One of the better things we could do for animals is to stop being vegans. Maybe instead we should simply stop participating in animal exploitation. Actions speak louder than words, and they also reduce us to inflammatory labels. And, let’s face it, the word “vegan” doesn’t have a lot of positive connotations in the non-vegan world.
One of the reasons my best friend and I are close is that we’re both very interested in social justice. But while we’re both vegans and both feminists, I identify more as a vegan and think much more about animals, whereas feminism is a much larger portion of her identity. She, like me, recognizes the inherent oppression of farming animals, and finds it morally abhorrent; but, unlike me, she is reticent to label herself a “vegan.” Another close friend, who has now abstained from animal products for over a year, cringes at even using the word because it instantly puts others on the defensive.
Sometimes the term “vegan” can be more divisive than inclusive. Encapsulating yourself in a word –especially the v-word –pigeonholes your character. A popular vegan stereotype is the wealthy snob with a bombastic, holier-than-thou outlook on life. They’re characterized by obstinate condescension, a naïve disconnect from reality, and smelly feet. Or, even better, they’re seen as members of a special interest group, just waiting for an opening in conversation yell about foie grois or throw fake blood.
If we’re going to convince a wider world full of good-hearted people who, for legitimate reasons, have their heart somewhere else, we should consider using rhetoric to promote acting a certain way, not being a certain way. Being “vegan” denies us many opportunities for open discussion with potential advocates. Instead of responding to queries with “I’m vegan”, perhaps we are better to explain why it is we oppose exploitation, thus identifying with a principle rather than cliché. Veganism: not just for vegans anymore!
Drew Winter is a writer and activist. A recent English/journalism graduate from Michigan State University, he was the president of MSU’s animal rights group, SPAR. He has given multiple talks on animal rights philosophy and was named one of the top 20 activists under 30 by VegNews magazine. He lives in Michigan.