Sometimes, when I hear or read some vegans, it sounds as if they want the club of vegans to be the smallest and most exclusive club in the world. I imagine the following could be a possible history of veganism.
Some time ago, two men had an idea:
– “I want to found a very, very exclusive club of morally good people. Something so exclusive that only the very best people can participate. I’m thinking about the rules for membership. Any ideas?”
– “Hmmm. Oh! What about this? What if we made a group for all the people who eat no animal products. Nothing from animals whatsoever.”
– “Wow, that’s brilliant! That will exclude like 99.99% of the population!”
After a while, the club got a little bigger. The founders had a problem.
– “We’re getting too numerous,” the one said to the other. How will we make sure our club stays small enough?”
– “Mmm, we make it really difficult to stick to the rules. You can only call yourself one of us if you follow ALL the rules. If you never ever eat anything wrong. And not only can you not eat animal products, you can’t wear them either. Let’s make it about lifestyle, not just about diet. That will cut out a lot of people!”
– “Great! What else?”
– “We can include like the smallest of ingredients in the definition. Additives, emulgators, aromas…”
– “Sounds good! More?”
– “Let’s see… The people joining us have to do it for the right reasons! For our reasons. If they do it for any other reason, they’re not part of our group! As our group is for morally excellent people, everyone has to have ethical motivations.”
– “Good! Anything else?”
– “Maybe we could include completely different criteria too. Like, people who are sexist, racist, classist, ableist, ageist… they can’t be part either. And obviously they need to agree with us on GMOs and abortion.
– “Great ideas! Maybe we should include some of those concerns in the definition.”
– “Oh wait, and food products from companies that also make meat products: we can’t consider them vegan. So club members can’t eat those.”
– “What if the people working in the factories that make the products wear leather shoes?”
– “Hmm, interesting idea… Maybe…”
And so it went on.
I hope my point is clear. Let’s not make veganism even more difficult than it is (because yes, for most people it is). When people want to take the leap, let’s welcome them instead of turning them away with too many rules and criteria.
Most people have built-in “persuasion resistance“, as salesmen call it. They don’t like to be convinced by others, they don’t like to be told what to do. Also concerning the food that’s on our plate, they’ll decide about that themselves. They need no government regulations or animal rights or vegetarian groups preaching to them about what to eat, and what not, how much of it, or how they should prepare it. They’ll make up their own minds about all that, thank you very much.
As changemakers, it is important to keep this in mind. All we can do is give people information, maybe show the flaws in their reasoning sometimes (when we’re talking to reasonable people), and let them work out the rest for themselves.
However, it may also be useful to point out to them that it is an illusion to think that they are entirely in control of their food choices. What most people eat is very heavily determined by agriculture and economy, culture and tradition, what our parents ate, and what commercial interests want us to eat.
As an illustration of this, check out the graphic from the counting animals website. The chart represents the US advertising budgets of different food cooperations, compared to those of animal interest groups. It would be interesting to compare this also with government budgets for healthy or sustainable eating.
Our society is getting more and more aware of the suffering of animals, and more and more practises with animals that have been considered “normal” for a long time, are now being questioned. There are some practises, however, which still strangely escape our (or at least society’s) scrutiny.
One of those is recreational fishing: your average joe sitting by a river with his spincast reel, trying to catch something. Most people still view this kind of fishing as not merely a harmless, but even a beneficial pastime. It is considered a great alternative to shopping or tweeting or any of those countless more stressful things we spend our days doing. And yes, in this sense, sitting by the water, concentrated on nothing much, has a certain appeal.
But we can of course only see it this way if we forget about the fish. Any relief of stress the fisher(wo)man may experience, goes at the cost of huge stress for the fish, obviously.
I find it strange that it takes us that long to see this. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Some things are so omnipresent and so generally tolerated (or even encouraged) that it gets hard to see them in another light. Some forms of injustice are so widespread that they have become invisible.
This video with Evan McGregor captures tries to show things in another light. From the viewpoint of the fish. Well done.