Sali Owen published an article on the Guardian website yesterday posing the question: ‘So, what is an ethical vegan?’, hoping to distinguish this stance from people who are vegan for health and fitness reasons. What I want to discuss is not the article itself, but the absolutely astonishing reaction to it from readers of the paper. You can check out the comments here (I warn you, though, have a stress ball handy!), but to sum them up, they range from the standard base jokes we experience all of the time from meat-eaters (the top rated comment being: ‘I don't discriminate against farmed species - they all taste lovely’) to accusations of moral superiority: ‘It's just another way for them to worship at the altar of Better Than You.’ There are also comments that contain arguments so ridiculous that I am genuinely surprised these people are allowed to vote (one can only hope that they are really vegans writing satirically):
'What about the countless bacteria you slaughter every time you wash your hands?'
'If it is the fear of death in your food source which is the issue, then surely picking on a carrot is discriminatory on species with no concept of their own life?'
'Do Vegans oppose Breast feeding? Presumably they do. If its wrong to drink cows milk it must also be wrong to drink Human milk' [Sic] (Despite reading the Guardian, the rules of grammar and punctuation are evidently lost on this poor fellow.)
Countless other commenters make unsubstantiated and ignorant protestations about how vegans are denying what is ‘natural’, as if factory farming is in any way, shape, or form reflective of nature. There could be nothing less natural than the lives these animals lead. There could be nothing less natural than the average consumer’s complete and utter detachment from the source of the food they are eating.
What’s a vegan to do? I just cannot understand why articles like this get such a hateful reaction from the meat-eating community. And why all these accusations of moral superiority?! I can only conclude that these feelings come from within the meat-eaters themselves, because there is nothing ‘preachy’ about Owen’s article, and anyone that is vegan will know that if moral superiority were really what we were after, there are much simpler and less stressful ways to get it (for instance, abstaining from watching Celebrity Big Brother).
Perhaps most annoying of all the comments are the ones that rant about how they are ‘sick and tired of this holier-than-thou claptrap’, as if it’s so hard being a meat-eater, as if the whole world – the government, the food industry, restaurants, family, friends – aren’t on their side. Oh, it must be so hard for them to have all that choice on the menu, to be in the majority, to be catered for. It must be so hard when the one vegetarian in their circle chooses their dinner and they have to sit opposite a plate of roasted vegetables. How awful and offensive. And then the poor, persecuted meat-eater has to eat their dinner without being questioned about where they get their protein from. I honestly don’t know how they cope under such oppression! And the bullying continues, as after all this hardship, they have to endure reading an article (free from graphic pictures and full of comic references to ‘hummus wells’) in which someone discusses their ethical stance against animal cruelty! I mean, really, it’s surprising there are any meat-eaters left with all they have to cope with. They must feel so harrassed. Maybe someone should set up a charity?
The injustice of factory farming is intolerable and incomprehensible. I cannot understand how anyone could defend such cruelty, nor can I fathom why these commentators are full of such spite towards people that are just trying to act kindly and compassionately. I guess what I'm really wondering is: Why the hate?
Something needs to change. Veganism needs to move into the 21st century. It needs to be normalised, mainstream, catered for. There needs to be a bridge between veggies and meat-eaters that overcomes all this rubbish about moral superiority, so that we can discuss this issue properly, and have an informed debate in which each side is respected and listened to. Surely most human beings want to end injustice, and create a kinder world for people and animals? That’s all us vegans are after. We don’t want to lecture you, we don’t want to make you feel bad, we don’t want to steal your favourite food - we want to usher in more compassion in the world and defend those who can’t defend themselves. Surely we can all agree that that’s something worth fighting for, and find a way to work together to achieve this?
Thank goodness, there was some light amongst those dark, Daily Mail worthy comments. In her article, Sali addresses the question of caring about multiple issues, arguing that it’s not an ‘either/or’ situation. She writes:
There doesn’t have to be a competitive element to compassion. We don’t have to pick sides. “Sorry, I’m afraid I can only care about one thing at a time, and today’s thing is sustainable recycling in Honduras. Now be a dear and pass me the stilton.”One commenter agreed, beautifully expressing the idea that ‘The more love/compassion you give, the more you have and the more there is in the world! Love/compassion is not a finite resource. Caring is not a zero-sum game…'
Indeed it is not.
I don’t know what a ‘vegan revolution’ would look like, but I know it needs to happen. We need to break through the stereotypes, the ignorance, the barriers that stop us reaching out and spreading the idea that life is worth something. Life has value. And that every sentient creature, human and non-human, has the right to live the life they were designed for, and not be tortured, oppressed, or exploited.
How we live the life we have been given can change the lives of others, for the better or for the worst. Let’s work together, support and help each other to make veganism an approachable and fun way of life. This isn’t about being perfect; it’s just about caring that we’re not.
Something has to change.
As always, peace and love to you all. x