If you had asked me a year ago about my thoughts on vegans, I would have had a long list of comments to make, most of them very impassioned – in the angry sense of the word. A year later, I myself am a vegan (albeit a fairly recent convert), but by and large, my criticisms of veganism still stand, despite – and also because – I’ve now joined the club.
There are a great many good reasons to go vegan, and they are often based on moral principles – animal rights probably being the most well-known – with environmental reasons being another common example. But for a cause which consistently claims to be underpinned by compassion and respect, vegans are often highly unforgiving in discourse. The personal commitment which vegans make to living according to their moral principles is laudable, and I would presume that few people seriously object to principles such as animal rights or environmental sustainability per se. Rather, many people object to the moralism and self-righteousness which so often pervades vegan discourse.
I am a member of a vegan Facebook community, and too often am dismayed and angered by the manner in which the group is used more or less for a) self-praise and b) condescension and judgement of non-vegans (usually also served with a side of self-praise). Whether or not it’s intended, much vegan discourse is little more than thinly veiled commentary on the supposed moral depravity of non-vegans; and sometimes, it isn’t veiled at all. This isn’t merely annoying, but is inconsistent with the values which vegans profess to uphold – it demonstrates a failure to extend the compassion and respect that the vegan community has for animals and the planet, to interpersonal discussions. I do not mean to argue that vegans are not entitled to believe and declare that the farming and slaughter of animals and harvesting of animal products is unethical and/or unsustainable, but rather, that passing judgement and professing moral authority over non-vegans is, I believe, patronising and arrogant. As vegans, we cannot expect discussion to occur exclusively on our terms, and we cannot expect people to both listen and be open to our views and practices if we only judge and condemn theirs.
Furthermore, given that many vegans driven by the environment and animal rights are committed not only to practising veganism themselves, but also to encouraging other people to get aboard the vegan bandwagon, this antagonistic us-and-them discourse seems counterproductive to recruitment. Perhaps some people are converted to veganism through shock tactics, judgement or guilt, but I certainly wasn’t one of them. If I were hoping to get somebody to consider going vegan, I fail to see how telling them that they’re a bad person is the best way to start the conversation. In a broader sense, I also fail to see how telling livestock farmers that they are callous murderers is going to inspire them to stop farming animals and change their entire way of life.
I certainly don’t enjoying witnessing all the vegan-hate on social media and in daily conversations – the derisive comments about ‘hippies’ and ‘bleeding hearts’.
Caring about the environment or the welfare of animals should not be cause for mockery and insult. The criticisms of vegans as being self-righteous, judgemental, snobbish, and so forth – whilst certainly not representative of all vegans – are not totally unjustified either. Moreover, these negative connotations do no favours to the reputation of what is otherwise a commendable cause that is worthy of praise.
Ultimately, however, unless we, as vegans, move away from the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude in favour of a more considerate, respectful discourse, I don’t see the groans of ‘not one of “those” vegans!’ subsiding any time soon.