|photo by: Peggy Greb, USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons|
True vegans go further than simply avoiding dairy, fish and meat in their consumption, according to Tara Duggan, a professional recipe developer and food critic. She says that when veganism is an attribute central to one’s way of life, one gets intricately involved in animal rescue of some kind, litters social media with vegan memes and feed plant-based snacks to the dog. Some go so far as to launch skin care lines that can carry the “cruelty-free” label, and others attend law school with the aim of defending animals.
“There is being vegan, and there’s being plant-based,” said 25-year-old Rocio Sambrano from Stockton, who engages in each of those activities. “Being vegan, you’re not defined by what you eat, but how you live your life.” Sambrano comes from the first generation of vegans to advocate a level of activism that exceeds recipe sharing and the baking of cupcakes without dairy products, so in terms of animal farms, farmhands like Sambrano are discontent with the prospect of accomplishing little more than merely improving conditions for the animals on the farm while they’re there; rather, they intend to get the animals off those farms entirely.
This is a bold consideration for those facing up against U.S. animal farms, which are an incredible economic force in the world with a beef industry that, all by itself, boasts of a $76 billion value, which is to say nothing of the $35 billion dairy clocking industry based on statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Duggan says, “This radical stance puts them at odds with mainstream movements that work toward improving animal welfare, such as the local, organic food community. To many vegans, the sustainable food movement of its family-owned meat and dairy farms shield the cruelty of farming by making meat fashionable and righteous.
|Photo by: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner via Wikimedia Commons|
“Vegans make up only an estimated 0.5 percent of the U.S. population. And while only about 3 percent of the general population is vegetarian, it’s a growing population, with the number rising to 5.3 percent among people aged 18 to 34, according to a Harris Poll conducted for the Vegetarian Resource Group in 2016. Their numbers are poised to increase as veganism makes its move into mainstream culture.”
According to San Francisco’s Nassim Nobari, an executive director for Seed of Commons—which is an organization that puts together teaching clinics on an organic type of agriculture sans manure called “veganic” farming—“The food movement defaults to this vision of agriculture that looks like Old MacDonald’s farm.” He goes on to say that many “think if they’re buying the right kind of meat, the local meat, that they’re helping to build the sustainable food movement.”
Nobari herself is 38 years old and has been a vegan for 24 of those years. She says, “I remember when people who were environmentalists used to be vegetarian.”
Both Nobari and Sambrano went to the Farmed Animal Conference at Animal Place sanctuary last month in Grass Valley County, Nevada, U.S. The event drew a crowd of approximately 200, the majority of whom came from Bay Area. The conference spanned a weekend of panel discussions on the topic of animal rights activism, political campaigning and youth education. Some of the workshops held onsite covered ways one’s dog can thrive on vegan diets and rescue hen healthcare.
According to Duggan, “The Grass Valley sanctuary houses about 260 rescued ‘nonhuman animals,’ as the guests would term the cows, pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys and chickens that live on its 600 acres of pasture and pristine farm buildings. The organization also has a farm animal shelter in a Vacaville. The vibe of the conference was a cross between a meditation retreat and a church revival meeting, with speakers standing beneath a large white tent in a field where attendees had set up camp.”
Berkeley’s Steven Erlsten works for Vegan Outreach, a well-known, international nonprofit, and he says, “We’re not trying to change people’s moral values. Because most people care about animals.” Erlsten spends much of his time leafleting at college campuses in Northern California. He continues, “We are trying to help them live within their values.” He spoke at the convention, and Duggan describes his discussion as a casual but pointed one.
“Sitting on hay bales set up in careful rows, members of the crowd murmered affirmative ‘uh-huh’s as Erlsten spoke. The conference goers were almost universally vegan and in agreement in their belief that the public has been misled about animal farming, even from producers who make animal welfare claims.
“Take cage-free eggs,” Duggan continues. “Today, 10 percent of the eggs produced in the U.S. are cage free, up from 1 percent in 2005, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Yet as Animal Place summer intern Georgia Calimeres, 19, said, those eggs may still come from farms that debeak chickens without painkillers and buy chicks from hatcheries that kill off an estimated 200 million unneeded male chicks annually.”