Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Ka-ching! That's What We Like to Hear": Why the Vegan Society isn't Vegan

Many abolitionists have been very disheartened by the new Vegan Society campaign that replaced 70 years of uncompromised vegan outreach with the rhetoric favored by welfare organizations:  You no longer need to go vegan to help Nonhuman Animals, you only need to "reduce" by changing your consumption patterns in whatever way suits you, "your own way."

No longer is veganism framed as an important political action.  Now it's about consuming:
Already, people have been getting in touch with us to say how much they love to eat vegan food and wear vegan lipstick, and (this is the best bit) how they’ll be thinking more about their shopping choices as a result of this campaign. Ka-ching! That’s what we like to hear.
The Society then asks readers to connect with a wider audience by sharing their branded "You don't have to be vegan" posters on social media sites.  Also, they request readers to donate or to become a member (membership is another form of financial donation).  The vegan labeling scheme, first developed to assist vegans in navigating a speciesist world and to draw attention to the vegan movement, now operates more like a brand intended to increase sales.

This shift is not unlike the paths taken by other non-profits in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement (and organizations from other movements as well).  Organizations are often pressured to enter the non-profit system as a matter of survival.  That is, organizations rely on financial support in order to operate as they grow larger.  This is partly due to societal ideologies where "bigger" is considered "better," and increasing bureaucracy is conflated with increasing effectiveness. The caveat, however, is that the fixation on organizational growth and the dependence on financial support necessitates the degeneration of social change goals.

The non-profit system is relatively new in the history of social movement activism.  A path dependency is created where organizations feel that getting bigger and wealthier is necessary for survival and influence.  Unfortunately, to tap into grant money and to appeal to the largest pool of potential donors, organizations cannot hold on to social change appeals that demand major structural changes.  First, grant monies typically come from foundations set up by wealthy capitalists who got rich off of these same exploitative structural conditions and who seek to maintain this system by carefully selecting who will get their money and what they will do with it.  "Veganism" is a scary word for those who benefit from exploitation.  "You don't have to be vegan" is a lot more palatable.  It doesn't necessitate any serious behavior change, and it keeps the system in tact.  Non-profitization keeps social change under the thumb of the state and elite corporations.  Focusing on consumption keeps the capitalist system satisfied.

Of course, veganism is unique because it is, ultimately, about what we consume--what we eat, what we wear, etc.  However, framing veganism solely about what we buy detracts from the political and social justice foundations to veganism as a social movement.  The Vegan Society was founded by a group of women and men who wanted the world to do right by other animals.  Their goal was not to become peddlers of expensive vegan products. Veganism began as a movement to end speciesism, but it is quickly becoming no more than a marketing label to increase sales.  Within this framework, people don't become vegans or activists, they become consumers.  Appealing to capitalist interests with the goal of deconstructing capitalist exploitation is a problematic tactic.