It’s not always fun being a vegan. Sometimes, spending time with people who are not vegan makes you regret that you can’t just ‘go with the flow.’ You stand out in ways that aren’t good, that stifle conversation, that make other people uncomfortable.
There is stigma, and it feels bad. However, I can live with that.
Because the flip side is, I think they should be uncomfortable about eating meat. I want them to reassess their choices, to see that what they consider ‘normal’ is actually unkind, unjust and not the way the world should work.
But here’s the catch…
Many of the people I’m talking about are people that I love. I want them in my life. And—this is the hardest part—I don’t believe that being dogmatic, disapproving or antagonistic towards them will help them change for the better.
I don’t even believe I have the right to tell them what ‘better’ looks like.
People I care about hold a variety of views that I do not hold. Some of them believe in a god, or that trickle-down economics works, or think adding coriander improves the taste of food. I can accommodate people in my life with these views even though I don’t agree, because I like them.
I’m committed to veganism, but I know it’s not a panacea. There are other big issues. There are other smaller, more personal struggles. I can only control my choices, and my actions, and hope they influence other people in a positive way.
I agree with some of the criticisms that omnivores may have about vegans. I think some people are too one-eyed, or make exaggerated claims. Vegans are also capable of being unkind and offensive. Sometimes it makes me embarrassed.
Here’s a fairly innocent example of what I’d consider ‘bad vegan behaviour’…
A person I follow on Instagram got a comment on her post from someone who questioned—not rudely—the harm in eating eggs from free-range chickens. The response was indignant, sarcastic and implied that if you can’t see the problem with eating eggs, it’s because you are a cruel idiot. The irony—the Instagrammer’s profile claimed she believes in ‘compassion for all beings’.
What might have been a genuine opportunity to start shifting someone’s perception was used as an opportunity to attack. Why? To feel superior? That’s what non-vegans see.
I know it’s not always easy—I’ve been exasperated with non-vegans, too. There are heaps of hilarious vegan memes that make fun of common vegan frustrations, or the contradictions and fallacies of the prevailing culture.
But genuine contempt for non-vegans, imperfect vegans, and vegetarians consistently crops up in all sorts of memes, posts, writing and comments. That’s not the movement I want to be a part of.
Ending animal cruelty is important and urgent, and we should be passionate about it. But I don’t believe people who are not vegan (yet), are inherently reprehensible or idiotic.
I believe they’re people just like me, before I went vegan. I was once a ‘meat-eater’ and I understand how going vegan can seem extreme, restrictive, or too hard.
If you want to change someone else’s mind, empathy is essential.
It doesn’t mean shutting up. I tell people what I think, I show my pride for vegan ideas through the t-shirt business I started with my partner (Boss Vegan). But when I talk to non-vegans I also tailor my message to their experiences and what I know about our shared values.
I answer genuine questions genuinely – I don’t gloss over the hard parts, I’m enthusiastic about the aspects I love. I consider the purpose and context: Does this person just want an argument? Will engaging with them achieve anything? I consider my values: Am I behaving in a way that I’m proud of? Is this the example I want to set for people that may be primed to oppose to my views?
Let’s spread the vegan love, and do it in ways that are creative, inspiring, honest and compassionate.