OpEd: I’m The Target Of ‘Angry Vegan’ Ire And Truth Be Told, They Have A Point, But It’s Not The Answer
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I don’t blame vegans for being angry. When it comes to animal exploitation, there’s a lot to be mad about. But the answer may lie in compassion towards our fellow non-vegan humans.
Maybe it’s PETA, maybe it’s Twitter – but for one reason or another, animal rights activists tend to have a reputation for being…well, abrasive. Animal rights activists have been known to throw red paint at people wearing fur coats, and to protest fast food restaurants and anyone eating in them. They’ve used rhetoric that’s perceived to be so extreme as to offend people, like comparing animal cruelty to sexual assault or the Holocaust.
You may even have even found yourself on the ugly side of vegan ire, and if so, you know that it doesn’t always take much to get there. I know this first hand – I’m the founder of Reducetarian Foundation, an organization devoted to encouraging people to eat fewer – but not necessarily zero – animal products. I consider myself to be on the same side as vegans, but some of them vehemently disagree. Once, as I show in my documentary “Meat Me Halfway,” someone went so far as to compare my speaking at an animal rights conference to Donald Trump speaking at a women’s rights conference. While I view cutting back on meat, eggs, and dairy as a step toward veganism, many vegans view it as a step in the wrong direction. And that inspires rage.
But two things can be true at the same time. A person can want to help animals and also eat them. A non-vegan might be just as horrified by the treatment of animals as a vegan, but not change their behavior in the same way. Shaming and unbridled anger probably aren’t the best ways to win them over. Vegans may want to set aside their emotional reactions, at least partially, to think strategically about how best to achieve their goal.
Why are some vegans so angry?
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t blame vegans for being angry. When it comes to animal exploitation, there’s a lot to be mad about. Some truly horrific things happen to animals in our world, and worst of all, they’re common practice. Dairy cows are forcibly and continuously impregnated so they can keep producing milk, baby cows are chained up and eventually slaughtered for veal, male baby chicks are ground up alive because they have no commercial value, chickens and pigs are mutilated without anesthetic, foxes are skinned alive…the list goes on. Frankly, it’s difficult to be aware of the vast amount of animal suffering and not start seeing anyone who’s not vegan as the enemy. It’s not a very nuanced worldview, but it is one I can understand.
It can be chilling to look around at the world we live in and realize that almost everyone, even the people you love, is participating in this cruelty even indirectly. And vegans have it tough. They get made fun of or accused of being pretentious for acting on their compassion for animals. I think something similar happens to champions of any undersung cause. While they’re acutely aware of a serious issue, the people around them are not. Worse, maybe they are and they just don’t care.
Angry vegans often seem to forget what it was like when they ate animal products themselves—what has been dubbed “vegan amnesia.” Sometimes this can come across as having a lack of patience with non-vegans and their life circumstances. After all, many folks are dealing with difficulty, be it economic constraints around the foods and products they buy, a lack of knowledge about a vegan lifestyle and what it entails, or cultural ties and biological constraints that make cutting out animal products and foods painful and complicated.
Not all vegans are angry vegans
Of course, the “angry vegan” stereotype is exactly that- a stereotype. Most vegans I’ve encountered are perfectly pleasant people who direct their ire at systems rather than individuals. Most of them don’t go around yelling at or shaming people who eat meat, eggs, and dairy – though if you ask, they will gladly tell you their reasons for not eating those things. And their reasons are entirely reasonable and justifiable. But as with pretty much any socio-political stance, it seems (and on social media, it feels like), the loudest voices are the ones that dominate. Angry vegans tend to be the most visible ones, but it’s important to remember that they are not representative of vegans as a whole.
Most people don’t want to do harm
We live in a complicated world where it’s actually very difficult – probably impossible – to abstain from participating in any system or supply chain that abuses people and other animals in some way. (Vegans do love their cashews.)
Vegans have a noble goal: a world free of animal suffering. But as of 2023, there are fewer than 90 million vegans total, which represents less than 1.1% of the global population so vegans are facing an uphill battle. For a wide variety of reasons, most of humanity is not vegan. If vegans are going to get non-vegans onside, more flexibility and more understanding may be needed. While the ultimate goal for many vegans is to end animal suffering completely, ethical veganism at its core is about reducing animal suffering, and this is where vegans can achieve some major wins.
Most of us are basically good or at the very least, not actively trying to do harm. Most of us make choices because we want to be happy and out of necessity, habit, convenience and finances. Most of us don’t want to see animals harmed. (Though it’s also important to state that there are plenty of folks who are simply not ethically opposed to consuming animals. I’m sympathetic to this view if the animals did not come from a factory farm—which is less than 1% of them.
Compassion for animals AND humans
Most of us are open to solutions and ways to reduce suffering. Pointing fingers at each other – particularly at people who ultimately share your goals – isn’t going to accomplish very much. Instead of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to dietary choices, we need to come at this with empathy and be encouraging of flexitarians, vegetarians and really anyone open to reducing animal consumption.
We need to allow people space and encourage degrees of change if we want to grow our movement. It’s going to take a lot of public pressure to enact change at higher levels in society, like government regulations on animal welfare, for example. We need to build solidarity between all those who share our beliefs – not simply our diets. Far from being a betrayal of vegan values, it’s the ultimate compassion towards others in service of an ethical vegan mission, which is to reduce animal suffering where possible.