I’ve been thinking about it and I honestly think that vegans might be one of the most hated groups of people in western civilization. No seriously, think about it – name any other hated group out there and you will find they either have a pretty sizable number of people defending them, or the hatred is at least diluted with other emotions.
The abortion debate is one of the most emotional in existence, and while it’s fair to say each side hates the other, there are at least two sides to that debate. You might be disgusted at the antics of Trump (henceforth referred to as Drumpf) enough to hate him, but you do have to admire his ability to manipulate several million people into letting him screw them over. Even universally reviled terror groups like ISIS, who are almost universally hated by the west, are also feared at the same time – we may seek their destruction, but we still do respect their ability to threaten us.
But vegans? The mere mention of the word guarantees you an eye rolling at the very least, and howls of outrage at worst. Type the word into google and you’ll be greeted with some friendly sites explaining what veganism is all about, some guides on how to best eat vegan, and approximately 2.3 million memes mocking the ever loving crap out of the movement.
So what is it about vegans that pisses everyone off so much? Aren’t they like, vegetarians with fine print?
“Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products.” – from The Vegan Resource Group
Yeah ok that quite a bit more intense than just ‘not eating meat’, but fair enough, right? If vegans want to take those sort of extraordinary steps to reduce their environmental impact then good for them! Just so long as they don’t try to tell me how to liv… oh look at that they’re telling me how to live. Looking over the more official sites out there, it can seem like veganism is all ‘live and let live’, but the longer you look the more obvious it becomes.
“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – from The Vegan Society
Notice anything telling about that statement? Maybe the words ‘exploitation’ and ‘cruelty’? Those words are fairly loaded with moral judgement, aren’t they? I mean if your way of doing things is cruelty-free, and my way of doing things contradicts your way of doing things, then you’re pretty much straight up saying my way of doing things is cruel, aren’t you?
Strip away the friendly façade and it quickly becomes clear that (with the exception of those who do it for dietary reasons) veganism isn’t just a personal choice – it’s a political stance. The movement clearly states that they believe the production of products that contain animal products is both cruel and exploitative. The only possible conclusion from this statement, is that these practices are unethical, and that unless everyone else embraces the vegan way, we are all complicit in this evil.
As with pretty much any frank moral statement like this, it tends to get people’s hackles up. It’s a pretty core element of human psychology that no one wants to think that they are a bad person, and being told that they are is a mighty quick way of getting people defensive. Being told that we’re bad people by a fringe groups of tree-hugging hippies only makes things worse, as does their insistence that the only righteous path involves abandoning a fairly huge number of useful, delicious and economically important products.
No surprise then that veganism has made some fairly determined enemies. At the entry level you’ve got the virtual landslide of meme-based mockery the internet and popular media throw around every day. Sure it’s not exactly what you’d call ‘intelligent’, ‘well thought-out’, or even ‘coherent’, but the sheer volume of it has a persuasive impact all of its own.
Hahaha, what an amazing ad hominum fallacy that completely failed to address her point! What an example of our superior meat-fuelled brains in action!
There are also plenty of intelligent critics of the movement as well, pointing out that veganism still involves environmental impacts and cruelty to animals, that a vegan diet is unhealthy for many, if not most, human beings, that a serious application of the vegan philosophy basically promotes the sacrifice of humanity for the benefit of livestock, and that vegans sometimes create significant animal suffering themselves by forcing their carnivorous pets on non-meat diets.
Unfortunately for the anti-vegans, all these arguments suffer from one very serious flaw: they totally fail to address the core point of veganism. And you know why they fail to do this? Because the vegans are right.
Completely, totally, absolutely correct.
And you already knew that, didn’t you?
And it’s driving you friggin’ bonkers, isn’t it?
It is extremely well documented that the production of meat is a horrific process, particularly when done on a commercial scale. But it’s also well documented that the production of most animal products is equally fucked up – eggs are produced in hellish caged conditions, milk requires the regular slaughter of bobby calves and some seriously messed up experimentation with hormones, and leather and soap both depend entirely on the mass-slaughter of animals to get them. Don’t even get me started on fur. There’ll be a whole article on that one day, and it will not be forgiving.
You’d think you’d be on more solid ground with silk, wool, honey, and soaps, and while these products don’t cause direct harm per se (regardless of what the liars at PETA would like you to think) you still need animals to create them. That means breeding them, housing them, moving them and working them, every step of which risks harm and or distress to the animals involved. You could argue that a silk worm or bee has a pretty limited ability to be distressed, and that there are ethical farming practices that drastically decrease the suffering involved, but the point still holds – sticking to a vegan diet causes precisely 100% less harm to them than not doing so.
With those facts established question of morals becomes a bit clearer: Eating non-vegan leads to significantly more suffering than a vegan diet. Suffering is a negative thing that we should seek to reduce wherever possible. Thus, the vegan diet is ethically superior to a non-vegan diet and the ethical imperative is clear – we should all go vegan to whatever degree we are able to.
But hang on hang on hang on, what about all those criticisms you mentioned just before? Ok so they don’t really attack the core point of veganism, but they’re still pretty compelling arguments, right? And yeah you have a point there, because while veganism is pretty solid in terms of principles, it’s got more than its fair share of practical problems to deal with.
First up veganism is never going to be perfect. Yeah farming soy and other vegan-friendly food do cause environmental damage and kill animals in the process, but on the other hand they cause one hell of a lot less problems than eating meat does. Sure there might be economic impacts from moving away from established animal industries, but that’s not a reason not to do it – more a question of managing the transition well than anything else. And yeah, there are some idiot vegans out there that try to make their pets eat tofu, but if we start to cherry-pick our examples then things are going to look pretty grim for meat-eaters in short order, I’ll tell you what.
By far the most compelling criticism is that there are indeed many people out there who can’t stay healthy on a fully vegan diet. Some struggle with iron absorption or need additional vitamins, especially children who need that protein for growth. But all of this is easily managed – sure it might not be possible or safe for everyone to go full-vegan, but any amount less animal products you use is an improvement. You might only eat meat one time less than usual, but that’s one less bit of meat that needed to be produced and one less unit of demand making the suffering of animals profitable. Just take on as much of veganism as you can handle; as The Vegan Society suggested, go “as far as is possible and practicable”.
So veganism is both correct in principle and manageable in practice. Case closed then? Yeah right, like I’d be writing about something that simple. See veganism tends to suffer from the problem that certain atheists have been struggling with, and possibly the biggest practical problem of them all: self-righteousness. Or as I like to describe it, ‘Arseholes who happen to be right’. Did you watch that video up there, where the lovely and articulate Hank explained why exactly we find vegetarians so annoying (and why we’re wrong)? Well this is how some vegans decided to react to that:
In case you can’t watch video where you are, here’s the summary: ‘We’re right, you’re wrong, we’re perfect, even vegetarians suck in comparison, smug smuggity smug.’ It just makes you want to reach through the screen and slap the self-satisfaction out of them with a steak. Check out that expression. The last time I saw that expression it was attached to a Jehovah’s Witness at my front door, so fucking enraptured with how much holier he was than me, and how wonderful he was for offering me this chance to even aspire to be like him. It’s the kind of shit that makes you consider butchering a goat on your front lawn, just to spite the prick.
Oh sure, they’re still right. I mean not a damn thing they said in that video was factually incorrect or even that controversial. But the way they chose to deliver it made me willing to abandon science itself if that would give me a way to defy them. But it’s not just the smugness that’s the problem here, it’s the implied demand that you either go 100% vegan or you’re a terrible person. Remember how I mentioned before that most of the practical problems of veganism can be managed by moderation? Well the demand that you be 100% or nothing undermines that completely. Moral absolutism is kind of like fascism in that it sounds like a great idea – why would you ever accept anything other than correct behaviour? – but in practice ends up with you fighting the people who won’t, and ostracising the ones that can’t. And when the whole point is to convert people to your way of thinking, alienating those same people is a pretty terrible strategy.
So here’s the take home message for us non-vegans out there: try to be better. Yeah it’s a pain in the arse, yeah the food choices are worse, and yeah you personally get nothing out of it. But unless you have a serious dietary problem, then what this truly boils down to is whether massive animal cruelty is more important than how tasty your food is.
For the vegans, congratulations on being right and for the unbelievable commitment needed to stick to your way of life. But should you ever get those impulses to enlighten the rest of us knuckle-dragging meat murderers, remember that the goal here is conversion – might be a clever idea not to piss us all off in the process.