Craig here. How do you follow up Lorelei’s brilliant viral post Our Vegan Diet Almost Killed Us – No Really? Before that article, we were getting a few hundred people to read our posts (at the most), because we just started this site and hadn’t built an audience yet. But even then, I was excited to know that some people saw my beer and food recipes. Yet, as of this writing, we’ve had over a half million people access the article; more than 1,000 people have left comments (in addition to the many comments we’re seeing on Facebook shares). Some of those comments are really nice and supportive (from vegans and non-vegans alike) and some of the comments are – how can I put this delicately – not quite as nice. This letter is directed at the latter group. (And to the many people who let us know they are now going or considering veganism after reading the piece – that thrills us to no end!)
One of the main criticisms that seemed to pop up over and over was that we won’t change omnivores’ minds about adopting a vegan lifestyle by being so blunt in our language about what is required in order to get meat and animal products on people’s plates. Actually, the top comment was probably that we wasted people’s time because they read an article they thought was going to give them ammunition against a vegan diet – and all they got were many reasons and links to support it and a happy ending, delivered via a Dad joke. Whoops!
We were also told over and over again that calling someone by a scientifically accurate descriptor of their diet makes some people feel bad. Saying omnivores or omnis is apparently some sort of pejorative when coming from a vegan’s mouth rather than an easy way to delineate between people that eat meat (omnivores) and people that don’t eat any animal products (vegans). Here’s a fun experiment: think of the last time you heard the term “vegan” in your everyday life – did you associate it with a lifestyle that tries to minimize animal suffering, is friendlier to the environment, saves a lot of water, and is quite healthy when done right? I’m betting your initial reaction was a lot more negative than positive. While you read our article, consider that maybe you felt like a vegan does every time a new person learns our dirty little secret that we seek to cause less harm.
Many like to say that vegans shouldn’t tell others how animals are forcibly impregnated, taken from their mothers, killed incredibly early into their lifespan, often slaughtered while often still conscious, etc. Why? This is literally what happens. Vegans aren’t the ones lying about how they’re bred, raised, and killed – unlike the meat industry, which needs to perpetuate the myth of the small-scale, idyllic family farm where cows and pigs hold hands while skipping through the pasture (skipping that whole messy slaughterhouse part altogether) so people will continue to do something that’s completely unnecessary no matter how it’s done.
Pointing out that animal agriculture is the top clearer of rainforests, user/polluter of waterways and oceans, user of antibiotics, as well as a top greenhouse gas emitter and contributing factor to world hunger, is also frowned upon because so many people recycle and do as much as they can for the environment – but not the one thing that’d have the biggest affect – and then they get offended because they feel like vegans are saying their contribution doesn’t matter. Their contribution does matter, but who wouldn’t want to do more every day of your life, multiple times a day, when it’s so easy to do? And apparently letting people know that meat and animal products are also unhealthier than plant-based options is another thing that vegans can’t mention because diets are a “personal choice” (that we all pay for through inflated healthcare costs and widespread environmental consequences).
So I ask you, person-who-knows-what-can-change-your-own-mind, what should we, as vegans, say to you to convince you that a vegan lifestyle is something you should adopt?
I only ask because when you assert that vegans won’t change people’s minds with their current tactics of “in your face” veganism (a.k.a. letting people know what’s happening in the world), it suggests that there is something that vegans can say to change your mind. Or more interestingly, that we’ll change people’s minds by never saying anything about it at all. Being quiet about something isn’t how you raise awareness; just living our lives and letting our example speak for ourselves won’t sway people because there is so much false information out there about veganism along with the deep cognitive dissonance that comes with being an animal lover who eats animals. Should vegans say it “nicer” to you? If so, how do you want to be informed that around 100 billion animals a year are killed strictly for hedonistic reasons? And yes, consumption and use of animal products is hedonistic, because people don’t need their flesh to eat or their skins to wear in order to survive; they do it because it tastes good and it looks good.
We live in a world of cars and computers, where the entirety of human knowledge is in a device we put in our pockets. We’ve got man-made textiles that are vastly superior to leather, down, and fur. We have agricultural, scientific, and dietary knowledge to grow, produce, and harvest all the great-tasting food that humanity needs from the Earth itself, so continuing to exploit animals is archaic. (When Guinness recently announced they’ll discontinue using fish bladders to filter their beer, Lorelei jokingly asked if they finally phased out using whale oil in their lamps too. I mean, what year is it?) And yet people want to glorify the act of intentionally breeding billions and billions of animals to be raised mostly in inhumane conditions and then slaughtered by horrific means because it’s “natural for people to eat meat” and “our ancestors did it.” Take a look around you; what’s natural about your current living situation or reminiscent of how our ancestors lived? And in what other ways do cavemen and women serve as your moral compass?
There’s much more to say, but let me finish with this: are you telling vegans to stop speaking out, or to somehow say it differently, because it makes you uncomfortable to know your lifestyle directly contributes to what we’re being frank about? If that’s the reason, vegans going silent may make you feel better, but it isn’t going to stop the actual events that are making you uncomfortable. If you’re actually upset by what we told you rather than being upset about how we told it, consider thinking about making a change in your diet and lifestyle to help dramatically reduce the amount of damage your current habits are doing to yourself, to animals, and to the planet. Because it won’t kill you. No, really.