Last week, The Informed Vegan ran a piece about how Bob's Red Mill is planning to donate $25 million towards nutrition education to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). According to The Informed Vegan, OHSU is notorious for animal testing and because of its decision to make this donation, Bob's Red Mill's "standing as a conscious and compassionate company is about to take a serious hit". In last week's piece, it's mentioned that both OHSU and Bob's Red Mill were vague in addressing whether or not any of the donation will be targeted specifically for animal testing, and thus The Informed Vegan goes on to suggest that its "loyal customer base of animal lovers and vegans may boycott" the company in response.
Confusing a "Who" with a "What"
In an update today, The Informed Vegan commented on company co-founders Bob and Charlee Moore's official written response yesterday to the buzz about their donation. And yes, as it was pointed out at This Dish Is Veg (a website which promotes welfarism and vegetarianism alongside veganism) in an editor's note to yet another online expression of outrage over the news, it is indeed the co-founders' donation and not the company's. In February 2010, Bob gave the company to his then 200+ employees. Of course, this sorta relevant information seems either forgotten or blurred in the flurry of blog posts, green website articles, Facebook status updates and angry tweets that have been popping up online over the last few days and with most of them calling for a boycott of all Bob's Red Mill products. Proof of this can be seen in a recent open letter to the Moores from Your Daily Vegan's KD Traegner ("Should You Boycott Bob's Red Mill?"), who informs the Moores that because of the donation, she will no longer be a Bob's Red Mill customer.
Here's the scoop, though: Bob's Red Mill isn't donating money to OHSU. The company's co-founders who are no longer its owners and have not been so in well over a year and a half are donating money to OHSU. As pointed out earlier, the company is now owned by the people who work there -- Bob's former employees. One could argue that the money the Moore's are donating comes from the profits they'd reaped as owners, but boycotting a company from which they no longer profit to retaliate against their using past profits as they see fit just honestly makes no sense. The only ones who'll suffer in the end are Bob's Red Mill's new owners -- those who now run the company. The Moores have already stated that they have already committed themselves to making the donation. The Moores are no longer the owners of Bob's Red Mill. The truth is that this whole proposed boycott begs the question: What is hoped to be accomplished with a boycott in the first place? Of course, this is assuming that a boycott by a small section of a company's customers (vegans, in this case), other circumstances being different, would even be effective. (That's an entirely separate potential blog post altogether, though.)
Cherry Picking and Low-Hanging Fruit
Traegner's open letter reflects the sentiment expressed in The Informed Vegan's follow-up post on the matter that regardless of whether the money goes to directly fund animal research, it's funding an entity which engages in animal research. There are a couple of things I'd like to point out before going any further. First, I'd like to point out (the obvious?) that I certainly have no issue whatsoever with vegans refusing to purchase products either tested on animals or from companies who otherwise fund animal testing or other forms of animal exploitation. As a vegan, I'm against all forms of animal exploitation, whether it takes place on a farm, in a lab, in someone's backyard -- you get the picture. Also, I like Traegner. I've interacted with her over a few topics on Your Daily Vegan's Facebook page and over a period of time have appreciated her responses to others' queries and have enjoyed our own exchanges quite a bit. I was a little surprised to see her get behind the Bob's Red Mill boycott buzz, but it seems that many have taken off running with it, so I hope that she doesn't view me as somehow having nefarious reasons for singling out her website. I've just used it as an example of what's being written by various activists across the interwebs this week.
Now, just to play devil's advocate, let's put aside this whole nasty reality that contrary to over-publicized belief, Bob's Red Mill is not, in effect, donating a cent to OHSU. Let's pretend that Bob and Charlee Moore are, in fact, still the owners of the company (which, as I've pointed out repeatedly, they are not):
Bob Moore isn't vegan. He's not even vegetarian. From 1978 and then until he turned the company over to his employees in February of 2010, Mr. Moore's profits from the company were going to purchase the various food items, sundries, clothing and so on containing animal products which are habitually consumed by non-vegans (and no doubt including the purchase of products involving animal testing). Although some of the company's new owners may indeed be vegan, chances are that all 200+ of them are not, so even now, the company's profits are being taken and reinvested into various forms of common animal exploitation -- no doubt including the purchase of products with ingredients which were tested on animals. Of course, this is the case with the overwhelming majority of food manufacturing companies (e.g. Tofutti) and it's honestly almost impossible to avoid when purchasing any manufactured products.
It's a little odd, nonetheless, how Bob's Red Mill has been held up as some sort of exemplar for "conscious" manufacturing when its previous owner was not vegan and since Bob's Red Mill isn't even a vegan company. Some of its products contain dairy. When I first read the story about Bob's Red Mill's purportedly donating money to OHSU and of how vegans the world over should particularly be outraged, the first thing I did was hop over to its site to see what on earth was already there over which nobody had bothered to previously express outrage. On top of some of its actual products containing dairy, the Bob's Red Mill website actually promotes and facilitates the consumption of animal products. If you check its recipes section, you'll find a sub-category for "vegan", but the use of various animal products is the norm for the majority of the recipes and the default even in those where a reference may have been made to an animal-free substitute as an optional replacement (e.g. dairy-free milk). From eggs, butter and milk listed off in a user-submitted recipe for Kamut Cherry Crumb Breakfast Cake to the cheese and meat in a Bob's original recipe for a Spicy Sausage Kasha Bake, animal-based noms are plentiful on the company's website. Where's the outrage over this? Why initially single out this company for a purported donation to a research facility that conducts animal experimentation but turn a blind eye to the fact that the company both facilitates the use of (i.e. through its recipes section) and sells animal products to begin with?
I've no doubt that this question will be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant by some. Hell, for the moment it seems as if the more obvious and pertinent fact -- that Bob's Red Mill itself is not making a donation to OHSU -- is being completely overlooked. Do I think it's unfortunate that the Moores have decided to take $25 million and to hand it over to a facility which exploits animals? Absolutely. I also think that it's unfortunate that as non-vegans who once owned a non-vegan company, they're being held to task over this as if they or Bob's Red Mill had ever been exemplars for vegans in the first place. They're not and they never were.
Let's get our facts straight.