In the past five years, veganism has grown tremendously, evident in ‘vegan foods near me’ Google searches increasing by 5,000% and vegan alternatives receiving $2.1 billion in investments in 2020. These vegan statistics are growing each year, but does ‘vegan’ mean the same to everyone? The Vegan Society elaborates that:
"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
However, people become vegan for various reasons - for the animals, the planet, or health benefits. On the surface, it seems like individuals can cater the vegan diet to their own lifestyles and values, but not everyone thinks this way. Some people in the vegan community believe that vegan alternatives to meat, cheese, and eggs are fundamentally not vegan (Figure 1). Even the famous plant-based Beyond Meat burger patties and Greggs sausage rolls are met with disgusted remarks. Their reasoning? It imitates the carcass of a dead animal so no logical vegan would dare to eat it unless they want to promote the carnist (meat-eater’s) propaganda.
Many of these comments can be found on posts in Vegan Facebook Groups, where vegan in-fighting reaches another level of viciousness. Debates around whether vegan cheese should be allowed, shaming people for eating grapes (Figure 2), and calling someone out for not being vegan enough because they ate produce pollinated by bees (Figure 3) are a few examples that highlight the logic of the few.
If you attempt to understand them, their logic could be defined by orthorexia nervosa - the obsession with eating food that is healthy (or believed to be healthy) and demonizing all other foods. Ironically, this leads to detrimental health impacts, such as social isolation, anxiety, and malnutrition, among many other consequences. Research has shown that orthorexia nervosa correlates with narcissism and perfection. This could be why they have extreme approaches towards both their own diets and critique others by the same standard. Alternatively, this could simply be understood as self-flagellation due to a guilty conscience for previously consuming animal products.
If you continue to follow the white rabbit of Facebook comments, you will surely fall into a hole of “who’s the better vegan” competitions. A whole collage of these comments have been gathered by ‘carnist sympathisers’ (vegans who don’t shame others for eating animal products) on the Facebook group Vegans Who Hate Vegans. Here, there are satirical posts calling out gatekeeping vegans and bonding over how privileged, ignorant or just plain stupid vegans can be.
These satirical posts include various criticisms towards gatekeeping vegans. For example, vegans that give unsolicited ‘advice’ on how to eat healthier receive the highest amount of posts. Often these posts label gatekeeping vegans ‘Karens’ - jumping on the rampant internet trend. These gatekeepers are also criticised for their ignorance, in particular about the phenomenon of food deserts, and highlight how many people who become vegan might not have access to fresh fruits and veggies, let alone Whole Foods alternatives that Karen vegans promote. This active gate-keeping makes veganism more inaccessible when it is already perceived as a diet for the privileged few who do Bikram yoga and have boozy brunches every Sunday.
What these vegans don’t seem to understand is the economics of supply and demand. If there are more vegan alternatives that appeal to meat-eaters in the market, the more people are willing to try vegan food, the more these products become available (and cheaper). Eventually, these alternatives will make vegan food and the overall movement more accessible. Besides, the Vegan Society’s definition explained that veganism is essentially the rejection of animal products as far as possible and “promotes the use of animal-free alternatives”. By this logic, eating a Beyond Meat burger instead of a McDonald’s cheeseburger is vegan. Supporting Greggs in their move to sell vegan sausage rolls is vegan. Being actively vegan and making conscious consumption decisions is vegan - whether you choose to have a vegan burger or a salad.