Time for compassion
Vegan food is creating headlines globally as media outlets fall over themselves to push plant-based eating as a trend in order to drive readership. You cannot go a week without a UK national news outlet trumpeting vegan food as the thing to watch. Even your friendly FGV got swept up in this recent wave of interest.
As exciting as this hyper-interest in meat and dairy free eating is, one important component is missing from all the stories.
The feverish media speculation is obsessed with personal appearance, weight loss, glowing skin and how individuals can advance their own situation using diet. There is no talk of reducing harm to animals.
Many vegan activists believe this is no big deal. They believe we should be grateful for any reduction in the consumption of animal products, no matter the motivation.
I disagree and I think it sets a dangerous precedent.
Take the example of Ella Woodward, author of blog and cook book Deliciously Ella.
Ella Woodward has enjoyed a previously unseen ride to the top. After cultivating a staggering amount of followers on social media by using terms such as #plantbased and #vegan, Woodward launched her first book off the back of one of the biggest pre-order campaigns the UK has ever seen. She has been signed up as a regular contributor to a major newspaper and her book is the fastest selling debut since records began.
Read this article about Woodward’s success and you will be in awe of the amount of people she reaches. Millions of people, in fact. But what is truly staggering about the reporting of her success? There is absolutely no mention of animal welfare as a motivation for eating vegan food. Woodward actually brushes off vegans as a group she has no interest in joining.
This is where a lot of people will offer the opinion that it doesn’t matter why people are eating vegan food, just as long as more of them are doing it. As I stated above, I disagree.
An ethical approach to food is desperately needed on our planet. Humans are incredibly disconnected from the immense suffering related to the food industry and what they need is compassionate spokespeople giving reasons why we all need to care more about the protection of non-human animals.
What Ella Woodward and her ilk do is create and cash in on individualistic hysteria surrounding personal advancement. They ignore outward-looking reasons for incorporating vegan eating into a lifestyle, choosing instead to drive sales by appealing to stereotypical and damaging notions of personal appearance and being the best person you can be for you.
I am not against individuals striving for physical wellbeing, but I am concerned that the most-featured spokesperson for vegan food in the UK during 2015 has nothing to say about compassion for anything other than herself.
We need to transition away from these themes of individualism and start seriously championing ideas around community and interspecies kindness. We need to think of others when we vote, we need to think of others when we obtain wealth and we need to think of others when we make food choices.
We need to think less of ourselves as the main motivation for all of our actions and that includes why we eat what we eat.
I believe plant-based eating is more likely to stick when it is driven by concerns and forces outside the individual. A message of plant foods giving wellness is a message worth sharing, but it is incomplete without the underpinning message of compassion.
A final thought: as the media heralds the arrival of Ella Woodward and others without compassion for animals in their message, we face the very real situation of non-vegans making huge amounts of money as they muddle and contradict vegan objectives.
An interview with Ella Woodward this week revealed that she doesn’t have a hard time in most restaurants she visits because anyone can cook up a simple piece of fish.
Fellow vegans, this is your plant-based eating superstar and media darling of 2015.
Very well put, Sean.
The focus on health aspects of a plant-based diet, apart from missing a major point, sets new followers up for failure. We always want a quick fix, and writers like Ella Woodward do nothing to dispel the idea that switching your bacon-and-eggs for an organic green smoothie will open all the doors to unlimited success. When people end up disappointed that they have not overnight become marathon runners/cover models/millionaires they will look at the changes they made (eating more plants) and blame those for their shortcomings, and become more vocal opponents (of eating more plants, and of all those plant-eaters who encouraged them to) than they had ever been.
Not to mention that it gives a very simplistic, black-and-white view of “health”, where genetics, socioeconomic status, and luck don’t feature.
It’s sad and frustrating, but I guess all we can do is continue to respectfully voice the compassion issue, explain our lifestyle in a non-hysterical manner, demonstrate its practicality (e.g. not everyone can shop at organic farmers’ markets all the time, but they can still be vegan) and hope that when people get bored of Ella they don’t throw the vegan baby out with the Ella bathwater.
I share your frustrations! This is very much what I felt at the time of responding to your ‘Get it straight’ piece too. How anyone thinks “embracing a fully vegan lifestyle” (quote taken from the linked piece) equates to simply eating a predominantly plant-based diet I will never understand!
The more the media and its stars confuse/refuse to dispel this myth, the longer it takes for the wider public to understand the compassionate ethical and environmental purposes and benefits of veganism.
I am more than fond of a healthy lifestyle myself, but my choice to go vegan was based on animal welfare rather than my own!