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Being Called a “Nice” Vegan in a Cruel World

Being Called a “Nice” Vegan in a Cruel World

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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.

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  • stewart lands

    The philosophy of veganism is limited to two noteworthy goals–the first is to reduce animal suffering and exploitation; the other to reduce environmental impact with the understanding that what is good for the environment is good for all of its creatures, including, of course, its animal inhabitants. Eliminating animal agriculture, as mainstream vegan thought demands, has the potential to make significant strides toward both outcomes. However, this is not to suggest that mainstream vegan philosophy is the best or even the most logical dietary approach to reaching these goals.

    To clarify, veganism assumes that any vegetable item must also be animal friendly. The truth is, some plants require more resources than others to produce and transport. Growing any crop requires that wild lands be converted to barren soil, with the result that habitat is lost and every wild creature upon that landscape is destroyed. Some crops require much more land than others and therefore result in unnecessarily large numbers of animal lives lost. Some require more water, resulting in the excessive diversion of water from sensitive aquatic systems with the result that populations of fish and amphibians are in collapse, world-wide. Others require huge amounts of energy to transport across the planet. Despite all of these concerns, most vegans still think anything plant must be OK, as if there exists a line between plant and animal that somehow distinguishes between good food and bad. Yet cashews and almonds require four times as much water to grow than does chicken, and bananas imported across the seas help to contribute to global climate change. Fruit such as kiwi and orange require a lot of land relative to less destructive options. Nevertheless, extravagant options such as these feature prominently in listings for “favorite vegan recipes”. As it stands today, mainstream veganism suffers from the same lack of vision for which it criticizes omnivorism–namely, the willingness to overlook animal and environmental impact in order to please the tastebuds.

    The second point of improvement lies in regard to the sustainable consumption of wildlife resources. Most of us reject hunting and fishing as unnecessary and cruel without ever considering the impact of each in comparison to the option of agriculture. To clarify, an animal hunted is immediately replaced by another that would otherwise perish for lack of resources. Nature always breeds more animals than habitat can support and the rest die of starvation or disease. To consume the excess in a sustainable manner has no impact on animal populations and no impact upon the habitat upon which wildlife depends. Agriculture (even plant agriculture), on the other hand, kills every individual, of every major species, on any landscape converted to that purpose. Fields of beans or broccoli are not developed from barren dirt, and wherever they exist the myriad wild creatures that once inhabited these spaces are destroyed. In fact, they and every generation descended from them that might otherwise have been expected to inhabit the land are forever eliminated.

    Consider the millions of acres of forest, wetland and grassland converted to exotic monoculture serving no species besides man; consider the billions of pounds of chemicals dumped into the soil, water and air, and consider the trillions of gallons of fresh water diverted from sensitive aquatic systems, all for agricultural purpose. Agriculture is today recognized to be the foremost cause of extinction, world-wide, as well as the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Certainly, meat production bears responsibility for the greater part of this damage, but this does not alter the fact that where we may consume, in a well-regulated and sustainable manner, some portion of those wild populations inhabiting undisturbed lands, then we have the responsibility to do so in order to avoid the even greater animal death and environmental impact that results from agriculture of any sort–even plant agriculture.

    Of course, the human population is too large to exist entirely off wild fish and game, and so will continue to rely primarily on agriculture for its nutritional needs. But where wild foods are available, it makes sense to utilize them fully. Hunters in the state of Tennessee consume over 500,000 squirrel, annually. Add to this the millions of deer, pronghorn, elk, turkey, geese, pheasant, and innumerable fish taken across the continent, and it becomes apparent that wild game may effectively provide tens, if not hundreds of millions of meals each year. It is a mistake to criticize the rural resident who supplements his diet with fish and game considering that his alternative is to reduce the acreage of wild land available to native species in order to grow his own meal. Putting all prejudices aside, we should encourage those who would step off the back porch and into the woods to hunt deer or turkey rather than drive fifty miles in each direction to the nearest grocery store in order to purchase their meal from the vegetable counter. The fact is, eating ethically is somewhat more nuanced that many are willing to admit.

  • Great article! I’ve struggled with this so much. I had a rude awakening one day when a friend introduced me to a new person as, “This is Nichole, she’s a vegan, but don’t worry, she’s totally cool with people eating meat!”

    I was shocked, I had no idea that my “nice” veganism was giving my friend that impression. Cool vegan = silent vegan

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