Everyone makes fun of vegans, am I right? Everyone says they’re weak from their lettuce-based diet, miserable from their designated dessert being fruit salad, and smelly from their friendship with cows. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but I do find that there’s an unspoken agreement on the internet, that vegans are to be mocked and disliked. The reasoning behind this agreement seems to be that, while veganism itself is fine, a lot of vegans are obnoxious people. They constantly guilt-trip consumers of meat and dairy, they force their salads and beliefs down everyone else’s throats, and they probably can’t wait to die from a lack of protein so they can move into the private luxury ranches that they believe God has reserved for them in heaven.
Bottom line: Most people don’t mind veganism, but everyone hates arrogant vegans, and think they deserve all the ridicule and vitriol that is directed their way. It’s considered okay to roast the vegan community, because most of its members are so self-righteous and judgmental.
But do you know something strange about self-righteous, judgmental vegans?
I haven’t met any. Not one. I don’t even remember observing one online. The vegans I know are friendly, completely ordinary people, distinguished only by their above-average sympathy for animals. And while they are happy to talk at length about plant-based cooking, and the environmental and health-related benefits thereof, I have never seen one try to impose their philosophy on someone else. I’m being 100% honest. I’m sure they exist, but I have yet to actually find a mean vegan.
Do you know what I do see all the time, though? People complaining about mean vegans. Those are everywhere, in every message board in every corner of the web. And they are vicious. Anyone who dares critique the meat industry is immediately called out for “forcing their agenda on others”. Anyone who expresses a modicum of sympathy for livestock is flooded with “found the vegan” replies. Heck, even in contexts that have nothing to do with veganism or even food, like the comments for the trailer for the new, enigmatic Christopher Nolan movie, I have found unprovoked rants about how the KFC lifestyle is being threatened by the growing group of grass-eaters.
How does this even add up? If actual militant vegans are so rare that I can’t recall ever meeting one, where does the fierce contempt for them come from? Why is everyone so bent on fighting a fundamentalist movement that, in my mind, hardly even exists? Well, I could just be oblivious, but I believe there’s a different explanation. I believe that, deep down, we all feel guilty about eating meat and dairy. Why? Because everyone empathizes with animals to an extent, and everyone with half a mind is concerned about the effects of the animal industry on the planet. But we suppress that guilt, because we enjoy our current diet so much, and because the suffering and pollution caused by that diet are not immediately visible to us. However, when we spot a vegan, the guilt resurfaces. Regardless of what the vegan actually says or does, the mere knowledge of their diet reminds us of the animals we eat, of the Earth we are harming, of the entire unpleasant reality that we subconsciously fight to ignore during every meal of the day. And that’s a horrible feeling. Guilt is painful in and of itself, and guilt that has been locked away only to be abruptly released is absolute agony.
Thus, as a defense mechanism, we delude ourselves into thinking most vegans are jerks. We say to ourselves: “I can keep eating meat and dairy if I like, because at least I’m not a jerk about it, like vegans are. I’m not forcing them to bow to Burger King, the way they want me to pledge myself to the plant kingdom. I can ignore them, I can laugh at them, because they’re just fundamentalists who are trying to make me feel guilty. God, these nuggets are good. What was I thinking about again?”
There is a general lesson to be learned here, I think: We should not be so quick to condemn movements as fundamentalist. Don’t get me wrong, fundamentalist movements obviously exist, like Nazism and the Taliban. But there is a treacherous comfort inherent to the label: It gives us an excuse not to listen. When we have decided to brand someone we disagree with a fundamentalist, we absolve ourselves of the responsibility to figure out if they actually have a point. And that’s a dangerous thing to do. We should only use the F-word when we’re certain that it applies, and never out of laziness or unwillingness to face difficult emotions. 🙂
Back to vegans. Perhaps I’m wrong about them. Perhaps they are every bit as dogmatic and insufferable as the carnivores claim, and I just haven’t been hanging out on the right websites to see it. Perhaps there is a whole Subreddit where they revel in their moral superiority and coordinate spam attacks of tear-jerking slaughterhouse photos. Perhaps we should totally just laugh them off. Please, send me links, screenshots, anecdotes, any form of evidence for the legitimacy of the holier-than-thou vegan stereotype. I want to get to the bottom of this. But for now, I’m sticking with my theory: Very few vegans are actually haughty and militant, but they spur painful feelings in all of us, and we instinctively demonize and delegitimize them in response. Let’s stop that, together! Deep down, we know that eating plants will help save our future. Veganism is a crucial movement, and we must support it however we can, not dismiss it as a subculture with a superiority complex. Yes, the guilt it brings is painful. Believe me, I know. But we can get through the guilt by taking small steps away from meat and dairy, rather than trying to suffocate it with a combination of said products and misplaced contempt.
I suppose I should conclude this post by clarifying that I’m not a vegan myself. I am, however, a vegetarian. So yeah, no luxury ranch for me, but my house in heaven will have a swimming pool, unlike yours.