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The trouble with vegans

Trouble_vegansLong time vegetarian and recent concert to veganism, Peter Hackney, has just one problem with being a vegan: sour-faced, irritating, sanctimonious vegans.

I’ve been a vegetarian for five years and for the last year or so I’ve been what vegan authors Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina have called ‘near vegan’.

In recent weeks I’ve taken the next step to become a true vegan, finally eliminating all animal products and by-products from my diet, my wardrobe and all other aspects of my life.

And I feel great.

I feel lighter (physically and mentally), I have more energy, I feel fresher and younger and more positive, and I feel good about living a life that – as far as possible – doesn’t harm other beings and is good for me too!

There’s just one thing I don’t like about veganism.


Sanctimonious, cliquey, sour-faced, irritating vegans.

Of course, I’m generalising here. There are exceptions to the above description of vegans. For example, the Editor-in-Chief of this magazine is a wonderfully life-affirming, positive person and a great advertisement for vegans.

I’ve never met Dan Mathews, the vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but judging by his book Committed: A Rabble-Rouser’s Memoir, he’s another shining light among vegans. And quite handsome, I must say!

By and large, though, I’ve never met a more dour lot than vegans.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Recently, I was at a party in West End, the scruffy centre of all things alternative in Brisbane.

The host introduced me at one point to two other vegans at the soiree, a lesbian couple. (I guess he thought that being queer and vegan we’d have lots in common. Wrong!)

“How long have you been a vegan?” asked one of the lesbians aggressively.

“I’m new to it,” I told her, adding that I’d been vegetarian for years and drifting towards it for quite a while.

“I’ve been a vegan for 10 years,” she snapped.

After a couple of minutes of boring what-do-you-dos, the other girl asked with sudden ferocity: “Do you eat sugar?”

Then, before I could reply: “Because you’re not a vegan if you eat sugar. It’s made with charcoal from animal bones.”

Actually, that’s not necessarily true: it’s only white cane sugar that’s filtered using activated charcoal, which can be derived from animal bones (and in Australia, usually isn’t).

Just to make sure, I’ve switched to brown sugar. Not that I have much of that anyway – I only use it in my one coffee per day (one teaspoon per cup).

But that wasn’t good enough for my Sapphic sisters who muttered something about “fake vegans”.

I quickly moved on and found some friendlier, more interesting people to engage with. But it rattled me for a few minutes that vegans could act this way towards fellow vegans.

Since when has being a vegan been a competition?

Of course, it would be a mistake to make assumptions about all vegans on the basis of these two lovely ladies. But sadly, they don’t seem atypical.

Last year, when I was still ‘just’ a vegetarian, I was told off in no uncertain terms by a vegan for being a fan of Kylie Minogue. Now, I admit that I’m going off Kylie a bit and I prefer her ’90s and early 2000s music – but it wasn’t Ms Minogue’s musical output that had this vegan in a flap.

Kylie, you see, has worn costumes with feathers in them, and was once snapped carrying a snakeskin handbag (or it looked like one anyway – we don’t know for sure).

By supporting Kylie, I was apparently complicit in killing animals.

Ridiculous! Me being a vegetarian (then) or a vegan (now), the point is the same: it’s  about what I do. It is about the choices I make about what I personally buy or consume.

Yesterday, when catching the bus to work, I noticed that the driver was wearing a leather jacket. The logical extension of that anti-Minogue vegan’s thinking is that I should have forgone that bus, waited half an hour for the next one and been late for work. I mean, catching that bus keeps him employed, and he spends his income on animal skins, right?

Well, I’m sorry but I will not lose my job, or limit my music to Steve Kilbey and Chrissie Hynde (fabulous though they are), to make some sour-faced vegan happy. And if that makes me a “lesser” vegan, so be it.

(For the record, I did deplore Kylie’s apparent snakeskin handbag and said as much on her official forums at the time, drawing the ire of many Minogue-o-philes. But a couple of them agreed too.)

Here’s another example of the type of vegan that irritates me.

Last year, Carnation brought out a line of tinned soy cream to supplement their longstanding lines of canned cooking milks.

Posting on an online vegetarian and vegan forum, I naively said it was “good to see corporations providing vegan alternatives”.

I was quickly informed that, as a corporation producing dairy products, Carnation’s parent company Nestlé was responsible for “horrific atrocities” and anyone supporting them had “blood on their hands”. And when I defended myself I probably had “secret motives” – like being a Nestlé employee!

Well, I’m no fan of the corporate world, but if there’s to be any hope of converting the masses to veganism, vegan products have to be widely accessible. Mainstream, mass-producers of food and drink have to start making them, and they must sell them in supermarkets.

Sure, if you live in a neighbourhood like Newtown in Sydney or in San Francisco, where there are vegan grocery shops and restaurants, by all means support these over the alternatives. But most people aren’t so lucky.

Moving along, I have recently discovered that there are the vegans who just won’t interact with non-vegans. Somehow they’ve forgotten that they weren’t always vegans themselves! (There may be a few lifelong vegans around, who were raised by vegan parents and stuck with it always, but they’d be rarer than hen’s teeth.)

There are even vegans who see vegetarians as “the enemy”, just like fully-fledged carnivores, instead of seeing them for what they really are: allied beings who aren’t quite there yet in their quest to minimise animal suffering.

So what’s my point in all this? Why should I care what other vegans are like? I’m not a vegan for them – I’m a vegan for myself, for animals and for the environment. Surely, it doesn’t matter what other vegans think?

But it does matter and here’s why.

The people I’ve described above do not encourage anyone to go vegan. In fact, they turn people off. They push people away from becoming vegans.

And that means more animals in the slaughterhouse.

So, dour vegans of the world, why not lighten up a little, be a bit nicer, and encourage more people to go vegan rather than put up walls and make veganism seem like an exclusive clique for uptight people?

You’ve got nothing to lose – except that sour face. And you might even save more animals’ lives.

Peter Hackney is associate editor at The Scavenger.


-14 #17 Mira 2012-11-29 22:58
Would you call an anti-rapist "sanctimonious" for being very visibly and passionately against rape, rapists, and rape culture? Animal rights activism is treated like a second-rate cause, so animal rights activists are criticized for feeling righteous anger in a way that other social justice groups are not. I agree about it being important to maximize effective dialogue, though.

Just food for thought.
+3 #16 Darth Chaos 2012-10-23 14:35
I've always said that "holier than thou vegans" are the best weapon that the meat industry has. I've actually read reports that most "holier than thou vegans" on sites such as YouTube and major web-based forums are actually paid by the meat industry to to make veganism look like a "kook ideology" as a means of discrediting veganism.

Even as a paying member of the Humane Society of the United States, I've taken my fair share of flack for telling the "holier than thou vegans" that their methods are discrediting - not promoting - veganism. And what's the best argument they can come up with? They just dredge up the old "Center for Consumer Freedom" boogeyman. (CCF is a front group for corporate agriculture, factory farms, restaurant chains, tobacco, and alcohol.) According to them, if you say anything which is contrary to their "holier than thou" attitude, it has to be "CCF propaganda". And one time on YouTube, I debunked their ridiculous propaganda ("they" being CDLver and Kay7271), and one of them - don't remember which one and don't really care because they're both scumbags - reported my comments to YouTube as "abusive". So I got an email from YouTube informing me that I received a strike on my account and threatened to ban my account if I got any more complaints, and I had to get in touch with their legal department, and after I copied and pasted all the comments to prove my comments were not abusive, I got another email from YouTube where they apologized and they removed the strike from my account. (They also informed me that the one who falsely reported my comment received a strike on their account. After all, filing false abuse reports on YouTube is a violation of their terms of service.)

I belong to a Facebook group called "Stop HumaneWatch". It's a group dedicated to defending HSUS against CCF's HumaneWatch operation. So far I haven't come across any holier than thou vegans or vegan abolitionists on there. And that's a good thing because industry front groups such as CCF thrive on infighting in the animal welfare/protect ion/rights movement.
+5 #15 John 2012-08-26 08:23
There are lots of animals that eat other animals, so is that "animal suffering?" I've known some dogs who eat their own feces and vomit. I think humans need to stop anthropomorphiz ing; projecting human traits on to animals.
+2 #14 Shinto 2012-07-02 01:13
Too bad Meat still has a thousand times more nutrition than Plant matter. Your body is not built like a cow. A balanced diet is superior to a Vegan diet.
+1 #13 Adey 2011-06-14 12:56
I've loved pussy and been vegan for 25 years - I bet that beats those reatrded lesbian freaks. Idiots are idiots irrespective of whether they eat meat. Militant wierdos are very easy to dismiss - just look at them up and down and laugh... then just say 'you are a fucking idiot' - they get very upset, though you get your point across.
0 #12 Elisabeth 2011-02-22 23:35
"I feel lighter (physically and mentally), I have more energy, I feel fresher and younger and more positive, and I feel good about living a life that – as far as possible – doesn’t harm other beings and is good for me too!"

Sorry, but you sound like you are well on the road to being exactly what you claim to hate when you utter grandiose claims about the transformative effects of a slight diet modification. The testamonial about having "more energy" and feeling "younger" is particularly cliché. Is there any lifestyle change or unusual health product that does not make those claims?
+3 #11 Andrew 2010-08-27 10:14
I'm not a vegan, but this is generally my problem with most Vegans. They seriously have this "holier than thou" attitude and it really bothers me. I think you might find this interesting though

it's not EXACTLY about Vegans, but obvious "holier than thou" vegans are in it. Also, you a supporter of PETA? : that's a real shame.. wanna know why? Watch this (and do some real research of your own to confirm it as I have), really disgusting stuff:

I mean, I don't like animal abuse and find people who do it utterly disgusting, but PETA is very disturbing... ugh... Anyways, sorry for such a late reply to your blog, I just wanted to comment and show you some fun support and interesting information about things you brought up here.
+3 #10 noname 2010-08-25 01:58
I actually 100% agree with what you are saying!! I can't tell you how many times I have been 'bashed' for not being the vegan that 'others' want me to be. I don't concern myself with the sugar issue and I know plenty of vegans do and that is fine. But what I hate is (and yes this did happen twice) when some vegans call you out or say that you aren't vegan because you do 'so and so' which is somehow, even if just a tad, related to animal cruelty. This is the typical "holier than thou" attitude some put forth to make it seem like they are doing so much more for the animals and that they are the only ones that should be acknowledged for their good deeds.
I also have noticed that a lot of vegans (yet not all) tend to be self-righteous. They can never seem to admit when they may not be as right as they think they are, because someone else has a different opinion. It's happened tons of times to me, you have a different opinion than them on a subject, and they automatically lash out and claim that you are somehow wrong, or that your opinion doesn't make sense, even though technically, it's YOUR opinion. It really is irritating, and many times, I myself, have tried to explain what this was really doing to the big picture. But, they shunned me out and acted as if I was just a 'lowly vegan.' They don't seem to understand that by constantly judging and accusing everyone of doing wrong, they are turning people OFF veganism. I always try to be respectful of everyone, regardless of what they believe. Everyone deserves the same mutual respect as the next person, and we should all be congratulating each other on the things we ARE doing instead of nagging each other on the things we AREN'T doing. Cuz it would really suck if people stopped doing ANYTHING at all.
There is no need to criticize omnivores for eating meat, most of the people just don't know where the food comes from. There is a difference between politely having a conversation about the reasons why we shouldn't eat meat,... and automatically yelling off the bat that the person is in the WRONG!!!!!! And you are right!!! A lot of vegans seem to forget that they were once most likely omnivores too!!!
Just because we don't agree with someone's opinion doesn't mean that we should disrespect them. I may not agree with vegans that eat honey, but it is their decision if they want to, and they deserve the same mutual respect all around. Also, NOBODY is perfect, I know I'm not perfect, and I am 100% sure no vegan is perfect. What is 'perfect' is also in a matter of everyone's own opinion.
I'm am really sorry you were treated that way. I know what its like. But just be proud that you show more respect than they do :-) you will be the one being able to spread the word the most and in the best way possible :-)
0 #9 Katrina Fox 2010-08-23 18:45
Mical: Thank you for your comments. This article was covering a particular experience by the writer. However, for intersectionali ty issues, you may find this article of interest. It's by Breeze Harper, editor of the book Sistah Vegan (a collection of stories by black female vegans in the US) in which she talks about veganism's connection to anti-racist, anti-poverty social justice movements:
+3 #8 mical 2010-08-22 18:44
i agree with this article.... i just graduated from a liberal arts college with a lot of hollier-than-th ou vegan crap. the thing that pisses me off most is the often complete lack of class or ability awareness in veganism. i clicked on this article expecting to see some mention of the rampant classism and ableism and was surprised i didn't find it. for me, its not just the sanctimonious bs that is bothersome, but the failure to understand of how one's social position intersects with their commitment or lack of a commitment to veganism. so to all those vegans who think its just so easy for everyone to go vegan, get over yourself. there are those of us with out a lot of money, and those of us with dietary restrictions which make veganism a potentially dangerous diet for us, not to mention making an already expensive lifestyle even MORE pricey, what with having to buy alternatives the the animal product alternatives (the most affordable of which generally contain soy, nuts, gluten, etc).

and don't even get me started on the apathy of many vegans i've met toward the ongoing systemic oppression of human beings (racism, heterosexism, etc.) that they, despite washing their hands of slaughterhouses , participate in daily...UHG.

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