When I first became vegan, I didn’t realize that I also had to figure out what type of vegan I was going to be. I thought I was just eliminating animal products from my life. It soon became clear, however, that being vegan carries with it a responsibility to advocate for animals and a cruelty-free world. This is especially true when you are passionate about veganism.
But how you go about advocating can shape your vegan identity more than does just being vegan itself. Are you going to be a happy vegan or an angry vegan? A welfarist or an abolitionist? Are you going to advocate from the viewpoint of ethics, health, the environment or a combination of them all? Will you protest, leaflet, boycott, create recipes, wear t-shirts or get a tattoo? There are many ways to advocate and each one is valid. How you advocate may depend greatly on your personality, passion, social circle, age, location and many other factors.
Personally, I struggled for a couple of years with this question. I became a vegetarian after watching “Meet Your Meat.” For me, that in-your-face, confrontational method worked best. I watched that movie and there was no place to hide, no more room for my denial of what really happens to animals simply to give me the food I wanted to eat. But for other people, the confrontational approach doesn’t work while a softer, gentler one might. I responded to the PETA approach while Tom was more comfortable with that of Vegan Outreach.
At the beginning, I went to protests. I marched, chanted, stopped people on the street and got signatures for petitions. But I was never comfortable with the protestors who yelled at passersby, verbally assaulting those wearing leather or fur coats. I didn’t think this was an effective way of getting anyone to stop and listen. I certainly wouldn’t be inclined to stop and chat with someone screaming at me on the street. For me, I felt I got more of people’s attention when I smiled and engaged them in friendly conversation, when I took the time to educate rather than judge.
Over time, as being vegan became effortless to me, I made sure to never forget the struggles I had in the beginning. There are many advocates who tell people they should go vegan all at once, that it’s simple, that there is no excuse not to. They judge the meat-eaters in their lives and some even cut them out of their lives completely, even family. Sometimes it seems like they forget they too were once meat-eaters living in denial, that there was a time when they too didn’t understand everything about veganism or knew where they were going to get their protein from. I mean, I used to think protein and iron came from meat, calcium from milk. Had anyone mocked me or called me stupid rather than kindly educate me, I might have abandoned the journey.
For me, the type of vegan I want to be is epitomized in one woman, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. She is the author of many amazing cookbooks including The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table, Color Me Vegan, The Vegan’s Daily Companion and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. Colleen is the founder of Compassionate Cooks and has the very popular podcast, Food for Thought. Mostly, I love that Colleen has made people associate Veganism with joy and love.
So many people think of sacrifice, sadness and anger when they hear the term “Vegan” but Colleen, through her books and her podcasts, shows how to be a Joyful Vegan. She fights the fight and defends the animals, all while promoting respect, patience and the type of activism that gets people to listen, rather than turn away.
As an example, here is one of my favorite pieces of advice from Colleen (shortened for space) about how to respond when you’re asked the same question over and over again:
“However many times I’ve heard it, I try and treat each question as if I’m being asked for the very first time; in fact, I really am being asked for the very first time – by the person asking it. Each interaction is unique. I believe we have a responsibility to respond to every question we get with grace, humility, and truth, even to a question we’ve heard a million times. That may be the first time that person is asking that question. You may be the first vegan he’s ever met.
Whether we like it or not, if we’re the vegan someone comes to, we represent all vegans. He may write off veganism altogether if he finds that we’re just not interested in talking about it or if we make him feel silly or self-conscious for asking questions. If instead, we treat a question as if we’re hearing it for the first time, and our answer is genuine and enthusiastic, the person asking feels engaged and empowered. In some ways, the specific question he’s asking is less important than the way we answer it. Aim to engage people – not alienate them.”
Exactly! What purpose is there in being rude, snarky or sarcastic? Why insult and judge meat-eaters? We were once them! I find it extremely sad to think that the people who call themselves my friends would just as easily have judged, ridiculed or hated me 4 years ago because I had not yet shed my denial. Are they my friends only because I’m vegan? Are the friendships based solely on what I do and don’t eat? What a sad thought.
Even sadder is how much some vegans fight with and judge each other! Someone isn’t “vegan enough,” someone isn’t eating healthy enough, someone is using the wrong oil, the wrong sugar, the wrong cat food. Arguments arise over fresh vs. packaged foods, raw vs. cooked foods, whether or not to eat vegan “mock” meats, whether to buy vegan products from non-vegan companies, or whether someone with an illness should throw away their medications and just drink green juice! Should you spend all your time and effort doing vegan education and conversion, is it wrong to care about dogs in shelters or single-issue causes like fur or hunting, can you just attend a dinner with family or a group of friends and not feel obligated to hand out leaflets and promote vegan education? It goes on and on and the negativity can weigh so much, I often feel like I am drowning in it.
Saddest of all is when I hear my friends say they are giving up the label of “vegan” because they have been told that for whatever reason, they are not vegan enough or not a “real” vegan. This has even happened to people I consider vegan heroes, people who have made significant accomplishments in the vegan world. They feel like they have somehow failed the test to be part of some exclusive club, they feel ostracized, judged and have been found to be lacking. For them, the “V” word has become a negative term, just like it is for so many non-vegans. This is exactly the opposite of what we are supposed to be working towards!
I love being a vegan. I love the word “vegan.” I think I say it a thousand times a day. It is part of my identity and there is no way I would let others take it away from me. I earn the privilege of calling myself a vegan because I live a vegan life, not because others have deemed me worthy of the title.
And I know exactly what kind of vegan I want to be: a kind vegan, a happy vegan, a joyful vegan, a patient vegan, a non-judgmental vegan, a compassionate vegan. Funny, to me this all sounds redundant because when I hear the term “vegan,” these are the adjectives that instantly come to my mind. These are the adjectives that describe the majority of the vegans I know and love who are filled with passion and compassion!
I want to fight for animal liberation and for better treatment of animals too. I want to fight for the chickens, cows and pigs as well as the shelter dogs and cats. I want to protest fur, boycott companies and educate about veganism. I want to show the world that vegan food is healthy and delicious whether it’s a raw salad or deep-fried jalapeno poppers. I want no one to ever feel hesitant to ask me a question for fear that I might respond with ridicule, sarcasm or judgment.
I want the same thing I said I wanted back in August 2009 when I began this blog, “Becoming a vegan is my proudest accomplishment. It has given my life a new sense of purpose and direction. I want others to feel that same way. I want to help bring the “V” word into the mainstream and let vegan voices speak out loud and proud!” Loud, proud and nice. I just want us all to be nice to each other.
Many paths can lead to the same destination. We are all working towards the same goal. The animals do not benefit from us fighting with each other. They count on us to come together as one strong united force to fight for their lives – each and every single one of us, each of us in our own unique way!
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.