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The spatial politics of veganism : "moral branding" in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Pawlak, Peter


This paper explores the intersections between the recent rise of veganism into the mainstream and the continued gentrification of low-income and marginalized areas within the urban environment. More specifically, I examine the spatial dynamics of one particular vegan eatery in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, how it produces social distance between patrons and DTES residents, thereby reproducing hegemonic power relations, both symbolically and materially. Via ethnographic fieldwork, critical discourse analysis, and engagement with social theory, I highlight how the histories of classism, colonialism, racialization, and othering that the Downtown Eastside was built upon are symbolically reproduced and socially perpetuated via the built environment of the restaurant. Additionally, I examine the restaurant’s usage of “moral branding” and the ways in which this style of branding produces narratives that justify the existence of the space while simultaneously actively erasing its connections to the poverty immediately outside its doors. Ultimately, moralistic vegan branding promotes a decontextualized, ahistorical, capitalistic version of veganism that does not take into account human suffering under industrial meat and dairy production and assumes veganism – in whatever forms it may take – to always be a positive and favorable ethical choice.

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