Real Vegan Options: Veganism and Social Justice

I believe real vegan options are those that model the vegan ideal of nonexploitation. In this way vegan options are intertwined with social justice. From its beginnings veganism has sought social justice, including an equitable use of the Earth's resources and materials.

I question the validity of promoting processed convenience foods and other consumer goods as increasing vegan options. I question it in part because I see it as the neoliberalization of the movement, but on a more basic level I see it as an invalid model for the vegan ideal.

For instance, only a small percentage of people make the majority of the purchases in our society. This means that equating vegan options with purchasing power or consumption privileges an inequitable use of the Earth's resources and materials. In other words, these consumer products do not represent real options for the majority of us.

So there is a drastic difference from framing vegan options in terms of promoting products for individual consumers and framing vegan options in terms of social justice whereby meaningful options are made available to everyone. This is especially important in terms of food and diet, which means seeing how radical food justice and anti-hunger politics are an integral part of veganism.

A real model for vegan options that is true to the movements' food justice roots would include an approach paralleling Food First's programs with consideration to the fact that:

In the United States, the livelihood struggles of low-income, African-American, Native-American, Latino-American, Asian-American and immigrant communities are at the center of our programs for food justice and agricultural sustainability. Low-income people of color are mobilizing locally, forming national coalitions, drafting legislation, and reaching out internationally in their efforts to build healthy, equitable, food systems that contribute to the social and economic development of their communities.

Like Food First is doing, the vegan movement needs to re-place social justice and community development at the center of our model for promoting vegan-based options. It was there in the beginning and it needs to be restored.

Food First also notes that, "Dismantling the industrial agri-foods complex at the local food system level must be accompanied by the construction of alternatives that suit the needs of small-scale producers and low-income consumers, worldwide." Its program "focuses on farmer alternatives to corporate control over production and consumption."

Simply labeling processed consumer products "vegan" is complicit, even collaborative, in increasing corporate control over production and consumption. It doesn't construct alternatives suited to modeling the vegan ideal.

Rather, real vegan options that offer alternatives to corporate control are modeled by people like Don Bustos of Santa Cruz Farm, a stock-free organic farm in northern New Mexico's Espanola Valley. However, I agree with Kath Clements, author of Why Vegan: The Ethics of Eating & the Need for Change, when she writes, "Community-scale, not family-scale, farming and horticulture seem more appropriate." Rather than individual farms being run by a family and selling their produce at farmers' markets, I picture a system of farms like Bustos' controlled by the communities so that everyone has access to good, healthy food. Real vegan options would frame food production and consumption as a commons, not a commodity.