Influencer and Environmentalist Damien Clarkson talks to Vegan Life about navigating the contemporary vegan community
“Community is a group of people who have a particular characteristic in common. When you have a social justice movement like veganism, the community surrounding you acts like a support system. It’s really easy to become isolated when you believe in something that isn’t a mainstream belief which is why it’s so important to try and engage with other people who share your views.”
Damien Clarkson is an active part of the vegan community, from co-founding 2015’s Vegan Futures festival to his regular YouTubing and vlogging, he has many fingers in many meat-free pies. His proactive stance in the plant-based community makes him a well-known face both in London, where he lives, and online.
“I was a climate change activist,” he says. “I became more aware about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet, by reading various reports. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t call myself an environmentalist while eating meat.
“I started learning more about animal agriculture and it all kind of clicked for me. I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. It was the animal aspect that brought me to veganism in the end. It’s been such a massive lifestyle thing for me. I have found a strong energy I didn’t realise I had, and have started doing lots more sporting events. It’s been a real blessing.”
For someone starting out on a vegan path it can seem a lonely one: some vegans don’t know any other people who share their values, and don’t know how to get involved in the wider community. The internet can be a good resource in these situations, with a number of vegan groups doing ‘friend bombs’ where members can connect with others.
However one of the current issues facing newbie vegans is a recent spate of arguing within the online community: an issue which crops up a lot. “I see far too much infighting,” says Damien. We all have the same aim and the same message-to get people to eat fewer animals and go vegan. There is more we have in common than sets up apart. Some people have said this kind of hostility can put them off getting involved in the community.
“I would advise someone who’s new to veganism to look at social media channels like YouTube. Get on there and reach out to these people who are vlogging. There are people on there who will be very happy to connect and forge friendships, both on and offline, so that can be a valuable tool for meeting people. It tends to be a really friendly community.”
Sometimes the vegan community can seem very London-centric. Does he have any advice for those further afield, or cities which may not have such a large gathering of people? “Vegan meet-ups is a good start,” he says. “There are groups throughout the country and it can be a good way to meet in person. Again, I would suggest platforms like YouTube are a really powerful way to connect.”
He believes the internet is a hugely valuable tool, saying: “Social media has been the most effective growth tool for veganism ever. You just need to look at how many people went vegan after watching a speech on Youtube or Earthlings. 10 years ago this wasn’t happening, people sharing their journey on social media has made it easier for people across the world to find allies. I think it’s important that we use the tools that young people use to share important information. Although I am sure there are 14 year old vegans out there young people would much rather listen to than someone who is 31.
Some of Damien’s work
He recently released a short YouTube film called Do we accept this? “It was inspired partly by my own childhood experiences and the work of Dr Melanie Joy on the topic of Carnism,” he says. “In my activism I have always been a big fan of subverting and hacking messages of those organisations I want to target. In this short I definitely try to poke fun and the fast food companies in this video whilst highlighting how blatantly their marketing targeted children.”
“I’m recently putting together a group called the Kindness Collective.” This is a unique project which will see a number of vegans coming together to create content promoting veganism and the various aspects of the movement including environmentalism, animal rights issues, and health. They will find a co-working place in the city and exchange work on campaigns for desk space. “The hope is to launch this spring,” he says.
Last year Damien co-organised the Vegan Futures lifestyle festival in London. The show brought together a number of speakers and focused on a number of issues including health and fitness TED talks. He’s currently working on another tech-heavy festival called Vevolution.