Why we should stop making jokes about vegans and take a good long look at ourselves
Vegans. The vegan is quite often the butt of your jokes, the person you imagine chaining themselves to a tree to save it, or shaming you for eating a double bacon cheese burger (which in all fairness is probably their absolute nightmare).
But the increase in veganism is not something we should be joking about. The increase in demand for vegan options in the supermarket, restaurants and cafes has a lot of benefits for the rest of us, not only in what we can choose, but what it will challenge us to do. Despite your misdirected laughter, the vegans have a lot to teach us about being genuinely good people.
A while back, when talking about my dairy intolerance with a friend, she asked me “why don’t you just become vegan?” My response: “Why would I want to make it harder on myself?”
The truth is, trying to accommodate a food intolerance in your diet is difficult. You are constantly realising the foods that you once loved have the very thing you are intolerant to in the ingredients listing (goodbye salt and vinegar chips, goodbye Tim Tams). For me, vegan alternatives in the supermarket give me the opportunity to identify and enjoy more of the things I would normally not be able to have because of their dairy content. But that only a small part of the reason I love the vegans*.
To be vegan, that is choosing to give up those things, to consciously decide that you want to make a lifestyle change based on your personal beliefs and attitudes. And that is a BIG deal. One that should gain a little more respect than it currently does.
Being vegan can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, and so I don’t want to make a judgement on what veganism means to vegans. As someone who is non-vegan, that is not something I can speak for. Instead, I think it is important to note that vegans are people who are making conscious decisions to enact change by changing a part of their lifestyle. To completely alter your consumption of not only food, but other goods made from or containing animal by-products is a huge effort. To do it with the full knowledge that you will likely be a punchline in popular media and in small everyday interactions, that is an act of courage.
Many a coffee shop worker has asked me if I’m vegan when I ask for soy milk in my tea, almost accusing me of being something shameful. One person even asked if I was trying to be “one of those trendy vegan hipster types.” To be honest, the first few times I felt insulted, not because of their passive-aggressive tone, but because I didn’t want to be lumped with the vegans. I wanted to be as far away from the vegans as one could possibly be, as if the shame they were projecting was contagious. But that has changed.
Being ‘accused of veganism’ shouldn’t be something I, or anyone, should be afraid of, and it shouldn’t be anything to ‘accuse’ someone of in the first place. We wouldn’t make fun of someone with a life-threatening peanut allergy who said no to a Snickers, or anyone who was doing social or charity work who decided to make a public stand for human rights. So why would we even consider laughing at someone who is making the conscious decision to make changes in their life to ensure the welfare of animals? If we are putting down people who value life, what does that say about us?
Because to be ‘accused’ of veganism is to be accused of being a strong human being with a desire to make positive change in the world and actively making choices to enact this change, despite the difficulties they will face in everyday life. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I’m not going to complain if someone mistakes me for someone with that sort of sheer determination and courage.
*Shout out to the vegans who made Loving Earth Caramel Chocolate. You, my friends, are gods.
© Hayley New 2015