I have no intention of blindly extolling the virtues of every vegan. Like the general population, some vegans are overweight, unhealthy, lacking manners, uneducated, ephemeral, misinformed, uninformed, and rudderless. Vegans are not perfect. At the same time, vegans’ actions tend to reflect compassion towards the issues that matter to them, not solely in theory but also in practice. If you eat animals and you had an unproductive or unflattering encounter with a vegan, it’s a mistake to extrapolate your experience to the entire population. That tactic is often used by people who consume animals to let themselves off the hook by demonizing vegans and the movement. By and large, vegans care deeply and have pure intentions. I know a lot of them and I don’t know any with ulterior motives.
Sometimes I hear people dismiss vegans as radical or fanatic. In some circles, the word has a negative connotation like “hippie” or “emo.” Fortunately, as people learn the truth about factory farming, the fur trade, experiments on animals, and other acts of cruelty, the perception changes. As vegans, it’s important for us to communicate our message in a way that aspiring vegans find welcoming and plausible. That is our challenge. As with any movement before the sensibility of it has been fully realized, expect resistance.
Where does some of the rage and impatience originate in vegans? It’s probably rooted in the fact that the reasons for which we became vegans are problems that can be solved. As soon as people flip a switch in their mind and make simple changes in their lives, they can transition from someone who contributes to land degradation, water and air pollution, a loss of biodiversity, world hunger, and the confinement, abuse and slaughter of animals to someone who no longer supports these acts. There is no magic required.
Understandably, sometimes vegans’ frustrations get the better of them when non-vegans offer trite replies such as “I could never give up chicken” after watching a video or reading a book about the horrors of factory farming even though companies make delicious cruelty-free alternatives. A vegan has likely seen a chicken inhumanely confined, diseased, debeaked, scalded, skinned, and shredded alive so when the animal eater’s response and the imagery collide, it may cause a visceral reaction in the vegan that causes anger to trump reason. To care so much is a fault worth little criticism although it is prudent to stay focused on the goal which must always be the animals’ best interests.
When people say they’re volunteering to end child abuse, poverty, crime, cancer, or working to improve other social conditions, their fellow citizens typically embrace, admire, and celebrate their efforts even if they don’t join them. It’s rare that they’re ever called overzealous no matter how significant their involvement. Why is it that vegans are so often harshly criticized, mocked, and ostracized? Where does the backlash originate? People who eat animals sometimes use the criticism as a defense mechanism to justify their complacency because unlike the other aforementioned issues such as child abuse where non-vegans are unlikely the cause of the problem, they realize that when it comes to the issues vegans work to improve, people who consume animals play a pivotal role. Vegans’ words strike a chord and people who eat animals don’t like it. They understand the meaning of a carbon footprint or the unwatchable death of an animal and they don’t want to confront the reality that they are part of the problem so they seek to sully the credibility of vegans.
When someone advocates fighting crime, it’s easy for people to jump on the bandwagon if they’re not engaged in felonious activity. It’s much harder if they’re knowingly complicit in the act for which vegans seek to resolve. Time and time again, however, we know people who make the transition tell us with heavy hearts, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I will never eat animals again. I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself.” We know exactly how they feel.
How do we overcome the dilemma of those who refuse to change? We must recognize non-vegans’ motives and remain patient and persistent and continue to inform ourselves and others about the realities of factory farming and its impact on animals, people, and the planet. I’m an abolitionist but I’m also a realist. While ending factory farming and allowing animals to live their lives unfettered by the human hand is our goal, we must not dismiss incremental success if the only other choice is no progress at all. It’s a hard reality to accept in the face of brutality on such a massive scale. It is, however, our reality and to deny the scope of the problem and the effort it will take to eradicate it in its entirety is to lack vision about what it will require to reach the end goal.
We must carry ourselves with dignity and recognize that our detractors will work hard to find fault with us in order to paint us as fanatics. We must not give them the opportunity. We must work smart and hard. We must stick together. There is too much infighting in the movement that doesn’t serve the best interests of animals. We must be willing to ask ourselves tough questions such as “Is what I’m doing positively impacting animals?” We must hold ourselves to high standards even in the face of conduct unbecoming and be willing to endure ridicule and abuse knowing that the animals suffer a much worse fate than hurtful words.
You will be called crazy and extreme. You are not. They will say you are a naive fool. You are not. They will tell you to get a life. Few people live a more meaningful one. You are heroes for a cause as important as any in the history of the world — the systematic and needless confinement, torture, and slaughter of billions of animals, the destruction of our environment, millions of people dying from human health conditions caused by eating animals and the effects of industrial farming, and millions more dying of starvation because grain that could save them is wasted on animals. You are fighting against enormous odds, including a foe in the powerful agricultural industry that will spare no expense to continue duping the public into believing a web of lies about the realities of eating animals and the nature of agribusiness. Recent efforts by agribusiness to make it illegal to film animal abuse in their factories provide ample evidence that you are making progress.
When the thought of the suffering becomes too much to bear, know that your passion offers hope, your activism has changed and saved lives, and you are not alone. Keep holding those signs, keep handing out leaflets, keep sharing those videos, keep boycotting, keep talking to your friends and family, keep signing petitions, keep calling your legislators, keep educating yourself, keep holding fundraisers, keep supporting animal sanctuaries and other non-profit organizations, and keep making the world a more humane place. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. I hear you, the people hear you, and most of all, the animals hear you. You’re making a difference. The world is changing. You’re changing it.
Where there is a vegan, there is compassion, hope, an evolved mind, and a conscience at peace. This is who you are, it is who you will always be, and I will die singing your praises for gracing this earth. History will never forget you. We will get there. Stay strong.
Andrew Kirschner, Ed.D., is a grassroots vegan animal rights activist. He writes a zero-profit blog, Kirschner’s Korner, to help raise awareness about issues affecting the global community to make the world a more humane place. To receive new articles via email, enter your email in the “Follow Blog Via Email” link at the top right of the blog.