Is vegan shaming like body shaming?
There’s this assumption that all vegans instantly hate non-vegans (pre-vegans as they are more affectionately called in my circle), and vice versa. It’s this weird duality where neither is the base truth, but it accounts for a lot of hurt feelings. And while many vegans like myself aren’t afraid to speak up against exploitation to non-vegans, that desire to share information is often misinterpreted as “shaming.” So when someone shared a piece called “Vegan Shaming is the New Fat-Shaming” with me, I first thought it would compare bullying vegans with bullying people whose bodies don’t match the media standards. Instead, it’s an op-ed piece that attempts to make vegans quiet down in criticizing non-vegans for not changing. It completely neglects the victims in both scenarios and the necessity of criticism in social justice movements. It also inaccurately portrays personal feelings of guilt as “shaming,” and as being motivation for the action some vegans take.
If this were simply about some forms of ineffective vegan advocacy, I’d be a willing contributor to the narrative. But the author here wants us to believe that there’s no difference between speaking up and shaming. I’d like to pose this question; what other social movements should sit down, shut up, and let people doing the wrong thing continue on their merry ways? If we encounter racism, would it be shaming to call out the person who is being racist? The same applies to sexism or homophobia. Unlike the hurtful bullying of body-shaming, speaking out against a legitimate injustice cannot be simplified as name-calling. If we were to consider the individual feelings of perpetrators of hate before their victims, change would never be made.
And when it comes to advocating for veganism, it’s never about the person speaking up for animals or the person they’re speaking to: it’s about the animals. With veganism, the victim proceeds the alleged “shaming.” Something bad is currently happening, so we act to amend it. With body shaming, the victim is the person being spoken to or about. The problem doesn’t exist until the prejudice of an individual acts as a catalyst. To try to dictate how people have to be when mentioning the slaughter, torture, and perverse nature of animal exploitation is to say that what’s happening to animals isn’t as important as the people participating in it. It also assumes that basic curtesy and respect aren’t required. When the author says you can’t “shame people in to adopting a lifestyle,” they’re forgetting that it’s not the “lifestyle” that anyone should be focused on (although they’re usually the ones with the megaphones). Veganism is not a personal fight, and it doesn’t single-in on the exploitation of an individual, but provides solutions for people to remove themselves from it. Body shaming on the other hand is incredibly personal, and doesn’t ever rear it’s ugly head when the whole world is considered. It’s usually one asshole targeting an undeserving individual, using misinformation from outside of their own experience to try to rationalize their degradation. Where vegan advocacy helps one person see the ignorance in our society, body shaming relies on the ignorance of our society to hurt one person.
The entire idea of “shaming” is misplaced here. This article talks about people advocating for veganism over vegetarianism, and veganism over part-time plant-based dieting. “Shame” only comes in to play because of the individual interpretation or feelings about the subject matter. The author has removed red meat and milk from her diet, and feels she needs time to tackle removing the rest. However, she shows she’s uncomfortable with the other animal products she consumes by being off-put by people urging her not to wait to go full vegan. The big difference between shaming and shame is the intent, and most vegans aren’t out to humiliate or embarrass non-vegans, they’re out to make change for animals. Body shaming, despite what some perpetrators of it may say, is always about indignity and the mortification of a person to illicit arbitrary change that doesn’t affect the person doing the shaming -just the person being shamed. And while body shaming is based on one media driven idealistic notion of what’s right and wrong, veganism tackles the tangible practices and customs being supported right now. The superficiality of thinking we know what’s best for someone’s size and shape cannot be linked to the desire to end animal exploitation because one is based on assumptions and bias, the other is based on knowledge and the suffering of animals.
So if we’re able to understand veganism truly, and not the side effects of it (re. health, saving water, etc), our advocacy must always come from providing people with meaningful education. Even still, our efforts may be interpreted as shaming because of how the person enacting the exploitation begins to relate their actions to negativity. It remains that we are not in control of how people handle the information, or what steps they take after receiving it. It is simply our obligation to animals to always feel empowered to bring up veganism to those around us. It is never about being better than someone else, and always about the fundamental justice that animals deserve first.