Vegan Outreach, according to some advocates, is the most powerful tool we have in the fight for animal liberation. They claim that we, as consumers, have the ability to “vote with our wallets” and end animal exploitation by simply refusing to purchase products made from animals. While promoting veganism is a noble cause and one that should not be overlooked, the way that we as a movement choose to promote veganism is problematic.
Veganism as a consumer boycott is fundamentally flawed. Boycotts as a tactic do not work. The modern supply chain is so dense that it is impossible to avoid any company that trades in animal exploitation. Even vegan favourites like Alpro or Swedish Glace are owned by multinational corporations who exploit animals on a daily basis (Alpro is owned by Dean Foods Company the largest dairy company in the world; and Swedish Glace is owned by notorious animal testing company Unilever). If you are spending money on these products you are indirectly funding animal exploitation.
Even if we were to buy all our food from the local, organic, ethical, green farm shop down the road; as soon as we hand over our hard earned money to pay for our fresh vegetables we no longer have any control as to where it goes. That shop will most likely put your money into a bank which will then invest it in numerous questionable practices around the world (probably even animal testing).
Promoting veganism as a form of ethical consumerism is equally absurd. By their very nature companies exploit their workers in order to produce profit. Workers have their labour stolen from them in order to line the pockets of the bosses. Even a so-called “vegan” business would not be able to escape this fact. Not unless they were a worker owned company who grew, packaged, shipped and sold the goods themselves. There is no such thing as ethical consumerism under capitalism as capitalism is exploitative.
Our aim should not be to attack animal exploitation at the point of consumption but at the point of production.
Veganism is sold to people as a individual, lifestyle choice. We are often told about how many animals we can save by going vegan. By placing the responsibility on the individual to reduce the amount of animal products in their diet we are taking the blame away from the corporations who actually kill and slaughter animals for profit.
It also creates a division between those who can be vegan due to socio-economic reasons as good and those who can’t as bad without taking into consideration things like low wages, availability of food, free time to prepare and cook vegan meals etc. There is no economic or class analysis within vegan outreach (or the wider animal rights movement) that tries to understand why people are forced into eating unhealthy, non-vegan food, instead choosing to label all those who are not vegan as “part of the problem”.
The products that we promote are often expensive, unhealthy and unnecessary aspects of a vegan diet. There is too much focus on promoting a “mock omnivore” diet when the bulk of a healthy vegan diet should consist of fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains and pulses. Instead people are encouraged to eat processed fake meat instead of processed real meat. The change to their life is superficial at best.
This also leads to the most common argument against veganism: That it is too expensive or middle-class. Which is true if you look at veganism as it is promoted by capitalism (or animal rights groups). We perpetuate this argument by serving up nothing but expensive fake meats and cheeses instead of cheap, affordable dishes made from real vegan food.
When we set up food give-aways stalls or vegan fairs we are simply stating that veganism is a dietary choice. We do not even begin to discuss the myriad of ways in which animals are exploited for human benefit. People are lured into a false sense of satisfaction believing that by refusing to eat animal products they have done the maximum they can to reduce the amount of animal suffering in their lives.
Vegan capitalism, by which I mean the business of selling “vegan” products (i.e. fake meats, cheese, non-dairy milks etc.) benefits massively from the grass-roots animal rights movement. We are the perfect advertisement for their products. We go out into the streets and market their products to the public and best of all; we do it for free! We are unpaid workers for the vegan capitalists selling our labour for free because of some sense of moral or ethical duty.
Instead veganism should become a part of our everyday activism instead of a separate activity to promote on the side. Veganism is the rejection of the notion that animals exist solely for the benefit and consumption of humans and as such is an crucial aspect of animal liberation philosophy. When we are promoting veganism it should be because we want people to re-evaluate their relationship with animals and how they benefit from their position as humans in a human-centric society.
We should no longer promote veganism as an ethical version of capitalism but as an alternative to capitalism. Because to achieve animal liberation we require a social revolution that will shift society’s perspectives of animals, something that is not possible under capitalism. We need to start forming a critical analysis of capitalism from a vegan, animal liberation stance instead of trying to work around capitalism in order to save as many animals as possible.
Capitalism is a destructive force that needs to be stopped. It disregards all humans, animals and the Earth in pursuit of profit and it won’t stop until it has destroyed all live on Earth or unless we stop it. Veganism is a perfect starting point towards a radical critique of capitalism as animal agriculture is such a vital, ingrained aspect of it. But this can only happen through creating a radical vegan movement that does not just promote the products of vegan businesses but real, effective social change that will bring and end to all animal exploitation and benefit humans and animals greatly.