It seems that every time the V word is used, mockery is automatic: “You’re asking for it by being a vegan.” Sound familiar? Perhaps being taunted with bacon upon disclosing your lifestyle is more customary. Whatever the harassment, a human rights policy update has your best interests.
Last month, The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) announced it would be expanding its definition of creed to include veganism as an ideology with similar discrimination protection rights as other belief systems.
The last update the OHRC underwent was in 1996 — exactly two decades ago. It’s a long time coming for those who have fought for it over the years.
Now, the commission policy states institutions such as hospitals, schools and employers must accommodate requests based on one’s creed, like alternative food options and uniforms without animal-based materials.
While Ryerson revamped its food offerings to be much more accommodating with the implementation of Ryerson Eats in 2014, the revision could demand a need for vegan meal plans.
“When I attended Ryerson, I could only usually find a protein bar or a cup of fruit to grab,” said Megan Stulberg, a recent Ryerson graduate and one-third of the vegan food blog, Vegan Girlfriend. “I practically lived off tofu burrito bowls at Chipotle.”
While she currently works in an office environment that has been incredibly accommodating, that wasn’t always the case. When Stulberg became vegan, she was working in the bakery section of a local grocery store.
“I felt extremely uncomfortable handling and selling products that contained dairy and egg. I expressed my anxiety to management and asked to switch departments, but was not taken seriously and quit soon after.”
She hopes the change will also promote professors in the humanities to incorporate the belief into their lectures, as they would with more widely recognized value systems.
For Sinem Ketenci, who has been an ethical vegan for 10 years, the argument over moral equivalence between humans and animals almost cost her her degree.
During the Ryerson alumna’s time as a social work master’s student in 2011, her ideas were labelled “inhuman” for presenting her research proposal on animal rights and ethical veganism to her professor.
“It is the beliefs of these activists and scholars that are speciesist and anthropocentric (human-centred). Animals are lesser than and are created for humans, according to their mentality,” says Ketenci.
Ketenci described the situation as a “serious threat towards freedom of speech and freedom of belief” in a complaint she later filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The dispute was later dismissed.
Ketenci, who immigrated to Canada from Turkey as a young woman, connects speciesism to other forms of oppression such as racism and sexism.
“As a racialized woman, I would be honoured if the mistreatment towards racialized women was compared to the mistreatment towards animals. Alice Walker explains this value in her famous quote: ‘The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.’” says Ketenci.
She has since been admitted to a law school in Australia and hopes her law degree will lend a much needed voice to women like her, and animals who depend on the advocacy.
Stulberg, too, is vying for mutual respect. “Hopefully the attention that this code amendment receives will prompt young audiences to think critically and educate those who endorse the easy-target philosophy of veganism,” said Stulberg.