Vegan-ish and Kathy Freston’s Vision of Progress, Not Perfection

Food is personal. Politics are personal. Food politics is incredibly personal. Finding a way to be conscious and healthy about the food we eat is something that takes time and energy.  Vegan food politics have often been associated with a very hard line approach to the issues, but Kathy Freston (who recently appreared on both Oprah and Marth Stewart’s vegan shows!) and others who approach food politics in a similar manner are chosing to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Photo of Kathy Freston's book Veganist  Big spashes were made when both Oprah and Martha Stewart hosted exclusively vegan shows where Kelly Freston appeared.  I first heard her speak on the Our Hen House podcast, and highly recommend you give it a listen!  Freston labels a veganist someone who “looks closely at all of the implications of their food choices and chooses to lean into a plant-based diet seeking progress, not perfection.” As a feminist, it’s hard to miss the obvious point that books like Veganist meet people where they are and encourage them to progress to be better in a way that is much more forgiving than some of the more  dogmatic perspectives associated with the animal rights movement.

Watching videos about factory family, testing of pharmaceutical products on animals, and animal abuse in circuses can understandably make a person angry, but how that anger is used to productively educate and transform the world around you has hardly been harnessed as productively as it could by the animal rights movement. Representing those who can not speak for themselves makes this task particularly diffcult.

Certainly this gradual and forgiving approach is much more inviting when faced with the reality that many of the foods and other cultural aspects you may take for granted and ethically questionable.   Activists getting hung up on Freston not harping at Stewart when she reached for the honey in one of her recipes during the vegan episode, sort of misses the point. Remember the need to advocate for animals to a braod audience outside the vegan bubble? Remember the need to inform people who aren’t vegan about food they can eat and ways they can embrace a lifestyle they may not be comfortable or familiar with?

Projects like Meatless Mondays that encourage people to try being vegan once a week and Kind Green Planet’s Weekly Mission that educate people about a vegan way of approaching the world one e-mail at a time allow a person to “lean in” to veganism, as Freston describes, without having to feel burdened by the jump into the label of vegan.

I fully believe moving to a vegan diet should be seen as a positive life-changing experience and one should embrace the joy of knowing you are making conscious ethical decicions while also eating a healthy diet for both yourself and the planet.  How one welcomes veganism into their life however, is a personal voyage and having compassion for people in making vegan-inspired decisions serves everyone in the end.

By Jamie J. Hagen

Jamie J. Hagen lives in Brooklyn and is a Contributing Editor for Autostraddle and writer for The Line Campaign. Follow her on twitter @jamiejhagen and visit her personal website for more of her work.

3 replies on “Vegan-ish and Kathy Freston’s Vision of Progress, Not Perfection”

”looks closely at all of the implications of their food choices and chooses to lean into a plant-based diet seeking progress, not perfection.”

ha, yes! Thank you. This is what I’m trying to do with my flexi-veggie-ism.
And yes, guilt is not a good long-term motivator: altruism, generosity, and more positive emotions are.

I really like your way of thinking. I used to be related to a vegan (that’s a whole other story) who was extremely dogmatic, and it put me off much more than it endeared me to her cause, even though I’m otherwise pretty receptive — I’m an animal lover who used to be veggie. Animal rights groups should think about communication a bit more: guilting people into making change rarely sticks.

Thanks for the positive feedback!

I really appreciate those people and organizations speaking out for animals who that take the time to listen to people rather than just lecture at them. It’s a tough skill to learn and takes time, but ultimately serves everyone. To stay engaged in working for equal rights and a more just world requires finding ways to continue to promote the personal positives that come with change rather than simply harassing people to see the light. That tactic, as you point out, is not very effective!

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