Plant-Based Is In and So Is Veganwashing

By Lili Trenkova

NOTE: this article was written in June, 2014. Ben & Jerry’s has now decided to make their ice-cream almond-based.

Ben & Jerry’s announced that by April 2016 they will introduce plant-based ice creams. This is being celebrated in the vegan community by many groups and individuals and is touted as a “victory” in the animal rights movement.

This is NOT a victory.

It is saddening and disturbing that the creation of a consumable product would be placed within the realm of animal liberation. It is downright offensive to all the trillions of animals who suffer from human exploitation – in particular to all the cows whose bodies are molested, tortured and exhausted day in and day out in the dairy industry. Coconut ice cream does not make their bodies any less objectified and dispensable.

The Ben & Jerry’s statement came after a petition pleading them to introduce plant-based options took off into social media and gathered numerous supporters. What the petition organizers and supporters fail to see, however, is that their efforts only made Ben & Jerry’s job easier: before they weren’t sure that plant-based ice cream would be a sellable product, but now they are. The reality is that plant-based ice creams are on the rise in trendiness. They are delicious and less unhealthy, and there are more and more options on the market. Of course, Ben & Jerry’s would like a share of the profit to be had.

Ben & Jerry’s has only said they will start making plant-based ice cream – NOT that they will stop making dairy ice cream. This is crucial

Let’s go back to the animals now, specifically those cows and point out another failure in recognition by those who call this news a victory. Ben & Jerry’s has only said they will start making plant-based ice cream – NOT that they will stop making dairy ice cream. This is crucial. As any 1st-grade math student would confirm, addition of X does not mean the subtraction of Y. Cows will continue to suffer and die as long as they are commodified, and the addition of a substitute still legitimizes this commodification.

Lastly, recent inquires exposed that an overwhelming amount of coconuts in Southeast Asia are harvested by enslaved macaques. As such, these coconuts cannot be categorized as “vegan” – much like palm oil, responsible for the destruction of orangutan et al habitats. The more we discover such cases of exploitation, the more we see how deep our profit-over-ethics mentality runs – whether we are business owners (seeking to make money) or consumers (seeking to save money). If Ben & Jerry’s chooses coconut as the base of their plant-based ice cream, and if they source their coconuts from farms that use macaques, would this get any attention? Probably not.
We need to look beyond our personal interests and live up to our values to the best of our ability. If we truly care about justice, we must include everyone, those in our immediate circles, as well as those we cannot nor will ever meet.

Ben & Jerry’s plant-based ice cream of the future is not a victory. It is not something to celebrate. It is veganwashing by a company that puts profit above ethics – a quite normalized business behavior that will continue until we persistently and exponentially challenge the system that we’ve built that allows for it. Change will only happen if we all actively work for it and if we don’t make compromises. Join the animal rights movement today and help us end speciesism.

For a more thorough read on why veganism alone isn’t enough to bring animal liberation, please refer to this page.