The Valley of Veganism

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In this manifesto-style blog post, RAC member, Dr Jack Coffin, speaks on veganism and utopia

Some argue that veganism should only describe one’s consumption;

or, more accurately, one’s refusal to consume[1]

the flesh and fur or skin and scales of other feeling and sentient beings.


Yet, looking back at the history of veganism,

which is much longer than the official 1944 coinage might mint,

it is clear that veganism has almost always been an ethical and political pursuit –

indeed, under any name this sensibility smells of roses,

calling to the kind-hearted everywhere to wake up

smell the coffee of consumerism,

where cruelty abounds,

but almost always from afar or behind sound-proofed doors firmly closed.


In recent years the vernacular of veganism has become too ethical and too political,

associated with a SHOUTY stereotype and a pushy personage,

the omnivorous mainstream doth protest,

“we don’t want what we ram down our throats to be, well, rammed down our throats!”

To be fair they’re onto something,

as experience suggests that this is not always the most effective approach,

alienating the majority by appealing to their alienation within carnivorous capitalism

(how many people have read Marx anyway?).


Yet veganism should not be for the animal-lovers, however few or numerous these may be(come),

it is a worldview for the world,

a world of suffering animals, non-human and human.


Ours is a world of mechanised breeding and slaughter for billions of non-humans,

but it is also one of forced labour, cultural debasement, and mindless disregard,

and here, in the latter regard, humans and non-humans share too much in common:

overworked animals and modern slavery
hierarchies of beloved and feared Others
senseless acts of physical violence and emotional starvation


The vegan edict do no harm is imperfect and impossible,

but as an impossible ideal it still points us to a perfect place over the horizon,

an unattainable utopia, but one whose pursuit could make the world a much better place than now.

Unfortunately, utopia is an unpopular concept nowadays.

People prefer a cocktail of cynicism and dystopian visions,

“The world is as it is and – look - could be a lot worse!”


Let’s think of the vegan ethic as a valley instead.

A valley has two sides formed by two lofty summits and one middling nadir.

It is an ideal, yet practical, mobilising metaphor.

One slope represents abstinence, all that one should stop consuming.

(The aforementioned flesh and fur, for instance)

The other represents alternatives, all that one can begin consuming.

(Meal replacements, yes, but also new vistas of experience afforded by the disruption of habit)

The nadir is the parsimonious and powerful precept, the phrase do no harm.


Beginning with the ‘lowliest’ being and working upward, this proves a pliable and practical principle.

Lowly is defined differently and dynamically:

    for some the dog is a faithful friend, for others food;

               some see pigs as swine, others micro family members or pot-bellied brand mascots;

                              some might place their pet above another human,

                                             some continue to rank humans too.

But, if no harm should come to anyone, then such distinctions diminish,

treating the lowest common denominator with kindness raises all sentient ships.

Here we might talk of the river of respect rising to fill the ethical valley,

act by act…

policy-change by policy-change…

product choice by product discontinuation…


But if that is overburdening the metaphoric mule to a point that is hypocritically cruel,

let it be more prosaically put,

embed our ethics on the lowest base of sentience,

rather than a high bar like intelligence, language, or sophistication.[3]


From this base other ethical and political projects may build

(it is no coincidence that some socially-minded vegans call themselves intersectional)[2]

feminists, anti-racists, and workers of the world, unite!

But unite not under the banner of veganism,

but on its deep valley of ethical depth and political inclusivity,

for steps that free animals from the extreme and everyday inequities of the status quo,

ultimately challenge the inequities amongst humans too.

Animal liberation liberates human animals as well.[4,5]

This article was originally featured in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, which you can access here.

The views expressed by our Research News contributors are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.


[1]Dutkiewicz, Jan, and Dickstein, Jonathan (2021) "The ism in veganism: The case for a minimal practice-based definition", Food ethics, 6(1), pp.1-19.

[2]Casamitjana, Jordhi (2020) Ethical Vegan: A Personal and Political Journey to Change the World, September Publishing, Tewkesbury, UK.

[3,4] Singer, Peter (1995) Animal Liberation, 2nd edition, Penguin Random House.

[5]Dickstein, Jonathan, Jan Dutkiewicz, Jishnu Guha-Majumdar, and Drew Robert Winter (2020) “Veganism as Left Praxis”, Capitalism Nature Socialism, DOI:10.1080/10455752.2020.1837895 

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