Guest Post: Thoughts on Vegangelicals
This post comes from my Twitter pal Jennifer Mo over at it's Not Easy To Be Green. She brings up some very valid points and offers some good tips when approaching others about veganism. It can be a very slippy slope helping others understand the reasons for a compassionate vegan lifestyle.
The reason I didn't go vegetarian the minute I got to university can be summed up in two words: militant vegans. You know, the ones that stand outside dining halls with "MEAT IS MURDER" signs dripping with fake blood. There were a lot of very angry, very in-your-face vegans at my university, and they put me off vegetarianism for years. It wasn't until I got to grad school in a different university, in a different country, that I had the headspace to think through the ethics of eating animals for myself. And then, the decision — for a lifelong animal lover who was nauseated by the sight, smell, and feel of raw meat — was an easy one.
Even though I've come to realize that veganism would be the most morally consistent path for me, even though I'm slowly inching away from the gorgonzola, I'm not a vegan. And part of it is because I still see the word 'vegan' and think of the aggressive, confrontational vegans I knew in college. They made a lasting impression on me, and not a good one.
There are so many good ethical, health, and environmental reasons to cut down on animal products that the desire to evangelize (or, perhaps, vegangelize) some of our own most deeply held beliefs is almost irresistible. But take it from someone who's been on the other side of the fence: nothing made me so likely to eat a hamburger as a run-in with a self-righteous vegan. However, there are better ways to go about promoting a plant-based diet. These are some things that have worked for (and on) me:
· Educate, don't lecture. If the subject comes up in conversation, I'll offer information on, say, the environmental impact of meat, or recommend Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. But I'm also willing to let friends eat their hamburgers in peace. It's about conversation, not confrontation.
· Share awesome food that just happens to be free of animal products. It's an easy and highly persuasive way to make the point that good food doesn't need to contain animal ingredients. If you provide easy, tasty recipes and show how to cook them, your friends might even start eating vegetarian food on their own.
· Be careful with the labels. Plenty of people find the terms 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' alien, restrictive, off-putting, or frightening. For example, my dad will happily eat meatless meals my mom cooks without realizing they're vegan, but he'll grumble about my cooking because he knows I'm a vegetarian and therefore cook 'vegetarian food.' Actually, it's just food. And no one needs to identify with either 'vegan' or 'vegetarian' label to eat a primarily plant-based diet.
· Accept partial victories. Although many of us dream of a future without animal slaughter, we have to live in the real world. There are strong cultural and ideological ties between people and their meat-based diets. Just getting friends and family to eat more plant-based diets makes a big difference for animals and the planet.
· Respect other people's choices. Ultimately, you can't make people's moral decisions for them. And at any rate, the most enduring changes are the result of conclusions that people came to for themselves. Respect and compassion for animals should always be extended to humans as well.