For a movement that’s entire purpose is ending systematic oppression by welcoming empathy, it’s unfortunate how exclusionary the mainstream vegan community has become. Current attitudes surrounding contemporary veganism encourage the ranking of certain vegan lifestyles over others, creating a hierarchy based on classist, white-washed and capitalistic principles.
It’s time to rethink veganism.
In May, The Guardian reported on a U.K. vegan blogger, Zara-Anne Borrelli, who was berated by other vegans on Twitter. The attack was instigated by another vegan, Anthony Dagher, who took offense to the blogger buying a crying child ice cream containing dairy. The blogger was accused of not being vegan alongside having her ethics scrutinized by strangers.
The argument against Borrelli is based on the idea that true vegans cannot monetarily support animal agriculture. Therefore, buying non-vegan ice cream put Borrelli at fault.
For those who believe anyone who purchases or consumes non-vegan products any kind should not call themselves vegan, please consider this: Being vegan goes far beyond refusing to buy or consume animal products.
The recent spat on Twitter shines light on the problematic vegan police mindset. Policing the vegan label excludes those who don’t have the financial agency to choose what they eat, such as houseless people, children and teens financially dependent on their parents and individuals recovering from eating disorders who have discussed recovery plans with medical professionals. By enforcing misplaced vegan rules and ranking one vegan’s activism over another’s, we endorse toxic, classist and exclusionary discussions in the name of animal liberation and living a healthy lifestyle.
Gatekeeping the vegan label risks denying a person’s potential to do radical vegan activism in ways that mean more than eating. It is ludicrous to say someone isn’t vegan when they could be marching in vegan rallies, participating in protests and educating themselves and others on the negative effects of animal agriculture when they may have to eat meat and dairy due to extenuating circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a free pass to eat animal products. This means we need to allow others to decide what their activism looks like.
We need to abolish misplaced judgment.
This kind of internal, trivial debate in the vegan community distracts from the real problems veganism is suppose to tackle such as standing against meat and dairy corporations that induce animal oppression and environmental havoc. Voting with your dollar to end animal oppression doesn’t work in a capitalistic context. Dairy and meat corporations have tapped into the thriving plant-based food market made successful by vegans. Dairy brand Danone and meat production company Tyson Foods have both invested big money in plant-based brands aimed at the vegan market, including Silk, Vega and Beyond Meat. Boycotting animal products doesn’t translate to animals liberation by itself. In order to end this cycle, we need to inspire radical reformation in how we interact with capitalistic and neoliberalist systems driving the economy.
Of course, not all vegans are on the same page as Dagher. “That’s the most annoying tweet I’ve read all year, and I follow Kanye,” one person responded on Twitter. Others reached out to Borrelli, emphasizing, “veganism is about love, kindness and compassion.” It is this kind of support and understanding the entire vegan community should be striving for.
Fighting against oppressive systems rather than attacking symptoms of oppression is how we realize big change. Contemporary veganism as a radical social justice movement has had to focus its efforts in reversing negative effects from people policing the vegan label, and those who ignore the main idea the vegan movement is based on and what all of our energies should be focused on protecting: Empathy and compassion for all beings.