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