October 2015 update: I appreciate the effective work done by various vegan individuals and organisations. I really do. I am happy to see veganism go mainstream. I still use the word vegan for convenience. Go vegan! ;)
Veganism is often perceived as a fad, a diet, a lifestyle, something personal. Being a vegan is an identity, a membership. A “vegan” dish is easily seen as strange, reserved for vegans.
I don’t eat sentient animals, I don’t have cheese or eggs, I don’t have fish or poultry. Not because I don’t like it, but because I care about animals. I care about animals because they are individuals, they can feel and the animals who are bred to be killed are conscious.
Instead of veganism, I am now using the term animalism. It is easy enough to explain, without being confronting or rude. Animalism? Like Humanism but for all animals. I am an animalist.
“Sorry, I don’t have cow’s milk, I’m an animalist.”
“(Like a humanist but for all animals as well.)”
Animalism puts the emphasis on the animals and on the political / ethical nature of the matter. It’s not about me going on a fancy diet, it’s about the animals and about respect and caring.
Veganism is all about one’s lifestyle. It is not because of a few vegans that I am renouncing veganism, it’s because I see it as a closed club and an ideological ghetto where we stagnate and easily lose perspective of the fight against speciesism while obsessing over a micromanagement of our and other people’s lifestyles. The boycott is important and useful as such but it should not become the core of the struggle and its identity.
In addition, I feel that being a vegan sets us apart and I don’t want to be set apart any more than is already the case. I don’t think it is beneficial. Whether we like it or not, it gives us some sort of a pedestal and people easily feel judged and get the impression (at times correct) that we feel superior as vegans. I believe it is a hindrance in fighting against speciesism for animal rights alongside others.
Am I setting myself apart by doing this? I don’t think so, because humanism is already a commonly accepted idea and I am simply adding to it.
Besides, I also believe that the words anti-speciesist or animal right activist would be great, and better than vegan. I happened to like “animalist” because of its simplicity and because it manages to be non-confrontational and political at the same time.
I believe we should be ambitious and see animal matters as a political and as a societal problem, not as a personal choice.
With every other political struggle, we don’t use a fancy, exclusive word for the people who try to avoid supporting exploitation or injustice. Think about sexism, racism, homophobia or ableism. If it is important to avoid being part of the problem, the real struggle is against systems and prejudices which allow for such injustice to grow and hurt.
Instead of vegan, I use animal friendly. I promote animal friendly dishes, animal friendly clothes, animal friendly gardening, …
I believe it is more approachable, friendlier and more catchy.
“I made animal friendly lasagne, want some?”
How many people don’t want to try a vegan sausage, because somehow, in their mind, it’s for vegans only? Having food labelled as vegan sets it apart while having an animal friendly label is inviting.
I am happy encouraging people to have animal friendly dishes, animal friendly meals more often. Ideally, I’d like everybody to embrace an animal friendly lifestyle and fight speciesism but I believe that this requires political action.
Embracing an animal friendly diet means you make better choices for the animals, for the environment and for yourself. At the end of the day, these choices are yours to make.
Too often I have seen people struggling with veganism because they made an exception here and there, because veganism is too much of a rigid, in-or-out doctrine with a definition apparently set in stone and little lee way for divergence. Thinking of calling yourself a Vegan? You might face the “Vegan Police”, a tiny bunch of vegans who get angry if you are not “100%”, all of the time, or if you make different choices from them.
These are the reasons why I call myself an animalist and why I promote animal friendly dishes.
Note 1 — I am the author of a facebook page called (until now) Vegan Cheese Reviews. It has now been renamed Animal Friendly Cheese Reviews.
Note 2 — I will still use the word “vegan” for convenience, like when ordering food. But I am happy to not call myself a Vegan any more.
Note 3 — Some people like the term “plant based”. I don’t, because it puts the emphasis on plants and on your diet rather than on the animals, and also because algae or mushrooms aren’t plants so technically it isn’t even correct.
Note 4 — A number of readers thought this was the equivalent of someone renouncing the term “feminist”. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite: Feminism is clearly political and clearly about women and gender equality.
Feminism is not about boycotting everything seen as even remotely sexist and fighting over who boycotts what.
I am a feminist animalist ☺
Note 5 — It has come to my attention that the word “animalism” already has a number of definitions. I guess I am adding a new one then. It is probably not ideal but I do not find it overly bothersome. I believe that my new meaning for the word is so clear and simple that there is no possible confusion. The other meanings are all very obscure anyway.
(5 Feb 15 update: In fact, other groups are also embracing the use of “animal friendly” while other languages are already using “animalism” the way I do: Link.)
Note 6 — A few readers misunderstood my article as an attack on a minority of intolerant vegans. It’s not the case.
Even if all vegans were nice and friendly, the point of my article is that veganism in itself as a movement is not something I want to be a part of. A broader, more inclusive approach focussing more on the animals and less on every detail of an individual’s current lifestyle is more effective. Either way, it remains nothing but a tool amongst many that can be used against speciesism, for animal rights. It isn’t a goal and it shouldn’t be a dogma (a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true).
I have called myself a vegan and worked at changing veganism but I have come to the conclusion that veganism is what it is and that it is a closed club, which is detrimental when it turns it into a rigid dogmatic venture based on personal purity and exclusion. Veganism as a movement to fight speciesism is not something I embrace or even condone any more.
I still don’t consume sentient animals and their by-products and I still want to encourage others to do likewise, in a friendly and pragmatic manner. Promoting an animal friendly lifestyle is a tool, not an end.
Veganism revolves too much around wasting time about whether the 10th ingredient may have come from an animal derived substance or about whether we can call something or someone vegan or not. I don’t think it matters who gets to be called a vegan and who doesn’t.
A so called “movement” where membership is so heavily scrutinised and where bickering over definitions becomes common practice is not something that I find attractive or beneficial. Persuading people to make individual changes in consumption is a tool I can appreciate — and I use it a lot in order to make the world a better place for all sentient animals.