March 27, 2007

What makes vegans look bad? Do we look bad?

Posted in vegan at 3:14 pm by nevavegan

There’s been a good deal of discussion in vegan circles lately about how we come across as a movement, how we come across as people, and whether we’re nice enough, compassionate enough, understanding enough, pretty enough, and so on.

Some people say we should stop using the word vegan altogether and say “animal-free” instead to describe products and foods that are free of animal ingredients. The justification is the presumption that the word “vegan” strikes fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

So where do we all as vegans stand? Do we look bad? Is it time to lower the vegan flag?

Part of the problem is stereotyping of course. Someone once knew a not-very-nice vegan back in high school and now that’s what they think of whenever they hear the word vegan. I’ve found a lot of people cling to this anecdotal obnoxious vegan image. When I was in school I had people in my department actually say to me “I really don’t like vegans, because they’re pushy and rude. Of course, I don’t mean you, Neva, but most aren’t nice like you.” Ummmm, why would anyone even say anything that rude to me? But then, when pressed on the topic they generally brought up a second or third hand account of the bad vegan, like “My friend Sarah told me she went out to dinner once and this girl Megan, a vegan, was there, and she yelled at Sarah for ordering steak.”

Yes, that certainly condemns the whole lot of us.

In most cases where I’ve actually been guilty of being the rude vegan I’ve felt fairly baited into it, which introduces a whole different issue. I’m thinking of one time where a guy spent an entire evening picking at me about my veganism, even though I hadn’t brought it up. Every attempt to go away and talk to other people failed, every attempt to change the subject. The entire time it was “Well, what about your shoes?” “They’re from vegetarian shoes.” “They look leather to me. I don’t believe you. But what about if you accidentally step on a bug?” and then actually had the nerve to say “Well it’s obvious to me you don’t care about people since you’re not out taking care of the homeless right now.” So that’s when I raised my voice and said “I’m probably not perfect, but I do the best I can. I care about animals and people and I’m always looking for ways to do better, which is more than you do since you spend all your time smoking and drinking beer!” And from then on in every retelling I’m the rude vegan who yelled at him for absolutely no reason.

So, I would say that we should all try to be saints and never lose our cool, but you know, if someone has decided to hate you from the start, there’s not much you can do. I think about how badly picked on I was in junior high and high school. People would say the most awful things to me and I’d try to do what I had been taught which was to just ignore them and walk away (which sometimes I didn’t succeed at but for the most part I did). So, someone would come up to me and say “You’re stupid and ugly. You should kill yourself tonight.” And I’d try to hold my head up and not respond and just walk away. Then there was this one girl Andrea who was just awful to me. One day my friend asked her why she was so mean to me all the time. She replied “Neva just holds her head up in this way–you can tell she thinks she’s better than the rest of us, so I want to bring her down some.” Um, so you just can’t win. If you respond in any way at all you’re a bitch and if you don’t respond you’re high and mighty. Lesson: there’s no reaching people like that.

So I can’t say that I’m for not using the term vegan merely to try to reach people who have decided for no decent reason except prejudice that they hate all of us.

Some have suggested that the stereotypes of vegans have some basis in fact. Some vegans are pushy and rude (but so are a lot of non-vegans, many Christians, some Sci-fi fans and everything else, it’s just not fair to judge an entire diverse group by one or two members). They point out that some vegans are hippies, some are so “back to nature” that they embrace their own B.O. Some vegans are just weird.

And if we change over and start using the term “animal-free” those weirdos will eventually become associated with that as well. I use that word in the kindest sense though–I love weirdos in all their various forms and guises, the unexpectedness and creativity of those that don’t conform to every cultural norm.

But we can’t control everyone and form them exactly as we wish they would be. We have to accept that we’re a group united by an ethical goal, and quite honestly nothing else. We don’t belong to the same religion. We don’t have the same politics or standards of dress. We don’t adhere to the same asthetics. We tend to be well read thoughtful types, but quite frankly there are some vegans out there who aren’t all that bright. There are some with really unpleasant personalities too. And there are wonderful, kind, generous loving vegans as well.

Funny how the stereotypers never say “I know that there are some less nice vegans, but I met this one vegan and he was just so incredibly compassionate and cool and understanding, so that’s what I think of now when I think of vegans.”

Of course people stereotype because they want to dismiss all of our ideas out of hand. They don’t address the ideas behind veganism on merits. They don’t talk about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, or the sheer horrible numbers of animals killed in terrifying ways. No, they talk about this one vegan they met once and didn’t like.

So in my opinion it’s time for us vegans to declare openly and proudly that we’re vegans. We’re here and we’re not going away. We’re every age, every religion, every color of the rainbow. We work at professional jobs and we waitress and drive trucks. We live in your neighborhood and work one cubicle over from you. We volunteer at the soup kitchen and at the local elementary school. We are too diverse, complex, and vibrant to be pre-judged by you. We are people just like you, trying to live our ethics every day. We aren’t rude, but we do care, and we won’t be quiet or ashamed of what we are.



  1. b36Kitchen said,

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  2. bazu said,

    Hi, I just found your blog and have spent the last half hour reading your most current posts. Some really thought-provoking things in your writing have jumped out at me. Most people, for example, would describe me as vegan, but I sometimes don’t. (I say ‘strict vegetarian’, ‘vegeterian’, ‘veg’ ‘veggie’ etc.) Why is that? I know so many really cool vegans, especially now that blogging has allowed me to get to know lots of new people. And yet, in a nagging part of my brain, I think I also have the image of the militant, mirthless, holier-than-thou vegan that really, really turns me off. As vegans, each of us is mounting a little activist campaign with our daily lives. I’ve come to the conclusion, which I’m sure many will find unpopular, that depending on the situation, the term ‘vegan’ can turn people off. Hey, it turns me off sometimes, and I embrace the life and ethics and diet that it stands for!
    I think I have a lot of thinking to do…
    I look forward to being a regular visitor to your blog!

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Bazu!!

    To me that’s probably part of the problem if some vegans are “in the closet” so to speak because they have a negative impression of other vegans. It’s the humorous, real, friendly, etc vegans who need to get out there and represent, right?

    Though I do understand that nobody wants to be discriminated against.

    I also wonder how much negativity we absorb from a vocal minority in terms of vegans being millitant or rude or whatever. Is that really how most people see us?

    I used to tell people at my work that I was a “strict vegetarian,” but now I just say vegan and I have to say most people have a pretty positive reaction to it. I was prepared to defend myself, but mostly I never had to.

  4. Melody Polakow said,

    I totally love this post.

    Dennis Kucinich is someone I admire so much, but the mainstream medie ridicules him on a constant basis for being vegan.. mocking him, like it makes him a joke and less than a man.

    It is so odd the perceptions people have.

    Loud and Proud!

  5. Vincent Guihan said,

    Great blog. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve participated in this kind of discussion with myself, with friends or family, on a blog or discussion forum. I think one of the best things that can be said about vegans is that, while there are some very annoying vegans, most are very good people and as a group, we’re highly self-critical (which is often very rare in political/social movements).

    Like it is for you, I often experience this vague defensiveness and hostility towards vegans at large, but never towards me and I can be completely rude, militant and holier than thou. I’m never without mirth, however. On the other hand, I make it clear to people when I meet them (not immediately, but early on) that I’m just a jerk and that my being vegan has nothing to do with that. Once people know what to expect, I find they’re less anxious and less pre-emptively hostile.

    I’m also the first one to agree with people who have legitimate complaints about vegan behaviour. I just remind them that an individual’s rudeness, low self-esteem or humourless often has more to do with who s/he is as a person than his or her political beliefs per se.

    But I agree with Melody. Loud and proud! I’ve found that most people are very accepting and supportive of my veganism when they know that I’m not off secretly judging them because they’re already heard exactly what I think (diplomatically phrased, of course) out in the open.

  6. Neva Vegan said,

    Melody, thanks! Yes, that’s the spirit!

    Vincent, how funny. I guess it’s true that we all bring our personalities into veganism. If we were pushy before, we’re pushy as vegans. Of course there are a lot of obnoxious pushy meat-eaters too!

    Thanks for reading!

    I’m actually so excited that I’m getting comments on my blog! I’m new here. Thanks you guys for reading my random thoughts!

  7. Urban Vegan said,

    Thanks for inciting discussion on this!

    I think that vegans suffer from a lot of ridiculous stereotypes. Stereotypes are broken down by one-on-one interaction & open, honest discussions. I think it’s unrealistic to think that we’ll change the world, but I think that leading by example–without being pushy or fundamentalist, can eventually move mountains. Most people accept me and even proudly say that “I have a vegan friend.” My 80-year-old mother-in-law now cooks vegan dishes and reads my blog! Happily only a few people are closed-minded. When someone just tries to pick you apart instead of respecting your choices, you have to realize that they have serious self-esteem issues that have nothing to do with you. Thy would do the same thing to anyone “different.” You just have to pick your battles.

    As for semantics, I say whatever word works in a certain situation. The actions of being vegan speak louder than the name.

  8. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Urban Vegan!

    What you’re saying is so true, it’s harder for people to hate us if they know us!

    Keep fighting the good fight!

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