Being vegan doesn’t trump everything

It seems that many vegans/animal rights activists believe something like this:

non vegan animal activism, no matter how impactful, is always less valuable than the mere fact of being a vegan (even a non active one). 

Let me make it concrete: I often read criticism from vegans towards people who achieve a lot for animals, while they are not vegan (yet). Examples are people like Jonathan Safran Foer (Eating Animals), Peter Singer (father of the animal liberation movement), vegetarian (not vegan) Paul McCartney, or your average celebrity like Ricky Gervais, who is reaching millions of people with his anti-hunting / empathy for animals messages.

It seems that people who are not vegan, remain open to this kind of criticism, no matter how big their impact. Conversely, it seems like when you’re a vegan, you are beyond reproach, no matter how small your impact (indeed, your impact might even be negative if you’re a bad vegan ambassador).

What we see here is the dichtomoty between purity and impact. A big part of our movement seems to attach a big importance to purity. If you’re pure (that is, if you don’t consume animal products), you are sticking to the “moral baseline”. You’re ok. If you’re not, then, no matter what you do, your eating habits are blameful and won’t be redeemed by any pro animal action that you take.

I am of course of the opinion that impact is much more important than purity. As a vegan of more than fifteen years, I believe that being vegan is a clear statement and a sign of consistency. Being vegan helps to be credible when you spread a pro animal message. But it is not a requirement to do good for animals.

Many of us will be prone to tell these non vegan activists that they are inconsistent, or that they have a blind spot. This may be a good idea, but it has to be done carefully, and with tact. Otherwise it may not have the nice “introspection effect” that we hope it will have. Nor will engendering a feeling of guilt in them always work. Worst case scenario, pointing out inconsistencies (or worse: calling out hypocrisy) might alienate non vegan animal campaigners from our vegan movement.

One more thing: I’m not even going to say that ideally all people publicly campaigning for animals are vegan, because I think there’s a part of the population that will better identify with non vegans (and thus pick up their message) than with vegans.

So my suggestion is: when we see non vegans doing good things for animals, let’s mainly focus on the good they do. Let’s be open to the possibility that as non vegans they might even be having a higher impact than as vegans (at this point in the history of our movement). If we want to point out the inconsistency, let’s gently nudge them rather than calling them hypocrites. And let’s have some faith that they will see the light, rather than focussing on the fact that they are not “there” yet.

11 thoughts on “Being vegan doesn’t trump everything

  1. Good post as usual. I am personally a “reducetarian”. I try to be vegan and mostly succeed these days, although I do occasionally eat animal products, usually in a situation where I don’t think it really matters (such as when I’m not creating demand, e.g. finishing my wife’s meat at a restaurant). And I do things like donate to vegan charities, talk about it on social media, etc. There’s no way I would be doing any of this if it weren’t for accepting vegans such as yourself and the people at the aforementioned charities. So thanks.

  2. Thank you for you great articles. I’m a highly-reduced pescatarian – many days I don’t have any animal products, stopped buying leather and wool, etc. None of my friends are vegetarian or vegan, and while I bring up animal rights when it’s fitting or there’s something I really want to share, we also joke about “level 5 vegans” and the like. Die-hard vegans do have a negative impact, even on highly committed persons like myself. I liken it to religious fundamentalism.

  3. Paul McCartney is a sincere and compassionate animal advocate, who has faced a lot of sneering over the years. It’s a shame if some of that sneering now comes from vegans. I noticed this in the comments on a post from the Vegan Society about his ex- wife Heather Mills. Yes, she is a vegan,but lacks sincerity, and is not the best ambassador, to my mind.

  4. You are right. Some vegan purists have done more damage than good.
    I have run into die hard vegans several times in my life and their fundamentalist religion type views have etched me to the core. From the ones who would have a hard time choosing to save the life of a child or a puppy in critical situations, or being invited to my parents home and sneering at the food that was prepared, or calling the food Faire desserts that I made “shit” and poison, to directly implying that vegan is the one size fits all way of eating…..
    I have 2 children that are gluten sensitive. One of those children is also allergic and/or intolerant to: corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, soybeans, peas, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds and lettuce-(all kinds). She tried to go vegan and couldn’t. My children however are not intolerant nor allergic to meat, although the other one that is allergic to gluten also cannot have dairy, nor eggs…..
    I am throughly convinced that there is no such thing as “One Size Fits All”. It doesn’t apply to religions, philosophical approaches nor living styles. It also does not apply to how and what we eat. The rabid vegans that I’ve had the misfortune of meeting have completely turned me off. So far, they have had no viable answers for me regarding my children’s diet and health. Therefore, I have no time for them…

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