Vegan Activism – some thoughts

The recent vegan sticker-activism in NZ supermarkets created the usual furore amongst both vegans and non-vegans. Disruptive action tends to do that. Vegans who hate it cringe at it and condemn it, and non-vegans who hate it get apoplectic and condemn it. For once, both are almost on the same page – they think it’s wrong, but for different reasons.

From the comments I have read coming from both camps, this is my take on it. Vegans who condemn disruptive activism seem to be mostly afraid of the backlash they’ll get from non-vegan family, friends, and work colleagues. They consider that a soft and gentle approach works best at converting meat-eaters to veganism (there’s merit in that approach, too), and that disruptive activism sets the cause back by alienating would-be converts. Non-vegans are pretty much just concerned about their gullets, and not being made to feel uncomfortable about their “food choices”. Those who make a living from using animals as commodities, don’t want the way they earn their living to be disrupted.

It seems to me that both camps are all about not upsetting the meat-eaters. What happened to being concerned for the animals? Let’s remember that nothing vegans have ever, ever done, has been as atrocious as what is done to farmed animals in the course of doing business as usual, 365 days a year.

Now, I do get why some vegans don’t want to upset meat-eaters. The backlash can be vitriolic, and who wants that to rain down upon them? It’s a valid concern, because being isolated or targeted by family, friends, or work colleagues is serious, especially when you can’t get away from it. It undermines our happiness, and mental and physical health. I wrote a bit more about this in a previous blog Isolation and Hostility in the Workplace, but I don’t pretend to have the all the answers.

However, I don’t believe that treading too softly is the answer, either. It can make us and our vegan philosophy easy to ignore, which also hinders the cause. Staying silent and non-confrontational may seem like a good way to keep the meat-eating bullies at bay, but my experience of life has taught me otherwise. A bully will always find us, find our vulnerabilities, and attack. It’s what they do, and silent people make excellent victims. The bullies attack when they feel they have an advantage of some sort – e.g. superior numbers, or social/work/family position. Or when they’ve clocked that we’re unwilling, or not fluent enough, to attack back or defend ourselves.

When vegan activism hits the headlines, we can bet our last dollar that we will get attacked by non-vegans. But guess what? The dipshit comments they come at us with are still the same as they ever were. I swear that they get passed down from non-vegan to non-vegan like a legacy. Rather than be upset at vegan activists, because they’ve upset non-vegans, I suggest that we prepare to parry their comments. It would difficult to list them all, and our responses to them, but the four multi-purpose comebacks that have stood me in good stead for a long time are these:

  • I remind non-vegans that nothing vegans have EVER done is as bad as what is done to farmed animals on a ‘business as usual’ basis, 365 days of the year. Nothing.
  • I tell my interrogator/attacker that I’m always happy to talk one-on-one at a better/more appropriate time, or when they’re feeling a bit less antagonistic.

We often get attacked when it’s not a good time to conduct an argument. If we do get drawn into one – which is easily done, just with one little comment or reply – you can guarantee it will be the vegan who is eventually asked to knock it off. Two things usually happen after I make the above offer: a) the attacker doesn’t shut up, so I have to be like a broken record and say it several times, and: b) they never take me up on my offer. This may happen one day, but it hasn’t so far.

  • I enlighten them that it’s not actually about any person’s feelings or stomach, it’s about animals’ lives.
  • I ask them if cruelty is okay, just because someone is legally making a living from it.

For a more comprehensive read about how to counteract non-vegan arguments, Earthling Ed has made a great free e-book here:

And, please, never ever worry that vegan activists will turn people off becoming vegan. The non-vegans who say this were never going to become vegan anyway. Never ever. The more apoplectic they are about vegan activism, the less likely they are to ever become vegan. You could pander to them until you’re old and grey (trust me on this), and they will still only see it as a dietary choice that’s not for them. Some do eventually incorporate a plant-based diet into their lives, if their health deteriorates. Most would rather eat old socks – or go paleo.

Take heart that it’s often those we hear nothing from whose awareness is raised through vegan activism. How do we know this? There’s a good reason that food corporations are scrambling to get onto the plant-based food bandwagon. Corporations follow the money, and there’s money in veganism, because people are becoming vegan in significant numbers.

It’s true that we generally have to be more moderate with our opinions and behaviour around family and friends. Most of us curtail what we say and do, for the sake of harmony. But for the world at large, disruptive activism has the broad reach that galvanises greater change. If asking nicely for social change worked, vegans would do it. But it doesn’t happen that way. We may not always agree with the activism undertaken – I have disagreed with some, too – but non-aggressive disruptive activism is one of the best ways to effect large-scale social change. It always has been.


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