It’s 2017 and I Can’t Believe We’re Still… Pinning Our Hopes On Ethical Consumption

By Breana Macpherson-Rice

A response to “It’s 2017 and I Can’t Believe We’re Still Debating… Veganism” by Lara Robertson, published in Issue 2, CULTURE.

I agree with Robertson – as she says in her article, it’s too easy to hate on vegans. In fact, it’s too easy to hate on anyone who disrupts the status quo, due to their values. Apathy is so hot right now.

But it’s also too easy, in this day and age, to pretend that all ethical quandaries we are faced with can be solved neatly by our individual consumer decisions. There is a myth that persists among our generation that if you don’t like something, don’t pay for it; then, you are absolved of guilt, can rub it in your friends’ faces, try to get them to do the same and that’s your social change for the week. What could go wrong?

Maybe I’m being pedantic, or maybe I’m just residually pissed that one of the first articles of the nondescript “culture” issue (replacing autonomous Ethnocultural and Indigenous issues of Tharunka) was a classic white, vegan one. But I just feel like, if you’re going to talk about veganism, there are a lot of great and important conversations to have. And this article sparked barely any of them.

For instance, rather than plunging into a hearty analysis that locates the industrial slaughter of animals en masse in a broader context of capital and colonisation, Robertson encourages us to make the right choice – because when we have an abundance of foods at the supermarket, “why would you choose to take a life?”

Hold up. If we are talking about the evils of industrial animal agriculture, surely I’m not making too much of a gigantic leap to want to talk about the rest of industrial agriculture too, right? Because – I hate to break it to you – if you care about animals or humans, the problems of monoculture, artificial fertilisers, pesticides, multi-national Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) companies and plastic are some of the biggest baddies you’re up against, threatening the longevity of all kinds of life on this planet. And they sure as hell aren’t going to be vanquished by a bit of ethical shopping at the supermarket– if anything, that’s how they thrive and persist.

Forgive me for zooming out to focus on the globe as a whole, but I think this is a really important point. Because I wonder: in encouraging people to be vegan, is there room to extend our empathy to include all species that share our planet?

We’re in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event, and while there are no simple solutions, there are some pretty key catalysts. The standouts for me are colonialism and our economic system. In Australia, with invasion came a whole set of ideas about how to commodify and instrumentalise animals, and I think that is the white elephant threatening to squash the canapés at the vegan party. If your veganism isn’t rooted in an analysis of these broader problems, who is it for, and who does it neglect? How are you going to convince me that this isn’t just some gratuitous lifestyle choice?

I guess what irks me most is that when us bleeding hearts argue for the protection of our fanged, furry and feathered friends, it so frequently slips into this highly simplistic argument of “eating meat is bad, conservation is good” – a discourse which is not only flawed on many counts, but has proven racist time and time again (hello “wilderness” in which people supposedly don’t belong, hello racist laws preventing traditional custodians from enacting the sustainable fishing practise they’ve passed down over tens of thousands of years).

This is not to say that veganism is inherently racist. But it is to draw attention to the nuance lacked in presuming that the pinnacle of morality is not eating other animals, when, for most of us, that “choice” is largely made possible by the broader context of the voracious, colonial-capitalist machine that is devouring the planet and dispossessing us all – some (races, classes, species) more than others.

I have gotten a bit off track. What I mean to say is this: I don’t think it is possible to simplify the choice to be vegan as one of solely moral grounds. Because a) that doesn’t do justice to the complex webs of identity and materiality we inhabit, and b) if you’re going to draw a line of morality to inform the practise of your lived daily life, there are not very many compelling reasons for you to draw it at “not eating other animals” without exploring further.

P.S. If you are reading this, still eat meat all the time, and think that I have justified your carnivorous habits… go back to the start and read again.