The V-word
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The V-word

Stories/333 , Issues/Sustainability
Cronulla NSW 2230, Australia
28th Jun 2018
The V-word
As a self-identified vegan skeptical of moral absolutism, Gia examines the perks of the reducetarian movement.

I am a vegan, an imperfect one, however, this still feels like a precarious title to disclose. I find myself saying I am not like other vegans, often.

The discomfort on both sides of the table that stems from the delivery of the word vegan is what has driven me to this point of reflection. The word itself causes an undercurrent. A current that inhibits many people who may otherwise be on a journey towards lowering their animal product consumption, had they not felt the pressures of absolutism. The pressure to adhere to the 'you're in or you're out' philosophy is deeply embedded in the atmosphere surrounding non-conventional dietary choices.

Interestingly, this one word is capable of evoking an extensive amount of awkwardness. I have been vegan for almost three years now, after a seven year stint of vegetarianism. But the element of social cohesion has been a greater minefield to tread than simply opting for soy milk over dairy milk in my coffee. My tongue trips up on the formation of the 'v'. When is the appropriate time to mention it?

Choosing the tofu stir fry over beef is drastically easier than watching the re-evaluation of yourself in your dinner companion's eyes after you've dropped the v-word. Often this moment is swallowed by a brief uncomfortable silence in which you wish you could telepathically acknowledge that your stance against animal cruelty is firm, but not so firm that you're judging your dinner companion's whole moral fibre based on their consumption patterns. Choosing the rice over egg noodles is a much more perfunctory act than searching for a more unifying conversation topic, to find your way back to where you were before the ineffectual bumbling started. What was it we were talking about before this?

The conversation around animal exploitation and the link between factory farming and climate change is not new to contemporary consciousness, nor does it ever get more comfortable to discuss. Peter Singer and Jim Mason poignantly depicted back in 2006, in The Ethics of What We Eat, the pervasive link between factory farming and biodiversity loss, along with increased risks in cardiovascular diseases and cancers associated with meat consumption. Then, Jonathan Safran Foer in 2009, wrote Eating Animals, veraciously depicting the factory farming industry's harrowing treatment of animals. Furthermore, this exhausted topic has been explored extensively in the recent succession of documentaries visually depicting the horrors: Earthlings (2005), Forks Over Knives (2011), Lucent (2014), Dominion (2018) and the list goes on...

The reasons why someone might make a concerted effort to reduce their animal product intake aren't particularly foreign. What is foreign is the pressure of needing to convert to an all or nothing mentality over-night and never look back.

Regardless of whether someone is abstaining from meat, eggs and dairy for environmental, ethical or health concerns, what is maybe even more essential to consider is how we are socially constructing this eco-ethical narrative. Food is so deeply embedded in and intertwined with culture. Perhaps questioning the effectiveness of spreading the 'all or nothing agenda of veganism' is a way to begin dissolving some of the proselytising undercurrents that alienate individuals before they've even begun considering more ethical and sustainable consumption patterns.

An answer to the call for the need for a non-threatening and less radical recipe for enabling change has been acknowledged by self-identified pragmatist, Brian Katemen. Katemen founded the not-for-profit Reducetarian Foundation in 2015 after diagnosing the link between the stigmatisation of the all-or-nothing ethics of veganism and vegetarianism and its capacity to frighten people away from wanting to make considered choices. He launched the foundation after his Ted X talk in 2014, in which he described himself as "not a vegan" — yet immensely fascinated by the reaction we have to people who identify as one, and how that affects our decision-making process.

Katemen describes the movement on as for "individuals who are committed to eating less meat - red meat, poultry, and seafood - as well as less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the degree or motivation". Reducetarianism is appealing because not everyone is willing to follow an all-or-nothing diet" — nor is everyone capable of, has access to the resources needed or exists in circumstances that permit such. The reducetarian movement, whether vegan, vegetarian, or somewhere in between, is breaking down the sometimes perilous conversation barriers around this contentious issue and works to create a positive culture of reduction. It celebrates the effectiveness of what global shifts in incremental change could accomplish, as we see already in the popular embrace of strategies as simple as meat-free Mondays.

The reducetarian movement shows promise as it bridges the gap between those trying or beginning their journey to make more conscious choices towards a more cruelty-free, environmentally sustainable or healthy diet. As well as this, the organisation invests in researching ways to most effectively break down the sometimes alienating divide of the in and out complex. In saying as much, reducetarianism has become increasingly important in incremental change — the enormously undervalued positive vehicle driving the global shift towards more ethical and sustainable consumption patterns.

Lastly, but not of the least importance, it's working towards reducing the number of awkward dinner table encounters when one of us drops the old v-word.

Brian Kateman's TED Talk on reducetarianism

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