Why vegans shouldn’t boycott Daiya cheese

Did you hear about the fire in the vegan cheese company? The cheese didn’t melt!
So goes a running joke about vegan cheeses. A few years ago, the Vancouver based company Daiya Foods changed all that, and was the first to bring to market a cheese that actually, seriously melted.

But then this week came… the Daiya Drama! Daiya foods announced they were being acquired by the Japanese company Otsuka. Otsuka is not just a big pharmaceutical company (to many that is bad enough in itself) but it also, as all pharmaceutical companies still do, tests on animals. The result is that many vegans are angry, state they will boycott Daiya, consider Daiya products no longer vegan, and call out the Daiya people for being hypocrites that are just in it for the money.daiya


I’ve been combing through some Facebook threads, trying to get a feel of the arguments used against Daiya and its acquisitition, and in this post I’ll take a quick look at why deals like these are not bad. I’ll also give some ideas about better communication in circumstances like these. It goes without saying that I dislike animal testing as much as the next vegan, and would love to have it be a thing of the past as soon as possible.

Facts first. What do we have to go by?

In a video that they posted on their Facebook page recently, the two Daiya founders say that they always wanted Daiya to be a global leader in the plant-based food scene. For that, they realized, they needed a partner. In Otsuka, they found a company “whose fundamental values align well with Daiya”. The partnership, according to the founders in the video “will ultimately enable more consumers around the world to enjoy a plant-based lifestyle”. Daiya will remain an independent subsidiary. Otsuka does indeed do animal testing – you can check this statement on their website.

So, Daiya will keep operating autonomously, but is now owned by a pharmaceutical company that does a certain amount of animal testing of a certain kind. That’s what we know. How bad is that?

Very bad, if many of the comments are anything to go by, or if we look at the petition signed by over four thousand people. The sense that I get is that people feel betrayed. The petition talks about “a stunning blow to the people who thought Daiya’s values did not include animal testing.” Apparently, to Daiya’s present detractors, it seems that while they thought Daiya was in it for all the right reasons, they now feel that Daiya sold out, for reasons of greed. I’ll get back to this.

What can be achieved by a boycott?
A boycott is usually meant to exert pressure on a company. Sometimes, boycotts work and companies or governments do change under pressure (particularly if there’s a lot of media attention involved). Often, however, a boycott is symbolic: there is no realistic expectation that a company will actually change, but boycotting the company gives the boycotters a clearer conscience. I think in this case, there is little to no chance that a small group of vegans could help reverse the sale. Nor is there much chance that the Daiya founders can exert pressure on Otsuka to stop testing on animals – if they want to keep bringing new drugs to the market, it’s something they are obligated to do, unfortunately.

Moreover, even if the Daiya sale could be reversed, or if Daiya would be bought by an unproblematic company, as far as I can see, this would not result in any more or less animals being killed or tested on. Daiya’s hands, in the eyes of some, might be less dirty, but would Otsuka do any less animal testing? Not that I can see. The idea that Daiya sales would actually contribute to animal suffering seems far-fetched to me.

Benefits of big business buy-ins
The Daiya founders’ stated motivation is that they hope Otsuka’s acquisition of Daiya will enable the company to reach more people and help them to follow a plant-based lifestyle. Let’s just take this claim at face value, for now. Is it absurd? Of course, not.
I’ve written before about the advantages of big business getting into plant-based (see Beyond Meat and Tyson and here), and I’ll only summarize them briefly here. Big companies have a lot more means at their disposal than small companies. They have bigger and wider distribution channels and a bigger customer base. With their money, they can obviously increase advertising and expose more and more people to Daiya, or any vegan product. They can boost R&D; so, new products can be developed and old ones can be made even better. Last but not least: once a company stands to win from the sales of plant-based products, it is logical to assume that their antagonism to veganism/plant-based alternatives will decrease.

Playing the definition game

A part of the vegan community jealously guards the definition of vegan products and veganism (the initiator of the petition is called “keeping veganism vegan”). Are Daiya products still vegan?  To me, this is a boring question, but let’s see. It is possible to define “vegan” so strictly that we rule out almost anything. It is reasonable to say that a requirement for a product to be vegan is that it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. I’m comfortable enough with this, as a definition.

A step further is to say that no animals may have been harmed in the making of a product. This still makes sense, but the question here is: :how far do you go? In this case, the parent company performs some obligatory animal experiments (note that we don’t know which kind of experiments – not all experiments cause the same kind of suffering, obviously). Does this exclude Daiya products from being vegan? And if one boycotts Daiya for this reason, shouldn’t one also boycott any business that sells vegan products but also profits to some extent from some kind of animal (ab)use? Non-vegan supermarkets would, it seems to me, be out of the question, under this definition. As would any non-vegan restaurant. And, forget about consuming any great vegan product from a company that also produces anything non-vegan.

Just to be sure, I wrote to Vegan Action, which certifies Daiya and other many products as vegan, to ask them their opinion. This is the answer I received:

“We do indeed still consider Daiya vegan.  The product line/brand is all vegan – does not contain any animal products and is not tested on animals.  That’s the criteria we use.  If we didn’t allow companies that are owned by parent companies to apply for and use the Certified Vegan Logo, there wouldn’t be any Certified Vegan products!”

Pushing it that far seems irrational and impractical. What’s going on here, I think, is a case of disillusionment and thwarted expectations: people expected Daiya to be a vegan company (rightly or wrongly). We thought they were one of us, and now we feel betrayed. And, we double down on betrayers! They are black sheep. While most of us have no qualms shopping in a non-vegan supermarket, we may not shop in a once vegan supermarket that introduced animal products all of a sudden. Likewise, we may dislike an ex-vegan much more than someone who was never vegan at all. Thwarted expectations. Human, but not entirely rational.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the communication on this issue. Most people (I’m not exempting myself) suck at communication. Vegans and others who are part of and very passionate about an ideology may be even worse than average. We get very, very sure of ourselves. That sometimes prevents us from thinking. Or, it makes us believe that we have all the answers already, that we’re the good guys and the other ones have made mistakes. And, that they can be chastised for those mistakes. It’s the problem with the world, kind of.

Here are a few things we can do to communicate better:

Practise slow opinion
Social media push us to react very quickly. Before we respond, we could ask ourselves questions, try to take the perspective of the other party, wonder if we have all the information that we need. We can think deeper and longer about things than we usually do. Fast opinion often doesn’t create any meaningful addition to a discussion, and only adds to anger and hate. We have enough of that, and if we want to change the way we interact with others, we need to step on the brakes, take a breath, and think again. I’ve written more on slow opinion here.

Remember that none of us is a mind-reader
So many people in their comments stated that the Daiya founders sold their company because they were greedy. Presumably these vegans are mind-readers, for how else could they claim to know the founders’ true intentions behind the sale? If we doubt their stated intentions, are we sure enough that we are right, so that we can utter these kind of horrible accusations?

Moreover, say the Daiya founders’ motivation to sell the company is financial. Do we know what they plan to do with the money? Maybe they’ll use it to invest in another great plant based company? Maybe they want to make significant donations? The thing is, we can’t know.

In general, there is a lot of cynicism going around about the corporate world (politicians and celebrities are another easy target of that kind of cynicism). Especially if our opinion might be wrong, it is very delicate to call others traitors or sell-outs or whatever. The Daiya founders are people too, as are all the Daiya staff. It is undoubtedly not pleasant to read all the sh#t that people write about them. And, it’s not motivating, but rather it might alienate them from the vegan movement. A good rule on social media is not to write something about someone that you wouldn’t say to them face to face. So often, we forget about the humans behind the social media conversations.

I think the fact that big companies want to acquire plant-based companies is a terrific sign. I do believe a partnership with a big company can indeed help Daiya to reach more people. Is this the founders’ real motivation? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Is this an ideal partnership? Probably not, but it’s not an ideal world either. This is what success will look like. It will not proceed along a road of purity, but it may be a bit messy and mixed at times. We’d better get used to it.

I’m not saying companies should be beyond reproach just because they offer great vegan products. As consumers, we’re definitely allowed to remain critical. Maybe Otsuka and Daiya will prove me naive at some point in the future. Till then, I’ll try to be open and rational rather than cynical, and I’ll try to have some faith in people, including those in the corporate world.

Want to read more about how our movement can deal with the business world? Check out my new book How to Create a Vegan World.

30 thoughts on “Why vegans shouldn’t boycott Daiya cheese

  1. If you support Big Pharmaceutical getting the product out to more people in hopes of supporting WFPB, and claim to be Vegan, you, my friend, are not living up to your label. The parent company does not practice ethical treatment of animals, therefore, if you support the company…you need to take on the “label” of “Whole Foods Plant Based” not Vegan. Signed, *Not a Vegan*

    1. this makes no sense being you were not vegan at one-point in your life and you have taken pharmacutecal drugs at some point in your life to help you get better from an ailment.

  2. Well this is the start of a great vegan food to slowly have chemicals injected into them to make it even MORE cheese-like. That’s all big companies like to do: make something more satisfying to the palette, more sales, more money.

    Daiya will be destroyed completely in a few years.

    Next buyout and ruin – BeyondMeat.

  3. Oh yes, have faith in vivisectors. By all means, be open to vivisection – after all it isn’t you being caged and tortured over and over again until they finally kill you.

    1. There are lots of ethical vegan cheeze makers with far superior products to Daiya. I stopped buying their products when they sold out.

  4. I dont believe the veggie macaroni and cheese is dairy free !!!! i tried it late last night and my stomach was embarassingly upset all of my shift at work, and is still upset.hopefully my stomach wiill be ok tomorrow.i wonder if people have had to go to the hospital for dairy allergy after eating this ?! My stomack is bloated so much looks like im pregnant?

  5. I think the argument that ‘Vegan companies bought
    out by big companies, to get more exposure’, is a totally fake, sellout argument. NOPE

  6. Smart move on behalf of Daiya- they cashed in before their ship could sink! Daiya is disgusting and only survived so long because they dominated the vegan cheese market. Now that we have superior alternatives like Chao and Tofutti (that actually taste and melt like cheese)

    1. That’s funny, because Daiya Cheddar Slices are the only plant-based cheese my niece and I can eat straight from the container and still enjoy.

  7. Well to be frank nothing is actually vegan by definition. We use petroleum for everything from plastic to gasoline which we all use. Petroleum is dead animals. We are veganists at best aspiring to be vegan. That being said I enjoyed this article. Not sure if i will be using their stuff anymore though. I’m not really into their products anyways 😀

    1. Petroleum is vegan, because we didn’t kill the animals to get it. They were dead well before we(humans) even existed. Though, there is an ethical argument against the damage petroleum usage does on the environment.

  8. A company is either ethical or it’s not. Clearly Daiya has sold out: money trumps animal protection. I recently bought two new Diaya products and am now throwing them in the compost heap. I can’t support a company that pretends to be against animal cruelty while actually using animals in horrific lab testing – It’s that simple. Don’t let your conscience by swayed by this article, which says it’s okay to support companies like this because we want big businesses to get into making fake cheese – listen to your heart!

    1. This is like not giving an option for people to change, your view is unrealistic. You used to be non-vegan, do you know there are vegans that are pharmacists, do you consider them evil because they ended up in that profession. Life isnt that simple, think broader.

  9. Daiya is a sell out. A true Vegan would never consider buying this product again. This is marketed for non vegans, who don’t hive a crap about the animal abuse.
    Sorry, never again. ?

  10. Thanks for writing a very interesting article on this. I’ll start by stating my conflict of interest. I work for the parent company Otsuka. The views I state are my views alone. I was so pleased to find out they’d purchased a company like this as I recently decided to work towards becoming a vegan and there is a massive growing trend in places like the UK. My drive to want to become a vegan (which is a big shift for someone who spent all of the past 30 odd years dependent on animal sources of food) has resulted from my eyes being opened to UK farming practices. Most people are completely ignorant and it’s a lot to do with big food companies taking advatange of people. Would you rather a company like Nestle had purchase them?? Now I fully appreciate the issues people have with animal testing. Science is advancing and we should be able to drastically reduce this need if not altogether. The reason it happens is unfortunately/ fortunately the law prevents companies from early stage testing on humans. I’m sure you’ve seen headlines when it goes wrong I’m phases 1-3 trials and the legalities which follow are just too high risk for any company leader to accept. They’re the ones that go to jail when it goes wrong. Would you be willing?
    Anyway back to the main point in hand. I strongly believe that if you want to make veganism more attractive to a wider audience then you absolutely need solid investment and products which appeal to the wider audience. Vegan on its simplicilist level which most non vegans will understand means no using/ abusing/ hurting animals for the purpose of food consumption. A broader definition as applied by what I would describe as ‘fanatical’ is never going to win the hearts and minds of the boarder population. I for one will never feel guilty eating an animal or animal products if I know the animal was cared for in an ethical and compassionate way. Trouble is i probably will never be able to be assured of this unless i have my own little farm one day. Bottom line if we want to have a brighter future with a healthier planet then everyone needs to eat less meat or we are doomed. So let’s all work together to make it happen and take a pragmatist approach to achieving results.

  11. How can you say boycotting doesn’t necessarily affect the company or produce change when that is literally what all vegans are doing by choosing not to purchase animal products?

    Vegans are a small group compared to the masses. Yet we have affected change.

    Also testing on animals is 100% unnecessary and ultimately all drugs will be tested on a human party. We should just skip the animal portion since it is neither reliable nor factual information, since the animals are not human.

    Just because it is ‘illegal’ to test on humans first doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Animal tests DO NOT reliably predict outcomes in humans, therefore there is no need to cause them unnecessary torture and death.

  12. My husband and I are shocked.We have children and we are all vegan we have been eating daiya for about five years now but recently my little ones have been complainly about their tummy not feeling good we’ll we did think anything about the cheese until we thought well for a few months we have been eating a lot of it and my little boy likes to eat by it self he the one right now with the bad tummy sooooooo we look up daiya and we’ll what the hell I said so yeah no more daiya I have been buying their yogurt, cream cheese that tasted funny,but my little loves the yogurt after he eats he doesn’t feel good .After they changed be it tomelt better they when it started. YEAH BOYCOTT DAIYA I am I am sooooooo piss off and confused daiya cheese are sell outs sold it to animal abusers and human killers. Wow thank you for the information I want every body to know about daiya

  13. Big Business is Big Business. No Spin, please. Not a mind reader here, but, perhaps the author may be consciously or unconsciously looking for a way to ‘justify’ his purchase of Daiya without feeling guilty.

    Sidenote: recently saw a Dick’s Burger in Portland, Oregon advertising their partnership with Daiya. Come. On.

    I’m for the freedom of choice, but be cautious where your put your energy….. all of you….

  14. I no longer buy anything from Daiya or Beyond Meat. I no longer buy from companies calling themselves Vegan while using palm oil, being owned by a pharmaceutical company, or where my hard earned money goes into the pockets of a known abuser of animals and slaughterer of hundreds of thousands of animals every month. Maybe you think it’s a great way to get vegan products to be mainstream but that’s the biggest bunch of bull I’ve heard as to why we, as vegans, should support them. In the history of business successful companies have expanded all by themselves.

    I don’t want to have to go into the meat section of a grocery store in order to pick up a burger from beyond meat. To me that’s catering to the non-vegans and not to the vegans who got them to where they were before they got greedy and forgot why they started a vegan company in the first place. Though, maybe it was about greed in the beginning with these 2 companies.

    Maybe that’s why it was so easy to walk away or forget about the philosophy of being a vegan when there was a big payout to be had.

  15. As a person who practices Ethical Veganism I think theses reasons are absurd! These reasons only apply to those who went vegan to get healthier. Those of us who went vegan for the sake of the animals should consider a boycott. This kind of behavior shouldn’t be acceptable! If we truly want change we will have to sacrifice a little! I think the animals have sacrificed enough here! It’s time humans do their part. I will be boycotting because to me animals are more important than vegan substitutes.

  16. This is an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, people become vegan due to their ethical convictions as to the treatment of animals, while others become vegan for health benefits, and then there are those that like to double dip and sport both camps at once.

    If a person became vegan for the ethical treatment of animals, then it would be antithetical to their position to continue to support an organization that willingly partners with another entity that purposely causes harm to animals. If Daiya was truly aligned with veganism from an ethical perspective, the company would not chose to partner with a corporation so closely affiliated with animal harm. At some point, say teaming willing to enhance business market with a company that experiments on animals, a company might rightly be judge as not an advocate for ethical veganism. I think that given an ethical vegan’s principles, their purchases necessarily should align – and their money spent – where their heart and their mouth is.

    On to the next point, vegans who are interested in the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Full disclaimer, I have never tried Daiya, and I doubt I ever shall. I read several of the ingredient lists for their cheese products, and sadly none shout: “Food for Life!” Those interested in the nutritional benefits of veganism might also ponder what benefit a food manufacturer might have partnering with a business industry, aka pharmaceuticals, that from a profit perspective, is often in direct contradiction with holistic preventative methods like those found in a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Regardless, as the cheese products stand, those interested in the health benefits of veganism should not use this product often…if at all.

    So, yes, vegans should probably not use Daiya products.

  17. Thanks for this thorough, thoughtful article. AGREED!

    Btw, not all of pharma is evil. If one’s child had a rare disease and a pharma company’s drug would save their life, suddenly that person may appreciate that “evil” company. It takes millions to billions $$$$ to TRY to get a molecule to market and only 1 in 10,000 make it. Think about that for a minute.

    They have to recoup money for prior and ongoing R&D.

    And – Do we hope that more scientists will use in vitro vs in vivo testing whenever possible? Of course! And most drug companies are heading in this direction.

    But, we also want Daiya to succeed bc that helps spread the word and more people will have access to experience plant-based foods.

    Daiya is still a company making vegan food IMO. They aren’t giving their profits to support animal testing. Rather, they are ensuring their success to continue as a vegan company!

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