Hi. The Planet Is On Fire. Are Vegans Still Too Pushy?
You don’t have to like us but let’s be honest about the consequences of eating animals
One of the common criticisms lobbed against vegans is that we’re pushy. Of course, you’ve heard the old chestnut: “Q: How can you tell if someone is vegan? A: Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” Get it? Because, like, we’re are all up in your business and blasting our irksome vegan vibes all over the place, perpetually dialed to 11 like the amps in Spinal Tap.
I have been told vegans are annoying, nosy and intrusive since I first went vegan in 1995 and after 25 years, it’s crystal clear to me that the mere presence of a vegan, physically or virtually, provides all that is needed for a defensive reaction. A friend, who is a meat-eater, remarked on his Facebook recently that all he did was post favorably about a brand of vegan sausages and he faced all kinds of heckling. He is an omnivore and that one little post was triggering enough for haters to come out of the woodwork. If there’s one thing people can bond on across political and social divides, it’s that vegans are pushy and aggressive, even when they’re not actually vegan.
This pervasive cultural notion of The Pushy Vegan is worth examining and having an honest, humble reckoning with as we enter a new season with a highly transmissible and deadly pandemic breathing down our collective necks. Who is being pushy, the person who shares vegan recipes and fundraises for animal rescues or the ones who insist on their “right” to eat animals despite how much it endangers all of us as well as future generations ? The person who reminds you, accidentally or even on purpose, that you are eating beings who wanted to live, or the one whose habits are quite literally inflicting the consequences of their choices on everyone else?
I know what’s coming next so I will get it out of the way.
• I am sanctimonious.
• I am self-righteous.
• I am shaming.
• I am the stereotypical judgmental vegan.
Honestly, I can live with that. After all, is there a way to have a non-defensive conversation about how personal choices are no longer personal when they have wide-ranging and disastrous consequences for others? How do we sugarcoat the facts to get a foot in the door but still have an honest, constructive dialogue during a time of enormous significance? Isn’t the cultural moment of the past year one where we are being asked to consider that what we do also must include the big picture of those affected in the calculation of whether it’s justifiable?
In other words, we are not islands unto ourselves. We are members of communities and and inhabitants of the same planet. I believe that we know this in our hearts.
Researchers believe that the SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is zoonotic in origin, which means that it’s a pathogen that jumped from another species to humans and which led to infected people then spreading the virus to other people. The outbreak has been linked epidemiologically to what is referred to as a wet market in Wuhan, China, but markets that sell live animals — considered a major risk factor for zoonotic epidemics— are in close proximity to where people live across the globe, including the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, zoonoses account for 60 percent of known infectious diseases and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases and it is not exclusively due to live animal markets. In other words, it should not have been a surprise that this happened and it shouldn’t surprise us when it happens again. It is inextricably linked to our practices with regard to other species, particularly the animals humans consume.
Part of why we have the Pushy Vegan archetype is trying to get people to care about the consequences of animal agribusiness activates the “kill the messenger” response in many; even when what people do to other species is not framed as a personal shortcoming but an opportunity to educate and do better, defensive, angry reactions are the norm. Expressing that the worst outcomes of our insistence on eating animals is experienced by poor, often BIPOC communities as another form of environmental racism, for example, is even met with prickly indifference and resentment by so-called progressives.
So cue the resentment. I can take it. The question is, are you able to hear about what is truly pushy behavior? Because I have some thoughts on this, of course.
How is it not pushy to condemn future generations to a less sustainable planet because you don’t want to give up “your” meat and animal products? How is it not pushy to contribute to water scarcity when we know that the standard American diet consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per person per day more than a plant-based diet? How is it not pushy to decide that the Amazon Rainforest, the lungs of the Earth, are worth sacrificing for one’s “right” to eat meat? (Don’t get distracted by the word “soy” in that last article: the principal driver the demand for soy that is leading to deforestation is the so-called livestock industry because the crop is grown for animal feed.) How is it not pushy to the billions of sensitive animals — born, suffering and slaughtered in captivity — that their whole reason for living and dying is to satisfy a fleeting hunger when there are perfectly delicious alternatives?
The painful and life-altering consequences of holding firm to our unalienable right to eat animals is far more pushy than the vegan who might make you feel uncomfortable or reactive. It’s more pushy, and, more important, it’s far more harmful. But go ahead and call me a pushy vegan if that makes you feel better. Will you consider how the actions of continuing to eat animals when we know the consequences to the animals, the planet and to one another and future generations are far worse?
The clock is ticking. We can turn this around but we need to get honest first. Are you ready? Please check out my free Guide for New Vegans for all kinds of resources and tips so you can be part of the solution.