Refuse to divide, refuse to be conquered

I know I say I get asked about where I get my protein from a lot, but another thing I often hear when explaining that I am vegan is, “Oh it’s cool that you’re not one of those vegans”.

“Those vegans” = what some may call “vegangelists” or “The Vegan Police” – i.e. preachy vegans with no respect for anyone else’s opinions or beliefs, usually displaying holier-than-thou attitudes.

Obviously, I am always delighted to be told this, but it is pretty depressing that most people do associate vegans with negative behaviour. I am a highly cynical person, and I like to think I have a sense of humour, but neither of those is an excuse for being rude or abrasive. Unfortunately I find that many people don’t seem to know the difference.

This isn’t the first time I have thought this, and unfortunately for the world I now have a platform to spell it out on.

I think I may have mentioned in an earlier post, and I have certainly given out the advice on Twitter, that I would highly recommend any new vegan find themselves a vegan community even if only online. If you don’t know many vegans, it sometimes gets hard to remember why you deny yourself certain foods – especially when you are hungry and tired and every potential snack you pick up has some form on animal product in (honey in granola bars is the most frustrating thing ever!). So it’s great to have a support community reminding you why what you do is important. Unfortunately, I have “left” the forum I am a member of once before and although I have now taken on an active role within it once again, I am considering doing so once again.

The most common ways in which I see vegans rub each other (and everyone else) up the wrong way are as follows:

  1. Holier-than-thou attitudes – belittling other plant-based eaters for not being “real” or “true” vegans. This often happens with new vegans who may not be so well informed, prospective vegans, or people with other priorities. In one extreme case, I witnessed an argument about buying meat for a non-vegan partner escalate to the point that one member eventually stated something to the effect that they wouldn’t care if a meat-eater died, which was essentially aimed at the other member’s partner. This is not cool.
  2. All or nothing attitudes – insulting, directly or indirectly, vegetarians, paleo dieters, “meat reducers”,  or anyone else who does not follow the vegan diet. Sure, it would be great if everyone was vegan, but let’s not put off those who might be having one animal-free day a week. I know I have made some derogatory statements on here at times, but normally they regard people who use following one of those alternative diets as an excuse for not being vegan. I don’t have time for excuses. If you don’t care about being vegan because you’d rather not waste food or because you don’t care enough about animal welfare or environmental causes, that’s fine, but don’t give me any crap about how you would be if only x, y, z. If you have a genuine interest in trying to reduce your animal product intake because it’s the right thing to do but you can’t face taking the plunge and declaring yourself vegan, that’s fine, let’s go for vegan cake together sometime.
  3. Dismissive attitudes – I see this a lot with new members on the forum I am a member of. Yes, we’re all sick about answering questions about where to get protein from and why people are losing weight because they haven’t compensated for the calorie content of an omnivorous diet – but these new vegans don’t know we have been answering those questions for years. Telling people to google it is not helpful. What is the point of an online community if not to offer online support? Surely it’s not just to compare vegan ego sizes?
  4. Cheapskate attitudes – leading on from the above, somebody asking a question about a specific product or brand, and long-term vegans replying something along the lines of, “Why bother, just use this cheap basic product instead”. Money-saving tricks are always useful, but if I’m asking a question about a fancy toiletry I don’t want to be told that if I go without for a few weeks my skin/hair/nails/body odour will eventually adjust and self-regulate, I want an answer about that product and whether it works. This happens a lot with supplements – yes, maybe that unflavoured basic product taken with another basic product with my nose pinched will yield the same results, but maybe I want to spend a little more money on something that tastes nice and that offers a few non-essential benefits.

Now, I am the first one to state that people worry about the finer details of their health and diet too much, to get frustrated at vegetarian products that aren’t vegan, to hate on people who call themselves vegan but consume honey, to laugh at paleo dieters and scoff at “freegans”, to roll my eyes at amateur wannabe nutritionists who worry about my protein intake – but at the end of the day, I will offer open support and encouragement to people who are genuinely interested in going vegan, to anyone who needs motivation to stick with their vegan diet, and to companies who make vegan-friendly products whether their entire range is vegan-friendly or not. That is why I have my supplement reviews, chocolate reviews and favourites pages.

However, we have some review pages on the forum I use, and most of it is negative – this is gritty, that tastes horrible, all of these are way too expensive. Just eat lots and lots of lentils. Who needs supplements anyway? Everyone is obviously entitled to their own opinion, and we really need honest and open reviews, but can we sometimes remember that we can still be honest whilst being polite? I have taken issue with a number of the products I have reviews, but there is normally something good to say about them, and everyone has different priorities – I’m not that bothered about texture, some people aren’t bothered about taste, some lucky people aren’t worried about price!

The reason I worry is that a few all-vegan companies have been completely slammed by message boards and other online communities. Often, small independent, start-up companies who have gone out on a limb to invest in a niche market and make a product they believe is ethical. They might not have the funds for or the access to great innovative products. But maybe with our support, encouragement, and constructive feedback, we can help them create a better range of products which will eventually tempt non-vegans as well.

I also worry about vegans who enjoy being healthy, whether it means counting calories or eating low-carb or avoiding large amounts of food after a certain time of day, being ridiculed for being obsessive when it is more beneficial for the vegan cause to promote a diet without restrictions. Sure, we need to watch out for each other and ensure we are vigilant of potential eating disorders, but is a community of healthy over-enthusiastic organic raw-carrot-munching vegans worse than a community of flabby scornful supermarket-own-brand bourbon cream-scoffing vegans?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to the above question or an obvious choice in either extreme – but there is definitely a happy medium. It’s called respect. So let’s stop the posturing, the ridiculing, the sneering, the sighing, the eye-rolling, the one-liner dismissals and the unpleasantness.

Plant-eaters unite. And conquer.