Archive for social

The Social Downsides to Veganism

Posted in Veganism with tags , on April 13, 2013 by kokairu

It’s been over a year and a half since I threw in the towel and gave up several aspects of my lifestyle and diet: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, silk, leather, wool, and I became much stricter with my choice of cosmetic brands. My last entry to this effect covers my reasons and I can’t say that they’ve changed much – my motivation has become a little more emotive than before, but the rationale remains the same: reduce consumption, reduce demand. Demand reduced, less animal lives streamlined unnecessarily for the overall human population’s diet and lifestyle.

In this time, I have only become more assured of my choices. I feel good, I’m really pleased with my figure, and I’ve really grown to love the vegan recipes I’ve learned. At odd times I’d like it all to be a tad more convenient, but it’s really not too bad at all – there is always something you can cook quickly and easily, with items available in a corner shop, and besides which, the forward planning allows me to ensure I’m getting all the nutrition I need, and helps me save money too. Do I miss any non-vegan foods? Enh, maybe brie.

The biggest challenge, BY FAR, is the social aspects of the lifestyle. When I first started trying out veganism, people were very curious and I really enjoyed the discussions about it. However, my closest friends and family are now accustomed to it and I detect hints of frustration now and then; I think they may’ve expected this venture to be a little more temporary. That’s not to mention frustration at them on my part too, I’ll be honest; the more passionate I feel about animal rights, the less tolerance I have of their continuing to eat animal products, particularly meat. And, in the case of people I’m explaining the concept to for the first time, the conversation is extremely tiring; they always ask the same questions, i.e. “What do you miss the most?” and “What if you kept your own chickens?” I really wish it was socially acceptable to give people URLs in real life and answer simply with, “read my fucking blog.”

It really goes to show how big a role food plays, both culturally and socially. The social aspects are a given: the modern lifestyle in the western world involves popping into almost any establishment at any time to enjoy a wide range of food and drink. If you’re a vegetarian, this will frequently involve simply selecting the one cheese-endowed option on the menu. If you’re a strict vegetarian, you might have to opt for spirits rather than wine. And if you’re a vegan, it will inevitably come down to a mundane novelty-free food like jacket potato and baked beans, or maybe even just a bowl of boiled rice (this actually happened to someone I know). In the latter scenario, one does tend to miss out on the mutual bonding over delicious food. Yep, you’ve managed to spend time with your friends over food and drink whilst sticking to your guns, but the feeling of isolation is inevitable. You stick out like a sore thumb, doing nothing to promote the many benefits of the vegan diet.

Of course, the mere refusal to part-take in eating many foods that are so readily accepted and consumed in our culture, and remain quiet in conversations regarding how amazing bacon is, can create unwanted tension, too. Being vegan, even if the topic is never discussed, makes some very bold statements – you are conscientiously objecting to some very “normal” aspects of western life. It’s no wonder that some omnivores can get very defensive, even when never provoked. In turn, veg*ans can become known as smug, self-righteous and obnoxious, in responding to that defensiveness. As I touched on earlier, I now have some emotional investment in my choices. I’ve watched the slaughterhouse videos, and I’ve worked directly with rescued farm animals with horrendous backstories. So it’s not even the non-veggies being ridiculous in the first place – I DO feel quite disgusted by the idea of meat now, as well as dairy and eggs (albeit to a lesser extent). And I really wish I didn’t, because I don’t want to push away my friends and family. It’s quite conflicting, as you can imagine.

To get around this, you might suggest to your friends to try a vegetarian or vegan place next time. Problem fixed, right? Omnivores can eat vegan food, and these places inevitably cater well for other dietary requirements, such as gluten-free. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tend to go down well with meat eaters; if you’re lucky enough that you’re not with “if it’s not meat then it’s not food” company, I think visits to places like this can trigger a defensive mechanism in omnivores. After all, they’re in a place where they might feel like they’re in the “outgroup”, to speak in social psychological terms, as a non-vegan in a veggie establishment. Their ingroup identity, as a non-veggie, is very salient as a result. They might be open minded and accept that meat doesn’t have to be in everything, but why should they be forced to not have the usual choices? What is all this strange food? It’s up to her if she wants to make life awkward for herself, why inflict it upon others? This is a bit of a presumption, but these are the experiences I’ve had thus far. Furthermore, I used to be exactly like this. I remember meeting a girl in a youth hostel in Madrid back in 2006, who dragged me and my friend to a vegetarian place, not stating it was all-veggie until we were in there. I felt incredibly indignant about it. If you don’t identify as a vegan, then “vegan food” is not for you to eat. This notion is supported by a great number of food retailers, who are frequently reluctant to label their food as “suitable for vegans” (even though it most definitely is), because it might “put people off.”

Since giving up animal products, I often have to remind myself of this mentality, but it is hard – surely if one is not a vegan they can still eat and enjoy vegan food? Don’t they realise that by not eating meat, and by extension, dairy and eggs, even in just one sitting, they are making choices beneficial to animals, their health, and the environment? But this is just it – if they fully took on board your reasons for living the way that you do, then they would most likely be making the same choices all round. And that’s not to say “they just don’t realise how right I am” (which I acknowledge this entry is dangerously close to implying). I’m perfectly open to the fact that my choices may be based on a worse picture of the farming industry than it actually is – I even HOPE this is the case. I’d love to be wrong. This is where a lot of veg*ans fail miserably – I’ve read numerous times comments such as “eating meat is not a personal choice”. As much as there is some grounding to this, it is an utterly ridiculous notion and does veganism more harm than good. Of course it’s a personal choice – eating meat is well practised in our culture and is completely legal. The minute you tell someone it’s not, are they going to throw up their hands and say, “oh sorry, you’re completely right” or ignore you and defriend you on Facebook later? Both might seem extreme outcomes, but I would place money on the latter.

As well as the therapeutic nature in ranting about these unforeseen drawbacks of veganism, I’d like to think this entry might open one’s mind to the “other side of the fence,” whichever end it is you sit on. Omnivores: you might want to consider that consuming less animal products could be a beneficial thing, understanding that as consumers we are the ones that hold the power to change practices when it comes to animal welfare. You could perhaps give vegan food a go, even if you don’t identify as one. It’s still food. Vegans: respect the choices of others. Not everyone holds animal welfare in the same regard, and whilst you might not personally agree, some “animal h8ers” might still be very caring and compassionate people, putting other humans before themselves and applying morality in all aspects of their lives. It’s a different perspective, and it’s not necessarily wrong. I personally care a lot less about people and I’d thank you not to judge me for it.

I really hope these issues will be a thing of the past one day. I don’t think a world will exist where we all hold hands and sing, with soya beans growing where the cattle once grazed. However, veganism (as a diet, at least) will hopefully become prominent enough for restaurants to cater for it (properly), and veg*ism is perceived as something as normal as disliking the taste of Marmite – you won’t be seen as some sort of outcast for it. In turn, whilst meat will still be on the menu, vegan options will be so prominent in our culture that even omnivores will opt for it – not necessarily for ethical reasons – but because it’s great food, valid in its own right.