This article is about something we talk about frequently, but we haven’t really put into text yet: The Levels of Veganism. It’s something we’ve alluded to in our podcasts and general discussions, but it hasn’t been codified. While this article is not intended to officially codify these Levels of Veganism, it is meant to be a beginning of this development.
This subject matters because veganism is a big philosophy and lifestyle, and we need a way to describe its depth, breadth, and nuance. It encompasses plant-based eating as well as not purchasing animal-based materials or products, such as clothing, cleaning products, hygienic products; and not attending zoos, aquariums, and other venues that exploit animals for our entertainment. In order to capture that bigness and those different dimensions, we need a way describe it all.
Being able to describe the depth, breadth, and nuance is also important for the movement of veganism. We’ve often bemoaned how veganism is truncated into meaning one thing, and part of this reason this persists is because we can’t articulate what veganism really means in its fullest context. When we can explain the nuance and richness of a vegan life – that it’s a lifestyle that is complex and multi-faceted – we can dispel this misconception.
The Levels of Veganism
The below list diverges slightly from our earlier iterations of the Levels. The main difference is that this list includes an opposition to zoos, aquariums, etc. The subtle difference (I think) is that boycotts of nonvegan household products and animal-based textiles are separate here, whereas they may have been lumped together in earlier iterations. I did not review all of our previous descriptions or characterizations of the Levels while writing this post.
The levels of not consuming (i.e. purchasing and eating) animal products or contributing to animal exploitation are…
- Level 1: Plant-Based Eating
- Level 2: Textiles (e.g. leather, suede, snakeskin, silk, wool, etc.)
- Level 3: Household Products (e.g. cleaning products, toothpastes, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners, soaps, etc.)
- Level 4: Zoos, Aquariums, Circuses, etc.
This list is tiered based on how advanced the subject is within the context of veganism. For example, adopting a plant-based diet is often the first step into veganism people take. I have a hunch that there are a few or no vegans at all who start by not purchasing textiles or household products. Moreover, people don’t usually shift their ethical concern to the cruelty behind animal exploitation for textiles and household products until they stop eating animals and drinking their milk. Also, it seems plausible to me that people don’t typically become concerned with the exploitation behind zoos, aquariums, circuses, etc. until they start seeing the more obvious forms of exploitation in meat and dairy, and other animal-based products.
Again, as I mentioned in the opening of this article, my intention is not to publish “The Levels of Veganism”, but rather to write the first draft, so to speak. I am curious for anyone’s comments on suggested additions or changes to this list, or perhaps an alternative concept to capture the depth, breadth, and nuance of veganism as a philosophy and lifestyle.
I have an alternative model envisioned, but I am going to save it or another article!
Limitations of this Framework
Right now, I feel like this list is quite limited. It isn’t very developed. For example, I had some difficulty in thinking where to fit the consumption of beauty products and vitamins. There are likely other goods and services I didn’t even consider, either.
Another limitation with these Levels is that is displays veganism as a hierarchical exercise, where Level 4 vegans (i.e. those who don’t attend zoos, aquariums, circuses, etc.) are “more vegan” than someone who is Level 1 (i.e. simply eating a plant-based diet). This is not the intention of this framework, it’s supposed to be a model for the depth, breadth, and nuance of veganism. Anyone on any Level is just as vegan as anyone on any other Level.
A Challenge this Framework
One challenge that could be posed about this model is that it arguably misrepresents the definition of “veganism”, which conventionally means abstaining from all animal products. So, essentially, someone who eats a completely plant-based diet but still purchases animal-based products like leather, suede, cleaning or hygiene products involving animal testing, or other related products isn’t actually vegan.
This is one of those issues that may be technically true, if that we accept a very narrow definition of “veganism”, but it is arguably harmful to the movement and the ultimate cause of ending animal exploitation. As advocates, if our goal is to have people adopt vegan lives, this goals is better achieved by making veganism a more accessible standard than a strong prohibition on consuming animal products.
There are also limitations to that strict, conventional definition of veganism. For one thing, zoos, aquariums, circuses, and related venues aren’t animal products, so they technically don’t fit within that framework of simply abstaining from animal products, but they’re certainly exploitative. Abstaining contributing to animal exploitation is something most of us would agree is vegan, however. It also doesn’t account for a product like palm oil, which doesn’t involve animals or animal exploitation but is very bad for the environment, which does have a series of downstream effects that affect animals and nature. That stale definition of veganism doesn’t even account for that tradeoff, which is important and salient for people, it just indicates that we shouldn’t consume animal products. My point with this argument is that we should try to modernize the definition of veganism so that we expand it to address the true depth, breadth, and nuance of issues related to animal exploitation.
So, I don’t find this challenge persuasive. I think that categorically, that old definition of veganism isn’t as strong as it once was, and it doesn’t help the cause of ending animal exploitation.
Ultimately, developing a concept like Levels of Veganism helps to describe veganism, promote the movement, and update its span. It’s a philosophy and lifestyle that encapsulates a lot of ideas, values, and actions, so we need a way to capture and display that. I think it’s also a valid and logical framework that makes veganism easier for people to adopt.
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