In defense of vegans ? even the really preachy ones
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A: ?How do you tell is someone?s vegan??
B: I don?t know, how?
A: ?Oh don?t worry, they?ll tell you.?
So goes the classic vegan joke. You can?t get them to shut up and stop shoving veganism in your face. They only ever eat salad and carrots. They?re self-righteous and look down on you. They care more about animals than about people. They?re hippies who wear tie dye tops and dungarees and don?t shave. When it comes to veganism, there are a lot of stereotypes.
William Sitwell lost his job as editor of Waitrose?s Food Magazine in late 2018 for his comments about having to include vegan recipes in the magazine in a not-so private email exchange:
How about a series on killing vegans one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?
It was shocking because it was violent and public, but if you?re vegan yourself you?ll know that this kind of response to veganism is nothing new. In my eyes there are a few different reasons for these aggressive responses to vegans, and for the abounding stereotypes:
- Meat-eaters get incredibly defensive about their meat-eating habits when confronted with the prospect of someone who exists without meat. It?s easier to lash out and condemn vegans or suggest that they are nutritionally deficient than to address our own guilt for eating animals.
- Vegans can be annoying. They care about the cause and feel like they?re doing the right thing (whether for ethical, health, or environmental reasons).Therefore they are likely to advocate it to people they meet. This can come across as ?preachy? and seem like they?re implicitly judging anyone who doesn?t stick to a vegan lifestyle. No one likes being told what they should or shouldn?t do.
- It can feel like another health fad. Veganism is often portrayed as a dietary choice, rather than a moral lifestyle decision. We?re so jaded by the constant stream of celery juice cleanses, celebrity-endorsed diets, and superfoods, that it can seem like veganism is just another trend in this dangerous cycle.
All of these reasons are fairly valid. I also think that it?s important to understand different points of view, whether or not we choose to agree with them or alter our own opinions or actions. So, what follows is my defense of vegans ? even the super preachy ones. I?d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
The first thing to point out is that not all vegans are the same and not all vegans are vegan for the same reasons. Even if you don?t personally think that animal cruelty is a valid reason to reduce your meat intake, there are other reasons for a vegan or vegetarian diet. The first is health, with research showing that diets high in red meat and processed meat lead to more health problems. The second is the environmental side, with animal agriculture one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and deforestation for land use ? climate change is something we should all be concerned about, and your diet is a good place to start from a personal point of view.
Ultimately, it doesn?t seem fair to write all vegans off as animal-loving hippies ? if they?re choosing a low meat diet, whatever their reasoning, that?s their own personal choice. Plus, if they are in it for the animals, this is actually a pretty serious subject matter ? rather than an ?airy fairy? floating around the farm type image.
We?ve been trained to see animals as subservient to humans, and to think that it?s okay to breed them to eat. We?ve also been trained to think that the conditions which they live in are fairly good, and so if they have happy lives then they still have a positive existence before their death. In reality, we?re talking about the welfare of the billions of land animals who are needlessly slaughtered every year just to feed our appetites. They live in dire conditions, packed into warehouses which are designed to maximise profit and productivity, not welfare. It?s an industry of incredible cruelty and suffering ? and for those who see that, veganism can feel like the only valid choice, making it hard to understand why meat-eaters can?t just give up their meat and opt for vegetarian choices instead.
Of course, it isn?t as simple as that in reality. We?ve been marketed and advertised to so heavily that eating meat with every meal is now the norm. We like eating meat, and we love the taste of bacon sandwiches. And so we wilfully choose to ignore the facts of the industry ? known as ?cognitive dissonance.? Today most of our food comes pre-prepared and pre-packaged on a supermarket shelf, and so we have no need to know where it came from and how it was made. It can be easier to just continue eating in the way we know, instead of opening yourself up to questioning these practices.
Vegans have chosen to open themselves up to those questions, and have concluded that they can?t continue to give their money to the animal agriculture industry because it doesn?t fit their values. They?re choosing to live by their principles, and they try to make a difference through where they put their money. Because they feel like they?ve uncovered a huge issue at the heart of how we eat, they want to raise awareness and they want other people to know about it so that they can play a part in ending the cruelty and deception. And that?s why some vegans come across as ?preachy? ? they just really deeply care.