Veganism is a lifestyle rooted in compassion, not aggression

I have a terrible secret, a fact about myself that I don’t share with most people until I know them well. I like animals, I do my part to reduce greenhouse gases, and I don’t want to die of heart disease. The bad news? I’m vegan.

No matter what side of the fence you fall on, there’s no denying that vegan has become a bit of a dirty word, synonymous with bland food and bad attitudes. It’s not the greatest stigma to carry around.

In a recent opinion piece in San Jose State’s Spartan Daily newspaper, writer Kristi Myllenbeck openly critiqued the attitudes of vegans, calling them boastful and smug. She dismissed their dietary choices as a fad, providing nothing but a few vague anecdotes to back up her opinions. The article, titled “You’re Vegan, We Get It,” only served to prove that Myllenbeck doesn’t quite “get it” just yet.

This piece raised a number of issues for me, not only with Myllenbeck, whose undeveloped opinion read more like a rant, but also with the militant vegans who perpetuate this stereotype so many omnivores have come to hold.

Vegan Action defines vegan as “someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products.” This includes not eating meat, dairy, eggs or other animal by-products, and avoiding products made with leather, wool, down, or the use of animal testing.

Veganism comes in many shades, however, and some people choose to be less strict and make occasional exceptions in order to make life more bearable in an omnivorous world.  To the hardcore vegans, this is perceived as not being “vegan enough.” If we don’t take the time to thoroughly veganize every aspect of our lives, and protest and preach at every opportunity, we are not doing it right. We receive flack from within our own small community for not seeming as dedicated to the cause.

This problem is not unique. Many groups with shared beliefs have been divided over differences in their delivery, and it is unfortunate when extreme actions can distort their good intentions. Whether the overarching cause is religious, political, or simply dietary as with veganism, the tone of the message can be just as crucial as its content.

That’s where I begin to agree with Myllenbeck.

“You’d think that those who respect and love Mother Earth and all things living would be, in general, just a tad more agreeable,” she writes.

Veganism is a lifestyle rooted in compassion, so choosing to spread its message in an aggressive and arrogant way is not only hypocritical, but harmful to the cause.

When I first made the switch, I talked about it constantly, my words often falling on deaf ears. I quickly realized that most people did not care about my dietary choices, and it was not my place to convert them. But if someone asks why I’m vegan, and appears to be genuinely interested in learning more, I am happy to share. I’ll cook delicious meals for anyone who will eat them, and I’ve changed a lot more minds that way.

Veganism is not a fad. If google trends are any indication, interest has been steadily on the rise for over three years. In turn, the New York Times reports that meat consumption has been in decline for 20 years.

For some people, being vegan aligns perfectly with their values. If that’s not true for you for you, okay; I won’t judge if you won’t.

Nothing is black and white. Most vegans do not think their choices make them better than you, and most omnivores won’t assume the worst as soon as you drop the v-bomb. Extremism will always be around to shift our perspectives, but if we all take the time to listen to, understand and accept our differences, we might just be able to get along. Maybe even share a meal once in a while.