So much of our imperfect vegan series has been about releasing some of the shame or guilt many vegans face, especially when confronted by the way other vegans do things. Social media has been a great way to spread awareness, teach, share recipes and information and connect with others, but I’ve encountered so many vegans (especially new vegans) who after seeing a proud moment in the life of someone they follow online, have felt that they’re somehow not doing it right. I’ve encountered so much shame in our students, and one of the reasons why this series of episodes and posts has been a favorite of our listeners, is because we’ve opened a space for imperfection, and an open disclosure that confidently states “I have felt this too”, or “I have struggled with this too”, or “I have been through this too”. Shame and guilt should be nowhere near our plates and daily choices, and one area where I’ve seen some of the worry, guilt and shame around our purchasing choices is the brands, companies, and stores you buy from, even when you’re buying vegan foods.
Today we’ll be talking about the question many of you have, of whether or not it’s ok to purchase vegan products from large brands or corporations, or even chain restaurants that offer and sell vegan products or foods.
Oh that Social Media Hangover
Let me see if you’ve experienced something like this:
You’ve been scrolling through instagram and suddenly go through a set of stories in which another vegan you follow is talking all about how they’re boycotting a certain big company.
You excitedly share that a chain restaurant like Burger King has introduced a vegan burger and suddenly you notice a slew of comments of people mentioning how they will never eat at a restaurant like this either because they’re a big corporation or because it also serves meat and other animal products.
You see an instagram post with lots of company names crossed out and the reasons why this person never shops there.
You hear a podcast and a person says how they’re not going to regular supermarkets any more and only purchasing from small, organic, zero waste, walkable distance, zero emissions shop.
I could go on and on with the examples, but the key is this, when you encounter these messages you look at your own habits and remember the vegan burger from that fast food place you had last night, you remember how you just shopped at that big supermarket chain yesterday, you notice that half of those brand names are in your cupboards right now, and suddenly, shame, guilt and worry come aboard. The feeling that you aren’t doing enough, being perfect enough, not knowledgable enough, not vegan enough, sinks in.
Trust me I get it, this has happened to me and to so many others I know. I also completely understand how many people have gone beyond just eating and purchasing vegan products to taking into account many other ethical concerns (i.e. the sourcing of ingredients, worker compensation and rights, how wasteful a company is, how sustainable it is, etc.) and want to proudly share and talk about it, just like you might be proud of that beautiful icing job you did with that vegan cupcake you just baked.
Many big corporations do have many ethical concerns that go beyond what ingredients are in a product, and many small companies are dying and deserving of your business too, so what should we do?
There’s a space for everyone
The first thing we all need to understand is there’s a space for everyone. We will encounter other vegans that live in big cities, with wonderful fully vegan cafés and restaurants around the corner, enough money to shop at retailers where prices are sometimes higher, that have their produce brought directly from a local sustainable farm, but this isn’t the situation for all vegans. For many, buying at lower prices at big restaurant chains and supermarkets is a necessity. Eating the vegan burger at that big chain is helpful when they need to eat quickly and inexpensively. Some don’t have access to local organic vegetables from a farm, or even access to small independent stores in their area.
Some people will make their own sprouts, grow their own food, go zero waste and make their own ketchup, and others will need to purchase some ready made frozen meals, prepared products, and regular produce at their regular supermarket. Some people (and I’ve mentioned this in many other posts and episodes before), are going through food insecurity, live in food deserts, have limited access to fresh foods and might want to incorporate more vegan foods but aren’t all the way there yet. We need to always remember that there should be a safe space for wherever you are on this spectrum, without shame, and without feeling like you aren’t doing it correctly or aren’t welcome in the club.
Before we continue, let me reestablish this, Brownble has also become (thanks to all of you) a cool kind of club, and everyone is welcome here, whether you enjoy the vegan burger at your local fast food place, whether you’re nowhere near vegan but want to learn, whether you make your own soap and buy nothing from big supermarkets. Everyone is welcome here and we’re all on our own journey. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the receiving end of questions about where I buy my vegan products or from which brands, and I’ve had to say “well, I guess I’m me and I’m not that kind of vegan, I am an imperfect vegan through and through”.
There is also space for growth, but add things at your own pace
This doesn’t mean that we can’t grow in knowledge or awareness of the many issues surrounding production and other ethical concerns. I’ve also had to change some of the products that I buy when I’ve learned more about them and have found alternatives, but I don’t turn this into a regime of “never”. I do the best I can, and sometimes that means I can’t.
We can learn and grow, and incorporate new issues in our decision making process once we feel totally comfortable with our previous steps.
While we’re still in a world that is mostly not vegan, I think we need to come to terms with the fact that we will sometimes eat at restaurants that also sell animal products. We will purchase products sometimes from companies which also make the greatest chunk of their profits from selling animal products. We will share our lives with people who aren’t vegan and want to go to restaurants that aren’t exclusively vegan. We will live with family members who aren’t vegan and sometimes we’ll still purchase some animal products or see them when we open the fridge. This is part of the process, at least right now.
We create change with our dollars
It is so true that we vote and support systems with our dollars, and you can see this from two different angles. Large companies (who might also sell animal products) have a bigger reach than smaller ones. They are often, when demand exists, the ones that produce vegan options that will reach supermarkets everywhere, the ones that will also have the possibility of selling these products at lower prices. This means great news for inspired people who are considering making this change. It’s when they see that the places they currently go to have these options available already, right next to the foods they’re purchasing now, it’s when they see that when they go to a fast food chain or other restaurants with friends and family there will also be an option for them at that very place, helping them feel normal and that not much has changed.
We need to keep these products there, we need to keep the word vegan visible. This is why I still support and purchase many of these products. I also purchase from smaller vegan stores to support them, I go to my local farmer’s market when I’m not working on Saturdays, and I love being a paying customer at all the delicious vegan restaurants and small businesses that now fill my city.
We can support both of these or just one, and still be contributing to a better and more sustainable future for all of us, without the need to shame other people’s choices, or make them wonder (as many do) if veganism is actually right for them because they don’t feel it speaks to them. They don’t see themselves reflected in what they see online. No one wants to feel a lack of belonging, so let’s make this a welcoming space for all of us and our circumstances. It is the kinder choice, and what is veganism but daily choices based on kindness.
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