Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.
While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.
Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.
I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.
The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.
Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.
Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.
And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?
I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement.