Vegan rights and equality: why vegan associations around the world should give vegans a voice

by Dr Jeanette Rowley

The recent Go Vegan Scotland survey shows how entrenched speciesist prejudice manifests itself in discrimination and marginalisation of the vegan community. Though rights and equality measures are in place to protect our right to practice our most sincere ethical convictions and encourage legal equality, vegans report that they face a broad range of difficulties in everyday life. The findings of the report are clear. Vegans are routinely ignored, dismissed, marginalised and made to feel as though they simply don’t count.

In health care, patients suffering from eating disorders report being denied access to vegan food and, against their fundamental convictions, were even force-fed animal products. Patients recovering from operations or childbirth report that they were unable to eat due to a lack of vegan food. Vegan patients claim that they have gone without food for days or discharged themselves from care early, as a result of a lack of vegan food. Some report that they had to rely on food brought in by other people, but some also report that they were refused permission to have suitable food brought in for them by visitors. Vegans in care complained that they were pressured to eat animal products. Some were subjected to derogatory comments and given inaccurate nutritional information from medical professionals. Generally, vegans report a lack of vegan options in health service canteens and restaurants and a widespread lack of availability of medicines free of animal products.

Vegan parents and pupils cited examples of children missing out on free meals because of the lack of vegan food options. Children and other students report being forced to participate in experiments on nonhuman animals, being pressured to attend school trips to establishments they consider unethical, such as zoos, and teaching staff mocking the ethical choice of children and students. There were complaints about the bias in the educational curriculum which requires vegan children being forced to participate in the use of live nonhuman animals, for example hatching chicks. Examples of children being denied the opportunity to cook vegan alternatives in home economics classes were given and there are reports of children being forced to wear uniforms items that are made of wool, which, of course, they consider unethical. In art subjects, a fashion student felt discriminated against because they did not wish to work on wool or nonhuman animal skin.

Vegans who are state employees, reported that at meetings and training vents there were no vegan food options, no vegan options in canteens and, some claimed, that they were belittled when asking to be accommodated. Those serving in the military or the police force reported no vegan provisions and tension over some uniform items because they are made from unsuitable materials.

Other reports include a lack of vegan provisions for those in custody, bullying of vegans by police officers, a lack of vegan options for those undertaking jury service and unemployed vegans being required, by public officials, to apply for jobs in butchers and slaughterhouses.

A previous ‘Vegan Equality’ survey, conducted in the UK in 2012-2103, introduced these issues and raised awareness about the needs of vegans. It noted that though vegans are strong, resilient and have well-developed coping strategies, they can nonetheless have very strong feelings about their social experiences. The table below is copied directly from that research. It highlights the expressions vegans use to describe their negative experiences.

Expressions vegans use to describe common negative experiences
lack of consideration have “raw” feelings
making a fuss feeling ignored
third class citizens find ways of coping
interrogated intentionally harassed and dismissed
challenged unsupported at work
excluded in the spotlight
distressed singled out
dismissed constant questioning
powerless sever anxiety
lonely have to put up with a lot
anxious left out
coping with unfairness upset
harassed have to tolerate a lot
unsettled daily nonsense
shocked grossly unfair
disrespected thought of as being awkward
embarrassed not properly cared for
driven out burdened
publicly humiliated stressed
confronted vilified
attacked distrust

The findings of surveys, such as these, cannot be dismissed. Under international human rights principles, the rights of vegans to manifest their ethical convictions free from state interference are equal in status to any practised by those living by religious convictions. Vegans, also, have the same right to legal equality as anyone else, but are routinely ignored in the everyday practices of the major institutions. These conditions are a manifestation of a deeply entrenched prejudice against nonhuman animals.

The results of the more recent GVS survey may be shocking, but perhaps come as no surprise. Even in the UK, one of the world’s, allegedly, most liberal and ‘inclusive’ societies, veganism is suppressed because nonhuman animal exploitation is woven into the fabric of life as if it is unquestionable. But veganism is the ethical conviction that the arbitrary abuse of sentient nonhuman life is wrong, and more and more people are now taking challenging and demanding steps to overcome the almost invisible social and cultural indoctrination that starts at birth.

Living as a vegan gives nonhuman animals a voice, but surveys such as these are critical to the development of initiatives that help bring about the conditions that empower people to become and stay vegan. For example, the 2012-2013 survey enabled The Vegan Society to incorporate new and important information into its training programmes for health care professionals, and develop its advocacy services for individual vegans. This helps and supports new vegans, existing vegans and transitioning vegans because they all need the support of the major institutions for complete biopsychosocial health and well-being. And not to be underestimated is that all of our social, political and legal interventions help dismantle the entrenched speciesist prejudice that we are born into. For these reasons, the IVRA encourages all vegan groups, societies and associations around the world to provide a simple survey to give vegans a voice and we will be only too happy to use our platform to publish your results.