As people who aim to protect animals with each meal we eat, identifying as vegan can become a badge of honour. It can permeate into so many aspects of our lives that we no longer see ourselves as simply living vegan, behaving vegan, or thinking vegan, but rather we see ourselves as being vegan. For many people, particularly animal activists, veganism becomes a part of our identity. And what happens when we identify strongly with something? We tend to create a community of it. This is currently happening around the world with the vegan community slowly but surely rising in numbers.
But when we create a community out of an identity, we also inadvertently (whether intentionally or not) create an exclusion criteria. In other words, we strongly identify with what we’re not, distinctly dividing the two categories. The positive to this is that we have clarity to our principles; the downside – the many things associated with veganism can be dismissed by the external population because they’re seen as exclusive to vegans (for example, the person who avoids the vegan menu because that’s ‘for the vegans’).
For a majority of people, we are yet to see veganism become a part of their identity. Some may agree with veganism, they may even advocate for it, but most people don’t yet identify with it. And they may never; we may one day see the end of animal slaughter for humans regardless of whether people see themselves as vegan (think – the onset of lab meat, or our planet no longer being able to sustain animal agriculture industries).
But of course, we want people to be living vegan. We want to save billions of animals from what they currently endure. So do we need people to identify as vegan and join the vegan club, so to speak, in order to spread the aims of veganism? Not quite. Here’s why –
The animal rights and vegan movements are two separate forces –
Strongly linked, of course, but still separate. It’s important that animal advocates understand this distinction. The animal rights movement is driven by people who want to liberate animals from their current ‘commodity status’ in society. Veganism by definition describes this ethical stance, but it also describes the behaviours that comes with it (not eating animals, not wearing animals etc). Over time, veganism in the mainstream has come to have many different associations with it. For us, the associations are more consistent with veganism’s origins – animal rights, social justice, and morality. For others, the associations may be different – environmental protection, food, health, and even radical extremists, ‘annoying activists’, or hippies.
As a result, vegan lifestyles are being adopted by people for all kinds of reasons, including saving the environment, taking care of their health, or even wanting to fit a certain stereotype. Which means many people will identify as vegan even though they don’t link it to animal ethics (e.g. they don’t eat animal products, but they might still buy leather).
Here’s why this is still effective and important for animals:
- Currently eating animals and animal products is the cause for the most animal suffering (with approximately 150 million animals being killed daily for food, not including marine life) so a diet change is expected to be incredibly effective in reducing suffering
- The more people who identify as vegan, the more we normalise and popularise the term ‘vegan’. What happens when something becomes increasingly ‘normal’? More people jump on board. Social conformity is a strong influencer. We are seeing this now, with numerous vegan celebrities paving the way to public mindsets, and major fast food chains introducing vegan foods into their menus (e.g. Domino’s Pizza)
- When people are open to veganism in any form, they’re more likely to be open to veganism in other forms. They’re more likely to be exposed to the community, the information that comes with it, and all the other arguments for veganism
- If we are strict about what constitutes ‘vegan’, or very specific about what the ‘vegan identity’ involves, it can repel people from trying it at all. People may be less inclined to socialise with other vegans or go to vegan events, due to fear of not fitting in, or not fitting the correct criteria. This further reduces opportunities for vegans to share veganism and encourage others towards the cause
What does this mean about animal advocacy?
It means making veganism and helping animals as inclusive as possible; Not portraying veganism as a form of perfectionism or personal, special, identity; empowering and educating rather than criticising, and it also means showing our flaws as well as our successes when we commit to more moral behaviours. It means allowing people to identify with veganism if they want to, without getting too caught up on the specifics, but rather using their curiosity and initial motivation as an opportunity for further persistence or further encouragement. It means rewarding vegan behaviour in any form to create more opportunity to build upon it. And, it means opening the door of veganism to anyone who wants to walk through it.
Given that veganism is not a Project Mayhem-type discrete rogue operation, we want to do the opposite of what Tyler Durden has cemented in to our minds for years – we want to talk about veganism, normalise veganism, and share veganism. And whatever we do, do not make veganism a club.