Every vegan has heard the tiresome accusation that vegans “force their views” on others.
It’s often witnessed in the comments section of online articles – even those penned by non vegan journalists, based in science and evidence – that touch on the many benefits of the vegan lifestyle, or the down side of the status quo.
But I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me personally that they only like those vegans who don’t “force their views on people.” What does that even mean? They only like vegans who are silent about their beliefs and their choices? Or are there really armies of vegans out there cruelly forcing themselves on beleaguered non-vegans who are just trying to live and let live? As a vegan community organizer who knows hundreds of real life vegans, that just doesn’t match up with my experience.
Yet with each new scientific article, study, newly ignited celebrity vegan champion, or mainstream uprising against a specific kind of animal cruelty, the refrain is repeated. “Vegans are forcing their views on everyone!” (Vegetarians sometimes experience the same accusation, but also make it against vegans.)
Before I get into the specifics of how vegan view forcing is a pale shadow of the overwhelming rule of the status quo, non-vegans, try to imagine something.
Imagine you have spent your life going with the flow, and eating and wearing whatever you want, whenever you want it. (Observationally, it never seems to be marginalized or impoverished people making the accusation that vegans are forcing their views.)
Then imagine you come to the realization that something you are doing each and every single day is having a tragic impact on our physical environment, results in the deaths of billions of innocent animals, and is in fact on the whole undeniably awful for human health.
And instead of turning away from this, as most people do, you sit with it. You let it marinate in your mind, and you become conscious of not only the horror and the devastation, but also, the immense power you have to change your own behaviour. To opt out of the system of oppression and suffering that you’ve uncovered – and now cannot turn away from.
Now imagine that you also – based in a deep and abiding love for your friends and family – assume that the people you know and love can’t possibly be aware of what you’ve learned. Because surely, if they knew, they would stop participating in the actions that are causing so much needless devastation.
Wouldn’t you want to share the information to help the people you love? To help the animals? To help the world become a kinder place?
And wouldn’t you be surprised – even distraught – if your loved ones chose to ignore or fight the information that you were providing?
This is not “forcing views” on others. This is learning, sharing, and growing – on everyone’s part. It isn’t easy to make big changes to our diet and lifestyle. People very often change their beliefs FIRST, but then struggle to align their actions with those.
It’s easy to understand why many people become defensive and upset when presented with information that challenges their actions, and their view of themselves. It’s actually really hard to avoid using and abusing animals in our society. Our society is structured to make it EASY to exploit animals.
That’s something each individual needs to deal with internally – and then either move towards change, or don’t. Shooting the messenger helps no-one.
All animal advocates have is the conviction of their beliefs, and the strength of their own voices.
The “vegan views” that are being “forced” upon others are rooted in a powerful sense of justice, and the urgency to use their voices to somehow make a difference in the lives of animals. They are pleas for compassion, kindness, and consideration for the world outside of one’s own palate.
On the other hand, here are just a few fun facts about the “views” that we absorb from the animal agriculture and food industry – what I was able to find in about 20 minutes of googling:
- The Dairy Farmers of Canada alone have an $80-million yearly marketing budget.
- In order to increase domestic pork consumption the Canadian pork industry has implemented a successful marketing strategy reaching consumers directly through advertising and recipe dissemination, and indirectly via programs with influences, such as the media and health professionals, the retail and the foodservice trade.
- In America, Fast food advertising – increased by 8% between 2009 and 2012, reaching $4.63 billion including $2.3 billion targeted at children under the age of 11
- The fast food industry spends more than $5 million every day marketing unhealthy foods to children.
- Kids watch an average of more ten food-related ads every day (nearly 4,000/year).
- Nearly all (98 percent) of food advertisements viewed by children are for products that are high in fat, sugar or sodium. Most (79 percent) are low in fiber.
- Only 21% of youth age 6-19 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- By 2030, American healthcare costs attributable to poor diet and inactivity could range from $860 billion to $956 billion, which would account for 15.8 to 17.6 percent of total healthcare costs, or one in every six dollars spent on healthcare.
In contrast, game changing start up Beyond Meat (a company putting considerable efforts into engineering fake plant-based meat products that look and taste like the real thing) announced in late 2015 that it had raised $17 million in start up investment for product development. That’s only a few days worth of junk food advertising directed at children.
Sure, there are other vegan brands that do a bit of marketing, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to big agriculture, fast food, and grocery. Barely even a blip.
We have all been more or less indoctrinated into terrible habits that do NOT serve us, or the world within which we live, since we were old enough to breathe. THAT is what vegans are fighting against, and what each of us is up against when we try to bring our actions into alignment with our stated values of peace and respect for all beings.
As a new vegetarian, I remember how hurt I felt when some vegans I’d met on the internet informed me about the reality of dairy and egg production during yet another thread on Veggieboards.com seeking “humane” dairy and egg options. “Those vegans are so holier than thou!! They think they’re so much better than me!” I seethed.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to become vegan that I realized the problem wasn’t them; it was ME and my emotional responses to the ethics-driven position that they’d taken. They weren’t being holier-than-thou; they were living their lives according to their values, and sharing information that I didn’t want to hear which made me feel judged. When I was honest with myself, nobody had been rude about presenting this information; my reaction was entirely due to my own feelings of guilt. The simple act of being vegan is taken as a personal judgement.
The information vegans (and for that matter, participants of any social justice movement) are sharing isn’t comfortable information. It is never an enjoyable experience to realize that actions which we undertake every single day are causing harm – to ourselves, to the environment, and to the animals.
Vegans “forcing their views” – to whatever extent that there’s a kernel of truth – comes from a sense of frustration and urgency over the horrors that animals are enduring every second of every day. They want the exploitation of animals to stop, NOW.
As a vegan who has tried to speak openly to hundreds, or maybe even thousands of non-vegans about veganism, I am truly sorry if you felt I was “forcing” it on you and if that evoked negative feelings for any of you, although I hope you can try to open yourself up to understanding the urgency I feel about making things better for animals.
If you’re someone who feels judged by someone else’s veganism in the absence of overt condemnation, consider that maybe you have some things to work out with your own conscience. Remember that you – and everyone around you – have been subjected to a relentless stream of messaging and advertising, designed to normalize a treatment of animals that most of us find truly abhorrent when forced to confront its reality. Any vegans who are talking to you about veganism are aware of what you’re subjected to, because they too had the same experience.
We live in a society in which 98% of restaurants have animal ingredients in 98% of their menu items, in which every holiday is celebrated with ritualistic dead animal eating, in which it’s still socially acceptable to mock vegans. A society in which millions of animals are euthanized in shelters every year, most people wear animals, and events like “Rib Fests” and “Bacon Fest” are sanctioned by the government.
Think about that for a minute. Please, don’t try to tell me that it’s vegans who are forcing their views.
If you’re someone who wants to learn more about the lifestyle – there are so many resources available! I’ve listed some below. Or if you’re someone who has already carefully considered the ramifications of your lifestyle choices and have taken it as far as you’re currently willing, but respect and support vegans and the vegan way of living – thank you for not contributing to our marginalization.
Whatever you’ve settled on for your beliefs, own your choices and be true to your conscience.
And above all, be kind, always.
Get Pamela Tourigny’s Five Favourite Smoothies when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here. Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism. She also consults with business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.
A Few Resources for Vegan Information:
Ottawa Specific – Vegan Eats Ottawa
Oh, and a few more LOLZ