Sunday, 30 October 2011

West Midlands Vegan Festival 2011

As a vegetarian/vegan, I think it's really important to regularly meet up with like-minded people and remind yourself that you're not alone.  Being a vegan can be somewhat isolating at times; many people view it as an extreme (and incomprehensible!) stance, whilst some see it as a position to ridicule.  There's always a sense of relief, as I've discussed in previous posts, when you go to a veggie restaurant and are surrounded by people that care about animal rights issues/environmentalism as much as you do.

So, with all this in mind, this year I thought I'd cut my Saturday lie in short and visit the West Midlands Vegan Festival.  It was great - you couldn't move for vegans!  (How often do you find yourself in that situation?!)



There were tonnes of food stalls, companies selling vegan products (I tried Kara milk for the first time, and I'm now definitely going to try to switch to this from soya), and lots of animal rights groups/animal sanctuaries providing information on the causes they were representing.

Change Kitchen
 
Forget-Me-Not Animal Rescue get extra points for effort!

Such yummy sweets!! Look them up (link below), they're great.

Goody Good Stuff - anything endorsed by a koala is fine by me.



I also got chatting to a woman who ran a sanctuary for rescued farm animals (author of ...And a Calf Called Reg), and she really emphasised the individuality of the animals she cared for.  Hearing her talk about the animals she'd saved (most notably the story of a mother cow and her calf, who were inseparable because the mother had had all her previous calves taken away from her after only a few days), really confirmed in my mind that I want to do something similar one day.  Though when I told Wenda this, she said to me:  'Make sure you live your life first, because it'll never be the same once you've committed to something like this!'  I found her story and her passion really inspiring (and I also appreciated her advice!).

Another thing the festival encouraged me to think about was the approach that we take as vegans when communicating our values to others.  There was a noticable difference between the majority of stalls, which were cheery and positive, and then those few which had 'meat is murder' t-shirts and bracelets and were offering leaflets with horribly graphic images on them.  I must admit, I found the latter stalls really off-putting, and I didn't stop to look at them.  I just don't think that that kind of aggressive approach does the cause any good, and in fact I wonder how much damage it does to the reputation of veganism - that 'angry vegan' sterotype came from somewhere, afterall.  If people think that becoming a vegan means wearing pictures of mutilated animals on their tshirts and passing out leaflets littered with aggressive slogans, then I can fully understand why more people aren't warming to the idea!

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for bringing the truth to light.  It's so incredibly important that people understand the extent of suffering and brutality in the animal industry, and that they don't close their eyes and ears to the pain they are inflicting by monetarily supporting factory farming.  Nothing is more annoying than someone refusing to hear what you have to say because 'it's too upsetting', ending the conversation with you and then making a trip to Tesco (boooooo!! You know how much I hate Tesco...) to buy burgers for that night's dinner.  As I discuss at length in my post 'The Urgency of Unity', the solution to this problem is so simple: Vote with the pound.

So, I totally sympathise with the frustration that most vegans feel.  Animal suffering is happening on such a huge scale that drastic and aggressive action seems the most obvious route to take.  However, it's in human nature to be drawn to positive imagery and ideas rather than negative ones, and thus it's common sense that charities bear this in mind when communicating their ideas.  Stories of what switching to a vegan lifestyle can achieve, images of happy rescued animals in sanctuaries, the availability of exciting food and fashionable clothes and cosmetics are all much more likely to draw people towards considering veganism as a compassionate, attractive, and practical way of life than bombarding them with upsetting images.  Most charity websites have now changed their approach.  The majority of the images used on the WaterAid website, for example, are positive ones that show the changes the charity has made to the lives of those it has reached.  That's something people want to be associated with and support.  When people are repulsed or upset by images, the natural reaction is to avoid everything to do with that image.  When people experience negative emotions when confronted by graphic images, they associate the distributer of that image with the same feeling.

But still, I know that those upsetting images do have their place and that they need to be seen.  But in what forum?  I guess it's all about having a sensitive and nuanced approached.  It's an incredibly complex topic, but one that I've been thinking more and more about lately.  I feel like veganism desperately needs an image makeover to make it more user friendly!  Ideas/thoughts on a postcard/in a comment, please, my lovely veggie readers.

Peace and love to you all.
xxxx

4 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of the gruesome t-shirt things some stalls sell either.

    I also wish all the Goody sweets were completely vegan!

    I am planning on travelling before I start rescuing for the very reasons that women said...I probably won't have a huuuuge sanctuary though, but I suppose that is what they all start out as! "Oh we'll just take in the 2..." Then 2 becomes 4 and next minute you've got 400!

    I just like to get my fill of vegan chocolate!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes! I feel much the same way about feminism, actually. I don't want to diss my fellow vegetarians/feminists (or indeed, vegetarian feminists!) but it just makes it too easy for the people who want to marginalise what you're actually saying by reverting to stereotypes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Hayles,

    I first came across your blog a couple of years ago, but I actually thought you'd stopped posting - so it's good to see a bunch of new entries since I visited last.

    Having travelled up to the West Midlands festival, I wish I'd known you were going to be there. As a Christian(ish) vegan, it's even easier to feel isolated. It's not just that few vegans I know are Christian (I can only think of one other) but (aside from a handful of Jains) most are anti-religion. It'd be nice to know more vegans with *any* kind of faith...

    Funnily enough, I've been having similar-sounding conversations about veganism's image problem. I think there is a place for shock-tactics, and that they can work for some people. Horses for courses, if you'll pardon the terribly non-vegan metaphor. But personally I prefer "pro-vegan" to "anti-carnist" messages.

    OK, I've subscribed to updates this time, so I shouldn't miss any posts in future. ;)

    All the best,

    Robb

    ReplyDelete
  4. You're right, Bibbity Bobbity Boo (great name, by the way!), I bet they all start out like that!

    I completely share your frustration, Roisin. That's always going to be the problem with labels like 'feminist', 'vegan', or 'christian'. As soon as people hear them, they presume you subscribe to all of these viewpoints and attitudes that you might not necessarily agree with. (The next time we meet in the pub for a quiet drink, we'll develop a brilliant plan to solve the image problems of both veganism and feminism! Christianity would need an entire pub crawl...)

    Hi Robb, great to hear from you! Shame we didn't bump into each other at the vegan festival (though we may have and not known it, as I bumped into a lot of people in that crowded hall!).

    I've experienced the same isolation you feel, and that was partly what prompted me to start this blog. I wonder what the connection is between religious beliefs and attitudes towards animals? It would seem logical that a belief in a loving God would lead to the compassionate treatment of animals, but I wonder whether this is not the case because of the central place of the human being in most faith systems? If humans are seen as 'different' to animals, or of particular significance, perhaps that makes people think that animals are beneath us and not worthy of our time/consideration. This is a very odd leap of logic to make, though, because you could also argue that if humans are particularly significant then they have meaningful responsibilities that go with that significance, such as acting with compassion and mercy towards fellow living things. It's a shame that many people (with faith or not) seem to embrace the former attitude rather than the latter.

    Many Hindus and Buddhists are of course vegetarian, as Ahimsa (nonviolence) is an important aspect of their faith. It's interesting in relation to what I've just said about placing the human being as centrally important, actually, as neither of these faiths really do that, seeing everything as connected. A discussion for another blog post, perhaps!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, it's great to have you all as readers!

    Peace and love,

    Hayles x

    ReplyDelete


Sharing thoughts on peace, love, and vegan cupcakes!