Would you have gone vegan if…?

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Reality check: we want everyone to go vegan, but only a tiny part of the population is doing so.

It’s not helpful to complain about this situation, or call everyone who doesn’t go vegan selfish, uncaring or hypocritical.

To see what we can do that’s more productive, look at the figures below. The pie chart on the left represents the small number of people who are willing to make the relatively big effort that is implied today in going vegan. That effort is represented by the steep slope on the right.

What most vegans and animal rights activists try to do is to increase that pie slice by increasing people’s motivation so that more of them want to make (and do make) the required effort to go vegan:This, in itself, is not sufficient to get to a vegan world. I’m optimistic, and I do believe that most people, in their hearts, care about animals and don’t want to see them harmed. The thing is, they just don’t care enough to be willing to deal with too much inconvenience (or what they see as inconvenience).

So, in addition to increasing people’s motivation, we also need to… You got it: we need to work on making the slope less steep:

Making the slope less steep means that we are going to create an environment that offers so many vegan alternatives, and in which the production of animal products becomes progressively harder, that people have to make less and less effort, and thus need less and less motivation.

The gentler the slope/the more vegan-friendly the environment, the more people will go vegan.

Some will only go vegan when it’s like this:



And a few laggards will need it to be like this:

Many vegans find it sad and depressing that we need to make things so much easier before people will do what is the morally right thing to do. I can empathize with that feeling. But consider this: it’s not as if you or me went vegan thanks only and exclusively to our moral motivation. We too needed a certain availability of alternatives, without which we might not have gone vegan. You may think that you only needed to hear the right information or have the right thoughts, but that’s not true: you went vegan when you had enough motivation to climb the slope. Some people might have climbed it when it was still much steeper (let’s say in the 1970’s).

Everyone of us needs the slope to be a certain way. Very few or none of us would have been able to climb this slope

Let alone this one:

It’s all relative. Be happy you were able to go vegan when you did. But realize there were always people who did it before you. And don’t expect everyone else to go vegan today. Work on motivation AND on making things easier.


21 thoughts on “Would you have gone vegan if…?

  1. Hi, Tobias: Your thoughtful post reminds me of an ongoing frustration I have with many vegans nowadays–they often disdain those who enjoy eating vegan-substitute foods such as plant-based cheeses. The notion seems to be that mock-meat and -cheese eaters are making it too easy for themselves to be vegan, and that, if they were truly committed, they’d live only on whole, unprocessed vegan fare. A similar argument sometimes crops up regarding faux-leather shoes. In any event, although I reserve a special and immense admiration of those who went vegan decades ago, when these substitute food and clothing products weren’t around, I would certainly never look down on someone who has gone vegan with the help of animal-substitute products. What’s important is the reduction of animal suffering. Being vegan shouldn’t metamorphose into a competition to be the most disciplined, the most self-abnegating, the most whatever, kind of vegan. (Noteworthy, I’m not vegan myself because, frankly, the personal-care products part of the vegan slope continually trips me up. But I keep trying!)

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I would like to point out that you would make much more of an impact simply being a dietary vegan than you ever would by cutting out the personal-care products! The animal products in those items are usually a byproduct of the dietary industry and will naturally be replaced as there is less demand and therefore less production of animal products for food. I most definitely have not replaced all my personal care products with vegan ones and it’s not at the top of my list.

      I’m certainly not trying to belittle your choices or reasons, I’m sure there are many others that go into the conscious decision to continue to use animal products ? I know there were for me! Everyone has their own journey, and I sincerely wish you all the best with yours.

  2. Hi, Tobias:

    Sorry for the typo. I meant “meat-substitute foods,” not “vegan-substitute foods.”

  3. Hi, this article is so true. I eat at home mostly vegan but when I go out, I don’t as in my country still just few places offer vegan food. So, yes, I am waiting when there will be more vegan places so it isnt a problem to go out.

    1. Margo: It’s fantastic that you eat mostly vegan when at home. You’re doing a lot of good for the animals! In regard to restaurant eating, I’ve found sometimes it’s helpful to let management know you’d like to see vegan options. In addition, I know of some savvy animal advocates where I live who, when they eat at restaurants offering vegan options, leave a little place card on the table that says something along the lines of: “I chose to eat here because it offers vegan options.” (Not sure which organization makes these cards, but I can find out.) Or, you could just leave a note letting the owners know how much you appreciate the vegan meal choices. If enough diners do this, I believe it can make a real difference in creating more choices for vegans at restaurants. 🙂

  4. Great post, Tobias. One important thing to consider is that the vast majority of those who go vegan go back to eating animals. One of the main reasons is that they can’t stand the constant demands for purity from hard-core vegans. In other words, we are actively hurting animals with our attitudes.
    And what Elizabeth said above.

    1. Hi, Matt: I’m probably over-commenting on Tobias’s post, but I just had to respond to your comment, which to me nails it perfectly in regard to a primary cause of vegan recidivism. In my observation and experience, the judgment and condescension that “near vegans” like me receive from the purity-or-nothing vegans can be indescribably demoralizing. (And I put quotes around “near vegan” in the recognition that, for hardcore vegans, there is no such thing as “near vegan,” or “almost vegan” and shame on me–yes, more shame!–for even using the term.) The damage that these otherwise well-intentioned advocates do to the cause of animal welfare as a whole just profoundly saddens me. I often wonder: Why can’t they understand how their sanctimony and black-and-white thinking alienates and angers people, instead of drawing those people closer to compassion for the animals? Vegan/vegetarian recidivism is a topic of huge importance, and I’m glad you mentioned it, especially in connection with the purity issue. Thank you!

      1. if it’s any consolation, elisabeth, when someone says they’re a near vegan, that to me is presently a good sign rather than a bad one (compared to strictly vegan).

  5. Yes, great post. Making it easier for people to be vegan is definitely a vital part of the solution. I am particularly encouraged by the progress in plant-based and clean meat. Most people do not appear to have an interest in giving up animal products. Moreover, of those who are sympathetic, many consider it too difficult to do so. Even though I have no interest in eating substitute animal products (but would feed clean meat to my cats), these products may be the most feasible and fastest path forward to reducing the number of animals killed for human consumption. By making them almost indistinguishable from animal products, price competitive, highly available, and effectively promoted, these products could easily replace the killing of animals for food. It would then be easy to choose the nearly identical cruelty-free product that is safer, healthier, sustainable, better for the environment, and life saving for animals. In addition to animal rights organizations, I have started supporting organizations and companies that are developing and promoting these products. I hope others will, too.

  6. I am one of those who, immediately after having my eyes opened (through a famous documentary), DID decide I could and would no longer knowingly participate in any kind of animal exploitation, regardless of sacrifices I might have to make – and so I’ve always had difficulty understanding those who don’t do the same after being shown the terrible truth.

    I also recognise that positive encouragement is best for those “trying” – or rather I recognise that being aggressive, condemning and critical is often counter-productive. I will praise the efforts people make – and will always try to get them to understand the actual philosophy and point of vegan living (not just eating) at the same time.

    Having more vegan-friendly (animal-friendly) alternatives and options certainly does help.

    1. good for you for making the change swiftly.
      the point i wanted to make is: we can’t be sure that if you saw earthlings in 1970 (when of course it didn’t exist yet), you’d have acted in the same way

    2. The vast majority of vegans (if not all) do not only care about the wellbeing of nonhuman animals, but have other ethical convictions as well. That is why it has always been puzzling to me, why what I would call “moral purity” goes only as far as being vegan.

      I think hardly any vegan (or hardly any person in general) is fine with exploitative working conditions in sweat shops producing textiles, yet I have never heard a vegan condemning another one for not paying attention to these issues when buying clothes.

      Earthling, did you check how socially responsible your electronic devices are? If not, is it just because of the historical coincidence that you watched “Earthlings” but not “Blood in the Mobile”? (I didn’t see any of them btw). Do you find it puzzling that the latter movie did not motivate people to change their consumption decisions, in the same way you find it hard to understand when “Earthlings” did not have such an effect?

      My point is not to say that anyone not buying fair trade products all the time is an immoral person — to the contrary: I want to abandon the “moral purity” approach altogether. It doesn’t make much sense to me. If you paid that much attention to every issue you care about, you are investing a lot of time that you could probably use to do much more good.

      People who judge others based on their consumption usually apply the “moral purity” concept very selectively, in the way that it fits their actual behaviour.

      [I used sweatshops for the sake of argument, but boycotting them to buy clothes produced in countries that have better working conditions would make things worse not better]

  7. Some part of this analysis is reasonable…..but the idea that making it easier to be vegan is going to create a vegan society is dubious. There is a large spectrum of beliefs people have on animal ethics and what reason is there to believe everyone is going to converge on one that implies veganism? That, of course, is another issue….veganism isn’t rooted in any particular moral theory but is instead a particular way of conducting yourself. So people not only need to converge on the same moral belief….but agree that veganism is a consequence of that moral belief.

    Also the analysis is done in a vacuum….where there are no counter-parties that will create barriers and where culture can readily change. But both are obviously not the case….culture is persistent and the meat, etc industry will do what it can to prevent a shift.

    1. The slave industry also did what they needed to prevent a shift XD Culture always fight back when a social movement tries to change it, but if you have a look at History, the social movement often wins, eventually.

      And veganism IS rooted in a moral theory: Killing or causing harm unnecesarilly is wrong. Veganism is simply that theory applied to animals.

  8. Mmh, weird… I translated two more articles from this website to German, but unlike last time there is no automatical Pingback.

    Anyway, they can be found here: https://veganeueberzeugung.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/waerst-du-heute-veganerin-wenn/
    and here: https://veganeueberzeugung.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/es-kommt-darauf-an-grossartige-alternativen-zu-schaffen/

    Tobias, if you want you can add them to “Other Languages” or integrate them on your own website as you did with the French and Spanish translations.

  9. Completely agreeing with you here. Most people, in their hearts, do care about animals, and veganism is mostly demonstrated as restrictive. And that certainly influences motivation. What I can tell from my experience, veganism is all the opposite, it provides you with abundance of new opportunities, especially concerning your diet. I won’t even address health benefits, animal welfare, or positive environmental impact.
    What also influences people is (sometimes) pretty judgmental position of vegans around them, and that makes them scared to fail. In my experience, it’s completely acceptable to fail, to give into your cravings until you find what is best for you. And when you do you’ll be following a lifestyle that is fair to you and all others and other things around you. I wrote about challenges and benefits of becoming vegan here https://vegancookbook.com/going-vegan/. It’s a learning curve, don’t give up.

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