Veganism reborn: clean, simple, good

May 24, 2010

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend over the past few weeks surrounding what people really think about veganism.

I think non-vegans are jealous.

Hear me out: this is a very Canada-centric market survey, since that’s where I live, but the BlackBerry was invented up here, so I’m going to assume that we live in a staging ground for all other new things. 🙂

Lately, I’ve seen not one, but two powdered meal replacement products in store windows that specifically branded themselves as vegan, right in the name of the product. Contrast that against Vega, which I’ll submit as the best-known vegan entrant in this category, which only mentions veganism once, and that’s in the fine print.

But those are still niche products compared to the one I want to talk about today.

In Canada, we’ve got a margarine caled Becel. In the US it’s sold under the name of “Promise Buttery Spread,” which is kind of weird, and it’s only got 3 varieties available, but here in Canada there are something like eight styles to choose from.

It’s quite possible that these varieties will spread (sorry) to the United States and elsewhere. This would be kind of cool, because one of them is called Becel Vegan.

We usually buy Earth Balance, which is sold in a different section of the grocery store for some reason, so the only reason I know about Becel Vegan is because I saw an ad for it on TV. That’s right, I saw them say “vegan” in a TV commercial like it was a good thing.

(By the way, this isn’t an ad for Becel. It’s made by Unilever, a company which has generated many criticisms, including animal testing, and part of me suspects they’re just doing this launch to win shelf space back from Earth Balance, but that’s just my business paranoia talking. Today we’re all about the rebranding of the word vegan, is all.)

So here’s what’s interesting about this new crop of vegan products: most of them come from fairly big companies, which means that they have at least one staffer on board who passed grade 4 math. Vegans are something like 1% of the population of the USA and Canada. Let’s look at just the USA for a second: 307 million people, times 1%, is a little over 3 million vegans. It’s not a small number, but then again, there are more members in the National Rifle Association (4 million.) Sure, there are probably some vegans in the NRA, and I can’t picture a margarine company making a product variant geared for gun lovers (actually, I can, but that’s another story,) but my point is that there are a lot of markets that are a lot larger if you’re looking to diversify.

I’ve said for a while that most “vegan” products aren’t really targeting the vegan market anyway (there’s no way we’re drinking all the soy milk, for example,) and this is just another example of this, but it’s also a sign of awesomeness to come.

Want more proof? Here’s a banner ad I found for Becel Vegan:

Ad for Becel Vegan margarine

Notice that it didn’t look like this:

Not an ad for Becel Vegan margarine

No, it used words like “simple goodness,” and I think that this is the start of a new positioning. I can’t emphasize enough how important the public shift to words like “green,” “simple,” and “good” are when it comes to veganism, and yes, some of that might be marketing hype, but marketers tell people what they want to hear, and I believe that it all leads to this New Truth:

People are jealous of vegans.

In the past, and yes, still today, veganism was considered an extreme option. People are much less likely to do things that they think are extreme, or maybe more importantly, that their peers think are extreme.

So what’s extreme? Something’s extreme if it’s hard to do. It still might be good for you, but if it’s extreme, it’s simply not seen as attainable for the majority of people. Once it becomes easy, it’s no longer extreme, and then it’s attainable.

Technology (and yes, capitalism) is making veganism easier every day. Go talk to someone who was vegan in the 70’s, when you needed to buy The Book of Tofu, not because of the recipes, but because it told you how to make the stuff in case there wasn’t a specialty shop in your area. There are a lot of us who, if we’re honest, might never have even considered veganism under those circumstances – knowing what we’d know then, not what we know now.

When veganism gets easier for Bob from Accounting, veganism gets easier for all of us – both as consumers and as members of society.

It’s going to take some time, but I think we’re reaching a sweet spot where veganism, or at least aspects of it, are going to be sought out by more and more people, because they can. It’s a “want this? Do this” kind of transaction, with hardly any friction – it’s simply a matter of picking a different, yet almost identical product from the store shelf.

Yes, there are some pitfalls yet to face, including a growing number of “sometime vegans” who’ll eat their veggie burgers with bacon, and it’ll continue to be a battle to get people switched off of some products.

In the meantime, we’ve graduated from “hardcore granola eating hippies” to “clean, simple, good.” There nothing wrong with granola, of course, but let’s take a moment to enjoy the shift.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew McElroy May 24, 2010 at 11:04 pm

You are missing a huge part of the picture.
Look at the number of Vegetarians out there. Your population just double or tripped. Now look at all the cancer victims out there. Your numbers just grew again. The great thing about vegan food is that vegetarians will eat it. We can be rest assured that there isn’t anything in it that we don’t want. Why? Because Veganism is a subset of Vegetarianism. Thanks Guys/Gals. Now if we can just get eggs kicked out of the definition of Vegetarian. I can’t wrap my mind around why they are considered vegetarian.

Jason May 24, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Thanks Andrew! I think vegetarians are a step closer because they likely know what veganism is, but while they’ve probably considered it, they’re just as in need of a “reason why” for veganism as omnivores are, and that “reason why” is going to end up being that they don’t have a reason not to, because it’s gotten ridiculously easy. Let’s look at the cancer victims out there – I’m sure there are many who haven’t changed a thing about their diets yet. Same reason, it’s not easy enough yet.

“Clean, green, good” and other such adjectives are a big step in repositioning veganism from “hard” to words we actually want to associate with, which is another way to make it easier.

Colleen May 25, 2010 at 11:40 am

Easy-ness is definitely a huge issue, but another is taste. Some people are vegetarians rather than vegans because of taste issues. It’s true that French vanilla ice cream has no equivalently delicious counterpart in the vegan world – yet. And it’s the “yet” that gives me hope for that 1% becoming a much higher number.

Things have changed so much since I went vegan 6 years ago. Vegan cheese was practically made of cardboard then and look at us now – eating melty Daiya on pizzas and nachos. Deliciousness must be integral to the food revolution!

Jason May 25, 2010 at 11:46 am

I’m often guilty of over-generalizing, but I put taste in with easiness: learning to like a new flavour/texture is hard.

Colleen May 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I wouldn’t put them together too much. After all, it’s flavour alone that makes “cookie activism” an effective tool!

Jason May 25, 2010 at 2:38 pm

But cookies are easy! I think we’re at a point where we need to start pushing vegan as the default for some categories, many baked goods being at the top of that list.

Colleen May 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Cookie’s in quotation marks, man – I mean making inroads for veganism by making omnis eat anything that is both vegan and super tasty and not apples or hummus.

And, like most things, vegan cooking and baking are easy only after you’ve figured them out. Let’s not forget the revelatory power for the newbies of things like “2 tbsp flax seed + 3 tbsp water = 1 egg”.

Jason May 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hot damn, I just had a fun idea: let’s make Errata sheets explaining egg replacer and slip them into mainstream cookbooks!

Seriously, aren’t there already a few web projects on the go to veganize some cookbooks? Let’s get organized!

Colleen May 25, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Guerrilla copy-editing, vegan-style. LIKE.

I think Hezbolla Tofu died the death awhile ago; otherwise, organization would be good.

Amy May 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Hey, I was just explaining the flax egg to my very traditional omni coworker today! She has been really cool, in the three months I’ve known her, about trying vegan baking, and wanted to know how to make her zucchini bread vegan so that I could have some. Easy!

As far as these big companies go, L’Oreal came out with some products a year or two ago that say 100% VEGAN right on them. I was similarly surprised because, as you said, we are such a small percentage of the population. Big corporations have been jumping on the “natural” and “organic” bandwagons for a while now, but vegan?! It was great to see. (But I still won’t buy from L’Oreal. 😉

tomb7890 May 27, 2010 at 11:29 am

I am persuaded by Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach and his arguments in “How Vegan” that we most effectively reduce the suffering of animals by working to decrease the demand for primary animal products, especially poultry and battery eggs.

Being legitimized by Beccel feels good, and I look forward to trying their product. However, if you use it to show Bob From Accounting how easy veganism has become, my fear is that you will in fact push him farther away. It may not have occurred to him that sunflower oil based margerine is ethically objectionable; and when you enlighten him with your knowledge of whey, you will be implicitly promoting veganism as an encyclopedic preoccupation with food ingredients. That’s how he’ll disparage it, anyway. And he will use that as an excuse not to give up the comforting foods of bacon and eggs that he probably associates with childhood.

I agree that veganism needs a rebranding, but my view is that veganism 2.0 should emphasize a boycott of meat, dairy, and eggs, and downplay the vegan status of condiments and other products–even though we delight in what seems like the accelerating rate of their introduction. Thanks to Amy and Jason for their news of the latest!

tomb7890 May 28, 2010 at 8:43 am

My previous comment was disrespectful to people who go to greater efforts than I do. Sorry.

Colleen May 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

tomb7890: As all vegans literally and effectively boycott meat, dairy, and eggs every day, I’m not sure what you have in mind that isn’t already being done in that regard, besides the usual array of protests, OVDs, etc.

Also, one of the results of our everyday boycott of these things is that mainstream companies are waking up to the fact that a broad swath of society is starting to want these things. I don’t see why one need exclude the other.

Some meat-eaters may resist trying veganism for the reason you suggest, sure, but fear can’t be the thing that motivates (or, in this case, de-motivates) us or anyone. The more venues/opportunities for promoting veganism the better, for everyone will respond differently to each way it is presented.

tomb7890 May 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

Hi Colleen, thanks for your comment! I’m basically arguing the case
for Pragmatic Veganism. What that is and why it might be desirable for us to internalize as a philosophy and practice can be read about here.

tomb7890 June 1, 2010 at 10:11 am

Jack Norris RD, president of Vegan Outreach, relays a personal anecdote specifically about margarine and whey, and how making an issue of it “might very well be harming the spread of veganism.” (Scroll down to Vegan Is As Vegan Does.)

Ava Odoemena September 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Vegan Outreach has been trying hard to smack veganism into a vegetarian corner of things. In your linked article Norris engages in a rhetoric fallacy by suggesting that vegans who want vegan, rather than vegetarian margarine, are scaring away would-be-vegans. This theme is repeated with different subjects over and over again. It’s very rude towards the would-be-vegans, because it assumes they are too stupid to decide how vegan they would want their things to be. People make up their minds anyway.

Basically my main critique towards Vegan Outreach, is their aggressive attempt to install a form of non-vegan vegetarianism as veganism. I don’t know why they continue to do this, ignoring all the reasoning disseminated by the likes of Francione. I feel this violates my culture as a vegan to the point of feeling attacked at a very fundamental level. Why in the world should we have to appease vegetarians who want to pretend that they’re vegans? Being a non-vegan vegetarian is legal! They can go ahead and have fun with that. They however should respect my vegan culture by not associating their non-vegan actions with it, please.

If Vegan Outreach wants to advertise margarine with whey, they should be calling themselves Vegetarian Outreach, because if they follow their own argument consistantly, they’d need to, because this is in fact what they are advocating: non-vegan vegetarianism.

So if your argument is, that real vegan foods, or insistance of myself for real vegan foods, would scare away would-be-vegans, then why not advocate non-vegan vegetarianism which avoids that problem?

I’ve asked Norris this who I respect as a Nutritionist very much, but not gotten a clear answer.

This is the problem: Vegan Outreach is sometimes behaving like a non-vegan org in a vegan dress, and doing so they perhaps unwillingly are advocating against veganism.

And as a memetic effect, that draws immense energy from the vegan community, because this results in debates like this, where vegans who dare to defend veganism are usually discredited and defamed by the obedient meme-bots who are spamming the message of their inner masters into the intertubes.

Ooops, sorry about slipping into troll mode a bit there, a VP moment I suppose…

Ava Odoemena September 19, 2010 at 7:15 am

My above comment was directed broadly not at tomb7890 specifically, but rather against the concepts transported.

Danquebec February 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

@Ava Odoemena

“Why in the world should we have to appease vegetarians who want to pretend that they’re vegans?”
Because energy is better put in vegan activism than in trying to figure out if the might-be-non-vegan-ingredients are vegan. If everyone stop eating meat, milk, and eggs, naturally the ingredients will be took in plants, and if not, then it’d be the next step.

“They however should respect my vegan culture by not associating their non-vegan actions with it, please.”
Wow, what an elitist. Do you want to save animals or to have a vegan club?

“then why not advocate non-vegan vegetarianism which avoids that problem?”
Because we want people to stop milk and eggs, not only meat.

Ava Odoemena September 26, 2012 at 6:22 am

@Danquebec February 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

“Wow, what an elitist. Do you want to save animals or to have a vegan club?”

Thank you for confirming the defamatory reflex. So you feel I don´t have a right to stand up for my culture?

“Because we want people to stop milk and eggs, not only meat.”

Actually, animal-substance-free diet is covered by non-vegan vegetarianism. So I´m responding to someone who believes that vegetarian means consumption of eggs and milk…

Banda September 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

Wow… If vegans put all their effort into vegan advocacy their own way instead of arguing amongst themselves about the best way, the world would be vegan by now… Been vegan for almost a year and if I didn’t love animals so much I would have convinced myself that vegans were low in essential amino acids and suffering from a chemical imbalance… I sometimes wonder if for some its more of an ocd thing than about the animals… Making it hard for people starting out D O E S hurt animals by making it too much of a chore for the average person who might not care as much.. Lets eradicate meat, milk, and eggs! Then we can eradicate the religion of veganism as well.

Ava Odoémena September 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Hi Banda. Actually, you are a vegan arguing about arguing vegans. It’s a bit funny you would actively partake in something you attempt to criticize. The submessage is, you have the privilege to argue, and you don’t want others to have that privilege as well. That’s not fair thinking.

Also, you bring up something which I had already addressed. If being vegan is too hard for some people, then why don’t they do the vegetarian thing? That’s freely available for them to choose.

It seems to me, the fetishistic attraction to veganism of people not ready to adhere to the vegan standard is the religious approach…

Today I was looking at the Morse code. I found a graphical explanation of it which puzzled me:!Morse-Tafel.png

It took me a long time to understand what I was looking at, almost a minute, and why it had two branches. Until I realized, oh, it’s the dot-branch and the line-branch, and consequently the logical order of all letters which follow.

This is what standard means. In case of Morse, some people came together in stuffy conference centers and agreed upon, what constitutes the Morse code. So it can be used in a sane and functional manner. If other people came now, and changed the thing around it would lose it’s meaning.

The standard of modern veganism was also defined by a group of people, most notably by Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson. Anybody who doesn’t want to accept the standard they defined, should please direct their energies toward vegetarianism.

If someone wants to enforce a different standard of veganism, while one of liking already exists -vegetarianism- that person or group is committing an aggressive act. Criticizing this, is not aggressive, it’s a legitimate defense against aggression.

So please don’t eradicate anything, the vegan standard is just fine as it is. You want something different from the vegan standard, well, vegetarians are more than glad to have a new supporter to their cause.

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