Vegan No More: Actions Over Words

Vegan No More: Actions Over Words

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.

24 Responses to Vegan No More: Actions Over Words

  1. I’m confused – do you mean we should “stop being vegan” (in other words, start eating animals) to help end animal exploitation? Or we should just stop using the word vegan so much, so we won’t offend/scare off people?

  2. I think he means that we should still be vegan, but shouldn’t let the conversation stop at identity.

    For example, when someone asks why we don’t want to eat this or that, instead of simply saying, “I’m vegan” we should say something like, “I don’t support animal exploitation.”

  3. The biggest threat in the AR movement in my opinion is the small faction of militants who hurl insults and verbally abuse fellow ARAs and vegans. These people sit and blog all day and don’t lift a finger to help animals. Meanwhile, they accuse everyone else for not being militant enough. Most of these people are newcomers to the AR movement. The recent clash between the abolitionists and the MDA faction is a perfect example. All of this infighting will bring us down. Meanwhile, the animals are taking a back seat to this chest pounding ego fest. It needs to stop.

  4. There is nothing wrong with the word “Vegan” and the label is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather it is a “label” I wear with pride. If vegans give in to the pressure of others’ misperceptions and stop using the word to describe their belief system, the word will lose even more power and the stereotypes and misperceptions will be perpetuated. By … Read Moresaying “I am a vegan,” people can learn that not all vegans fit the stereotype of young, hippie, smelly, strange, skinny, angry, etc. and that vegans come in all shapes, sizes and colors and can be joyful. Should I not use my labels of “Jewish” or “Democrat” or “liberal” or any of the other words one can apply to me because they bring up negative connotations for some? No, people need to be educated. People will have more respect for vegans when vegans have more respect for themselves. I am all about VEGAN PRIDE.

  5. I really disagree with this idea for a number of reasons.

    1. If you don’t like the stereotypes attached to veganism then do something to change them. By calling yourself vegan you help tear down stereotypes, if you run from the term then you do nothing to dispel the misconceptions about what a vegan is.

    2. You seem to be suggesting that instead of describing ourselves as vegan we instead basically explain the definition of vegan without using the actual word. I don’t get how using the word vegan is more combative than going through the exercise of defining the word.

    3. In my view it is critical to have one word to sum up the ethical rejection of animal exploitation, in order to build an effective animal rights movement. Getting into explanations and definitions just muddles things when talking to non-vegans. If you say you are vegan that connects you to every other self-identifying vegan. It’s about having a unified ideology, which the animal rights movement has never had.

    If you reject exploitation of animals on ethical grounds then, sorry to tell you, you’re vegan. Don’t run from it. Own it.

  6. Brenda,
    I take offense to your claim about people who “sit and blog all day and don’t lift a finger to help animals.” I get emails regularly thanking me for posting videos or blog posts that help someone go vegan. Writing, blogging, posting videos, spreading the vegan news, sharing vegan recipes… those things DO help animals.

    Please be extremely precise in your criticisms. I highly doubt that it is the act of “blogging all day” that upsets you. I think it’s a few people who happen to also blog.

  7. Yes, I was referring to the angry militants who blog all day yet verbally assault the entire vegan and AR community for not being militant enough. We should respect each other and not be divisive. This small faction of angry bloggers is gonna bring us down.

  8. I was precise in my criticism, by the way. If you read my original post, I stated, “The biggest threat in the AR movement in my opinion is the small faction of militants who hurl insults and verbally abuse fellow ARAs and vegans.”

    This needs to be addressed cause it will bring us down.

  9. OK, Brenda, then please tell me who those people are. Or at the very least, what they say.

  10. I don’t want to name names because I’m unaware of the legalities. These people post all over Facebook, Myspace, and Care2, among others. They make inflammatory and abusive remarks against other vegans and ARAs who are NOT militant. It makes you wonder if they really are animal lovers. What kind of people can be so horrible towards their allies and love animals? You aren’t going to change people’s minds by swearing at them and calling them vile names.

    Every major AR forum has a few of these newcomers. Have you been following the infighting between the abolitionists and MDAs? That’s what I’m referring to in part.

    I love Vegan Soapbox because they don’t stoop to that level.

  11. What do they say? I have read assaults on other vegans calling them c**ts, pacifists, trolls (LOL–go figure) mother f***ers, losers, among other choice words, comparing pacifists to animal abusers. Gimme a break.

  12. Ahhh, I see what you’re getting at, Brenda. That’s just noise. We all get angry sometimes and react without thinking. That’s what a lot of that stuff is about. I do it myself sometimes ;) heh. I think the best way to react is to focus on the end goal. Let’s just keep reminding people the end goal: end animal exploitation. We all want to do that. And there’s room for all of us, even when we disagree.

  13. This is an excellent post, because it stimulates discussion! I’m a bit on the side of “I’m proud to wear the label” in large part because people who know me or meet me are not going to perceive that I am an obnoxious b-tch, as a rule. Therefore, I am breaking down the stereotype one person at a time.

  14. Riker:

    Interesting that you say “Should I not use my labels of “Jewish” or “Democrat” or “liberal” or any of the other words one can apply to me because they bring up negative connotations for some? No, people need to be educated.” To my mind, it seems that someone who avoids the word “vegan” is saying, “I take pride in what I do, I do not need to call myself something to know that” but what you seem to understand from this is that they are saying “I don’t take pride in who I am” because you see the delimitation of personhood through labels as somehow necessary. In other words, “I need to call myself a vegan in order to understand myself as such. My actions do not stand on their own.”

    Even the most generous and positive connotative use of the label “vegan” confines the individual. I am not “a vegan.” I follow a vegan diet. I make choices. I act. I do not exist in a category. Moreover, I do not need the name so I can show other people that I exist as something. I order the “veggie-sandwich-hold-the-cheese” because I choose – every time I eat – to live in a certain way. Because isn’t that really what we’re trying to show by participating in this lifestyle? To tell people that it is not enough to simply “be” in a sense? That veganism requires something more of the individual than mindless adherence to cultural categories and norms? Do we want to expose such a pretty idea to this categorization by trying to confine it in a label?

    No. Of course not. Which is too bad because, really, some form of categorization will always occur. We are people. And labels can be useful when explanations are burdensome. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t actively strive to remind people that veganism is a process, not a static state of being. That it is a struggle every day like any other form of activism. It is something you DO not something you ARE. And doing, I believe, requires a greater sacrifice.

  15. Woops – silly me. I spelled my name wrong in the last post. You may count that against my score.

  16. I think many ( not all ) people involved with a cause don’t like to be “one upped” by other people involved in other causes. I think this is part of what is behind how various “*ists” react to vegans. IMHO that is just human nature and I don’t think vegans should be too concerned about winning the approval of these people. Nothing will ever be perfect enough for their ideals. Wave a magic wand to make it so and these people will up the ante on their standards. To be fair, many ( not all ) vegans have the same psychology.

    Some (not all) vegans are responsible for the bad opinions mentioned. The publicity stunts of PETA, the actions without thought to consequences of the ALF and any number of individuals most vegans can point out in their community.

    I think it is important to accept the fact that we can not control these people and that they will not go away.

    We can only control ourselves.

    To that end I think it is a mistake to be apologetic about what you are. People can sense that and they will not be open to also being what you are.

    The best thing to do is to be a loud, proud, vegan that people like. Actions speak louder than words. Go out, do good things and act in an honestly congenial way.

    This does work.

    A local animal protection group in my area follows the Vegan Outreach model of dressing, speaking, acting…*being* mainstream and cool while being vegan.

    They have won the patronage of a local news anchor who is now vegetarian, is turning vegan and who has gone out of her way to send positive news coverage “our” way to help “us”.

    We don’t have waste our time complaining about vegans who give the movement a bad name or worrying what various “*ists” think about us. We only have to be cool with who we are, be seen and be cool with other people.

  17. I think that is article raising some important questions. I agree that words/lables like vegan/veganism can often be exclusive rather than inclusive. As a “vegan” myself I often have had better converstaions, more substainal debates and more meaningful connections with “nonvegans” by simply leaving out those terms all together. This doesn’t mean that I don’t defend my postion or shy away from my convictions rather, instead of promoting my cause “veganism/animal rights/workers rights” by championing for those I am representing, I try to remember that the connection I am making with the person- right in front of me- is just as signifcant, perhaps in that moment maybe even more so. Instead of having the same conversation over and over, what if we examine that conversation and our role as a member of that dialogue more closley? What if, like I believe this article is suggesting, we take a more active role, not just for the animals or the cause, but for that “wider world full of good-hearted people who, for legitimate reasons, have their heart somewhere else”.

  18. beforewisdom, you said “To be fair, many ( not all ) vegans have the same psychology.”
    Can you please clarify? What do you mean? What is the vegan psychology?

    I ask because I know many vegans and vegetarians… we’re all quite diverse.

  19. Brenda, both pacifist and militant abolitionists in the discussion about the proposed Gary Francione-Steve Best debate exchanged insults. I tried to discourage insults from both sides and promote respectful discussion, but was quickly blacklisted by many in the pacifist camp for not taking sides.

  20. Brandon, Brenda – count me in on that blacklisting. It was all very unfortunate and became an ugly experience I can’t wait to forget.

    I agree that the in-fighting is damaging. So do the animal industries:

    “The size of the movement and the wealth of some of the organizations within the movement indicate this to be a potentially powerful political force. However divisions of philosophy and strategy, as well as allegations of conflicts of interest on behalf of organizational board members, have prevented the movement from reaching its full potential. — Agricultural Law Newsletter April 1989

    http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/aala/04-89.pdf

    For the sake of the animals, I wish the bickering would end.

    Anyway, on not defining myself as “vegan”… I learned an important lesson recently on how narrow minded (and defeatist)my thinking can be.

    I was at an outdoor flea-market in which most of the stalls are owned/operated by a variety of ethnic people. Half or more don’t speak the language. I was browsing a rack of books when a tall, attractive woman asked me with a foreign accent, what I was looking for. Wanting to be brief, certain she wouldn’t understand or “know” that I was looking for “vegan” cookbooks… I said instead that I was looking for “no meat” cookbooks.

    She said – “Oh – vegetarian” and pointed to a strikingly handsome man and continued: “That’s my husband – *He’s a vegan*”. You’ve got to appreciate how floored I was!

    Yes, I spoke to the man, and had to back peddle why I didn’t say I was “vegan” to begin with. It was awkward, but really illustrated to me that I should never *hide*, or alter my veganism. It is something I’m proud of and shouldn’t let the perceived “convenience”, acceptance or opinion of others lessen that.

    We had a great talk and I learned that his wife and child are going the route of eliminating animal products too… :)

    With his broken English, he told me he hated the way animals were treated and that he didn’t believe in killing them in the first place. He also bragged a bit about his health physique.

    So for me, this little experience taught me some things: One, don’t assume anything about others; And secondly – don’t be shy about naming something that’s a truth: I am a vegan. ;)

  21. i wear the term “vegan” with pride and honor. i don’t let other people do my thinking for me.

    and as far so called vegans on message boards/blogs whom only seem interested at side-tracking discussions and their only raison d’etre seems to be to insult vegans and tarnish the animal rights movement, well consider the obvious… maybe they aren’t vegans *gasp* or else are very confused about the real world around them. or else they are anti-vegan trolls, surely just one glance at their careless remarks and illogical responses should tell you that.

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