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Inside a Vegan-vs.-Vegan Controversy: Where Do You Stand?

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  • by Diana O. Potter

We VEGWORLD readers know all about it. And most of us are pretty happy about it.

But not all of us.

“It” is the dramatic and newsworthy large-scale growth of traditional meat and dairy companies that are enlarging their investments in plant-based foods. Of course, they’re doing so in response to the growing number of people with plant-based lifestyles demanding more foods they can eat at lower cost — and buying them in ever-increasing quantities. More buys equals more happy customers and more profits, the reasons why any company anywhere is in business.

So that’s great, right? What’s not to like about such a remarkable phenomenon, given that the American diet has been meat-based since long before there was an America? And we know so much now about the health benefits of eating plants instead of meat. Shouldn’t we be thanking the big meat and dairy companies for buying or investing in the small or start-up producers of the plant-based foods we love?

Turns out the answer depends on which vegans you talk to.

Vegan author Colleen Patrick Goudreau has researched vegans’ current perspectives and considered them alongside the reasons for the formerly non-plant-based companies’ moves in our direction. This article sums up her findings as follows.

Why Some Vegans Don’t Like “It”

Besides gratitude, many of us have considerable admiration, even affection, for the vegan companies that started plant-based foods’ huge growth in popularity. We may sometimes feel regret that the bigger animal-products companies have absorbed them, changing their character in a way — but some of us are really upset about it:

  • These vegans accuse the vegan companies of “selling out” and even call for boycotting their products now that they’re aligned with “big business.”
  • Although they may previously have eaten and enjoyed some of the vegan companies’ products, many of these vegans now condemn them as unhealthy, over-processed, and, surprisingly, worse for your health than animal products!
  • And woe to those who attempt to defend the small companies for their “big-biz” decisions: They’re all too likely to hear themselves accused of being apologists for the big companies or even betraying the animals by defending the small ones.

How the Animal-Products Companies Might Reply

It’s unknown whether the animal-products companies are much aware of the negative views expressed by a relatively small number of vegans. But if they did, here’s how they might reply in their own defense:

  • “As with any company in business to generate profits, that has to be our goal. To achieve it, we can’t be in business to first satisfy anyone’s ideology.”
  • “That said, we aren’t committed to killing animals. We’re committed to making profits. If we can make profits without killing animals, we’ll gladly do it.”
  • “In fact, besides buying companies that make plant-based foods, some of us have begun making them ourselves, including Tyson Foods, Kroger, Kellogg’s, and Hormel Foods — a clear indication of our growing concern for more than just profits: the animals, people’s health, and the environment.”

How the Plant-Foods Companies View “It”

The plant-foods companies selling all or a portion of themselves (as investments) to larger ones might have this to say:

“We were small, with small distribution of our products, and we might have stayed that way for a long time — meaning we would reach only a relatively small number of plant-based customers with products that would tend to cost more because of fewer sales.”

“We took the risk and accepted the hard work involved in starting any new business, including finding the money not only to start it but also to keep it going and, if possible, growing. When we decided to sell, it was because we’d reached the limit of our own capabilities to do those things.”

“We’re happy that a bigger company with far greater capabilities is producing larger quantities of our products and distributing them more widely, with the result that they are selling more of them at lower cost to our loyal customers.”

What Do You Think?

So, which side of the vegans vs. big-animal-products-companies-going-vegan do you identify with more closely?

Since the trend toward more production of more vegan products by more animal-products–based companies seems highly likely to continue, the vegans who don’t like it may become more marginalized with time. Or, their numbers may grow, and their voices may grow louder and have a greater impact.

Only time — and the rate of growth of the companies going vegan — will tell.

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