If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or animal advocate of any kind, you’ve probably heard someone say to you, “You care more about animals than people.”
It’s not true. You care about people, too. In fact, that might even be part of your lifestyle choice. Maybe you stopped eating animals for health or environmental reasons. Well, that’s caring about people. Maybe you went vegan because you noticed the link between various forms of violence from family violence to war to slaughterhouse violence. Well, that’s caring about people. Maybe you participate in a wide array of activism, including human rights activism, not just animal rights. Well, that’s caring about people.
Whatever your position – whatever path you took to an animal-friendly life – there are a few good ways to handle the common criticism, “You care more about animals than people.” Here are some simple responses:
- “We can do both: human rights and animal rights.” – Here is an opportunity to discuss activism you’ve done that helped both humans and nonhumans, for example reuniting lost ‘pets’ with their ‘owners.’
- “I care about people, even you.” – An honest expression of care or concern disarms critical people. From there, you can move towards a kinder, more respectful conversation. This is the perfect response if a friend or family member criticizes your pro-animal perspective.
- “Sounds like you’re concerned about human rights. Me too. That’s one reason I’m vegan. Veganism isn’t just good for animals, it’s good for people, too.” – Then you can move into a discussion about pollution or health. Or even, a discussion about world hunger and human rights abuses in meat packing plants.
- “You care more about fashion than animals’ lives.” – Depending on the situation, a response like this might be appropriate. It won’t win you points with the critical person, but it could sway onlookers. Depends on the issue, if it’s fur or veal, have at it. Those activities are not socially acceptable and anyone who wears fur or eats veal deserves VERY HARSH CRITICISM. But if the issue is something more socially acceptable, like eating burgers, snark won’t work.
- “Humans are animals, too.” – It’s the truth. Simple and to the point.
- “I don’t want to eat people, either.” – Jokes are a good way to diffuse a tense situation.
So there you go, some responses to one of the many empty criticisms of veganism and animal advocacy. If you have a good response, what is it?
When I was first asked, “Why don’t you care about people?” I was taken aback. I said something like “I do care about people.” I put on my ‘leafletter smile’ (the one where I try to look approachable because inside I’m very nervous and shy) and handed her a pamphlet. I’m not sure what she expected, but my response wasn’t it. She took a pamphlet and walked away.
For some reason, I was seething inside. I was so angry that she would assume I didn’t care about people. I was deeply hurt that a stranger would attack me for “not caring about people” when all I was doing was trying to save animals’ lives, particularly when there were so many other people around she could have attacked who were more demonstrably “not caring about people.” We were in a New York Subway station, afterall. It made me very sad for my species that anyone would assume caring about animals meant not caring about people. And for a short while I lost a bit of hope for humanity. I wondered how screwed up we must be if saving animals’ lives was figuratively ‘spit on’ by so many people.
However, I overcame that anger and sadness. I realized that my ‘leafletter smile’ DID make me approachable. I realized this woman chose to speak to me because I WAS receptive to her and I DID demonstrate care for people. But mostly, I remembered that she had taken a pamphlet. Whatever her reasons for criticizing me, be they her own feelings of guilt or be they anger about the war or be they something else entirely, she was wrong: I do care about people.
My advice to any animal advocate: Don’t let the naysayers define you. We are changing the world for the better – for animals, people, and the entire planet.
This article was originally published in December 2008. It has been republished for a new audience.