Inspiration in a Diner
“In the diners in all the world…this one has vegan options?!”
True, my reaction was cliché, and could have even been construed as flippant. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to express my simultaneous amusement and befuddlement, for I had never expected to see a restaurant with vegan options – let alone advertise them – in such a remote area.
It was the early spring of 2019 when my wife, Brianne, and I were in the midst of planning our itinerary to a world-famous national park in California. The exact name and location of the park and diner I’m about to describe will be kept confidential out of respect to the latter, but suffice to say, the destination was so large and intricate that we needed several days worth of planning. Huddled around the cool, iridescent glow of laptop screens that muted the colour in our faces and the vibrant photos in our guidebooks, we outlined our days to ensure that we wouldn’t miss anything relevant to the purpose of our trip. Choosing the trails and activities was enjoyable and inspiring, and we were fortunate to find some simple, albeit spartan, accommodations at a nearby inn. One arrangement, however, proved elusive: finding where to dine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Vegan and plant-based dining options in parks are typically scarce and our present circumstance was no exception (Brown & Francis, 2017). Fortunately, after an extensive comb through of webpages and footnotes, we were able to find one option – a diner under 50 kilometres away from the park entrance that was nestled between a hodgepodge of hardware stores and consignment shops. It advertised a full list of vegan friendly options in warm, soft green font – and toward the top of its website, no less! I uttered the cliché statement as Bree jotted its address in our itinerary (and rolled her eyes at my attempt at humour) and proceeded to plan the rest of our trip for later that month.
The month passed quickly, and before we knew it, we were in our Prius and bound for the park. After winding through an undulating highway under waves of rain and towering trees, we arrived at the diner. The ambiance of the diner was a delight for anyone with a fondness of 1950s Americana. Rock n’ Roll stars blazed on posters on every wall and a broad, gleaming jukebox radiated heat and technicolor from its neon tubes. Entertained, hungry, and slightly overwhelmed by the nostalgia, we weaved through the dozen or so customers at their tables toward the counter. Once seated, we perused the menu to find that the vegan fare was all compressed at the far bottom-right corner, and right beside a column listing thick animal-based burgers and steak. All that was listed in that small box were a bean burger, fries, and granola cookies, while the non-vegan options spanned several pages with long descriptions of sandwiches, burgers, burritos, and other American standards.
I was grateful that the menu had more vegan options than only French fries, but I was disappointed that there we so few despite the celebratory marketing online. Eventually, my disappointment melted into acceptance that perhaps the owner was just beginning to venture into vegan fare. Not a moment later, questions began to percolate in my mind: In what regard did the owners view veganism? How did the owner or owners of this diner interpret or think about it – if at all? Did the philosophy represent any significance to them, or did they believe that it was nothing more than a marketing tactic to entice vegan travellers like myself? For that matter, what about businesses that identified as vegan? In general, do VEs consider animal rights and welfare (Alvaro, 2017, pp. 767–768) as imperative to their business’s mission?
In order to determine if – let alone how – vegan philosophy informs a VB’s identity or mission statement, it is imperative to define and discuss its paramount principle (Singer, 1980), which is the concern of non-human suffering caused by human activities animal rights (Cole & Morgan, 2011, p. 135; Delmestri, 2018, p. 8; The Vegan Society, 2021).
Animal Rights: A Universal Guarantee for VBs?
Before discussing animal rights and how they inform a VBs mission statement, it would be beneficial to review the definition of veganism. The Vegan Society of the United Kingdom, which is the oldest Western vegan organization in the world (North et al., 2021, p. 1) has among the most prevalently recognized certifications for vegan businesses (de Boo, 2014, p. 14). It defines veganism as a philosophy and way of life that aims to avoid contributing toward human acts of exploitation and cruelty towards nonhuman life (Cole & Morgan, 2011, p. 135; Delmestri, 2018, p. 8; The Vegan Society, 2021). The most common and evident practice of this philosophy is that of diet, where vegans abstain from the ingestion of animal flesh and other products derived from animals (North et al., 2021, pp. 2–5).
There is a myriad of reasons why individuals adopt a vegan philosophy and its dietary practice. Peer-reviewed studies identify connections between a whole-food, plant-based diet for health benefits (Radnitz et al., 2015, pp. 32–33) and the opportunities for disenfranchised cultural groups to practice customs and reinforce their values as Drs. Jessica Greenebaum (J. B. Greenebaum, 2018, pp. 681–694) and Margaret Robinson (Robinson, 2013, p. 5) discuss in their works. That is not to discount those reasons entirely, for any one of these reasons can inspire and inform a VBs mission statement. Beyond these motivations, which may be somewhat idiosyncratic, animal rights may be presumed to be a more universal value in the business philosophies of VBs, as being vegan is to abstain from exploitation of animals and their products. Animal ethicists like Dr. Robert C. Jones affirm this observation in noting that while individuals’ motivations for adopting veganism are diverse and many – what he calls “veganisms” – they inevitably all lead to ethical decision-making that is predicated upon the moral obligation to do the least amount of harm to human and non-human life (R. C. Jones, 2016, pp. 15–26).
Animal Rights and Animal Welfare: Two Different Species?
Animal rights is a principle of veganism that cannot be extracted or neglected in its philosophy (Marshall, 2022). The meanings and differences between the concepts of animal rights and animal welfare therefore merit clarification as many have been known to confuse them or consider them one in the same and, therefore, interchangeable (Bennett-Wimbush et al., 2015, p. 136). The aforementioned Dr. Jessica Greenebaum clarifies the distinction between animal rights and animal welfare in her 2009 study on the disagreements between dog rescue workers, activists, and academics, (J. Greenebaum, 2009, p. 289). Here, she refers to the literature of the animal protection movement since the mid-1970s to define animal welfare as a political movement that accepts and tolerates the use of animals for their labour and products for human benefit, albeit through methods that do not induce pain or discomfort to them (J. Greenebaum, 2009, p. 291). While animal welfare strives for the comfort of nonhumans under our subjugation, it cannot escape the fact that any product or service that is derived from an animal is a result of cruelty, at least to some extent, as animals’ consent can never be given, and is therefore forced (Frank, 2015, p. 82).
Animal rights, by contrast, seeks to ubiquitously abolish the use of animals in any and all human products and activities on the grounds that animals have moral rights to life that are just as inherent as those for humans given that they can suffer just as much as the other (J. Greenebaum, 2009, pp. 291–292). As such, it can be argued that proponents of welfare are willing to accept and tolerate animal subjugation (Garner, 2008, pp. 111–112) while proponents of rights are not (J. Greenebaum, 2009, p. 291). This means that the values and mission statement of any VB are based on the preservation and advancement of animal rights instead of welfare. What remains to be explored, though, is the extent to which animal rights inform the mission statements of VBs.
Mission Statements and Their Significance
To most customers, or anyone else who isn’t involved in or aware how business management operates, the mission statement can seem like an invisible, immaterial component – perhaps merely a paragraph to set the tone of a company’s ad campaign in its “About Us” webpage and nothing more. The literature in business performance and culture, however, indicates that not only are mission statements integral to a business’s identity and purpose, but beneficial to guiding employee and operational performance as well (Bartkus & Glassman, 2008, p. 209).
Briefly put, the definition of a mission statement is simple – a formal declaration that communicates the purpose and moral values of a business or enterprise (Alegre et al., 2018, pp. 456, 464). The literature indicates that there isn’t an official definition or criteria for what a mission statement needs to include, yet they most often include or address the following (Desmidt et al., 2011, pp. 469–470):
- A clear, pragmatic sense of the business’s direction and purpose that are written in realistic and coherent goals.
- A focus the allocation of organizational resources towards a common direction that transcends individual, departmental, and transitory needs.
- Effective communication with important internal and external stakeholders so that they can provide the business with essential tangible or intangible resources.
- Clear descriptions of the business’s shared and common directive that all of the employees can understand, adopt, and exercise in their respective roles.
In summary, a mission statement is a framework of accountably, transparency, and observable actions by which a business or enterprise seeks to fulfill the aspirations or needs outlined in their philosophy. That philosophy is the moral and theoretical “why” for the business existence and presents “what” it wants to achieve. By contrast, the mission statement involves the pragmatic, observable actions towards them (Phelps, 2017).
Having introduced and reviewed the concepts of animal rights and mission statements, it is apt to move on to explore the very question that intersects them: just how do animal rights inform and influence the mission statements of VBs?
Animal Rights: The prerequisite for all VBs?
The mission statements of VBs are typically available online for anyone with a standard access to the internet to read. They are typically found in the “About Us/Mission Statement” pages of the websites of various VBs. Having previously established that animal rights are integral to the very definition of the vegan philosophy, it comes as no surprise that its principles appear in the wording of the following VBs:
- Miyoko’s Creamery – “We’re on a compassion-centric mission (from farmer-to-table) to create the blueprint for the animal-free dairy food system of tomorrow, for the urgent salvation of our planet and all that we share it with.” It is also worth noting that saccharine images of cows are prominently displayed on this page.
- Herbivorous Butcher – “We (Sister and brother founders Aubry and Kale Walch) started The Herbivorous Butcher to bring you small-batch plant based meats that are always fresh, flavorful, and protein-rich so you never feel like you’re sacrificing anything for healthy and ethical eating…The need for meat alternatives has never been greater. Global demand for meat has tripled in the last 40 years, causing dramatic and unsustainable increases in greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution, intensifying pressures on land, water, fertilizer, feed, and fuel. A modest reduction in the consumption of animal products would not only spare billions of animals from inhumane treatment every year, but would have a huge environmental impact at a time when the world urgently needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic climate change. We are responding to this call to action because together we can all change the world one meal at a time!
- No Evil Foods – “No Evil exists to empower people to make positive changes for themselves, the environment, and the welfare of animals through awesome food. We’re family founded, majority women-led, and purpose-powered, and we’re determined to bring people closer to the origins of their food while addressing issues like food insecurity, economic justice, and climate change.”
- Chickpea – “In addition to serving awesome, plant-based food, our passions have always included community involvement and environmental awareness. Using wholesome vegan ingredients prepared with love, we work hard every day to nourish people and maintain a minimal footprint on our planet. We also (partner) with community centered projects that highlight the growing needs of our diverse Vancouver family.”
- MeeT on Main – “From our inception, MeeT has been built on the foundation of equality, acceptance, and compassion towards ALL sentient beings. We are steadfast and committed to being an inclusive environment and safe space for staff and customers alike. We have always had a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind, and are committed in supporting all marginalized peoples, BIPOC, Women, and the LGBTQ+ communities. This has been embodied in how we have operated since we opened. It is clear now we have an opportunity to do more.”
- Level V Bakery – “During my post-secondary studies, I was working at a local beefjerky company in the quality assurance department as part of my co-op program and continued working there for a few more years. Mid-way through my employment, I had become vegan for ethical reasons and was passionate about veganism so I began sharing some of my vegan creations with my co-workers. But everyday was a mental struggle working there. I could not work for a company that did not align with my values, but instead opposed them. I could not continue working and making a living where my salary came from the harming of animals.”
- Hello Sunday – “Hello Sunday provides you with luxurious, plant-powered skincare that is deeply nourishing – for your body and for the planet. We embrace plant oils, fruit extracts, dried florals, powdery soft clays & essential oils & have carefully formulated recipes to nurture your skin & to reduce environmental harm. All of our products use organic, 100% natural, botanical, gluten free, vegan, sustainable ingredients & housed in glass vessels. Handcrafted in Vancouver, Canada…Through a minimalist approach & conscious business practices, Hello Sunday is kind to the planet & kind to the skin – nurturing the relationship we have with ourselves and to the earth.”
Again, it is quite noticeable that animal rights are often included in the mission statements of these VBs, which is expected given that animal rights are a core principle in vegan philosophy. What is unexpected, however, is the fact that animal rights aren’t explicitly mentioned in all. The mission statement of Hello Sunday, for one, does not mention animals, although it is notable that it lists the acts of reducing environmental harm and being kind to the planet as among its motivators. This is not to say that animal rights are being ignored, as environmental justice involves efforts to protect animal life as well (Sollund, 2022, p. 1029). Nonetheless, this link has been debated in the court of law for many years.
Attorney Tyler Lobdell recently and successfully argued before the 9th Circuit of Idaho that the lack of adequate waste treatment on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), otherwise known as factory farms, leads to a greater amount of contaminated water in the area around said factory farms, or the case Food and Water Watch v. the Environmental Protection Agency (Sullivan, 2021). In academia, a study published in 2021 by Drs. Lara M. Mendes, et al., demonstrated that forest restoration is facilitated and rendered more resilient when animal populations within them are allowed to sustain themselves (Mendes et al., 2021). Given that environmental justice and animal justice aren’t exclusive, VBs whose mission statements mention the former and not the latter may be still informed by the latter, and that would merit further exploration.
Conclusion and Suggested Research:
So, if animal rights are the fundamental value that informs each VB’s mission statement, does that mean that animal rights are the sole mission of every VB? Not necessarily. Even the co-founder of No Evil Foods, Sadrah Schadel, has mentioned in a Podcast interview that her company’s goal was to create nutritious and whole-food based vegan food products, (Amundson, 29 June, 2022). That said, it may very well be that VBs’ philosophy is influenced by animal rights while their goals are just as diverse as any other industry. This conjecture may be informed, yet it would certainly benefit from further qualitative research that explores not only the raison d’être of VB owners, but what they believe their goals are as well. Most importantly, there is one more common theme that is inherent in the mission statements of VBs, and it is that these businesses were started by their owners in response to their evaluations and judgments of certain phenomena, like cruelty to animals and environmental destruction. Exploring the possibility as to whether or not VBs are founded in response to such phenomena may contribute a great deal to the literature around vegan entrepreneurialism and green business.
Thinking back to that anachronic diner tucked away in the outskirts of that national park, I understand how its owners may have intended to offer a few simple dishes just to appeal to passing vegan and vegetarian travelers without knowing about the vegan philosophy at all. I was just as disappointed then as I am now by the oversight, yet I value that experience, for it taught me that it isn’t the number of options on the menu or ingredients that makes a business vegan. Instead, it’s the why – specifically, the reason for having veganism inform their business philosophy in the first place. If it does so to only lure the niche of vegan consumers, then its credibility is as clunky as the broken jukebox in the corner of that diner. However, if a business follows the vegan philosophy to address some of the ills of the Anthropocene, then it may very well be all the stronger for it.