Oh, You’re Vegan?

For several years after I chose a vegan lifestyle, I went out of my way to hide my aversion for eating or wearing animal products from strangers.

When I would meet work friends at lunch, for example, I would order food nonchalantly, explaining as little as possible. “I’ll have a veggie sub, toasted, no cheese. Thanks.” Unless people hung out with me enough to see a pattern to my meal habits, almost nobody picked up on my being vegan. I didn’t wear hemp clothing or comment on anybody’s diet or animal welfare. In fact, except with people who I kept a close relationship with, I would avoid the question if it came up. If somebody asked point-blank,”You always order the Veggie sub. Are you a vegetarian?”, I would laugh and dodge the topic, “I guess I am today. Did you hear about that thing in the news?”

I liked it that way but I decided to be more open with people in 2011, so I began sharing I am vegan if it came up naturally in conversation. Once I shared it the first time, though, it came up often.

There are plenty of internet memes and jokes poking fun at vegans with snide phrases like, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” The thing is, for most vegans, it feels like the opposite is true. “How does everybody know you’re vegan? Don’t worry. The first time you order quinoa, someone will ask.”

Sure, there are the PETA people–the vegans and vegetarians exclaiming their borderline psychologically troubling love for other species every chance they get, to anyone who will listen. Associating the nutters with all vegans, though, is like assuming all white people are just like Fred Phelps.

Most vegans do not launch blogs and picket outside McDonald’s. Personally, I am glad that some do (I’m not a PETA fan but I am glad there are people trying to do well and taking up a fight for such an important philosophical distinction). Most vegans, though, do not care if anyone knows they are vegan. They do not care if you are worried about their protein (don’t worry–they are probably getting more protein than you are). They do not care what you think about being vegan anymore than you care what vegans think about the Chicago Bears being called “bears”.

Most vegans are not trying to scare you, harm you, blame you, or shame you. Most non-vegans seem to do that to themselves. Vegans do not care if you know they are vegan, I promise. The vegans I know just want to enjoy great food that didn’t cause any pain in the world. Not even to your ego.

And maybe that’s worth bragging about , but we try not to.

 

Stop People Abuse!

Vegans hate animal cruelty. Like, really hate it. It is probably the number one reason most vegans become vegan–because they watched an internet video, or saw a documentary, or read a book detailing the many follies of factory farming.

In protest of animal cruelty and protection of animal rights, some of us begin the very difficult journey of abstaining from eating or wearing anything that is, or comes from, any animal. Some vegans even begin treating animals better than humans. They become militant. These vegans take up the war cry for animal rights and putting an end to cruelty. They begin shaming their friends and posting general rants on social media extolling the virtues of their life decision while pointing out the worst in human behavior.

For me, that is a problem (this is Michael, by the way). I think it is not only ineffective for helping animals but it is also not a good way to invite other people to become curious about veganism.

Militant vegans, though filled with good intentions, hurt the movement. 

It is certainly frustrating to see story after story about animal suffering and I sometimes feel a swell of anger at the world for not understanding basic cause and effect relationships. Nonetheless, I remind myself to share the anger with my closest friends if I need to, but keep the conversation going with those who are not aligned with the values of their better angels yet.

I can’t say I have found the secret formula or perfect argument to make every person I meet become vegan, but I know what worked for me… and what didn’t. I also know by following three simple principles, I have been able to grow curiosity about veganism in more non-vegans than I ever would have thought possible. People tentatively approach the subject when they meet me but then use me as a resource as they take one step at a time closer to an animal-friendly world.

Maybe it’s slow (probably no slower than any other approach), but it works… and no one gets hurt. I hope some of my militant vegan friends will adopt the same easy principles in their conversations and postings, and maybe… just maybe… we can add a few more vegans to the roster instead of pushing some people away altogether.

Here are my three guidelines:

1.  Do not judge non-vegans. Everyone has a choice to make and I was well into my twenties when I decided to live a more peaceful life with respect to my fellow creatures. There are probably many other bad decisions I need to correct, as well–most of which I am probably unaware of. That is why I do not judge others for their bad choices… or at least I keep my judgments to myself, unless invited to share my opinion.

I didn’t know I should be vegan until I did the homework myself. More importantly, people like me (and probably you) are the exception. Most people do not do much research into factory farming, animal cruelty, or ethical health choices. It’s not on their radar. It isn’t taught in school. There are no commercials for going vegan. They do not know what you might know. You were them just a little while ago and if somebody gave you the “Don’t you know how veal is made and where milk comes from?!?” rant, you would likely not be swayed. In fact, the first time you heard that rant, you probably did not believe it or were not that concerned about it. Eventually, you looked into it.

2.  Avoid blaming and shaming. This is probably the worst thing I see well-meaning, passionate vegans do. If your post or rant starts with “You”, “You people”, or “Why don’t people just…”, start over. It’s not Us versus Them. The people you are trying to reach are just as human as you are. If they are having a bad day already, the last thing they need to see in their social media feed is their judgy-vegan friend going off on them about their life choices. Instead of venting your anger vaguely at the people you supposedly love, try sharing about YOUR journey. Rather than, “When will people start understanding the suffering of animals? I can’t believe it’s 2016 and we still eat meat!”, try “I remember the moment when I understood why I could not eat meat anymore. It was when…”. Tell YOUR story rather than try to change everyone else’s.

3.  If no one asked your opinion, don’t assume they want it. I do not tell people I am vegan unless it comes up naturally in conversation. For me, it is not a bragging right. It is a life-choice. I don’t tell people I am a non-smoker, either. It’s just part of who I am. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your commitment to non-cruelty but most of the rest of the world just don’t care about your choices or opinions. If you want an audience, start a blog. If you want people to listen to you, create a podcast and find people who care enough to tune in. But your non-vegan mother, cousin, or work mate really doesn’t care to hear about baby seals being bludgeoned or seeing videos of how hamburgers are made. Only PETA does, and they probably don’t care what your opinion is on it, either, because–like your mother–they already made their choice. Pointing out how wrong or right it is doesn’t matter to them.

 

As a long time vegan advocate, I can tell you the biggest trap I see passionate vegans fall into is this: they believe in stopping cruelty and animal suffering… but they forget humans are animals, too.

 

If you like what I said here, I would like to recommend this article from Kolene Allen as well, one of our friends at VeganGR. It’s excellent.

When Will We Be Food Again?

Humans have not been hunted in more than a century. What would happen if we suddenly had to fend for our lives like herd animals again?

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Comedian Louis CK was referenced by The Reality Check (one of my favorite shows) for one of his bits about animal suffering. The show was paraphrasing what he said and I am too lazy to listen to all of Louis CK’s material to find the exact quote… but the gist of it is, “Humans have basically removed themselves from the food chain and isn’t that great? Can you imagine if, when you left home to go to your office each morning, you had to immediately start running for your life because there is a lion or bear waiting to eat you? What if you had to worry about animals hunting you, out to get you all the time?”

Humor aside, it is a fascinating and astounding achievement that we humans (who are not the strongest, fastest, or most aggressive creatures on the planet) have all but eliminated the worry of being eaten by other predators.

What if that does not remain the case, however? What if a civilization from another world arrived and suddenly we found ourselves back as a potential dinner plate item and no longer at the top of the food chain?

 

A simple, cautionary tale… nothing lasts forever. 

 

The King And I Would Not Hurt A Fly.

How would roads look if we built them with other animals and ecology in mind? Would they maybe have 3 or 4 foot walls to deter animals like deer, squirrels, woodchucks, dogs, and cats from straying into traffic?

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I saw a dead deer on the side of the road as I drove home today. It had obviously been hit while crossing the road. I drive a lot for work and, sadly, I see a lot of roadkill.

The thing is, we do not give much thought to our impact on the world, and yet we are the default caretakers of both the environment and the animal kingdom. We are top of the food chain whether we chose to be or not, and we are the only ones with the power and foresight to take care of our planet and its inhabitants, including ourselves. It seems like this should weigh on us more than it does.

I am a firm supporter of progress, science, and taking control of our destiny, but it makes me sad when we build, dominate, or renovate with blatant disregard for our fellow creatures and fauna. It is not only an abdication of our responsibility as kings over this planet, but it is also an offense to our own minds and creativity. It is a choice to ignore the faculty of thought, planning, and foresight–the very utility that gives us dominion over the rest of the world.

Think about what small steps you can take to care for your world and the creatures you are responsible for (whether you chose to be or not). As the default king of the Animal Kingdom, what kind of ruler do you wish to be remembered as? Ruthless and merciless (because that has always worked well for kings in the past…) or honorable and merciful?

In every moment of our lives, we have the potential to be Hitler or Gandhi to the rest of the world. Choose.