Why Vegans Won’t Just “Shut Up” About It.

And why we shouldn’t ever.

Marla Rose


“I understand that you’re vegan but why can’t you just keep it to yourself?”

If you’ve been vegan for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with this sentiment, one that is expressed to us in a million different ways, from more polite appeals to reactions that are simmering — or fully boiling over — with anger. The gist of it always is the same, though: “Yeah, I get it, you’re vegan, but can’t you just shut up about it? I don’t go around telling everyone about my diet so why do you think I care about yours?” They say this to me on Vegan Street’s Facebook page, as if the word “vegan” weren’t right there in our name. What do these discontented people think we post about there? Watercolor painting?

Beyond the absurdity of this expectation, I’d say that those with this mindset perhaps don’t understand that going vegan is not a simple food choice like, say, preferring one brand of cereal over another or a personal health decision like going without gluten or eliminating sugar. Going vegan is suffused with meaning and inseparable from it; it’s a commitment based on convictions, not a 30-day cleanse or dietary fad, though I understand the all-in enthusiasm can be mistaken as having a crossover similarity.

Because vegans are still pretty uncommon, we are spokespeople whether we choose to be or not, simply by living as such. Even if we are quiet and rather subdued about it, the mere fact of our veganism when it comes up — like with ordering a meal in a group or being accommodated at a holiday party, not necessarily because we’re being loud about it — is enough for some of the people present to feel reactive and judged without us even saying a word. As a vegan of 28 years, at different junctures as someone who was in-your-face about it (hello, those first couple of years) and at other times, more quiet about it, I believe that it doesn’t much matter how subdued or how outspoken we are as vegans: If someone is going to feel defensive and guilt-tripped about how we live, a vegan’s mere existence is enough to trigger that response.

A vegan’s judgment may or may not be present but it cannot be uncoupled from us. That is one reason why things can be fraught: Omnivores often perceive vegans as judging them, whether…