Anti-vegan: the lasagne

It’s quite remarkable how little is needed to be called “anti-vegan” these days. In this second presentation that I gave at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxemburg (Sept 2015), I give some examples of what is considered anti-vegan messages or behavior by some.

One example in question is “the non-vegan lasagne“. Imagine you are dining at some new non-vegan friends’ house. They have made lasagne for you. They went through the trouble of finding a vegan recipe, buying soymilk, soy margarine, soy meat… and cooking up something they had never tried before. It’s a bit of a risk to them and they’re a little nervous. Right before you start eating, you find out that they overlooked one thing: they used lasagne dough with eggs. What do you do?

I asked this question to the audience and was happy to see that most of the people who put their hand in the air (there seemed to be a lot of undecided ones) would choose to eat the lasagne. A smaller part believed that they could convey in a polite way that they would not have any of it.

I said I was quite sceptical that not eating the food would *not* be damaging for the idea of veganism and vegans, and thus for the animals. I think it is an illlusion to think that refusing the food in such a case will not have a negative  impact.

Making this kind of exception is, I believe, the vegan thing to do, so to speak. When I do it, I feel I am true to the principle behind veganism, which is (for me) reducing harm and increasing happiness.

What I would do is tell those friends later, the next time I’m invited, if they could pay attention to this or that, because last time, you know… With some time having gone over it, pointing out their small “mistake” won’t affect them as much, I’m pretty sure.

If all this is non vegan, so be it. After the talk, several people told me I was quite brave to say all this publicly. I didn’t feel especially brave, but I thought that it was quite telling that some would think any bravery was required to say something like this. I would say: stop being afraid of others judging you as not vegan enough. Think about what you want to accomplish, and at all times, make *that* and not the definition of veganism, your bottom line.

(consistency, tho)

41 thoughts on “Anti-vegan: the lasagne

  1. Tobias, your ears should have burning last week when i was at the Mercy for Animals gala, and a group of us were expressing appreciation for your work. The group included our movement’s true heroes, undercover investigators, who, having had to kill animals to get the footage that changes the world, must wonder what to make of people unwilling to eat a little egg in their noodles in order to send a message that will ultimately help the cause. Other writers have made points similar to yours – Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, and Nick Cooney, and I make some of the same points in Thanking the Monkey. But to have you putting this out there into our movement on almost a daily basis is an extraordinary blessing. Thank you!!

    1. thanks karen. the argument of investigators having to eat a lot more than just a little bit of animal product is something i hadn’t thought of yet. interesting 🙂
      (of course, as you know, the “abolitionists” are mostly also against undercover investigations 🙂 )

    2. i wouldn’t mix up undercover work and activism! i did a lot of undercov work among drug users and homelss peopel back in the 90’s when i did my research for my phD and of course my behaviour back then was different tha my behavour afterwards as HIV-prevention and outreach worker! two different worlds two different methods! BUT even when i was doing undercoverr (deep cover) research among drug users i never ever engaged in any human (or animal) damaging behaviour! basically: if you want to expose cruelty of animal farming by killing animals so you can stay ‘undercover’ you are as sick as the butchers and slaughters ! undercover work needs preparations hence you can do it without killing animals! it would be like udnercovers in maffia partcipating in killings! quod non!

      1. karen, don’t mind jean. i think what he’s writing here is an absolute disgrace and is extremely disrespectful towards undercover investigators.
        Jean, i wouldn’t mind if you just stayed away from this blog. and i’m not saying things like that lightly.

  2. You hit perhaps the key point, Tobias — “vegan” only matters in as much as it helps animals. Nothing would help our efforts more than banishing the word “vegan.” Force people to refer to how something actually helps animals, and not if it is “vegan.”

    1. well, i think the concept can be helpful to quickly give an idea of our usual behavior and diet. so ideally, our efforts would be even more helped, i think, if vegan only had good/great associations and connotations for people. and maybe that would imply a slightly more flexible interpretation of the concept…

      1. I’m with both of you here, Matt & Tobias. I almost feel as if the word “vegan” is now tainted, and the average non-vegan has an unconscious (if not conscious) negative reaction to the word. If they are introduced to or meet a vegan, their guard automatically goes up.
        I’m not sure what can be done about it, but my experience has shown that the word “vegan” now has more negative than positive connotations for the average non-vegan.

        1. yeah, it’s a pity. some people are trying to come up with a new word. we just had a new vegan restaurant open here in my town that is called Le Botaniste. it is within the Pain Quotidien chain, the inspirator of which believes in a vegan future, but he also believes we need a different term, so Botanical is his chosen term. not so sure about it 🙂

        2. Hmmm…”Botanical”….at least no negative association that I can think of…but then I get an image of people eating flowers for some reason. 🙂

        3. But why has the word become tainted and why would the new term not get tainted as well once people realized it was the same ideology with a new name? Selling veganism to people is going to be difficult no no matter what you call it, the problem isn’t the name but the ideology.

        4. Based on my experience, the problem isn’t vegan ideology itself, but how that ideology has been expressed in overtly negative and condescending ways by vegans towards non-vegans/vegetarians/anybody who isn’t a 100% pure vegan.

          My experience has shown that this is how the word has become tainted in much of the general public’s eye. You kind of hit the nail on the head where you said that selling veganism is very difficult no matter what you call it…to add to that, you can’t make sales by being negative and condescending towards those you are trying to make a sale to.

          Unfortunately, people tend to have long memories when it comes to negative experiences, and once they’ve had a negative experience with a vegan, they are likely to lump all vegans into the same category. I’m sure you’ve seen from this blog that not all vegans are condescending and negative, so it’s very difficult for those of us in the category of “positive” who are lumped in together with the ones who are “negative”. We are trying to get a message across (for me it’s reducing animal suffering), but people don’t want to hear it because of past negative experiences with those who share the same name of “vegan”.

          At this point, however, it’s probably not practical to think up a new term, but I’d love it if there was some easy way for the general public to distinguish between the “angry vegan” and those of us like me who try very hard not to be negative, and supportive instead.

          I think a lot of the general public is still confused about the exact meaning of “vegan”, let alone adding further subcategories, so I’m not sure of the practicality of those and whether they would just confuse things further. I feel that the time & effort needed to formulate and put new subcategories out there, and explaining them so the general public would understand, would probably be better spent on the more direct work of helping the animals.

          Maybe I could ask you though, Mr. Toad…from where you stand, do you think having subcategories of vegans would help, or would it just confuse things? I like to think of myself as working to be positive, supportive, and my main motivation is reducing animal suffering.
          There are other subcategories, but at the other extreme end of where I consider myself are the “angry” abolitionist vegans, who demand all or nothing.
          An example of this would be banishment of sow gestation crates. While not an ideal for me, I’m thankful for any improvement that helps to reduce suffering for animals, and this is start in the right direction. Abolitionist vegans would say the opposite, that animal “welfare” is wrong, and this will only make people feel less guilty about eating animals.

          Anyway, Mr. Toad…if you have any thoughts or ideas on vegan subcategories, what they could be called, and how the general public would be receptive to them, I’d love to know. 🙂

        5. Christine,

          I’m sure some people have had negative experiences with vegans, but I’m doubtful that this is a big factor in people’s views of veganism because, at least in real life, I think most people are pretty amicable. Also I think its unlikely that this would be a significant barrier to someone being vegan, that is, assuming they’ve overcome the other commonly cited barriers….would some negative experiences really prevent someone from becoming vegan? I would argue that the reason people aren’t becoming vegan is due to both significant barriers to becoming vegan in today’s society and a lack of a compelling reason to overcome those barriers. This is precisely the case with myself, speaking as a non-vegan, I’ve yet to hear a compelling case for why I should be vegan.

          I think the “sub-categories” of veganism already have names, at least in part, within the vegan community and it doesn’t seem to be helpful. In fact, I think this is one of the major ideological problems with veganism, namely, there really is no philosophic core….the vegan community is a hodgepodge collection of individuals motivated by various factors. But what I still don’t understand is that, if one is just trying to reduce animal suffering….why would mentioning veganism be necessary in the first place?

          As for the gestation crates, I actually a agree a bit with the abolitionists on this one. While banning this practice will have a marginal improvement on the lives of the pigs, I think it just emphasizes the status quo. But I tend to support them, not due to animal welfare, but because increased regulations raise the cost of the underlying product which creates incentives for people to produce and find alternatives.

  3. Excellent!
    That reminds me of a similar story involving italian food.

    I need to start by saying that i’m collaborating with a service and its director is a big fan of meat, and the job involves a lot of dinners together.
    Actually I have met Kim (@BrusselsVegan) at that job and the whole suggestion of her starting to run an Instagram account actually started during one of those dinners.

    So here we had in one side Kim,an activist vegan, and in the other side the director a meat eater who was always making bad fun of her veganism, not really wanting to pay attention to her requests to choose better options, asking her to not speak so frequently about the issue, etc…

    But then, I started to be myself sensitive to her message and so did other staff members… so he pretty much was the only one still sticking to the old world and traditions…

    After a while, he started to be more and more open to the idea that other people may decide to not eat any animal products.

    Then Kim left the job and the whole team changed, and I’m pretty much the only one left eating vegan…

    A couple of months ago, we have again a staff dinner, but this time: the whole process was vegan friendly: the director asked me (and even insisted) suggestions of restaurants where I could eat something, etc…

    Then we arrived at the dinner, it’s an italian restaurant and he did the the whole order for me making sure that the pastas are not made with eggs, that there’s no meat in the sauce, asking them to not add cheese,.. Well I was impress and he did a good job making all the good requests. He really show how he understands very well what is a vegan meal…

    And then my plate arrived… with a little bit of parmesan as garniture!

    So what do I do? A scandal in this small cute restaurant (near Grand Place)?
    Or do I just shout my mouth and not ruin the moment as someone who was so anti-vegan did so much efforts to make me have a vegan dinner?

    I went for the second option: shout my mouth, opened it to eat, said thank you,
    …and we had a good dinner.


    1. i have a lot of other examples contradicting these arguments: refusing can be done in a polite manner and i never had any problems with this! quite the contrary: it opens the eyes and ears of non vegans who suddenly will understand the impact of THEIR choices. In general: once you are vegan there is no way you can make exceptions as those exceptions would be perceived as the start of neding principles. Hence people will keep thinking ‘veganism is about diet and you can eat whatever you want as long as you find an excuse for it’. Never forget we are vegan for the animals so if the animals could speak up they would not like ‘vegans’ to eat their flesh or secretions because not doing so would ‘offend people’. basically: if you make exceptions you making a mockery of animals and their lives! The only way to educate other people about veganism is to show them it’s easy, cheap and fun! never forget that it’s all about PE>RCEPTION: exceptions will be perceived as ‘possibilities’, hence opening the gate for more expetions and so on! and if non vegans are offende by vegans it’ s becaus ethese non vegans are not willing to have any compassion, not because being.. vegan!

    2. well, in january 2014 i ordered the vegan sandwich at ‘le pain quotidien’ at Mérode .. I got… ‘filet americain ‘ on it! I objected politely.Half an hour later i got a nice sandwich with vegetables, and laden with.. mozzarella! I started laughing and objecet dagain! teh waietrs apologized and eventually i got a sandwich with grileld vegetable sand uneatable aubergiens. I ate it! My non vegan friend who was with me, well she obsevred it all with increasing humor: she couldn’t believe how DUMB this pain quotidien was… she even made a nic epainting of this spectavle (she ‘s an artist ) geuss what: after mor emonths of examples liek that she finally went vegan in march 2015! and she was not the only one in my surroundings! basically: keep spredading adn showing the vegan message and peopel will go vegan! with no baby steps!

      1. Dear Jean,
        Both situation are not the same: in my story, there’s a person who was an anti vegan who took a lot of time to make sure I have a vegan option. The meal was vegan but they only had the “reflex” to add a little bit of garniture which was not. I wouldn’t care to send back the meal if I was alone, but doing so would have sent a wrong message to the persons who were dining with me (and really the amount of cheese was just a decoration, not more).

        In your example: you have ordered something and you got a total different meal. There’s no comparison possible…

        But anyway, thank whatever god anyone reading this believes in: there’s no medal for the best vegan in the World, and so to say, I don’t take part to that contest…

  4. If the new friends went to all that trouble, especially considering if this was their first time trying vegan cooking, the egg was most likely something they simply overlooked or weren’t aware of. I don’t know why any friends would make the effort they did to ensure everything else was vegan, but then intentionally include egg.

    At this point, the harm has already been done, because the dish is already cooked and in front of you, and there’s no way to make it 100% vegan now. It’s at crucial points like this that it’s extremely important to try and remember what you wrote here, Tobias:
    “Think about what you want to accomplish, and at all times, make *that* and not the definition of veganism, as your bottom line.”

    At this point, we hold an enormous amount of power in our hands as far as encouraging or discouraging our new friends. Whether you like it or not, you are at this point, in effect, “The Vegan Ambassador”.

    This may be the first step your friends are about to embark on towards becoming life-long vegans, reducing animal suffering, and getting others to do the same. Or this may be their last step and none of that will happen because we make them feel their effort wasn’t good enough for them to join our vegan club.

    This doesn’t mean we have to remain silent and can’t inform them about the egg in the dough…but if we want to encourage our new friends to be like we are, we will do this after we have thanked them first for all the effort they made for us. Perhaps we could even buy them a book and/or give them info about websites that explain more about being vegan, or a vegan cookbook for beginners.

    We need to remember what enormous power we hold in our hands at scenarios like this one. Thanks, Tobias. 🙂

    1. Hi Christine, wasn’t able to comment on your vegan subcategories comment up above, so thought I’d share here. 🙂

      For a long time I struggled with what to call myself because while I consider myself an abolitionist (like most vegans I want the use of other animals stopped), I am not opposed to welfare reforms to reduce suffering in the meantime, and that stance often earned me the label of “new welfarist” from other abolitionists. Fast forward a number of years later, and I’m now comfortable with describing myself as a pragmatic abolitionist (which basically means abolitionist in theory and ideals, but pragmatic in approach.) The distinction that I tend to make is between vegans who are absolutist abolitionists (a small but annoyingly vocal group — think Francione-style) and the more moderate pragmatic abolitionists like Tobias (very happy to have recently discovered his blog!). And while these distinctions probably mean nothing to folk, who as you say, have experienced mainly angry, all or nothing, “welfare is evil” vegans, I have found it a useful way to describe different activist strategies. Hope the distinction helps a bit?

        1. Perhaps I’m not understanding what the “we” refers to here, but there is a big difference ,philosophically speaking, between an abolitionist approach and an animal welfare approach. The latter is rooted in an utilitarian ethics and the former is deontic. So are you suggesting that veganism is fundamentally deontic in nature? Perhaps so…….veganism is after all rule-based.

          1. the abolitionist vs welfare framing is usually a misnomer. yes, there are welfarist people and groups who are not demanding the abolition of animal use. but most of the people and groups called (new) welfarist by the “abolitionists” (in the francionite sense) are in favor of abolitionism.
            I think most francionite abolitionists are indeed very much deontologicallly inspired, while with others there’s much more of a chance that they are at least to some degree utilitarian.
            That distinction too (deontology vs utility) i don’t find always helpful though, or at least, i don’t see it as black and white. I’m in some senses/domains a deontologist, in others a pragmatic utilitarian.

  5. Tobias, great example. I personally know a couple who tried very hard to make half of their meal vegan for their vegan relative. Part of the cheese on the non-vegan part touched a bit of the vegan food, and apparently this person made a very big deal about it and refused to eat it.

    This non-vegan family had such a negative experience from this, it offended them that their effort was rejected and has made at least one of them even more opposed to vegans in general because of this rudeness.

    When people make an attempt to accommodate, always reward and encourage that behavior.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience & that example, ashpdx. I feel extremely saddened when I read or hear of instances like this one, where people have such a negative experience from a vegan that they become even more opposed to vegans. I feel so sad for the loss of so much opportunity for a more humane world for the animals.

      Cheese was touching the non-vegan part of the meal…did the vegan’s reaction help to stop or reduce the use of cheese in the future? No, the exact opposite happened instead…the use of cheese and the animal suffering involved will continue on.

      The vegan is in effect causing animal suffering to actually continue. Not only that, but the vegan has built up stronger resistance to changes that would help alleviate it.

      Is our purity worth so much that we will sacrifice the welfare of the very beings we claim to care about, and also make their struggle even that much harder? It just makes no sense to me.

        1. Oh my gawsh…now I’m the one who’s ears are burning… that means so much coming from you, thanks, Tobias! It’s much easier to keep on hijacking your blog instead, though 🙂

  6. I had a situation recently that I’d be interested in peoples view on.

    Last year I went on holiday with a group of five omnivores.

    One night they were going to cook chilli con-carne. I said I’d go out and buy some soya mince for me, but use the same base sauce as them and rice. The rest were your classic anti-soya, meat eaters. Sadly the shop that I knew sold soya mince had sold out.

    They did sell Quorn mince though. In the UK Quorn mince is not vegan, it contains 4-5% egg. I worked out that based on weight, a meal for six with Quorn would use less than half an egg. I considered that less than half an egg would probably cause less sufferring than the three pounds of beef they were going to eat (I may be wrong in this calculation but you get the concept).

    The rest of the group agreed to use Quorn for the whole meal (which I ate too), as my feeling was that the net sufferring would be less.

      1. Yes, I’m curious if they liked it, too! If the use of half an egg helped to open the eyes of five omnivores to beef alternatives, that would be a great investment. 🙂

  7. I also believe in doing what’s best for the animals, and not striving to be “pure” for the sake of it. I’m just not convinced that eating the lasagne is necessarily the best for the animals, and here is why: I’m afraid that if non-vegans see a vegan consume products from the egg and dairy industry, they might think that the suffering of the animals in these industries can’t be that bad after all, and keep consuming them with a good conscience. At least that’s what I thought when a friend of mine who was a vegetarian started eating meat again (this was when I still ate meat myself). That being said, I still think it’s very important to express one’s gratitude to the people who put their effort into cooking something vegan, even when it’s not.

  8. This happened to a friend of mine.
    She’s not vegan, and was invited to spend Christmas with her partner’s family. Knowing that his sister was vegan, she decided to bring a vegan dish. She asked me for a lentil loaf recipe, bought all the ingredients (some of which were not cheap), made the recipe and at the end she realized that by mistake she used a splash of cow milk instead of the soy milk that was just sitting next to it in the fridge.
    She asked me if she should tell them or not. I advised her to tell the truth and the sister could decide what to do. Well, she told them, and the sister (and a cousin, who turned out to be vegan as well) refused to eat it and didn’t even thank her for trying. Of course my friend said “Never again.” Nobody else in their family went through the trouble of making them a vegan dish and they just ate side dishes.
    The bright side is that the meat-eaters in the family ate an almost-vegan dish, liked it, and hopefully had less room for meat in their stomach 🙂

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