Two inspiring and influential women, Ondine Sherman (Co-founder of Voiceless) and Emma Hakansson (Founder of Collective Fashion Justice), have recently written books about veganism and the power that this lifestyle has in protecting animals from cruelty, the environment from collapse and on human wellbeing and happiness.
Voiceless’s Coordinator, Kate, sat down with both Ondine and Emma to ask them what inspired them to write their books and to learn more about their visions for a brighter, cruelty-free future.
What inspired you to write your book?
Ondine: I am inspired by animals. When I imagine what they would want to tell me or ask me, I can easily conclude that they want to live their lives free from human-induced suffering, violence and death. To experience their lives in freedom, able to flourish on their own terms. Seventy billion land animals are killed each year for food, as well as trillions of sea creatures. The more we can embrace veganism as a philosophy of life, a way to be in the world that doesn’t needlessly exploit or harm animals, the more we can answer their call.
Emma: I was inspired to write this book because, too often, veganism is seen as separate from a broader range of social justice movements. In reality, veganism is a critical aspect of our work towards collective liberation, as the way we view and treat non-human animals has devastating consequences for animals themselves, as well as for vulnerable human communities and our shared planet. My hope is that this book shows these links clearly and invites people to consider veganism through a holistic lens.
Can you tell me about your book and what you hope the reader takes away from reading it?
Emma: How Veganism Can Save Us is split into three clear sections, one about the planet, another about humans and one about animals. At the close of the book, these three sections blend together when ideas of consistent anti-oppression are explored: we can’t be opposed to some oppression, some destruction or some violence, we need to work for the protection and liberation of everyone — regardless of their species, gender, race or anything else. I hope people create links between different social justice issues they haven’t before by reading it.
Ondine: My book was an answer to years of curiosity and confusion from people I would meet. Hearing I was vegan, they would ask me questions like, what about protein, how about leather, what’s wrong with dairy, anyway? The book is intended as a total guide – covering practical, emotional, nutritional and ethical issues around veganism and today’s animal industrial complex.
What are the main barriers that are preventing more people from living a vegan, plant-based lifestyle?
Ondine: I think the idea of veganism has become intimidating. Firstly, there is a lot of misinformation and misleading headlines, which isn’t surprising when you consider the power of the meat, dairy, egg industries (in government, media, and even our education system). This has led to a sense that, despite veganism being all about compassion and kindness, it is a negative trait. Recent studies have shown that vegans are discredited, ridiculed and stereotyped in the media as angry, militant, self-denying, sentimental, faddy, joyless, fussy, awkward, wealthy, hippy, extreme, radical, both overly healthy and under-nourished, elitist, freaks and fanatics and too ‘feminine’. In addition, living in an often vegan-unfriendly world, newcomers can experience feelings of social isolation. I try and outline in the book, with the help of many other vegans, ways to overcome this. One tool is to surround yourselves with a community of both vegans and vegan-allies (people who support you but aren’t necessarily vegan themselves).
Emma: Because of many highly funded and successful marketing campaigns and lobbying efforts by industries that harm animals (and, in turn, us and the planet), education is often a barrier for people to make informed decisions that align with their values. So many of us love and appreciate animals, and yet we eat and wear them; so many of us are concerned by the climate crisis, and yet the choices we make when we get dressed and fill our plates often perpetuate it. How Veganism Can Save Us is diligently referenced, and there’s a QR code at the back of it so people can explore these resources themselves, too.
As well as education, for some, financial stability can be a challenge — in part because if we are trying to make ends meet, there’s less time to consider social justice issues. Some of these access barriers are explored in the book, along with ways we can help remove them for our broader communities.
Can you explain the link between (or intersectionality of) the animal rights, human rights and climate movements? What is the common thread?
Emma: Once we have viewed some individuals as lesser, undeserving of the most basic of rights, it is easy for this oppression to be extended to others. In the book, the idea of oppression based on ‘animality’ and a disconnection from nature as a root of societal harm is explored. Those we see as ‘animals’ are seen as ‘sub-human’ —, and we see both animals themselves, and some people, due to racism and other discriminations, as such. We create a hierarchy that can only do harm. In essence, anyone in closer proximity to an animal identity and to nature is at risk of being oppressed today. If we became more comfortable with our human identity as animals (that’s what we are!), we would treat other animals better, ourselves better, and the planet better. But the animal industrial complex, which transforms individual animals into ‘products’ runs totally counter to this.
Ondine: Ecofeminism has a long history of digging at the roots of ideological and political structures that keep our long histories of exploitative, violent systems in place. Anthropocentrism is when we see ourselves, as humans, as being superior to and separate from other animals. This belief in human exceptionalism intersects with other ‘isms’ such as sexism, racism, colonialism, and ableism. We want to work towards dismantling all oppressions and all forms of objectification, both to nonhumans and humans.
It is a common misunderstanding that being vegan refers to someone who consumes no food that comes from animals. Can you explain what the word means to you and what aspects of your life being vegan encompasses?
Ondine: Many vegans see this as a worldview, a belief in living peacefully alongside other creatures, a philosophy of no harm, a desire for other beings to live in dignity, and respecting them for their differences. It is also a social justice movement and requires us to speak out, work to end cruelty and exploitation, take our beliefs outside our homes and demand change from our governments, corporations and institutions. On a practical level, veganism is food, fashion, and the activities we choose to do (like not going to the zoo or aquarium). It is a holistic framework for our lives that leads to a feeling of community and shared identity.
Emma: To me, veganism is about being opposed to speciesism and the idea of animals as commodities, products, things to exploit and kill for profit or gain. While non-humans are at the core of this, veganism is about humans too — we are animals — and the planet none of us can live without. Veganism is expansive.
It is often said that apathy is the greatest threat to humanity. Yet the magnitude of the world’s problems can often result in people tuning out and lacking the motivation to change. What small steps can people take, and what different individual choices can people make that will lead to a brighter future for people, animals, and the planet?
Ondine: By reducing our consumption of animal products, we send a clear message to both the companies that perpetuate cruelty (animal industries) as well as those who are working to end it (vegan businesses). They see this message in their bottom line, non-negotiable. In addition to ‘voting with our wallet’, it’s also important to engage with the animal protection movement so we can call for real change in the halls of parliament and in our courts of law. To reform the policies and laws that have allowed animals to be considered as objects, as our property to use and abuse, rather than as sentient beings with inherent value.
Emma: How Veganism Can Save Us is full of small actions and steps to take — from changing our language and how we refer to animals (avoiding ‘it’ for individuals), to changing what we eat, dress in and buy, all the way to how we can bring different social justice movements together. I think it’s important not to let the weight and breadth of the problems on this planet stunt us from taking action, make us feel like where we start isn’t enough. Starting by educating ourselves more, and making commitments to ourselves to work towards the world we want to see is important.
What advice would you give a friend who was vegan-curious but nervous about the journey ahead?
Emma: Often people say things like ‘but I couldn’t give up cheese’, and use that as a reason to not do anything. If cheese is really hard for you, make sure all your fashion purchases are vegan, sustainable and fairly made. Move beyond eating all other animal products outside of cheese. Choose animal-friendly products that aren’t tested on or using animals. Don’t let cheese stop you from making all that other progress, and while you’re doing that, have a read about the dairy industry, learn why it’s important so that your reason for avoiding cheese feels stronger than your urge for it. It feels far better to live in alignment with our values than to continue doing otherwise.
Ondine: Stock up on good books about veganism, gather some delicious recipes, and join the multitude of vegan communities so you can find people who understand you and will support you along the way. Be patient with yourself; if you stumble, just brush yourself off and keep going. There is no vegan police! Just ourselves, trying to do the best we can for our animal kin.
What did you learn when writing your book and what surprised you the most?
Ondine: There are so many kind-hearted vegans wanting to share their thoughts, advice and support new people on the journey. I also learned that protein deficiency is a non-issue for vegans and how addictive cheese is! Because of a compound called casein which is as addictive as morphine; this is why so many people find it hard to give it up.
Emma: By speaking to and reading the works of some really wonderful educators and academics I learned more about the ways in which veganism intersects with different social justice movements. To distill these theories down into something really accessible and easy to read I had to make sure I really understood what they meant, and at the core of these different arguments was a lot of learning about oppression, autonomy and consent — something people don’t always think of when they think ‘vegan’. These are the parts of the book I am most keen for people to read.
What motivates you to get out of bed every day and continue to advocate for the rights of animals and the environment?
Emma: Animals are suffering at every second of the day on a global and unfathomable scale. I feel I owe it to those animals to get up and work for them and for a more just, sustainable world — and I’ve built my life so that doing so is core to my everyday life, and I have relationships with people who are just as passionate as me, who encourage me.
Ondine: Funnily enough, I don’t feel like I have a choice. I have known this as my mission in life since I was a young girl. I hope and plan to keep going…
Are you hopeful for the future, and if so, what gives you this hope?
Emma: I’m hopeful. Even if it’s not coming fast enough, the change we have seen in past years and decades is significant. The fur industry is shuttering up at a rapid pace across Europe, so many brands have ban on fur, and a growing number on exotic skins. We’re starting to see government policies being debated which, even if they don’t pass, would never have been discussed years ago. I think the climate crisis is making so many of us wake up to the ways in which our current system are broken, and that’s speeding up change — because we need that speed now. It’s easy for me to feel really grim about it all but that doesn’t help me to make progress. You have to have hope. You have to make there be reasons for hope, and to foster it amongst a community of others doing the same work.
Ondine: When we look back at history, in terms of the great social justice movements, I think it’s hopeful that we have seen monumental changes and dismantling of systemic oppressions. I believe that animal rights will be the same and, one day, generations ahead, our great-grandchildren will look back and say, ‘I can’t believe we used to do that!’ At the same time, life is unpredictable, and I don’t feel like we can know what outcomes may come from our efforts. All we can do is, each moment, strive for the world we believe in.
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