"Vegan design should be developed by vegan designers"
After adopting a vegan lifestyle, Erez Nevi Pana says other designers should follow in his footsteps to help solve the problems facing the world.
We need to question the approach to design and to the world that places humans in the centre. It's about time that animals and the planet are placed alongside humans – a shift towards a more holistic approach.
Design theorists and curators are celebrating the Bauhaus centenary this year. The visionary school brought idealism to the forefront, highlighting the concept that design and architecture should be made "for the people", and that social notion came to be translated into an aesthetic of simplicity and functionality.
Those visionaries looked to the future and were determined to bring change to the way people lived in modern times, a change that should be at the centre of the design world today.
Now, 100 years later, we need to push the discussion towards new ideals that correspond with a real civilised society that promotes clean design, clean architecture and beneficial views. These ideas lead to veganism, and that should be the pressing issue, over and above the Bauhaus centenary.
What germinated with my diet, grew and permeated all aspects of my life
Since I turned vegan, my possibilities have improved, as have my diet, my body, my closet, my waste, the materials I use and the products with which I interact. My principles are continuously challenged and I find myself routinely facing questions and tricky situations compelling me to choose between alternatives. However, I can assert that these dilemmas have consolidated new habits that thrive on harmony and engender balance in my life.
I chose veganism five years ago, mainly for moral reasons. What germinated with my diet, grew and permeated all aspects of my life. Questioning my profession was the final stage, when I eventually concluded I would bring the greatest input I could to animal advocacy along with a fresh look on design as a platform.
Practicing vegan design as another way of activism was a conscious choice, formed by the realisation that only a new conception of design and architecture could provide the means to reconstitute our self-centred culture and ensure our being in the world as we know it.
There is much more to accomplish until veganism becomes the new norm, but I think that 2018 was a turning point. With the help of Maria Cristina Didero, I presented a series of objects including my Salt project in Milan, conveying my approach towards ethical design. Our aim was to set a new standard: guilt-free. The exhibited objects were rough and raw, in themselves a statement on the polished Milan fair.
You can't be ethical at work and cruel at home
Using roughness was a strategy to evoke a pragmatic thought, in which designers who would see the "half-baked" products would feel welcome to join the revolution and polish the objects and ideas by themselves.
I feel passionate about being involved with other designers in my mission to veganise the design world, unifying with others as a collective consciousness, and asking them to leave inhumane traditions behind, forgetting the sunset industries and starting to practice vegan design.
Today, my opinion has matured and become more sober. Vegan design should be developed by vegan designers. We must practice what we preach and believe in what we sell. For centuries, we have benefited from the exploitation of animals, and now we witness another cynical use of animals – the use of a vegan tag, or cruelty-free projects by designers who are working in some kind of self-promotional path without any motive other than to diligently advance their career by using a trendy topic to promote their face.
There is no logic in elevating an idea that you do not implement yourself. You can't be ethical at work and cruel at home. Designers must see the bigger picture and the holistic approach needs to be implemented into design. Especially when these exploitation industries rely on each other.
It's important to realise that every fragment of material is exploited. The meat industry comes first, next comes the skin, the bones, the blood, the hair; all are used in the products we consume. It's a multibillion-dollar industry comprising countless smaller ones that are inter-linked. Once you support one of these industries, you are backing up the others as well.
The only immediate answer to climate change is going vegan
The holistic approach starts with an understanding and awareness of what is happening around us. 2018 was the hottest year on record for global ocean temperatures in the last 60 years.
We hear a lot about climate change but we barely feel it now, as the oceans absorb over 90 per cent of the heat that our carbon emissions have trapped in the atmosphere and the warming seems minimal. But we should compare the ocean to our body – an increase of one degree in our body's temperature results in a fever and think about the discomfort that causes you.
We have started to witness the devastating results of mass coral bleaching – by 2017 we had lost half of the Great Barrier Reef. Ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and sooner or later will come the floods, hurricanes and tropical storms.
Many designers are busy with the plastic crisis (a clear outcome of the material choices of designers) but the writing was on the wall long ago, just as it is nowadays in the context of climate change.
Instead of glamourising future projects that will deal with hurricanes in the US, floods in major cities or forest fires in the Arctic in 20 years, we can take responsibility now and act with deliberation and seriousness, when we still have a few years to try and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius.
Vegan design alternatives must be affordable and accessible for the investors
The only immediate answer for this is going vegan and reducing our footprint on the planet. The meat and dairy industries account for 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we take animal products out of our diet, and out of our homes and studios, we can reduce our carbon footprint by a whopping 73 per cent.
Now is the time for change, but there are several problems with vegan design as it stands today. First, the industry is blended within brands that use animal products. Second, it's still quite small, such that vegan solutions for basic materials such as high-strength natural adhesives are just coming in or being invented.
In order to make significant progress, vegan alternatives must be affordable and accessible for the investors, and nevertheless appealing for the consumers. Designers are the connecting link in between, and that is a big role.
Still, the vegan lifestyle keeps growing in popularity from the fringe to the mainstream – what started in the food industry is now slowly spreading into the design industry.
Animal industries have perfected waste management: we should learn from them
How far do we take veganism? Looking back to my first attempt in 2016, when I curated an exhibition for Dutch Design Week called Veganism, the concept was hard to digest. We've come a long way even since then, but we shouldn't stop there. Thinking holistically, the vegan mission should include material re-use, fair trade, organic growing, and waste policies that will heal the land, ocean, air and the social system on which industrial activity is based.
The one thing we should replicate from the inhumane industries that involve animal farming is the way they have perfected waste management. The co-operation within those industries guarantees that every part of the animal is used. They know very well the economic importance of waste management, but they never encourage you, the consumer, to do the same.
Totality and consistency are missing in the design world today. Designers who acknowledge the gravity and significance of their role must address what is currently needed with purity of intent and deep ideological belief. Creative minds should understand that we must detach from the illusion that we are higher beings and start connecting to a holistic self, living within nature, not above it and not apart from it.
I have always seen designers as quiet leaders. I believe in our ability to change the world as design is assimilated everywhere, shaping our culture and reflecting our values. It is our duty to look critically at modern society, to point to problems and offer solutions and interpretations, as a way out towards a better harmonious stage.
The decisions we take now, literally, have the ability to affect the future of this world and the life of future generations, but they also have the ability to change the atrocious lives of animals and to abandon our aggressive domination of the natural world.
Main image shows Pana's Salt project.