An article I read recently reminded me that there are still vast misconceptions about what veganism actually is, and isn’t, even amongst vegans.
Veganism is about rejecting the use of animals, period. It’s about non-violence, justice for other living beings, and embracing the right of all beings to not be treated like property. In this respect, there’s strong intersectionality with social scourges such as sexism.
Don’t get me wrong – I am happy when people go vegan, whatever their personal motivation. This isn’t about shitting on the things that are important to people, or “judging” their veganism. It’s exclusively about breaking it down so that when people think of veganism, they don’t also think that it requires blanket acceptance of dietary perfection or adherence to any other number of correlated practices or beliefs.
I wanted to address some of the things that people mistakenly believe are correlated with (or part of) veganism.
1. It’s not about deprivation, or eating a perfect diet. Some people follow a plant-based, vegan diet that is more about health and nutrition than anything else. That is fine, but being really into health isn’t directly connected with being vegan. I eat 8 to 10 servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day, every day, but it’s not because veganism prescribes it. It’s because of a reasonable concern for my personal health, that is unrelated to veganism.
Nor does veganism prescribe avoiding all fat, chocolate, sugar, food colouring, or eating100% organic food. Deprivation of all things enjoyable is not synonymous with veganism. Again, avoiding those things may be very important to some individual vegans, and may have their own intrinsic benefits, but it’s not a prerequisite of veganism. In fact, an obsession with eating a perfect and pure diet can be an indicator of orthorexia nervosa. I went through a period during my early veganism during which I got sucked into some of those habits, but I realized I felt my very best not when I was putting all my time and energy into eating a perfectly calibrated diet, but rather, when I put my efforts into outreach and helping others.
2. It’s not about being gluten-free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked about vegan options, only to be told about gluten-free options as though it’s the exact same thing. Sure, some vegans are also gluten-free, and some celiacs may be vegans. I like to mix up my grains myself, and have perfected many gluten-free recipes. But other than the pervasiveness of the avoided ingredients in our culture’s food, there’s very little in common between veganism and being gluten-free.
I think the confusion arises because of the growing number of consumer products that are marketed as both vegan and gluten-free; this occurs not because they are the same thing, but because neither group on its own is a big enough market to support most businesses.
3. It’s not about crystals and magnets. There are definitely vegans who are into this stuff, and derive great energy and enjoyment from things like chanting circles, just as there are omnivores hopefully wearing healing magnetic bracelets. But crystals and magnets have nothing to do with being vegan, so if you’re not into them, fear not – it’s not a requirement of veganism.
4. It’s not about being better than everyone. Many people misinterpret the ethical vegan stance as being about vegans feeling superior to them. It’s a defensive reaction that I’ve seen many times when someone becomes aware of a vegan’s existence. In fairness, there are probably some newer/anger-fueled vegans who are giving that impression. But please, let me reassure you: Most of us well-adjusted vegans are not sitting around feeling superior. Rather, it’s quite the opposite; we are vegan because we don’t think we’re so special that animals should have to lose their life and liberty in order to please our senses.
5. It’s not about finding nicer ways to use animals. When I first learned about dairy and eggs, my first instinct was to find “more humane” options so that I could maintain my existing habits. Believe me, I understand how daunting it can be to make changes. When someone arrives at the vegan perspective of not using animals, that a product may use animals slightly more nicely is not very reassuring because we want animals to cease to be used. We’d rather see those ingredients left off the menu – and the good news is that it’s never been easier to do.
6. It’s not about making a personal choice. There are rogue ex-vegans (thanks in no small part to negative social pressure), but for anyone who’s currently vegan it’s baffling to imagine how it’s possible to un-know what we’ve learned and return to the habits we’ve rejected. For me, knowing what I know, there is no choice in the matter: Being vegan is the only way that I can live in my own skin.
I truly believe that most people – if they are totally honest with themselves – are not entirely comfortable with the horror that our society inflicts upon animals, and their own role within that. It can’t be considered solely a personal choice when our actions have a profound and far-reaching impact on others.
7. It’s not about trying to “force our views” on anyone. This one actually makes me laugh a bit. In 2012, fast food restaurants spent $4.6 billion in total on all advertising. For context, the biggest advertiser, McDonald’s, spent 2.7x as much to advertise its products as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined (the dairy industry isn’t exactly an advertising spendthrift either.)
Vegans are a small, somewhat marginalized/maligned segment of the population who are swimming upstream against the current. There’s no way we can force anything on anyone, so relax majority. 😉 All we can hope to do is to make people think, and to hopefully make inroads with changing hearts and minds.
Please, consider the plight of animals. Even if you can’t commit to being vegan today, you can begin taking concrete steps today to bring your actions in line with your beliefs. It’s not extreme, in fact, it’s a joy. What’s extreme is that we kill more than 9-billion sentient beings a year in North America… just because we like how they taste.