Suppose there was a vegan island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, quite far off any coast. Living on the island is comfortable. There’s an abundance of vegan foods and the entire population is vegan. There’s natural beauty, and you’re never at a loss for things to do. Your life would be completely fulfilled. There would never be anyone near you eating chicken nuggets or saying that animals just exist for us to use. No one would ever ask you where you get your protein or tell you that plants feel pain too.
Here’s the catch I want to talk about: living in this vegan paradise, you would have few opportunities to have any positive influence on the non-vegan world (we could, for the sake of the argument, assume that there is no way to reach the rest of the world through the web, for instance). So you’d feel great (hopefully) with all this vegan company and all the vegan amenities, but you would be leaving the rest of our planet to its own non-vegan devices.
There are different kinds of vegans (and different kinds of people in any “alternative” movement). One of the divides is the one between those vegans whose priority it is to have a comfortable life in the midst of other vegans, and those whose prioritze to veganize the rest of the world. This is not a judgment, but more an observation.
So here is my point: the desire that people have for other vegans who are just as strict as they are, who are 100% on board, and on board for the right reasons, probably emerges in part from a desire to share one’s ideology, dreams, and feelings… In a world where most people are, consciously or subconsciously, cruel towards animals, it is only natural that we want to find kindred souls. This is also part of the explanation why we are disappointed when other people who we thought were on our side, turn out not to share exactly our views or behavior.
While I understand this need and desire to find people who are of like mind, and the disappointment that comes with people who almost are, I personally think that living in the real world and helping people to feel compassion for animals and eat vegan, is a lot more important.
You can apply the island-concept to many things: vegan restaurants are rather “islandish”: they are safe places where you’ll never eat anything wrong. But going to a non vegan restaurant can push the restaurant and its chef in the direction of providing more vegan options. Vegans-only Facebook groups are islands. It’s good that they exist, we can discuss our views safely without annoying questions, bullying or ridicule from others, but we’re not going to influence other people with it.
Of course, it’s quite possible to move between our island and the mainland. We can, for instance, live on the non vegan mainland most of the time, and go to our vegan island when we need a break or want to vent.
Also, it might be useful to recognize that some of us are more suited to live on the island than on the mainland. While there are people who are really good at reaching out to non-vegans, others simply may not have the patience for it. Not to worry in that case: there’s great work to be done on the island to. Catering to and caring for other vegans’ needs and desires is probably an important aspect of making veganism more sustainable – something that is much needed, given that only one in five vegetarians (not even vegans) sticks to it!