Matt Ball at the Vegan Outreach blog describes a common problem for vegan educators:
“Vegan Outreach often receives criticism that the meal examples / food items we mention don’t measure up. We should promote only whole foods, or raw foods, or cheap foods, or organic / veganic foods, or local foods, or foods sold at vegan-only stores, etc.”
I’ve experienced this myself. Sometimes if I write an article for the Vegan Soapbox and my article suggests a particular food, then I’ll often hear some criticism. They’ll tell me about how this or that brand produces nonvegan products and thus they’ll conclude it’s not vegan to buy the entire brand, regardless of the actual product’s vegan-ness, taste, convenience, etc.
If I bring a food to a vegan potluck inevitably there’s at least one curmudgeon who complains that the food isn’t sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free, local, organic, GMO-free, or [fill in the blank] enough for them. They think vegan means [fill in the blank with something other than simply 'avoidance of animal products'] and they’ll fight tooth and nail to promote their own version of veganism.
Luckily, the critics are in the minority. And luckily, those haters are so fickle that they never stick around long enough to really get under my skin.
But none of that is what this article is about. This article is about educating people about veganism. This article is meant to make us all think about being the most effective vegan advocates we can be.
“There is no point in showing people the revolting hidden horrors of modern agribusiness if the alternative seems unappealing and/or so strange as to be beyond consideration.”
He’s right that if we show vegan food we should strive to make that food as accessible and appealing as possible.
What constitutes “accessible and appealing” varies for different audiences. For some groups that means emphasizing inexpensive vegan foods that are available in mainstream supermarkets. For other groups of people, the most appealing aspects of vegan food are the ones that make veganism seem inaccessible to others: the ideas of extravagance, indulgence, and richness.
Consider a fair trade, organic, vegan chocolate bar (that costs $8). That chocolate bar appeals to a certain group of eaters whereas it’s the exact opposite to another group of eaters.
What about vegan deli slices and melty vegan cheese? To some people, that’s an easy, familiar food that makes trying veganism simple. To others, that’s a reminder of dead animals and suffering. Some people will love the convenience factor. Others will hate the idea of eating anything they think of as processed.
Or how about a raw ratatouille? One person will imagine something exciting, challenging, flavorful, and healthy while another person will think, “raw rat… what?” To the second person, the ratatouille will sound complicated, weird, and scary.
But don’t get too worried about which vegan foods to promote. Here’s why:
1. Of course, there is a point to showing people the truth even if the alternative is beyond consideration. There’s always a point to education even if the knowledge isn’t used immediately and directly. Eventually, generally, truth begets good.
Educating people about the horrors of modern agribusiness, like this:
is 100% worthwhile, with or without suggestions for alternative food choices. People need to know the truth. People need to know the truth, even when it’s disgusting, sad, terrifying, disturbing, and grotesque. People need to know what is happening. People need to know where their food comes from. People need to know.
2. The other reason to just go forth and educate is because “perfect is the enemy of good.” If you worry too much about being the perfect vegan or about having the perfect vegan food that will satisfy everyone, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot striving for an impossible perfection.
Besides, this is all part of the plan. If you’re anything like most vegans, you went vegan in order to be the person you want to be: a good person, a better version of yourself. Part of the process of becoming a better person is making mistakes along the way. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself. You must forgive yourself to move forward.
It’s the same with advocacy. You don’t know what works until you try. You don’t know where your real skills lie, until you test them. So just do it. Just pick some vegan food, the food you like to eat, and use that food in your education.
This article was originally published in August 2010. It has been republished to read a new audience.