Veganism is a Collective Process

Veganism needs to be viewed as not simply individual change, but as a collective political process. Unfortunately, Speciesism and other forms of ideological controls often prevent us from seeing veganism as a collective process. In the recent article "Towards an Animal Standpoint: Vegan Education and the Epistemology of Ignorance," Robert Kahn illustrates how veganism becomes individualized (emphasis added):

While some schools have moved to try to incorporate a consistent vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) offering on the menu, the overall reality is that vegans are still treated like second-class citizens in most school cafeterias. Even when there is food provided for them to eat, the school experience is structured so as to reduce veganism to a personal "special dietary requirement" and not a collective political standpoint from which to mount a transformative critique of society. When exhaustive ingredient lists are not made openly available, or there is not clear transparency as to the manner in which the available food has been cooked, and staff are not properly educated so as to be able to easily answer questions about the food or its preparation, this constitutes a form of microaggression by school administrations against vegans (and by extension — all who eat at the school). It is crucial to remember, however, that behind these dietary microaggressions lies a macroaggressive institutional logic, not just the careless or uninformed aptitudes of individual administrators.

What Kahn calls "microaggressions" is anti-vegan backlash, which often takes the form of "jokes" and other actions that devalue veganism, as well as the devaluation of other animals. The "macroaggressive institutional logic" that Kahn mentions is speciesism, which bolsters anti-vegan backlash. As I explained in a pervious post on backlash:

The purpose of backlash is to eliminate opposition to oppression and reaffirm the status quo. Backlash directed at vegans represents specific expressions of speciesism that aim to marginalize, neutralize, co-opt, silence, and control veganism.

As Kahn points out, backlash is used to reduce veganism to a personal choice. In fact, many of us have internalized this individualization of veganism. In the same post I noted:

this backlash doesn't just come from non-vegans. The backlash can come from other vegans and from within ourselves. This type of backlash comes out of our own internalized dominance, which occurs when as humans we accept human superiority as normal and deserved, and when we deny the oppression experienced by nonhuman animals.

Speciesism and the backlash it engenders can work to make us feel isolated and unable to create change. In capitalist society this is further reinforced by the ideology of individualism.

When veganism is reduced to a personal diet it puts our place as individuals above the collective movement. This works to enhance our feelings of isolation and the sense that we can't create transformative change. Individualism is a leading factor in our internalization of speciesism. If we see our veganism as a personal choice, as opposed to part of an anti-oppression movement, then we are less likely to see vegan-based approaches to change.

For example, capitalism and individualism is behind the individualization and depoliticization of veganism that is found in the opinion of Tom Regan from "A Discussion with Tom Regan," printed in Ahimsa Oct/Dec 1987, where he says:

I think of activists in terms of people with a dollar bill in the wallet; that's the way I think of the real activists.

An activist is anyone who goes into the marketplace with a dollar in hand, who says "I'm going to buy this rather than that because it has something to do with the way that animals are treated."

This classist view of what Regan calls "the real activists" is actually a form of backlash that appropriates veganism as a form of neoliberalism promoting little more than the latest products labeled "vegan." Rather than each of us acting as individuals in the marketplace (and this excludes those of us without access to the marketplace), the way to create real social change comes from us working together to foster veganism as a social movement based on a collective process of anti-oppression.