Let me just start off by saying that I have a lot of admiration for people who choose to maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet. Depending on where you live and the pressures in your work/social life, it can be difficult to maintain a balanced, satisfying diet that doesn’t contain animal products. It requires a constant kind of conscious living and is a lifestyle choice that embodies a much needed compassion – for animals, for the planet, and for future generations who will inevitably be affected by climate change and all the unsustainable behaviours of our society today.
But I felt my admiration disappear at a recent group dinner with a bunch of strangers when they displayed open hostility towards the concept of meat consumption and ‘carnivores’ (yes, that’s me). We were at a Chinese restaurant – with few vegetarian options on the menu – and I was peer-pressured into ordering and paying for something that I ultimately didn’t really want.
At the time, the evangelism of the dinner party confused me considering some of the vegetarians’ questionable caveats. One woman said she was a vegetarian but was happy to consume bivalve molluscs as they are not sentient and don’t have nervous systems sophisticated enough to experience pain as animals do. Another man said he became a vegetarian three months ago, but took a break when he went back to his home country because there weren’t many vegetarian options available in his community.
Despite the fact that grey areas about the ethics of eating certain organisms exist within the vegan/vegetarian community, and despite the fact that some of my ‘vegetarian’ dinner companions were intermittently consuming meat, the group clearly had no qualms about shaming people like me. Which seems like such a counterproductive way to promote a movement. Attacking a person’s beliefs and choices is the quickest way to put them on the defensive and make them internally justify their own ways of life, making it pretty unlikely that you’ll convince them to convert to a plant-based diet.
What we eat is so personal, culturally-informed, and at times even a political issue. It’s important to remember that not everyone has the privilege to be able to exercise autonomy over their diets, and that diet changes require the spending of emotional and economic resources that people may not have to spare. However frustrating it may be, not everyone will feel an urgency to act against climate change. Or, if they do feel the pressure, they may not be able to afford to change their diets to avoid consuming animal products.
To inspire people to change such a major part of their lives requires positivity, gentle encouragement, and a supportive community willing to celebrate small steps like reducing your weekly meat consumption, or trying out Veganuary. It certainly requires respect, tolerance of difference, and cultural sensitivity.
So, dear vegans and vegetarians, please stop dishing out contempt as though it’s the same thing as advocacy. An entire brigade of high horses won’t help you win an argument – and when it comes to fighting climate change, we all need to be on the same side.Support Villainesse