Vegan Shaming. Militant vegans. Vegan Purists. Vegan Police. Heard these before? Have you perhaps been called one or all of these things by other vegans? I detest all these labels. All of them. I’ve very rarely seen them justifiably used. I find them hypocritical, unnecessary, divisive and often just plain nasty. I was so disappointed to read Melanie Joy write on Vegan Shaming for the ‘Vegan’ Strategist. This isn’t the first high profile vegan to do so and I really think this has got to stop. What these people are saying is, discussing topics concerning what is or is not an ethical vegan thing to do, is shaming other vegans about their choices. It is not. We simply must be able to constantly critique ourselves and question if what we are doing, if the choices we make, are ethical choices and ones which are in the best interests of animals. We may conclude that our initial position was the right one, but we must still be able to discuss it and listen to other vegans views. We all want the same thing in the end. Writing a post about how bad it is for some vegans to shame other vegans, is itself shaming. Lets end this now and move forward in a united way.
Large vegan organisations, or even small ones, must be ready to be critiqued themselves. They must embrace the opportunity to reflect on their policies and hear what their supporters and members feel. Vegan organisations represent us, they are supposedly founded to help the movement grow and to encourage more people to be vegan. If the way they go about this is seen to be compromising veganism in order to become more popular, for instance, then it is only fair they will be pulled up on this.
Recently I have been involved in conversations with other vegans where we disagreed on the ethics of purchasing products from companies where the products were in fact vegan, but where the company itself had a long history of animal abuse and/or environmental crimes. My position is that where there is a choice to go with either a fully vegan company or a company that were more ethical, then that is the best choice to make. Unilever was one of the companies that was discussed and one I have a particular dislike for. They continue to test on animals and their history in this respect is nothing short of appalling. Where we have choices, and in the instance in question we have a huge amount of choice, then we should clearly opt to avoid Unilever products. Sometimes there are genuinely limited options, or options that aren’t affordable to us. This is understandable. If it is a product which is needed, rather than simply a luxury item, then I think any reasonable person can understand these dilemmas. I myself have to take thyroid medication that comes from animals. I dearly wish this was not the case and hope in the future I have other options or I can manage my condition differently, but in the meantime it is with reluctance I make the only choice that is safe for me. In questioning someones position, or indeed sharing mine, I have been called out for shaming or been called purist and elitist. That I consider myself to have better ethics than others. These sorts of conversations have no point and do not move us towards the goal, that is to end all unnecessary animal suffering and slavery.
When we present our position, discuss our principals and beliefs, this can indeed be confrontational for others. There are some who immediately feel their own beliefs are being challenged and they respond from a very emotional place. For anyone that feels this way, I want to help you understand. If I had never been challenged about my choices, I would still be eating animals, wearing leather and living an excessive consumerist life full of things I did not need. I am grateful, incredibly grateful, that vegans and environmentalists opened my eyes, shared their stories and confronted me. It may not have always felt comfortable. I definitely recall conversations had with my husband about honey, for example, where I thought the vegan I had spoken to was being ridiculous. We laughed! I believe I even said, ‘these people take it too far’. But each and every uncomfortable situation, every new truth that I questioned, I looked into and researched. Sometimes to make sure I was being an ethical and informed consumer. But sometimes because I wanted to prove that I was right and they were wrong. I hold my hand up to that. What I actually found out all of these times, was that I needed to evolve, to be open to this information and to make kinder and more considered decisions. It led me to where I am now. A proud evolving, questioning vegan. Someone willing to speak up, participate, share and counsel. I am by no means a perfect vegan. I am not saying I am better than any other vegan. But I am saying, clearly and without fear or hesitation, that I am strictly an ethical vegan. I do not wish to knowingly use or abuse animals, the environment or even myself. I do not compromise this position to avoid awkward conversations, to avoid inconveniencing myself or others. I do not believe advocating for any other world than a vegan one. I will not advocate for reductionism, for vegetarianism or anything that involves the use of animals. I do not say this because it gives me a feeling of ‘grandiosity’ as Melanie Joy suggests in her post, but because it feels like the right thing to do by animals. It also leads to real results. Others have followed my example and become vegan, I’ve lost count how many. So it is not just idealistic, but it leads to a real reduction in animal suffering.
Being an ethical vegan is not difficult. It does not need to involve compromising my beliefs. What it actually is, what it does mean for me, is give me a real sense that I am living a genuine, authentic life. I feel happy to be able to live a life that fits with my real beliefs, where I don’t have any inner conflict. To those that think we need to water down the message, compromise and eat cheese so as to not offend others, who think ‘shaming’ is actually a thing. Please shift your energies and thoughts to the animals. Thats why we are vegans. If we could all put our egos aside and be open to being challenged and open to learning, then instead of these silly nonsense fights within the community we might actually get back to what we are supposed to be doing. Sharing with the world what a beautiful, peaceful, compassionate choice veganism is.
Please pop over to Fat Gay Vegan and read his wonderful post ‘Vegan For a Reason‘. I adore this man and he speaks wonderfully well on what is a touchy subject for many. He also shares some very respectful ways to deal with what might otherwise be awkward social situations