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This question has come up over and over among vegan friends living in Asheville and with a philosopher friend who has been questioning the cultural sustainability of vegan consumption as we know it.

In Asheville, the movement is clearly in the direction of locavore.  Locavore and "sustainability" advocates influence public policy around land use, economic development, agriculture, food, health, education, and even social services. There's a food policy council with members that directly influence city government. Wherever you go in Asheville, the signs of a locavore cultural life are apparent. It's become signature of the place.

I've never lived in a place where veganism has had similar influence. Vegan restaurants and options, sure, but not so embedded in the culture that it has evolved to define the place and the individuals and communities in it. Where are the vegan schools, vegan church programs, vegan health clinics, vegan food policy councils, etc.? Where are the vegan equivalents influencing public policy and infiltrating all aspects of social life?

In other words, where are the clear signs that veganism is here to stay for the long-term?

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Great questions, Anastasia! I live in an area where many people still will never have heard the word vegan, so I certainly don't have any answers for you though, unfortunately. 

Hi Anastasia.  These are just my musings arising from your questions.  I suspect that it will be imposed on many people because of the environment issues surrounding factory farming, and high cost of health issues related to eating meat among other things.  There is growing evidence that a whole food plant based diet is the healthiest lifestyle.  I guess the question is, do we want people to be vegan for health reasons, or vegan through recognition of animal rights and compassion?  The term 'vegan' in my experience tends to evoke fear among less informed people.  Vegans are regarded by many as being extremist, and perhaps associated with violence.  Perhaps the label is part of the problem.  At any rate I think veganism is increasing.  It is an evolutionary process rather than revolutionary, which is the frustrating thing as it seems so slow.  But there are so many issues to being vegan, not just about diet, that it will take time.  I just look at the vegan choices on restaurant menus these days, greater acceptance than vegan fare is more than just a lettuce leaf and tomato, and it encourages me.  I'm 58 years old and as a young person clearly recall that to be even vegetarian was considered extreme.  Google vegan shoes and see the great shops dedicated to vegan footwear, for example Moo Shoes in the US or Vegetarian Shoes in the UK.  There is even a vegan shoe maker in Italy, the home of fine leather.  I think these are all indications that more people are choosing vegan, because there has to be the demand before there is the supply.  Yes, all reasons for optimism.

Hi Kerry,

I recognize that vegan options are growing in what you can buy. But I'm talking about the aspects of culture that are more difficult to buy or you can't buy.  I'm talking about education and religious activity and social services and social policy.  It's culture beyond consumption that shows signs of whether something is just a scene or if it's going to last for several generations.  Perhaps you're right, that the process is evolutionary, and so we may not see these culturally changes in our lifetime.  But the locavore/sustainability movement sparked similarly to veganism, and it's moving at a much faster pace.  Maybe because this movement is inherently anthropocentric and invokes a greater sense of urgency to change.  "If we don't abate climate change, we're all going to perish."  Maybe because it appeals to xenophobic sides of America, the fear of "foreign invaders."  I don't know.  But I do know that in parts of the country, like Asheville, where many vegan restaurants and apparel shops and social groups exist to support a vegan lifestyle, locavores are dominating the culture.  Local urban agriculture that is plant-based just doesn't seem to suffice.

The only area where I've seen veganism demonstrate multi-generational potential is among the Afrocentric vegan community.  The plant-based Ma'at diet is a holistic endeavor that is an expression of their very souls.  So, yeah, it's embedded in their schools, their healing practices, their religion, their community activities. 

One thing that locavores have that vegans just aren't demonstrating on a wide scale is that they are community-oriented, and that orientation toward community really matters when cultural transformation is concerned.

Kerry Baker said:

Hi Anastasia.  These are just my musings arising from your questions.  I suspect that it will be imposed on many people because of the environment issues surrounding factory farming, and high cost of health issues related to eating meat among other things.  There is growing evidence that a whole food plant based diet is the healthiest lifestyle.  I guess the question is, do we want people to be vegan for health reasons, or vegan through recognition of animal rights and compassion?  The term 'vegan' in my experience tends to evoke fear among less informed people.  Vegans are regarded by many as being extremist, and perhaps associated with violence.  Perhaps the label is part of the problem.  At any rate I think veganism is increasing.  It is an evolutionary process rather than revolutionary, which is the frustrating thing as it seems so slow.  But there are so many issues to being vegan, not just about diet, that it will take time.  I just look at the vegan choices on restaurant menus these days, greater acceptance than vegan fare is more than just a lettuce leaf and tomato, and it encourages me.  I'm 58 years old and as a young person clearly recall that to be even vegetarian was considered extreme.  Google vegan shoes and see the great shops dedicated to vegan footwear, for example Moo Shoes in the US or Vegetarian Shoes in the UK.  There is even a vegan shoe maker in Italy, the home of fine leather.  I think these are all indications that more people are choosing vegan, because there has to be the demand before there is the supply.  Yes, all reasons for optimism.

I see what you mean. It strikes me that one avenue might be in the field of psychology, in social identity I think it's termed. As I understand it that means how much you are prepared to go along with behaviours in order to belong to a group. It happens for example in work to belong to an organisations culture. In other posts the observation has been made that eating meat is linked to ego or to wealth and social position. I suspect there is a xenophobic attitude in there somewhere too. It would be interesting to see if it's possible to get a perspective on eating meat based on the desire to belong. That would suggest that perhaps breaking down cultural barriers will help increase vegan numbers, as you observe with the Ma'at. In Australia we have generally treated most migrants pretty badly until they have been here a couple of decades and become more integrated. In the 1960's in Australia it was pretty radical to eat Chinese, now we have just about every cuisine you can think of. I would be interested in getting the social identity view, perhaps would be a good discussion on AR Zone?

When I asked my friend the same question, he reminded me that veganism unlike locavorism is not as pervasive because it requires more.  Veganism is a paradigm shift, whereas locavorism is maintaining the same status quo but just executing it with a different strategy.  He has a point, but it also doesn't change the necessity of veganism to be grounded in the culture, planted as a germinating seed, so to speak.  Systems theory is a paradigm shift to contemporary scientific thinking as we know it.  It is still in the background compared to reductionist empiricism, but it has a firm place in the culture, and it has structure to be passed on from generation to generation.  With think tanks to inform policy, organizational consultants to influence the restructuring of NGOs and corporations, and more and more academic programs pushing the systems thinking and complexity approach to knowledge, it is surely making its way to a tremendous paradigm shift, not unlike Descartes' mechanistic, reductionist approach in a world where church law still had sway over political, economic, ecological, academic, and social life.

I wonder, is it too much to ask for veganism to follow a similar track?

Kerry Baker said:

I see what you mean. It strikes me that one avenue might be in the field of psychology, in social identity I think it's termed. As I understand it that means how much you are prepared to go along with behaviours in order to belong to a group. It happens for example in work to belong to an organisations culture. In other posts the observation has been made that eating meat is linked to ego or to wealth and social position. I suspect there is a xenophobic attitude in there somewhere too. It would be interesting to see if it's possible to get a perspective on eating meat based on the desire to belong. That would suggest that perhaps breaking down cultural barriers will help increase vegan numbers, as you observe with the Ma'at. In Australia we have generally treated most migrants pretty badly until they have been here a couple of decades and become more integrated. In the 1960's in Australia it was pretty radical to eat Chinese, now we have just about every cuisine you can think of. I would be interested in getting the social identity view, perhaps would be a good discussion on AR Zone?

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