None of the usual representatives of the “animal rights corporate sector” were there – and neither there were the usual stale superstar talkers peddling “reducetarianism” and other business-led less-than-vegan positions.
One of the things I remember most of the day is the number of Irish activists who came up saying words to the effect: “where have all these vegans come from?”
They were remarking on the huge numbers of people who no-one active in the Irish movement had seen before; people who were saying that they had been vegan* for one or two years, several months, even three or four days sometimes.
This raises a few important movement issues, not least the worry some people have, Ronnie Lee for example, and Bernie Wright of the Dublin-based Alliance for Animal Rights, that there are far too few vegans who are active campaigners. The other thing worth pointing out is that there is absolutely no reason to think that the word “vegan” is a societal scare word that should be avoided at any time.**
In the light of this Irish context – and is written from Ireland during World Vegan Month where the whole animal advocacy community is buzzing from the effects of the brilliant Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary’s Go Vegan Ireland poster, billboard and bus/train/tram campaign – it is heartening to see the recent developments in the VegFestUK campaigns.
VegFestUK manager Tim Barford is focusing on, and rightly emphasising, the importance and centrality of grassroots campaigning. He’s also underlining the fact that the vegan movement is, first and foremost, a social justice movement, something elements of it seem keen to jettison or downplay.
I think Tim Barford shares a concern that has bothered me in the last few years: the deliberate reduction of veganism from a justice-for-all philosophy to a diet, often based on shallow, often temporary, plant-based celebrities, and increasing driven by data from sales and pop psychology research which does not necessarily fit well in a radical social justice setting.
Justice is not for sale – or shouldn’t be.
It seems to me that animal advocacy in Britain as well as in Ireland – with Barford as a prime mover (he greatly assisted Dublin VegFest) – is regaining something it should never, ever, have lost: the recognition that the nub and nucleus of a social movement is its grassroots.
Long may this welcome phase continue, and let’s hope that this renewed focus sees off the current fad of “reducetarianism,” again based on weak research findings (if that’s not too grand a word for it).
So, a big shout out to Tim Barford for helping to bringing back the heart of the animal advocacy movement.
* there’s obviously the issue of whether these people were saying they follow a plant-based diet, or the expansive philosophy of veganism.
** this raises the question of the use of the name “VegFest” as opposed to, for example, “vegan festival.” However, it seems fairly clear from media and movement reaction that it’s understood that “VegFest” means vegan-based.