The Vegan America Project (VAP) explores the immediate future of the United States through a vegan lens, offering a positive and encompassing vision rather than (as may be perceived) a narrow critique of current practices and attitudes toward nonhuman animals or a restrictive lifestyle.
Environmentalists, climate scientists, and international public policy organizations, including the United Nations, broadly agree that in order to mitigate the devastating effects of global warming, protect public health, conserve biodiversity, and lessen pollution, societies need to address their current agricultural practices and that those of us with access to abundant animal-based protein should consume less of it. One solution that’s been offered is a vegan diet.
Some argue that veganism is impractical (even impossible), potentially unhealthful, and environmentally undesirable. Others have questioned why the word vegan or its identity needs to be referenced at all. Why not simply encourage people to reduce their meat consumption, embrace a whole-foods, plant-based diet, without taking on the label? Indeed, given the increasingly popularity and availability of plant-based milks and meats, and the emergence of cellular biology to replace conventional meat and dairy production, why not let the marketplace drive behavior and practice, rather than risk getting stuck in identity politics or assumptions about what other social positions being vegan might entail?
It’s the thesis and praxis of this project to exemplify how veganism, to repurpose anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s remark about animals, is “good to think with.” Given the scope of the challenges facing humankind in the Anthropocene, veganism offers one radical heuristic within which to consider economic and social change, land use, and attitudes toward the other-than-human world in a time of catastrophic climate change, population increase, and biodiversity loss. To that end, therefore, the question might be reframed as, “Why not vegan?”
Finally, some terms and delimitations. “Veganism,” as defined by the UK’s Vegan Society, is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” In this spirit, VAP’s veganism is not about perfectionism. It doesn’t orient itself to any one political, social, or economic system. It is not committed to one ethical or religious system above any other. VAP takes it as a given that the [Projects]subjects[/a] addressed under its rubric cannot hope to encompass every aspect of life, solve all social problems, or (given the global nature of our problems), suit every country.
Like veganism and the United States of America themselves, the Vegan America Project is aspirational, incomplete, contradictory, and in pursuit of happiness. From the beginning, both have evoked eschatologies of perfectability and sanctuary. They represent at once a starting point and an end goal that offer diversity, restoration, and resilience rather than monocultures, despoliation, and collapse—even as the latter threaten to overwhelm the former. This project, also like veganism and America, reflect all those inherent contradictions, broken promises, and endless hopes.
Martin Rowe is the co-founder of Lantern Books, a publisher of books on veganism, social justice, and spirituality. He is the author of several titles (including The Polar Bear in the Zoo: A Reflection and The Elephants in the Room: An Excavation), a novel, plays, a libretto, and a satirical poem, as well as the editor and ghostwriter of a dozen non-fiction titles. He is the co-vice president of the Culture & Animals Foundation and a senior fellow at Brighter Green. He has a master’s degree in religious studies from New York University and a master’s degree in English language and literature from Oxford University. He’s been a vegan for more than a quarter of a century, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.