Should We Stop Using the Word Vegan?

Last Friday, Miyoko Schinner released a video on her socials explaining that she has been recently pressured by “experts” to no longer use the word vegan when marketing her products. For those who don’t know her – and if you don’t, you need to immediately – Schinner is the visionary boss behind Miyoko’s Creamery. Her products are undeniably the gold standard in vegan cheese and butter.

In the video, which is less than three minutes, Schinner says that not only is she going to continue to use the word vegan, defying the “experts,” she is doubling down. The slogan on all her products, which proudly proclaims them “Phenomenally Vegan,” isn’t going anywhere. She also says she will not be intimidated into not talking about animal welfare issues as others have recommended. The video closes with Schinner asking viewers to use the hashtag #PhenomenallyVegan and show the world all the positives of living a vegan lifestyle.

Miyoko’s video stayed with me over the weekend and became a major part of the conversation on my podcast. I, too, have been told by leaders or “experts” in the animal rights movement to tone down my messaging; to not use the word vegan and to soften my words when speaking about animals.

What a load of shit.

There are two things I believe in much more than any supposed survey or study or self-proclaimed expert: authenticity and speaking truth to power. We can focus-group something to death and still be dead wrong. And we all know what happens when we try to be all things to all people: we wind up saying nothing at all.

Beyond her incredible products, I believe one of the main reasons for Miyoko Schinner’s success is that she’s never apologized for what she believes in, instead using that as a motivating force. She’s real, she’s fearless, and she’s authentic. And in today’s social media world, authenticity is everything.

People can tell a phony in a hot second. So, if we’re vegan and vegan for the animals, we should say that. We don’t have to say it in a way that’s confrontational or hostile or angry, but we should be honest.

Animals can’t speak for themselves so it’s up to us. How are we doing that if we sugarcoat the devastating realities of factory farms and slaughterhouses? How are we being good activists if we’re knowingly watering down the message? And why should we? To avoid offending people with the truth? Would that really make us more effective or just more comfortable? Speaking truth to power is the only way to inspire others to change.

Back in the early 2000s, when active in LGBTQ rights, I was cautioned by many fellow progressives that marriage equality was not something we should pursue. I was told it was a very divisive issue and that if we advocated for marriage, it would turn people off and we’d lose in every other area. When plaintiffs backed by a new organization sued for marriage equality with aim to take the matter all the way to the United States Supreme Court, they were urged by almost every major gay rights organization not to do it. These activists were scared of the fight because they feared that in the process we might lose everything. But overcoming fear is an essential part of effective activism. And just look at how the marriage equality battle turned out.

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Victor Hugo

As I mentioned above, in recent months I was told by leaders in the animal rights movement to tone down my messaging. I was questioned not only on my preference for using the word vegan – but also told very plainly not to say things like, “There is no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist,” or “Humane meat is a lie.” I was told this might offend people, guilt people, and make them feel bad. Says who? Are we really concerned with offending people or just too afraid to say what we know to be true.

We stand at a crossroads in the movement for animal liberation. We can either say what we mean and mean what we say, or we can stifle the truth and try to mold our words into what we think the masses might prefer to hear. Like Miyoko, I believe we should be bold and stand firm in our convictions. Let’s commit to being phenomenally vegan and inspiring others to join us. The animals don’t deserve anything less.