Artist name Luminous. Singer, DJ, Writer

Tag: veganism

Divide & Rule: Vegan Vs Vegan?

2020 got off to a cracking start for vegans.

Thanks to Jordi Casamitjana, whose claim for unfair dismissal has led to the recognition of veganism as a ‘protected belief’ under the Equality Act (2010); giving us legal protection from discrimination.

A giant leap for vegankind – and for animals too: whose rights can now be said to exist; at least in the hearts, minds – and actions – of vegans.

My heart sank, however, on reading that the ruling was restricted to “ethical” as opposed to “dietary” vegans.

Two types of vegan? This was news to me. And why were some vegans being discriminated against? Wasn’t that illegal now? It didn’t make sense.

As the news coverage offered no answer, my first thought was that the Judge had been muddled. Until I found Jordi’s CrowdJustice page from 2018, titled: “Help an Ethical Vegan”.

Please tell me this wasn’t ‘our’ doing? I hope not, for several reasons:

1) “Ethical veganism”

The problem with “ethical veganism” is that it’s like saying “peaceful pacifism”. You’re repeating yourself; or saying the same thing twice. (The technical word is pleonasm).

Veganism is innately ethical: a fact well documented by those who coined the word, and founded the Vegan Society, in 1944.

Their original definition describes it as: “the principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”.

The second (still in use today) as: “a philosophy and 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”.

And the Oxford English Dictionary’s (which featured ‘vegan’ for the first time in 1986) as: “[a] person who on principle abstains from all food of animal origin”.

(Italics all mine).

The provenance is there. No prefix required. Why labour the point, making it sound excessively earnest, and pedantic?

2) Us & Them

Splitting us into “ethical” and “dietary” perpetuates the fallacy of vegans as separatists – or splitters. Dating back to the ‘birth’ of veganism, and our formal separation from vegetarianism. Widely perceived as a vegan-led rebellion.

But history tells a different tale …

Starting at the Vegetarian Society: where a few longstanding members had gone egg and dairy-free (having become aware of the cruelty they entail).

Most had done so in isolation. On discovering there were others, they put in a request for a subgroup – a space to meet and support each other.

But the Vegetarian Society said no. A major blow: they were still vegetarians, after all. So the exiles left home to form a new Society, called Vegan.

Which is to say: vegans didn’t jump; we were pushed. How ironic then, that it’s now us drawing the line.

Pre the ruling, vegans were united by the common denominator of diet – the Vegan Society’s baseline criteria for membership.

And for good reason: it’s inclusive. Veganism is a spectrum, rather than a hierarchy. From the newly-vegan, to the lifelong, and everything in between – including those who failed the first time, and are trying again.

Once we can sustain a dietary practice, our veganism will extend into other areas of our life, according to what is “possible and practicable” for each person. It’s not so much the speed that counts, as being able to stay the course.

Now – post-ruling – vegans are divided: the “ethical” protected in law; and the “dietary”, who are not. So where does this leave new vegans, and others whose veganism is merely “dietary”? Are they no longer legitimate?

3) Mistaken Identity

Aren’t we barking up the wrong tree? Faux vegans do exist, but not within the movement.

I’m referring to those who identify as vegan, and continue to eat animals.

Dietary seekers: who eat mostly vegan for nutritional, rather than ethical reasons. Like the “vegan” celebrities quoted in media articles, as enjoying the odd steak or fish. (Note to editors: not even vegetarian).

This is veganism as dietary trend, like keto or paleo – synonymous with #weightloss #cleaneating and #superfoods. It’s an easier sell. Stories can be lighter, less involved – meaning more traction on social media. And so, the fake news spreads …

Isn’t this where the legal line needed to be drawn? Not between “ethical” and “dietary” vegans; but between vegans, and plant-based flexitarians.

Flexitiarianism is positive: in the sense that animal consumption is reduced, and plant-based increased.

But it’s not an abiding, and heartfelt belief that it’s wrong to victimize animals. The one protected in this ruling.

Let’s hope the terminology can be revised retrospectively, to reflect this; and vegans can simply be vegans again.

Why Plant-based isn’t Vegan: a warning from history

The raising, slaughtering and eating of animals is normalised in our culture.

But not in vegan culture. The safe space we make for ourselves, as witnesses to trauma; where we find comfort, validation and inspiration. (Not separatism, but Sanctuary).

So how do we keep this safe, in light of the news that the founders of a flagship “vegan” restaurant chain have begun to farm beef?

It’s a predicament nailed by Judith Lewis Herman in her book ‘Trauma & Recovery’:

“those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides”.

The cows on one side / Their executioners on the other.

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator,” continues Herman. For “All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering”

As the chain’s restaurants will continue as vegan (a good thing), it is tempting to “do nothing”.

On the other hand, we could ask Cafe Gratitude not to describe a ‘plant-based’ brand as “vegan”.

Though often confused, these two terms are not interchangeable.

‘Plant-based’ – refers to a dietary regimen with an emphasis on plant foods, which is pursued for health, fitness, or weight related reasons; and can be vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. Its origins are unclear, as it seems to have emerged organically, from the wider culture.

Vegan’ – by contrast, is unequivocal, with a documented provenance. Coined in 1944, by a specific group of people, with a specific meaning and purpose (to name a new movement, and a diet with no animal content)

The onus is on us to clarify this. And to consider to what extent vegans may be adding to confusion when using ‘plant-based’ as a euphemism. There’s certainly place for ‘plant-based’ in our vocabulary, but we need to know why we are using it, and not do so flippantly.

The word ‘vegan’ is vulnerable, because it confronts the violence concealed by a complicit culture. It requires bolstering because of the powerful stigma attached (which I’ve also written about here) – manifesting as hostility, and intense pressure to move the goalposts.

We’ve already seen the word ‘vegetarian’ succumb. Apparently it meant vegan (i.e. no animal content) when it was coined in the 1830s, and “only came to indicate a diet that included eggs and dairy products after the formation of The Vegetarian Society in 1847“. (Source: ‘Ripened by Human Determination‘ by Dr Sarah Calvert).

Surely we don’t want to go down that road again. When our predecessors survived World War 2 and food rationing to bring it to us. And the Vegan Society‘s founder Donald Watson, warned of this “strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded”, in his first newsletter.

Where ‘vegan’ not only enters our vocabulary, but is defined for posterity.

As guardians of this brave new word, we need to be vigilant: to ‘keep vigil’ for animals. By remembering, and reinforcing its meaning. By acting, creating, protesting and persuading.

For, as Herman explains, “In the absence of strong political movements”, we are prone to “amnesia”.

“To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim, and joins victim and witness in a common alliance”

That “social context” she says, “is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered”

Which, in a nutshell, folks, means: Get your ‘iron knickers’ on! That movement is you and me.

© Louise Wallis


(Peace, Love, Vegan image by artist Sarah Kiser)

Note: I revised this post as of 18.8.17, in the hope that it is clearer and better written


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