What exactly is “mainstream” about injustice?

Guest post by Anika Lehde, volunteer coordinator for the newly established Washington chapter of Food Empowerment Project.

I’m thrilled to be working on the issues that Food Empowerment Project addresses here in Washington State—from educating the public on issues with cocoa farmed in West Africa to supporting the Driscoll’s/Sakuma berry boycott in solidarity with Familias Unidas por la Justicia. But I have to share a story that illustrates the barriers that Food Empowerment Project has faced since its founding in 2006.

As a burgeoning chapter, one of our first tasks is to get the word out about Food Empowerment Project, helping folks expand their circle of compassion to human animals and non-human animals, which means tabling at our local Seattle VegFest. This event is ideal because we would be able to reach thousands of vegans and vegetarians with information about farm worker rights, child labor in the chocolate industry, etc., and also help the hundreds of omnivores who attend embrace veganism and animal liberation without dismissing human needs. There is no better event for us to table.

Which is why I was crushed when I was told via email that the event was full and we wouldn’t be able to rent table space. I was also extremely surprised, since I had contacted them more than a month before the event and, having attended many times, I knew that there were often empty tables near the other non-profits. I wrote them back, pleading: “Isn’t there anything that can be done? Anyone cancelling? A wait list? Any spare tables in the back?” I didn’t want our new chapter to be left out of this community event and asked them if they could help in finding of any other way we could be involved. But I never received a response. Crickets, as they say.

Then, thankfully, a friend of Food Empowerment Project found a group that would be willing to share their table with us, since they were light on literature and thought having another group sharing the space might draw more people to the table in general. Problem solved! Hurray! Right?

Alas, when this arrangement was discussed with the organizers, they admitted to our friend that they didn’t want Food Empowerment Project at Seattle VegFest because we cover issues that are “out of scope” of the event. That’s right: a vegan food justice organization is not welcome at Seattle VegFest because we care about a multitude of related food justice issues. Mind you, this event lets Safeway and QFC table (last year handing out flavored bottled water), though these companies openly make millions from the exploitation of non-human animals. That’s right: corporations are “in” and Food Empowerment Project is “out.” To say we were frustrated would be an understatement. 

This is a pattern for Vegetarians of Washington, the organizers of VegFest, who claim that they don’t want anything to detract from the mainstreaming of veganism. They actually don’t use the word “vegan,” even though their monthly dinners are vegan and many of the organizers are ethical vegans. How can we get our friends to embrace veganism for ethical reasons if even vegans are too worried about using the word? They believe that they are making veganism more palatable for Seattle citizens. Here is where I think they are sending the wrong messages to their enthusiastic audience.

If we continue to pretend that our fellow humans don’t care about one another and pretend that we should only focus on our own health and never mind the impact of our choices, we are disrespecting our fellow citizens. VegFest organizers think that they are making veganism easier and more mainstream, but they are actually making it harder for those in Seattle who care about wider justice issues. They are making veganism seem single-issue, personal-interest, and out-of-touch. In Seattle, food justice, anti-racism, labor rights, and environmental justice are all issues taken up by significantly more people than veganism or animal rights. VegFest organizers are turning their backs on the very people that vegetarian groups should be reaching out to – they are making veganism less palatable for Seattle.

I know that Seattle cares about justice, and I know that Seattle vegans see beyond the pallid version of veganism that VegFest offers. So to ensure that my fellow rad Seattle citizens get a better experience, we will be bringing lauren Ornelas to Seattle herself, for a completely free event, that will include a great talk, amazing food, and a version of justice that meets the needs of our future world. If you’d like to be invited, please follow the newly created Food Empowerment Project WA Chapter Facebook Page or email me at veganscore {at} live.{com}.

Lastly, I am not saying that folks should avoid Seattle VegFest, but if you want to see them expand their concept of mainstream veganism beyond consumerism, be sure to give them feedback via email or social media. Then maybe next year we’ll see you there!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Great to hear that FEP has a chapter in Washington State. Seattle is one of my favorite cities, and I enjoyed meeting all the vegan activists at the (nearby) Intersectional Justice Conference last month.

    I see from the Vegfest Facebook page that they're not even bothering to lie about the non-vegan nature of the event; they're OK with "tiny amounts" of dairy or eggs (i.e. forced impregnation and slaughter) in vendor products. Sad but unsurprising.

  2. We would love to have you at Portland VegFest this year! Please email me at deanna@nwveg.org. 🙂

  3. Thanks Deanna! Dropped you an email earlier today to learn more.

  4. Glad to hear you love Seattle Pax and it was wonderful to meet you. Indeed, our VegFest has never been vegan – even tho' there is a high demand for an all vegan event. I hope you visit again and if you do, the chapter can take you out for brunch!

  5. We will happily welcome the FEP at Chicago VeganMania on October 1!

  6. Seconding funcrunch's comment…it is great to hear FEP has a chapter in Washington State.

    Regarding the organization that rejected your participation…sometimes it's important to be defined as "unwanted". "Who we are" is often marked not only by who are our friends but also by who rejects our friendship.

  7. Frustrating how many veg groups and figureheads seem to obsess over purposefully excluding anything other than vegan cupcake activism (not knocking cup cakes). I contacted them. Hopefully they learn their lesson from this

  8. Thanks for your support and kind words Vegan Elder!

  9. Thanks Corvus! When you come back to Seattle we will eat some vegan cupcakes and do some broader activism. Ha ha ha. 🙂

  10. Thanks Marla! Does Chicago VeganMania have plans for any content or speakers on collective liberation/connected exploitation between speciesism, class, race, gender/sex, citizen status, language, etc.). That would be so cool since Chicago has unique demographics and a cool history. I've only been once, but I'd love an excuse to come back to check out the line up! <3

  11. This is infuriating. We've been planning a trip to Seattle VegFest this weekend and this definitely changes my view of the event. I will still attend and will make sure to contact the organisers about my disappointment in their decision both via email and by leaving feedback at the event. So glad to hear Portland and Chicago are far more supportive of the important issues the FEP covers.

  12. The fact that they may not use the word "vegan" is not a problem, in fact I think that it is a smart strategy to reach more folks in many instances. It's also, as far as I could understand from your above article, not in any way related to your problem.

    Other than this, it seems to be a pity that you group didn't get to rent a space at this VegFest. I wish you all the best!

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