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Read between the vegan headlines

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They say bad news travels fast, but I’d race vegan news against it.

It doesn’t take much more than setting up a “vegan” Google alert or joining your local vegan Facebook chapter to watch how one small mention of the word can result in repost after repost. You might think I’m heading towards the praising of vegan popularity or the efforts of online advocacy, but by now, you should expect I’m here to talk about what others won’t; the negative effect of spreading inaccurate vegan headlines.

To better illustrate the sort of vegan headlines I’m referring to, I’d like to take two examples that have been making their rounds over the last week. On one side, vegans sharing the news that Tesla has “gone vegan.” On the other, the non-vegan promotion that you don’t have to go full vegan to get the health benefits.

Let’s start with the Tesla bit. It started innocently enough, when Electrek shared the news that the car company was no longer offering leather seating. They point out that while Tesla hasn’t made mention of it, their “premium” material is synthetic, and the only available option when tinkering with the configuration page that allows you to choose your dream car. That information was enough for vegans to race to their blogs to celebrate the brand for being kind and sustainable. But many chose to ignore the bit about the steering wheels still being wrapped in leather, or worse, mentioned it only in a bid to sweep that small amount of animal exploitation under the rug as a “baby step” forward.

I’m all for celebrating vegan products, but Tesla has always had the availability to make vegan cars, and still only can by request. It’s the selective broken telephone reporting I’m against. I guess we should start writing blogs about any base model Volkswagen because they come with cloth seats.  And it’s time to start calling all the entry-level luxury cars with leather-faced front seats and vinyl back seats “half vegan”. Look, if vinyl bucket seats in 1970’s muscle cars have taught us anything, it’s that car manufacturers sometimes opt for materials other than leather for reasons completely outside of animal rights or sustainability. And we can’t celebrate Tesla-loving non-vegans for getting a car with synthetic seats any sooner, when it’s done completely without choice. And I know we’re not going to pretend that someone sitting on non-leather seats could be the start of someone’s “vegan journey” either. Instead, it leans towards the numbers game where we think this could offset at least some of the ‘suffering’ in the world. It’s no doubt how the current (and completely warped) “eat beef instead of chickens” narrative became in any way popular.

At it’s best, it’s just people getting excited that if they save enough coin, they can have a vegan car. At it’s worst, it’s mislabelling and added confusion for those who don’t understand the necessity of veganism.

Naturally, I find vegans getting too excited about synthetic fabric somewhat better than non-vegans celebrating that they don’t have to ditch animal products to be considered on team healthy again. Last week, Bloomberg told the world that you don’t have to go vegan to get the full health benefits, and that the reduction of animal products in our diets can do more good than becoming a “french fry vegan”. The theory was built off of a Journal of the American College of Cardiology study that looked at the increased risk of health problems that come from processed foods that happen to also be plant-based, namely sugary drinks and fried potatoes. And although it no surprise that junk food isn’t good for you, animal proteins are still shown as contributing to higher risks of heart disease (among other illnesses). But the headline is as far as many needed to go, and all plant foods are somehow villainized as the story gets distilled from news source to news source.

It’s a pretty frivolous focus, as the general public has already been told ten times over that sweetened drinks and potatoes aren’t health foods, and that we should be getting our 5-10 veg a day. And yet, everyone everywhere decided to accept “at least I’m getting my heart disease from low calorie egg white omlettes and a side of baked hash browns, and not directly from french fries”. I get it, anything that tells us that we can keep doing the bad things we’re doing is good.

But as with all things that inaccurately highlight a plant-based diet as being vegan, the ‘full benefits’ that are forgotten are the ones for the victims. Going vegan is about recognizing what’s fair and acting in favour of ending the exploitation of animals. What you choose to have for dinner can respect that whether or not it’s healthy, even though I’m sure few of us survive on the vegan ice creams and freezer pizzas we love. There’s no doubt this latest frenzy is a bid to counter the excitement that’s followed the Netflix release of What The Health.

So what’s a vegan do to with all these headlines? Well, for starters, wear your most inquisitive hat when reading. We have to challenge ourselves to break out of the reactionary narrative of our social platforms that beg us to emote, forward, and repeat information we may not have digested yet. And we have to help create headlines that help.

Being clear about the moral obligation of veganism has to be our starting point, so veganism is fully understood. Once that’s understood, sharing great vegan recipes, product finds, and other news with fellow vegans and those considering the position can be fun. There’s no need to try to cling to advancements that follow our demands as reasoning for other’s to create demand–the animals must remain the reason. And for the smear campaigns and propaganda that will inevitably continue to ebb and flow counteractively, we find valuable opportunities to educate others. Debunk, rebuttal and clap back, but do so with cogency.

We should aspire to push veganism into the headlines when it helps others better understand the necessity and ease of veganism. That mean helping people see past the bold type face, the breaking news promises, and the hype for the truth.

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