Vegan for a reason
Hey kids. FGV is on a rant.
Have you noticed the rise in bloggers and commentators trying to tell us that when we draw a line in the sand with our veganism that we refuse to cross, we are doing a lot of harm to the vegan movement? Some of these bloggers even go as far to suggest to that being an inflexible (i.e. dedicated) vegan contributes to the suffering of animals.
How do they arrive at this conclusion?
The idea some pundits are spouting runs something like this: if we make veganism appear a difficult choice to embrace with rigid humourless rules, people won’t want to go vegan therefore we are responsible for them eating animals.
Enough of this bullshit!
I have been vegan for approximately 16 years and I’m sure if you ask my friends to name one thing they admire about me, they would probably say something related to me standing up and being vocal for what I believe in.
So instead of eating food that your friend made with dairy cheese, nibbling egg-riddled birthday cake in the office or drinking an isinglass conditioned beer shoved under your snout at a party, take a few seconds to consider what your choices mean to you. Remind yourself of the wonderful moment when you decided to reduce harm by adopting a vegan lifestyle.
Turn a non-vegan offer of food and drink into an opportunity to stand firm in your decision to live compassionately. Your friends, family and co-workers will understand and be supportive (this might take a bit of time in some cases). Anybody who ridicules or rejects you when you offer a polite explanation of your choices is not someone you want to hang around anyway. People who love you will fall in line because they love you.
Of course there will be the occasional snarky comment and passive aggressive eye roll but as it is with most forms of insult giving, this is really about that person and how they are managing their own sense of self worth.
Plus, we are vegan to challenge one of the most systemic and pervasive injustices in the history of the planet. We are going to get kick back because our veganism is a contradiction to every single thing people have been socialised into thinking is right. It can be tough to be the only vegan person in your circle, but I truly believe we have more chance of spreading compassion by standing steadfast and leading by example.
Victories for animals are hard won. They are not coerced out of people by us being apologetic or non-verbal about our vegan choices.
Here are some examples of how and when you can politely turn down a non-vegan offering. These situations are real and they happened to me:
Before I was a blogger, I was a primary school teacher. You might think handing back non-vegan end-of-year presents to parents is the highest form of insult but every time I did, it ended up being a friendly conversation with genuine goodwill expressed by both sides.
One gift consisted of a container of expensive cheese. I waited until the young person was out of earshot before expressing my gratitude to the parent for having been thought of by their family. I explained it was because they were so kind that I felt they would understand and appreciate me being honest why I wouldn’t eat the cheese and that I would rather it didn’t go to waste.
The parent was gracious and appreciative of my honesty. The next day, the student arrived with a vegan-friendly gift and spoke to me of the conversation that took place in their home the night before. He had discovered what vegan means and why some people don’t eat animals. Other students picked up on this conversation and they all wanted to know more. Some of the savvier kids asked about my shoes and this gave me the platform to sensitively explain how veganism ran through every decision I made, even my shoes.
When the next teacher gift-giving season rolled around, every single gift from my students was vegan-friendly. Yes, my stance resulted in less animal products being purchased! Parents would often tell me about a vegan meal they had been served or a new cafe near them that was serving vegan cake.
I won’t lie and say I unflinchingly turned down that first present, but look at the upside of that situation!
During a holiday a few years back, Josh and I booked into an AirBnB lodging and found the host had left cheese for us in the fridge. Yes, cheese again! Knowing that we would be staying longer than the life of the cheese, I messaged the host to explain we wouldn’t eat the cheese due to our vegan status. The host was appreciative to get the cheese back before it spoiled and also inundated me with a massive list of vegan options in the area he had discovered thanks to vegan friends.
Josh and I were invited to a party in Los Angeles many years ago. It was in a super cool part of town with industry types and plenty of wannabe industry types.
I reached out to the host before arriving to check if I could bring my own beer. He said there was no need as beer was already bought in. I explained why I wanted to bring my own beer and he was super happy for me to bring a carton along. In fact, he was worried that he hadn’t thought of his vegan guests in this regard before.
He proceeded to march around the party after my arrival to explain there was now vegan beer available if anyone wanted a can! There were a lot of funny, engaging and friendly conversations about vegan beer that night.
In my role as a party planner, I am often having to explain vegan food and drink choices to bar and pub owners. This can be a tough situation but I’ve never once been turned away or ridiculed.
The only real kick back I see is when managers feel embarrassed that they don’t know what vegan means and how it relates to alcohol.
I never make them feel bad for not knowing and I go out of my way to assure them it is the norm for them not to know. I always offer to go through their drinks list with or for them, marking whatever I know is suitable for vegans. In some cases, this has resulted in the establishment keeping a separate vegan drinks menu for whenever it is needed.
Barnivore is a brilliant online resource for checking the vegan status of drinks and a craft beer shop in Leeds even has it opened permanently on their store computer for the very purpose of helping vegans shop for beer. I’ve recommended it to bar managers who have then written the URL on the chalkboard for future reference.
If we make excuses or keep our compassion hidden to stop other people from feeling confronted or challenged, we will make less progress in our fight to improve outcomes for animals. I sincerely believe we need to be visible and vocal.
Stand strong and assured in your veganism. Be kind and compassionate to non-vegans when you explain your stance. Resist the pressure to do something you really don’t feel comfortable with just because you don’t want to give veganism a bad name.
Live true to your beliefs, treat people with dignity, and work hard to reduce harm whenever possible. Do all of this and you will be the best advertisement for veganism the world has ever seen.
You can be unapologetically vegan AND a nice person who people admire. I’ve seen it done. xx
Excellent post. Our main weapon in this fight is our voice and if we silence it through fear of putting someone out or offending someone, then that is an injustice. As you mention, one can speak up for veganism and the animals in a polite and open manner, it certainly doesn’t have to be rude or critical.
Glad to read this. Just lately I have felt like a lone voice when I’ve been arguing against so many vegan sites on FB telling me how great it is that ‘Quorn’ is now ‘vegan friendly’. Whenever I point out that it only exists because it was developed using animal testing and factory farmed eggs I am told that if it ‘helps’ people go vegan it must be a good thing…… Seriously, I’ve been vegan for 40 years and I didn’t need ‘Quorn’ and there’s a heck of a lot more alternatives around now than there was then… why are people so accepting of this vile product?
Thank you. Quorn is one of my most dreaded products, the sight of it makes me shudder.
Vegetarian 32 years, now vegan 5 months,
wouldnt touch quorn when I vegetarian, awful, awful product.
I haven’t noticed this trend! Could you give some examples?
I don’t want to send anymore traffic to their blogs!
There’s a variety of them and I’m one of them. I posted an article about how I allowed my 5-year-old child to keep his self-described vegan identity even if he chose to eat nonvegan cake at a friend’s birthday party. The vegan police attacked and said that I shouldn’t allow him to be described as vegan anymore and that I wasn’t even vegan if I allow my son to eat a few nonvegan things now and then, despite the fact that my son chooses vegan over nonvegan almost all the time AND clearly demonstrates a vegan ethic in his general life (eg he can empathize with animals and he thinks it’s morally wrong to hurt them).
For us, we found that people respond much more positively when they see that we’ve given our son a choice about whether or not he is vegan. (I wish all parents actually gave their children the same choice by educating them about their options and providing them with delicious vegan meals, but instead, most parents simply lie to their children about food choices and animal cruelty.) And our son responds better too. He feels good about choosing vegan foods, he feels proud and happy about it. If I didn’t give him the choice, he wouldn’t have that sense of pride.
The spectrum is wide and there are a number of ways to deal with situations that may challenge some people’s veganism. Whatever method you choose is up to you. I love the suggestions above. But they don’t work for every personality at every age in every era in every region in every instance. Those of us advocating for a flexible definition are NOT suggesting that food labels can be flexible. If it says “vegan” on the label it better not contain ANY animal ingredients. But we are saying that people can self-identify as vegan if they choose even if they have relapses or minor “cheats.” Letting nearly vegan people self-define as vegan IS good for the movement and good for animals. That last point is actually not debateable, it’s just a fact.
Thank you for this post! It has reinforced my stance on this. When someone advises “just drink the beer,” we’re being told to keep quiet. Statements like that deny the ethics of veganism. It’s not about the act, but rather the approach. If we approach these situations with compassion and respect, then we can have open and honest dialogue to explain why we’re vegan and how it impacts our personal choices.
Also, thank you for the examples you’ve shared! Many of us can take your lead in handling social situations without (much) discomfort.
A wonderful post and one which I’ve been considering writing from a slightly different angle – one in which some vegans think it’s ok to eat supposedly ‘vegan’ products from companies such as Unilever who test on animals, and to tell new vegans this is ok, so as not to scare them. I don’t believe that these products are vegan because they come from a parent company who animal tests. And I don’t believe it’s therefore ok to use/eat them, just because they are vegan by ingredients.
I like your approach in which you are gracious about it when offered something non-vegan and standing your ground politely, but I think that the whole reason that this has become an issue is because so many vegans (particularly new vegans) are total jerks about it.
Here’s an example that does not lead to a blog – https://youtu.be/GiEpWaJhUWE
Thank you for writing this. You have shown there is no false dilemma between maintaining a vegan principle and being personable and communicating it effectively without putting people off. These blogs seem to assume everyone is announcing by-products aren’t vegan in their best Brian Blessed voice and berating their hosts etc. It doesn’t have to be a public thing anyway, we can look up ingredients in our own time in private then stick to brands we know etc. Thanks for looking for solutions rather than ways in which non-vegan choices are the only acceptable answer due to a ‘gotcha’ situation.
Absolutely fricking spot on – we don’t need to make it look easy, we need to normalise the act of aligning actions with values.
If being vegan meant eating grey tasteless slop I’d still implore everyone to do it, fortunately we have an incredible range of choices and it’s barely an inconvenience.
This is exactly the sentence I’ve been looking for when having discussions with meat eaters 🙂 “If being vegan meant eating grey tasteless slop I’d still implore everyone to do it, fortunately we have an incredible range of choices and it’s barely an inconvenience.” So on point!
The Belgian just doesn’t get it.
oh yeah. and blablabla. fuck you, fuck animals, fuck everything. don’t eat at all. eating kills.
ohhhh, dear, the language! so erudite – um, NOT
YES!!!!! I’m a very firm believer in leading by example and have become quite well-versed in all the various situations we run into as vegans in my 17 years veg. Thanks for the excellent post and for leading by example as a compassionate, passionate vegan.
Great post, much needed and very true.
I’ve just started experimenting with declining to eat at tables where others are eating meat, eggs or cheese (I’m being flexible on drops of milk and butter), or going to buffets. I thought I was putting myself into the extremist camp, but have been bowled over by the positive responses, much like the examples above. I’m on a learning curve on how to do this and being gentle with myself and others whilst I develop the skills and turns of phrase needed. But it’s going good, my first test was drinks after work with a few of the guys. I hadn’t yet outed myself when the idea of food came up. I explained there was a hitch, I was happy to leave, we could skip food, or they could eat vegan. The paused response was, “ok, but you’ll have to help us.” Worrying this meant turning a blind eye I asked what he meant and got the reply, “well, you’ll need to tell us what’s vegan on the menu.” We had a good meal and pretty good conversation, though “what about the plants” came up too much.
So yes, “hard core” can work with the right attitude and skills. I’m not prepared to bystand someone getting beaten up, or making sexist, racist or homophobic slurs, and I’m not prepared to bystand on what should be a criminalised activity. Like all of the above, it takes time and dedication to learn how to intevene appropriately.
I am a primary school teacher and, as I only became vegan 5 months ago, I have been dreading the onset of Xmas and those little gifts that the kids bring in.
In the summer, with my previous class, I had only just gone vegan so I accepted their gifts (I teach 6 and 7 year olds so would not want to upset them!) and my family (not vegan -not even vegetarian) enjoyed them instead.
This term, with my new class, I have already mentioned that I am vegan and a brief explanation as to what that means in a way a 6 year old can understand it, plus, as we have a fairly ‘nosey’ parent community (!), when I was asked what I was doing over half term I told them I was off to the vegan festival in wolverhampton. Obviously this was followed up with their ‘are you vegan then?’ question, to which I made it absolutely clear that I was! Knowing our school community, that little bit of info will fly through the parents of my class so I hope there will be good outcomes at Xmas!
Having said that, I would much rather the parents gave me nothing and instead spent more quality time with their kids, reading with them, practising times tables and learning to count using money because the ‘gift’ would not only help their child but make my job a lot easier in class.
I have also been approached by 8 members of school staff who are interested in veganism so with a bit of luck I might even manage to help others make the switch too!