On a recent trip to Costco, I found seaweed salad (vegan in my Costco, although in some areas it contains fish sauce), big cheap packages of tofu, little travel packs of hummus, and delectable stuffed grape leaves.
I was thrilled to come across these and other vegan goodies. But when I reported my finds on facebook, a few people voiced concerns. Was the tofu GMO? Wasn’t there sugar in the seaweed salad? And shouldn’t I be shopping locally?
I do shop mostly—but not exclusively—locally. And there is no shortage of tofu in my life since I live five blocks from the local food co-op. I’m still excited to see tofu at Costco, though, and happy to buy it there. Because the more that people see vegan food in stores—especially stores like Costco where food is cheap—the more they might be willing to eat those foods.
I’ve lately been re-reading the book Animal Impact by Caryn Ginsberg. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s a valuable resource for anyone who advocates for animals, whether it’s by promoting veganism, spay/neuter, homes for shelter animals or protection for wildlife. Caryn’s advice is real-world practical and focused. She reinforces what many of us know—but may need to keep reminding ourselves. That is, we need to make animal-friendly actions “possible, simple, fast, convenient.”
My friend and co-author JL Fields recently blogged about her success in making veganism more convenient; she convinced a local restaurant to offer vegan options on their menu. Breakfast items, no less. Not a veggie burger, but vegan French toast and tofu scramble. That’s an amazing feat. (Although maybe not for JL given her activist and people skills. In fact, there needs to be a non-profit devoted to funding JL’s travel around the country so she can meet with chefs to advocate for more vegan menu items.)
Getting restaurants to offer vegan menu items is good activism. So is eating at those restaurants, even if we’re not especially crazy about supporting establishments that serve meat. Because if nobody buys the vegan French toast, why would the restaurant offer it?
Yesterday, I chatted with some twitter friends about the pros and cons of moving vegan foods like Beyond Meat to the meat section of grocery stores. I see it as a good thing since it would put those vegan options right in front of people who might not otherwise seek them out. Others found the whole idea to be icky; they didn’t want their vegan food in such close proximity to meat.
I get that. I try to avoid going anywhere near the meat counter. But I’ll do it if it pushes vegan food another few inches into the mainstream. Because, what’s comfortable for us isn’t really the point of veganism, right?
As an activist and a public health professional, I’m well aware of the fact that others don’t see vegan choices quite the way I see them. One of the most important truths that Caryn Ginsberg points out in Animal Impact—and something that I guess should be obvious, but often isn’t—is that “I am not my audience.”
How I view veganism is not how my audience views it. I see it as (relatively) easy. Many people don’t. Yet, some activist efforts seem aimed at making it as hard as possible. You don’t just have to be vegan—you also have to shop locally, scrutinize labels to make sure that every six-syllable ingredient on the food label is vegan, and cook everything from scratch. (And then we hide the vegan food where no one can find it!)
Not everyone likes to cook (and an aversion to cooking is not a moral failing). And not everyone can afford to buy local/organic food. (Being strapped for cash is not a moral failing, either.) With some guidance, though, everyone can be vegan or can at least start taking steps toward a more vegan lifestyle. We can build roadblocks to that or create paths. Assuring availability of a wide range of all types of vegan foods at stores and restaurants, and making them easy to find, puts more vegan food in the path of those who are open to trying it.
And, I’ll let you know about that vegan French toast. When I visit JL in Colorado Springs in July for the launch of Vegan for Her, I’m definitely going to ask her to take me to the Cliff House for breakfast.