Friday, August 28, 2009

Killing a Future Vegan: On Vegangelical Persistence

The old adage “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”, is not exactly the most vegan turn of phrase around, but if you’ll indulge me for a minute, I want to offer a small reminder.

I have been vegan for 2 years. That’s 2 years down, the rest of my life to go. I can say that with complete and total confidence; I’m in this thing for keeps. Still, as my parents sometimes ruefully like to remind me, I was, once upon a time, an unrepentant, unashamed omnivore. And not always your bland, unassuming “you do your thing, I’ll do mine” omnivore. My speciesism was much more varied than that. I was almost an archetype of every misguided, naive, hostile, prevaricating and plain old willfully ignorant omnivore out there. I have a vivid and cringe-inducing memory of a cookout my senior year of highschool. The point of the affair was, in a hip and ironic sort of way, for the senior guys to do the most stereotypically masculine things we could think of. Which turned out to be grilling hamburgers and watching Clint Eastwood movies. I can only plead ignorance.
And yes, I was one of those people who was incapable of surviving without cheese.

2 years on the other side is apparently enough time to make me pretty cynical. If I try to start a conversation, I either get Scripture or Catholic tradition or welfarism thrown at me. I’ve never successfully gotten anyone to go vegan in my life; indeed, oftentimes, I don’t even argue the case the way I mean to. I have yet to meet an abolitionist vegan face-to-face, and meeting someone who pronounces the word “vegan” properly is still occasion for great rejoicing. I have jokingly said that the day my parents go vegan is the day the revolution has come. Well, if that’s the case, shouldn’t I work twice as hard to make them see the truth?

It is true that I have limited amounts of time and energy, and therefore, I have to choose my battles. But when the battlefront itself is limited, I have no choice but to engage speciesism where I find it: at my house, at my college, in my church, in my job. If I wait until I find the perfect “target” - some open-minded quasi-vegetarian with an interest in social justice, empathy for his companion animals, a working knowledge of basic animal theory, and who hasn’t been turned off or sideswiped by PETA-style antics – I am going to be one disappointed and cynical vegan. And cynicism is a form of reverse speciesism, is it not? We should never underestimate the capacity humankind to empathize- and more importantly, think rationally. We as humans deserve credit for that – and we as animal advocates must use it to bring about animal liberation.

By writing people off we damn our movement; in effect, we decree that those animals that would have been saved by a future vegan aren’t worth our time or effort. Does this mean taking someone’s crap when you really don’t feel like it? Answering the same stupid question for the thousandth time? Having to be Frederick Douglass, Gary Francione and Mahatma Ghandi rolled into one? Not putting on your snarky vegan face when someone breaks out the “People Eating Tasty Animals” line as if they were the first? Sometimes, yes. And sometimes, that should be okay. Like it or not, killing a future vegan is sometimes as easy as letting one omni make you mad. Successful vegan outreach might take time; it will probably take a bit of thick skin. But isn’t that okay?

To my omnivorous friends, I say “Come on in, the water’s lovely.” To my vegan comrades, a respectful reminder that nobody was born knowing how to swim – let’s not dunk people or pee in the pool.


  1. Nathan, you are such an amazing writer!

    I've 'converted' a few people to veganism over the years and it definitely can come from the most unlikely people, you are right!

    Successful vegan outreach does take time, for sure, and a thick skin definitely. Every time I feel like I should skip posting something about the brutal treatment of farmed animals or the health disaster that is animal protein, I take a deep breath and remind myself that the animals that are suffering RIGHT NOW have no voice and I have to speak for them. They would want me to ignore the ugly comments and the inane remarks, and to post everything about veganism and AR I could get my hands on in the hopes of reaching that one person who is ready to venture into a cruelty free life.

    Actually, it is through facebook that I've made the most 'converts', it seems like an unending barrage of AR literature really does the trick!

  2. Well said! I was also ignorant and misguided in my pre-vegan days. My best friend had been vegan for years and I would constantly ridicule her. To this day, I still regret everything I've said, since I have to deal with the same comments today. I haven't converted anyone yet; however, I have influenced a few to go vegetarian. My boyfriend, the anti-vegan, said that he could go vegetarian for me. Perhaps one day he will embrace veganism in response to my fabulous cooking, although he is one of those who cannot live without cheese. To those people who say that they "can't give up meat and cheese", I like to clarify and say, "you can but you choose not to". On a side note, you never really notice how ubiquitous animal products are in the food source until you remove them from your diet.

  3. Natasha, you're right. We can't afford to ever skip an opportunity to speak for justice...too much is at stake.

    You're right as well, veganrx. We can't do too much about people's free will, but we can destroy their ignorance.