It was a sunny day on the 1st November, 1944, when Donald Watson and a handful of colleagues formed the world's first vegan society. In effect, the birth of modern veganism. Now, nearly 70 years later, what has the vegan movement achieved? Would Donald Watson be proud of the movement's achievements or would he be turning in his grave?
Donald_Watson. Photo Credit: Joe Connoly
Impossible to measure accurately, but I am sure that there is no disagreement that veganism is now mainstream or as close as. At present (and showing no signs of slowing down), there is an unparalleled level of awareness about veganism that transcends borders and some ideologies. Countless committed and compassionate vegan activists have not only pushed through (and are still pushing through) abuse, ignorance, censure, revilement to further promote the movement. Veganism is trendy, fashionable hip. Now treated with less suspicion – though we still have plenty of enemies - and adopted by politicians, celebrities and athletes.
Over the years, thousands of vegan (and non-vegan) entrepreneurs have turned veganism into a multi-million dollar industry. Vegan-themed products have hit the market in a big way: food, fashion, fitness, books, insurance, ethical finance, etc., and don't forget all the new restaurants, cafes, supermarkets - the sky is the limit! As vegans in 2014, we have never been blessed with so much choice. It makes being vegan and staying vegan so much easier. We are veganizing the world! Kind of. Our sphere of innfluence is at dizzy heights. There is a caveat though about how easy it is to be led astray. (Is capitalism and over-consumption a vegan ideal? A good topic for another article perhaps.)
For the past ten years or so, most groups involved in advocacy work have been utilising the Internet and social media to accomplish organisational goals. There is no question that the speed and effectiveness of this wonderful tool has had a positive impact. It gives every man, woman, child and group who are so inclined an “immediate voice” and an immediate mobilisation facility to promote the vegan cause. Did I mention the thousands of vegan blogs and web pages? So much information – so little time!
Sadly, for every positive there is a negative somewhere. At this point in time, more animals are being killed for food, than at any other time in history - an estimated 56 billion farmed animals annually. This doesn't include fish and other sea creatures. Nor does it include animals used for sport, clothing, entertainment or victims of culls. It is interesting to note that the movement has its greatest campaign successes with those animal exploiters who are in the minority, those participating in: experimentation, hunting, zoos, rodeos, circuses, fur. While the meat, dairy,poultry and fish industries (the mass murderers of our generation), get off relatively scot-free.
Of course it is easier to shame and beat into submission an “independent” company than it is a government-backed, heavily subsided Big Ag. conglomerate. It is a chilling reality, but frankly, we have failed farmed animals miserably. Not judging. Just stating the obvious. No two ways about it: the animal food industry is firmly entrenched and politically powerful. Not only do they have slick P.R/marketing skills and huge budgets. They have allies in the corridors of power in all nations of the world. They have “tame” scientists, doctors, researchers on the books at their beck-and-call. And, their coffers are filled with government subsidies – tax dollars – which, by the way, also lowers meat prices and perpetuate the vicious cycle. It is overwhelming.
We are in desperate need of a radical rethink of our strategies. Not only do we need to avoid “fuzzy math” but in some cases, “fuzzy logic” too.Sarah K. Woodcock sums it up eloquently:
“What do the animal use industries want? They want some of us to focus on animals used for food, some of us to focus on animals used for clothing, some of to focus on animals used for entertainment, some of us to focus on animals used for testing and some of us to be scattered elsewhere. They want us to agree to wrestle them so they can tire us and delude us into thinking they are making positive changes for animals – changes they would make anyway for industry survival as humans go through a moral awakening. They do not, under any circumstance, want us to unite behind the banner of veganism and call for an end to animal use altogether.”
(Sarah K. Woodcock, 2012)
For the animals, it is of vital importance that we unite behind the vegan banner if we are to have long-term success. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, we need to strike at the root not the branches of evil. This is the way to maximise our efforts. I am sure Donald Watson would be stirring in his grave, whispering in a gentle voice: "Why are we taking something so simple and making it so complex?"
Jim Campbell is a vegan/abolitionist of 16 years. Android fan boy. Music aficionado. and would-be iconoclast.
Future article “Vegan Business Plan” - ideas and thoughts welcome.