Thanks to the buzz around the severity of our global climate crisis and the growing awareness of delicious and healthy plant-source only cuisine, the vegan movement is expanding at lightening speed (and this awareness is largely due to the increasing popularity of social media). Environmental rights and environmental health advocates, politicians, health and wellness advocates, animal and human rights activists and others are publicly expressing their support for the plant-source only movement. It’s undeniable: the vegan movement is becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive. The popular culture image of vegans as a fringe population with a singular identity and message (read: white, hippie, college-educated, only interested in animal rights or health) is being replaced by a much more accurate vision of an extremely diverse global vegan population made up of people who are embracing veganism for many different reasons and from many different backgrounds.
The fact that so many different populations are coming to the vegan movement highlights how important it is for vegan marketers and businesses not to assume their target audience holds the same beliefs and values. It is important for vegan marketers and businesses to develop an understanding of how to connect with different vegan populations in order to cater successfully to the widest possible audience.
The most obvious reason many come to veganism is compassion for animals. People are becoming increasingly aware of the terrible injustices to human animals and non-human animals caused by factory farming and animal agriculture. Many have embraced eating a plant source-only diet as a way to reduce global animal and human suffering. Health is another significant reason many people choose to go vegan, especially raw vegan. A well-balanced plant-source-only diet rich in live foods has been shown by numerous studies to improve health, especially long-term, and as information and awareness spreads, health-minded individuals across the globe are choosing to put plants on their plates.
In her seminal work The Sexual Politics of Meat, feminist animal rights scholar and advocate Carol J. Adams discusses the fact that masculinity and meat-eating have been tied throughout history. While this is still a huge problem in our social-cultural landscape, it is inspirational to see that today, many of popular culture’s reinforced sexist barriers to veganism, including the position that it’s “unmanly” to avoid eating dead animal flesh, are dropping by the wayside as celebrities like Bill Clinton and Hugh Jackman are joining the ranks of established dude vegans like Moby and Toby Maguire to show it’s acceptable (and cool!) for guys to go veg. Here come the hegans!
But one group that often goes unnoticed, is vegans who follow the lifestyle for spiritual reasons. This is a group that is far larger than many vegan business owners may realize. While many become vegan because it is delicious, health-promoting, eco-friendly, and carries serious cultural cache (Hey! Even Wolverine can do it!), spiritual vegans are one of the most important target audiences out there. Spiritual vegans present unique marketing challenges, but if you are open to reaching spiritual vegans where they are coming from, chances are you and your business will be highly rewarded.
Many religious and spiritual traditions value veganism. The concept of ahimsa, which is usually translated to mean “non-violence” in the West, actually means “non-harming.” According to spiritual, plant-source-only advocate and health expert Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, M.D. M.D.(H), ahimsa means taking an active stance to reduce the amount of harm going on in the world with compassion for all life. Ahimsa is present throughout many traditions – its logical extension to not harming animals and thus not consuming their products is foundational to many spiritual and religious traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, as well as certain sects of Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has stated that Buddhism was originally vegetarian. The Dalai Lama suggests vegetarianism to his followers.
In addition, the impact of meat-eating on the environment also has a serious spiritual underpinning. The idea that all beings are interconnected is intuitively understood by environmentalists who make the connection that we are all living on one planet and all ecosystems are inter-related. According to some Kabbalistic Jewish Torah scholars, the original message of Genesis 1:29 in the bible is about being vegan, but we have to be ready.
From a marketing perspective, a crucial thing to understand about spiritual vegans is that they may not identify with the label “vegan,” even though they consume plant-source-only nutrition and products. This presents a unique marketing challenge: how do you market to a population who may or may not identify with the widely-accepted label of the lifestyle you promote? The key is to promote your vegan business using the word vegan, but to also use marketing and PR language and terms that are more inclusive of the actions and purchasing trends associated with vegansim (aka buying non-animal-derived things and patronizing animal product-free oriented businesses). Describing your business offerings through the languaging of “plant-source only,” “cruelty free” or “free from animal products” can expand the scope of your business in ways you may not have imagined.
It is not in the scope of this article to debate the validity of using labels such as vegan. From a vegan business perspective, what is most important to understand is that to reach the widest possible audience you would be wise to question your own pre-conceived ideas about what a vegan is or isn’t, and to challenge what you believe your target audiences need. When you do this you may find answers about what you need to reach those you are trying to reach. May we all find the courage to go deep within ourselves and keep asking questions about our lifestyle, in order to understand one another, and ourselves, better.