Whether you happen to be vegan or not, you’ve probably noticed by now that we plan-based peeps seem to have earned ourselves a pretty bad wrap amongst the omnivores around us. We are known for being judgemental, preaching, grass-munchers with nothing better to do than point our fingers at anyone who isn’t vegan and tell them what a piece of shit they are for eating something other than twigs and leaves. Sound familiar? Hopefully not. But if that somewhat fits your description, it might be time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and come to terms with an uncomfortable truth.
You might be a vegan asshole.
Listen, we all have those moments. We have all wanted to punch a meat-eater square in the face for a sarcastic comment, or call out a family member for commenting on animal abuse towards a cat or dog whilst munching on a lump of dead cow. But these moments, as frequently as they may occur, are what can lead us down the slippery slope to contracting what is known in the industry as Vegan Assholitis. We’re here today to determine how we can avoid that shit like the plague.
First thing’s first: why is it so important to not be a vegan asshole? Well, to put it simply: it doesn’t work. Feel free to test this theory for yourselves. Walk up to someone who is visibly enjoying the consumption of an animal product (I’d recommend it be someone you know so as to hopefully avoid getting knocked the fuck out), and tell them, in detail, what that animal had to endure before it landed in his gullet. Record their response. See if it converts them to veganism. Spoiler alert: it won’t.
Advocating for veganism as an aggressor benefits no one. It will get you all riled up, piss off any non-vegans in your immediate vicinity and you’ll just end up going your separate ways having achieved nothing except for successfully adding someone else to the list of people who will actively cross the street to avoid you. And, hey, maybe that’s what you were going for. But if you choose veganism as your method of pissing people off, you’re making it harder for everyone to promote veganism.
So, what’s the right way to go about it? Is there a right way?
In my experience, there’s no one definitive way of promoting veganism that is effective with everyone. However, that’s not to say there aren’t a few general rules you can follow to hopefully appeal to the masses, all whilst avoiding coming across as a total dick.
Give Your High Horse a Break
You’ve found comfort up there in that saddle, haven’t you? Looking down on all those nasty little meat-eaters while you enjoy the view from atop of your vegan steed can rapidly become an addictive hobby. But here’s the thing; looking down on anyone who isn’t vegan yet is a guaranteed way of turning people away from veganism, not towards it. Imagine if you were considering taking up a new dance class, only to turn up and receive snooty looks from the dancers who had been attending the class for a long time. Would you want to go in?
If you consider veganism to be a moral issue, it can become difficult to separate human beings from their problematic eating habits. A conversation with your meat-eating friend can quickly become a battle with a coldblooded slaughterer of sentient beings. But before you get on the defensive, remember who you were before you were vegan. Did you claim to love animals? Were you repulsed at videos exposing the truth of the animal industry, despite the fact you actively supported that abuse by purchasing animal products? Did you, at any point, say that you could never be vegan?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to remember that you were once like many of the meat-eaters you have begun to pass judgement on. You probably didn’t consider yourself to be a bad person, and you had the compassion within you that eventually pushed you to become vegan. If it was within you, who is to say that isn’t within others?
So, my first tip to avoid being labelled as a vegan asshole is to not be so quick to pass judgement on non-vegans. It won’t help persuade them to consider veganism, and it won’t make you a better vegan for judging them.
Consider Your Audience
One of the most unfortunate truths you’ll eventually learn once you become vegan is that some people simply can’t be helped. It doesn’t matter how gently you might approach the subject; there are certain non-vegans that are so hellbent on the taste of meat that they will refuse to listen to even the most valid of arguments against the animal industry.
The worst part is that sometimes these people exist within your own friendship groups or even your own family. The only advice I can offer for dealing with the ‘no-hopers’ (and I know that some vegans may disagree with me) is to let them be. There are so many people who actually will be receptive of what you’re promoting that I can’t see the point of wasting your time on people that are determined never to change. But hey, if karma doesn’t get to them first, the fruitful list of health issues caused by eating meat and dairy probably will. So don’t get too hung up on it.
So, we’ve cast the no-hopers aside for now. This leaves a long list of people who you feel can be persuaded to at least give up some animal products, if not to convert to veganism entirely. If you’re not sure if someone is a no-hoper, or could potentially be persuaded, there’s a couple of tell-tale signs that someone might be open to giving it a try.
- How do they react to videos exposing what really happens in the animal industry (i.e. abuse, cruelty, endless suffering)? If they can’t bear to watch them, or are visibly upset by what they see, then what you have on your hands is someone with a moral compass that aligns with the fundamental principles of veganism. The ethical aspect of veganism is a huge component, and you’ll probably find that the majority of people who aren’t currently vegan actually do disagree with the way animals are treated to produce the meat and dairy they buy in the supermarkets. What they’re lacking is the push to change how they’re treated.
- Do they actually know the full extent of the mistreatment in the animal industry? For example, do they know that free range chickens aren’t living out their days on a sunny green pasture, free to stretch their legs and live happily among other chickens? Do they know what happens to a cow to make her produce milk? More often than not, the answer to this is no. If people aren’t fully aware of the extent of the suffering, they are often falsely led to believe that things such as buying free-range eggs is making a positive difference to the lives of animals, when this truly isn’t the case.
- Do they claim to be an ‘animal lover’? If so, then ding ding ding! You’ve got a winner folks. Because, as I’ve always said, you can’t love animals and eat them too.
Of course, the moral side of veganism isn’t the only way to persuade someone to give it a try. For the health conscious, there are countless health benefits of a vegan diet, and it’s also one of the easiest ways of looking after our environment. If you want to look a little bit more into why you might want to turn to veganism, have a quick glance over step 1 of this blog post.
So, if you’ve managed to find someone who fits the criteria of a person you feel could be persuaded to give up animal products, the next step is to consider how to go about encouraging them to take up veganism without upsetting them or being too pushy, which leads me to my next top tip.
Educate vs Aggravate
This part is key, and surprisingly obvious. This is because no one likes being pissed off, and everyone likes learning something new.
So what exactly does this mean when it comes to promoting veganism?
Well, when you consider the reasons why you should be vegan, you can split them into ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ reasons. They are essentially saying the same thing, but are just phrased a little bit differently. If you want to list your ‘negative’ reasons, you could say things like:
- ‘You know, every time you buy milk, you’re supporting the forced insemination (rape) of a female cow. Oh, also she’ll have her new born baby ripped away from her shortly after birth.’
- ‘You’re more likely to get cancer if you keep eating meat.’
- ‘Animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to air pollution on Earth. So… thanks for killing the planet just for a bit of steak!’
I mean… they’re all valid reasons. But here’s the thing: you know the whole carrot versus stick theory? No one likes the stick. Ironically, non-vegans tend to respond much better to the carrot. So, instead, consider using ‘positive’ reasons:
- ‘It’s really good for your health!’
- ‘It’s one of the easiest ways to help the environment.’
- ‘You’ll help save so many animals.’
- ‘It will completely reinvent your relationship with food and the way you’re used to cooking.’
- ‘It can be a super effective, healthy way to lose weight.’
So you’ll basically be saying the same thing, just without making anyone feel like a piece of shit. Win-win.
What I usually find with non-vegans is that they are far more receptive to learning about veganism if I don’t piss them off first. When I first became vegan, most of my non-vegan friends and family would actually approach the subject themselves, because they were fascinated by a diet that seemed so wildly alien to what they were used to. This gave me a lot of opportunities to speak openly about veganism, and as long as I tried to phrase the benefits of veganism in a ‘positive’ way rather than focusing on the negatives of a non-plant based diet, what I was saying was generally well received.
However, the novelty of eating a lot of plants eventually wears off, and soon enough the non-vegans in my life got bored of hearing about how wonderful veganism is. So, where to go next?
Well, if there’s one thing that no one gets bored of, it’s delicious food.
If you’re like me; comically bad at cooking and unbelievably clumsy, then cooking and presenting beautiful looking, delicious food might not seem an easy feat. The only advice I can offer you is to do as I did; bag yourselves a gorgeous man who happens to be an exceptional cook. That is literally the only advice I have.
My boyfriend is great at cooking and, despite being a meat-eater, has taken vegan cuisine into his stride. The combination of his chef skills and me being able to make something look half decent on a plate often results in beautifully presented vegan dishes, which I like to post on my Instagram feed. A few of my recent food posts have received comments like: ‘I’m not even vegan but this looks delicious!’ and ‘Can I have the recipe?’, which is super cool because it offers me another opportunity to blabber on about how great veganism is without me having to approach people directly. Entice non-vegans to come to you, and you immediately cut out the difficult part.
If your cooking skills aren’t going to earn you the interest of non-vegans any time soon, try attending local vegan restaurants and food festivals. Get a nice picture of something you ate and it doesn’t even matter if you cooked it yourself; sharing is power.
As beautiful as vegan food may be, it is obviously important that we don’t gloss over the moral side of veganism just because it doesn’t look as pretty on Instagram, or because it’s less appetising on the palates of non-vegans. Approaching the subject of what really happens to animals in the industry is going to be a fair bit more difficult than showing off pretty plates of food, but it is absolutely necessary. So, how do we go about it without being an asshole?
Choose your battles
To put it simply, there’s a time and a place. This applies to most controversial topics; you don’t talk about whether God is real at a funeral, and you don’t discuss abortion at a birthday party. Finding the appropriate time to discuss veganism can mean the difference between starting an argument, or having an open and honest conversation about each other’s eating habits that could potentially lead to your non-vegan friend taking a positive step towards a cruelty-free life. So, when is the ‘right time’?
Well, I think it’s important to remind yourself every now and then that meat-eaters, as ignorant and cruel as they have the potential to be, are still humans; often full of emotion and capable of having their feelings hurt. It can be so easy to treat them with contempt, but it honestly will not achieve a single thing. When it comes to picking a time and place to promote veganism, consider how many feelings will get hurt in the process. Don’t tell a relative they can’t mourn for their dead pet because they eat chicken, for example.
In my experience, you will always have better results with your non-vegan friends if you’re in a smaller group. To put this in perspective, consider the potential result of telling the six-or-so million people who watch The Great British Bake Off that they should boycott the show for its heavy use (and waste) of animal products. That is a battle that you are never going to win single handedly. Instead, try having a one-on-one conversation with a close friend where you can talk openly about veganism, whilst being able to adjust the conversation based on how well it’s being received by the other person. Start small, and you’ll see better results. We all want to change the world, but standing alone and trying to tackle too large a group at once is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes, however, even in the smallest of groups you will encounter someone who wants to debate with you. You shouldn’t be afraid of this; there are two sides to every argument, and until you prove them wrong, many people will hand-on-heart believe that their stance on a subject is gospel. As long as you are well-read and know your shit, debates can be an enjoyable and fascinating way of promoting veganism. However, it’s important to note that if you can’t debate the topic without letting your emotions take over, you should probably find an alternative way of advocating for the cause. What happens in the animal industry is devastating, but you need to keep your eye on the prize; crying and screaming is not likely to convert a non-vegan.
If you’re not satisfied with campaigning in only small groups, I implore you to seek something bigger. Vegan events, rallies, and protests are all ways of making a difference on a larger scale. If you’re fighting the good fight with a strong army behind you, there’s no telling what you might be able to achieve.
It’s not all or nothing
We’re onto my last top tip for not being a vegan asshole, and this one is probably one of the most important.
When I made the change to veganism, I thought it was easy. So easy, in fact, that I couldn’t possibly comprehend why everyone else deemed themselves incapable of doing the same as I did. For a while, I considered everyone who wasn’t totally vegan to be a bit of an asshole. Vegetarians were half-assing it, pescatarians were total hypocrites, and don’t even get me started on meat-eaters.
The problem with this way of thinking is that you will never be satisfied with what you’ve achieved within the vegan community, because there will always be more to do. If I spent all my time dwelling on the fact that my family still eat meat, instead of appreciating the fact that I’ve converted my nan to soya mince and that my mum and aunt are looking into offering more vegan options at the deli they run together, I’d be absolutely full of resent. Nothing besides completely switching to veganism would be a big enough effort from my friends and family, and no amount of conversations or debates with the people I know would ever be enough. I would drive myself completely crazy and in turn, become a huge, incessant asshole.
That’s the thing; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In an ideal world, everyone would make the switch overnight. Us vegans serve to prove how easy and enjoyable it is, so in theory it should be the same for everyone. If everyone completely changed their way of thinking, eating and living, we’d be living on a much more ethical and healthy planet by next week. But what are the odds that that will happen? In reality, the day that everyone on earth is vegan is not a day that we will experience in our lifetime. So why spend your whole life striving for this extremely ambitious goal that is way out of reach?
Being vegan is an achievement in itself. It is a hugely positive contribution to the well being of animals, our own health and the planet we live on.
If you aren’t able to convert everyone you know to veganism, that doesn’t mean you haven’t done your part. The key to striking a healthy and happy balance is recognising your achievements, no matter how small they might be. Cook vegan food for your family. Attend a vegan rally. Doing anything is doing something.
Until next time, I bid my fellow vegans farewell. Eat your greens, and don’t be an asshole!