It really is about time that people stopped mocking vegans.
For the good of the planet, put down your beefburger – but if you can’t or won’t do that then “at least refrain from putting down the people who are trying to light a path to a liveable future. The vegans are right. The vegans were always right. The least you can do is shower them with respect and our gratitude because they deserve it.” So says Fahrad Manjoo in a powerful defence of vegans in a New York Times opinion piece yesterday.
The journalist himself is a typical flexitarian. He is not a vegan but he does “make an effort to avoid meat, but for reasons of convenience and shameless hedonism still end up eating it several times a month, especially fish. ” So he is not someone who might come across as insufferably smug and arrogant, and he will not be a catalyst to prompt feelings of cognitive dissonance in any reader. Rather he is an omnivore who is concerned about the fate of Planet Earth.
“All we are saying is Give Vegans A Chance”
“I want to ask you to do something much more simple: to alter how you think about vegans,” writes Manjoo. “Give vegans a chance – love and to celebrate them instead of ridiculing them.”
It is a self-evident truth, states the New York Times, that “vegans are irrefutably on the right side of history. They are the vanguard” and for this reason “we need more vegan voices”.
Just look at the big issues:
- the “criminal cruelty” of industrial farming;
- the sentience and emotional depth of animals involved in the factory farming; and
- the unsustainable environmental havoc caused by meat production.
Guilt and Cognitive Dissonance
So why is it that vegans get mocked so mercilessly? Why exactly has the “stereotype of the smug, self-satisfied, annoying vegan” taken such deep cultural root?
“How do you know you’re talking to a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you” goes the joke that is as revealing about the person telling it as it is the vegan who is meant to be the butt of the humour.
Yes, some vegans can appear to be preachy and feelings of irritation may arise in their presence. But their feelings of rage and fury are entirely understandable even if some vegans are less than skilful in their communication. One compelling study even talks of how some vegans’ actions seriously tarnish the brand.
As the study asks, how many people have stopped eating meat because an overzealous vegan yelled “MURDERER” at them in a supermarket? Surely turning fury onto people is not the way to get them to open their hearts. One study even concluded that the only group viewed more negatively than vegans were drug addicts.
Walking a fine line
There’s clearly a very fine line to be drawn. Talking about your principles may be taken to mean you are judgmental and smug, rather than proud of your beliefs. So you may feel the need to over-correct and just brush off the questions. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Nevertheless, you do not have to be a Buddhist to accept that pigs are sentient beings. It’s so glaringly obvious to many of us, that it is incomprehensible that some people cannot grasp this simple obvious truth.
Vegans have their principles and even if they attempt to enunciate them in an objective, non-judgemental way, it may be heard in an altogether different way because the listener filters it through an unconscious sense of guilt, because he or she knows that on a deep level the vegan has a point worthy of deep consideration.
“Many omnivores understand the toll that meat wreaks on the planet, and we can’t help but feel the tension between loving animals in the abstract while eating them with abandon on the plate,” says Manjoo. “All of this creates feelings of defensiveness, so when a vegan comes along, their very presence seems like an affront. To an omnivore, every vegan looks like a preachy vegan.”
There is an elephant in the room here. The world’s addiction to the consumption of meat is killing the planet. Irrefutable proof of this is just one or two google clicks away. It will take more than concerned middle-class intellectuals giving up on plastic straws.
The culture is far too accepting of consuming animals
The point that stands out so clearly is the fact that as a culture “we are far too comfortable with consuming animals”. Yes, bacon might be delicious but shouldn’t we feel slightly uncomfortable and embarrassed that meat is so ubiquitous in our society when such a high price has to be paid for its consumption.
The Amazon is burning to make way for cattle ranching. The soy that is planted will go into cattle feed to generate fast-food chicken, not tofu. The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming.
Humour has an important place to play in helping both sides see a way through this moral maze. It is not helpful when a UK food editor lost his job for talking about “killing vegans one by one.” Respectful communication on both sides is the only way that this divide can be bridged.
When more enlightened commentary on vegan issues permeates thoughtful journalism, then real sustained change cannot be too far behind. To survive what would otherwise be an inevitable environmental catastrophe, humanity will need to become a little more vegan and the best place to start is “by saluting vegans not mocking them”.
Perhaps we can have a little less of the “you must be fun at parties” and a little more of the “you have an interesting point there”.