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Identity Crisis: Why Vegetarian Organizations Promoting Veganism Should Change Their Names

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Who’s afraid of a little V? No, in this case, that doesn’t mean vagina or virginity. V is for vegan, and it’s time we own the word with pride and compassion! Everywhere I look, organizations and festivals are calling themselves vegetarian or simply “veg,” when they’re 100% vegan. So why shy away from the word? What makes it so scary? In Washington, DC, vegan organization Compassion Over Killing runs DC Vegfest, who describe themselves as a celebration of vegetarian food, but have strict vegan requirements for vendors. UK Vegfest is the largest network of vegan festivals in Great Britain. The Toronto Vegetarian Associated, just down the road from our office at Ecorazzi, openly promotes a vegan lifestyle but refers to it using the word “vegetarian” in all of their materials. The North American Vegetarian Society also promotes veganism, and have an all-vegan Vegetarian Summerfest as their annual conference. While I would never badger an individual to openly identify as vegan if it’s outside their comfort zone (perhaps question, but never badger), I do wonder why larger organizations wouldn’t want to promote the concept of veganism in a positive way, and I don’t think I’m being too picky here.

It’s a rather absurd concept, and the opposite of what we usually experience as vegans. What tends to annoy us the most is when a vegetarian calls themselves vegan, but what happens when the reverse is the case? At best, it causes a good deal of befuddlement and muddies definitions. At worst, it’s a poor reflection on veganism. These are organizations and events openly promoting veganism, but don’t want to outright say it.

Within the context of the world in which we’re all living, the world vegetarian refers to not consuming meat while still purchasing, eating, and using other forms of animal products. When Donald Watson defined the word “vegan” in 1944 to cover all animal exploitation, he saved us a ton of confusion and miscommunication and gave fantastic definition to the direction that animal rights activism needed to move in from there on out. Referring to explicitly vegan events and activist groups as vegetarian is rejecting from a word and a concept that could really use a positive drive behind it, as being a vegan person is oftentimes a rather uphill battle on an individual level. Veganism is diversifying more every day as animal and community activists work to make it a more accessible lifestyle for anyone to adopt, as opposed to being complacent in its stereotype as a choice that only the most privileged can make. The Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank is one such organization, providing vegan food to vulnerable populations who want to eat the kindest diet that they can, so big ups to them, and here’s hoping they adopt the word vegan!

The biggest reason that an organization might reject the word vegan is the most important argument in favour of using the word vegan – because many folks outside of the animal rights community find it to be aggressive and a turn-off. There’s an idea that vegans are bad for business. Do militant vegans exist? Yes, as do militant members of every social movement, anywhere on the political spectrum. Do most vegans walk around with a bottle of fake blood to throw, ‘just in case?’ Nah, and I’d say as a whole, far more of us are interested in getting our vegan pizza fix in and making good conversation with non-vegans about why we make the choices we do and how they impact the world. As such a young social movement, we’re going through the typical growing pains of making our purposes clear while still being approachable, and a great way for vegetarian-gone-vegan groups is to make a name change and welcome soon-to-be vegans with the open arms that they’ve had all along. Perhaps a more practical reason is that changing the name of a nationally known organization and re-doing tax forms and the like is a pain in the ass, but some pains in the ass are worth it, and this is one of them! Also, plenty organizations got their start in the 80s and 90s as vegetarian groups, and have since evolved into something much more compassionate towards non-human animals.

I’m proud of my veganism, as one person, and even prouder to work for a vegan publication that is outright in our intention no matter how much we’re criticized. I look forward to seeing businesses, activist groups, and event organizers start to own “the v word,” and adapt and evolve to openly promote veganism.

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  • Dominique Ng

    I do get your point, but I think vegetarian organitzations should not change their names and should rather make other veg org (meatless omnivore org) promote only veganism; to recapture the definition of vegetarianism, meaning vegan/plant-based diet.

  • AllVegan

    Vegan is a relatively new word in the plant based diet community. The original word for Vegan was Pure Vegetarian. and people who ate Animal excretions were Lacto Vegetarians or Lacto, Ovo Vegetarians if they ate eggs too. The Carnie Community has worked hard to demonize the word Vegan. The inference being that Vegans are nuts who care about Animals over their own health, rejecting leather and living on Red Bull and Orios. Because of that, Many people are replacing the word Vegan with Whole Foods Plant Based Diet, as it more accurately represents what a healthy eating plan looks like. It is unclear how all this will shake out in the end, however criticizing organizations promoting healthy eating habits because they are using the wrong word is to say the least misguided.

  • vegan truth seeker

    You’re absolutely right…!

    I live in a very conservative, narrow-minded country and back in the late 90’s when I became a vegetarian I had to explain all the time to people the reasons why I had made that choice and most of them didn’t understand nor respected my decision.
    I was criticized and put in the spotlight and always having to justify my choice to people, and I almost had to apologize for being vegetarian!
    It became so tiresome I began hiding the fact I was a vegetarian… a closet-vegetarian 🙂

    As I became older and wiser, and more certain of my convictions I embraced the ‘clash’ between non-veg*ans and I, and I became so good at justifying and explaining my choice that I can now refute any argument a non-veg*an uses to justify their ‘choice’ to eat animals and use animal products.

    Now I’m a proud vegan, I make sure everyone knows it and I don’t give a f*** if I make animal abusers uncomfortable by confronting them with their life choice.

    Therefore I think it’s important that all those vegan organizations (and all individual vegans) stand up and be proud of being vegan and promoting veganism…

    Why should we be ashamed of being vegan?
    If someone is doing the right thing it’s vegans and if someone is doing the wrong thing it’s animal abusers!!!

    • KJ

      I understand where you’re coming from, and I know many people feel the way you do. But I think in your response you may have illuminated one reason why some vegan organisations don’t use the word ‘vegan’.

      The fact is, in order to convince the unconverted, veg organisations need the ‘animal abusers’ (as you describe them) to first be OPEN to hearing their message. If they are made to feel ‘uncomfortable’, however deserving in your eyes, then they are highly likely to switch off and ignore the message entirely. This makes effective advocacy very hard. And that hurts animals.

      If organisations succeed in helping omnis eat fewer animal products and therefore help more animals, I personally don’t care if they call themselves vegetarian, vegan, or whateverarian. I don’t think the animals care either.

  • Influential Vegan

    This is something that I’ve wondered about as well. Like
    many things, there are a number of contributing factors. If I had to choose
    one, it’s simply a numbers game and matter of reach.

    Depending on what statistics we choose to use, 3.2% of the population
    (U.S) identify as vegetarian, while .5% of that group identify as vegan.
    (7million to 1 million respectively)

    If an organization wants to extend their reach, they’re more
    likely to self-identify as a vegetarian organization.

    I guess the question then becomes, do these organizations help
    convert vegetarians to veganism through their efforts? Covert as they may be.

    As vegan for close to 15 years, and someone who uses the
    word vegan as part of their “brand”, I tend to only seek out vegan literature and
    experiences. In my case, a vegetarian organization may miss out on connecting
    with me. I’m sure other vegans feel the same way.

    Whatever our inclination, our collective aim should be the
    same. Help others find their way to a more compassionate life.

    Thanks for posting. Keep up the great work!

  • Shane Andrews

    perhaps by doing it this way they will reclaim vegetarianism as a herbivorous diet, not one that includes eggs, dairy, honey etc.

    I am more concerned with people calling themselves vegan when they are not.

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