Although veganism is on the rise, and the numbers of vegans is steadily increasing, there are some within the vegan movement that shy away from using the word vegan in advocay and campaigning. Even some animal advocacy organisations use plantbased, or obscure acronyms like veg’n or even veggie instead of vegan. This seems to be informed by the idea that the word vegan is a deterrent and scares people away, supposedly hindering them from making lifestyle changes that would benefit animals. The main reason why the word vegan is seen as a deterrent is that it is perceived as something ‘extreme’, or on a personal level, associated with ‘extremists’ and ‘fanatics’.
First, the alternatives mentioned above hardly carry the same meaning as the label vegan. Veggie can refer to vegetables, but is also used to refer to lacto-ovo-vegetarians (thus including the use of eggs and dairy). Plantbased refers to a diet that focuses on whole plant foods (and in short: no processed foods like sausages and burgers, even if they do not contain animal products). Both veggie and plantbased in essence refer to a diet (what one eats), while being vegan goes beyond diet (and transpires in all aspects of life) and is a justice issue. Lumping vegetarians and vegans together under the acronym veg’ns might serve some generalising descriptive reasons, but it fails to appreciate the big ideological gap between vegetarianism and veganism.
If people hardly ever hear the word vegan, how can we expect them to embrace the philosophy of veganism?
Second, associating veganism with something ‘extreme’, or associating vegans with an image of aggressive or fanatical activists, is a false portrayel. It hardly does justice to the reality that vegans come in all sorts. Yes, there might be some who resort to some extreme or aggressive tactics to get the message across, but there are also many – if not more – who do that in a friendly and ‘softer’ manner (by which I’m not saying anything about which method is the ‘best’, that can be the subject of later blogposts). The ‘angry’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘extreme’ vegan is a steretypical portrayel that is happily fed and fostered by opponents of vegan advocacy and campaigning. Vegan advocacy can, and most often is, friendly, compassionate and caring. Veganism is afterall a philosophy based on compassion, respect, rights and justice, and there’s nothing extreme about that.
Third, the omission of the word vegan entails a vicious circle: the less the word vegan is used in mainstream language, in books, magazines, on menus, in advertising and campaigning, the less likely it is to become a ‘household’ name as it were. If people hardly ever hear the word, how can we expect them to embrace the philosophy of veganism? How can we make them interested in veganism, if they never hear about it in the first place?
It is like a self fulfulling prophecy. Thinking that one will come across as extreme when using vegan, one decides not to talk about veganism, or use the word vegan –> So veganism or vegan hardly gets mentionned, and nobody gets to know it, or what it stands for –> Whenever the word vegan subsequently is used, it is then indeed perceived as extreme (because it stands out on those occasions), thus, fulfilling the self imposed prophecy.
So from a pragmatic point of view, it is also important to use the word vegan, and not resort to some eufemisms. It helps to make veganism mainstream.
So just say the word: vegan! Repeat: vegan!
This is an important post! I used to feel that vegan had certain connotations and I’ve come to understand that just like any other stereotype it is important that vegans aren’t given a single story. Vegans are diverse, just as any other group is diverse, and the message that goes with the title of veganism shouldn’t be hidden behind terms like “plant based”.
Thanks for your feedback! Totally agree!
Just a heads up: the link in your gravatar doesn’t work properly (it links to soyouthinyoucanvegan.wordpress.com – there’s a “k” missing there).
You know, I’m really behind this whole point you make. But I’ve started to consider not calling myself outright vegan in front of strangers I first met because I don’t always feel like being branded and singled out for something that doesn’t matter in the specific context. Like I don’t want to go to my regular pub and have drink and have a chat with someone I just met, only to be pushed aside because of the word “vegan” and someone’s short-sighted associations with it.
In my experience, the ones making a fuss of it are the non-vegans, but how can I make sure to have a nice time with friends if they always subconsciously choose to ask all about veganism over dinner, only to be mad at me for talking about it so much? I’m tired of making it such an overstated point. I want to just choose my own way of life and be done with it. I want to enjoy getting to know other people instead of hearing why they hate vegans or love meat. I want to just be able to talk about other things when I first eat together with people I’m getting to know a little better. I wish I could just focus on getting to know them a little better. You know what I mean?
So, if the word vegan illicits a reaction that I’m trying to suppress their choices, I rather just make both me and them feel better by getting a chance of talking about the manyfold other things in life.
Hi Maarten, thanks for your thoughts. I think there are two issues here: not wanting to have to explain or justify one’s choices all the time in social situations. If the questions keep coming, you could for example say that you have a lot of documentation and are happy to forward them the info later on. Also depends on whether you being vegan is an issue that is brought up in the conversation in the first place, or is some of the first things that needs to be discussed when meeting strangers (I can understand that it is brought up, eg when sitting at a dinner table for a party, and you alone are served a vegan meal, and then the questions start coming, …), but in other social situations it doesn’t need to be one of the introductory lines (for example, I’ve never said, hi, I’m vegan! to a stranger 😉
On the other hand there’s the use of the word vegan in such conversations about veganism, if the topic does come up. I think this is truly important, and even if it is only to say that you will give them some information later on, to use the word vegan or refer to veganism (because of the reasons in this post).
Hope that makes some sence 🙂
Great post, so true. Great points. There are so many people who just have an instant response in their minds to what it means, most of which are so wrong and we have to keep getting it out there to make people more aware of what it really means.
Agreed. If even vegans don’t explain it, who will?
Hi Trudi, Very good advice, if only non-vegans use the word likely is delivered in a tone that is probably dismissive, or associated with eye rolls. I am going to be more proactive on this now 🙂
Thanks for your feedback Bill! And yes, keep saying it: vegan 🙂
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