As I crossed the overpass to Red Square, Seattle's gray overcast and pinpoint rain brought a certain stillness to my mind, although it was cut short.
"ANIMALS WANT TO LIVE," chalk sprawled across the stairs in pastel colors read. "Watch Dominion," with a drawn Youtube icon.
I smiled at the vibrate and passionate activism that left its mark on the UW campus. I still respect and even admire that exercise of freedom. But when I googled "Dominion" out of curiosity, my blood boiled with near disgust. Another graphic, horrifyingly triggering documentary on animal cruelty and animal agriculture.
While this support of veganism effectively distributes information about animal cruelty, this messaging reinforces incorrect ideas that veganism is the ideal diet for everyone.
Before I continue, it should be noted that I am not opposed to veganism and advocating for animal rights. From a young age, I held this intrinsic connection to the natural world around me. I naturally gravitate to a more plant-based diet, and I value life in all forms. And veganism does warrant applause in its rewarding environmental impacts and health benefits.
"I had a lot more energy, and my skin got better after going vegan," sophomore Aisha Magsi, president of Students Organizing for Animal Rights (SOAR), said. It was students from SOAR who put the chalk messages up across campus.
Many also see veganism as a form of protest against animal cruelty and the treatment of slaughterhouse workers, who face dangerous working conditions and serious mental illness, including PTSD and depression, as a result of their labor-intensive and grizzly jobs. What's worse: Workers are often immigrants and undocumented, and factories exploit their vulnerable status in order to achieve efficiency.
Vegan diets can also reduce an individual's carbon footprint by 73% and meat production often results in large water waste, as often told through the infamous hamburger.
However, veganism is not the end-all-be-all solution for solving the environmental crisis.
"Those statistics haven't been challenged in any meaningful way for me, but at a certain point, one has to take it with a grain of salt,” Max Dammarell, an officer in Campus Animal Rights Educators (CARE), said. “The individual change is pretty negligible."
Describing their own path to veganism, Dammarell said they grapple with the "single-issue mindset" around animal rights and the awareness of corporate motives and the growing market for environmental sustainability.
"The reason you see more plant-based products on the shelves is because plant-based products, there's a market,” Dammarell said. “Corporations are going to make things to sell, and they're not necessarily going to do that in an ethical way or environmentally responsible way just because it's plant-based.”
Every consumer, vegan or not, should hold a healthy skepticism of corporations because of their manipulation of the market. Greenwashing practices — misleading claims about a product's environmental benefits — target this growing market. Labels such as free-range and organic on eggs act as one example of greenwashing in order to falsely reassure consumers.
In addition, graphic and triggering content promotes a fear-mongering and even traumatic experience which acts too personally against the individual.
Personally, as a non-vegan, this use of rhetoric perpetuates negative stigmas around veganism as elitist because of the "moral high ground" layered in its subtext. It's a forceful and penetrating way to inspire change, and I oppose such Orwellian tactics strongly on a fundamental level.
As listed in their responsible activism guidelines, CARE also opposes this type of activism.
"You don't have to be vegan to be a good person,” Dammarell said. “Everybody has their own food journey, and it's a really personal thing.”
There are many factors why an individual might not be vegan. Among them are a history of eating disorders, allergies, religious beliefs, and finances. However, opening yourself up to these questions around where our food comes can allow us to explore our beliefs, face those daunting questions, and learn more about who we are.
Veganism unfortunately can be stigmatized as elitist, but I do not believe vegan options are for vegans only. The creativity and playfulness that sprouts from vegan food can be eaten by anyone and everyone. As a non-vegan, I love veggies and tofu, so guess what? I eat veggies and tofu!
According to Magsi, SOAR holds two missions: to spark conversation and to make veganism more available to UW students.
"There [are] so many rewarding things about being vegan. Knowing that your beliefs and your ethics align with your actions, and it's really empowering," Magsi said. "It's good to stay open-minded and stay curious."
Keep an open mind to educating yourself and trying new food, as plant-based diets develop differently for everyone. As Dammarell said, food is a personal journey, and everyone deserves the chance to find that empowerment of consciously aligning your ethics with your actions.
Reach contributing writer Tatum Lindquist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TatumLindquist
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