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Veganism is a Privilege Not a Right


April 8, 2015
By Leslie Ballentine

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There is a sense of entitlement that goes along with being vegan. When I was at a grocery store recently, I overheard two women in the frozen food section complaining that there was no suitable food for them to buy.  “This is total discrimination,” one woman stated with indignation. The other snipped (loudly) that vegans have no rights, and how dare the store not carry vegan foods.  As a budget store it didn’t carry many niche products. The fact that the produce section was full of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables didn’t seem to have crossed their minds.  The two left their basket in the aisle and marched out of the store.

More recently I heard from a vegan who has a friend of a friend in the organic greenhouse business. When visiting the greenhouse she came to find out, much to her shock and disgust, that he used “blood, bones and chicken feathers to fertilize his crop.” Presumably manure is considered vegan, since she didn’t rail against that.  She was determined to do more research and then start a campaign with the organic growers since “vegans are the major buyers of organic products.”

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In case you aren’t familiar with veganism, it is best described as vegetarian fundamentalism. According to the Oxford dictionary; veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, as well as following an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals.”  Although like most ideologies and religions there are varying degrees of adherence, vegans do not consume, wear, possess or use products that involve the use of animals. Hence the activist’s outrage that the greenhouse farmer uses animal by-products. More than a lifestyle, veganism is also an ideology that is best summed up by PETA’s credo that: “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.”

The story goes that the Vegan Society was formed by two disgruntled members of the British Vegetarian Society who felt it was wrong to permit dairy in a vegetarian diet. Founder Donald Watson formed the word vegan using the beginning and end of “vegetarian” because in his words “veganism is the logical conclusion of vegetarianism.” He founded The Vegan Society and the vegan movement in November 1944. In 1951 the society broadened its definition of veganism to “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals,” and pledged to seek an end to the use of animals “for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man.”  And like many ideologies and religions vegans feel a need to convert the heathens and non-believers.  While meat eaters may not rot in hell for our transgressions, although many vegans hope we will, we will in their minds be remembered for destroying the earth, for causing unnecessary suffering and injustice to “non-human animals”, and for bringing pestilence and disease to the world (including to ourselves).

Veganism also has gained a certain cachet in recent years. There are dietary vegans, ethical vegans, environmental vegans, health vegans, or a combination of the above. To be a vegan is to be seen to be healthier, more compassionate and morally superior than the rest of us unenlightened.  

The number of vegans is difficult to measure and results are contradictory. Vegetarian organizations throw out estimates from time to time based on polls and self-reporting while also acknowledging that these are unreliable because respondents have their own interpretations of the meaning of the term. Never-the-less, vegans make up a tiny proportion of Europeans and North Americans. Survey results between 1996 and 2012 fluctuate between 0.1 and 3 percent.    And there is no society that is vegan.

In the meantime, our society is accommodating.  Food manufacturers and food outlets have catered to the demands of vegan eaters, whether it is eggless eggs, soy milk or simply offering salads and vegetables. There is vegan leather and wool (meaning plastics and non-renewable synthetics) and vegan dog food — even though dogs are natural omnivores. Plant-based cosmetics can be found at most cosmetic counters- although labelling them “not-tested-on animals” is a misnomer since all ingredients used in consumer products today were likely once tested on animals for safety approvals.   

Here’s the point: Having soy burgers is no more a right than having strawberries in January. It is a privilege that we in affluent societies are lucky to have.