“What works is direct confrontation,” says celebrated artist and animal rights activist Sue Coe in LAIKA Magazine‘s latest edition. “I wish someone had told me the truth, and not patronized me with baby steps and Meat-Free Mondays.” The abolitionist approach to veganism is nothing new, but even as vegetarianism is increasingly sidestepped in favour of veganism, not everyone agrees with the tactics and reasoning of some vegans. Asking whether something is better than nothing, Zane Worthington explores the validity of, and flipside to, an “all or nothing” approach.
Ask any vegan and most of them will tell you that their journey didn’t start with veganism; some may even tell you that it was never on their horizon. Believe it or not I once ridiculed vegans, I am still ashamed of it today but I learnt from it, and I grew as a person. Empathy is something we are all capable of but is something that we hone over time. I think to myself how dreadful I was to people that were doing something brave, strong and for some even really challenging.
Vegetarians, by definition do not eat meat. That’s simple right; sure there are lacto-ovo vegetarians, hardcore vegetarians, and even weekday vegetarians (although I wouldn’t consider them vegetarian). It is only in the last 45 years that vegan has even been a common distinction. Initially a vegetarian was someone who abstained from all animal products the way that vegans now do, so are we really that different? Well, that’s a hard question to answer and it really depends on who you talk to about it.
Too often I see vegetarians being called-out for their efforts. Sure some eat dairy and some eat eggs. They’re one of the worst industries when it comes to animal welfare, and it does result in the death of countless lives, but they’re trying. To veganise an old saying, ‘You feed more bees with honey than with vinegar’. If you want to change the way someone thinks, going all ‘Clockwork Orange’ on them might not be the best way. I personally went vegetarian after lengthy discussions with a dear friend of mine. That day was the last day I consumed the flesh of any land dwelling animal. It took a further 16 months for me to cut out my fishy little friends and only a further month to completely ditch the diary and all other animal derivatives. I once came across an article that indicated that it can take anywhere from six months to two years to become vegan, this made sense to me. Part of being a vegan is reeducating oneself about animal products in food and processing and this takes time. Isinglass is a good example; as an avid wine drinker, when picking a bottle of wine I was always remiss about the ingredients.
This isn’t to say that you can’t become vegan in a day, in my case I was breaking 25+ years of habit and tradition. It takes some reeducation and reevaluation of ones place in the food network. Most vegetarians think that they’re doing the right thing for the animals and in some cases they are. They’re not eating them so that is a huge step in the right direction; a survey of around 7500 vegans showed that ~45% took time to transition from omnivore to a full vegan lifestyle. I doubt that a zealot helped them make the connection.
When it comes to influencing people there is a plethora of scientific data that indicates that being adversarial is not conducive to winning someone over. It can be hard to remain placid when talking about systematic abuse and torture but in the end we are doing our movement a disservice by attacking someone who thinks that they are doing right. Every so often we can lose our cool and lash out, particularly on the internet (looking at you Facebook) but it is important to not let this become habit, I have been guilty of this and it does not end well.
In his book, Dale Carnegie highlights the importance of praising every improvement and I honestly think that this is something we need to do more frequently. When your friend/lover/colleague tells you that they’ve given up eating meat on the weekdays, praise them for the three lives that they are saving per week, or if you want to make it sound even better say 156 animals per year. This is so much more effective at encouraging someone to continue abstaining from animals than telling them about the two animals that they’ve killed in a week. Our movement is about doing as little harm as possible. Why not extend this to our movement and start being influencing more effectively?
Make an effort to thank someone the next time they tell you that their meal is vegetarian.
Thank yourself for being vegan; the animals and the environment do.
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