In a recent court case, Jordi Casamitjana accused his employer – League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity – of firing him due to his ethical veganism. The case is further complicated as Casamitjana had exposed the charity’s investment of its pension funds in firms involved in animal testing, contradicting the League’s ethos. A full resolution is yet to be reached, although judge Robin Postle has ruled, under the Equality Act (2010), that vegans qualify for legal protection due to their lifestyle choices. The reasoning for this is that veganism is a philosophical belief, comparable to religion, which influences all daily decisions. This discourse has sparked the kindling debate surrounding militant veganism.
At this stage, it is important to recognise that generalising about vegans is risky. Groups of people who align themselves with broadly the same ideal should not necessarily be perceived as a distinct bloc and thus it must be acknowledged that each individual presents their own variation. Today, veganism is practiced in many different forms. Consequently, however, it is increasingly unclear which standards one must abide by to legitimately self-identify as vegan. Is being a dietary vegan enough? Or is lifestyle veganism also a requirement (meaning the rejection of animal products in one’s cosmetics and clothing, amongst other daily amenities)? Or is ethical veganism – the form of veganism Casamitjana practices – the only pure strand? Casamitjana avoids interacting with non-vegans and doesn’t use buses because they kill insects as they drive along. Surely this is a bit far – or is it just me?
Casamitjana’s hardline approach is effectually polarising society, counteracting the positive progress the vegan movement is making. Although many committed vegans do, unlike Casamitjana, claim that they would never think less of a peer or relation for being an omnivore, this perfunctory courteousness is, unfortunately, often accompanied with a sense of conceitedness, through which the said vegan’s belief in their self-righteousness and superiority can be identified.
The new year and Veganuary, for many, constitute the ideal time to experiment with food. But pledging to cut down one’s meat intake, or try being vegetarian or vegan for a month or so, does little to satisfy the increasingly cult-like high-and-mighty militant vegans. If you think about a Lebeneat chicken shawarma wrap with anything other than disgust then you should be condemned to hell. Apparently.
The sad thing about all this is that a minority of vegans are ruining the movement, and the popular perception of it, for the many. At the end of the day, it is hard to argue with the ethos of dietary veganism. Who doesn’t want to save animals and the planet? But shaming people about being tempted by the smell of cooking bacon is not the way to get people onside.
As hardline vegans become more vocal, veganism as an entity is increasingly submerged in a sense of exclusivity. This is where a shift is required. Individuals within the vegan community can all play their part in ensuring that it is not swamped by this negativity and self-righteousness, and instead promote an atmosphere of inclusiveness. This is the way to move forward: small steps and encouragement. It may not be the quickest or surest route to worldwide change but, crucially, the entrenchment of further social divides can be avoided.
The importance of this prospect should not be underestimated, especially when considering the existing conflicts of view that have irreparably damaged society. Revolutions are seldom unequivocally successful. Rather, change is most significant when it is slow and stable, for only then can beliefs and habits become deeply rooted.
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