I’m as susceptible to green washing as they come and I believe words have power. I mean, I’m a sustainability writer.
I remember once when one of the major soda companies came out with a Sierra Mist (or was it Mountain Dew?) in a can decorated with a woodland scene. I believe I was in school for my bachelor’s degree at the time and my husband and I were dating (so, at the risk of dating myself, this product came out around 2008). I’d never been much of a soda drinker, but suddenly there was a whole lot more appeal for me. I rationally understood why this was, even teased myself for it, but I still drank more soda at that time than I had in recent memory.
You might be able to guess that between the words “fake” and “natural”, I have a strong preference. And I’m not that unique in this. This strong emotional and ideological pull takes a toll on the vegan movement.
When vegan alternatives are labeled “fake meats” and “fake milk” and “fake leather” and “fake fur” and on and on ad nauseam we start to see veganism as not natural and also as inferior. Never mind that veganism does not require these alternative products and only describes what vegans don’t participate in: such as animal cruelty.
(Call me optimistic, but I choose to believe in a world that is approaching a natural inclination toward justice, mercy, and compassion.)
“Fake” is a label that keeps the carnist philosophy smoothly running in the comfort of its supposed legitimacy.
What’s A Vegan To Do?
Well, there’s three major alternatives:
(1) We embrace the forward-thinking model of Veganism. There’s a vegan YouTuber who calls herself the “Unnatural Vegan”. My husband calls meat alternatives “space meat”. He’s into science fiction, so I guess this is a compliment. And Vulcans, who are at least vegetarian and probably vegan, are pretty cool symbols of a logical and peaceful future (at least they’re cool to my geek brain).
(2) We rethink our language choices. Perhaps we use words like “alternative” instead of “fake”. I frequently call meat alternatives “plant meats” to help my kids understand what they’re eating (saying something is designed to look and taste like a chicken nugget but contains no chicken parts can get wordy and overly gruesome). Maybe instead of almond milk, we’re drinking almond juice. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being ridiculous, here, but I’m certain that the meat and dairy industries are capitalizing on our culture’s discomfort with certain words.
(3) We remember that eating legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, and grains that come from the Earth is far more “natural” than eating the hormone and antibiotic remnants of animals trapped in warehouses and fed diets they wouldn’t eat in Nature. Enough said.
What Do You Think?
Do we have the power to change the language around food in a culture where vegans are in the minority? Should we really spend energy trying? Do you have a knee jerk reaction to these loaded words? Let me know in the comments below!
Mic. the Vegan’s Take
I saw that Mic. the Vegan, my favorite Vegan YouTuber, had covered this topic, I felt inspired to write my thoughts before watching his video (just to make sure I wasn’t ripping off his ideas). He has some interesting perspectives that I think are valuable to consider as well.
Until next time, keep that talk walking!