|Necessity and activism as defined by PETA|
VegFests are all the rage and are popping up all over the country. Exposure to vegan foods and nonhuman sanctuaries is beneficial, but these are temperate events meant to peddle goods, not to advocate for the rights and freedom of other animals or inspire political and social activism. Instead of advising people to consume less, they push people to buy more and, in doing so, send the message that veganism is a personal, consumer choice, instead of a moral imperative.
The Tri-State VegFest held in Edison, New Jersey, last summer was sponsored by the Humane League, well known for its welfarist campaigns like persuading universities to switch to "cage-free" eggs. Instead of opposing the enslavement and killing of nonhumans and the violation of their moral rights, such campaigns seek only to make exploited nonhumans more comfortable, and their murders to appear less cruel.
The mastermind behind the NJ Tri-State VegFest was described on the website as "a natural-born entrepreneur" and the event was characterized as being "all about food, community, and entertainment. . ." A friend overheard another vegfest attendee speaking to a cutlery salesperson. "Which knife is best to use with [on] fish?" the guest asked. These functions are not exactly hubbubs of resistance. I'm not suggesting that we don't have vegfests, but I do think we should expect more of them and their participants.
The distinction between vegan activism and consumerism is becoming less and less apparent. Many have turned veganism into a trendy lifestyle, one that people feel they can take or leave whenever the mood strikes or a social affair beckons. Most vegan books and magazines cater to food and advertisers. They address clothing, travel, cosmetics, and other trivial nonsense as opposed to less glamorous topics like education, government policies, and critical thinking. Speciesist language, the animal-industrial complex, nonhuman rights, and other important issues are seldom, if ever, discussed.
Some people are intentionally shying away from using the word "vegan" and opting for "plant-based" instead because they think "vegan" is too controversial and off-putting. In one article, a woman bragged of being aligned with the "modern vegan movement" (?) in which she claimed no interest in nonhuman advocacy. If being content with nonhuman oppression and enslavement—and ashamed of the word "vegan" and the political charge it generates—means being aligned with this "modern vegan movement," then count me out.
Companies like Vaute Couture, which peddles $400 vegan sweaters, detract from ethical veganism and give the false impression that veganism is only for the privileged few. There are vegan gurus and now even a vegan flag, but veganism is not about us, about losing weight, or conspicuous consumption. The quest for nonhuman rights and emancipation does not require that you eat at the coolest vegan restaurant or carry the chicest vegan handbag. In fact, it doesn't require you to buy anything at all.
In "How Amanda Chantal Bacon Perfected the Celebrity Wellness Business" Molly Young noted "...this is what lifestyle gurus do. They insist on a connection between what you buy and who you are. And then they sell you stuff."
A woman on Facebook sent an urgent plea. "I need more AR [Animal Rights] gear," she said. "Spam me with your favorite shirts." At last count, she received recommendations for 19 T-shirts and one pair of slippers. My brief response to her request, connecting our nonstop consumption and subsequent waste and pollution of resources to the destruction of nonhuman lives and habitats, went unheeded.
Vegan or nonvegan, consumer-capitalism is largely driving the destruction of the natural world. Less consumption—not more—should be part of every ethical vegan's mantra.
"We must struggle politically and not merely as 'consumers'—a term which itself undermines our citizenship, our obligation to make policy," said David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals.
In "Animal Rights: Remedy to Trumpism" Cantor noted that deregulation and uninhibited capitalism are mainstays of the Trump administration and the radical right. However, both major parties are engines of capitalism and the Biocaust. They both "accept the basic humanist-extremist premises that only human beings are innately entitled to a chance at a fulfilling life; our pursuit of fulfillment needn't take other beings' experience or ecological value into account; our species' population explosion, its rampage over Earth, and its impacts on other animals and the living world are self-justified; and dividing 'the pie' among humans is their only responsibility."
Last year Daiya, the maker of vegan cheeses, sold their company to a Japanese pharmaceutical company that tortures and kills nonhuman persons under the guise of "research." Likewise, other vegan companies have sold out to nonvegan manufacturers—Silk, So Delicious, LightLife, and most recently Field Roast. Companies are not in the business of eliminating nonhuman oppression; rather, they're merely concerned with bolstering consumerism and the economic interests of their proprietors.
"Whilst veganism is a necessary step toward animal liberation, there is a presumption that buying products marked 'vegan' or 'cruelty-free' is the end game of the animal advocacy moment, but veganism on its own is limiting and not sufficient by itself to bring about animal liberation," wrote Lara Drew and Daniel Kidby in Animal Testing Giant Joins the Vegan Movement #Daiya. "The acquisition of Daiya is a reminder that corporations have no ethics, and that there are ethical implications when consuming anything within an economic system that encourages unlimited growth" and views the earth, nonhumans (both free-living and "domesticated"), and humans as mere capital to profit from and exploit.
Activists don't buy, they act. We mustn't confuse activism with vegan consumerism because we cannot liberate animals through the existing framework of the consumer-capitalist model. We don't need more goods, vegan or otherwise, that deplete resources, pollute ecosystems, fill landfills, and kill free-living nonhumans—we need less of everything.
"Veganism is played out and imagined as a revolutionary perspective of existence only as far as the standards set by capitalist colonial society, thereby restricting its very potential before it has even begun," wrote a.b. in "Alternate Realities" in Issue 12 of T.O.F.U. magazine.
Case in point, a chatty salesman from a local pizzeria stopped by the office on a particularly busy workday to drop off a brochure. In an attempt to dissuade him, I rather brusquely told him I was vegan and not interested. He said "We can make you a vegan pizza, we offer gluten-free dough." I told him that I'm not interested in avoiding gluten; I'm interested in avoiding products made with the bodies of animals. My being vegan meant nothing more to this man than an opportunity for him to sell me something.
The association of veganism with gluten-free seems like such an absurdity, but it is a comparison that is made often. Anna Charlton of the Abolitionist Approach addressed it in a recent webinar. "We have to shake the whole issue away from it [veganism] being just a casual consumer choice. All too many times . . . you talk about a vegan diet and people will ask if you're gluten free, too, as if those are similar considerations. . . Deciding to go vegan and choosing gluten-free bread are not the same thing and it's a shame that it's [veganism] degenerated into this casual consumer choice stuff."
At its crux, veganism is about avoiding and eliminating nonhuman exploitation whenever possible, but it is also about dismantling a system that depends and thrives on the ongoing enslavement and abuse of nonhuman lives. If we mean to advocate for nonhumans—not ourselves—we should do so in every capacity; reducing or eliminating our travel, our reproduction, consumption, "development," waste, staying educated, informed and engaging others, being politically active, remaining vigilant, and be willing to take a stand and speak out with our voices and deeds instead of our "vegans rule" T-shirts.
"It doesn't take more time to be vegan than not to be, and citizens have to make time for policy, the only means to eliminating consumer choices that shouldn't be available," Cantor told me in an email. "Progress requires undermining specious [and speciesist] ideologies of consumer-capitalism, which include the notion that the proper influence over policy by individual citizens is to 'vote with your wallet.' Serious animal and environmental advocacy has been very effectively undermined by that mode of thought."
"If we want an ethical society, we should fight for a social revolution," continued Drew and Kidby. "A social revolution is needed otherwise veganism will remain entrenched in a capitalist system that reinforces vegan lifestyle-ism rather than making veganism part of a movement to oppose the political, economic, and social systems which oppresses all life."
To commit to veganism is a defiant act, but it is just the starting point to a more nonviolent and just world. We need to educate, disrupt, resist, confront, and change institutions that shape policies and culture and make animal abuse possible in the first place. It's a tall order that requires discipline and courage . . . not vegan chocolate chip, cookie dough ice-cream.