Vegans, Can We Talk?

When Benjamin Franklin declared, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes,” he didn’t have the opportunity to observe vegans’ flame throwing reactions to a plant-based food company selling their business to a company that also sells animal products. Surely, Franklin would have added it to his list of certainties.

Field Roast recently announced it’s selling its company to Maple Leaf Foods which also sells animal products. The announcement caused some people to unleash a torrent of vitriol against Field Roast on social media. If you fell in that camp, hopefully you know  how I feel about you so you’ll be open to some constructive feedback. Here are a few points to consider:

1) The big food companies have shelf space, connections, and marketing dollars. They don’t buy vegan companies for $150 million and then destroy them or add meat to the products. The Maple Leaf CEO stated he has no plans to change Field Roast. He stated he wants to grow the business, reach more people, and become a leader in sustainable protein. That’s news worth celebrating. If Maple Leaf succeeds, prices will drop, sales will increase, they will penetrate non-traditional markets, and the results may cause them to produce more plant-based products. Food giants like Maple Leaf and Tyson aren’t going out of business. We can embrace their entrance into the plant-based food market or maintain the status quo.

2) Nobody buys everything from a vegan company. If you buy Field Roast from Whole Foods, Whole Foods earns a profit and it isn’t a vegan company. Apple, Shell, Toyota, T-Mobile, and Wells Fargo aren’t vegan companies. We often give our money to people who use it to buy animals to eat despite how we may rationalize it. Also, many of the food products we buy have vegan ingredients that were sourced from non-vegan companies. Most companies people believe are vegan-owned like So Delicious and Gardein are owned by parent companies that aren’t vegan. If you follow every dollar you spend, you’ll find that it’s impossible to only put your money in the hands of vegan companies.

3) It’s not about us. Think less about what works for you and focus on what will reach the most people in order to save the most animals. The Field Roast social media thread, like the Beyond Meat, Daiya, and many other threads before it, were filled with first person declarations: “I will never… Forget about my…I am boycotting…” But it isn’t about you if your goal is to help animals. You’re already sold. If there was no Field Roast or anything comparable, you would eat fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and grains before you would ever eat an animal. We know you have other options. Consider focusing on the 99% of people who eat animals and how we may best reach them. The masses are much more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream and Tyson Foods’ plant-based chicken because they know the brand. We have to realize that our ideal and what the reality of the market dictates may not always be congruous.

4) The owners of vegan food companies don’t owe us anything. We’re not their shareholders or their boss. In most cases, they didn’t create the product for us. They created it for the billions of people who eat animals. Those people couldn’t care less who makes their food. If they did, Tyson Foods wouldn’t be breaking sales records.

5) Let’s be kind to animals and people. I know many of the people who own the major vegan food companies. Some of them are close friends. These are really good and hardworking ethical vegans who have dedicated years, taken huge risks, invested life savings, and worked tirelessly to succeed. They care deeply about the causes that inspire people to be vegan. It’s sad to see people demonize them so quickly when they decide to move on to other ventures. They deserve our gratitude for successfully introducing millions of people to delicious plant-based alternatives.

6) The people who own Field Roast received a $120 million offer for the company. What a success story! They earned it. Props to them. I’m excited to learn about their next endeavor to benefit animals. Maybe they’ll start a new vegan company or farm sanctuary, or provide seed funding to plant-based and clean meat companies. We should give them the benefit of the doubt.

I appreciate the passion but the backlash doesn’t help farm animals. This is not about us; it’s about them. And it’s about reaching people who don’t think like us or eat like us. I cringe at the thought of anyone seeing the hatred on the Field Roast thread who may be interested in a plant-based lifestyle. The optics don’t reflect well on us. We’re at our best as a movement when we pump the brakes on the knee-jerk reactions and think critically about our positions. Lashing out is easy; taking time to understand, ask questions, listen, and calculate potential benefits takes humility, compromise, and discipline. This article may help you maximize your impact as an animal advocate.

Thank you for listening and caring. Even though I disagree with your condemnation of Field Roast and believe it’s counterproductive, I know your heart is in the right place and I appreciate your advocacy.

22 thoughts on “Vegans, Can We Talk?

  1. Thank you so much for reinforcing these critical points! I think the sooner we get these products to the masses, the better. This is also an opportunity for these companies to sell less and less meat as more people try and love the plant-based versions. As much as I dislike their other business, this is a move towards a much more compassionate model for these mega companies. Thank you again!

    1. Thank you Shawna! You hit the nail on the head. Once we set our personal preferences aside and focus on how to reach the billions of people eating animals, we’re well positioned to change the food industry. It is because we dislike their other business that we should embrace this change. This is how we move Maple Leaf, etc. away from their other business and reduce the total number of animals killed for food.

  2. I wish all vegans could be like you Andrew . You are so articulate and think things out before reacting. I hate how this behavior makes vegans look like crazy people. Does not help the animals. That is for sure .

    1. Very kind of you Sue. Thank you for taking the time to think about what best helps animals. We should always make that our focus. Some people may not realize that animal-based companies sell to more than 99% of the current market. It’s important to remember that a neighborhood that may contain many vegan products in stores and vegan restaurants isn’t representative of the world where most places are vegan deserts. This is how we reach those places. It was, afterall, a non-vegan company named Pinnacle that pushed Gardein into Walmart and Target to reach millions of new customers.

  3. Great points, Andrew! I agree with them all and use similar reasoning when talking to other vegans that are immediately against “big corporations”. At the end of the day, I also like to point out that this is not about us, we already have a pretty good life, it’s about all the animals who suffer.

    1. Much appreciated Igor. Indeed, it’s about the animals. When corporations make these decisions, the last thing I think about is how it affects me or my personal views. First, I think about impact on animals and second on how it will reach our target audience–the billions of people eating animals.

  4. The voice of reason! Yay! It’s all about least harm, most good, and if these companies can grow the business and are eager to be a part of a sustainable and compassionate industry, then good on them! Thank you so much Andrew.

  5. Thank you for these excellent points, vegans hardly have the money available to increase the market share of non-vegan products. They also have marketing departments that can get the word out.

    1. That’s right Bill. There is a misconception that the 1% of the population that is vegan sustains these products. If that was the case, they would be out of business. Marketing and shelf space are key. They will open up the flood gates to promote and sell. That’s wonderful news!

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am in a vegan FB group where people are (mostly) great but it’s next to impossible to have a rational discussion on the topic of non-vegan companies having animal-friendly options. It’s all the devil: the big corporations, the small corporations that “sell out”, even the companies whom don’t perform animal testing BUT allow they’re products to be sold in China where those tests are mandatory. Come on, people! Are we trying to help animals or are we in a contest to see who can be the biggest pain in the a** obnoxious vegan?

  7. I think the majority of vegans agree with you, but when it comes to social media we become quiet because the others blast us.

  8. There are some wonderful points and very valid. I am not an unrealistic, obnoxious vegan and usually do not participate in various debates because when someone expresses something from the heart, they get blasted. I do not blast. I keep an open mind and soul search. So maybe you can enlighten me further regarding the following: Vegan products getting more mainstream – yes it does, but the fact that these companies want to jump on the vegan bandwagon along with still pushing their horror indicates that it’s us vegans who have promoted the products, did the outreach etc and the general populations tendency to now be more open. You say that this helps animals and will put an end to the cruelty. Yes, maybe more people will eat less animals and maybe even go vegan, but making these huge corporations bigger and richer, means more money to abuse. Does one cancel out the other? Isn’t our goal to one day see these monster corps end? I hear you and others points. Really I do but when I hear something like Daiya being purchased by animal torturers, I cannot feel good about it. Maybe it’s me envisioning the innocent faces of doom, maybe I’m too emotional and that’s clouding my usually logical and common sense thinking. OR, maybe some people are just so overjoyed that they loose sense of the big picture. Frankly, I’m very torn and like you said, our hearts are all in the same place and hopefully the demand for more vegan products will make these big companies reduce (maybe end – yeah – not in this lifetime) their animal involvement. Then yes, that would be a win. Thanks for listening.

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