The Vegan Society defines its philosophy as a “way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.
Given the relatively broad definition of veganism, there are many ways of embracing the vegan lifestyle with varying levels of strictness. However, the one common denominator is that the plant-based diet of avoiding all animal foods as well as animal-derived materials (e.g., fur), products tested on animals and places that use animals for entertainment (e.g., elephant shows).
Rise of veganism
Veganism has grown from a relatively unknown fringe culture into the mainstream in recent years. For instance, the number of British people who identify as vegan has increased from 540,000 in 2016 to 3.5 million in 2018.
One of the reasons for the rise in veganism’s popularity is the wave of vegan celebrities (e.g. Ellen DeGeneres) who endorse a lifestyle of ethical consumption. Not only does this make veganism more accessible, it also makes it more marketable. Veganism becomes associated with kindness and consumer politics so that it makes it look as if it is the ethical choice of embracing veganism.
Curiously, the increasing number of online searches for “veganism” have risen alongside “Instagram”. The vegan community has been very active online and they make use of Instagram to share their passion for veganism with the world. Since the platform is very visual, vegan users are able to post tantalising pictures of green bowls which inspire others to adopt the same aspirational lifestyle habits. For those who are anxious about moving away from meat, the Instagram #vegan posts also make plant-based food very appealing
YouTube: The rise of veganism in Australia
More than simply a diet
It seems clear that veganism is a lot more than just vegetarianism or a dietary preference. Veganism has evolved to become a way of life and a personal philosophy governing one’s decision. However, has this way of life clashed with those of other humans who have omnivorous diets?
Some vegans claim that being a true vegan also entails activism. For instance, one of the forms of activism is called a ‘Cube of Truth’, where activists stand in a square, facing outward, holding signs or TV monitors. The monitors play a constant loop of extreme farming practices like piglets drowning in their own excrement or male chicks being ground up into pet food. If anyone in the public shows any interest, those in the Cube of Truth would reach out and have a conversation with them.
In Auckland, New Zealand, a line of vegan protestors recently handed out flyers to shoppers who passed by the refrigerated meat aisle, while chanting vegan slogans like “It’s not food, it’s violence!”. Some customers were upset with the protestors and had yelled at the protest group.
How far should a movement go to promote their way of life? Understandably, the vegans are very passionate about promoting their way of life and the philosophy of not hurting animals in any form. However, can this be done in a way that respects the choices of other consumers, particularly if there are ethical animal welfare practices.
Reactions to veganism’s growing popularity
On the other hand, why is there so much aggression towards the vegan community? Some of the customers were visibly upset with the vegan protestors being there. There seems to be a lot of resistance and negative emotions from meat-eaters towards vegans. Perhaps, this is due to the media portrayal of vegans as being highly outspoken and passionate about their cause. Or perhaps, meat-eaters perceive vegans to be attacking their identity as omnivores i.e., if you eat meat, you probably also support animal cruelty.
Even within the vegan movement, there is a battle between how best to live out the vegan lifestyle or to put an end to flesh-eating culture. There is a battle between purists and moderates on how veganism should be organised and promulgated. While the purists believe that veganism is the very least a person can do to prevent animal suffering, moderate vegans are suggesting that a little compromise might not be such a bad thing in order to grow the movement faster. For instance, a form of ‘lite veganism’ may allow some honey in their tea (honey is not permitted since animal secretions are prohibited).
While veganism continues to seek to end animal suffering and meat-based diets, it faces a civil war of sorts within its movement in terms of defining what counts as veganism. The purists are accusing the moderates of betraying the movement, while the moderates seem inclined to relax the rules as long as the major tenets of veganism are kept. But one thing is for certain, veganism has come a long way from merely being a matter of personal preference.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- What do you think are the pros and cons of being a vegan? Would you choose to embrace the vegan lifestyle? Why or why not?
- To what extent should vegans be activists in order to promote their vegan way of life? What are the limits?
- ‘common denominator’ (phrase): a feature shared by all members of a group
- ‘promulgate’: promote or make widely known (an idea or cause)
Here are more related articles for further reading:
- The Guardian: The rise of veganism
“If this is the year of mainstream veganism, as every trend forecaster and market analyst seems to agree, then there is not one single cause, but a perfect plant-based storm of factors. People cite one or more of three key motives for going vegan – animal welfare, environmental concerns and personal health – and it is being accompanied by an endless array of new business startups, cookbooks, YouTube channels, trendy events and polemical documentaries. The traditional food industry is desperately trying to catch up with the flourishing grassroots demand. “What do you mean, weak, limp and weedy? In 2017, the vegan category is robust, energetic, and flush with crowdfunding cash,” ran an article headlined “Vegan Nation” in industry bible the Grocer in November, pointing to new plant-based burger company Vurger, which hit its £150,000 investment target in little more than 24 hours.”
- Medium: A clash between veganism and culture?
“I must admit that it is impossible to explain veganism to everyone and it is as difficult to convert everyone to veganism. The saying “If I can do it so can you” faulters massively when it comes to veganism. The reason being is that eating animals has been a part of human culture for eons. Humans are the only species that domesticate animals for their leisure. Whether it is to keep us warm, to feed us or just to protect us from predators, humans formed a bond with animals to extend our specie’s survival.
There are a few reasons why some people will not convert to veganism even with the exorbitant amount of evidence to suggest that a vegan lifestyle is beneficial all around. They are; taste, culture and accessibility.”