A funny thing happened last week.
Columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an editorial for the New York Times and took an interesting, uncommon position in it. “Stop Mocking Vegans” made a powerful case for ending the knee-jerk, collective rolling of the eyes over vegans and even dared to address the elephant in the room, which is that in a world of rainforests on fire, “storms-of-a-lifetime” several times a year, ever-shrinking finite resources and worsening environmental conditions that should terrify anyone paying attention, vegans should be listened to, not derided. Manjoo is, in their own words (the journalist prefers singular they pronouns), “barely, failingly, a vegetarian/pescatarian” so this isn’t defensiveness or being thin-skinned on the writer’s part. Manjoo identifies as an omnivore and fellow omnivores are the ones addressed in the August 28 opinion piece, outlining the deeply compelling case for moving toward a plant-based diet for ethical and environmental reasons.
As we watch the Amazon burn and we are warned of widespread climate refugees in the not-too-distant future, Manjoo posits that now might be a good time to cut the wires to one’s internal defense mechanism with regard to vegans. “There are many theories for why vegans have it so rough, but the one I lean on is guilt and cognitive dissonance. Many omnivores understand the toll that meat wreaks on the planet, and we can’t help but feel the tension between loving animals in the abstract while eating them with abandon on the plate,” Manjoo writes. “All of this creates feelings of defensiveness, so when a vegan comes along, their very presence seems like an affront. To an omnivore, every vegan looks like a preachy vegan.” In the final paragraph, the journalist concludes that despite the oft-acted-upon impulse to dismiss vegans as wild-eyed crackpots and/or smug puritans, “The vegans are right. The vegans were always right.” The least the public can do, Manjoo writes, is “…For the good of the planet, put down the sandwich. But if you won’t do that, at least refrain from putting down the people who are trying to light a path to a livable future.”
Well, thank you, Farhad Manjoo.
Of course my social media, comprised as it is of a good percentage of vegans, was alight with people sharing Manjoo’s column. It is not every day that The New York Times publishes an editorial that does not have a single, smirking axe to grind with vegans. Not even a discreetly raised eyebrow. It’s not every day that any media but vegan media publishes such an honest piece. We felt vindicated! We felt heard. We felt respected. Vegans, the reliable butt of every joke and the source of every uncomfortable titter at the family Thanksgiving dinner, felt understood. No matter what background, people of all stripes can at least bond over their shared dislike of vegans, the irksome Enemies of Fun. It was kind of something that a non-vegan noticed this.
I read Manjoo’s column, and I loved it. I highly recommend using up one of your monthly freebies with the New York Times and reading it if you haven’t already. With that said, I am going to respectfully disagree with the columnist’s conclusion.
Hear me out, please. I am going to zig where Manjoo zagged and say, go ahead and mock vegans. Trust me, we can take it.
You can make fun of our food: it is variously virtuous — but inedible — sticks and grass or frightening laboratory experiments, depending on the interpreter. You can continue to abruptly end your conversations when we walk in a room and exchange eye-rolls with the group you’re eating lunch with. You can elbow each other when the vegan only has a dry baked potato to eat at the company dinner at the steakhouse. You can mock our shoes, you can be personally offended by our cheese, you can look us over with a fine-tooth comb to expose us as hypocrites. I’m not saying it’s fun for us and I am not trying to trivialize bad behavior, but I will depart from Manjoo by saying you can go ahead and do those things because…so what? It’s not kind, but, trust me, we don’t fall apart when it happens. We’re sensitive but we’re made of tougher stuff. So go ahead and make fun of us if it makes you feel better.
You can call us repressed. See if it breaks us.
You can refer to cows as “steak” and pigs as “bacon”. See if we cry.
You can remind us in a million little ways that vegans are not appreciated, we’re the prudes at the orgy and we’re not liked. See if we are fazed.
I’d ask, though, that you do consider putting down that sandwich, at least if it has flesh and animal products in it. You can make fun of vegans all you damn well please if you will just stop eating animals.
Honestly, have a field day. I’m not even being sarcastic and I’m not being a martyr. The derision just means nothing. (Try to be original, though, because we have heard those all of those zingers ad nauseum and it’s getting boring, though it is making us more resilient so maybe that in itself is reason enough to give pause to an anti-vegan.)
At the end of the day, though, vegans do unapologetically and rather transparently want you to stop eating animals. For the planet, for the children of today and those not born yet, and, yes, for the innocent, sensitive animals we put through hell on earth and then slaughter just so we can eat them and their babies. So I am going to diverge from Manjoo’s request and say you are free to mock vegans all you want if you’ll just stop eating animals. If you can only choose one of the other, well, the future of the planet kind of hinges on you choosing the latter.
So let’s try it again. How do you know if you’re talking to a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. Now (“Mmm…Bacon.”) that (“If we weren’t supposed to eat animals, why did God make them out of meat?”) that’s (“What’s the Native American word for vegetarian?” “Bad hunter.”) out (“I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables.”) of (“Oral sex is vegan if you don’t swallow.”) the (“My food poops on your food.”) way (“Mmm…Bacon.”), how about we move on to, oh, I don’t know something a little more productive, like, oh, saving the planet?
Yes, I’m smug, annoying and self-righteous. I agree! Can we move on? You should try my Broccoli Tofu with Garlic Sauce recipe.
Marla Rose is a journalist, co-founding partner of VeganStreet.com and Vegan Street Media, and she wants you to check out this handy-dandy free guide for new (or aspiring!) vegans. If you like the work Vegan Street is doing, please consider joining our Patreon community for as little as $1.00 a week.