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Why I Won’t Be Waving a Vegan Flag

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On the wrist of my dominant hand is my only tattoo: the word “Vegan” in a legible cursive in black ink. Always visible, this tattoo initiates advocacy conversations when I least expect it. Signalling to those who are interested in veganism that I’m receptive to answering questions about being vegan, it has started conversations in the most unlikely of places where I normally wouldn’t have thought to advocate—on the bus, in coffee shops, in dance classes, in locker rooms, while out shopping.

I won’t be waving an International Vegan Flag, though, wearing an International Vegan Flag A-Line Dress or t-shirt or placing International Vegan Flag stickers on my diary.

There are three main problems with this flag as I see it: first, it centres vegans in veganism and vegan advocacy; second, the way in which it seeks to brand veganism is antithetical to veganism as a matter of morality and social justice; third, it creates a sense of false unity.

It’s quite troubling that we vegans so often place our focus on what it means to be vegan (and to centre ourselves or our groups in our advocacy) rather than on the message that veganism is the abstention from the avoidable exploitation of other animals. This kind of misdirected focus can be seen in the tendency of those who proclaim themselves to be ethical vegans yet who advocate primarily from the standpoint of health or weight-loss, or those who deem that any critique of their tactics is a personal attack, bullying, or shaming rather than a critical analysis of the best way to advocate for the victims of animal exploitation. And when we brandish a flag as a marker of our identity in relation to our moral position, this once again seems to centre vegans in veganism.

In an interview with Tivonews, the flag’s designer, Gad Hakimi, stated that he was inspired, in creating the flag, by the Rainbow Flag of the LGBT movement, and intended that the vegan flag would help create a sense of identity and unity among vegans. But vegans don’t need a flag because we’re not an oppressed group that needs to self-identify and forge community and solidarity; if you remember why we’re vegan, it’s because we don’t want to use animals anymore. Our advocacy is not self-advocacy; we are not marginalised.

Nor will veganism benefit from being turned into a commercial brand. Hakimi mentions branding in his intention to design a vegan flag, and, only a day after its launch, merchandise bearing the flag is already being developed. The commercialisation and branding of a moral position is worrying. I’ve written before about why I don’t think billboards and bus ads are either appropriate or useful in disseminating the vegan message, and I think that capitalising on this particular moral position falls prey to some of the same problems. But in this case, there are additional problems: a vegan flag on a dress turns a moral position into a fashion statement, when we’re already trying to shake off the perception among celebrities and their followers that veganism is a trend; the flag is freely available for distribution or resale and has been designed in consultation with a number of animal orgs, and so it will inevitably be used as a symbol of various moral positions and manifestations of moral confusion that frequently claim to be rooted in “veganism.”

Hakimi also concluded that the flag was not about animals, but rather about  “our love for nature as earthlings”. Although he does make a nod towards the equivalent moral value of humans and nonhumans, the flag is most certainly environmental in its focus with the colours symbolising sea, air, and land, and it positions humans as protectors of this environment and animals as part of that environment rather than co-inhabitants of it, speaking of vegans’ love for nature and our desire for a clean environment. While Hakimi clearly recognises what is at the heart of veganism, the flag, perhaps because of the desire of the Facebook group in consultation with which it was developed, is far from clear in representing veganism as a moral position centered on the rights of other animals to be free from our exploitation.

 Although I have no doubt that the intentions of Hakimi and of the individuals who will purchase and use this flag are good, the loss of focus on nonhuman animals concerns me.

All too often, we see vegans erasing other animals from their understanding of veganism. Veganism is not about us; it’s about nonhumans and their right to be free from our domination and subjugation–their right not to have their most basic interests taken away because “mmm, bacon” or because those shoes made from their skins are so comfy or look great with those trousers. Where we can, we should advocate our hearts out for the nonhuman animals who are exploited by the trillions each year. But as I have written again and again, we should not harm other humans in doing so; we ought not lose sight of whom our advocacy is for; and we must not centre ourselves in this.

Equally importantly, we must stop trying to pretend that we’re all unified and striving for the same goal. I, for example, don’t want meat reduction; I don’t want vegetarianism; I don’t want language that draws on human trauma; I don’t want violent tactics; I don’t want nonhumans first rhetoric; I don’t want property damage; I don’t want lettuce ladies or histrionics in supermarkets or restaurants. And I don’t want a flag that pretends that all vegans are in accord on these and other matters.

I applaud the creative efforts that went into designing this flag and I appreciate the obvious enthusiasm for veganism that led to its creation. As I wrote above, I don’t doubt the sincerity or question the intentions of its designer or its individual customers. But we need to be very careful about turning veganism into something it’s not. And it’s not about us; it’s not about marketing; and vegans are as different from each other in how we deliver the moral message (and what we claim that means) as we could possibly get.

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  • Rebecca Dewinter

    Brilliant writing. I totally agree!

    • Frances McC

      Thank you, Rebecca.

  • Paulr

    The problem with this “its not about us” stance is this. It IS about us. Not in the individual sense but very much in the sense of how we, humans, treat animals. Agree a flag does represent an identity and unity, and we don’t need that, but what about the idea of a flag representing an idea? I don’t view the rainbow flag as belonging to the LBGT community, I think it now belong to everyone that agrees with the idea, and its use has grown as such it shows peace, love.
    I see this flag as an opportunity to use instead of a (pointless) national flag, for instance when I represent my country, it will get people thinking “whats that”. If others use it to make money then that’s their choice, people are already making money out of veganism, lets deal with animal abuse not capitalism.
    Likewise your broadside on commercial advertising, whilst I agree with many points, I believe in a wide ranging full spectrum assault on the senses is the best way to stimulate change. I admire the on the streets activists, and am making plans to do the same, but I wouldn’t tarnish all the vegan ad campaigns with the Peta brush, some will do it wrong, but then some will do grass roots on the street do stuff wrong, hell I might be one of them at first. The likes of GoVeganWorld has inspired me not dissuaded me in any sense from setting up a vegan information stall and talking to people on the streets. My point is I think we need to stop worrying about what point people begin their vegan journey on, different media works on different people, there are a lot of people that simply will never talk to people on the street for instance, however they might, be willing to quietly do research online, or google “why go vegan” after seeing an ad on the tube.
    I for example turned vegan after watching “durianrider”, I never share his stuff however as I think he turns off a great number of people, that doesn’t mean to say his approach is wrong does it? As it got me started.

    • Well said, Paul: It is about us. This is about one species selfishly using, abusing and destroying every other species. We need to move forward together as a species, and that requires human beings adopting a vegan outlook – sharing that message is vital.

      And for pity’s sake, the Girl Guides have a flag – does that mean they are portraying themselves as an oppressed people? I think it’s a positive symbol, and this movement needs all the positivity it can get.

      • Frances McC

        @modvegan:disqus, the flag’s designer made the link to the Rainbow Flag; I’m not the one making that link. So the comparison to the Girl Guides flag doesn’t work her.

        Also, this flag doesn’t bear any message that’s intelligible from looking at the flag alone, so while I’m all for vegan advocacy, I’m not sure how a flag helps us with that.

    • Frances McC

      Paul Ruffy: If it’s about how we treat animals (or rather, that we use animals at all), then it’s about the animals.

      Look, people will go vegan as they may, but we, as advocates, have a moral obligation to send out a clear message about why they should.

      As I replied to ModVegan below, I can’t see how a flag is supposed to do that. From the interviews with Hakimi that I’ve read, the flag seems to have been designed as a marker of group identity, and not as an advocacy tool.

      • Paulr

        Thanks for the reply, and good work on the site. I haven’t figured it all out just yet. I know we absolutely need people to remain on point, animals first.
        In your article you say you don’t want a lot of things, I get that – and we do need abolition of all animal exploitation. Where I think we differ is that I accept that “stepping stones” on the road to veganism are not just necessary for many but indeed inevitable, even though I might not want to promote them myself.

        • Abolition and “stepping stones” are mutually exclusive.

    • Thalassa

      People like Frances don’t realize first wave feminists broke windows with stones and set fire to mail boxes to be heard. Literally no massive social change happens with individual conversations or no compromise. Individual conversations and no compromise lead to exclusive cults like the Mormon church, not the global change required to fight industrial agriculture and mass extinction.

  • Pepper

    I’m a bit annoyed that this is declared to be THE vegan flag by one guy and the .001% of the vegan population that found out about the effort and gave some minor feedback on his facebook page before it was officially released.

    A few things that bothered me right away:

    1) If this flag is open sourced, why is there a © symbol after “Vegan Flag” on the website for it? The image is copyright free but the word “Vegan Flag” isn’t?

    2) “We chose the colours that represents these values:
    White- light, goodness, success, beginning
    Green- land, life, nature, energy, harmony
    Blue- sky, sea, faith, truth, heaven”

    Beginning, Energy, Faith, Truth, Heaven? Sounds too spiritual to me, many vegans are atheist.
    This is so silly to me. It should represent animal equality and veganism (animal equality and their right to exist without being use for our ends) period.

    • Iben Sofie

      I thougth the colours was White – Air Blue – Water and Green – Earth?

  • AlpineJim

    This post is edited subsequent to Alan’s reply below to acknowledge that Disqus is marking as spam a comment I’ve been trying to post. Glad to know that neither Frances nor Ecorazzi is deleting the attempts to post it.

    Thanks for letting me know, Alan and Frances.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      Replying on behalf of the author, Frances McCormack, who is currently experiencing login difficulties with Disqus.

      Frances does not have moderation privileges here and Ecorazzi is not deleting your comments. Disqus must be treating them as spam for some reason.

    • Alan O’Reilly

      You’re welcome. If push comes to shove, you could always post your comment on the corresponding Ecorazzi Facebook page thread.

  • AlpineJim

    This post is here to see if it prevents the post above from being deleted by Disqus.

  • Mark Caponigro

    I entirely agree with Frances McCormack. Flags are by nature militaristic, implying aggression and competitiveness. Many vegans want nothing to do with that sort of thing.

    • Craig

      Veganism was going nowhere fast until Gary Yourfsky started shaking things up. So I’m all for militarism. I think most vegans are passive and that achieves nothing. “I’m just going to silently sit here and eat my tofu and lead by example”…
      That’s why people like Vegan Gains are so popular, because he’s a vegan who’s not a pussy. I think we need to take that little flag, find a piece of land and conquer it and call it VEGAN CITY. You can hang out in Passiville with the other monkey-men, but I want more out of this life. I want a little city where I can be with my people, my animals, nature and very very few cell phones. Who knows, maybe we’ll figure out the meaning of life while were at it.

      • Peggy Japhet Warren

        I also agree with Frances. My feeling toward your comment here, illustrates one of her points perfectly – that some vegans don’t want to be labeled as a group of all the same. I see veganism as part of a new peace movement. I would *never* want to be a supporter of violence or violence inspiring persons like Gary Yourfsky. Not supporting violence does not make one a “pussy,” which, by the way is a very sexist term, not that I should be surprised that a GY supporter would use that vile word. Being a nonviolent vegan simply means you don’t support violence, such as engaging in sexism, against humans as well as animals. I would consider it an insult to be associated with GY in any way.

        • Thalassa

          No the problem is you care more about your identity or “peace movement” or teenaged ideals than actually freeing animals. Freeing agricultural animals and the wildlife going extinct involves numerous varied methods which appeal to numerous varied psychologies. Im frankly sick and tired of white yoga teachers and brown academics getting snooty about real, effective, practical forms of vegan activism. The guy who created the flag wants to unify the people who are actually protecting non human animals in the real world, not upholding the beatific moral smugness of Gary Francione cult members.

    • Peggy Japhet Warren

      Mark, I also agree with Frances and you make a good point about militarism. The commenter named Craig, who also replied to your comment here, illustrates one of her points perfectly – that some vegans don’t want to be labeled as a group of all the same. I see veganism as part of a new peace movement. I would *never* want to be a supporter of violence or violence inspiring persons like Gary Yourfsky. Not supporting violence does not make one a “pussy,” which, by the way is a very sexist term, not that I should be surprised that a GY supporter would use that vile word. Being a nonviolent vegan simply means you don’t support violence, such as engaging in sexism, against humans as well as animals.

      • Mark Caponigro

        Very well put, Peggy. And you’re entirely right about Gary Yourofsky, exponent of a frightening kind of activism.

  • Craig

    I’d fly the flag if it wasn’t sooooooo ugly.

  • Carol

    Convoluted, irrelevant arguments. Keep it simple. The white V represents the moral purity of intent and we are surrounded by nature, so perfect colours. Beautiful flag. Lets all fly it and get it well recognised on every level.

  • Deanna Metivier

    I think you have a lot of great points here, but I strongly disagree with your last point about the flag creating a false sense of unity. As a gay person myself, I know what it’s like to be an “invisible minority” (as opposed to a black person walking into a room and immediately being able to see that there are other black people there). When I walk into a room and see a rainbow sticker on a water bottle, I know I’m not alone. Veganism is very similar. With an identifying, unifying flag (or flag sticker on a water bottle), we know we aren’t alone and there are like-minded people among us. Additionally, when I meet another gay person I am super excited! The same goes for another vegan. Just because vegans aren’t an “oppressed minority,” we are still vegan in a non-vegan world which presents it’s own unique challenges. I’m all for a unifying symbol

  • Steve Wagar

    Sorry, I love the flag and its message. I know the Vegan Society, who coined the word, is all about animal rights, but many of us newer vegans, soon to be an overwhelming majority, don’t buy into the whole animal rights argument. The animals you are looking to help will all be nonexistent once veganism wins, so vegans are arguably hurting them more than helping. All creatures (including us) suffer some in life but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth living. If the worst of factory farming offenses were cleaned up most people would say there is no ethical problem humanely killing animals. The arguments for veganism that will resonate loudest are about the ethical sharing of the biosphere for sustainability and avoiding foods that ruin our health, and animal products are the biggest problems for both of those things. So the vegan flag has nothing to do with the vegan society; different philosophy entirely.

    • Erich

      Literally every day of life is hell for most farm animals. It is not a life worth living and no human would choose that life, over not being born. At least, not for themselves or their own children.

      Sustainability is not working to promote environmental issues.

      At one time stray dogs were collected in New York city, thrown into cages and those cages were thrown into water. Society advances. Humans will either care about themselves and other animals or go extinct.

      • Steve Wagar

        Erich, I know life is hell for factory farmed animals. As I said, if the worst of those offenses were cleaned up then animals on farms would not suffer until they were slaughtered, and hence would not choose not being born in preference. But I agree, it is not practical to stop abusing them because it would raise costs, so we should work to give them up entirely instead.

        Note that sustainability is not working (well enough) to promote environmental issues because our society is completely unsustainable. We will either go extinct before we learn sustainable practices or we won’t, but if we do learn them then that will include cutting animal agriculture way, way back.

        As for the stray dogs, I don’t think our future is tied to how much pain and suffering we inflict. There is no excuse for causing pain and suffering, but if it were not for environmental destruction we could keep doing it forever without going extinct.

        • Erich

          You were wrong when you wrote: “The arguments for veganism that will resonate loudest are about the ethical sharing of the biosphere for sustainability ”

          Humans don’t care if their ancestors survive, or humans survive generally.

          Humans don’t care if the planet survives. There is more excitement about moving off planet than saving earth

          • Steve Wagar

            Erich, you say we don’t care, but you don’t back that up. By ancestors, I presume you mean descendants. And by don’t care, I presume you mean that our actions are collectively killing us, which at least suggests we don’t care. I agree that our efforts to save earth fall very far short of what it will take to save it, and moving off planet will shortly become our only recourse if we don’t do something to address that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care… it just means we lack the means to control our collective behavior. We lack the means because the government systems we have put in place permit and often promote unqualified leadership. You couldn’t run a Burger King by having ignorant customers elect unqualified employees, but we run our country that way. Quite frankly, it is nothing short of a miracle it works as well as it does, but it has worked because people often really do care, even when the institutions we have established are lacking. All we need to do to fix it is to promote qualified leadership, which can only start with a qualified electorate. It is completely impractical to have everyone quit their job to learn how to pick the candidates who can best run the country, so instead we should randomly select an electorate of, say, 250 people from each district of the House of Representatives (that’s 108,750 people) who would serve 2-year paid terms to learn the issues, discuss them with each other, research them, and at the end of their term they would vote for the congressmen and president, not us. Elector terms would overlap for a month or so so outgoing electors could teach incoming. So long as they are chosen randomly from the population, we can expect them to represent our interests better than we can since they have the time and resources to do it right. You can bet that these electors would demand qualified candidates who had real, substantive answers, and many of the fools who are elected today based on a few sound bites would get nowhere. The only problem with my plan is that it could never happen because we have been led to believe that letting everyone vote is the backbone of democracy, when actually the backbone is the informed electorate.

          • Erich

            You are incredibly verbose.

            The proof that we don’t care about sustainability all around us.

            Check any study of home energy efficiency. People care more about countertops than if the home is efficient. Plenty of proof, you can’t dismiss it so easily.

          • Steve Wagar

            Erich, I agree, I am nothing if not verbose. I can’t deny your point — there is plenty of evidence that people don’t care about sustainability. My point is that they care about living, and so ultimately care. But you are right that this care doesn’t extend to sustainability yet. I’ve been making the argument that we need the law to enforce sustainability and not depend on good will. This is because human nature leads people to believe that legal actions are legal because they are ok, so if it is legal to buy gas guzzlers and put money into countertops rather than home efficiency, then that is ok. True, everyone (but Trump) now knows that the science is in on global warming and we have to try harder, but just how hard? We need the law to set the standards, because few (if any) people are doing as much on their own to stop global warming as is needed to actually stop it. And the sad news is that our politicians are unqualified to write the laws we need as fast as we need them. This means that unless our system changes we are probably doomed. Since our system is unlikely to change fast enough, we are probably doomed. I think our response to global warming and sustainability is going to move into high gear in the next decade, but not a high enough gear to save us. What governments should do if they really value our survival is to just let the scientists dictate the environmental strategy; if they did that then we could save the biosphere, prevent millions of deaths, and avoid systemic collapse. Just maybe our governments are flexible enough to do that, but it would take something of a miracle because there are rich and powerful who value becoming more rich and powerful more than anything else.

  • Rachel AndRob Jameson

    I think there is far to much analysis of the flag meaning some of this and not enough of that. Bah Humbug! Any symbol or flag advertising veganism is a positive for the animals. People always ask what it is for and what it is about. Conversation happens. Knowledge. Information. Any way to mainstream being vegan appeals to me. Appeal to the masses. Become corporate. Whatever it takes. I hope we can make the flag as identifiable as a Nike tick or the McDonalds arches, world wide identity, bring it on!
    Animals don’t need introspective they need positive action, they need proactive anything and everything. Make a vegan flag summer dress and I will wear it to the beach. Far too many vegans make it about themselves. There is not a great deal of unity in the ‘”cause” so to speak, as there are multiple factions and politics involved and far too many pushing SJW issues. Keep it on point, vegan is about the animals, for the animals, always!

  • commenter

    I’ll give you that the flag represents a false sense of unity- but what flag doesn’t?

  • Thalassa

    While I see your point I also find your position absurdly naive, impractical, idealistic and ironically selfish. You keep saying that it’s not about us but there will never be a vegan world or anything like it without billboards, supermarket histrionics and battle flags. Industrial agriculture isn’t going to stop because of your timid conversation with strangers on the train. I don’t care what you want or what methods of activism embarrass you. As someone who has a background in science and an interest in human sociology and psychology, I know your adolescent personal purity doesn’t free agricultural slaves – battle flags do.

France’s ban of faux-meat branding won’t stop veganism

I’ll take “mycoproteinous food tube” over a tube of dead pig any day.

Concerned about endangered animals? Stop eating them

Methods of animal conservation that support the exploitation of animals don’t exist for the animals, they exist for human profit.

What you can do if live exports disturb you

The outcry should go further than importation and should be directed at the fact that the animals in question were on their way to slaughter in the first place.