Is stocking vegan alternatives alongside meat products bad for vegans? We need to consider who veganism is about. (Clue: it's not vegans!)
As a vegan since the 1990s, I've witnessed a massive growth in the availability of vegan-friendly products over recent decades - from a time when they were few and far between, to the present day when major supermarkets have fridges and freezers specifically allocated to their array of vegetarian and vegan-friendly items. And I love how convenient it is to head directly for these dedicated sections, and to choose from a growing range of increasingly appetising food, without having to pick them out from products containing the body parts of nonhuman animals.
So why am I cautiously welcoming a move by Sainsbury's to sell vegan versions of meat next to real meat? Surely that risks a return to the bad old days when we had to pick out the vegan-friendly options from all the products of animal exploitation. What vegan could possibly want that!
When it comes to dining out, research from the London School of Economics shows that consumers are more likely to choose plant-based meals when they're incorporated into a restaurant's main menu, rather than listed separately. Since consumers are less likely to choose from a dedicated "vegan" section on a restaurant menu, we should not expect them to be inclined to purchase from the corresponding section in supermarkets either. Instead, we might expect them to be similarly more inclined to choose vegan products if they're displayed next to non-vegan products.
Furthermore, this has the potential to help reduce resistance to vegan messaging, as consumers will already be more familiar with the range of vegan-friendly products available.
Veganism is not about vegans
While Sainsbury's initiative may mean a potential inconvenience for vegans, veganism is not about vegans, but avoiding the exploitation of nonhuman animals.
A philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
Furthermore, it's worth bearing in mind that vegan products are regularly displayed alongside the products of animal exploitation anyway - i.e. vegetarian products containing eggs, dairy, etc.
Therefore, while initiatives such as Sainsbury's might make shopping a less pleasant experience for vegans, we should not let any inconvenience or discomfort for ourselves stand in the way of measures that may help encourage consumers to consider vegan-friendly products - and maybe even veganism per se. And we need to remember to centre nonhuman animals in the vegan movement, rather than ourselves.