Why I’m Not Excited About Mandatory Vegan Options
Within the next 6 months, all public canteens in Portugal will be legally required to offer a vegan option. This includes (but is not limited to) universities, hospitals, schools and prisons. ()
The new law has come in to effect on account of a petition that the Portugese Vegetarian Society circulated in 2015. It was discussed by the Portugese parliament in early 2016 after garnering the support of over 15,000 signatories. On face value, it seems like positive development. After all, how bad can it be having mandatory vegan meals available in all public institutions? That in itself isn’t the problem.
The issue arises in the rhetoric surrounding the campaign and the subsequent implementation of the law. Not only is veganism conflated with vegetarianism and broadsided with a plethora of other “veggie” options, the Portugese Vegetarian Society also maintains that “promoting the rights of the vegan population is as important as campaigning and informing people to adopt veganism.” Whenever we start equating the rights of vegans with the direct beneficiaries of veganism – the animals – we give the impression that veganism is as much about us as it is about them.
But veganism is not about us, it’s about respecting the rights of other sentient beings. We should never be claiming that our rights as vegans are somehow as weighty as the rights of those who are exploited on account of non-veganism. Veganism is simply the minimum standard of decency for a movement seeking justice for animals. When we take the focus off the animals and make it about ourselves, we are allowing our speciesism to cloud our judgement of priorities. Mandatory vegan meals are great, but we should be using this development as a means of educating people about why all meals should be vegan in recognition of fundamental animal rights, instead of talking about how important our rights are.
The PVG claims that, foremost, the law will have “a significant impact on the population’s health” – the animals get a brief mention alongside the environment. Portraying veganism as a diet, and equating the sentient with the non-sentient is a surefire way of perpetuating the denial of animal value and ensuring that public confusion over what veganism actually is continues.
We should be using this development to talk about why vegan meals should be an obligation for everyone, and not allowing people to treat it as yet another public health issue.