The Murky Vegan Economy

Is Veganism Impossible?

Veganism, much like objectivity, is an impossibility. You can’t completely avoid contributing to a system that is intricately intertwined with animal agriculture. There are simply too many variables for that to be possible. 

That’s what makes veganism so powerful, like religion is to the religious. The same thing that makes a person’s belief in the economy so central to the economy being able to run right. It’s that same sense of accountability in people that makes them want to go vegan.

Now the economy is shifting towards a more plant based marketplace. Every market analysis on vegan products suggests that vegan products, from ice cream to cosmetics to cars, are going to expand into more significant segments of the market for the next decade or two. It’s a growth sector with massive potential and there are a ton of investors in this area who couldn’t care less about animal rights. 

It’s inevitable that as a vegan I’m going to run into products that are technically vegan, made with no animal products in them, but produced by a company that also makes products that are not vegan. There are also companies that make vegan products but are not themselves run by vegans, but owned and run by omnivores. 

America has large degrees of income inequality between the rich and the poor. Institutional racism largely affects people of color, and no decent person wants to contribute to those types of systems at all. Most vegans, like everyone stuck in a difficult situation, are doing the best we can with what we’ve got.


Veganism Within Ethics

Whether a person is vegan or not is just a piece of living a holistically ethical lifestyle. There are other behaviors that people do, side by side with their veganism, that are completely unethical and could even existentially undo their entire platform of morality that they claim as vegans.

The work you do, the people you surround yourself with, the community you’re a part of, and your actions all contribute to your moral character as a whole. You decide your values by these actions, even if you just passively go along with what’s happening. 

If you don’t consume animal products but put a family out on the street by foreclosing on them instead of reneging their mortgage, then technically you’re still a vegan, but a terrible human. If you don’t consume animal products but hang around with a group of violent criminals then, sure, you’re technically a vegan, but a horrible person. There’s no mistaking the pattern at work here. Even if you have no choice, you still are carrying on with behavior that you know on some level is wrong. 

Another issue is that a holistically ethical lifestyle usually comes with the privilege of wealth, socioeconomic status, or some semblance of financial security. It’s much harder to live and have sustainable happiness when you’re poor. 

People don’t consider that a major impediment. There’s a reason most people stay within the same tax bracket their entire lives. Determinism, when it comes to what income class you’re born into, isn’t just a branch of existential philosophy. It becomes a mindset that people are literally convinced they deserve, without a more objective sense of reality it might end up being their fate.

I live frugally vegan now, but I’ve had a learning curve of five years, and experience as a vegan cook. I cook most of my food from dried goods, which when bought in bulk are super cheap. If you enjoy meal prep and spending a long time in the kitchen, and I do, then that socioeconomic impedance won’t bother you, but for most others that’s not realistic. 

Massive conglomerate corporations are responsible for most of what line the shelves. Our economy largely subsists on these arcane and antiquated systems owned by very few companies and individuals, who all use animal products. Animal agriculture is seamlessly connected with the economy. 

If we make a deal or financial transaction that benefits an omnivore, is that like cross contamination? Each person is going to deal with this in different ways. If our lives don’t singularly subsist within a vegan marketplace, we are no less vegan than the next vegan.

I’m far more flexible on my investing and my business dealings, regularly working with omnivores on multiple fronts without batting an eyelash, and regularly investing in companies that are not cruelty free without a care in the world. You could say I am betraying my vegan values, you could also say I have a more nuanced understanding of how economics work and choose to employ it.


Vegan Market Growth

Danone (known in the States as Dannon) is a company that makes dairy yogurt, and as such is responsible for harm to animals. They’ve expanded into a plant based market segment and have invested in facilities that boast no cross contamination between vegan food and their animal products. 

Dannon is recognizing there’s a lot of money being left open on the vegan market’s table. They’re producing products above board, according to cross contamination standards. Vegan consumers have to expect that this will happen as plant based products become more mainstream and continue making money.

I look at it like the Impossible Whopper, which is cross contaminated, so not technically vegan food. This is a product I fully endorse as a vegan to omnivores and even vegans with no choice. Vegans shouldn’t eat it if they can avoid it, but I also think they should understand that endorsing it is okay.

The Impossible Whopper takes precedence because it removes meat off the plate of someone who would otherwise have a real animal-based burger. I like to think vegans are practical in their values. Surely, even a militant vegan could recognize the value in omnivores having plant based options.

When we interact with less tangible products, like a social media platform, or donate to a ‘nonvegan’ charity, we can generally make those decisions and still feel safe in our veganism. If I have to take public transportation, or get a ride in an uber with leather seats, or attend a private party with an entrance fee that serves meat at their buffet, I’m not crossing a line. 

A vegan’s interactions in the greater socioeconomic strata can be easily painted as murky and not entirely certain. There’s always a negative side. If you want to you can try to suggest vegans are somehow crossing a line. There’s always a troll talking about animals harmed during crop harvest or how avocado production is hurting animals. 

Those examples are ridiculous at best next to sheer numbers of lives saved annually by vegans, and by the amount of money vegans DON’T spend their money on those companies’ products. When you bring the subject back to the simple logistics, that being vegan saves lives, every other point seems to dissolve.

Social Value Investing

I own some small portions of companies that are vegan.  In most cases, I bought the stock to be able to say I own it, with no other real reason than I like the company’s story and how it gels with my values. The problem is, I’m not going to make any real money on these companies.

The other problem is that I don’t invest to make mediocre returns. I invest to make money, and even though I’m not traditionally buying volatile stock, and just doing boring dividend reinvestment, I need to invest in companies that can meet my standards in research, and none of them are overwhelmingly green, eco-friendly or vegan. 

I’m not going to allow this story to become about volume investing, or any of the Wall Street Bets areas. I like the collectivism at play and the gamification of trading stock that has been a longtime coming. Allowing regular people more access to more efficient trading tools is creating a new sense of accountability in the markets.

My point here is that I still consider myself a vegan even though I’m not investing with vegan businesses to make money. Some people will think that the economic solution is a hard line stance and will say anyone who doesn’t agree isn’t a vegan. To them, the solution is to simply buy only vegan products from strictly researched vegan companies, and to only buy vegan stock and companies that fulfill that sense of vegan social value investing. 

Bottom Line

Unless you’re doing something to magically save more animal lives and can prove it, you can’t claim any distinction from a person who invests in a company that isn’t cruelty free, but still lives their life as a vegan. 

No one, neither vegan or omnivore, who lives in society can alienate themselves from the greater economy at large and think that they’re making more of an impact. Personally, I stay away from Dannon products and the Impossible Whopper, but to an omnivore, I say have at it.

I can recognize that not everyone has the same privilege as me. I can see that there are situations where investments in those types of companies and buying those types of products for lack of better options are both necessary.

Over time I’ve come to realize that any subject that veers towards economics becomes proportionately less sexy the closer it gets to Wall Street, but I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

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