Surveying vegans about the extent they feel able to practice their vegan convictions is critical to developing and shaping the policies that we need to support a societal transition to respect for animal rights.
It may not at first seem obvious, but our efforts to bring about animal liberation also need to focus on the everyday practices and social policies that perpetuate animal exploitation. Some of these policies concern various norms around education, the provision of food, standard workplace policies and the assumptions and attitudes of employers and food service providers.
In 2014, Jeanette Rowley distributed the first survey to find out the extent to which vegans felt able to practice veganism in their daily lives, and the scope of institutional support. Her results identified that vegans do not benefit from the human rights and equality principles put in place to support people to live according to their moral convictions. Through her related work with the International Vegan Rights Alliance, and now The Vegan Society, she promotes the needs and rights of vegans and enthusiastically encourages vegan associations and societies to give vegans a voice by conducting surveys to highlight to extent of social and institutional change required and the legal principles and provisions that can help.
In 2014, vegans were unfamiliar with the idea that they can support animal liberation by claiming their own rights, but the idea is now well-understood and well-established. Vegans all over the world are able to speak about their veganism in terms of their sincerely held convictions about the moral standing of non-human animals and how their beliefs come within the scope of the human right to freedom of conscience. In support of vegan rights, Go Vegan Scotland undertook the next large-scale, very revealing survey, and more recently Vegan Option Canada has expanded on this critical initiative to give vegans a voice.
Earlier this year, Vegan Option Canada invited Canadian vegans to participate in a survey about their experiences as vegans at schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons, and other public institutions and services in Canada. The objective of the survey was to ascertain whether vegans in Canada feel supported to practically manifest their moral convictions on a daily basis in all areas of their lives. Vegans were asked whether they have had reliable access to adequate vegan food options, whether they have faced any unfair treatment based on their veganism, and whether they have been expected to participate in any activities that are not in line with their vegan ethics.
The survey’s findings confirm that public institutions often lack suitable vegan options. Even when vegan food is provided, it often is not enough to constitute a complete meal (for example, a number of the survey’s participants said that the only vegan option was a fruit cup, fries, or a plain garden salad). Especially while in the hospital, many vegans found that they were served non-vegan items even after requesting vegan food. Doctors, teachers, and employers often do not have a solid understanding of what veganism is. Many vegans said that they have been teased, excluded from social events, or otherwise treated unfairly in their workplaces because they are vegan. Many others have been expected to participate in activities (such as dissections at school or wearing leather gloves and boots at work) that go against their vegan ethics.
Meanwhile, many vegans are not sure if they can access (or how to access) medications that are free from animal-derived ingredients. As well, vegans are unable to access pharmaceutical medications that have not been tested on animals.
It is necessary that governments and public institutions implement policies that protect vegans’ rights to live without exploiting non-human animals. Some required actions are summarized below.
There is an urgent need for legislation that requires all public institutions in Canada to have clearly labelled, nutritionally-adequate, good-quality vegan options on their menus.
Public sector staff—especially teachers, health care practitioners, employers, and others who might be working with vegans—must be educated about veganism and what vegans do and don’t eat, wear, and use.
Rather than teaching students to exploit animals, schools must implement a curriculum that does not exclude vegan students. Likewise, they must educate students on what veganism is so that students know that it is possible to live without exploiting non-human animals.
All health care practitioners must receive education on vegan nutrition, including the use of a plant-based diet to help prevent disease. Health care practitioners also need to be educated on animal-free alternatives to common animal-derived medications—for example, sending the prescription to a compounding pharmacy to be made with vegan capsules.
Governments must fund research into developing animal-free methods of testing pharmaceutical medications, and they must remove the requirement that all medications be tested on non-human animals in the development process.
Please click here to view the survey report that outlines these issues in more detail. A three-page summary gives an overview of the survey’s findings, provides background information, and makes recommendations. This is followed by forty-three pages of in-depth analysis that includes many of the comments that were submitted by the vegans who took the survey.
Carolyn Harris, English Communications Coordinator for Vegan Option Canada.