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The Case Against Militant Veganism 




As the curtains are drawn close on another Veganuary, a flurry of news articles have hit my feed, touting the death of veganism, denouncing it as a passing fad that has finally begun to wane. Is veganism really on the decline? In the UK, the cost of living crisis has seen the decline in plant-based products, with producers pulling them from the shelves as people opt for cheaper alternatives. However, the decline of plant-based products does not necessarily signal the decline of veganism: it is possible to maintain a healthy vegan diet without most of your shopping consisting of ‘plant-based’, ultra-processed foods. 


One type of vegan comes to mind when columnists smugly declare veganism ‘over’ in a manner that reads like winning a culture war. This vegan archetype is the especially vocal, uncompromising kind, on social media, declaring unforgivingly that ‘meat is murder’, condemning those who indulge in dairy or animal products. There is no denying that consumption habits need to change, and that the Western diet is incredibly wasteful and has an incredibly high carbon footprint. Exponential growth, as current models are predated on, is not sustainable. However, shouting about it on the internet, dominating the discourse on veganism without any nuance, does veganism a disservice. 


Do these people exist in the real world? Anecdotally, yes. I have encountered a few in my time. Regardless of my experience, the particularly vocal vegan faction is, by the noise they generate and the antagonistic stance they take, a dominant impression in people’s minds when they picture ‘vegan’. This militant form of veganism actively hinders the cause of environmentalists, alienating people through the creation of an ‘us versus them’ dichotomy. 


The aim should be angled towards making changes that are conscientious, personally sustainable, and healthy. Food affects all of us, and it is a lifestyle change we could adopt to alter our carbon footprint and offset some environmental impacts. Whether this is through veganism, vegetarianism, or a general aim to reduce consumption of more pollutant, high-emissions foods, all represent a positive lifestyle change. This is the case against militant veganism for a gentler alternative. 


Diversifying the image of vegans - people adopt a vegan diet for a myriad of reasons, ranging from health and dietary reasons, ethical and environmental considerations, an attempt at Veganuary, the list goes on. 


Militant veganism, by contrast, is more ideological, tending to inflexibility and a vegan ‘clique’. Instead of respecting veganism as a personal choice, with the decision to follow a vegan diet being based on complex decisions, militant veganism seeks to impose aggressive veganism onto others. Examples include flooding restaurants that introduce meat into formerly plant-based menus with bad reviews and protesting outside of meat-serving establishments. These outlandish, inconsiderate actions hurt the vegan cause overall. 


Abiding by a vegan diet is not in and of itself inherently virtuous or good for the environment. Take vegan greenwashing, for example. Greenwashing refers to the process of leveraging environmental concerns to sell products which actually pose detrimental effects to the environment. Vegan greenwashing involves products, be they cosmetics, clothes, or foodstuffs, sold under the vegan label, but are more damaging to the environment than helpful. This could be because of the unethical conditions in which they were produced, the exploitation of human labor, the carbon footprint generated by producing the products; slapping the ‘vegan’ label onto it does not negate the negative ethical and environmental damages greenwashed products bring. The environment should be a conscientious consumer, to consider where your products are sourced from and the working conditions of the people who produced them. 


Moreover, a vegan diet is not necessarily the healthiest option for an individual. First, many vegan products touted as realistic alternatives to dairy or meat (such as vegan cheese or Beyond Meat burgers) are ultra-processed foods, which researchers are recently sounding the alarm on over the host of health risks they pose to individuals. This is not to say you cannot be a healthy vegan! The anti-vegan, pro-meat argument is tried and tired. What is important in following a vegan diet is to meet micronutrient requirements and eat good food. To reiterate, it is perfectly feasible to be a healthy, happy vegan. Vegan diets tend to be very good for you, in fact. Reducing consumption of unhealthy vegan options, with many of the meat and dairy substitutes falling into the ultra-processed category, is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle


The vegan diet is not necessarily the most financially viable in some circumstances, either. The cost of living crisis has seen people cut back on plant-based products in supermarkets and sales dropping. Vegan products can cost more, especially in the case of faux meat patties. That is not to say that one cannot afford to live on a vegan diet within a budget, but it takes more time to prep foods starting with ingredient bases, which some people who work long hours simply don’t have the time for. 


A final point on veganism compounds all that has been said on individual circumstances making the issue of which diet people choose to follow far more complex than militant veganism’s denunciation of those who eat meat as evil. Those who struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders can use veganism as a restrictive diet and a means to control their food intake. This is not healthy and actively harms individuals. Thus, the circumstances of following a vegan diet are more complicated and more individual than militant vegans claim. 


All in all, veganism, whilst one great option to be more environmentally conscious, is not a one-size-fits-all movement. Understanding why it may not be viable to maintain a vegan diet, be it for reasons around health, finances, or others, is crucial to the vegan movement. Other small changes go a long way, from vegetarianism, flexitarianism, generally cutting down on consuming products with higher carbon footprints, the ‘Climatarian’ diet (excluding beef, lamb, and goat, limits poultry, pork, and fish from your diet), all are adjustments that people can adopt to be more conscious in their consumption habits and better the planet. 


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