Why veganism doesn't have to be more than not consuming animal products

*The Dutch translation for this story can be found here. 

When I became vegan I was excited on having discovered a new way to, in my estimation, responsibly engage the world. This, though, didn’t come without judgement: you couldn’t really care about animals or the environment without being vegan. Thus, if you cared about these things and had the means to responsibly become vegan, you should. Now, as I’ve been vegan for a little over a year, it’s less about these non-vegans-who-could-easily-be-vegans, and more a reflection on what veganism is, can, and should be—it’s potential.

I know I’m a vegan because of the general definition that excludes consuming animal products. This basic definition centers many different perspectives on veganism that include  issues like animal and environmental rights, feminism, anti-racism, and anti-capitalism—all of these, as they relate to veganism, are grounded in the choice to not consume animal products. There’s a large part of me that wishes everyone’s veganism could be all of these things, but there’s another that doubts the feasibility of this because veganism doesn’t, if one follows the simple definition above, require anything more than steering clear of animal products.

For those of us who have other issues and movements we hold important, I think the struggle is that we don’t want our veganism to inadvertently cause the oppressions and inequalities we’re fighting against when we involve ourselves in these other movements. We don’t want to, in advocating for veganism, uphold the far-reaching structures of oppression that undergird capitalism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism etc.. Of course, no advocacy is perfect, but we at least want to make sure, for example, that while advocating for animal rights we’re not being racist.

When I attended a lecture on veganism this summer one person asked if you should, as a rule, be a feminist if you are vegan, in a discussion on how veganism intersects with other movements. My thoughts were to the affirmative, because I felt feminist politics can make us more aware of how oppression of animals and environmental destruction are linked to women’s struggle to end sexist oppression. But is feminism a necessary requirement to being vegan? Strictly speaking, no, if veganism is defined as not consuming animal products. The same going for anit-capitalism and anti-racism, and the other –isms I named above.

So, there’s a tension and pull between what I would like to see, what the movement is, and what it could become. But this is normal, and there do exist vegans who express the other types of veganisms I’ve spoken of in this article—environmental, animal welfare, anti-sexism etc.—which demonstrates the richness of the movement. This, to me, hits at the heart of what veganism is and its boundaries, or put another way, how far it can reach and what issues it can touch; or maybe it would be more accurate to construct veganism as what issues it can help potentially solve?

The danger here is selling veganism as a cure-all, which it’s not, but there’s a lot of room between making it the solution and being a practice that makes room for and works in conjunction with other movements. Here, it’s something that’s exclusive on the animal part but inclusive enough on the underlying motivations behind it—namely, ending oppression—to become effective outside its borders. This, however, doesn’t answer questions of whether vegans, as a rule, should be feminists, but it’s a starting point on how we can begin constructing a veganism that could truly transform the world, and that’s pretty cool, ain’t it?