In a recent Facebook dust-up, I decided to weigh-in on the hot topic at hand:
Should vegans only support vegan, or vegan-owned, businesses?
While I understand arguments to the affirmative, that yes, we should only support vegan businesses because we shouldn’t be giving our money to businesses that contribute to animal consumption or explotation; I think this is the narrow view. I also think this is largely impossible for most people who live in the normal world, myself included.
By only patronizing vegan or vegan-owned businesses, we keep veganism in the margins, where it can do the least amount of good. Eating at establishments that are not vegan is what has made the overall demand higher. If we only stick to vegan businesses, omnivore business owners will shrug and say, “Eh, there’s no demand for vegan products. We offer it, no one buys it” and there’s a huge lost opportunity.
I think this idea of non-participation is naive. We do not have the numbers to crush businesses with our boycotts. What we do have the numbers and influence for, however, is to increase the demand for animal-free products and services.
And we’re seeing this success everywhere. It’s spreading like wildfire. We have major fast food restaurants offering vegan options, we can search for vegan shoes and apparel at most online stores, we can easily buy cruelty-free beauty products. The world is exploding open for us. Diary consumption is down 12%, beef consumption has been falling for the last five or so years, and infographics like these are popping up on major news sources:
My friend Sara and I recently got massages together (her Christmas present to me). There’s no vegan spa around that I know of, but regardless, we went to a spa that is owned by a friend of hers and we asked that our massages be done using only vegan products. The staff told us that all the massage products are already vegan, it was no problem. Hurrah! THAT is what we want, we want veganism to be the baseline. We want enough people going into ALL businesses saying the “V-word” that it becomes the lowest common denominator: better make it vegan and then everyone will be happy.
I want veganism to be like vegetarianism and gluten-free in the sense that all businesses, particularly restaurants, feel like they need to at least offer vegan options because they know there is a high demand for it.
None of this will happen if we only peer out at the world from vegan shadows.
I’m extremely grateful to people who make menu changes at their non-vegan restaurants so I can operate in the normal, every day world. If I have a business meal to attend or I need to buy lunch on any given day, I don’t have the ability to drive to a different neighborhood in San Diego to pick something up from a vegan restaurant. I can, however, go to the nearby establishments that offer vegan options and show them that there is a high and growing demand for these products. I can go with coworkers, advisors and vendors, order vegan options and possibly they will order them, too. I can be an ambassador, an advocate, in ways that I would not be able to if I refused to go (which would also be very bad for my career).
It is one thing to stand up for your beliefs. It’s another to shoot yourself in the foot.
Being vegan out in the normal world is the most powerful activism we can do on a daily basis. It is what makes “vegan” a less and less weird concept to the common omnivore. The more we normalize veganism, the better. People will be far more apt to go vegan and stay vegan if it’s seen as something that can be easily done and will not ostracize them from the community at large. If we ostracize ourselves, we deeply hurt the movement.
And finally, if we vegans remove ourselves from normal, daily life, we miss the joy of seeing the small changes that are occurring every single day. To be blunt, every vegan I’ve talked to who refuses to attend non-vegan events and patronize non-vegan establishments is miserable. Why? Well because, to them the world is this animal slaughtering death machine! Of course they’re miserable! They only see, from the vegan shadows, that the world still consumes animals. What they are not seeing, or are taking no joy from, is the little fires of hope that are burning brighter every day.
But I see them. By being out in the world, I see them clearly and my heart hurts with all the hope they give me. I have coworkers who now do Meatless Mondays with their kids. Friends who are teachers whose students are receptive and proactive and concerned. People who hear that I’m vegan and say, “That’s awesome!!!” More and more vegan options everywhere I go.
Social issues are tough. They are brutal. I understand. But we need people working both outside the system AND inside of it. We cannot disappear into our safe vegan caves and sneer at the outside world. That only accomplishes to keep veganism as a weird fringe movement when, babies, we are ready to be mainstream. We are ready for our spotlight.
Participate in the world. Drop the “V-word”. Use your beautiful light to be a guide, don’t snuff it out by living in shadows. The world needs you.
Burger Infographic: Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, December, 2011.
Credit: Producers: Eliza Barclay, Jessica Stoller-Conrad; Designer: Kevin Uhrmacher/NPR