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Vegans are people too, and people like to understand and want to be understood. Here’s a few lines about how some vegans think and feel. May it contribute to illumination and clarification 🙂
We vegans (I should actually just speak for myself) undoubtedly get on your nerves at times. We bother you with our preaching, we are not always willing to eat the things that you serve us, we are quite difficult when visiting restaurants together, we slow down everything when we want to read labels, we may react socially inappropriate at times, and occasionally we even might make you feel guilty.
So, I’m sorry about all that. But please know, dear omnivore, that being a vegan in a carnivorous world is not always easy, and allow me to give you a small glimpse inside the mind of at least one vegan.
When I say a vegan life is not always simple, I’m not talking about the thousands of times we have to answer the same questions (what do you actually eat? Where do you get your protein?). Nor am I talking about having to read labels, or about restaurant staff that do not know what we eat or not eat. No, these kind of things I consider to be the pleasures of being a vegan, so to speak.
I am talking about something completely different. It’s something I cannot easily express. It’s about a combination of helplessness and incomprehension. Helplessness in the face of so much animal suffering, and incomprehension and astonishment at the fact that it is not getting addressed and eradicated, or even perceived as such.
These frustrations, you may say, are not the privilege of vegans, and you may be right. But still, it is different in this area than others. For the problem of the endless suffering of animals by human hands, there is a solution which is actually quite feasible: it would just mean that all of us start eating only delicious vegan food instead of dead animals. When you consider this on a global scale, at the level of all humanity, this solution seems to be (at least in short term) not quite realistic. But at individual level, it surely is possible, in theory, for everyone to join.
And then you (I mean me now, the vegan), start thinking and chewing your thoughts, over and over again. You realize that even if the solution is simple, ultimately it is not happening, and people do not participate, they continue to eat meat. And you wonder why. You wonder whether you may be seeing things that are not there. You ask yourself if you are hyper-sensitive or overly sentimental. You consider that you are maybe an alien, or just downright crazy. You tell yourself that it cannot be as bad as it looks, that there must be some justice behind it all. Karma perhaps. But that doesn’t convince you. And again you try to find out what it actually is that you dislike so much and whether it is actually so awful as you think. And you keep on coming back to the same conclusion: yes, what happens *is* horrible. Sixty billion animals every year that lead a miserably short life, because we humans find their meat tasty. That’s actually all that is going on.
And you wonder why it does not stop and since it is not stopping you ask what you can or should do to make it stop. You try some things here and there, but it is never enough and you can see change but it is very slow. And above all: there seems to be no way to explain it to the people who don’t see it. You can not even show them any pictures or videos because they do not want to watch them. They tell you all the things you tell them are just exceptions and that in the end it is not all bad. And you’re considered to be adhering to a new religion, or you have simply made another choice than they did. And you try to explain that it is *not* just a matter of taste or preference. That eating meat or not eating meat is not a matter of painting the living room in yellow or in green. Because by now you are convinced that not eating animals is not only a compassionate but also a very rational thing to do. How can it be so difficult, you think, to see that we should avoid inflicting pain and suffering and killing where we can easily avoid it? But the others don’t understand, and so you try every possible way to explain. You appeal to moral philosophy, to arguments about the environment and health, you cook, you let people taste, and you hope that you have some effect, drop by drop.
And you can see that in almost everyone’s case, all that is needed to understand and feel, is already there. You can see that most people love their cat or their dog, you see that they really cannot cope with animal cruelty. Similarly they are not convinced anymore that eating animals is required to be healthy. And yet all the time they tell you that what you are saying is not exactly right, or it is inconsistent, or not feasible, or naive, or not important compared to all the human suffering in the world.
And through all this thinking and talking and discussing, you constantly need to be careful not to seem arrogant. The deadly sin here is to appear as one who thinks he is better than the rest, a moralist who tells other people what to do. You must pay attention that you do not condemn others for what they eat – something which is very difficult because the other very often already feels condemned by your mere presence as a vegan. And you must be careful that you do not look like someone who hates, because actually you do not hate (although at times you may become a bit more aggressive, intolerant or judgemental, like every human being). You just can not understand, even though you try so hard.
And of course you must look healthy all the time and can never be sick, because that would be the fault of your diet.
Fortunately, dear omnivore, it is not all doom and gloom in our heads, and there are a few things that make it a little easier. Unlike what you may think, we do enjoy life and the food we eat – many of us discovered the joys of cooking and eating only after having said goodbye to meat and fish. And we definitely can see changes around us, faster and faster. And in our neighborhood and all over the world there are people who feel the same and fight the same fight. If we are crazy, surely we are not alone. We strive together for Something Completely Different.
Personally, what helps me the most is the realization, over and over again, that I myself was eating animals for a long time past the point that I realized I shouldn’t do it. In a way, I am grateful for that. And I am grateful for the fact that I can feel, no matter how inconvenient that may be at times, and that I am vulnerable.
This, dear omnivore, is – very simplified – what is happening daily in my mind. Perhaps in being clear to each other about our feelings, we can find things that unite us and stop talking in terms of me versus you, and may learn to understand each other better.
And to understand is to love, they say.
Thank you for reading
PS: animal suffering is not the only argument for avoiding animal products. Please realize there are many differences among us.
16 thoughts on “Dear omnivore”
Beautifully said. One more thought to add. Dear omnivore, it’s not me who makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s your conscience.
What intimate en so true confidence how vegan people feels. K&M
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
Thank you so much for sharing this. You speak for many of us 🙂
this is so spot on, it hurts.
Well….I read this and it certainly didn’t improve my perception of vegans. But obviously this was written for vegans…..at least I hope.
Would you mind elaborating on your reaction, Mr. Toad? Did it clarify anything of how/what Tobias thinks? Did doing so make you less sympathetic? I’m just curious how you see it.
Not sure either what toad means…
My personal reaction probably isn’t that telling, “omnivores” like myself aren’t that common. But personally I just stop at statements like this:
” For the problem of the endless suffering of animals in the world, there is a solution which is actually quite feasible: it would just mean that all of us start eating only delicious vegan food instead of dead animals.”
This claim isn’t credible, veganism doesn’t provide a solution to the “endless suffering of animals in the world” instead its a boycott of animal based product with the hope that this leads to less suffering of domestic animals. Wild animals, on the other hand, are entirely off the radar.
But where I think where most people are going to tune out is here:
” Sixty billion animals every year that need to lead a miserably short life, because we humans find their meat tasty. That’s actually all that is going on.”
This just isn’t how people understand matters, instead they have a variety of cultural beliefs about meat and telling them that they are eating it “because its tasty” will come off as obviously false.
So, as a letter to omnivores, this doesn’t work at all……but I think the real audience was vegans. So they can pat themselves on the back.
Perhaps you can see some of the vegan struggle in your own reaction. It’s very difficult for any vegan to share a perspective for the purpose of creating connection and empathy for the minority we are, without others assuming that the entire notion of veganism is no more than an arrogant club.
You, on the other hand, MUST assume this in order to dismiss the simple facts that these 60 billion animals are dying because of human desire, and to not assume veganism is self-centered would supposedly make you very self-centered. I don’t believe in an absolute on that matter, and will here just scratch the survace of this underlying nuance. So human desires…
Which desires? Well you brought up that there’s more than taste. You are right that there’s a large social factor. This is why we need people on board, building an inclusive and fun culture around veganism, because it’s possible to have that same unity around food in a vegan world, and the only differences would be that 60 billion animals wouldn’t be bred and killed, we would eliminate hunger and starvation in the developing world, we would prevent the major painful chronic diseases of the developed world, and we would roll back pollution and greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
But there’s also a significant taste desire that deserves attention. Tobias makes it seem hedonistic, which I think he could do better with, because while it is our initial impression that it’s “just taste” and we should have full control over eating food that tastes different, the reality is that taste is a very complex biological and psychological mechanism, and while I have a gut microbiome that chemically communicates to my brain that it wants more sweet potato fries and peanut butter fruit smoothies, yours tells you that it’s in need of chicken strips. For these bacteria, the matter is life and death, and they have survived since before we were Homo sapiens, so their messages are proven to be very convincing. However, I believe in the strength of human willpower more, and have seen it work in myself and my friends, and believe it can work in anybody who gains understanding of long-term consequences, and understanding not nearly as present in our ancestors.
Believe me, I could continue for hours on such matters. The point is that you aren’t a weak human, and that your decisions are, for better or worse, very much subject to the conditioning in your past that you did not choose for yourself.
Likewise, I am not vegan because I am a strong-willed and compassionate person, at least not as much as I would like to think. My diet throughout childhood was not as heavy in animal products as other Americans because of my German heritage. I didn’t ever learn much about cooking meat, so I was accidentally flexitarian for my first two years of university, just ordering chicken on my burritos when eating out. I met a friend who I thought was really “cool” in his cold and calculating style mixed with dark humor, a little anti-social but with pockets teeming with academic sources to make compelling arguments, just because my parents pushed me into working in a bakery where he was. I grew to admire him as an older brother, so when he challenged me with “Why not choose the cruelty-free option?”, veganism was an easy choice. So while I like to think that I made the choice because you and I, to this day, don’t have a sufficient answer to that question, and now I’ve built a broad understanding of why it is the better choice of lifestyle, the fact of the matter is that I was susceptible to it because of the conditions surrounding me at the time, and the conditions I did not choose since early childhood.
I’d like to finish by just addressing your simple questions. Veganism does help wild animal suffering by greatly reducing deforestation, especially in the Amazon rainforest.
I don’t think Tobias is incorrect in his writing here generally, since laying out the flat consequences might be effective with some people, such as myself two years ago, but there are probably many people who relate with you. His job and mine as vegan advocates is to take into consideration the difficulty of the argument we are making, and still make it as well as possible. Even if I find your reasons ridiculous, he and I have both failed in your case if you’re not considering change, such as reducing animal product consumption. But I think it would be interesting if we were to take more care with statements that could induce guilt, because it’s well-known in the field of behavioral change that guilt does not incentivize change. Based on the quotes that you’ve picked out as incorrect, I think that while you have a points that I’ve addressed above, I think that you also have some guilt. Do not hide your face or raise your fists in anger to this observation, but consider how you can begin to release it. You can choose to eat oysters instead of shrimp, and try out the delicious vegan mayos that are popular with omnivores simply for their taste. You can talk with your friends about animal issues, even if you’re not completely convinced yourself.
I hope you understand where Tobias and I are coming from. That was, after all, the original intent of his writing.
It’s titled “Dear Omnivore” so…
The line ‘It’s about a combination of helplessness and incomprehension. Helplessness in the face of so much animal suffering, and incomprehension and astonishment at the fact that it is not getting addressed and eradicated, or even perceived as such.’
You got the tears flowing there. Its how I feel every single minute of every day………
I’m with you, Tobias. Great post.
I agree a bit with the toad…i am vegan but im pretty sure most omnis would stop reading as soon as the language gets emotive..about when you mention the endless suffering of animals -as at this point you are starting to cross the vegan-preachy-guilt line and they’ll tune out. From a vegan point of view – it is totally spot on, and well said. 🙂
Many, many thanks.
Oh vegans! How we try to politely keep the omnivores from tuning out the truth…it’s our fault that we lose people’s attention when it comes to holding compassion for living beings. If this is humanity.. I am an alien.
I love vegan meat (hmm sounds kinky). However, as long as humans are born to grow sharp teeth, I shall continue to be my omnivorous self. Other than that, as long as religions that require animal slaughtering exist, I will never see the vegan industry replacing the meat industry.