I’m a millennial, and I want veganism to be more than a trend
When millennials like myself aren’t being accused of being lazy, pretentious, or a bunch of no-good hipsters, we’re busy getting something right; veganism. The phenomenon of people under 34 saying goodbye to animal exploitation is one that’s being studied with the current wave of trends, and will no doubt be furthered invested in as corporations fear losing the disposable incomes they’ve lobbied so hard to monopolize previously. But this boom in popularity has brought out the skeptic in me. Is mainstream vegan marketing effectively leading our revolution? And what does this mean for the future of vegan millennials as the trends wane?
When it comes to studying the habits and movements amidst young people, there’s almost always big business just around the corner, hungry for the opportunity to exploit it. Being largely responsible for trends in consumerism, getting the young “vote” has always been a sort of bragging right for those who can effectively market directly to us. So whether it’s convincing teens that milk moustaches are important for strong bones in order to sell milk, or that supporting SeaWorld is uncool and wearing a “free Tilikum” tee is the only way to prove you’re with it, it’s not hard to imagine that there’s more than just “compassion” at play for the rise in young vegans.
The optimist in me wants to believe that veganism is the new peace movement, and that the open-mindedness and connection of youth today might legitimately be helping them to learn why and how to go vegan, and promoting lifelong team vegan advocates. After all, a grassroots movement is how fundamental justice prevails, and I’ve seen how bravely some have risen to the occasion. However, the half-empty truth that sits heavy in my heart is that with the majority of vegan messaging in the media being so confused, it has become hard to track how many of these wide-eyed new recruits are in it for the animals, and if they’ll stick to it when some outlets move on to the next “thing.” I know that many around me covet the celebrities, athletes, and otherwise gleaming poster children for plant-based dieting that have brilliantly taken over Instagram and other social platforms. Quirky recipe videos and kitten cuddling may be the lifeblood of social media, but they’re putting an emphasis on what going vegan does for us (our bodies, environment, etc.), instead of how going vegan has to be done out of fairness to others; non-human animals.
There’s a common millennial expectation that places our selfish desire for acceptability above all other considerations. It is often assumed that to be young is to care only for oneself and how our reflections will impact whom we are surrounded with, the jobs we end up with, and so on. So while we might be hooked by a PETA funny slogan branded t-shirt, or the latest Netflix documentary recommendations, this limited perspective on being a vegan (that’s still in essence being sold to us) can mean confusion, misrepresented information, and the possibility of it all being a passing phase. If we aren’t able to still critically look at the vegan branded marketplace being carefully sculpted to seperate us from our dollars, we risk being a generation that tries veganism on and decides there’s another trendier hat to wear later. For example, veganism risks going the way of Paleo if it’s interpreted as a diet. We’ve also given up those plastic bracelets everyone used to print their activism on, and have made the Harambe incident in to a humorous meme. Heaven forbid we find ourselves forcibly strapped with donation boxes as we were when we were trick or treaters, or left with KONY stickers we can’t quite peel from our bumpers. Going vegan can and has to be a forever commitment. But when we consider the billions of animals being unnecessarily used, it’s impossible to go back to being any other way.
I know I’m far from alone in not easily celebrating the welfarist model of vegan ‘baby steps,’ and volunteer opportunities that help to raise more money than effective awareness. And I’m definitely not alone in hoping that the growth of vegan visibility leads to more education and accessibility for all. But my own ability to look critically at the growing vegan world around me is not in an effort to diminish the progress that’s been made, but instead to show that there’s only one hope for vegan sustainability amidst my demographic. It may not be packaged as sexily or have as many hashtags, but embracing that we have a moral obligation to change for the animals that humanity has forced in to use is a concept that can be understood by people of all ages. In fact, most of us already wouldn’t choose to participate in the exploitation that fuels the modern society around us if we weren’t raised in to believing it was a necessary system.
If some of the fearlessness of youth and natural propulsion towards rebellion could be channeled in to casting off the expectations that others have set for us, I have no doubt that more of my generation will wake up and change. We can enjoy the restaurants and clothing that have sprung up to meet our demands, without forgetting the reason we’re #veganaf in the first place.
No matter your age, or what’s trending, you can go vegan today.