‘Trump Veganism’: Motivations And Identity
The U.S. presidential election in 2016 stimulated much public discussion about “identity politics” (i.e., moving away from broad-based coalitions toward more exclusive groups based on one’s race, ethnicity, social background, sexual orientation, medical condition, or set of beliefs). Identity politics can work at the individual, organizational, and movement level. Indeed, social movements like veganism must grapple with an “identity dilemma,” finding the right balance between the power of a single focus and the advantages of building alliances with other social justice movements.
Using the political moment behind Donald Trump’s presidential victory as an example, the author of this paper examines the degree to which vegan organizations—especially the “professionalized American vegan movement”—reflect or do not reflect individual vegans’ perspectives on identity and alliance.
In a historical overview of veganism and animal rights, the researcher finds examples of both coalition-building and isolationist approaches. She notes that, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, animal rights work was intertwined with anti-slavery efforts, women’s rights, child welfare, prison reform, poverty relief, and labor rights. But she asserts that the animal rights movement in the U.S. has relied mostly on ideas and messages tied to white upper- and middle-class values and perspectives.
For instance, the “humane” treatment of animals was associated with the civility of higher classes, and animal “rights” echoed the notion of individual rights, which went hand-in-hand with nationalist views. The study calls attention to vegan campaigns in the last several decades that could be seen as exploiting prejudices against non-dominant groups (e.g., the Asian practice of eating dogs and cats, women wearing fur, and African-Americans promoting dog fighting).
The author advocates for the vegan movement to become more aligned with other social justice movements, pointing out that some relatively new vegan organizations have been founded on the concept of “intersectionality;” that is, the way different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine and overlap—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups. Organizations such as the Advocacy of Veganism Society, the Food Empowerment Project, Sistah Vegan, and Vegan Feminist Network disapprove of the more contentious and disruptive language of anti-speciesism. They advocate for a holistic, anti-oppressive approach and envision positive change coming from the kind of inclusiveness achieved through dialogue and education.
The author believes that the growth of this intersectional, anti-oppressive focus was an impetus behind “direct action vegans” issuing a “Nonhumans First Declaration” in 2014. The document declares that no activist or tactic working to make a positive change for animals should be excluded from the movement due to a conflict with human justice movements. According to the author, this is just one way powerful white males in vegan organizations have pushed back against grassroots efforts to consider a wider view of social justice beyond animal rights. The author asserts that white males prefer the status quo because of their dominance at the highest levels of leadership and do not want to reconsider their organizations’ tactics.
The 2016 presidential election is relevant because Donald Trump played heavily on identity politics among his base, characterized by support of traditional social structures and impatience with cooperative discussion. The question the author seeks to answer is whether U.S. vegans are more committed to veganism as a single-focus issue or interconnected with other social justice movements.
The researcher recruited 287 vegan participants via Facebook pages, starting with their personal pages and the Vegan Feminist Network page. Not surprisingly, the responses suggest this convenience sampling approach skewed the pool in the direction of feminists.
About three in four respondents identified as being an activist, and 93% reported that they participated in social movements other than veganism. They rated environmentalism as highly relevant to veganism. Rated lower, but still relevant, were: Black Lives Matter, prison abolition, indigenous rights, LGBTQ+ rights, body positivity, disability rights, housing rights, and labor rights. Religious advocacy was viewed as less relevant, while feminism was considered more relevant. Respondents gave mixed feedback regarding the belief that the vegan movement is dedicated to fostering diversity.
The researcher concludes that identity politics are weakly represented in this sample of vegans. The study found that most of these vegans participate in multiple social movements, though this may be due to sample selection. The author asserts that social movement isolationism is unsustainable and unrealistic, and sees coalition-building as a difficult but necessary goal for the vegan movement to achieve. This process appears to be well underway, at least at the grassroots level.