I have done a lot of thinking about the word “Vegan” and what it represents, and how it is presented. I purposefully don’t talk a lot about that on this blog because the purpose of this website is to encourage non-vegans who don’t think they can become vegan.
If the word is a charged one for me, and I accept and am part of this movement, I can understand how much more weight it carries for others. I do want to be part of normalizing the idea of veganism and making it seem like something the mainstream can embrace. For example, if a stereotype in some people’s minds would be of a young, angry, tattooed radical person- then a professional, middle-aged, mother might not match that image. And yes, there are a wide variety of people who are vegan for different reasons- health, animals, environment, and for combating world hunger. Diversity is a good thing.
Part of the reason I named this blog “eat less meat” originally (now eat4thefuture) was to keep this inclusive. It is counter-productive and frustrating to have the word “Vegan” cause the people you want to reach out to immediately shut down because of their past experiences or a stereotype.
I’ve had many conversations about this with a good friend. He eats a mostly vegan diet, but is not vegan. He claims he doesn’t like the religious aspect of veganism and he won’t join.
This is very interesting to me because although veganism is a philosophy I would say, and not a religion, it does bear some similarities.
The fundamental principle that is consistent throughout all religions is “Treat others as you would be treated”. For vegans, ALL animals are included in this. If veganism were a religion, than compassion would be the foundation. For there to be true compassion, that would extend to humans as well as animals. People will fall short of perfection. People will explore veganism for different reasons.
Part of the reason that I personally struggle with the V word is that I am not a joiner of groups. I don’t go to churches or connect with design communities even within my professional circles. This independent-thinking may be partly why I was able to reject the mainstream norm of meat-eating.
Too many people have been turned off by a few vegans, and the majority of much more friendly ones need to step up their efforts to counteract this. Some of these exchanges happen in real life, but most are online. Damage is done, and it is not helping any cause. Before we criticize other people’s attempts, think about whether that is effective. If we attack and ridicule omnivores and vegetarians, than we are only speaking to other vegans (who are already on board). I can’t tell you how many times I have seen what could have been an informative opportunity escalate. A joking comment, an uniformed question, or a defensive statement is met with a harsher backlash and both parties leave with their stereotypes even more firmly entrenched.
It is not just veganism where we need to think about our approach to others. If we hope to persuade someone that our ideas have merit, use respect. The more we divide from others through our politics and religions, the less change we can make. It is so easy to say Republicans are all like this, Democrats are all like that. All this does is draw the line even deeper in the sand.
We can ALL care about the environment and the animals regardless of our religion or party affiliation. Think about it next time you create an “us” vs. “them” statement. When someone makes a derogatory statement about liberals on Facebook for example, they have just lumped everyone who falls anywhere in that spectrum into a group and pushed them away. And this is not about political correctness- believe me. For example, climate change is not a liberal issue. We all have to eat, breathe, use water, hope our kids won’t have to deal with severe consequences.
I believe I can persuade more people that the ideas of veganism are for everyone by not making the criteria so narrow. In the end, veganism is the goal, but attacking a vegetarian for not being fully vegan will never help us reach it. Don’t take the troll bait in the comments.
If you are vegan and interested in a friendly and pragmatic approach to advocacy, check out The Vegan Strategist. I felt hopeful after stumbling upon his website that there was a place for my efforts.
Wow, a very long post to explain my position. I’m sick of labels that divide us into separate groups. Be respectful. Focus on the places where our values overlap, not where they differ.