*so this is 3,000 words ish. there’s your warning. I wanted it thorough but not way over the top. The “list” is toward the end.
An open letter to other vegan people:
(or a certain type of vegan person, and anyone in a “scene” that should be less a scene and more a unified community.)
I wanted to try and address what I feel is a troubling issue in our community. Those of us who identify most strongly with veganism would probably happily say that they love animals, and that want to see a change in the way we use animals as an entire global movement. We probably do this from a place of reflection on the many eras of animal death, sustained exploitation, and dubious usage, their lived experiences as autonomous individuals that humanity has vanquished without a thought to their plight, the environmental impact, and the potential impact on health. Obviously there is a lot more but I am trying to keep this a thorough but not time-demanding read.
I know many of us that are vegan are understandably angry and troubled seeing egregious evidence of abuse like those that would choose to wear fur, eat shark fin soup, trophy hunt, commit physical abuse or neglect against companion animals and more. We as vegans would endeavour to speak in a clear and articulate manner about the facts, the information,advocate for animals from an ethical standpoint, and try to get better at helping people reduce their reliance on animal products, and break through the lobbies and myths surrounding production and consumption of these products.
It goes without saying that in our own community where there are many differing practices along the same spectrum of belief we would find allies, and improve our lives by absorbing knowledge from others and contributing our input politely and without arrogance.
But that hasn’t been my experience. I feel there is a problem. I’ll get to that.
Myself- I am a 33 year old raised vegetarian that leaned lacto/ovo/pescitarian during upbringing and into the late teens. Save for fish, I never have consumed meat products in my life. (bit into bacon accidentally once and tried a tiny scrap of roast beef that I had to spit out when I was 15, but otherwise, nada.) My mother led this effort, simply because of her ethical standpoint that animals should not be killed for food. To be perfectly honest, her view on this at the time was decently developed, but on the grand scheme of things, she didn’t realize until later that eggs, cheese, milk, fish, etc- did any harm at all, and she had no health data to go off of- it was mostly a hunch and being aware that people had lived as vegetarians in religious communities. There was also rhetoric that I had pushed back at me most of my childhood that my mother was DOING SOMETHING BAD to me by not “properly feeding me.” I heard a lot about protein and nutrients from all the many ‘experts’ all around me. I could write volumes about stupid assholes trying to nose into our business, but if you’d please just take my word for it..(Other parents, the school, and more would comment snidely, and it still makes me feel odd that vegans would issue the same kind of singling out that we get form righteous omnis, and then say it isn’t persecution.) I ate very well as a child, a varied diet compared to other children of that time. We also would occasionally attend a support or protest event against captivity or fur, campaign door to door for SPCA, WSPA, WWF, and PeTA in their early days.
By age 18, I learned about egg and milk production, and decided to go entirely strictly vegan, and after I brought my mother information, she also went vegan. My mom gave me vegetarianism and the moral basis, and I brought her a refined and admittedly more dedicated (radical?) version of it back. As I will touch on a bit later, I still took a little while for me to go constantly, unwaveringly vegan but I did it, and so did my mom.
Results? My (very young looking and healthy) mother is so trusting and optimistic, that she sometimes buys things that “look” vegan, but aren’t. She bought a spice paste that had milk powder. She had “healthy, organic” cookies that had a milk ingredient she wasn’t aware of. She is a hard line, dedicated vegan, but she interprets data and ingredients differently, from a different base of knowledge. We all have a differing base line of “vegan” awareness, and no matter what the starting point, there is a natural evolution in applying beliefs, and often, there is a limit.
So what’s my point?
We can be harsh, arrogant dickheads. Right? It gets said about us all the time. We’ve all seen vegan one-upping, shaming, and trying to be “More moral” or “more vegan” than other self identified vegans. Many of us delight in finding a way an animal ingredient is used that others are not as aware of and lord it over them. Perhaps we might wish to shape other vegans in our own glorious, self empowered mold, because maybe some of us are such amazing vegans that all should bow before our prowess. But you still have to earn that by at least looking for overlap and not being a giant asshole. You maybe need a body of experience, application of the belief, and mutual respect for other people.
Obviously, I’d like to disclaim that SOME people being dickheads doesn’t make veganism less important, true, or relevant. It doesn’t diminish their choice, and it doesn’t help LESS animals if a dickhead doesn’t eat them, when he used to. It may not even directly denigrate MY practices less because another vegan is a jerk. I see that. The vegan making an “error” (in the eyes of someone judging) is actually NO LESS than another, even if their practice is misaligned with veganism that time. What does reduce the impact of veganism is infighting and wasted energy casting aspersions on well meaning people. No cause is helped by judgement, trolling, and nit picking.
I was never a “scene vegan” because I was busy being in a band ( a different type of odd scene), and to be honest, was used to being the only one like me in lots of the groups I ran in. By habit, I’d assume that I’d just be “the vegan” and- oh well- a chance to put a face to a real person who happened to be vegan. I would meet others, and over time, I helped others become vegan or veg as well. I also protested, donated, did rescue, and more to help animals in a way personal to me. Along that path I made mistakes – like consulting and selling reptiles and other exotics that I sought to protect by finding “legitimate collector-style” owners for (in the pet trade as well, no less), supporting AR groups that didn’t truly represent vegans conscientiously or without marginalizing other groups, and a whole lot of other things that I learned about, expelled and adapted away from. I was naive. The righteous early twenties version of myself was doing the best I could with what I had. To think, I was a raised ethical vegetarian waiting tables at a Prime Rib House at 19, a 95% and up plant eater trying to “help” the animals of the pet trade, and eating Mars bars at work because I “missed them.” By 23ish, I had it down. Still room for new data and adapting to suit my beliefs, but pretty much down. I got hungry to just serve up hospitality and make people things to eat that were awesome that happened to be vegan, while advocating openly for animals. I changed jobs to Autism Support after a series of awesome events and became aware of the systemic pattern of exploitation that many experience. I let the Reptile handling and care expert stuff go because it wasn’t right no matter who I worked for and what I did. Hard lessons. But I did learn them, even without the internet people screaming at me.
Eventually I started what would become Plant Base Vegan Supper/Brunch Club, and began to meet many other vegans. So many awesome people. So I started a page, and joined other groups that some of these awesome people who happened to be vegan were affiliated with. I thought that not only could I participate in community building, but also help other people with cooking and perspective, as a collective effort that contributed to a movement. I thought honestly that my lifelong experience of vegetarianism and my experience being vegan since before it was as easy and accessible would be of good use. I wasn’t trying to be arrogant, I just wondered what was around and what I could do. I figured with all the kudos I received on good old food-makin’ from omni friends who had begun to take steps to go veg or vegan- it would be a good position to help from.
Instead, what I overwhelmingly see in our online interactions and even out and about in person, is that with all our good intentions- we still have no idea how to talk to each other. We judge, make brash, idiotic statements, and even though those might be nominally in the minority, they still seem to be the loudest, and what people associate with us.
Our voice should speak for animals. It should strive to help people identify things that they weren’t wanting to participate in for sure. We need to realize that often we are too hung up with other people’s business or not considerate of their own journey.
Here are some issues I constantly witness and what I think could change about our approach:
- STOP nit-picking. In public forums, resist the urge to seem like you are an unwavering expert, and stop looking for other vegans to “slip up” so you can call them out for using a product or practice. Instead, directly message with kind words along the lines of “Hey- I noticed you were talking about ________. I hate to admit it, but I once used it, and was shocked to find out that ___________ is often from animal sources. I just use ________now. Thanks for reading, I don’t mean to gibe any grief- just FYI. I really enjoyed your input about _________! :D”
- STOP with the bullshit “veganism is a magical health panacea.” It isn’t. Vegans get sick, Omnis get sick. Yes, Veganism is LINKED to better health, wellness, prolonged life, and lower cancer and chronic illness rates with balanced, varied diet. But accept the fact there are healthy people who eat what you disagree with, and find a better way to advocate for veganism past a narrow view. Most people won’t buy into fear mongering and assertions not founded on fact (from vegans, anyway) so even if you are right deep down, try to avoid this within the community or when speaking to omnis. Keep to that which is undeniable to start, in the community, or when advocating outside of it. If you can back it up with clear and logical data, it is very hard to argue against without seeming silly. Also, this is about animals, not the constant boasting of your supposed health benefits.
- STOP TEARING COMMUNITY BUILDERS DOWN. I can think of a couple lovely vegan parents and other well meaning people who were run out of their own mini-communities because someone disagreed with them on using ANY SUGAR EVER, or their partners weren’t vegan enough, or some other stupid thing where the same judgment leveled at us for living compassionately by omnis is somehow paid forward to other (not universally perfect) veg people who are trying to build more visibility and move things forward. UNITE. This would also include how we issue feedback to businesses that feature vegan goods amid omni products, and especially a fully vegan or vegetarian place. The omnis are making a gesture, so either be gracious or just don’t fucking go there. If the gesture is wack, politely explain why, and then move on. Don’t go on a rampage. Don’t take it upon yourself to offer vegetarian businesses “advice on how to go fully vegan,” if you have no intention to do anything other than be a dickbag and moralize. Don’t counsel people to make their jobs and family life stressful by demanding they take a hardcore stand- e.g. “you should REFUSE to serve eggs in the breakfast diner you wait tables at, because you are complicit with DEATH and RAPE!” Not everyone will be vegan for the same reasons as you, and many still just view it as a simple “personal choice.”
- STOP loudly proclaiming that you will only hang out with other vegans and that everyone else is an asshole. This isn’t a cult, you were almost assuredly raised eating or consuming something that is of questionable origin, and all the judgement, anger, and exclusion in the world won’t take that back. Not only do you immediately reveal yourself to be kind of a douche- but you make this more about people and not animals. If you have no intent of getting more vegan notions and foods out there, mixing socially, demonstrating that veganism is easy and totally doable, and that we aren’t aggressive insane douches- then just go live in the hills or something. Other people have a right to do what they do, even if it sucks. Our job is be the change, not blathering and screaming the impotent rage.
- New Vegans: SHUSH! LISTEN. I know you are angry that your parents fed you beef as a kid, or you saw something very disturbing on video about factory farming. You have a community of friends and supporters who agree, SERIOUSLY. But often, new vegans know a touch less about some finer points (totally fine though) and yet they talk and proselytize a lot more, often to their own detriment. (not as totally fine) Just be coo! There is always more to learn. Same goes for veterans. Be understanding of the new energy and rebalancing that has to occur. Sensitive people understand animals and want to avoid causing them pain. They will also possibly be sensitive in their interactions with human animals as well, so it is good to provide safe space around all of that.
- STOP giving advice to actual people who actually protest on how to do what they do. Especially if you yourself DO NOT protest. It isn’t your operation, or you would make the rules and engage people the way you wanted to do it. Look for ways that you can join and omit certain factors that don’t appeal to you (hold a sign, but avoid chaining yourself to a door if you don’t like that or whatever.) AFTER you have read about how protests work, engage the group or a representative in a formal, appropriate arena and politely discuss what reason they may engage in a certain practice, because there often is a reason. Make yourself heard but if you have no plan to offer any formal or monetary support, you can maybe just be on your way after a polite quick conversation. They have stuff to do, and people already tell them constantly even on registered police monitored protests that they are doing something “illegal,” or disturbing the peace. Very often, the nature of advocacy and protest at the street level looks like this. All the other rights movements and other progression was likely urged on by “disturbing peace” in the minimum.
- STOP rolling in your other (unfounded conspiracy?) theories as though they are vegan. Vegans care about ending animal cruelty, commodity, cruelty, service, etc. If you single out another person for taking random vitamin supplements with plant ingredients, medically necessary prescriptions, or try to push your own cockamamie theory that purports to be part of veganism when it clearly is not, you are doing it wrong. There is a wide spectrum of belief within the community. Please remember this and try to look for overlap and then influence from a position of trust, experience and equitable interactions with others.
- STOP MARGINALIZING OTHERS in the quest to raise awareness of veganism. I have seen born and bred caucasian people try to go and impress their will onto an individual from a First Nation because their ancestors traditionally hunt. I have seen young nude women covered in blood protesting exploitation of animals and speaking to how degrading and marginalizing these creatures status’ are as they are plied by PeTA to make “proprietary vegan porn” to entice men to the movement. I have seen people with chronic medical conditions lambasted for their tacit participation in animal testing, by people who wouldn’t know the first thing about any of it. This does not help. If someone can help you help animals, ACCEPT. You will both pick up some lessons along the way.
- STOP DOING NOTHING and DO SOMETHING. If you only evangelize and natter at people online, you are doing it wrong. Join a protest. You don’t like to protest? Donate. You have no resource to do so? Volunteer. Foster an animal. Help animals in distress. Help your friends and family adopt or rescue. Advocate for ANIMALS. Cook. Do outreach. Support a vegan business or venture. Just don’t hide on your computer sermonizing like vegan Jesus.
None of this is meant to smear the movement, and I am not writing this down to cast vitriol all about for people to use against us. In fact, any movement might deal with these issues when it sees an explosion of growth or omnidirectional interest. It can be tough for that movement to retain its identity. We are strong even through these problems. I just feel we could be more open, accepting and everyone can feel respected and important to the cause, whichever they choose as the entry point to a longer journey. We need to remember that first impressions are a big deal, but even better if they are good, true, and lasting. If you walk into a space and it is chaotic, messy, and the ideas are constantly in conflict, you will feel less like you can carve out a piece and belong there. I feel we ought to clean up our online interactions especially, and unite along HELPING ANIMALS, not condemning people who are trying.