This page contains more information about Vegatopia. Scroll down the page or use the menu below to jump to specific items:
Ethical veganism is a utopian concept. It demands a radical transformation of the dominant pattern of human exploitation of, and violence towards, nonhuman animals. Ethical veganism disrupts the hierarchical ethical and aesthetic values currently associated with most systems of human food production and consumption, which cause untold suffering to billions of sentient creatures. Both nonhuman and human animals stand to gain massive improvements in their quality of life and their quality of environment if Vegatopia is realised. Towards these ends, Vegatopia seeks to:
The co-founders of Vegatopia, Karen Morgan and Matthew Cole, are both sociologists living and working in the UK. Between us, research and teaching interests include: ethical veganism, violence against nonhuman animals, nonhuman animal exploitation/rights, gendered violence, unemployment, utopian studies, human sexuality and criminology.
A vegan attempts to minimize, as far as possible, the harm she or he causes to all animals (nonhuman and human) in the course of her or his life. This includes choosing to eat a diet composed of plant foods (supplemented with other non-animal foods such as funghi and minerals); choosing products that do not depend on violence against, or the exploitation of, animals; working to end all exploitative and oppressive human activities that harm nonhuman and human animals.
Definition of 'veganism'
Veganism refers to the philosophy and practice of minimizing, as far as possible, the harm caused to all animals (nonhuman and human). This involves choosing to eat a diet composed of plant foods (supplemented with other non-animal foods such as funghi and minerals); choosing products that do not depend on violence against, or the exploitation of, animals; working to end all exploitative and oppressive human activities that harm nonhuman and human animals.
Note on definitions
Most definitions of veganism begin by listing what vegans do not eat, drink, wear, or do. As such, they tend to replicate a commonsense understanding of veganism as difficult to achieve or sustain. In contrast, Vegatopia asserts that veganism, given adequate information, resources and social support, is both easy and immensely pleasurable to achieve and sustain. In light of this, the definitions of 'vegan' and 'veganism' advocated by Vegatopia stress the consumption practices and activism encouraged and enjoyed by vegans, not what they 'avoid' or 'sacrifice'.
In his 1979 paper, “Dietethics: Its Influence on Future Farming”, Jon Wynne-Tyson endorsed The Vegan Society's vision for a horticultural future:
“What is required is a change from traditional agriculture to intensive horticulture, with careful composting of all wastes with plant materials to keep the land in good heart without animal manure or artificial fertilizers. The landscape of a vegan world would show small fields of cereals, fruits, vegetables and compost-producing plants surrounded by shelter-belts of fruit and nut-bearing trees. Hill slopes and other areas unsuitable for cultivation would be used for trees of all types, as a renewable source of fuel and raw material for many purposes, as well as for their function in maintaining the environment.”
Wynne-Tyson's words are a vision of a vegan utopia. The commonsense view of utopian thinking tends to be dismissive and used as a way of condemning radical and innovative ideas as being fanciful or unworkable. But there is a more potent sense of utopia, in the sense of ideas and practices that challenge the prevailing, oppressive, order of things, in this case for the animals who were (and remain) victims of the trivial human preference for the taste of their flesh, milk and eggs. Utopian studies is a branch of social theory that looks at the history of attempts to radically question, and alter, patterns of domination and exploitation. Wynne-Tyson's words therefore invite a connection between utopian thought and action of the one hand, and the demands for change contained within veganism on the other. In short, they invite Vegatopia.
The Vegatopia website is inspired by this connection and the possibility of realising the utopian potential of veganism. There are many routes that this can take, and Vegatopia aims to facilitate exploration of those routes. To give one example from a sociological perspective: the experience of individual vegans making the transition to a vegan diet, and how their personal view of the world changes, is interesting as a case study in utopian thought and action. It seems that most vegans do relate the changes they undergo when transitioning to a vegan diet to hopes for broader changes in the world around them. This often comes though feeling personal improvements in health and fitness, and wishing that family and friends could share in these benefits by joining in their vegan adventure. It also relates to revolutionary changes in cooking and eating, the opening up of new worlds of taste and pleasure, as sensitivity to the more subtle flavours of plant foods develops.
More significant than these physical benefits is a shift in ethics. Many vegans experience a weight lifting from their conscience, a feeling of 'elation', as one vegan put it, that their meals are no longer dependent on animal suffering. This also depends on re-learning and transforming taken-for-granted assumptions about food. Many vegans take time and care to research plant-based nutrition, and to confront the reality of animal exploitation. Vegans commonly seek out information about the realities of animal farming, slaughterhouses, vivisection and the whole complex web of dependency on violence against other animals that most human societies share. This is partly because they are no longer burdened with the guilt that leads many people to shy away from confronting those realities, and partly so as to arm themselves with reasoned arguments against the inevitable vegaphobic comments of others. As with the health, fitness and gastronomic benefits of veganism that many experience, vegans often also wish they could share these experiences of learning and ethical transformation more widely. This tendency to wish to generalize these experiences means that veganism is often much more than a private dietary preference. The desire to share veganism is essentially compassionate: the ethical release from dependency on animal suffering for one's meals is, potentially, a great gift. Compassion is focused both on the animals no longer tortured and killed in one's name, and on other people who stand to benefit from a widened sense of compassion in their own lives. These issues are explored in the context of Michel Foucault's discussion of ethics in “: the future of convenience and compassion in a post-speciesist world.”
Beyond the utopian personal and human-relational transformations of vegans, there are, of course, many broader implications: as Wynne-Tyson's vision suggests, veganism implies nonhuman animal liberation in place of enslavement, torture and murder; environmental sustainability in place of environmental degradation. Veganism also has implications for utopian theory: to expand the limits of utopian thought to not only include nonhuman animals into its scope, but to make them central to any vision for a just and peaceful future. The most radical and utopian promise of ethical veganism is that we human animals cease to be violent towards other animals, that we renounce our claims to ownership and control of them, and that we lose our vain assumption that the universe and all the other beings it contains exist as exploitable resources for our sole benefit.
This essay is adapted from a longer article that appears in the Summer 2008 (no.21) edition of Growing Green International, the magazine of the Vegan Organic Network.
The idea for creating this website arose from our frustration at the many stereotypes and misunderstandings relating to vegans and veganism. Having, for some time, resigned ourselves to the misleading and inaccurate comments in the media and within popular discourse, we became increasingly perturbed by the lack of any concerted or effective challenge to these issues from within academia. Such concerns arose both from the practical matters of, for example, inadequate catering facilities for vegans within most academic institutions or at the vast majority of conferences and, intellectually, from the silence of the 'vegan voice' within academic research. At a time of mounting public awareness and concern relating to environmental issues, human health, intensive farming and food consumption, veganism would appear to be particularly prescient. And yet, the uncritical reproduction of clichéd assumptions such as that of vegan asceticism which appear in some of the few academic articles that do address veganism could be argued to do more harm than good. At the very least, they provide a misleading impression of what it is like to be vegan and of the benefits and drawbacks associated with such a lifestyle choice. Furthermore, we became increasingly aware of the gap between activism and academia in relation to veganism. The success of collaborative working between academic disciplines and activism has been proven in other areas, perhaps most notably within the feminist movement and the highlighting of the immanence of violence against women. While similar collaborations do exist to a small extent between academics and vegan activist groups, these are disparate and rarely reach a large audience. The expertise provided by the two groups could prove invaluable to each other and to the primary aim of ending nonhuman animal exploitation and suffering. As our own research interests gradually converged on the issue of veganism, we decided it was time for a practical answer to these issues, building on Matthew's concept of Vegatopia and the website was born!
'Vegatopia' is comprised of the prefix 'vega-', from 'vegan' and the suffix '-topia' from 'utopia'. Pronunciation therefore follows that of the word 'vegan', with a stressed first syllable, an elongated 'ee' and a hard 'g' to produce 'veegatopia' (not as in 'vegetarian' to produce 'vejetopia' or 'vaguer' to produce 'vaygertopia'). Pronunciation of 'Vegatopia' is therefore in accord with the pronunciation of 'vegan', as described in The Vegan magazine: “…the word “Vegan” should be pronounced veegan, with the stress on the first syllable and “g” as in “go”. Remember, there's nothing vague about it!” Spring 1947; Vol 3, No.1, p.13
Web Design ©2008 Matthew Cole Last updated: 27-Aug-2009