The trouble with vegans
- Published: 14 August 2010
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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.