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Let’s cool it with the vegan challenges, please

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Scaling a mountain is considered a challenge for some, and turning off Netflix before you’ve successfully binge watched another complete series is a challenge for others. Respecting the lives of animals shouldn’t be a challenge for anyone.

People are never going to accept the importance, ease, or joy of veganism if we continue irking them on to try it out as a “challenge.” The name alone tips non-vegans off that whatever follows will be treacherous, and yet, every. single. day. at least one comes across my desk. Are people still waiting with bated breath to see what on Earth will happen to someone who takes part in something millions do?

The most common of these challenges is to forgo animal products from our diets. They range from weekly to month long dares, and the bet always suggests that even a short period of plant-based dining will win them over through incredible transformations. There are no guidelines, so some people binge on Beyond Meat and other’s starve themselves on apples. This is never entered into quietly, and is almost always climaxed with an in-depth blog or Facebook post that outlines all the ways they are now well versed in veganism, but still protest it. This is the latest month long example, but they always go something like this:

Hi! I’m not a vegan, in fact I love bacon and cheese and could never ever give them up. But here goes! I’m dedicating myself to16 long hours of not eating an animal, aren’t you guys proud of me? Look at how different my Starbucks order is without milk or whipped cream. Is my skin clear yet? Have I saved a planet? Look at me – Leonardo DiCaprio! I lost weight and have more energy, but I’m obviously still not vegan because bacon and cheese. I’m much more mindful now though, where’s my prize?

So what do readers come away with? Not much, other than validation that it’s not a worthwhile lifetime commitment, but it could be a good route if they need to drop a few before an event. I understand that there are scenarios in which trying vegan food removes some fear that we’re all surviving on cardboard and grass, but without lasting reasons for making the change (ie: morals), going back to animal products is given the same pass as grabbing pizza at 3am when you’re on a carb-free diet. These menu overhauls always promise the benefits to human, and do so at the sacrifice of teaching the necessity of fundamental justice for non-human animals. They create more “I’ve tried but it didn’t work for me” people than vegans. It’s revolting, and it’s crafted the health assumptions around veganism that either won’t come true for the majority of people, or keep people away altogether because they think they’re healthy enough already.

But we know veganism is so much more than what we order at restaurants, or our pant sizes. So naturally, Elle UK decided to up the ante and challenge one of their writers to forgo animal clothing for a week (#veganwardrobeweek). Seriously, they made not wearing fur, leather, wool, and silk a challenge, as if millennials couldn’t survive a winter without them. Unsurprisingly, their test subject survived with cotton, polyester, and denim already rampant in a standard jeans and t-shirt ensemble. And not unlike a food challenge, the week opened up her eyes to new things, garnered her compliments, and made her feel good. But forgo wearing Adidas for the rest of time? Forget it, she had enough. And everyone reading should know vegan leather is cool, but not cool enough.

What’s next? #veganmakeupweekend? Try to eat vegan at your company Christmas potluck challenge? If we worked on helping people go vegan, these individual instances of animal use wouldn’t overtake the big picture. We should care more about making vegans, than we care about witnessing non-vegans trying out the way we navigate food and fashion in our capitalist society. We’re setting people up to hate veganism before they even understand it.

Since these articles are plentiful, and we’ll have to fill in the void they leave when we nix them, I have some suggestions for new challenges we can all take on. Let’s convince people to go racism-free for a week, or see if “don’t be sexist at work for a month” takes off. Surely, a clever enough hashtag will clue people into the fact that they need to not be racist or sexist after it’s over, too. And if they do go back, at least they tried, right? Wrong. Veganism, like all other social justice movements, are deserving of more than just our fleeting, online attention. Taking the time to help people understand the movement, and their roles within it, will mean not allowing another soul to succumb to trivializing the very real injustices happening all around us. We owe that little to animals, and to those trying so hard to make education the prevailing voice. 

I challenge us to stop supporting these challenges, and start insisting that veganism isn’t something to be tested, tried on, or sold out for entertainment. Animals are the only reason you need to go vegan, today.

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  • The IV

    Well said. The term vegan and its negative associations need to be transformed in the minds of the mass public from “an obscure, cultish, deprivation diet” into “an enlightened, healthier, more compassionate way of living”. As people are instinctly selfish and reluctant to surrender even the most minor of pleasures if socially sanctioned, we must find a way of instilling the knowledge and understanding that the benefits of a vegan lifestyle far outweigh any temporary withdrawal experienced from the loss of bacon and cheese from one’s diet; that a vegan diet can be every bit as delicious and more than a meat-laden one. Added to the challenge is that most people are also inherently lazy and so when easy vegan options do not abound, they quickly grow frustrated and dismiss the practice as untenable. This can be addressed by the continued active campaigning of restaurants to include well executed vegan options on their menus and by breaking through on mass channels like the food network to have vegan focused shows highlighting the limitless delicious plant based dining possibilities.

    As you’ve pointed out, though, any lasting switch to a vegan lifestyle must depend at root on a shift in consciousness in which people finally wake up to the fact that the animals they regularly consume are in fact no different from their beloved cats and dogs. That all animals are complex beings capable of experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions and are fully deserving of the same right the live happy and healthy lives which we afford our fellow humans.

    • Ralph Graham

      Hi, the concept, if it exists, of veganism as “an obscure, cultish, deprivation diet” is created not by vegans or vegan challenges but by those who oppose veganism many of whom know better.
      Creating more vegans any and every way we can is our best weapon against such erroneous concepts, concepts promoted like hell by industries and academics facing the rise and rise of veganism that they feel so threatened by. 🙂 🙂

  • Ralph Graham

    With respect, this comes across as inventing a problem that doesn’t actually exist. I said “with respect” because your desired outcome is undoubtedly like mine – a vegan world, but your experiences are obviously different to mine.

    There are numerous vegan challenges run by different entities and instrumental in introducing lots of people to veganism.

    In a meat centric world having a crack at living vegan for 20 or 30 days is very much a challenge. Giving up something that is entrenched is a challenge and giving up meat might be the biggest challenge of all. The “challenges” that I know about are organised and supported, even mentored. Someone randomly quitting meat for two days is just a bit of frivolity; meat eaters might do that without even meaning to and think nothing of it, hardly a challenge.
    A person on a guided challenge may take it on partly because they have been told that can always revert when the challenge is complete while we know if it is executed well there is a good chance they will not want to “go back.”
    Let’s not be concerned about the word “challenge.” Frivolous flirtations with veganism are just that and are no more of a challenge than cutting down on the number of cigarettes for two days.

    The Sydney Vegan Club -7,500 plus Facebook group members – invites people to sign up to a 30 day challenge where they receive a daily email with support, inspiration, recipes and more and a mentor who can be contacted at any time .
    After one of the regular movie events showing Cowspiracy, Earthlings, etc typically 15 or more of say 50 attendees sign up to the challenge. There are many vegan challenges run by various organisations – wonderful tools for change. 🙂 🙂

  • Tobias Leenaert

    dogmatism that defies the imagination…

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