Opinion

The activists protesting Antler restaurant don't speak for all vegans

Veganism needs to be more than its current face of economic privilege, nonsensical protest, rigidity and judgment. It needs a rebranding.

There are various ways to be a conscious consumer. Not eating animal products is just one

Veganism needs to be more than its current face of economic privilege, nonsensical protest, rigidity and judgment. It needs a rebranding. (CBC)

As someone who has eaten vegan for most of the last decade, I'm convinced that the message vegans and vegetarians need to promote nowadays is less "meat is murder" than "consume more consciously."

"Meat is murder" is catchier, true, and sends a strong, clear message. But it is not necessarily a message that motivates people to cut out animal products from their diet. In fact, traditional vegan propaganda often invites defiance, with people who are tired of being told their diets are wrong responding by threatening to increase their meat consumption. Sound familiar? 

This past weekend, animal rights activists staged their sixth or seventh protest outside Toronto restaurant Antler Kitchen & Bar, which serves game meat such as venison and wild boar. One of the activists' recent protests garnered international attention after the restaurant's owner carved and ate a deer leg in the window, in defiance of the protesters.

In response, activists keep coming back to Antler carrying signs that say things like "Take death off the dinner table," "Don't buy while they die" and "Murder."

Counterproductive tactics

On behalf of the many somewhat quieter vegans and vegetarians in this country, I'll say this: not all of us stand behind this type of protesting. In fact, I find it counterproductive. The protests have resulted in huge promotion for the restaurant, and a bit of a stain on the societal perception of vegans.

The message we seem to get from vegan activists we see on Twitter or in the news is that everyone should be vegan. But that's not a reasonable ask. Food is more than just what fuels you. Food is culture and history, daily ritual and habit, it indicates concepts of class and belonging, it connects us to the earth and other living beings.

For many Canadians, meat is the centre of the dinner plate, the key ingredient in the recipe your grandmother passed down to you and perhaps even the result of a yearly hunting trip. We can't simply pressure people into abandoning all of those things.

People are vegan for a multitude of reasons, but the top three tend to be about dietary health, environmental impact, and of course, concern for animal welfare. In general, it is about recognizing the connection between the way we consume and the effects it has on us and the world around us: conscious consumption.

Being a conscious consumer means recognizing that our dollars are votes, and every time we choose to buy something we are choosing to support that product. When we buy organic apples, we are voting for a world with more organic apples. Same goes for factory-farmed chicken.

I see conscious consumption as a way to hack the food system. I am a student with a limited budget and I live in an urban area where most food is stockpiled in a supermarket. If I must participate in the food system, I will do so in a way that my footprint is the lightest. Being a vegan consumer means that I am voting for less mass meat production.

Some people choose to interact with the food system differently; they have the means to buy their food directly from producers, to witness and understand what they are voting for. Businesses such as Antler — which says it uses locally foraged ingredients and ethically farmed meats — vote for meat production and procurement that rejects factory farming.

Veganism and Antler offer just two different ways to hack our food system, for people to feel more connected and informed about what they eat. They are not one and the same, but they definitely are not enemies.

Rebranding veganism

Veganism needs to be more than its current face of economic privilege, nonsensical protest, rigidity and judgment. It needs a rebranding.

Veganism should be supportive of whichever way one chooses to hack the food system. Yet it is unapproachable when it doesn't acknowledge the restraints people face in trying to change their consumption, and it is nonsensical when it positions itself in opposition to small-scale food production that promotes community and a vibrant local economy.

In regards to doing the least harm for animals, it is better to have a lot of conscious consumers than just a few vegans. My own diet is rooted in concern for animals and the environment, but it also encompasses concern for what our future food system will look like.

It may be "more vegan" to buy soy-beef than it is to be a paying customer at Antler, but I can't say for sure that it is consuming more consciously.

Sarah Bond is a soon-to-be graduate of the University of British Columbia where she studied Global Resource Systems. She spends her days taking care of a few energetic kids, working at the local farmers market and thinking a lot about food systems justice.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Sarah Bond is a soon-to-be graduate of the University of British Columbia where she studied Global Resource Systems. She spends her days taking care of a few energetic kids, working at the local farmers market and thinking a lot about food systems justice.

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