In my time as a vegan, as an activist, and as a scholar, I have found that people tend to be very territorial about the struggle for justice - no matter their cause. And with good reason! So many people are struggling to be heard in a world that just. won’t. listen.
Something that I feel must be done is to realize - and prioritize - the interconnectedness of all our struggles. There is a common ground which could reveal much about the nature of exploitation, prejudice, and power if only we spent some time noticing these connections and considering criticism. Humanitarians now know it is not enough to care about single issues, but that social problems must be considered together as a result of something deeper.
NICORA strives to forge these connections. What is vegan is good for the planet. What is good for the planet is feminist. What is feminist is good for it’s workers. Ad infinitum. From the materials they use, to the healthy wages paid to their workers, to the ethics behind their business, and the quality of their craft - NICORA is a model for what conscious business should be. In our efforts toward conscious consumerism, we must take care to notice that the businesses we patronize are in alignment with multiple objectives of the consciousness movement. Single issue campaigns alone are not enough to create change.
At the same time, this is not a call for perfectionism. Rather, it is a call to notice. When I went out for breakfast recently, I noticed that the local cafe removed tipping from their payment options. Upon inquiring more, I found that this was because they were now paying their workers $15 an hour - a fair and living wage for the average, single city-slicker in my neighborhood. The cafe is now doing multiple things to conduct ethical business. In addition to offering organic and local fare this cafe chose not to slight their counter staff’s pay, which would make them dependent upon tips. Working many years in the service industry makes me privy to these things. It is an all too common practice to pay service industry workers near minimum wage because, generally, they receive tips while on the job. And what of those workers who are paid at minimum wage but without the support of tips?
After the racist rally in Charlottesville which made headlines this August, a campaign circulated on social media urging vegans and vegan businesses to speak out publicly against white supremacy. This is because the push toward veganism comes across as overwhelmingly white. Yet a vibrant community of vegans of color exists. Many white vegans I know feel, or appear to feel, politically neutral. This is to say that many of them don’t involve themselves in social issues beyond their vegan lifestyle, or engage the ways in which veganism could be further politicized. Animal rights activists - particularly ones with privilege - have a responsibility to animals and people alike to involve ourselves in the existing anti-racist vegan movement.
What NICORA stands for is a vegan movement that is for everyone. The wage gap is an issue commonly taken up by feminists. This is the statistical observance that women make less money at work than men, despite holding the same positions or having the same levels of education. Fair pay is a feminist issue and a value which NICORA puts into practice - paying their workers far more than the fashion industry standard. Living wages are a vegan issue as well. As long as the a vegan lifestyle is interpreted as something that is only accessible to the wealthy, issues about work and its relationship with food and nutrition should be a central concern in conscious living.
As consumers who get to choose products which suit our values and beliefs, perhaps it is time we expand our repertoire of values and things we will no longer accept from businesses. More and more ramifications of haphazard capitalism are bubbling to the surface and can no longer be ignored. If a business offers vegan products, but does so without consideration of the environment, its workers, or people of color, how ethical of a business could it be? The more we can widen the scope of our vegan lens, the broader our reach can be. To be vegan is to be part of a multi-issue campaign. Vegans come from all different cultures and represent a diverse set of interests, but resisting exploitation will always be the heart of the matter.