Has the Vegan Society lost the plot?

There’s been controversy in vegan circles recently over changes to the Vegan Society(VS). In late 2013 the organization underwent rebranding in order, we were told, to gear it up for its 70th anniversary later this year and to give it a fresher, more modern feel.

At the helm of these changes is CEO Jasmin de Boo, who took over last year. She had previously been in charge of Animals Count, now called the Animal Welfare Party. Despite being launched in 2006 in the hope it would transform the political landscape for animals, it was spectacularly unsuccessful and fought only one seat at the general election four years later, receiving a mere 149 votes and 0.3% of the vote.

Many members have been unhappy with the direction the Society has taken over the past few months, highlighting the Love Vegan campaign which has slogans like “You don’t have to be vegan to love vegan lipstick” and “You don’t have to be vegan to love vegan ice-cream”. Opponents say the abolitionist message is being watered down by the insinuation that it is ok to dip in and out of being vegan.

In her blog on the group’s website, de Boo responded to these allegations by saying: “We have never and nor will we ever campaign for so-called ‘part-time veganism’ as a permanent lifestyle, but only as part of an exciting journey towards 100% veganism.”

But its critics are accusing the Society of selling out, not only because of the partial vegan message but because it is also wholeheartedly embracing consumer and celebrity culture. In an article on the Huffington Post website called “Going vegan like Beyonce”, de Boo defended the singer’s choice to wear leather and fur by arguing that “Most ‘transitioning’ vegans will own and wear animal products until worn and no longer usable. The products will usually be replaced with vegan alternatives…In this sense Jay-Z and Beyonce are not unusual in wearing leather.”

In fact they were not “transitioning” at all, they were on the diet for 30 days because of its health and “spiritual” benefits. After that they reverted back to being omnivores. Therein lies the problem. Unlike in the past when there were fixed categories of omnivore, vegetarian and vegan, nowadays there are all sorts of dietary possibilities with “flexitarian” eating being all the rage. How does the VS respond to this changed landscape made possible by lifestyle capitalism and the explosion of the internet and social media?

For de Boo and others, the answer is clear: it should be embraced, otherwise the Society risks being left behind. She says: “Veganism was for a long time associated with the counter-culture and seen as “difficult” but now we are seeing it enter the mainstream much in the way vegetarianism did in the 1980s.” Clearly the way to make it less “difficult” – as she sees it – is to adopt a more flexible approach: “There are no rules and you are only answerable to your own conscience”.

But for a lot of people the idea that people who still wear leather, wool or even fur could call themselves “transitioning vegans”, raises a lot of problems. This is especially true for animal rights campaigners and critics of the new approach have highlighted the downgrading of animal suffering by placing it below other issues on the revamped website. de Boo now admits this was a mistake and says “some of the pages still need revising”.

One of the most important functions of the VS has always been to promote the availability of vegan products and to work for better labelling of them, and this has improved greatly over the years. But does that mean it should therefore be completely in thrall to consumerism? After all if veganism is going mainstream and mainstream society is obsessed with consumerism (for those who can still afford it, for the rest it is food banks and social ostracism), is veganism by extension no more than a capitalist lifestyle choice?

As the debate over the VS has raged on social media in recent weeks, the tone has become increasingly hostile. De Boo has been forced to concede the “need to make sure our communication is equally respectful”  and “to ensure that those commenting on Facebook…do so in a respectful and friendly manner at all times.”

Now in another concession a special meeting has been called to try to assuage the  opponents of the rebranding. This will take place tomorrow, 19th July, in London. If de Boo and others thought this would pacify their critics, however, they have failed. Already on Facebook they have been criticised for locating it in London (the VS is based in Birmingham and that would be much more central), for making it by invitation only and not allowing non-members to attend, and for the choice of facilitator.

Clearly whatever happens tomorrow, this is one dispute that is going to run and run.


    • That’s a good point to which I don’t know the answer. Someone who’s been a full member since 1987 told me he knew nothing about it. Perplexing isn’t it?

  1. Veganism is so much more than what you eat, or a diet….it is about compassion for all animals…. One can be a strict vegetarian foregoing all animal products …nothing wrong with that at all. But if you are vegan, that means more than simply no animal products…. Mainstreaming is all well and fine, until it comes to losing the meaning of the word. Donald Watson coined the term when he wrote: The word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
    He must be turning in his grave.

  2. Some of de Boo‘s quotes are very telling, e.g. „(…) you are only answerable to your own conscience.“ No! Maybe for things that only affect you, like whether you should really have that tenth cookie after skipping your run or whatever. But for choices that kill other beings, you are not only answerable to your own conscience. Try applying this to other cruelties. No one would say that other types of abuse only concern the conscience of the abuser.

  3. “At the helm of these changes is CEO Jasmin de Boo, who took over last year. She had previously been in charge of Animals Count, now called the Animal Welfare Party. Despite being launched in 2006 in the hope it would transform the political landscape for animals, it was spectacularly unsuccessful and fought only one seat at the general election four years later, receiving a mere 149 votes and 0.3% of the vote.”

    There are many supporters of Animal Welfare Party and the ever growing international network of animal parties who would disagree with the assertion that the party has been ‘unsuccessful’.

    The party was founded in 2006 on the understanding that winning political representation for animals would be a slow but necessary process – made all the more difficult by the ‘First Past The Post’ system used for UK General Elections, in which voters tend to vote tactically.

    But while the party and its members have always appreciated that winning seats in elections could take some years, as a testimonial party, we are also aware that we don’t need to win seats to be able to influence the debate on animal and environmental issues and exert pressure on other parties to pay attention to and include or strengthen their policies on these issues.

    AWP has contested four elections since our founding in 2006. The results were:

    2008 London Assembly Elections 1,828 votes (1.12%)
    2009 EU Parliament Elections (Eastern Region) 13,201 votes (0.8%)
    2010 General Election – Islington South and Finsbury 149 votes (0.3%)
    2014 EU Parliament Elections – London Region 21,092 votes (0.96%)

    In the recent EU elections, we joined forces with the 6 other European animal parties standing for election to the EU Parliament in a campaign to ‘Make History For Animals’. See http://www.euroanimal7.org for more info.

    Our own EU election campaign and policies received some very positive coverage in the media, like this blog by 38 Degrees in which our policies came out top: http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2014/05/21/eu-elections-where-the-parties-stand/

    And articles like this about us in the mainstream media may have introduced the concept of speciesism to a new audience: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/a-different-species-of-politician-9328340.html

    Just as we in the UK were originally influenced by the success of the Dutch party, PvdD, our presence on the political scene, along with others, has helped bolster the case for similar parties to form within the past year in Sweden and Cyprus and, just this week, Finland. There are now over 15 animal parties around the world.

    Despite AWP’s 2014 result not being enough to win a seat in the EU Parliament this time, we are delighted that both our Dutch and German counterparts, PvdD and Tierschutz Partei did win seats. These are two of the oldest parties in the movement and the rest of us are truly inspired by their success. For the first time in history, animals now have dedicated representatives in the EU Parliament in the form of Anja Hazekamp of PvdD and Stefan Eck of Tierschutz Partei.

    The results for the whole Euro Animal 7 below show AWP’s results in a wider context and, we believe, demonstrate that we are also on course for election victory in future.

    PvdD (NL) 4.22% 1 MEP
    PAN (PT) 1.72%
    Tierschutz (DE) 1.2% 1 MEP
    PACMA (ES) 1.12%
    AWP (UK) 0.96%
    APC (CY) 0.88%
    Djurens Parti (SE) 0.24%

    None of us are under any illusion that we can bring about change for animals solely by the political route. However, we do believe that victories like these which, like it or not, add authority and credibility to the anti-speciesist movement and provide a platform from which we may express our opinions, are important contributors to the cultural change we, as animal advocates, all believe in and seek.

    Vanessa Hudson, Leader, Animal Welfare Party UK

    • I know that as a party leader it’s your job to big up your party, Vanessa, but what you say really flies in the face of the facts.
      I was at the launch of Animals Count in Dec 2006 and it was portrayed as a groundbreaking development which would greatly advance the cause of animals. If all you can show for it after seven years is a maximum of 1.12% of the vote then it must be considered a disappointment.
      But that’s not really the important point because it wouldn’t make much difference even if you were more successful. AWP and the other “animal parties” are not parties of animal rights or liberation, they are parties of animal welfare.
      I don’t know you personally or the people behind the other parties so I don’t know if you originally believed in animal rights and are watering down your principles in order to gain support or if you always thought animals are there to be used, albeit in a kinder more welfare-friendly way.
      But whatever the motive, that’s what these parties stand for and although I’m sure you and others involved in them wish to do good, you will find yourselves chewed up by the political establishment.
      Politics is all about class and the domination of the ruling class over the rest of society. Capitalism is the vehicle by which this class maintains its wealth and power and any attempt to counter that must begin with an analysis of class, hierarchy and capitalism.
      As an anarchist I believe that attempts to reform society, to make it better for people and animals, can only go so far before hitting the brick wall of class and capitalism.
      Many of your policies are pretty welfarist as they stand, but were your support to increase you would find even those policies hammered into shape to conform to the ethos of a capitalist and speciesist society.
      This is what’s happened to the Green Party over the last couple of decades. It started as the Ecology Party 40 years ago, a radical “anti-party party” as it called itself yet slowly but surely it’s learned to conform. Now it wants merely a greener form of capitalism.
      This is what always befalls parties of the left and the Labour Party is another good example. They start off by claiming to stick up for the downtrodden and dispossessed but give them even a whiff of power and compromises are made, principles are abandoned and hey-ho they are part and parcel of the system they once opposed.
      So party politics is a mug’s game. Much better to work within our communities and workplaces – and amongst fellow activists – to build a new libertarian society from the bottom up.
      Ultimately though upheaval will come through class struggle. Only the working class has the power and numbers to bring about revolution, though I admit that doesn’t seem likely to be immanent the way things stand right now.

  4. Jasmijn de Boooooooo as she is now called has made several grave mistakes. Firstly she has shown arrogance by pushing her own agenda and not consulting the membership over vegan soc direction. Secondly she made a shocking recruitment error in employing a vegan of just a few months (and thats not proven)into the role of Comms/Rebrander who has herself made many cock-ups including misunderstanding an academic report, jasmijn seems hell bent on defending this choice. Thirdly, jasmijn has prioritised the trademark scheme over activities such as outreach, Fourthly, she has allowed naive campaigns to be rolled out, fifthly she has insulted vegans worldwide by trivialising our ethical views and reducing veganism to a mere consumer choice. She needs to leave. Now.

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