Found the vegan.
It’s a weird phenomenon, but many people act so very strangely when the term ‘vegan’ is brought into conversation. The mere mention of the word brings with it a wave of sudden nutritional concern (where do you get your protein?), some self-justification in order to continue with one’s own eating habits (I could never go vegan myself due to *insert reason here*) and, sometimes, some rather tasteless jokes about bacon (it’s like a high-five for my mouth!). Vegans are often said to be ‘extreme’ in their choices. They’re labelled as angry, nutrient-deficient humans whose only joy in life is to pass judgement on others who do not share their beliefs. My source for this information? I have represented each one of these people over the years and I am struggling with coming to terms that I may be in danger of becoming that angry vegan.
This post won’t focus on the health benefits of veganism, but will instead try to explore why vegans can come across as angry or bitter. As someone who put off considering themselves a vegan for as long as possible, due to the baggage that the word seems to carry with it, World Vegan Day feels like an appropriate time to unpack those bags and see what’s lurking inside.
Why are meat eaters so angry about veganism?
Those living in the UK may currently be following the popular baking show called The Great British Bakeoff, which brings together a group of baking enthusiasts each week to test their skills based around a different theme. Think bread week, cake week, pastry week. In October, the show featured its first ever vegan week. Public reaction was mixed and ranged from the supportive, to the confused, to the infuriated. Such an emotive response to eggless, butterless cakes!
Meanwhile, France have taken the rising trend of veganism and vegetarianism into their own hands by passing laws prohibiting meat-like imitation foods from being labelled as such to ‘avoid misrepresentation’, while the head of the FDA in the USA spends his time valiantly targeting the labels of non-dairy milk products due to an almond’s lack of ability to lactate (really). A rather odd move considering public demand is causing supermarket shelves to be increasingly filled with plant-based milks and cheeses … not to mention the continued existence of peanut butter and coconut milk.
Veganism has been edging its way from the fringes of acceptance to a more mainstream societal norm for years, and has understandably resulted in some pushback from skeptics and traditionalists who don’t see a meatless dish as a real meal. Whatever your current culinary choices may be, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that our meat-heavy diets are having a horrible impact on the environment. Our dinners are loaded with more guilt than ever before.
So why are vegans so angry about animal agriculture?
We are deeply empathetic, social creatures. We display unreserved love for our friends, our families, and our four-legged animals. We baulk at the world’s injustices and we strive to treat one another as we wish to be treated. We are forgiving, we show compassion, and yet our cognitive dissonance is astounding. We find the annual Yulin dog meat festival abhorrent, signing the petition in our millions to call for its closure, but we salivate at the thought of a juicy ribeye steak, succulent rack of ribs or delicate lobster fresh from the pot. We change the names of the food on our plates to disassociate the product from the animal it once was; turning a pig into pork and a calf into veal helps us to ignore the level of needless suffering that goes into each and every delicious meal.
At some level, we all know how horrible and unnatural the animal agriculture industry has become. We understand that meat comes from animals, and that those animals have been bred into existence for humans to use, live shortened lives spent in captivity that abruptly end in violence. We pay more for free-range, organic, cage-free and pasture-fed products because we do care about animal welfare and are told that these products are better for the animals. But marketing is sales-oriented and guidelines for labelling is unclear. True pasture fed also has a greater environmental impact per individual, and even the happiest of cows end up at the same slaughterhouses as those that have been factory farmed.
We don’t have to go far to find out the information for ourselves. A quick Google search will unveil the unpalatable effects our obsession with meat is having on our health, the animals and the planet. Ask any vegan how many conversations they have had with curious meat-eaters that begin with the reasons for their choices, and swiftly end once they start to share those reasons. And it is important to note that the overwhelming majority of vegans were once well-meaning meat eaters too; innocently unknowing or willfully ignoring the impact of their decisions.
We perform ceremonies in order to sit more comfortably with our choices, like the US President’s bizarre ritual of pardoning a turkey every Thanksgiving. We envisage these lucky birds living out their lives on a farm somewhere, but, as usual, their reality is much more grim. We feed these animals in such a way that maximises weight gain as quickly as possible so we can kill them and get them onto our dinner tables. The birds that are pardoned don’t live very long as their bodies have not evolved to sustain the weight they are forced to carry. What a sad representation of the cultural traditions we treasure.
We owe it to the planet
We are currently living through the earth’s sixth mass extinction, the last of which was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. 86% of all land mammals are either livestock or humans. And livestock are very inefficient at converting food to calories; meat and dairy provides around 18% of calories, but uses 83% of farmland and is the second largest contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of this process is having a massive effect on the planet. October’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report leaves no room for interpretation; climate change is happening now, and we have 12 years to limit its catastrophic effects. What is more worrying is that the landmark Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations does not go far enough.
The Paris Agreement pledged to keep temperature rise between 1.5°C and 2°C, but the seemingly small difference in half a degree of warming means some pretty significant changes for the planet. It means the ensured permanent loss of all the world’s coral reefs. It means 10 million more people affected by sea level rise. This half a degree will bring with it more droughts, more floods, more extreme heatwaves and, ultimately, a substantial increase in poverty and misery for hundreds of millions of people. With countries like the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and presidential candidates like Brazil’s far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro threatening to do the same in favour of opening the Amazon to agribusiness, our governments are clearly not unified in their dedication to safeguard the little blue-green planet we call home.
This pessimistic, alarmist outlook may sound like a broken record by now, but that is because these issues matter right down to the very fundamental core of our existence. It’s overwhelming and deeply distressing to acknowledge what we are doing to our planet, but there is a fix: we need to change our habits. We can no longer sit here as armchair activists, signing copious online petitions whilst simultaneously burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the impact of our own choices. Individual responsibility is everything; it might not feel like the choice to buy plant over animal makes even a tiny shred of difference, but if 1,000,000 people make that same choice each time they enter a supermarket, the demand drops and the supply must logically follow.
Yes, one person can make a difference
In a world where the President of the United States can accuse climate scientists of having a ‘political agenda’ as a way to weasel out of his own nation’s responsibilities, it would seem that individual choices matter more than ever before. History has shown us that governments have always been a little behind on public opinion; the status quo is much easier to maintain than instilling positive change.
This shift is happening; veganism has moved from a novel anomaly to a global movement led by millenials that shows more and more people choosing plants over animals. People are making the choice to reduce their meat consumption with strategies that range from meatless Mondays, to flexitarianism, to eating plant-based meals before 6.
We don’t all have to turn into tree-hugging purists that place an animal’s life at equal value to that of a human’s (although you can if that’s your jig, and placing its value higher than that of your taste buds would be nice). We just need to consciously acknowledge the impact that our choices have on the systems that surround us. When we choose to buy meat, we must accept the processes our money is funding in order to supply it. From the individual being that was bred only to be slaughtered at 6 weeks (chickens), 6 months (pigs), or 4 years (dairy cows), to the habitat destruction and species loss from keeping livestock, ecosystem dead zones that result from agricultural runoff, and the carbon footprint the process carries. But hey. It’s just one steak, right? What’s the harm?
About The Author: Natalie Weekes is a freelance writer currently based in Nova Scotia, Canada. With a background in Marine Biology, her passions lie in sustainability, conservation, health and education. When she is not outside in nature, she can usually be found creating things, researching, and connecting with others around the world. Tweet @TheLostMollusc.