This is an entry I wrote for someone’s book project called Letters to a new vegan. In those letters, the writers tell new vegans the most important things they would have liked to know themselves as new vegans.
Dear new vegan,
Congratulations on your choice for compassion. In case you’re interested in some advice from a long time vegan, here’s a couple of things…
I’m assuming you haven’t made this choice just for yourself, but did it because you believe in a better world. And I think you already know that the big win for this world is not just you going vegan, but also how many other people you may be a shining example for. So that they in their turn will see that there are better ways of feeding ourselves than raising and killing animals. It’s all in the numbers, you know. Most people eat meat because most people eat meat. So the more there are of us, the easier it will be to get even more. It’s about critical mass. And it’s where you come in.
You see, just you being a vegan is enough to make people in your presence uncomfortable. You don’t even have to open your mouth. If you want them to follow your example (and like I said, I’m assuming you do) then you have to – pardon the expression – walk on eggshells. You have to be very careful and diplomatic, because you don’t want to turn people off: you want to attract them.
So lead them gently. Smile, joke, cook, tell stories, be an example, and be sincere and honest about it all. Don’t preach (like I’m doing to you now), blame or judge, because for most people, that doesn’t help (even if it may have done something for you).
Do not expect anything from people, and certainly don’t expect them to go all the way, right away. Don’t expect them to also throw out all their leather shoes and belts, their woollen sweaters and whatnot. Allow them to have their own reasons for changing, don’t expect them to have the same reasons you have. And don’t – oh please don’t – tell them they can’t call themselves a vegan if they don’t stick to all the rules.
People may start out on the road to veganism and compassion for other reasons than veganism or compassion. They may start eating vegan because of peer pressure, because of health concerns, because of a loved one, because of no matter what. But the important thing is, once they are on that road, once they realize that eating vegan is tastier, easier, more doable than they thought it was, their defenses against the veganism start to crumble. Their hearts and minds open up to the ethical arguments, and they may, finally, get where you always wished they were.
Now, I think your part in this process is to encourage every step, no matter how small, no matter the reason. It is our encouragement and not our judgement that will help others go further. Hardly any one of us arrives at the end point with one single step. As vegans too, we still have an incredible lot to learn. Patience, understanding and compassion, both for others and for ourselves, will get us where we want the world to be.
So be patient, be compassionate, and have some faith in people. Trust that everyone will find their way. It is not easy today, and someone, like you, who goes vegan, still needs to have lots of motivation to go against the stream. But it will become easier and easier still, until veganism is the norm, until people will have no problem hearing and thinking about all these animal rights arguments. And then, before we know it, some day, researchers will write PhD’s wondering how our present treatment of animals could ever have been possible at all.
Till then, do your work.
All the best