Have you ever wondered why vegans have to be such angry buzzkills all the time? This is for you.
I’ll let you in on something. I’m vegan but I am not all that angry or serious a person. On a continuum of sternness with Maleficent and Amy Poehler acting as opposite bookends, I am definitely closer in the direction of Ms. Poehler. Like most people, I enjoy laughing and having fun. I prefer being light-hearted to ill-tempered, and believe me when I say that my generally sunny disposition caused me problems when there was nothing I wanted more than to be a stylishly austere goth in the 1980s. It’s hard to rock that Siouxsie Sioux look and be happy at the same time.
Despite this inclination towards light-heartedness, there is a nugget of pain in the hearts of most vegans I have known — often more than just a tiny nugget — and this is true for me as well. Different from the existential pain acquired through the process of living a life, our “pain nugget” is a fairly unique to us, which can make vegans hard to relate to sometimes. The tender bruising around that pain is often cushioned in a way by anger, which is why vegans are often accused of being humorless scolds who suck the joy out of everything. I understand that. What is usually missing from this accusation, though, is an understanding of why that pain is there in the first place and why anger is sometimes safer and easier to express than grief.
Many of us who go on to become vegans have felt deeply connected with other species from our earliest memories. For me, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t enthralled by dogs and they were my gateway to falling in love with other animals as well. Still to this day, if I see someone walking a dog with a baby in a stroller, the one I make goo-goo eyes at is the dog. For someone else, maybe a horse at their summer camp was the first one who most tugged at their heart or maybe the chickens on their Grandpa’s farm. Maybe it was simply the animals from story books or films that captured us. Whatever it was, somehow the animals touched us on a deep level.
For whatever reason or reasons, some vegans have an undeniable feeling of kinship and connection to other species, sometimes developed in childhood, sometimes later in life. I certainly know lots of vegans don’t necessarily have that warm-fuzzy feeling about animals, though, but are instead driven more by a cerebral, cooly logical rejection of cruelty and injustice. And still others have both this deep connection to other animals and are also motivated by compelling, stone-cold rational arguments against speciesism.
Every day as vegans, though, we live in a world where we necessarily must face reminders of the human war on other species, an endlessly bloody, one-sided war in which we are constantly and methodically replenishing our supply of massacre victims. Vegans feel the way we do but in our workplaces, we are expected to have business lunches and not react to a client cutting through a steak even if we just hugged a cow at a sanctuary over the weekend. As we walk to the train, we step over fast food wrappers and bags, pushing to the back of our minds the bodies once inside them, the misery of their short, excruciating lives. We know what we know but we’re expected to carry on as normal when the smoke of charred flesh invades our living space as our neighbor barbecues on the first warm day. Even in my yoga class, an hour of embodiment and good vibes that ends with a reminder of the importance of living our true identities, I have to block out the lambskins the peaceful mantras are chanted on. I have to pretend not to see a remnant of one of the gentlest, most defenseless species on earth because it was decided to be their bodies would be the ideal surface for kundalini yoga to practice on. See how the flood waters want to pour in? But I don’t want to be one of “those vegans” so ommmm…
If the people who accuse vegans of being too serious all the time got a glimpse of how much self-discipline and tunnel vision it took to live without breaking down in this reality when we see and feel what so many choose to ignore, I think they’d be impressed with how well, in fact, we hold it together, how pleasant we are despite it. Don’t get me wrong: we are not the ones who truly suffer in these scenarios. The ones who suffered are long gone and had been invisibilized even before that, instantly replaced by more fodder to consume. Vegans are aware of the suffering in a way that we can dilute and diminish but often never truly turn off. It is a sometimes trickling, sometimes pouring, but always steady dripping awareness we cannot disconnect from as much as we know it’d be to our benefit to do so. You know that annoying drip you can’t quite turn off from the leaky faucet in your kitchen? It may only drip every minute but it’s always there and you will never truly push it out of your mind. That is what it’s like when you can’t ever turn off what we know.
So the next time you want to talk about what a bummer it is to be around a vegan, I’d ask you to consider why that might be. Why are we so cheerless? Instead of chalking it up to “that’s just the way vegans are,” consider watching an honest video about animals raised for the meat, dairy or egg industries because we have seen those and those images have been burnished into our psyches. This is why it’s hard to laugh at bacon jokes. (Also, they are just objectively not funny.) And I’d ask you to research climate change and its connection to animal agribusiness because we have and it scares us beyond what we can describe. And I’d ask you how you’d go about living in a world where you are deeply aware of how much needless, planet-destroying cruelty is inflicted and how it was completely normalized but largely invisible and unacknowledged: how do you think that would feel? I think you’d realize it is easier to be angry than to be sad because if you started feeling the pain of that grief, you might never stop crying.
Again, this is not to be a buzzkill but this is reality. Vegans are angry. We are also joyful, enthusiastic and hopeful, but anger is part of the whole picture. Given what we know and what we feel, doesn’t that make sense?