Vegetarianism – a form of social protest?

Unlike European countries, where vegetarianism has long been fashionable, in Russia it is considered to be a type of individual everyday social protest against the current system – a person has to resist the external environment in order to adhere to the chosen way of life. 

Often, a vegetarian diet is combined with other avoidance practices: things that are made using leather or fur, chemical products, and so on. A vegetarian diet, combined with the rejection of the consumption of other products and socio-political, religious activity, makes it possible to distinguish different groups of people, with different ideologies and different life principles, who are united only by not eating meat. 

Protest Method #1, Individual: No Consumption 

In the West, vegetarianism has long been accustomed to – it has become a fashionable and common style of eating, most catering establishments offer vegetarian menus. At the same time, attitudes towards vegetarianism as a norm of life have not yet been formed in Russia, and attempts to eat out for a vegetarian (not in Moscow) sometimes turn into a real adventure. We can say that it is in Russia that the decision to give up meat is often a sign of a certain well-thought-out position, and not just a tribute to fashion. Indeed, in order to adhere to the chosen line, a person will have to fight daily with catering, where there is a piece of sausage in any salad, with friends and relatives, many of whom will look with disapproval at a member of the feast who refuses to treat, with public opinion, finally. And public opinion ascribes the most surprising, often negative, characteristics to vegetarianism. 

The traditional ideas that one can live and be healthy only by eating meat are quite strong in Russian society, and those who, for unknown reasons, refuse to follow this habitual rule, seem alien and incomprehensible. That is why vegetarianism and related practices of refusal to consume, as well as forms of social activism, in our country can be considered a form of social protest: a person has to really work and resist the external environment in order to adhere to the chosen way of life. Moreover, it is not so much about direct pressure and rejection, which also occurs, but about emerging practical and everyday difficulties, misunderstanding on the part of people around, etc. 

Thus, vegetarianism and the refusal to buy fur, leather items and other products, in the manufacture of which substances of animal origin are used, can be considered a type of individual everyday social protest against the current system. 

Protest Method #2, Collective: Community Activism 

Sometimes, however, this protest can grow from an individual one into more familiar forms of social protest: various movements for animal rights, associations of vegetarians, etc. exist in Russia in large numbers. These are branches of international organizations such as PETA, the Russian non-profit charitable organization Vita, the Alliance for Animal Rights, and many others. 

Animal rights activists also mostly follow a vegetarian diet and do not buy clothes made from fur and natural leather. But they are trying to spread their point of view as widely as possible by organizing public actions, rallies, flash mobs, marches. 

Another option for community work is taking care of homeless animals, supporting various kinds of shelters for dogs and cats, foundations: assistance can be both financial and volunteer.

Meanwhile, the vegetarian protest is connected not only with the rights of animals: quite often it is a manifestation of a protest position directed against the unjust structure of society and the state as such. For example, the “Food Not Bombs” movement has social inequality and hunger as the main object of criticism. Often also anti-fascist, anti-consumerist subcultures and movements also choose vegetarianism in its various forms as one of the elements of their lifestyle. 

Vegetarianism, therefore, is not just a diet, but a point of contact for many subcultures, lifestyles and ideologies. Many of them have a protest component, others just lead a healthy lifestyle in this way, however in Russia, refusing meat is an act associated with tangible restrictions and is possible only if a vegetarian has a certain conscious worldviewthat he (a) is ready to protect – whether it is love for animals or for his health.

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