Being Called a “Nice” Vegan in a Cruel World
If there’s one thing that really grills my Daiya, it’s the phrase “Nice Vegan,” especially when someone throws the label my way. When it happens, it happens like this: I’m in a car, or out having drinks, or eating a meal with an animal-consuming friend, when this comment finds its way into the conversation: “you’re such a nice vegan, not one of those crazy, judgmental ones!” I have yet to figure out how I’m expected to respond to this. I find it confusing, and it used to lead me down a mental road of okay, so, am I vocal enough? Am I doing enough? My God, am I still on track to earn my next vegan badge?! Allow me to make this distinction: I am a nice person and an unapologetic vegan. I am uninterested in fitting someone else’s arbitrary definitions, especially if they don’t participate in any kind of animal activist community. Too many times is kindness conflated with complacency, and I’m tired of watching that happen.
Being a socially polite communicator has pushed me headfirst into the fictional war of Mean vs. Nice Vegans. This imaginary dichotomy works as follows: Mean Vegans speak out against animal exploitation, Nice Vegans are complacent and use phrases like “veganism is a personal choice.” Mean Vegans don’t only voice these opinions, but simply have an opinion to begin with. Nice Vegans wouldn’t dare share any vegan-supporting articles on their Facebook feed out of the fear of alienating a friend. It backs me into an uncomfortable corner, this lack of nuance. If I so much as murmur that I’m a vegan at a dinner party, I’ve disrespected or embarrassed my host. If I make a contrary argument when someone approaches me with a question about whether or not I approve of their food choices, I’m expected to give a specific answer that makes them feel better and maintains the slightest air of submission (note: no, I am not excited that your chicken was locally sourced. If I smile when you point it out to me, it’s purely out of the awkwardness of the entire situation). To openly voice disagreement throws me into the same camp as a mid-1980’s blood-thrower, no matter how respectful my tone is.
Perhaps this problem isn’t entirely unique to life as an animal liberation activist, but what sets it apart from a mere difference in political opinion is how inherently intimate the vegan experience is. Committing to a vegan lifestyle demands we examine our ethical principles whenever we eat a meal or snack, put clothing on our body, or decide as a consumer, what goods to purchase. While our choices may become automatic and routine, at no point can these principles sit comfortably in the backs of our minds. We’re asked to consider our ethics on a constant basis, both by ourselves and by others.
I’m faced by vitriol constantly as a vegan – but from omnivores. After being told for years that harsh judgment and generally nastiness goes the other way around, I was surprised when I began to experience it for myself. This can range anywhere from calling me names to tricking me into eating animal products just to gauge my reaction. This isn’t some occasional occurrence, no, it’s daily. It shocks me, after all this, that I’m expected to remain “nice” for the sake of others. When I speak up on behalf of animals, it’s a joke, but when abusive behavior is directed my way, I’ve earned it and have a certain social duty to withstand it while laughing. I’ve laughed it off plenty, and it’s emotionally exhausting. I don’t want to do it ever again, especially not for the sake of being “nice.” That’s the problem with animal consuming culture, though: whether I fall within the definition of Mean Vegan or Nice Vegan, the anger against my conviction will continue to come.
My deep, dark, not-so-secret is that I do in fact think it is gravely wrong to consume animal products. If we’re going with the textbook definition of “to judge,” then yes, I suppose I do “form opinions after careful thought.” On my best day, I consider non-veganism to be an annoyance, and on my worst, it’s repugnant and I hate to watch it happen. I’m consistent, though – every day I find it morally unacceptable. That doesn’t mean I sit across from a friend who chose to order the chicken penne and scrunch my brow, wanting to write them off as a human and as a friend. I have close relationships with dear friends who take part in omnivorism, as do almost all vegans, but never am I willing to make excuses for them. Of course, their choices are and will always be their own (I can’t force anything), but I would never say that their choices are “just” personal if those decisions affect the comfort and peace of innocent beings. I am vocal about the necessity to change one’s lifestyle to honour sentient beings. There’s value to constructively calling each other out. If I myself kept up a destructive behavior and a friend offered an evidence-based solution, I would expect them to communicate it to me. It’s not much of a friendship if there is silent judgement as opposed to outright discussion, and I’ve made an effort to befriend those who are willing participants in this conversation.
My kindness is defined by how I treat the people around me and the ways in which I choose to interact with this Earth. Other people’s reactions, feelings, or interpretations of my beliefs are not what define my kindness. My only demand is that nobody misunderstands my kindness for approval when it comes to harming and killing animals- it is anything but. I speak with respect, yet I speak with conviction, and that’s something I feel very comfortable continuing to do. If that makes someone think I’m a Mean, Scary Vegan, well. That’s their problem, not mine. Nobody’s growing by keeping the big ideas to themselves, and I intend to grow.