Why I don’t believe in the value of negative vegan activism, and that positivity is the most efficient way to convince people.
I’ll just jump right in. A lot of vegan activism is, from what I have seen, negative; sharing shocking footage of animal abuse in slaughterhouses, telling stories of vicious farmers and the ‘truth’ of the cut-throat farming industry and dramatic effect of agriculture on the environment. While I agree, these aspects are true and shocking to say the least, to just spout this information generates just as much anti-vegan negativity as it does positive momentum.
You think that guy who shouted hateful slurs at you is going to go home and consider why he was angry to begin with? No. He’s going to go home and tell his husband or wife and two kids about the vile vegan cult he ran into on his way home and negatively influence their opinions of veganism. We want people to empathise with us and support us, not be deterred by shock imagery and be made angry just for the hope that they might stop to think about why.
People are sheep. The way I see it, targeting the people ‘on the ground’ is only going to help a little. People are led by the crowd and unfortunately that crowd comes in the form of mass media, marketing and journalism, and the products that are readily and cheaply available.
A more effective thing to do would be to get the KFC ads off the billboards in the first place, rather than convincing people to just ignore them.
I have been vegan two years now and I am still tempted by the purposefully delicious looking juicy cow burgers on the screens in McDonalds and the stacks of KFC fried chicken. This advertisement’s sole purpose is to convince people and it works, we need to be pushing to get more animal friendly food and worthy, plant-based companies up on these screens and into power.
We need to be opening more successful and subtly vegan restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops. Vegans need to be more business savvy. I love how Australia has Lord of the Fries, with it’s emphasis on the tastiness of the food rather than plastering ‘Vegan’ all over it. We need more (maybe healthier) versions of this. We need more accessible vegan make-up brands, shampoos, conditioners, women’s health products, medical supplies, vegan flippin’ marshmallows. These things exist now but are difficult to find without reading every ingredient in Woolworths, or spending three times as much money in a health store. The UK has a crazy selection of vegan cheeses, especially in Sainsbury’s, Australian supermarkets could benefit from following suit.
I am very annoyed with the cheese situation here.
And if it isn’t your life goal to open up a cruelty-free business, then simply lead by example. Treat people like children, because we are all children on this world. If someone sees you being a fully functional human being successful with your endeavours and embracing life, they’ll notice that it’s do-able, that not all vegans are constantly worrying about what will give them enough calcium, iron or protein, desperately googling what the hell B12 is, and being too weak to go for a jog.
I am always letting my friends know the benefits of this lifestyle as well as the truth behind theirs, and cooking them delicious (and easy) vegan meals, and it’s working, even if after two years I am still met with the occasional “do you ever stop?!” and eye roll. It does still get to me, I’m still invited to tables of people filling their pie holes with cream pavlova, milky cheesecakes, completely oblivious or simply uncaring of the impact their actions are having on living creatures around the country, around the world. But I’m reassured by the fact that veganism is reaching more and more people every day too, and I am contributing despite avoiding the raging vegan street activism.
And I’m glad I still have friends with different views to me; I’ve seen far too many vegans stay within their communities, hiding within the safety of mirroring Facebook groups, forming cult-like friendships and casting judgement over the rest of the world. It is healthy to be surrounded by diversity, to be questioned on your views, to discuss other opinions rather than repetedly perpetuating the same ideas, strengthening your own ignorance towards others. And who knows, if you befriend enough meat-eaters and have meaningful discussions with them, maybe you’ll have a better chance at persuading them for the long term.
At the end of the day the purpose of vegan activism is to convince people of your ideals, it is to convert people to veganism.
People are selfish and greedy by nature, and we are most moved by money, as unfortunate as that is. To convince people of a message you need a good sales pitch. Asking someone to be vegan is asking them to be a rebel in a world that expects conformity, and asking them to be aware and in control of their actions despite the easier way of living. I believe the same of feminism. Asking this of people is asking them to make family dinners difficult, to explain and re-explain themselves, to be awkward in restaurants and in work break rooms, to miss out on birthday cakes and Christmas meals, to be sensitive when sensitivity is still thought of as weakness.
Sensitivity is neither strength nor weakness, the strength is in how you direct it, what you do next.
If your plan of action is to put people in the city having conversations with the public, convincing them of this huge change, this shout in the face of conformity, you need trained sales people selling your message. In my fundraising job in Melbourne, for World Animal Protection, we were trained every single day to make sure we were portraying the message in the right way, and delivering it efficiently. One of the main messages we were taught was just to listen.
I have spoken to vegan activists and even as a vegan myself I am met with a brick wall, being lectured on their specific views, often being judged for not spending enough of my time doing the same or just not being as radically vegan as them. A lot of the time these people just throw their views out onto others, expecting empathy in return for very little actual engagement, guilting well-meaning people into changing their lives. How many vegans do you know who have read Richard Branson’s or Alan Sugar’s books or know the proper steps to successfully sell a story?
To me, it all seems like a game, teams of activists all patting eachother on the back, celebrating at every supposed conversion of a passer-by. It’s the same with vegan festivals; while it is handy to occasionally have access to a whole range of vegan treats and to try new vegan alternatives, it all just has the same judgemental vibe: no-one is ever vegan enough.
I carry the title of Vegan proudly, and am actively trying to find constant alternatives to the non-vegan products still in my life, I am not perfect. I don’t believe that many vegans are ‘vegan-perfect’, and that expectation, the insane attention to detail, the constant pressure to have veganism at the forefront of your attention, only makes it less appealing for people to convert.
I still drink wine and ciders that might not have entirely vegan processes, sometimes when I order something vegan in a restaurant and it comes with mayonnaise I’ll eat around it as much as I can to avoid being ‘that awkward customer who sent her food back again’. I even forget to check packaging labels in supermarkets sometimes and just assume things are vegan when they turn out to have milk powder or egg in for no apparent reason at all. Doritos. I am working in a saw mill and had steel-toe boots shipped to me by the company, unaware that that the only options are leather and the compulsory gloves provided only come in leather as well. I am not earning enough money or live in an accessible enough place to simply donate them and buy new cruelty-free alternatives.
Having said this, it is frustrating seeing people protesting against farm animals, completely oblivious to further abuse of animals, the environment and human beings; the stress that soy alternatives are having on nature and regional communities, and the stress racehorses go through, down ‘gathering’ of geese and ducks for human bedding, the impact on human communities from ‘saving these animals’ from slaughterhouses and factory farms.
It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon for farm animals, but much more difficult to make an active step towards being aware of the extent of the issue and making positive change to all beings. Consuming meat products, dairy, animal entertainment, supporting animal testing and animal matter in everyday items, is such an integral part of civilization, it’s so much more vast than simply rescuing a few pigs from a farm.
The more and more I interact with the vegan community, the more rare it seems that someone will become vegan purely for the animals. For instance, with the drought in NSW, people seem to be so focused on either empathising with the farmers and supporting them financially through fundraisers to get them through this difficult period, or slamming them for having animals in the first place. PETA’s article, Australia’s Drought: If You Can’t Feed Them, Don’t Breed Them; a particularly controversial article between meat-eaters and vegans alike, is one example of these polar extremes.
I wonder how many of the people bashing the meat and dairy farmers are helping support the plant farmers who are losing valuable crops to the lack of rain, and will continue to struggle for the next three months. It seems the moral conflict between wanting to keep the animals healthy and not wanting to support such a destructive industry is halting any actual progress.
One quote that really irritated me, from a dairy farmer in New South Wales: “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Ashley Gamble told the Nine Network on Sunday. “It’s like you are in jail every day. You turn up here because you’ve got to turn up. It’s just depressing.” …Kinda sounds like you would wish that on someone…like the cows you put this through every day of their lives? Hmmm.
Also, it’s insane how kangaroo culling in Australia is encouraged, it seems like the government, shooters and the general public if fed the ‘right’ angle will take any excuse to kill these native Australian animals. The reasoning this time being that roos are drinking the little water left for livestock and eating their crops, and also that kangaroos will end up starving in the drought too.
My problem with this is that you can’t have it both ways. You either want to kill the kangaroos to save your livestock or recognise that your farm is an invasion of the kangaroos’ natural habitat, and if not actively support their well-being then at least realise a general duty of care for all animals involved in the crisis. I have seen no vegan presence in this other than bashing the farmers; human beings who are suffering and taking the only options they can see to keep their livelihood afloat; which in some cases involves taking the lives of the animals as well as their own.
And let’s just remember that in big cities where vegan activism is most present, we are very privileged when it comes to choice. For the most part, there is always a vegan option available, a vegan store, vegan events. People in cities already feel for animals, even if they are yet to change their lifestyle. This is not where the fight is. For people in smaller towns and villages, out in the outback, farming is just ‘the done thing’, and attempting to explain a cruelty free world would seem absurd.
It’s a shame activists don’t target smaller, more agricultural areas like this more often, where they might actually be challenged and make a bigger difference. The grocery shops in small towns don’t stock non-dairy, vegetarian options and families have sometimes never even questioned the ethics of animal farming, it’s how they get their money, how they keep their children alive. If you shut down a whole industry, these are the people that will suffer, who will lack understanding of the cause and fight back, because the meat and dairy industry is how they survive.
I know that even after saying all this, It seems that I am doing little to further push the vegan movement, veganism isn’t an all-encompassing aspect of my identity, and I don’t mean to cast this much negativity over the vegan community, especially being one myself and having die-hard activist friends. It can just be overwhelming, especially in the small outback town I live in, when everyone around me eats meat, offers me meat, brings dairy desserts into work and I am the one seen as ungrateful, illogical, awkward.
It seems I am sometimes just shouting into the void, and watching as the few others like me act unethically under the shield of supposed morality, the people who are meant to be on my side. And honestly when I get back to the cities I will probably engage in activism myself, I want to be pursuaded, I really want these actions to work, to really be making a positive difference. I want to have open conversations with people who are willing to listen and understand other points of view, who are open to new knowledge. I know this is a sensitive topic and it’s difficult to navigate it delicately enough to not scare people away. Vegan has become a dirty word, and it’s up to us to take it back and make the world a better place.
Of course if you have an opinion on this and want to discuss some of the things in this post, or otherwise, feel free to message me or comment. I’d love to share information, debate the topic, or just have a little chit-chat.