You Are Not as Good a Vegan as I Am.

Via on Feb 25, 2012

We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.
~ Paulo Coelho

Judgment and Acceptance in the Vegan Community.

To judge others is, to a large degree, inevitable. As humans, we make decisions about how to respond to those around us by evaluating their behavior and even their motives, and then responding accordingly.

However, there is, I believe, a qualitative difference in the types of judgments we make. Sometimes we are making judgments of others based on how their actions specifically and directly impact us, or based on what they have told us of their motives. Other times, we are making judgments of others based on our standards of right/wrong and good/bad behavior. Again, this is probably just our humanness in action. But, I think most of us would agree that there are some things we need to not judge others about – things that involve personal choices and personal moralities. And, there are other instances where we may have a good reason to feel a particular judgment, but that does not mean that we must say it, because in the saying we accomplish little but diminishing the person who we have judged and there isn’t much value in that.

Lately, I have noticed a significant amount of judging going on in the vegan community.  This has been interesting for me, because before I was much engaged in social media, I had never encountered a vegan who was harsh in his/her outward critique of omnivores or vegetarians, and I was flummoxed when the omnis around me would mention such behavior.  I only knew vegans who were committed to their own choice and willing to help others work toward it if they so desired.  But, now I’m starting to get what they were talking about, except that it seems to be more directed from one vegan/vegetarian to another than it is toward omnivores.  And, it can get a little vicious.

I became vegan because it was the right choice for me, partly due to some health concerns, and because others (in books, in life, online) had offered me persuasive, but not accusatory, information about non-meat animal products. I’m happy that I made this choice. But, I’m not as sure that I would have done it in response to someone berating me for not being vegetarian enough or telling me that I might as well eat meat if I wasn’t going to be all vegan. I suspect I would have closed up (out of anger, and probably some guilt) and not even considered veganism as an option.

Even if we set aside consideration of whether it is kind to judge others so harshly, it seems to work against the underlying goals of a vegan community. It seems to me that there is little value in browbeating other vegans or vegetarians in public settings for not embodying the principles or philosophies of veganism in exactly the way that we hope/think that they should. Even if one believes that the ultimate goal should be no utilization of animals for anything ever, isn’t it better if an individual is moving in that direction than if he/she gets shut down in the path by public humiliation?

My opinion, and it is only mine but it does and will inform the choices I make online, is that the best thing we can do, as vegans, is to keep the information flowing and support one another in the process, regardless of where we might be in it. So, while I’m not going to eat an egg now and then as a treat, I’m not going to reject or scold someone who does, and I’m not going to dissociate myself from someone just because he/she has “imperfections.” If I selected my friends and associates based on their degree of perfect adherence to my moral compass, I think I would be rather lonely.

There are certainly plenty of things that we can do to be active in promoting a vegan cause that don’t involve belittling others in a way that ultimately may work against our ends. For me, the primary effort is in providing information, whether that be online or in face-to-face encounters, and giving support. For someone else, that may be working for a vegan community group or starting a vegan restaurant. It could be working for animal rescue or against corporate farming. But, whatever we do, there have to be compatible ways that we can also offer acceptance and support to those heading in the same direction that we are, even if they aren’t moving as fast or in the same way.

Photos: Patrick Denker

About Lorin Arnold

I'm a university professor, not-that-kind-of-doctor, family and gender communication scholar, spouse, vegan (not a real fur), and mother of six.  I'm a little goofy and a little serious, organized and kind of a mess. In my "spare" time, I teach yin and vinyasa yoga and write The VeganAsana - a blog about yoga and green eating/cooking.  I consider the blog, and my work with elephant journal my little effort to ponder yoga and veganism, and how they intersect, in a way that helps me develop understandings of self, provides information for others, and allows me to rock my creative smarty pants.

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22 Responses to “You Are Not as Good a Vegan as I Am.”

  1. __MikeG__ says:

    Love this, Lorin. I too have been flummoxed by the vitriol toward vegans from many meat eaters. But I do understand that one cannot force other people to be vegan. And attempting to force someone by belittling them will only engender hostility.

    Personally, I do not identify myself as vegan to others and have I zero to say about the subject unless I am asked. Even though I do wish people were more aware of the impact of their food choice, factory farming being the prime example, I know I will never be able to convince anyone who is not ready to hear. I have found that a gentle approach is the best way to promote healthy eating.

    And I also share the annoyance some people have with vegans who claim that a vegan diet causes no harm to any living creature. The fact is that living, breathing and eating causes harm no matter one's choice of diet. I have no illusions as to whether I am doing harm. But for me, being vegan is about health and about doing the least amount of harm possible.

  2. Lorin says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Mike. It sounds like we have similar perspectives.

  3. cit1 says:

    Wow! This is an amazing article with an excellent viewpoint.

    "If I selected my friends and associates based on their degree of perfect adherence to my moral compass, I think I would be rather lonely."

    I read that line while thinking about the opening quote, "It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path."

    This article is a great compliment to: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/01/10-ways-to

    These articles are as awesome as they are critical to reminding us to keep a humble attitude on our viewpoint to our personal values and life decisions. Cheers to this article, please keep writing!

  4. Lorin says:

    Thanks for reading, cit1, and for the lovely and thoughtful comment!

  5. karlsaliter says:

    Nice job as usual Lorin! Just posted to Elephant Spirituality on Facebook.

  6. I could not agree more. Bravo, Lorin!

  7. Ilana says:

    I think the problem with some vegans on the Internet is that they feel alienated in their real lives by their own personal decisions because others react quite harshly to them (some people aren’t all that lucky to have a lot of support and a community around them when they go vegan) and it can become a sort of armor they wear. I agree it’s the antithesis to veganism, but a lot of people in this situation develop a sort of dualistic way of being vegan, showing compassion to the animals and considering meat eaters the violent enemy – especially if they face resistance at home – and then there’s that annoying safety mask of the relative anonanimity provided by the Internet so these people with misguided compassion and pain are then lashing out at those who they perceive as somehow misrepresenting their lifestyle… it’s sad but these people deserve just as much compassion as everyone else.

    • Lorin says:

      Ilana,
      Absolutely. Everyone, everything, deserves compassion. I 100% agree. I tried to be clear here that I am not saying any people are "bad," just that this behavior isn't very productive for anyone.

  8. I love this Lorin, especially as a "new" vegan. I don't think it's any of my business what other people do–hard enough to manage myself!

  9. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  10. Diana says:

    While I agree that no one should ever push their beliefs or moralities on someone else, whether it be food choice or religion, there are times when people are attacked for their choices and pushed into debate. As the comment stated above, lack of support can pave a rough road. I cannot tell you how many times Ive been asked why Im vegan and then proceed to hear a launching of reasons why my lifestyle is “unhealthy and unnatural”. These people are almost angry with me! And though I try to patiently explain, my quiet voice incites them further.

    It would be lovely if I could avoid these people of intolerance for my way of life, but I never know where they will turn up. Sometimes, they are in my kitchen.

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  13. Into every issue, a little humor must fall… Your title made me think of this clip from "Scott Pilgrim" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLpCZ8g5uK8

    We can't take ourselves too seriously, or we create intolerances where there should be none.

  14. Diana says:

    Yes, I do see your point and I'm always amazed when the high horse someone is riding doesn't just go ahead and throw them ;) . Kidding, of course, I think.

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