Written by Dr. Meneka Repka. PhD, MA, BEd, BFA

As VegFest Calgary moves from a new local festival to a solid platform for real change in our city, we have given a great deal of thought to how we present veganism to our community. In our first year, we knew that using graphic or violent images of exploited animals did not fully mesh with the “flavour” of VegFest; something about these images at a fun outdoor festival just didn’t seem right.  Through a great deal of research and discussion, we have come to a better understanding of why these images aren’t an appropriate tool for our organization.

1. ABLEISM: In our fight towards animal liberation, we want to ensure that we are also not oppressing our fellow humans.  After all, who wants to be a part of a movement that participates in the subjugation of another group? When we show people in public graphic images without knowing their individual backgrounds, we are assuming that everyone we encounter is equally positioned to view those images and still be okay afterwards. Unfortunately, there is no way to control a public audience to be only neurotypical, trauma-free adults.  Assuming that traumatizing people will lead to change is neither compassionate nor kind.

2. SEXISM: Our attitudes about consent inform and shape our collective behaviours.  By ignoring consent in ANY circumstance, we are participating in rape culture, which operates in service to the patriarchy.  If we say “consent is not necessary here” then we justify a lack of consent in other situations too- we are saying that consent is not important and that only certain people get to decide when consent is necessary. Also (and this links to our next point), the non-human animals in these pictures can’t consent to how they are being represented in their own movement.  We (those of us in the human community) must remember that animal liberation is about non-humans, and that humans are part of the oppressing class. We benefit from speciesism even if we’re vegan.

3. SPECIESISM: If the only images we show of non-humans are ones in which they are being brutalized, then we continue to participate in their objectification.   We further suppress them as agents of their own liberation by asking humans to pity them rather than understand their individual personhoods. Additionally, as Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato point out in their podcast Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack, “[there is] no control with how the image is being consumed.  [We] can’t control if the person [viewing] is actually upset or if the person is enjoying it. So now you’ve provided them with material for fetishization without the animal’s consent. Some people are just saying “meh” to a brutalized animal. You’re using that life and it’s not even resonating- some people are consuming it in a pleasurable way.  That animal is being objectified by how you’re using the image.”

4. POSITIVE CHANGE: We know with certainty that it is possible for people to take steps in the direction of veganism (and eventually fully transition) by only using positive depictions and conversations.  At VegFest, our goal is to focus more on the “pull” factors towards veganism rather than the “push” factors away from eating meat. We’ve already made some great strides: Local restaurants are now putting permanent vegan options on their menus, we’ve put VegFest and veganism on the public radar through local news stations, and we’ve contributed to our local animal sanctuaries through our donations.  We also worked alongside CARE and CalgaryVegan to put on Calgary’s first ever fully vegan pancake breakfast (“Get Stacked”), showing the city how delicious veganism can be. Our candlelight vigil to honour animals (“Get Lit”) also drew attention to non-human suffering through the food industry without a single graphic or violent depiction. In this way, it is our hope that people will be attracted to the vegan lifestyle in a safe, compassionate, family-friendly, and positive setting.