How to be a non-judgmental vegan

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Vegans often get told they are judgmental. Judging others is a very human thing, and for mere mortals, it is probably more or less impossible to be non-judgmental all of the time. So yes, just like anyone else, vegans too can be judgmental. And given how passionate we are about the idea that using animals for food and other purposes is wrong, we may very well be more judgmental than the average person.

However, vegans may also come over as more judgmental to people than we actually are. That’s because many people feel guilty about consuming products they know are not in accordance with their values. The judgment they feel coming from vegans, may be their own judgment of themselves. That’s why they will often be on the defensive when talking with vegans (or even being in their presence).

But whether we are judgmental, or just appear judgmental, we’ve got a bit of a problem in both cases.
Why is being or being seen as judgmental a problem? Simply because most people who feel judged will probably be less likely to listen to you and change. No one (or virtually no one) likes a “judger”.  When someone is passing judgment (or appearing to pass judgment), people hear or read this as “what you are doing is not okay”. This for most of us is annoying enough in itself (we don’t like to be told what to do – we’re adults, you know), but even worse: in our poor, insecure minds it is often easily translated to “you are not okay”.
You may object: “But my mom changed after I told her she was this or that”. Maybe, but my guess is that means that she already had the seeds of change inside her. It’s most unlikely that it was your judging attitude that made her change.
You may think: “But eating meat IS not okay, is it? So I should be allowed to pass judgment on it. I have to speak out about it…”
I definitely understand. We really are convinced that eating animal products is not okay. Should we pretend that it is? I’m not saying we should. But again, sounding judgmental will probably not be very helpful in opening people’s hearts and minds to change.
Trying to not come over as judgmental is not hypocritical or dishonest, by the way. We (or at least I) have hundreds of thoughts every day that I am not expressing to other people. I’m sure it wouldn’t be beneficial if everyone could hear all of them.
So I think we are on safe grounds when we assume that a judgmental attitude is not helpful. Assuming we want to help animals, we need to open hearts and minds, and judgments tend to do the opposite. So: how do we avoid being judgmental? It’s not easy, because judgments are thoughts and feelings, and we have only limited control over those (much less than over our actions and behavior). But here are some things to try.
  1. Grow your self-awareness. Try to catch yourself when you are being judgmental. This takes practice, but it’s worth it, because self-awareness is very useful in general. Being aware of our own shortcomings, catching ourselves when we do stuff we don’t want to be doing is really important for… well, for world peace, you know.
  2. Realize that you don’t know people or their situation. A good exercise is to try to think of something the people you are judging, might be experiencing. Realizing they might have a good reason to do what they do or to be how they are, can make you milder in an instant. If you’re irritated with someone who bumps into you while rushing through the street, you could think of the many possible valid reasons why they are really in a hurry.
  3. Realize that everyone is different. We were raised in different ways, have a different genetic makeup, had different lives. Because of all this, some people may need more time than others, or will do things in different ways. You could try to imagine one or more reasons people could have for not being like you, yet.
  4. Realize that you’re not perfect. It’s not because you’re a vegan that you’re awesome in all respects of your life. This again comes down to self awareness. And it comes down the old saying: may he (or she) who is without sin, cast the first stone. In other words: who are you to judge?
  5. Remember that you (probably) were a meat eater once. You’ve done the same things. And if you think you went vegan from the moment someone told you it was wrong to eat animals, read the myth of the overnight vegan conversion.
  6. Realize that people who are not vegan may be doing other great things, which you might not be doing. They may be helping in a shelter, they may be volunteering for some human relief organization, they may donate a lot of money to good causes, or whatever. And know that the impact they have with that may even be bigger than the impact you have with just avoiding animal products (see The fetish of being vegan)
  7. Turn it around: think of a situation where someone judges you for stuff you’re doing wrong. Someone who’s more vegan than you, maybe. Think of how you react to that. Try to be honest: you may think you are Ms or Mr Rational, who will admit to being wrong and changing your behavior whenever you are wrong. That may be true, but it probably isn’t.
  8. Realize that trying to be non-judgmental is a matter of effectiveness, and that if you can suspend judgment, this will be better the animals, for the person you would be judging, and even for you.
I wish you (and myself) good luck in trying to be less judgmental!

24 thoughts on “How to be a non-judgmental vegan

  1. I see this as the crux of the internecine vegan debate. Some of us are so timid, afraid of offending. Judge the behavior not the person (in most cases). I try to speak in terms of my beliefs and am not afraid to voice them. No need to then follow up with “you should…”. But to shy away from voicing those deeply felt beliefs, I believe, devalues those beliefs and your integrity in the eyes of non-vegans. You are wishy-washy and therefore, so are your beliefs.

    We often confuse the belief in the sanctity of a non-human animal’s life as being akin to the belief in the sanctity of a deity – wrong! Animal rights is not a matter of faith, not a matter of interpretation or opinion. Unfortunately may vegans don’t want to proselytize and conflate religious evangelism with standing up for the rights of the voiceless. Its really all about them not wanting to be disliked – little to do with strategy.

    1. When you tell people animal rights are not a matter of faith and not a matter of interpretation of opinion…..what reason do people have to agree with you? Veganism is short on, you know, actual arguments…… You can count the philosophers that give arguments for animals rights on one hand and even here, their arguments aren’t well aligned with veganism.

      So when people insist they are right but don’t give specific arguments and evidence for such….what do you call that?

    2. “to shy away from voicing those deeply felt beliefs, I believe, devalues those beliefs and your integrity in the eyes of non-vegans”
      What I find important is to realize that we’re not out to defend or value beliefs. What is important (to me, at least) are results — fewer animals suffering. I’ve never known a non-vegetarian who didn’t consider changing because a vegan wasn’t strident enough in their beliefs.
      I don’t care at all about proving my “integrity.” I only care about figuring out better ways to open more hearts and minds. IMHO!

      1. ”I’ve never known a non-vegetarian who didn’t consider changing because a vegan wasn’t strident enough in their beliefs.” It’s the opposite that is true actually! But I guess what he meant was that we shouldn’t completely shut up about it either… But maybe I’m just projecting my own opinion on him 😛 But of course, we should be vocal about it only to people who are willing to listen, for the rest we shouldn’t bother because it would be like talking to a rock!

    3. I am guilty of nothing and feel no guilt for eating meat every day. Vegans get a clue your online harassment destroys what ever you trying to achieve eating a totally dangerous diet. I don’t care if you want to do that at all. How dare any vegan criticize me, and harass me. So now I hate you all. I will not even socialize with you. I will not hire you. I will not work for you or pay you for any work. Go to hell.

  2. Tobias, I don’t understand how you can say that being VEGAN doesn’t mean we are perfect! Of course it means we’re perfect. And thus can judge all the evil weak people around us!

  3. In our online community, you’ll meet three types of people: The uncompromising vegans, who speak the brutal truth and demand change, the more passive vegans, who lead by example, and all their followers in between. Veganism is not a mundane menu choice: It’s the difference between enslavement and freedom, between torture and peace, between death and life. This is serious, and it’s important that not-yet vegans understand that and act accordingly, which is to choose vegan.

    The vegan (r)evolution starts at the mouth. Generally speaking, the best way to lose someone is to be prescriptive — which is why I personally choose to explain rather than to blame, shame and complain. I can’t hate the sinner — I wasn’t born vegan, and not-yet vegans are victims of the food system that commodifies animals as well — but I do hate the sin. Unfortunately — or fortunately — speaking in hushed tones about this will not be in any way persuasive either.

    Personally, I feel that offending the victimizers is sometimes necessary to open their eyes to what the victims are going through. Trivializing something that is morally repugnant — and nonveganism is, if we’re brutally honest — people will assume that it is socially acceptable. But it shouldn’t be, and indeed morally, it cannot be. When you tell people that eating animals for food is wrong, it puts pressure on them to do the right thing. Is that so bad, Tobias? I certainly don’t think so…


    1. Well… thechnically, it is socialy acceptable (as it’s accepted by society), but I get your point. The best thing to do, IMO, is to use common sense to decide how we should approach the topic with each specific people or group. Being too persistent can push people away!

  4. This is another issue that completely vanishes when you remove the pompous self importance of veganism…..and focus on specific issues. One never needs to talk about veganism, being vegan or any other such nonsense to promote social change.

    Of course….the vegan community is driven by the sort of issues highlighted in this piece.

  5. I usually try to express myself according to who I am talking to. I talk differently to my parents about veganism than I talk to my friends, than I talk to strangers or than I talk to other vegans.
    But what really bothers me is that I have noticed that many of those self-proclaimed “non-judgmental” vegans are many times still judging others, they just don´t see it or won´t admit it when they´re called out. (I´m not directing this to the writer of this article, just generally expressing my impression)
    Yes, judging is in human nature, but I get particularly annoyed when some other vegan tells me that I´m judgmental only to then judge me back, pretending they´re not judging me. Practically doing exactly the same thing they´re accusing me of, having “holier than tho” attitude.

  6. What do you do when you’re out at a restaurant and non-vegans insist on making your diet part of the conversation? I don’t want to be an example of “How do you know when someone’s a vegan? They’ll tell you.” What do you say to change the subject?

    1. if other people start the conversation, there’s no harm answering a couple of questions. but there’s different things we can do to make it more productive conversation, like:
      – stopping in time
      – not talking too much
      – asking questions
      – listening
      – maybe being silent or smiling mysteriously at times 🙂

  7. “Realize that people who are not vegan may be doing other great things, which you might not be doing. ”

    This is something that many vegans don’t notice. There are many people who are not vegans fighting for people in developing countries. Some of these meat eaters are activists, environmentalists, and feminists. Some foster children. Some adopt animals for shelters. Some of these animals have serious special needs. Some help homelss people and vounteer in shelters. Some fight for rent increases in expensive cities. Some meat eaters do all of the above and sacrifice their lives while doing the above. Some even tried to be vegeterians and it did not work out for them.

    I know some one who looked after farm animals. She only killed them when they were very old and she knew they were about to die. She took care of them as much as she did and then since they were dying, she prayed and sacrificed their meat. Some people compromise and find ways to make it work.

    Vegans are free to judge and preach especially in democratic countries. However, when some one preaches or judges me about something, I tend to hold on to my beliefs even stronger than before.

  8. So I’m a meat eater.
    Mainly fish.
    I think any diet can become religious to some.
    It’s never ok to judge others for their choices without knowing their full story.
    For me I cannot eat any grains or dairy yet I have found that all vegan restaurants etc contains or cross contaminate with grains.
    I also cannot have tofu because of my thyroid.
    So vegan isn’t a sustainable diet for me.
    But when I go out with friends who are vegan they definitely make sure to say something so I stop eating in front of them completely& have actually ended friendships over the constant reminder that I’m not up to their standards.

    Just some food for thought.
    If you want to help others find the lifestyle appealing and try it showcase it as fabulous and people will ask.
    When you nag people they just turn off.
    And some people absolutely should not be vegan for health related issues and that’s bio-individuality at its finest.

    I have mad respect for anyone who sticks to anything intense so props to all the vegans however shaming people for their lifestyle (and sometimes medically necessary lifestyle) is never a good way to win people over.

  9. Another meat eater here, respectful to veganism and its cause/ global impact.

    Culturally I have struggled with my reliance on animal products and have often attempted vegetarian and even vegan diets, only to come to a sudden halt due to what I can only refer to as an addiction to meat, dairy etc.

    All that said, I do appreciate this article and agree that the steps above would be best suited to converting my choices over time.

    I’ve seen commenters pointing to their refusal to compromise their values by sugar coating the efforts of veganism, and offering anything but the cold, honest truth as they see it.

    I actually think that’s totally fine, and would just like to point out that it’s possible that these folks were meant to be champions of the cause, RATHER than evangelists. It takes a pretty specific temperament and flexibility of perspective to bring people into a new way of thinking, and without that level of rhetorical compromise, it will be very difficult to open hearts and minds.

    Please understand that this is not a condemnation of sticking by your values uncompromisingly, but just a suggestion to manage your expectations when it comes to how meat-eaters will “digest” your dialogue.

  10. I have Crohn’s Disease and have had nine feet of intestines removed.

    If someone has Crohn’s as serious as I do and mentions to their gastroenterologist that they are planning on going vegetarian or vegan, the GI will basically tell them what an idiot they are. My diet has to consist of minimal fruits and vegetables (soluble fiber is okay, but insoluble fiber can land me in the hospital, causing further damage and possibly needing more surgery). My doctors tell me to eat more beef and to stick to simple carbs like potatoes, white rice, and white bread.

    This is evident based on my lab results. During my last blood test, my iron and vit D were extremely low, and my vit B!2 was to the point where it was undetectable.

    My good vegan friend has introduced me to many great vegan options here, and I have managed to incorporate some more plants and less meat in my diet even though it has had some consequences.

    On the other hand, she always wants me to grab takeout for us, come to her house, and eat my disk containing meat (if it does) using a fork or chopsticks I brought from home. This is an example of vegan extremism: the idea of her dishes / cutlery even coming into contact with meat is so horrifying to her that it upsets her. Note that her boyfriend with who she lives is not a vegan, and clearly restaurants from which she orders vegan dishes do not maintain a special wok or pan or grill or utensils for making vegan dishes.

    Then, after we finish, she waits about 10 minutes and goes on a prolonged diatribe at how utterly unfathomable and disgusting it is to her that people eat animal products, starting at me the whole time.

    She invited me to Thanksgiving and I was responsible for purchasing dessert. (Note that I can cook, but my Crohn’s with work leaves me too exhausted and in pain many days). I went to one of the few stores here that has vegan products alongside products that use animal-based ingredients. I calculated, and buying dessert for her vegan Thanksgiving cost me about $60, when the exact same foods (ice cream, whipping cream, pumpkin pie) using animal products would have cost $25 or so.

    She does not ask – she demands – that when I go to a restaurant, I make it all about her and ask what is vegan and what is not to see if it’s a contender for the future for her. It is time consuming and obnoxious since it is an order rather than a favor.

    She is a classic example of why the people who comprise the omnivorous majority cannot stand vegans. I have no guilt about eating animals or animal products. I just don’t need nor want to sit around while she shames me for a substantial block of time after I eat non-vegan food in her presence.

  11. The vegan who calls out other people for being cruel then responds to those people in cruel and abusive ways because they “deserve” it (even when they are overgeneralizing a demographic or misinformed) seems common. I suppose because hypocrisy is a normal human trait unless we try to be more self aware. We are all hypocrites and narcissists to a point thinking we are our own little deities that must be obeyed. Another point, it is difficult to get enough protein in a vegan diet if you are poor. Trust me I know. I need about 65 g per day (with exercise) and I would have to eat ridiculous amounts of vegan food to attain that, I cannot afford to eat a whole bag of beans in a day. I also cannot afford many expensive shakes or fake meat. I eat as plant based as I can. A can of tuna is 35g of protein. How can someone claim to care about animals if they really don’t care about all animals ie humans. Do hardcore vegans think all carnivores should go extinct? Do hardcore vegans own pets? Even well taken care of pets are bred slaves of sorts for human entertainment and fulfillment. Yet service animals are valuable to many humans with genuine disabilities. Hypocrisy is common in humans because we always try to make the line that we draw the right one. I just try to hurt as few things as possible while still maintaining health and staying alive. Humans evolved omnivores due to one of our ancestors being stupidly meat obsessed. Blame them. Damn Homo Erectus. All I can do is eat as plant based as possible as I already said. It does not really matter though as this planet is probably already on its way to a reset of the life on it with global warming. That was a lot sorry I just had a vegan insult me and it was more than I could take at 4 am.

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