Should we present eating vegan as a choice or a necessity?

The take away of my previous post, “on vegans and vegan meals“, was that it might be more efficient to tell people to eat vegan, try vegan meals or products, rather than to tell them to go vegan, be a vegan, adhere to veganism…

This message is controversial (or even “morally corrupt”, I kid you not) to some people, who insist that going vegan is the only ethical option, and that we should tell people so in as many words, always and everywhere. Here’s a comment one of my more respectful critics made:
“The problem with the above strategy is that it gives the impression that being vegan is a choice, not a necessity. (…) By the above post you are creating a situation, where non-vegans are quite happy for veganism to be a choice … the live & let live scenario … except the animals themselves do not have a say in this choice.”
Of course I agree that in principle not consuming animal products is the most just way to relate to animals, and the closest to a guarantee that they won’t suffer and be killed. But my agreeing with this idea does not necessarily mean that I have to tell people that they have to be vegan. I prefer telling people things that I think are effective, rather than “right”.
In my opinion, suggesting that people have to do something, is not very effective. think it’s much better to communicate to people that they have a choice, a choice for which there are much better arguments than for eating meat. This, I think, is much more productive than saying they have no choice, and that they should follow some moral imperative that we impose upon them (at least that will be their impression).

I already wrote about persuasion resistance
Do you like to be told what to do? Do you like to be told by someone that you have to be something or someone? Do you like it when people give you the impression you are not up to their standards if you don’t do as they do? Most people don’t like any of these things. By not telling people what to do, we may actually get more people to do it.
I thought the following applies to telling people what to do in general:

calming down

Another argument against presenting something as a necessity is that it sounds much less attractive. When you present something as a necessity, there’s a connotation of sacrifice (you have to do this and you can’t do that), and that is exactly what we want to avoid. It’s challenging to combine the ideas that something is wonderful and a moral imperative at the same time.
So, again, we can tell ourselves that, because veganism and animal suffering are matters of life and death, we have to tell others that they are morally obliged to go vegan. Or we can imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes, and formulate or message in a way that appeals to them and actually makes them act on it. 

6 thoughts on “Should we present eating vegan as a choice or a necessity?

  1. What some people don’t seem to get is that at this time, veganism IS a choice. Just look around — the majority of people are choosing not to. By acting otherwise, we just seem fanatical and divorced from reality.

  2. Hi! Thank you for your writings. Everything humans do is a combination of choice and responding to environmental changes. We make our choices, and it is cause and effect. You can tell someone who refuses to eat, ‘you have to eat, or you’ll die.’ They know this already, and are choosing not to eat anyway. Throughout history, the wise ones in critical times would always speak of choice, of the paths before the people and what lay down this path, and what lay down the other. Anything necessary happens. It makes no difference to the universe what goes on here. Look how few people even now have made the switch. Many fewer have succeeded in influencing others. But our sense of time relates to our individual lifespans, and evolution can seem to be very slow at times. I see mass veganism happening naturally however due to the changing environment. And once it hits critical mass, nobody will remember how we used to eat, the same way we cannot remember how we lived without personal computers.

  3. I totally agree, I think that the more people feel judged and made to feel bad about being non vegan, the more they will resist. This article has helped me understand why I don’t feel, as a vegan, I need to scream it high and loud but rather lead by example and inform anyone who asks. We ALL have choices, ideally anyone and everyone would be vegan and all cruel industries would come to a stop, but I doubt very much that’s going to happen, so I make my own choice simply for me and feel better about that. Thank you so much for this and the vegan meals article Tobias. ❤️

  4. I find your article very important Tobias and I am grateful you raised that issue. I want to share some additional points I find essential. First of all as a human beings we have a great need for autonomy and choice. Secondly, an action made of choice and not of coercion is long lasting and empowering beacuse by doing something we WANT we are connected to what is important for us and precious as well. So that kind of choice is coherent to our needs and values (and also intrinsic). And because it is intrinsic and not external it is great motivational tool. Anyway, in my expericence doing anything because of should or shouldn’t almost always bacfires in the long run.

  5. If the average meat eater were to avoid eating bird flesh, eve if that spot on their plate were filled with an equal amount of pig and cow flesh, they would move from eating over 24 farmed land animals a year to less than 1. Powerful harm reduction that is not hard to do. Perhaps this animal advocacy would spare more animals than vegan advocacy?

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