Being a vegan myself, it confuses me when I see online threads criticising vegan brands for obtaining investment from large corporations and individuals who operate in other markets, which may include less ethical and non-vegan businesses. Surely it is a good thing, that vegan brands are finally entering the mainstream of finance, and then having access to larger streams of income? Apparently not, and this was made explicitly clear in the recent backlash to Oatly’s recent investment from Blackstone, a large private equity firm. Oatly has made dairy-free oat ‘milk’ fashionable, with bold advertising and now a right of place in even small convenience shops, and the investment will no doubt strengthen its position.
Being a long term vegan and maintaining economically liberal ideas is often an awkward one for me to explain; “How can you support business which is destroying the planet, yet hold such strong opinions about how people should live their life?” other vegans say. My unwelcome answer for them is that we should not use systems of governance to alter production, ban or strongly nudge people away from their ultimate free choice to live life how they please, but we should try to change people’s minds instead. There are many arguments for veganism, and a lot of them are misunderstood.
Perhaps the vegan movement should stop its polarisation of tying itself to hard left economic and social movements and instead focus on the facts, using respectful and more libertarian approaches to gain the respect of people that may otherwise turn a blind eye? The vegan movement, extinction rebellion, the polarised reaction in the press and politics for Greta Thunberg and her school strikes highlight that these movements have become as political as they are environmental. Can you Imagine the pindrops you would hear if you said you were a conservative in the middle of an Extinction Rebellion protest?
Detach from politics
The solution is to detach the vegan movement from politics and accept that things such as investment from a large investment firm into vegan brands is proof that the argument is progressing. In order for the world to become fully vegan and environmental, or even remotely close, a lot of changes are going to be required to the ways we produce energy, transport goods, produce food, dispose of waste, purchase and manufacture clothing, and much more. If the state were to impose these restrictions, it would lead to the single largest worldwide transfer of power into central government ever seen, which is frankly both undesirable and completely unrealistic.
The intellectual argument needs to be won and kicking off a fuss on Twitter when firms such as Blackstone give your cause a few hundred million dollars is counterproductive. There is money to be made in the vegan and green markets, with exponential growth that has already monopolised its ‘woke’ market, it now needs to become a movement that can gain intellectual support from the centre and the right. This is never going to happen in its current form, and a neoliberal approach to the veganomic question is therefore required.
By Matthew Stevens, Editor of student publication, The London Finance Journal