Is Veganism an Elitist Club?

With the news of Kylie Jenner posting vegan meals onto her public Snapchat story, some of the responses from the vegan community have got me wondering: is veganism an elitist club? The Kardashian/Jenner clan are infamous amongst vegans for their leather/fur fashion and their non-vegan make up lines. Does this mean that we ought to banish them from the vegan kingdom altogether… forever? I’m not so sure.

Granted, some people were very fortunately raised as vegan from birth but the vast majority of vegans once used and consumed animal products. Everybody has to start somewhere. Therefore, Kylie’s carnist lifestyle up to now is surely no reason to doubt her vegan future. I will hold my hands up and admit that I myself doubt the longevity of Kylie’s vegan venture – this is probably just a fad diet for her, and a way to cause a stir in the media. However, with a largely negative reaction towards her first vegan steps, can we really claim that veganism is NOT an exclusive club if we fail to welcome a huge figure in popular culture into the community?

Kylie Jenner has 96.1MILLION followers on Instagram (for example). This means that she is planting the vegan seed in the minds of this many people every time she posts about it. There is the risk of her dropping the vegan diet along with some nonsense post about it making her ill (or whatever the excuse of the month is)… which, admittedly, can be equally as damaging in front of an audience. However, most things done by the Kardashian/Jenner clan seem to be picked up by a certain number of people whether it be fashion, diet, or lifestyle. As such, this inclusion of a vegan diet in Kylie’s Snapchat could mean that many people at least give it a go. It may even snowball into a fully vegan lifestyle for some. I think we should encourage Kylie to continue in her efforts, rather than shooting her down immediately, regardless of our personal opinions of her.

There has been controversy long before this in the Twittersphere with regards to who can, or should, label themselves as vegan. The Google definition for Vegan is as follows:

  1. Noun.
    a person who does not eat or use animal products.
    “I’m a strict vegan”
  2. Adjective.
    using or containing no animal products:
    “a vegan diet”

Of course, the wonderful thing about language is that it can change, and evolve, and grow over time. I think it would be hard to argue for a vegan definition that allowed for the use or consumption of animal products, though. This is the fundamental point of veganism. This idea is something that routinely causes disagreements within the community, particularly on Twitter. Certain people who claim the “vegan title” admit to slipping up occasionally or to eating animal products when served them as a guest in order to avoid being somehow awkward or rude. Is it so elitist to suggest that this fundamentally means that you are not vegan? Some have claimed that it is.

However, going back to the wonder of language, lifestyles or diets such as this have led to the creation of new words which more accurately describe these positions. Flexitarian, for example, meaning a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eating meat or fish. Likewise, the less commonly used flexi-vegan, meaning a primarily vegan diet but occasionally eating non-vegan foods. I would argue that this rejection of non-vegans claiming veganism is less elitist and more in favour of accuracy and utility. What good are words if we ignore their meaning? Even where a person is unable to be fully vegan due to issues with class, ability, and so on, and so forth, it still seems incoherent to claim veganism. Surely, one is vegan or one is not.

Importantly, if we are to adhere to a strict definition and usage of the term veganism, then it is important that we make room in our activism and advocacy for such cases as listed above: where people are unable to adapt to a fully vegan lifestyle due to reasons not out of choice (class, ability, and so on, and so forth). These cases do exist and there are a variety of legitimate circumstances in which veganism is currently not a reasonable or practical lifestyle (for example, living in a food desert). As such, if someone actively and consciously attempts to reduce their consumption of animal products, this should be acknowledged and praised even if it is not veganism. Otherwise, the movement risks classism and ableism, rejecting individuals with genuine circumstances as irrelevant, despite their genuine inability to be vegan.

Veganism is not an elitist club and should not be treated like one, either internally or externally. Encouragement and acceptance is important at any stage of the vegan process and whether someone becomes vegan overnight, or whether they are simply trying, it is important that we acknowledge everyone’s attempt to make the world a better place regardless of where it fits on our scale of perfection. Who is truly perfect, anyway?

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