Our language should include, not exclude others

The idea that as a movement we should be open to people who do not share our vegan/animal rights views, is extremely logical. We want others to join us, so we need to be inclusive, not exclusive. We should, I think, do everything to avoid the “us versus them” rethoric that slips all too easily into our language and attitude. And we should try to make everything that we do attractive to outsiders.

Here I think is a case in point where we could do better:

I heard this cookbook contains great recipes, I like the cover and the main title, so it is by no means my intention to put this book down. I am just bringing it up to illustrate a point. What I obviously have a bit of a problem with is the subtitle: “recipes for the new ethical vegan“.

The authors or publishers may have their reasons to choose this phrasing (UPDATE: see comment of coauthor Josh Hooten in the comment section). Maybe they are intentionally targetting a very specific audience and think that with this title they will appeal more to “new ethical vegans”. I think, however, that words like these exclude people. Surely, the recipes in the book are suitable for non-vegans, or “non-ethical” vegans (whatever that may mean) too? Omnivores don’t feel part of the vegan club (yet), so they don’t feel they are being addressed with a subtitle like this. The words exclude them, while they should include them.

A title like that also confirms something what many omnivores still consciously or subconsciously feel: that vegan recipes and vegan meals and vegan products are… for vegans. While more and more people are realizing that (almost) everyone can eat a vegan dish, there are still many who are thinking: I’m not ordering this vegan option because I’m not a vegan. It may be similar to me not ordering a glutenfree option because I have no affiliation with the glutenfree thing.

I find that “vegan” as an adjective is much more useful than as a noun (“a vegan”, “vegans”, “veganism”). The nouns are black and white, binary concepts, while “vegan meals”, “vegan recipes” are things everyone can participate in whenever they want. Many people may not be interested in becoming vegan right away, but they might be interested in trying out vegan meals. If we want to attract, non-binary words and thinking are probably much more efficient.

I also dislike the term “ethical vegan” in general. It may be nice to call ourselves ethical vegans, or we may think that it’s good to show that we are vegans for the animals and not for health reasons, but again this confirms some prejudices: that vegans have a holier-than-thou attitude, a certain self-righteousness over them, which will probably deter many people.

Let our language show people that our doors are wide open.

5 thoughts on “Our language should include, not exclude others

  1. thanks for your input, elephant 🙂
    i think i was clear, but i was only talking about the SUBtitle, not about the “eat like you give a damn”, which is said i like.
    as far as “being clear that ultimate goal is veganism” is concerned: i only agree with that as an internal goal, which does not always need to be externally communicated, but i guess that’s another discussion.
    as far as asking or wanting the 100% (veganism without exceptions), i’ll write something more about that later 🙂

  2. Hi Tobias, I co-wrote that book with my partner Michelle. I appreciate what you are saying, but I think having not seen the book, your point is misplaced in this case. We run The Herbivore Clothing Company, we sell hundreds of vegan cookbooks, most of them are for a general audience, and that is great. That is the kind of book, I believe, our movement needs the most of. But our book is for new ethical vegans. When we set out to write this book, we set out to write the book I wish I had found many years ago when I went vegan. The audience we are shooting for are people who have just gone vegan, or are looking to do so and need help from that point forward. If you get the book (it isn’t actually out yet, though I’m happy people already think the recipes are good!) you will see that we are giving advice and practical information to new vegans. When I went vegan I had no idea what to do, how to cook, how to defend my choice. This book was meant to cover those things. So, while I appreciate that you want our movement to be inclusive (we most certainly do too) I hope you can see that we aren’t trying to be exclusive, we are trying to make a book for a vegan in a very specific point of their journey—the beginning. If there wasn’t a massive amount of vegan cookbooks for a more general audience, we probably would have written one of those, but at our store and at the dozens of events we table at, we talk to new vegans all the time and give advice on everything from how to talk to your crappy coworkers to how to cook tofu. If you end up getting the book (it comes out this Friday) I’d love to know what you think when you can see the rest of it.

    1. hi josh, thanks for the comment. yes, like i wrote, i could imagine you have certain reasons for that title. i’ll refer to your comment in my text. It’s not really that important (at least if you don’t think it is), as it was just an illustration of a point.
      For your information, i read the “new” in “new ethical vegan” as “modern” or something, not as “recent” or “fresh”. maybe that’s because i’m not a native speaker.
      all the best with your business!

  3. Hey Tobias, I appreciate your thoughts. I guess the best way I would describe what we’re doing is pretty much what you say in your “about” page: “This blog is mainly written with an audience of vegans/animal rights activists in mind.”

    Mainly, we were hoping to supply folks who went vegan for ethical reasons a guide. With so many cookbooks on the shelves (ours included) we wanted to make it clear that our book was for them, as opposed to just great recipes. (nothing wrong with a book of just great recipes, of course.)

    That said, I do appreciate your larger point. I see language all the time that I feel may bolster existing vegans, but turn off potential vegans. I think we can shout our cause loud from the rooftops, but do so in a way that, as you said, leaves the door wide open. Good luck with everything!

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