There are many wonderful vegans; there are some really shitty ones, too. For the purposes of this guide, I will be focusing on the latter. I’ve been vegan for long enough that the shitty ones become obvious pretty quickly, though it can be confusing and one person can have blurry or even multiple shitty identities. Please don’t take the following field guide as an excuse to dismiss veganism, though. Veganism is solid and kind and it will probably save the world. It’s just that vegans are still people and people can be, well, shitty.
Full disclosure: I was able to create this field guide not just through my observations but because I may have been one or more of these shitty people during my long career as a vegan. Please, if someone is acting like a jerk, let them know you don’t appreciate it and that they are not helping the vegan cause. If they still don’t care, well, you have your answer. This person is a shitty vegan to avoid.
Your Field Guide to Twelve Shitty Kinds of Vegans to Avoid
1. The Veganism is Just About the Animals People
Natural Habitat: With a megaphone at the protest
To this kind of vegan nothing — and I mean nothing — matters but the animals. Not only does nothing else matter, they get angry at the mere suggestion that other lives also matter. Care about not reinforcing sexist messaging in vegan outreach? Screw you! It’s about the animals, you selfish prude! Do you believe that systemic racism may have a role in discouraging vegan choices? Oh, my god, must every conversation be about race??? Veganism is about the animals! Perhaps you want to be as inclusive as you can be with your advocacy? It. Is. Only. About. The. Animals. Leave! Now! It occurs to me that veganism is perhaps the only social justice movement where it’s par for the course to be accused of being selfish for wanting to extend your circle of compassion. Chew on that for a minute.
2. The Veganism is Just About Health People
Natural Habitat: YouTube
Okay, the flipside of #1 are these folks, who would probably shrug and eat a kale salad (no oil, no nuts) or take photos of their fruit hauls at the grocery store if an animal were suffering right in front of their eyes. Compassion is not their motivation: looking slim and Instagram-ready is, and many are quick to admit it. Cruelty is not their enemy: a broken selfie stick is. They love mining for compliments and, speaking of, do you know how old they are? Do you know their BMI? Do you know that they are using #nofilters? Do you know how often they poop each day? Do you know that they are 72 and just had triplets (naturally) and just got carded? Don’t worry: they’ll tell you.
3. The “Shall We Talk About Your Health???” People
Natural Habitat: They are everywhere, sadly
Ugh, these people. These people. (These are often, though not always, #2s as well.) Without solicitation and usually without professional training, they will want to talk about your cholesterol, your “inflammation,” your size, your alkaline/acidic ratio, your health — which they have a superpower for discerning with a visual scan and which, apparently, is their business — and make all kinds of assumptions about your character as well. There are the blatantly obnoxious ones who have taken it upon themselves to be the self-appointed Enemies of Fun of any space humans gather and there are the stealth ones who side-eye into every grocery cart and shoot daggers at people in waiting rooms so they can later inveigh on social media. These people are officially The Worst.
4. The Tit-for-Tat Misanthropy People
Natural Habitat: In vegan-exclusive Facebook groups
These folks are the misers of the vegan world. They only have so much compassion to give and they horde it like Ebeneezer Scrooge in a particularly penny-pinching mood. They don’t care about sexism, racial inequality and bigotry unless those who suffer under sexism, racial inequality and bigotry are vegan. If they are, then they might deign to give some lip-service of support but they don’t really care because nothing is as bad as what the animals face. (See also: #1.) If you’re not vegan, you can just suffer and die like every other worthless human. Bundles of endless cheer, they take pride in earning points for their misanthropy among their crowd. Bottom line? They are really awful human beings who are usually quite advantaged — which is what affords them their indifferent attitude about others — and they are completely myopic.
5. The Anti-SJW people
Natural Habitat: Their parents’ basements
Related to the above, the people who sneeringly dismiss intersectional activists as SJWs (or Social Justice Warriors) are the asshole right-wing of the vegan movement and they suuuuuuuuck. Anyone who considers social justice activism a pejorative is an awful person to begin with but not understanding that, um, veganism is a social justice movement makes them especially horrid. In addition to #4s, the Anti-SJWs also often intersect with #1s. Avoid at all costs, which is easy to do because, as noted, they usually live in their parents’ basements, posting anonymous screeds on 4chan.
6. The Progress Pooh-Pooh People
Natural Habitat: Shaming people on social media
You know those cheerleader-types who are just so annoying with their condescending “Rah-rah-rah, you can do it!” encouragement? Well, you will be clamoring for one of these preternaturally cheerful souls if you ever encounter their shadow kind. Nothing is ever good enough for the Progress Pooh-Poohers — “Baby steps are for babies!” is their rallying cry — and you are supposed to transition to veganism on their schedule and without any challenges. Obligatory disclaimer: I am not saying vegans should nod approvingly about consuming animals. I certainly don’t. I believe in honesty and not selling out the animals. I do know, though, that everyone has his or her own timeline. Some people do great with an overnight leap and for others, pushing too fast will backfire and bring setbacks. Don’t be a Progress Pooh-Pooher unless you want to discourage someone who is trying to move in the right direction.
7. The Debbie Downer People
Natural Habitat: Looking for reasons to be depressed
Similar in attitude to the Progress Pooh-Poohers, the Debbie Downer People pride themselves on finding the dark cloud that is attached to any silver lining when it comes to wins for the animals. Were circuses with elephants banned from your town? Well, don’t get too excited because what about circuses with tigers and horses? Was greyhound racing recently outlawed in your community? Well, that’s fine but what about horse racing? Was fur recently banned from a national clothier? Well, that’s fine but what about leather and wool? Is your once-hardcore meat-eating boss now going vegetarian? Well, I guess it’s something. Listen, I understand, really, I do. We need to not get so caught up in celebrating victories that we lose focus on the big picture and someone needs to speak up for the animals that are so often brushed aside so we can claim victories. That said, there is a way to do this without sucking the joy from every win like a malnourished vampire. Really, we can do this.
8. The Converter People
Natural Habitat: Talking, talking, talking…
You know that expression “notch on the bedpost”? Yes, I know I sound like an antique. There is a very good reason for that. Okay, young’ns, a bedpost is one of those things holding up your bed and a “notch on your bedpost” apparently harkens back to a time when lotharios would carve another notch on their bedposts to keep count of all their “conquests.” (Conquest is a skeevy word with its etymology derived from having been conquered but you know what I mean.) Annnnyway, there are certain vegans who will treat like you have a target on your back so they can count you as one of their notches, one of their conquests. It’s actually very icky. As with the the bedpost notchers, interacting with a Converter will make you feel used. It’s hard to feel like you’re more than just a number when you interact with this type. Maybe they started out with good intentions — they most likely did — but at a certain point, it became about ego gratification and that comes across loud and clear.
9. The Dismisser People
Natural Habitat: Looking at you with a raised eyebrow
With more than a touch of #5 in them, the Dismissers do not want to hear about anyone’s legitimate challenges to veganism, like, oh, I don’t know, living in a food desert or living in a home where one doesn’t control the food, like with a parent buying groceries. It is not to say that these challenges cannot be overcome but the Dismisser doesn’t even want to entertain the notion that veganism might present more obstacles for some than others. That said, there are PLENTY of people with really flimsy excuses for why they can’t be vegan — for example, I can’t hear the words “blood type” without twitching uncontrollably — and we are hit with approximately a million said sad excuses every week. So I get it. The Dismisser, though, doesn’t take the time to differentiate between what is valid and what is BS, treating everything like it’s BS. These folks have a drop or two of #5 in them usually.
10. The Tin Foil People
Natural Habitat: In the colonic waiting room
The Tin Foil People may not have ill intent but they wrap their veganism up in a messy bundle that also includes their positions on vaccinations, chemtrails, the Illuminati and random conspiracy theories — some half-baked, some fully baked — you will exposed to along with the vegan message. It is a package deal; you cannot isolate the vegan part and leave the rest. Or perhaps you want to learn about how the Illuminati are flying jets that release chemtrails of vaccination serums on an unwitting public? Because of the Rothschilds. If so, this is the vegan for you.
11. The Male Savior People
Natural Habitat: Strutting around like a “stud” in a 1970s-era porn
I’m going to cut to the chase here: the Male Savior People expect to be idolized because they are in a minority in the vegan movement and if you don’t trip over yourself telling them what amazing heroes they are for the animals, you haven’t gotten the memo yet. Because there is about one man for every 20–30 women in the animal rights scene, they are fawned over and may find that the advantages they already enjoy in the regular world are amplified considerably in the vegan world, especially if they are heterosexual, white males. Oh, the hero worship they expect, the admiration. Sadly, many will find that their mere presence as dude animal advocates is enough to get them the accolades they long for, reinforcing the culture of preening male entitlement already so pervasive in the vegan movement. Seriously, just ugh. Gross. Puke.
12. The Self-Centering People
Natural Habitat: On their phones, scrolling through photos
Is this person an animal rights activist? It’s hard to know because so much of what they post is pictures of themselves at a protest, videos of themselves at an action…nearly everything is about themselves and the persona they’ve crafted and there is little about the actual issues that concern animals. Now, listen: I’ve taken a fair amount of pictures of myself at rallies, sanctuaries, etc. but at a certain point, you get the sense that the Self-Centering People are more interested in becoming public figures with a fan base than drawing attention to injustice. It’s almost like they’re centering themselves and crowding out the animals in order to get kudos and a following. Almost…
So there you have it: Twelve Shitty Kinds of Vegans to Avoid. There are more, no doubt. There are plenty of awesome vegans, though; find yourself a fabulous vegan to hang with and you’re golden.