How To Not Be a Dick and Talk About Veganism
Can vegans and non-vegans be friends?
Vegan. It’s a word that inspires passion into some and fear and hatred in others. Kindlings co-editors, Kat and Nina, sat down to have a chat about veganism, and what it is about dietary choices that can be so dividing.
Too long to read? Scroll straight to the bottom for How to not be a dick about veganism. It’s got some quick pointers, regardless of what you choose put in your mouth!
Why do we make fun of vegans?
Kat: I used to find all vegans annoying - and I enjoyed winding them up. It hadn’t really occurred to me in a real sense why they were vegan. Like I got it, because of animals, but I used to think “Cheese is great, nachos would taste terrible without cheese, why would you give up cheese?”
Nina: I also used to (make fun of vegans). I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it and there’s definitely a herd mentality in making fun of a group of people because of their dietary choices.
Kat: Yeah it’s a bit terrible, but it’s like giving people shit for being paleo - and I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying that.
Nina: It seems it’s widely acceptable to make fun of people because of their diet. One of my questions is why does diet upset people so much?
Why does someone not eating bacon upset other people? And to such extreme points?
Kat: It's funny how bacon is such a deal-breaker for so many people. I think it's almost a point of character for some people: like if you eat bacon you're strong and outgoing and fun, and if you don't you're weak and a spoil sport.
Nina: Could you, say, compare it to people being non-cisgender or gay, or having a certain religious beliefs?... Although... being gay is not necessarily a choice, but being vegan is definitely a choice.
Maybe it’s just because vegans are different and not following the norm, and a majority of people are scared of the unfamiliar.
Kat: It's that, but I definitely think people think that there’s a 'snobbery’ to it.
Nina: Is it a stereotype?
Kat: Yeah it’s a stereotype that vegans think that they’re better than everyone else. And maybe that’s true - not in the sense that they think they’re better than others, but they probably do think that what they’re doing is better for the world, and they have the justification to believe that. There's these ideas of "Oh they think they’re so much better than everybody" or "They’re just seeking attention". I can think of a couple of people (vegans) who I definitely used to think about in that way.
Do other vegans make it harder by promoting a stereotype?
Kat: I do think that there are certain vegans that sort of ruin it for the rest: in the sense that you might hand them some (non-vegan) food and they’ll proclaim that they’re vegan in a really disdainful way. They probably do it because they are really passionate about it but it doesn’t really come across that way; It comes across as annoying and trying to show that they're taking the high ground.
Nina: In another way, there’s a second layer of elitism as well. For example some people are almost vegan but eat honey, and hard core vegans might judge them for that pretty harshly or say that they can't call themselves vegan.
Kat: When I told my boyfriend (Mikey), he was like "Ughhh I knew this would happen!"
Mikey: Yeah and people are anti-vegan because they don’t want a lifestyle change. It’s because they have to listen to vegans. Vegans are 'annoying' because they imply that you should be making lifestyle changes and a lot of their arguments carry that undertone of being elitist. It's like how people hate 'that annoying health junkie' stereotype. Event though exercise is good for you people hate to feel that they are being pressured into making lifestyle changes.
Kat: Promoting veganism is almost like a hobby. There can be a point where it makes you want to block someone on social media because they’re in your face protesting your choices. I liked a few vegan pages on Facebook and now I open my news feed and get 50% animal cruelty videos, but for me it’s not my whole life, it’s just my diet, so it can definitely become overbearing and annoying.
Nina: Is it that vegans promote it because they're attacked and therefore feel the need to justify it? Or perhaps it’s just the case that people who are more like that are naturally the people who promote it because they're that passionate, and that’s why this perception exists.
Kat: I think there's definitely a bit of 'Jehovah's witness'-ing that goes on. When someone goes vegan they feel like they’re doing something that’s good and they want to tell others. I totally understand why people get really passionate about it: for example when I went vegan, for the first two weeks that’s alI I thought about: “How have I never thought about this before? My whole world has changed! Does everyone else know? Why aren't we talking about it?!”, so I completely understand people trying to raise awareness on social media.
It can seem like a religion in that you think "I wish everyone could see the world this way". I feel that. But also I know to accept that changing everyone is almost never going to happen - it’s kind of a utopia fantasy world.
Does the terminology create difficulties and politics?
Kat: I really dislike people talking about my vegan 'diet.'
Nina: Because it’s a lifestyle?
Kat: Haha that’s funny... because it is a diet, but the word ‘diet’ has connotations of it being a weight loss fad, like the Atkins or Paleo diet.
*edit: By 'fad' we mean diets that are promoted as a quick-fix weight loss diet plan.
Nina: We use the word diet incorrectly - it literally means what you eat, rather than this idea that it’s a change in the way you eat with a start and an end point.
Kat: Yeah but people also give their friends shit for being on any diet, like "Why are on a diet? Why do you feel like you need to lose weight?"
Nina: I agree - for example, I make fun of people who say they 'don’t eat carbs' or are on a 'no-carb diet'. The term ‘diet’ isn’t taken seriously, and therefore we joke about anything under that term. What about the label ‘flexitarian’ - do you think it’s good or bad for the politics of food?
Kat: Well I actually think that technically I classify as a flexitarian. I often eat non-vegan food if it's going to waste, but I only buy vegan.
To me any reduction of animal products is good, and the term 'flexitarian' enables that. I often hear people say “I could go vegan except for cheese” or “I could go vegan except for chocolate” and I think “Then do just that!” Go vegan except for cheese and let that be the one thing you do eat. I can't stress it enough: it is not a religion. I think that people get hung up on the fact that they need to follow it strictly but there are no rules so I think that’s where the term flexitarian comes in.
Nina: Maybe that goes back to the problem and why this is an issue - it’s the perception of veganism. Or even vegetarianism - for example when I stopped being vegetarian, I avoided telling my vegetarian and vegan friends. Obviously it doesn’t come up as the first thing in conversation but I held back because I felt like when I told them they were going to judge me.
Kat: It’s funny, because when you were vegetarian a few years ago I thought “Oh here we go, Nina’s gone vegetarian”. And then we went out for dinner one night and you told me that you were eating meat again and I was like “Oh thank God! She’s finally gone back to normal”!
Nina: Yeah! That’s the exact same conversation I had with so many other friends and family - like there was some huge relief like I’d returned from a cult!
Kat: Yeah or “They finally came out of that phase”! I think it is a phase for some people, but that doesn’t mean it has to be perceived that way every time.
Tips on how to not be a dick about veganism:
Respect that not everybody is ready to share your passion for veganism.
If you aren’t a vegan, don’t bring it up with a vegan just for a fight. Do talk about it if you’re genuinely interested.
Understand that there can be a big difference between the perception of veganism as an extreme diet and lifestyle and the reality of your mate has gone vegan.
Got more thoughts on how not to be a dick about veganism? Leave a comment!