We all go through phases in our advocacy. Only a few people become activists overnight and never change their ideas or practises again for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, all of us are in motion, growing, acquiring new insights, and adapting our communication, ideologies and practises.
Here’s a brief attempt to describe the phases I myself more or less went through in the course of almost twenty years of animal advocacy and veganism. Maybe you will find it recognizeable, maybe not.
1 – Interest and conversion
After what in my case was a long period of keeping it in the back of my mind, at some point, I got seriously interested in not eating animals and became really open to “going veg”. For me it was for animal reasons (in other people’s cases, it might have been about health, the environment, a vegan significant other…). I progressively left out animal products from my diet, and after two years, from 1998 on, when I was 24, I started calling myself a vegan.
2 – Activation
I read about what was going on and decided that I wanted to do something more than just “be a vegan”. I started to really believe in the cause and wanted to convince others to join me, or at least help them discover what I had discovered. By that point, I fully believed in the cause of animal liberation.
3 – Radicalization
After a while, I got slightly frustrated and sometimes angry with people’s lack of response in the face of so much injustice. I got to know different people in the vegan movement, and read articles and books by some people who presented a very black and white view. I decided that “there is no excuse for animal abuse” and that people should go vegan as soon as they knew the facts. I got critical of some animal rights organizations who took a pragmatic position, thought that many were selling out and were being “welfarist” and too soft, and I questioned their motives.
4 – Realization
After more reading, thinking and meeting people, I realized the approach I was taking was not the most effective one, and became more realistic and pragmatic, without changing or betraying any of my principles. I realized people needed more than just moral arguments, and that encouragement works better than guilt-tripping. I noticed, and kept noticing, how many people around me changed their eating habits without me preaching to them. I also realized that most animal rights organizations are indeed well-intentioned and doing important work.
5 – The post-vegan stage
This is my current phase. I call it the “post-vegan” stage (see this previous post), but I’m not wedded to the term and don’t want to make a big thing about it. I use the term to indicate a couple of shifts in my thinking about veganism. I talk about post-veganism, because to some extent how I feel in this phase is not entirely in line with orthodox veganism.
This phase for me is about realizing that I have to prioritize the impact I have on my environment over personal purity in my diet and other consumption habits. It’s also about the idea that I don’t really want to stick to principles for principles’ sake, and that I don’t want to follow an ideology out of groupthink or tribalism.
There is also a re-appreciation here of the importance of minimizing suffering and maximizing wellbeing, as opposed to just focusing on abolition and killing-or-not-killing.
In any case, I remain very much vegan, and I believe the concept of veganism is useful, especially when applied to products and meals (more so than when applied to people). The question “is it vegan?” remains an easy heuristic to determine what we should and should not eat, even though it is not perfect.
Maybe other stages will follow. We’ll see what the future holds. In any case, just like you, I’ll always have the interests of the animals at heart.