The more I delve into the deep dark world of Facebook vegan discussion groups, the more I wonder – are we losing sight of the end goal? I’ve only been vegan for two short years, but even I remember the good ol’ glory days when vegans talked about how we all want the world to embrace veganism, and for plant-based food to be the norm rather than an anomaly for which we are mocked. Do we want to be stared at like we’ve grown another head, when we ask a waiter whether a vegetarian dish can be made without eggs or dairy? Are we not all tired of repeating yet again if there is a vegan menu, as if we hadn’t enunciated our syllables?
I’ve taken part in activism before, though of course I haven’t been to every march, demo, or panel meeting. My first foray was a Free The Nipple march back when I first started blogging here a few years ago, and I’ve since been to panel discussions and focus groups for actions against violence against women, pro-choice rallies, and of course the Anti-Trump, Anti-Racism march earlier this year. I’ve also missed many that I was unable to attend; the Women’s March was one of them. I take part in online activism, both on my personal Facebook and on my public Twitter. I keep my business social media channels non-partisan, though of course we do sell and promote products that are pro-feminist and anti-patriarchy.
Earlier this week, I had a quick scroll through my Facebook feed before work to find a member of a local vegan group berating the other 3000+ of us vegans in the Central Belt for not attending a “hunt sab” meetup they’d organised. What is a hunt saboteur, you ask? These are Animal Rights Activists who choose to sabotage a hunt through various means. As far as I knew, hunting foxes with dogs was banned in Scotland since 2002; I won’t claim I know enough about this to say with any conviction that how the sport takes place now, or even very much about the sport at all. I also understand that this is very difficult to regulate. What I’m getting at here is the issue of aggressions by vegans, towards other vegans, for their unwillingness to participate in a specific type of activism.
“What kind of vegan even are you if you won’t take part?”
What elitist, ableist BS. I have absolutely no time for vegans who try to shame or belittle other vegans because they don’t participate in this type of activism. There are so many factors why someone may not want to or be able to take part in a hunt sab. Or a demonstration, march, protest, get a vegan-themed tattoo, or take part in “direct action” activities such as open rescues. It’s no one’s place to dictate what kind of activism others choose to engage in. There are so many extenuating factors going on that are no one else’s business, and no vegan should feel the need to justify why they choose not to take part.
Now the question is, in a group of over 3000 members, with nearly all members already vegan or in the process of transitioning – is there a responsibility for members to engage in direct activism? I’m using the term to describe “in the field”, rather than online activism.
First of all, even if a person had an interest in joining a particular kind of activism, and was physically, psychologically and mentally able, being shamed for not doing so by some self-righteous individual hiding behind an online persona would likely put them right off. Aside from physical and mental constraints, there is also the issue that it is still a dangerous activity, and one that could potentially lead to an arrest in some cases (which might result in a loss of earnings, loss of job, or loss of livelihood).
Everybody’s circumstances are different. It’s unfair to assume by a person’s online presence or the photos they share publicly that they are both willing or able to engage in a potentially dangerous activity. To challenge someone’s bravery without an understanding of their circumstances is incredibly ableist. To tell them, en masse, that they are not making a difference because “just being vegan is not enough” is trivialising the very movement we are all want to be a part of. The idea of this intangible “perfect veganism” as something unattainable is actually damaging to the cause, because it’s overwhelming to new vegans and to those interested if they are led to believe that it is always impossible to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle.
When it comes down to it, face-to-face activism doesn’t exactly cater for people who are not “conventionally” able-bodied. It’s all very easy for someone who is able to walk and stand for prolonged periods of time without experiencing pain to say that all vegans must take on the responsibility of direct activism. This already excludes most people with limited mobility or anyone who requires a mobility aid such as a scooter or wheelchair, and comments become ever more disturbing when directed at those who do not have outwardly presenting disabilities. What about invisible conditions such as autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and Ehlers-Danlos (to name just a few)? What about anxiety? Depression? There are any number of physiological, psychological and mental health issues that can’t be seen by the naked eye and may exclude someone from taking part, or feeling able to take part.
Activism can be a very personal thing. What is right for one person may not be suitable for another; some people love volunteering for organisations like Vegan Outreach and Go Vegan Scotland to speak to the public, or handing out leaflets and approaching strangers on the street, but for others, this could be detrimental to their mental wellbeing. Imagine having severe social anxiety, and being ignored or sworn at by strangers who don’t want to talk to you about veganism, or imagine having to approach or speak to strangers at all. It’s not quite so simple as just a case of “if you are not physically able to do x, you should do y because it doesn’t involve walking or standing”. We need to adopt a holistic approach, and one way to start is to stop trying to dictate what kind of activism others should take part in. It’s not prescriptive. Every human, as well as every non-human animal, is an individual.
Almost every day I’ll see a post on one vegan Facebook group or another complaining that veganism has now become more about the “tasty food” and the “vegan cakes” than about the promotion of veganism as a lifestyle. Whilst I can understand the frustration, I also don’t see the harm. I was always someone who didn’t really enjoy the taste of meat, even as a child. I ate it because that was what I was socially conditioned to do, but became increasingly vegetarian and then vegan initially for health and environmental reasons (not to mention the fact that I just didn’t “like” eating animals). Though I was primarily vegetarian for years, I never quite made the leap to vegan until 2 years ago because…well, I thought it would be difficult. In fact, I even remember posting on my Facebook to ask for help because I had no idea what vegans ate. One of the main things that worked for me, personally, was plant-based pals sending me links to their favourite vegan foodie resources, Instagram accounts, and blogs. I was not happy to live on salad, and it was through the help of the visual stimulation of tempting animal-free treats that made me realise that being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean depriving yourself of anything tasty, cooked, or filling. It’s easy to dismiss the impact something as simple as food can be on the psyche, but when I realised that all the foods I knew and loved, and more importantly, found comfort in, could be easily veganised? The world was my oyster mushroom.
Humans tend to be creatures of habit. The familiar is comfortable, and it can be difficult to step outside our comfort zone with a major lifestyle change. I know my fellow vegans would all love for the world to be vegan. We’d all prefer if our lifestyle was the norm, and a way of doing this effectively is to encourage more and more people to embrace veganism. Not alienate people who are already vegan.
My question is – would you rather encourage more people to become vegan, or would you rather just preach at other vegans that we aren’t “vegan enough” for not taking part in direct activism?