WASHINGTON, April 12, 2016 – There are small storms brewing within the vegan movement. If you aren’t part of the vegan community, chances are you’ll miss them completely, but for insiders, the vegan divide is broad and wide.
In short, the vegan community has a hero worship problem, and with that comes a willingness to die on the battlefield but never actually engage in a conversation that would prevent such fervency to begin with.
While a non-vegan might tend to paint vegans with a broad brush, somewhere on the spectrum between hippies or extremists, the vegan movement is actually diverse in both backgrounds and methods of advocacy.
Those on the inside have often found themselves in the center of those labels and struggled to explain their situation to friends on the outside.
What started as academic jargon has turned into loaded words, and trying to outline the “welfarists,” “abolitionists,” “intersectionalists,” “pragmatists” and a multitude of other “-ists” often leaves vegans feeling exhausted and confounds non-vegans.
Calling these words slurs is too strong a statement, but they are often hurled around in a negative, hurtful fashion and illustrate the wide differences among vegans.
The choice to be not only a vegan but also an animal rights activist requires the same amount of extensive research as any other social movement. Just as feminist, anti-racist and LGBTQ+ activists circles run across a wide spectrum of opinion and action, so do facets of the animal activist movement.
Some vegans urge the community to band together and put aside differences. Unfortunately, the sentimentality of that statement means very little in practice. Instead of shunning a movement of diverse schools of thought, vegans would benefit from a movement that is interested in learning from one another and encourages individuals to move towards a praxis developed by multiple sources, not just one’s favored approach.
There are movements centered around social justice and intersectionality, led by women and people of color with strong allies bringing up the rear. There are those who work with PETA and the Humane Society, whose views can be controversial, but who provide valuable dialogue. There are vegans who seek to advance animal rights through policy change with hopes that the culture follows and vegans who are putting culture first.
Some movements value public disruptions, while others are more content to pass out flyers at the local farmers’ market.
Do all vegans are contribute to animal liberation in the most meaningful and effective way possible? Perhaps not, but there is value in communicating with vegans of all strategies, because that’s what builds up informed activism.
This is something that goes beyond being a smart activist; it’s what comes with being a mature adult.
Unfortunately, there are factions of the movement that are set on seeking out, attacking and censoring activists, writers and academics with whom they do not agree in a systematic way. Instead of trusting activists to decipher information on their own, subsections may occasionally glom on to single leaders or organizations in particular and weed out opinions that are even just slightly different.
When developing a “How to Go Vegan” online guide, a colleague and I were frantically ordered to immediately remove any books or films that didn’t support a particular kind of veganism.
Whatever happened to well-rounded research or, at the very least, knowing the arguments of one’s perceived enemy?
We can only be truly responsible for our own actions as vegan activists. With the diversity of views and strategies, vegans can gain valuable information by pulling from a variety of sources instead of declaring allegiance.
Of course, everyone will always have their favorites, but instead of looking for a celebrated academic or public figure as a hero, it’s time to elevate each other and look for strength.