A Vegan Thought Thread

Should vegans buy from non-vegan companies?

I’ve heard it said by some non-vegans, that vegans shouldn’t be supporting non-vegan companies and/or that if they do they’re ‘fake vegans’ – and surprisingly I’ve even heard of some (although few) ‘vegans’ apparently saying this as well. In my opinion this sort of claim comes from a complete lack of understanding of what a vegan actually is and what their aim is (which is why it’s so surprising when it comes from actual vegans), and represents an ultimately failed attempt to poke holes in the movement.

If vegans weren’t allowed to buy from non-vegan businesses, this would exclude supermarkets for one because they obviously sell non-vegan products. For most people, this would make it extremely difficult to do their food shop and for some probably impossible. The whole point of veganism is that we do what is practicable and possible to reduce animal suffering and exploitation – so this thesis already comes within direct contradiction of what a vegan actually is. If we didn’t make it ‘practicable and possible’, non-vegans would cry out that it’s unreasonable – not like they don’t already… The moral of this story being vegans can’t win (I of course don’t mean that literally). Some vegans may be able to exclusively buy their food from completely vegan places which is great if they want to/can do that, but this is absolutely not feasible for everyone. In order to achieve what this whole movement strives to achieve, we need as many people on board as possible which does not come with putting in place unnecessary restrictions – so it is in fact much more in line with the movements underlying principle to applaud people making the switch, wherever they choose to do it.

Another issue stems from the need to be realistic. Whilst vegans would like to eradicate animal suffering and exploitation as fast as we can, we are completely aware that there’s no way we’re going to create a vegan world overnight nor would it be viable to do so. We are also aware that huge non-vegan corporations are not just going to disappear and be replaced by upcoming vegan companies, because the demand for animal products is still too high. This leaves us with what is currently the most effective way to achieve our goal: to encourage existing companies to progress towards a more vegan future. We do this by creating demand for vegan products, which these companies will then follow because for the most part they’re only interested in profit; whilst it would be preferable that these companies actually obtained some ethics, a by-product of them satisfying this demand is that they’re now supplying some more ethical products.  Overtime, the hope is that the proportion of these companies’ products which are vegan will increase as demand continues to make a shift in this direction, thus delivering the shift towards a vegan future. This is something that is already evidently happening as companies are constantly coming out with new vegan products and ranges; this represents a huge success for the movement.

Whilst buying from completely vegan companies obviously has huge benefits in terms of reducing animal exploitation, buying from non-vegan companies actually has underlying benefits as well. Many huge non-vegan corporations such as McDonalds have built up a drastic amount of brand loyalty; customers will continuously, often religiously, buy their products and will be willing to try out new products because of the level of trust they repose in the brand. This means that when these companies do bring out vegan alternatives, meat-eaters are more likely to try them because they trust the brand (as opposed to trying vegan products from specifically vegan companies). A vegan future requires meat-eaters to change their habits, and hence having vegan products that they’re much more likely to try is hugely important.

Of course there are always exceptions. Most of these companies are unethical to some degree (usually large), but some do tip past a point where a lot of vegans (and non-vegans alike) will actually boycott them even with the release of new vegan products. One example of this is Nestle who are notorious for their unethical behaviour: this includes violations of the WHO’s marketing requirements for baby foods, claims of water not being a human right, the bottling of water in desert regions, use of child labour, the list goes on… So even with nestle releasing some new vegan products, many vegans will choose to boycott purely because of the vast range of unethical practices this business inflicts upon people and the planet, even in comparison to other corporations. Of course this is an issue which is always going to come down to the individual’s perspective (and knowledge on the company) to determine where they draw the line, so by no means lays out a rule for vegans to follow.

So when you consider all the perspectives I have laid out, demand for vegan products to be provided by non-vegan companies is actually a big component of achieving the movements overarching goal – and it hence by no standards mean vegans are ‘fake’.

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