Oprah’s Vegan Challenge continues to be a hot topic around the vegan blogosphere. One objection that keeps coming up is Oprah’s use of the word “radical” in describing a vegan diet. Initially, it’s easy to see how this might ruffle a few feathers. After all, it’s pretty mind-boggling that a diet based on compassion, mercy and nonviolence would be considered “radical.”
Radical is used in a million different contexts; all with different shades and hues of meaning. Let’s take a look.
1. Favoring fundamental change, or change at the root cause of a matter:
In this sense veganism is radical–it favors a fundamental change in human-animal relations. For a certain breed of vegan this is the only way to get at the root issue of these relations, especially in the exploitive form that most of these relations occur in our current social system.
2. Very different from the usual or traditional:
This is the definition I’m sure Oprah is using. There is no doubt veganism is different from the industrial carnism that is usual and prevalent in the USA and most of the Global North. And veganism, as the post-WWII ideology of a bunch of Brits is different from the traditional diets of most of humankind.
3. In politics, denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways:
In my younger-younger days, not all that many years ago, veganism was part of the radical milieu. If you had radical politics you were vegan, or versed in veganism, or at least had to engage with veganism on occasion. Whether or not that remains so at large, though not so within the circles I frequent, veganism still has that tint in the public image: FNB, ALF/ELF, and bicyclists with their carrots and circle-A’s.
4. slang, excellent, cool
Derived from surfer culture this form of radical is largely dependent on the beholder. For each of us some vegans are rad, and others are not.
Why would anyone be upset with being called radical? Or having their diets considered rad, as This Vegan Life’s post seems to indicate? I think it speaks to a larger concern of veganism, which reveals a portion of the vegan movement at large.
Many vegans don’t want to be radical (1), (2), or (3)–everyone is chill with (4). Vegans desire a mainstream status, which ignores the fact that the vegan world they desire requires a fundamental change in the way society is organized–that veganism can never be mainstream without changing the mainstream. This is the contradiction of radicalism that veganism must solve: it must depend on a liberal notion of dietary choice to fit into the mainstream (which it is largely doing) or, Oprah audiences and popularity be damned, embrace the radical teleology of animal liberation that demands restructure for a new world.