. These are good and important ways to be active for the animals. However, we think that there is also a place for methods that more directly confront the parts of society that support violence against animals. We also do the actions out of compassion and respect for the animals in the animal industry. They have a right to live better and longer lives.
Q: Isn’t it wrong to break the law?
A: Legislation, morality and justice often coincide, but not always. Historically, civil disobedience has contributed to many rights and laws that we today take for granted, such as women's right to vote, union rights, and environmental protection. The 2001 Swedish Government Official Report on democracy highlights civil disobedience as a method of strengthening the democracy in a society. To us, democracy does not simply mean majority rules. Respect for vulnerable groups, such as animals, is an important part of it.
Q: Do you think it is always right to break the law?
A: No. We do not think it is okay to murder, burn down refugee camps, or torture animals to give some important examples. We have chosen to use civil disobedience, a method which has been defined in many different ways. For us, the most important aspects are that the violation of the law happens openly, is non-violent, that the activists accept responsibility and that the purpose is to change society, and not for any personal gain. Even if an action satisfies these criteria for civil disobedience it is not necessarily a good thing to do. Each civil disobedience action and their consequences must be evaluated from case to case by us all, to determine if the act contributes to democracy and justice, or if it does the opposite.
Q: Why don’t you buy the animals instead of stealing them?
A: In the short term, more animals could probably be saved if we reached for our wallets. But to buy animals would mean supporting the very system we want to oppose, namely that animals are treated as property and nothing more. Our actions are intended as a resistance to the idea that it is possible to buy, sell or steal sentient beings with their own interests.
Q: Why didn’t you rescue more animals?
A: This is a relevant question, but for practical reasons we did not have the possibility to bring more with us. We have, after all, rescued 15 individuals from certain death. For them that means the world. Our hope is that aside from these individuals our actions can generate discussion that can prompt people to rethink their dietary choices and the way we treat animals in our society.
Q: Why are you open with your actions? Wouldn’t it be more effective to secret liberate the animals?.
A: Those who say this, usually mean that it is expensive to pay fines and damages, and that it’s time consuming to spend time in prison. It is true that we could rescue more individuals if we did the actions in secret. However, we want to accomplish more than that. We want to start conversations about the exploitation of animals that in the long run means that fewer and fewer animals are exploited and killed. It is not as easy to start such conversations if we are not open about who we are. Our experience tells us that people have more positive attitudes if they can see our faces. Hopefully others will be able to relate to us and be more accepting of our message.
Q: Why do you target farmers in Sweden? We have the world’s best animal care!
A: Firstly we can note that the Animal-Industrial Complex has been very successful with convincing many about Sweden as an exceptional nation for animal care. However, this clashes violently with reality. For example Fredrik Johansson, veterinarian, states that typical pig farming is “organised animal torture”. Another, perhaps more important response, is that our actions are not primarily intended to question the treatment of animals in the animal industry. Our main purpose is to challenge the very idea that humans have a right to exploit and kill animals. We are convinced that humanity can create a society without practicing violence towards animals.
Q: Since you free animals, would you think it’s okay if I come to your home and free your pets?
A: If our companion animals were living under the same circumstances as the animals we have freed, and you could give them a better life, we think you should free them. It would be interesting to know if you would act according to the principles of civil disobedience: openness, non-violence, and willingness to accept the consequences. In the best case scenario, this could be a trial that highlights issues about how animals are viewed in the eyes of the law.
Q: If the animals in the food industry hadn’t been raised by farmers they would never have existed at all!
A: It is true that there would be fewer animals without factory farms, but those are not lives that are worth living. Today, we keep extreme numbers of animals in small spaces only to eat their meat and take their eggs and milk. Someone that is never born does not need anything, and there is no one that loses out by not being born.
Q: Do you want all the animals to go extinct?
A: No. We believe that animals and humans can co-exist on our planet. But the animals that humans exploit in the animal industry are being bred to death, all for the sake of producing as many products as possible for their owners, with the well-being of the animals a secondary concern at best. For example, industrial hens are bred to lay twenty times more eggs compared to a wild hen. Turkeys have been bred to be so heavy that they can’t fly or even reproduce naturally. The best humans can do for the animals in the animal industry is stop exploiting and killing them, which means raising more animals that have been bred this way. Instead we can give more space to wild animals by setting aside more land for them to live in peace, away from the violence of humans. If we transitioned to an entirely plant-based food production, large amounts of land could be freed to be left to the wild animals.
Q: Will there be a place for dogs and cats in your vegan utopia?
A: Of course the situation for most companion animals are substantially better than for the animals in the farm factories. But even companion animals are regarded as property in Swedish law. There is a range of views within Empty Cages about companion animals. Some think the power dynamics between humans is almost always unbalanced so we should err on the side of caution and not raise so called ‘pets’. Others argue that it can be acceptable to raise companion animals if the legislation is changed to give them basic rights, such as the right to life and a right to be treated as a family member.
Q: What kind of society would you like to see? Sweden can not be self-sufficient with only vegetables.
A: Firstly, we can note that producing food is not particularly efficient when it goes through animals. Today, large amounts of soy beans are grown in Brazil, where there was once rainforest, and then shipped to Sweden and fed to livestock. If we eat the food straight from the field, we would use a lot less land to produce the same amount of food. As society transitions from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet, the country’s agronomists and social scientists develop new products that are adapted to the Swedish fields. Broad beans are an example of a legume that is high in protein and seems to be well-adapted to Swedish conditions. Besides, it is conceivable that we continue to import certain products like bananas, coffee, soybeans and pineapple.
Q: Is it not more feasible to work towards better animal protection than to think that you can eliminate all meat production?
A: To work for animals to have better conditions in animal factories can reduce suffering for many animals, even if there are only small improvements. However, we don’t want a system of animal exploitation that is “less bad”, we don’t want any exploitation at all, and we think it is important to say so. Animal welfare improvements also risk legitimising animal exploitation since the animal industry can say it is meeting the demands of the animal rights movement and making the animals’ lives better. This can lull people into a false perception that it’s not so bad, and that it is okay to continue to eat animal products.
It would be a large societal shift if all animal exploitation ended. We often have difficulty believing that such large changes are even possible to implement. But historically we have lived through other large shifts. Sweden was not so long ago a feudal society that was almost constantly at war. But we were still able to develop into a relatively peaceful democracy, hardly a century ago. We believe that a society that includes animal rights where humans no longer exploit and kill animals can be developed, even if it takes a while.
Q: Animals eat animals. Why shouldn’t humans eat other animals?
A: Humans can live just fine without meat and we can understand the consequences of our decisions. Carnivores cannot.
Q: How do you get protein as a vegan?
A: There is a persistent myth that it is difficult to get protein as a vegan, but the science of nutrition is clear that it is just a myth and nothing else. In reality, both vegans and meat eaters eat more protein than they need. The most protein-rich foods from the plant kingdom include legumes (lentils, soy beans, chickpeas, etc.) and nuts, but all plants contain protein.
Q: I respect your decision to be vegan. Why don’t you respect my decision to eat meat?
A: This request would be entirely reasonable if it were about the choice to wear a baseball cap or beanie, or listen to jazz or heavy metal. The problem is that the consumption of meat and other animal products indirectly results in the suffering and killing of animals. Freedom to eat and buy animal products violate another individual’s right not to be killed and live in captivity. The decision to violate another individual’s rights does not deserve respect, but questioning, like the decision to hit one’s child.