Friday, February 5, 2010

A Plea for Inclusion

The Vegan Society says this of veganism:

"Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose."

Note the words "as far as possible" and "practicable." Their statement seeks to include millions of people who wish to explore a vegan path.

Statements that exclude (and alienate) people, are ones like this, given by a high-end vegan shoe company owner urging us to abandon perfectly good non-vegan items in our closet to support things like her $200 shoes:

"It is the responsibility of anyone that is speaking on behalf of animal rights to WALK THE WALK and TALK THE TALK, anything less is half- ass and an injustice to the animal kingdom. You have made the choice to be vegan from your higher realms of consciousness, you are here to be a teacher, and a guide!" The process should "not be stalled by a vegan still wearing leather worried about saving a few hundred bucks...If you believe in the "recession" than you will have one...rise above it!!!"

Oh good, the recession has all been in our heads. I'll mention that to the people I know out of work, and tell the single mom raising a few kids and trying to put food on the table not to selfishly worry about a "few hundred bucks." What's next, a drink of Kool-Aid?

This is why so few pursue veganism. How can we be this socially-aware, environmentally-sensitive community with sentiments like that?

Some vegans are very smug about 'we're the real environmentalists.' Here's the problem. No one wants my sweaty old leather sneakers I use to pick up trash in the park or walk muddy fields with the dog, and they're not going to want yours. I shop almost exclusively thrift, and see mounds of clothes in the 50 cents bin in my favorite thrift shop. They literally cannot give things away for free. Many donations end up in the landfill. Plenty of old sneakers almost certainly will. That is bad for the earth and for animals.

I have a non-vegan coat I bought years ago, and still use. When first pursuing veganism, I thought about replacing it with an identical looking vegan coat from H&M (which would also be a socially poor choice, apparently) to say I had a vegan one, then realized that would be wasteful. How far would I have to take it then? Getting rid of my IKEA couch with down to say I have this glossy vegan life?

High-end vegan companies pride themselves on their so-called moral high ground and ethics. When I read the statement from the vegan shoe company owner I thought, there is nothing ethical at all about shaming people for wanting to use what they bought before pursuing a vegan path; telling them to donate or sell everything to wipe the slate clean; and that you should invest in companies that reflect your values: (READ: buy their high-priced items). I think of a line in R.E.M.'s Living Well is the Best Revenge: "Unbelievable! The gospel according to who?" Meaning - question the source. Are you going to listen to and be judged by someone trying to sell their product, and preys on your emotions and guilt for past misinformed choices? I don't.

What's most reprehensible to me is the nerve to insult millions of animals advocates that we're not up to the level of 'awareness' they are because you don't part with your wool scarf from grandma or your old track shoes. How dare they.

I don't need to "dress the part" of a vegan by wearing a $500 coat and $200 pair of shoes to prove vegans don't dress like granolas. "Economy" and "jobs" are the top two concerns of Americans right now. Having dealt with unemployment in my life, I take this very personally, and am sickened by people's value judgements about what you should prioritize.

One vegan said, "Vegans aren't being judgmental and divisive. It's just that there is zero tolerance for mucking up that definition and having it convenience you rather than the animals. That is why vegans will chime in and correct you."

They refuse to see it, but these smug self-anointed spokespeople for veganism scare millions away with their 'my way or the highway' approach. Their attitude is hurting animals. It's a reason I personally no longer want to tell people I'm a vegan - I say I pursue a vegan lifestyle the best I can, which is what this blog is about. It's not about a term that almost no one can achieve if you have to live up to the standards of these "perfect" zealots who pat themselves on the back so publicly.

The vegan label police was bad enough. The vegan thought police? Needs to be stopped, for the animals' sake.


ConsciouslyFrugal said...

Thank you so much for this. I can't tell you how much more open I am to listening to what you have to say about veganism because of posts like this. (But I'm not making any promises...)

It's really just a Buddha on the Mountain Top kind of arrogance. I don't trust people who know everything already. And if someone were to assume they were my "teacher?" Oh, piss off. Life is my teacher, wannabe guru.

ANYWAY, I've never seen anything positive come from an "us vs. them" mentality when trying to create substantive change. We're all in this together and need to learn to respect that there are many paths on this one journey.

Maybe a radical, purist shift is the best option? Who knows? What I do know is that the only lasting change that has ever worked for me came from baby steps, and the only conversations I care to have with people about change involve finding common ground and respecting the imperfection of our humanity.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

CF: Thank you so much for the words of support and for reading with an open-mind.

I don't trust people who are not open to dialogue and present themselves as perfect. Then it's just a one-way conversation. And in many cases, it's "do as I say, not as I do" when it comes to what they suggest others do, but aren't living themselves.

I so agree with the baby steps. There are so many ways to incorporate vegan foods, like non-dairy milks, egg replacers, etc. Or just simply picking a bean burrito instead of a meat burrito when dining out. If everyone just did a little (or a lot), the impact would be huge.

Just know if you encounter any judgmental vegans (which I come across often), we are not all like them.