Many vegans love to tell other people that going vegan is sooo easy. Indeed, it has become a lot easier, but I would argue that to most people going vegan is still not easy. One good indication of this is research that tells us that not even staying vegan is easy for most vegans: 75% of them fall off the wagon at some point.
Maybe going vegan was easy for you and me (actually, it wasn’t for me), but that shouldn’t lead us to uncritically extrapolate and assume that it’s easy for everyone. I always emphasize that maybe the most important skill for any activist is the ability to see the world through other people’s eyes (or to walk in their shoes). If you want to influence somebody into thinking or behaving differently, you need to know, first of all, what their experience of the world is.
That is important because others’ experience can be so completely different from yours, that what worked for you will not work for them.
It is tempting to think that reality is reality, and that we all experience it more or less the same way. But of course that’s not the case. Here’s an interesting example. Last week, pollsters asked voters whether Trump’s campaign had stabilized after the offensive videorecording came out. Look at how perception among Republicans and Democrats differed:
Reality of course remains the same in both groups’ cases: Trump’s campaign is in big trouble and he’s dealing with a lot of criticism coming from all kinds of corners of society. But looking at these graphs, you would almost think that Republicans and Democrats are each seeing a different version of Trump and his campaign. And to a certain extent, that’s true: they each have their own experience and their respective perception shapes their “reality”. Everyone is influenced by their biases, fears, wishes, etc.
We may think that we are the only ones seeing reality the way it is: unfiltered, unchanged. For instance, we may believe that no matter what others say, it is easy to be vegan today (especially when seen in the light of what is at stake, and what the animals go through, right?).
“Easy” however, is a relative concept. What is easy for you may not be easy for me and the other way round. We need to take into account the biases I mentioned, but also things like: the place where people live; whether they have certain health problems or allergies (imagine someone with a soy and gluten allergy); their general openness to new things, etcetera.
If people tell us that they find it hard to go vegan, and we just say it’s not (just like in the picture below), we’re not winning. Giving people tips and assistance on how to make going vegan easier for them is something altogether different than telling them it’s easy, period (and maybe implying that if they dare say it’s not easy, it means that they are selfish and put their own comfort above the misery of other creatures).
People will not feel listened to and appreciated when you ignore how they experience reality. A better way to deal with this is to recognize the difficulty they are having, empathize with it, and say that others (maybe including yourself) have experienced the same thing. The feel – felt – found technique offers a way to do this:
- I understand how you feel (recognize the problem)
- Others have felt the same (show they are not the only one)
- They found that after a while they… (show that change is possible, maybe explain the solutions they found)
When you explain that you (or if not you, then other people) had similar difficulties, you also don’t give the person the idea that you are some kind of superbeing (since you find easy something that they find very hard), and they will be able to identify much more with you.
Of course, we shouldn’t exaggerate the difficulties in going vegan either. By all means, we can say that it’s perfectly possible and feasible, and getting easier every day. But looking at the world through other people’s eyes, recognizing their challenges, and helping them surmount them will serve us better than just declaring that going vegan is easy.
12 thoughts on “Should we tell people that going vegan is easy?”
People think veganism is impossible, and vegans are annoying. Why do we insist on continually leading with our chin, instead of offering people a reasonable first step?
Great post and lots of really important points!
We should tell people that radically challenging the status quo, taking into consideration beings who are routinely mistreated and slaughtered for everyone’s enjoyment while removing all animal products from your diet, thus cutting out 75 to 100% of what you would typically find on a restaurant menu and having to understand basic nutrition, including the importance of B12, all this is super easy and if you don’t find it easy it’s because you’re a horrible abuser?
^ Tongue in cheek.
For me, giving up meat, milk and eggs was easy. Giving up cheese was the only thing I found really difficult. I did it overnight, but the first five or six months I experienced real cravings. Now, I don’t understand any more why it was so difficult. But I know it was for me then, so I know people can find it difficult.
Re: “Many vegans love to tell other people that going vegan is sooo easy.”
I don’t have this problem. My problem is having the pluck to use the label “vegan” at all, when I engage in so many little violations of my dietary ideals during the week (e.g., a little cheese now and then).
We know from psychology that most people make many, small deviations from their moral ideals. The smallness of the deviation allows people to retain the belief that their ethical self is still intact. Small peccadillos, like eating something containing milk powder, are easier to justify than large violations, like eating a sirloin steak. We also know from psychology that we tend to forget our ethical failings more than we remember our achievements (known as “ethical amnesia” – see the work by Francesca Gino).
This makes me wonder how many self-reporting “vegans” out there are overlooking how often they violate their own moral ideals and therefore drawing the wrong conclusion about how difficult being a vegan really is. Humbly paying attention to our own failings and difficulties is a good first step in having the right approach towards inviting others to shift in a similar, positive direction.
Thanks for the provocative read, Tobias
interesting points, need to blog about them sometime – even though, personally i don’t want to encourage the idea that only the most pure can call themselves vegan, obviously. For me 99% vegan is vegan enough, definitely in our communication 🙂
Re: “99% vegan is vegan enough”
Hi Tobias, Have you blogged about the struggle people have in calling themselves “vegan” when making the transition between having a more relaxed attitude towards certain, less central animal products, like cheese, and adopting a stricter stance towards these products? I find the psychological aspects of this role transition interesting, and would like to read more about it.
When does someone feel “vegan enough”? Is 99% the critical level for someone to really “feel vegan,” i.e., enough to comfortably label themselves vegan without feeling hypocritical? Can someone plateau at 90% vegan and still comfortably identify themselves as vegan?
And what message do you convey to aspiring vegans who find themselves striving to be vegan yet constantly fail in small ways? We know that people often backslide because they fail to identify strongly as vegan (I’m thinking of the Faunalytics study). Would you encourage aspiring vegans to identify as vegan – to join the club, so to speak – or forget about the use of the label altogether?
The vast majority of vegans did not transition overnight, but some conveniently forget that fact when expecting others to do so. Consistent, positive steps toward veganism make it more attainable and more sustainable. This is what we should be supporting for most people. If becoming vegan was actually easy for most people, then why isn’t the percentage of the population who are vegan growing rapidly? Don’t judge another until you have walked in their shoes, as the saying goes.
The talk about being 90% etc…..is a demonstration that veganism is little more than a lifestyle doctrine.
B.S.! Veganism is a way of life grounded in the conviction that abusing and murdering others is wrong, not a lifestyle fad. If people learn about veganism, eat less meat, and learn to cook cheap and healthy meals for themselves, that’s all good, but a person is not a vegan until they believe in and follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you.