Thanks to innovation, we have vegan cheese, meat, yogurt, chicken, and all the pieces for a plant-based future! However, the truth is that these steps forward represent new solutions as well as new challenges and the rise of “vegan capitalism”. How can the vegan movement shed its capitalist and extractive roots?
Plant-based industries are on the rise – every year we’re seeing the launch of new brands around the world. According to a report by Bloomberg Intelligence, plant-based foods could make up 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030. It’s value may reach over $162 billion, 5x its market of $29.4 billion in 2020. There’s no denying that plant-based industries are benefiting from a cultural shift. I also feel happy seeing people divest from animal-based products. In fact, more consumers turned to plant-forward diets during the pandemic to support their health. In May 2022, Packaged Facts National Online Consumer Survey indicated that 30% of consumers were still eating more fresh produce than they did pre-pandemic.
The vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians driving this trend are primarily Generation Z and Millennial. However, people 65 or older haven’t adopted these diets as readily and are the least represented (Market Research). While not every demographic is on board, the tides have begun to turn.
What does this have to do with capitalism?
The plant-based industry is keen to market its efforts as “creating a plant-based future” and reducing the impacts of climate change as a result. I would love to see a sustainable food system that isn’t built on the exploitation of non-human animals… but how much of the plant-based food system can be considered ethical? “Plant-based” has become equated with “good” in many ways, but the truth is much more nuanced.
“Plant-based” has become equated with “good” in many ways, but the truth is much more nuanced.
For myself, I align with terms like food sovereignty and food justice. This is simply because the future of food systems should be held by the people, not multinational corporations. Businesses aren’t inherently evil, small or locally-owned vegan businesses are hardly the problem. There are large players in the plant-based industry that sell us their product or solution as an end all be all solution to fix the food system… and that’s a bit of a stretch.
The truth is that agribusiness and plant-based industries are still for-profit business. They aren’t unions or co-ops. At a multinational level, their impact is unsustainable, even if it’s more sustainable than animal-based alternatives.
We also have meat companies providing plant-based options under the guise of providing alternatives, but that’s strictly a business move. It’s antithetical to what veganism stands for as a liberation movement. We need to talk about the handful of corporations that hold nearly complete power over global food supply chains. If we’re serious about imagining a new future for our food systems, we must think critically about who holds power, and that means being conscious of race, class, and gender inequalities as well.
I never see anyone address the role of white supremacy in the plant-based food industry.
This industry, like many others, has depleted natural resources without a plan to restore them. It’s easy to point out that animal agriculture is destroying the environment, relentlessly killing animals, and exploiting marginalized workers. Shouldn’t more of our conversations in this space be about justice? There’s been a failure to acknowledge DEI and anti-racism. That’s linked to this larger failure to challenge capitalism through decentralizing power and supporting the social majority. When will that conversation happen?
Industrialized agricultural systems are needed to give adequate and nutritious food to the American people and provide abundance for all. Right? Actually, countless studies have shown that small farmers still contribute to a large portion of the food feeding the world. To be exact, there was a study that noted that smallholder farmers provide around ⅓ of the world’s food. In my other video about the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, we explored how this food system’s heavy usage of pesticides, worker exploitation, and transportation are all unsustainable practices.
Vegan capitalism emphasizes the financial value that can be extracted from plants and innovations like cellular agriculture, lab-grown meat, and GMO plants. Vegan capitalism also seeks to remove non-human animals from food, fashion, and resource supply chains. These can provide a new foundation for a sustainable economy, but the truth is that food, land, and seed sovereignty are still missing in conversations about the future of plant-based food systems. Also, we should probably be talking about how certain vegan companies have worked with financial asset institutions linked to environmental degradation or exploited their marginalized workers.
While the fight for a transformative change in the food system requires multi-layer levels of solutions, there are concerns about whether or not plant-based industries are truly rooted in justice-led movements. Food has been used as both a tool to nourish and a method to oppress marginalized communities of color.
So, are all brands complicit in Vegan capitalism?
I don’t think so and this is where this conversation is highly nuanced. I’m not saying that vegan businesses don’t deserve to be in the market of food systems, especially knowing they number nowhere near the amount of non-vegan brands that systematically kill billions of animals and leave a huge environmental impact. But, I do hold Vegan companies highly accountable because I believe their missions and marketing are primarily rooted in the wellbeing of animals, the environment, and people.
I think it’s worth saying that the conversations around liberation haven’t come from buying our way out but rather using the people’s resistance to create change pathways. Vegan capitalism is dangerous because it sells a guise of liberation and allows for impurities to exist, but that shouldn’t be the case for these companies being founded on sustainability.
We must remember veganism isn’t about having thousands of plant-based products while non-humans and humans still suffer within supply chains. It’s about recognizing that we can still make certain options and nutrients accessible AND dismantle the harmful, oppressive industrialized systems still slaughtering non-human animals.
We still need to recognize that plant-based companies are making active conversations, programs, and resources to work together with vegans, but we need more representation. In my view and opinion, global capitalism hinders the progression toward veganism. And if plant-based industries continue siding with the industrialized system, to what extent is that sustainable? How do we design a system outside of the industrialized system and to me that is local, small, and sustainable?
What are your thoughts on Vegan capitalism? Let me know in the comments below!
For an in-depth analysis with case studies, feel free to check out my full YouTube video on the subject.