Accepting less to achieve more

An alternative approach to vegan outreach

Hannah discusses her experiences as a vegan and society’s preconceptions of those who choose different diets.
Hannah discusses her experiences as a vegan and society’s preconceptions of those who choose different diets. 

It usually takes weeks or even months for someone to find out I’m vegan. It inevitably comes out when I turn down something almost any normal person would accept — Cheetos, ice cream, a burger — or when I have to makeshift my dinner at a restaurant which isn’t very accommodating to dietary restrictions. 

Whenever this happens, I get asked something along the lines of “well, why didn’t you tell me?” This question always puzzles me, as I find myself trapped in a paradox: if I introduce myself along with the fact that I choose to eat plants and not animals, I’m seen as preachy and an overbearing vegan. However, if I don’t offer this information up front, most people are shocked that I didn’t share this large part of my life with them. 

It seems that either way, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place in this situation.

I think the reason many people have a negative knee-jerk reaction to the idea of veganism is that they have had more negative experiences than positive regarding the community and the movement as a whole.

Almost anyone I ask can recount a moment in which they felt judged by someone else in the vegan community — whether online or in-person — for “not being good enough” in regards to their diet and lifestyle. 

This isn’t just towards full-on omnivores. People who are vegetarian still often feel criticized or not fully accepted by many vegans for not completely committing to a plant-based diet. 

A friend of mine who was interested in plant milks and changing up parts of her diet to be more plant-based said she would never go vegan because of how negatively she viewed the community. She feared the aforementioned judgement and criticism that might come her way because she wasn’t cutting out all animal products.

While I believe a large amount of this comes from the online vegan community, I think there are huge ramifications to this environment we’ve created. These results are something we need take seriously. 

We’re detrimentally hurting the vegan cause by rejecting the partial efforts and changes that many people make. While we might not view this as a substantial change, to most, it seems like they are giving up a major part of their identity by making this decision. 

As someone who often likes to think in terms of maximizing results, it’s hard to ignore the numbers. It’s very easy to observe how the aggregation of minor changes in diet and lifestyle across a large group of people does actually amount to a substantial level of impact. 

For example, the Vancouver Humane Society discovered  in 2015, 33 per cent of Canadians were trying to reduce their meat consumption or were fully vegetarian. That’s approximately 12 million people trying to eliminate or reduce how much they eat meat, which is quite a substantial amount.

Because of this, it seems very foolish then to reject those efforts that have a significant impact on our environment and the animals implicated in all of this just because we “wish they could do better.” Instead of condemning those who are still on their own journey, I encourage them to try options that they might be interested in. 

For example, if someone feels like their body reacts poorly to regular milk consumption, I’ll suggest the many dairy-free items they can try and then work to extend that initial interest they have.

This isn’t at all to say that we should stop pushing for change and confronting the general values we hold as a society that are deeply in conflict with our everyday exploitation of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and more. 

The harsh or confrontational manner in which many vegans have inspired change and enlightenment in others isn’t wrong or bad. However, it’s important that we start to re-evaluate the approaches to vegan outreach that we use for different people. 

From my experience, I was personally pushed to cut out dairy and eggs after I watched a video from YouTube Star Freelee the Banana Girl displaying the inherent violence that comes from producing both of these products. 

While the shocking nature of this was the push that I needed to remove these products from my diet, this YouTuber has put a bad taste in many people’s mouths about the vegan community as a whole. 

By being quite unforgiving and critical to others for not following a vegan lifestyle, Freelee has painted the whole community in a negative light. With her harsh tone, it’s not unreasonable to assume that she may dissuade some people from trying to go plant-based at all because they fear a reaction like hers if they make a mistake in their diet.

Our fault as a community lies in the misconception that everyone will respond as we did to an onslaught of information about the reality of eating animal products (the violence, hormones and toxins in the food, environmental destruction etc.) and have a moment of enlightenment. 

In reality, these truths can be extremely difficult to process coming from having the importance of a diet including meat, dairy and eggs drilled into us at a very young age. This means that many people are seriously turned off by a confrontational approach and as a result, continuing down this path won’t be very effective in inspiring positive change at all. 

This is why we need to start approaching the topic with openness and acceptance. We need to begin to accept that it may take one person five years to go from vegetarian to vegan and another person two weeks (myself, being the former). Although someone loves how they feel eating plant milks and cheeses, maybe they can’t give up meat forever. 

If we reject anything but perfection, what do we get? A lot of people who are interested in aspects of a plant-based diet, yet too scared to make any changes. They fear the prospect of assigning themselves the label or fully committing, as this can subject them to harsh criticism if they slip up. 

The underlying view behind this “all-or-nothing” mentality that can be self-sabotaging to our efforts of spreading the vegan message is about taking no part whatsoever in violence against other beings and our earth. 

We need to focus on becoming more accepting towards all levels of commitment to a vegan diet. 

Not only does this help to foster a more open and realistic view of the vegan lifestyle and community, but it’s still effective in bringing about change in people. We know as humans that when we feel accomplished and supported by others at some goal, we want to keep going and pursue that goal, as opposed to when we’re met with criticism and disapproval for the efforts we’re making. 

My bottom line is this: we should never stop championing the fight to end the use and exploitation of animals. They are sentient beings who have their own intrinsic value, and don’t deserve to be treated as mere means to our ends. 

However, when we reject the efforts and participation from those who simply may not ascribe to all of the beliefs and practices we’d like them to, we’re behaving foolishly. We’re rejecting changes that concretely lower our consumption of animal products as a society. 

So keep educating and pushing for change. Let’s just try to remember to practice as much acceptance as we do advocacy, because it really will help us in the long run.

Hannah Stafl is a second-year PPE major.

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