Guess what? I did.
I'd like to share my adventure with you, but linearly describing the whole event would probably be boring for both the reader (you) and the writer (me), so I'll try to touch on a few subjects that came to my mind and sum up my feelings about the experience.
If you're not familiar with Vegfest or if you want to check what I'm talking about, you can check the programme.
Does veganism rhyme with consumerism?
I went to Bristol Vegfest a few months back and even though the people in charge, the concept, and most of the stalls were the same, my first impression was very different this time. It’s maybe because this one in London was completely indoors, terribly busy, and that more than half of the whole exhibition was consumerism oriented : food stalls, different kinds of vegan products such a clothes, charities, in a word, stuff that involved spending money.
The event was organized on two levels: the lower floor was only about food stalls and other vegan products for sale, while the upper level was half talk rooms and workshops and half… food and other items. The ratio consumer goods versus vegan education seemed way off-center to me in this sense.
The crowd was huge and people were queueing for ages to buy food, clothes, body care products or other gadgets (as I did too).
It made me wonder if veganism isn't in some ways reduced to a consumerist movement : buying trendy vegan shoes, eating fancy “fake meat” or wearing the brand new Sea Shepherd tee-shirt (which I have bought and lost since then but that's another story). I actually have nothing against these things at all, for they’re all part of a cruelty-free lifestyle and I myself enjoy feeling like I’m giving my money to the right cause. But isn’t giving money a way to appease our conscience for not giving energy to the cause instead?
I think we should try to keep in mind that veganism isn’t something that we can acquire by spending money; it is a social movement that goes against a society that tells us that our value is in direct correlation with the content of our wallet.
I do understand that it must be handy for some people to reduce it as a trendy lifestyle, to then be able to disqualify it socially and morally and I think that we have to stand as far as possible from that.
... with sexism?
One of the other things that struck me is this poster I came across in the upper level - the activism level.
It's a poster from the animal group Viva!, which advocates the health perks of a vegan diet by showing a close-up of a woman's mouth eating a banana; a pretty tasteless overtone.
Not that I ever held animal groups close to my heart, but seeing this gigantic mysogynistic poster in the middle of one of the biggest vegan events in Europe made me cringe a little.
This isn't an isolated case : PETA and other animal welfare groups have been using female's bodies as a means to raising awareness for animal rights for a long time. Neither sexism nor any other form of discrimination can possibly help the fight for other causes concerning justice. If we agree that the process of looking down on others (be it species, gender, sexual orientation, race, class, etc) is wrong, surely we see that the problem can't be part of the solution.
Most of us vegans realize that we live in a society that regards nonhuman animals as inferior, and we should; in the same manner, be very aware that we live in a patriarchal society ruled by white men and even though most of us believe that we are all making personal choices everyday of our lives, this kind of activism is proof that the conditioning we are exposed to is very much alive and ever present in places you'd expect it the least.
or with activism?
This is why I decided to spend the rest of my time away from the disturbing feeling that that had slowly seized me. My friends and I spent the rest of our Saturday in the upper floor, our day at VegFest ending up with a vegan stand-up comedy by Andrew O'neill which was fucking brilliant.
We pretty much also spent the whole Sunday in the auditorium where the line up was great. Other good talks were taking place in other rooms too (a lot of them being about health and nutrition though).
In fairness, I mainly went to VegFest to see Gary Francione, as he has in my opinion built up what is now the most effective way to advocate for veganism without compromising on the message through his Abolitionist Approach. He gave two talks and took part in a debate about single issue campaigns at the end of the day.
I also listened to a talk by Melanie Joy but I missed Tobias Leenaert's and the first debate for there was a Q&A session with Gary Francione in another room.
People seemed really receptive to Francione's stance on the strict abolition of animal use whatsoever in opposition to regulation and compassionate killing. His message also pointed out that single-issue campaigns are often racist (by pointing at other people's traditions that aren't in any way more barbaric than ours, like the Chinese eating dogs or the Danish killing wales) and sexist (as discussed above).
Discussing and being aware of intersectionality is for me a very important part of being a complete vegan activist.
He's a great example of vegan activism that's successfully reaching out to people because it's accessible, yet never compromising nor apologetic.
(And I got a picture taken because I'm a self-proclaimed groupie.)
As I mentioned, I tend to question the vegan movement and even though it's normal that we can't just be a homogeneous group that agree on the causes and the ways to fight for them, I still hope that veganism will one day only mean the fight that seeks to exclude any form of oppression on earth.
Nonhuman animals aren't any inferior to human beings; our differences should be our strength, and freedom from exploitation should be our common goal -be it within our own kind or amongst the manifold species that we share our home with.
In the same way, the fact that we live in a capitalist society where material accumulation equals success and achievement, it's easy to envision vegan activism through the lense of consumption. But if we want to succeed as a movement, we shouldn't be buying into the very rules that we reject.
Donating our money to animal groups is probably a good way to live at peace with our conscience but it isn't the way forward.
There are so many people out there that are still waiting to be educated about these issues - like I was, like you were, not long ago.
Being vegan activists doesn't require any monetary involvment, it only requires a full commitment to educating ourselves in order to be able to educate others and make this world a better place. If we don't do it, who will?
I'd appreciate other insights very much.