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A Tale of Two Bags

June 1, 2016

Recently I went to Waitrose for a few small items and decided to exchange my very old and very tatty bag for life at the check out, but when it was given to me, I was horrified by the design on it.

On one side there were pictures of fish, and the words ‘we are fishing responsibly’ and on the other a picture of a tractor, and the words ‘ we’re doing right by our farmers (and their flock, herd or brood).

I told the girl on the till ‘I can’t use this, I’m an ethical vegan, and this is something I can’t possibly carry about with me for people to see and read’. Sadly there was no alternative design, so she told me to make a hole in it and bring it back again to exchange it soon. Unhappily I stuffed it in my rucksack, wondering when the design would be changed, so I could have another that I would not be ashamed to be seen with.

When I got home, I sounded off about it to my son and told him I was going to put my own slogans on it to improve it. He offered me the use of his permanent marker, so I scrawled ‘no such thing’ against the responsible fishing claim, and ‘animals are not food’ on the other side, and ‘go vegan’ in large letters on one edge. This is ‘bag activism’ and has turned the bag from a useless and upsetting receptacle for my shopping, to a tool to speak up for animals wherever I go. I have many other bags, of course, and do not need one from Waitrose, and would never have bought one, but thought I might as well upgrade my old, shabby one.

I then visited the Waitrose Facebook page   and there I left a comment, complaining how offensive this bag design is to ethical vegans. Naturally several people had a go at me -and all vegans for this –  but this is all ‘par for the course’ when you are vegan. Apparently, by taking on the issue of animal rights, and declaring it to be wrong to wear, kill and exploit them in numerous ways, we become  ‘beyond the pale’ for many in Society, and a target for insults, ridicule and hostility – especially if we dare to feel offended by advertising slogans that promote animal abuse and killing, and when we claim our rights, as citizens, to be heard, catered for and considered. By siding with the other animals – against our animal abusing fellows – we have become as ‘inferior’ as they believe all non humans to be, and – accordingly – can be treated with utter disrespect, with impunity, and the approval of everyone else in Society.

Except that veganism is now a protected belief, so I read in my latest magazine from the Vegan Society, and so employers cannot discriminate against us legitimately. It might even be possible to use this against retailers and restaurants who refuse to cater for vegan customers or who offend us with their advertising and promotions. I am hoping someone will win a case like this some day soon, and, by doing so, pave the way to ensuring that businesses of all kinds become more wary of sidelining and disrespecting vegan issues.

I have ignored most of the stupid comments from non-vegans on my post on Waitrose’s page, refusing to engage and answer any of them. People who are so mean-spirited that they cannot be nice to a minority interest are, frankly. unworthy of being dignified with a considered response to any of their points. I am happy that several of my vegan friends also went to the page and added their support to me. Why should we,  the vegan customers, who are not well catered for in any mainstream store,  put up with being given bags which are totally offensive to our ethics?

I have also written a letter to the Head Office at Waitrose, with my complaint. When they reply, I shall be sharing the gist of it with my friends on Facebook, and will copy it to The Vegan Society, if it is not to my liking.

I took my altered bag with me into Kingston on Sunday and showed it to the staff in the Health Food shop where I was buying my vegan, cruelty-free laundry products. It raised some laughs! Then I took it to the vegan meetup I was in the town to attend, and showed it to my friends there. I shall not be trading this bag in, when it is worn – I will be keeping it for future use, to serve as a bad example of a bag design in today’s world, where the number of vegans is tripling every year, and to show my vegan friends that we can turn a negative into a positive for vegan outreach.

The day after I was in Kingston with my amended bag, I visited my local Sainsbury’s store with two of their bags to exchange. To my delight, their bags are perfect, depicting a cartoonish squirrel ( very endearing) and the slogan ‘I’m nuts about recycling’. I am, indeed, very keen on recycling, and have been an earnest and enthusiastic environmentalist for many years – long before I realised that not being vegan was, in fact, a violation of my own core values. So I am as pleased with Sainsbury’s, as I am annoyed with Waitrose, and have written to their Head Office, also, a very different sort of letter. With both letters, I enclosed some vegan literature – never miss an opportunity!!

I realise that neither of these stores has paid the slightest attention to how their bag designs will be received,  nor will they have even considered making one that ethical vegans could carry with a good conscience. No – we have not been in their minds. One supermarket has come up with a thoughtlessly offensive design, the other with a thoughtlessly  inoffensive one. Waitrose goofed up badly, Sainsbury’s had a lucky escape.

I have a friend who says he believes that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Well then. perhaps the design that Waitrose chose happened for the very reason that it would cause offence to me, so that I would be angry enough to tackle them about it, thus opening another chapter in the struggle to get veganism mainstream, and animal rights on the agenda of every thinking person.

I am now intent on discovering what the designs are like on other ‘Bags For Life’. Tesco may be my next target! Then there is Aldi, Lidl and Asda.

Advertising is far from a trivial issue. Indeed, it is relentless advertising by the meat, dairy and egg industries, which keep people hooked on their products and blinded to the cruelty behind all of them. These huge concerns have multi millions at their disposal to push their agendas onto the public, and insinuate into our minds the ideas they want us to take on, so that we ask no questions, believe all their assertions and obligingly part with our cash to keep them going on and on abusing and killing defenceless animals with Society’s unseeing and uncritical compliance.

Vegans are a voice for the hapless creatures caught up in these vile systems which are nothing more than slave and labour camps for genetically altered sentient beings whose ancestors roamed free and who should never have been captured and confined by human beings, simply to be used for something. What gave us the moral right?

Whenever vegans speak up, we are risk being pushed aside, laughed at and treated to insults and hostility.  Our interests and needs are likely to be sidelined or ignored at parties and other gatherings and our lifestyle choice spoken about with contempt. This is all because the majority of people have so normalised brutality towards certain species of animals that they are uncomfortable around people who question the whole thing. Vegans point out to them another way, and make them feel inadequate for not questioning these things too. Their response is to attack – which is the reaction of any animal in the wild, when cornered. Humans are no different to other animals – we share with them so many of our genes and have, hard-wired into us -for survival purposes – certain basic instincts.

One of these is to ‘stick with the herd’. When a predator launches an attack on a herd, the animals flee for their lives, pressing together and closing ranks – safety in numbers. It works well as a survival strategy because most hunts end in failure. Most times all the animals get away safely. Kills are a rare event, which is why predators guard their kills and often bury any remains they can’t eat straightaway – to return to later. Leopards drag their kills up into trees for ‘storage’.

Highly social animals, like gorillas and chimps, band together in family groups, and will attack any intruders, strangers and newcomers. They will also drive away (ostracise) any individuals who don’t fit in. Why? Because these could all represent danger to the stability of the group and a threat to precious resources in times of scarcity (and, therefore, make everyone’s survival less certain). They have evolved to stick together and support each other, with a leader and protector, everyone working for the good of the whole. Incomers and rogue elements within the group may endanger everybody.

Humans are very like this. All of our legal systems and moral philosophies are sophisticated evolutions of this basic, tribal and family strategy that our ancestors possessed to keep them alive. People who are different, threaten us. People who challenge the systems we live under may rock the foundations of Society’s stability. People we don’t understand might be a danger. All of this ‘ancient brain’ reasoning is underneath all of the hostility to vegans, even though we may, individually, have done nothing but boldly declare our moral truth and peacefully go about eating only plant based foods, being violent or hostile to nobody.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the Roman domination system in that part of the world in that time,  and an embarrassment to the religious authorities of his day whose rigid laws, which lacked compassion and true justice,  he challenged.

It is  – sadly – true that anyone who challenges the dominant ideology in any human society will meet hostility from those who gain from being a part of that system. It should be no surprise to any of us that outspoken and leading reformers and idealists are sometimes murdered.

I have been vegan for three years and six months. I am not very proud of the 5 decades when I wasn’t, but that has to be ‘water under the bridge’ – murky water, floating with some garbage I never saw, even though I considered myself a Green.

My activism for helping to shift people away from eating animals, to respecting their lives and treading more gently on the earth, takes many forms, from supporting vegan businesses and eating out with vegans,  to writing blogs and Facebook posts and delivering leaflets to local houses. I am always thinking of new ways to advocate for veganism.

It seems that the design on retailers’ Bags For Life has become the latest ‘arrow in my quiver’!  I do not expect major supermarkets to carry anything on their bags that specifically promotes veganism,  that would be a little silly of me, since they are out to make money and sell their products, not to be ethical – despite all their claims to be just that, at times! But it isn’t unrealistic, I would suggest, to press them to consider that some things will undoubtedly offend some customers, and to refrain from pushing out bag designs that are likely to do so.

I would like to challenge supermarkets that advertising their animal  products isn’t necessary, since – regrettably – most people will be buying them anyway. The industries do a good job with their vile propaganda about how humanely they exploit and murder the inmates of their prisons. I would like to suggest they decrease their range of these and increase their cruelty free options, if sales of meat, dairy, eggs and fish begin to slump – not ratchet up their advertising. They should pay much more attention to the trend towards lower consumption of animal products and the rise of veganism and respond by stocking more of the alternatives. Even promote them!

I would like to suggest they confine their bag designs to abstract patterns, to organic fruit and vegetables and  woodland scenes and meadows, and that they be proud that they cater for vegans, and sometimes to actually boast about that.

I would love a supermarket bag with the word vegan on it somewhere – a bag that boasts that they have a large Free From aisle with many vegan products, for instance, or one showcasing their vegan wine range.  A bag that says ‘We value all of our customers’ would be nice, with pictures of people of all shapes, colours and sizes. A bag with trees and flowers on it, asking us to protect and respect Nature – and promoting organic produce. A bag with ‘We respect bees. Our farmers do not use bee damaging pesticides’.  I could gladly use and carry all of these with me.  I would even go and buy some to give away!

Perhaps I should send them all the link to this blog!








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