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The Importance Of Vegan Representation In Fiction

A blog by Laura Buchenlicht

A young East Asian girl sits on a sunlit summer meadow reading a book, wearing a face mask. A few feet away, a giraffe soft toy is also wearing a face mask and holding a book.

How many vegan characters can you name from the top of your head?

The only ones I know, come from vegan children/YA books. But vegans in main stream fiction? They are hard to come by, and the few ones that do exist, are pretty much never portrayed without stereotypes and prejudices – a perfect example of vegaphobia.

Most of the time, pop culture prefers to ignore the existence of vegans, with even vegetarian characters being few and far between - just take a look at the very short list of fictional vegetarian characters on Wikipedia.

And when they do show up, they fall into one of the theme variations of “The Other”, such as:

-The eccentric. A paranoid loner with fringe opinions, such as conspiracy theories, and culturally not supported beliefs, such as aliens, witchcraft, or veganism.

-The hippie. A sub-type of the eccentric, this one lacks the distrust and instead is usually friendly, naive, stupid, and peaceful (and often stoned).

-The preachy vegan. We all know this one as an accusation. The preachy vegan “attacks” innocent carnists by making them aware of the animal abuse they are contributing to. Evil to the core.

-The terrorist. An even more hostile version of the preachy vegan, who is a type of villain that wants to force everyone to go vegan.

-The Bambi vegan. This one has an emotional dysfunction called compassion for animals. They are typically a female child or infantilised young woman.

There are more of course. If you want to look at some examples of these character stereotypes, you can find an extensive analysis by the vegan blogger Creativeherbivore.

This is all due to the fact that vegans still are a minority, so that the majority of writers and directors are carnist, and that it is still seen as perfectly socially acceptable to discriminate vegans.

Adding to the discrimination is capitalism – a vegan creative would have a very hard time finding a mainstream producer or publisher willing to sponsor fiction that portrays veganism in a positive light.

Undoubtedly due to that, most vegan creatives don’t even consider trying. Luckily there are a number of vegan publishers by now, and even a vegan film festival, but they all remain on the periphery.

Things are similar for other marginalised people, such as women, people of colour, disabled people, or LGBTQ+ people. Despite the fact that many of these groups have been fighting for more representation for decades, progress is excruciatingly slow.

But why is representation of vegans so important?

Stories are never just individual expressions of creativity. They are a social tool, through which the creator(s) and the audience find meaning, identity, and purpose.

As such, they are incredibly powerful. If I create a story, I can do whatever I like; and if I can relate to a story I consume, then it will leave me feeling validated and connected.

This is why marginalised groups are actively kept out of stories – it’s a way to keep them invisible, signalling to them that they don’t matter.

And as is the case with carnism, most people just go along with the mainstream representation, without questioning it or meaning harm – they just reproduce what they have been taught and observed in childhood.

So in that light, not having any vegan characters at all is maybe worse than having tons of ridiculous and evil vegan characters.

If the latter were the case, people would at least still have to think about vegans more, and vegans would have a lot more to actively criticise and expose as systemic discrimination. It would be easier to mobilise anger and thereby agency, as well as compassion for us.

Of course what we really want and need, is more vegan characters, who are portrayed as just as relatable and loveable as any other character. Protagonists whose veganism is part of their identity in a good way – an integral part of their kindness and sense of justice; the result of a humbling experience that led to growth, or simply a trait that leads to them being bullied, but which they refuse to give up on.

It is interesting to note here how often we get these latter “underdog” characters in mainstream fiction, who become popular with the audience by appealing to people’s compassion and their own experiences of feeling different.

However, the bullying of these characters is rarely about a real-world form of social oppression – it is a strangely unpolitical story trope.

Again, this is due to the lack of diversity among both creators and distributors. We get humanified animals (a form of speciesism) and toasters who feel different, before we get marginalised human protagonists.

So how do we change that? I think the more vegan characters we get the better, so every new vegan fiction shared by vegans for vegans (not necessarily through commerce), is a win. Vegans need to realise that they have a need for this kind of representation, and then they can get inspired.


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