Lessons from trying to go vegan

Not everybody hates Osama bin Laden. Even Hitler has some fans, and Thanos many more.

But everybody hates vegans.

I decided to go vegan a few years back….and I told everybody. I had expected some backlash. But it became a funny free for all in which the only thing people knew about me was that I was vegan (the socially accepted statistical correlation between being vegan and being stupid is ~1). I was too old by then to really let it affect me, and I also made quite a lot of friends this way! But it was still surprising to see why my diet would be that big an issue. I was still a regular idiot in a non-animal friendly way in every other aspect of my life.

I was prompted to write this article because I came across this youtube channel. It’s called the Vegan Teacher, and features a woman who is around 55-60ish, and talks about the merits of going vegan. She is pleasant, engages with the comments, and doesn’t act all high and mighty. I will reproduce some of the comments she gets below:

Someone: *Breathes* That Vegan Teacher: Is that air VEGAN?

Alternative title: “Crazy Vegan Lady goes apeshit all over opinions.”

Every comment was something along these lines; calling her stupid, commenting on her lack of breasts, etc. I felt really bad on reading these comments, and left the only supportive comment on her video. I thought I’d be violently abused, and was bracing myself for a long evening of online fighting. However, I was essentially ignored. It’s the indifference that always hurts more.

Why do people hate vegans?

I think the most common sentiment expressed against vegans is that they act holier than thou. Vegans start proselytizing about their inherent moral superiority on the very day that they stop consuming animal products. No one wants to be told that some random dude (or old lady on youtube) is better than them because they stopped drinking milk.

Fair enough. If you’re truly a “good person”, you will stop consuming animal products and not declare it to the world. You’ll buy soy milk and keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear about how you are changing the world while we are apparently destroying it.

I find that this argument, although fair in its place, doesn’t quite capture the issue at hand. Eating animal products is indeed, at this very moment, worsening the long term climate of the planet. It is proven beyond doubt that animals feel pain (for the interested, pain is correlated with the complexity of the neural circuitry inside the body, and animals have been proven beyond doubt to pass that threshold of neural complexity. Even chickens. Trees have not). We are enslaving billions and billions of animals every year, keeping them in horrible conditions, forcibly impregnating them for milk, or killing them for meat. Will my not discussing veganism help in making the situation better for them? Am I not shunning some kind of amorphous social responsibility towards them when I buy soy milk quietly and mind my business?

Well I suppose you could make the argument that if I shut up, people will like me more, and might be convinced that I’m not trying to prove some kind of moral superiority. With gradual exposure, they might slowly become convinced to maybe give veganism a shot…..But this sounds like a slow process, assuming that it happens at all. And animals are dying in millions every single day. Shouldn’t we all be panicking for causing immeasurable pain to all the species on the planet? Wouldn’t the correct time to become vegan be this very moment? Well people could always argue that you will only gain haters by being preachy, but might gain supporters if you play the long game. This feels horrible if we think about the animals losing out on their lives everyday, but I suppose it would be a more sane strategy.

Another reason that people have given to hate vegans is that they’re hypocritical. Celebrities who declare their new found love for veganism on Instagram, but are soon caught eating seafood, are derided on the internet. Better to be a cow eating troll than a hypocritical vegan. I have also often failed to be vegan, and have had dessert or pizza when no other option was available at restaurants. I’ve faced some backlash over this. Although these hypocritical celebrities and hypocritical non-celebrities like yours truly were arguably causing less harm to the environment and less pain to animals on average, we compromised on our lofty ideals, and were hence untrustworthy.

This dovetails perfectly with a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Let me reproduce the abstract below:

In short, the public perception of your morality (and hence your worth as a human being) is not based on the effect of your actions. It is based on your predictability. If you say you’re a bad person, and you do bad things, that is much better than saying you’re a good person and then doing bad things sometimes. This will obviously ring true for everyone reading this. Don’t say one thing and do another. However, it is a cognitive bias none the less. If you’re always on the lookout for mistakes that your vegan friend might make, you’ll probably catch some big ones. However, you can probably have a bigger impact on the planet if you assess the outcomes of your own actions. Of course hypocritical vegans (celeb and pleb) also have a long way to go in managing expectations and not standing on shaky pedestals of moral superiority. Again, all of this is about public relations and managing expectations, and not really about saving animals. Discussions about an issue are almost never about the issue. They’re about people making the issue. That is why cows are better than people.

A lot of people argue that animals eat other animals, and humans are animals. Hence it’s fine. We’ve been eating animals for millions of years, and we should continue to do so. This argument is slowly losing favor with time. Animals are also known to abuse and rape females, eat their offspring, steal into nests and eat others’ offspring, etc. Should we also do the same? Modern humans have the option of raising themselves above the moral clusterfuck that evolution has hardwired within us. We might do well to take this opportunity.

What would a correct pro-vegan strategy look like?

First, we need vegans to get down from their moral pedestal. How can they do that? They could detach their identities from the message. They could write anonymously. Hence, their preaching wouldn’t boost their real-life images or wages.

I don’t think this will work. PETA is a faceless organization, and its massive ad campaigns don’t really benefit anyone’s image. There are lots of anonymous vegans who talk about veganism on Reddit as well. However, both PETA and these commenters are universally hated.

I honestly think that the only way to convince other people to become vegan is to make it easier for them to become vegan. When cheap imitation meats flood the market that taste identical to actual meat, people will slowly be tempted to give them a go. I am tempted to say that governments should subsidize imitation meats at the beginning so as to create a market. But seeing as government subsidies for education, housing etc mostly serve to ultimately jack up prices, I feel that a technological push is the only thing that can really propel this market into sustained growth. If my grocery store sells both beef and imitation beef at the same prices, and they both taste exactly the same, I might decide to decide to give imitation meat a shot because **waves hands** cows and feelings and such.

If you’re vegan and reading this, a better use of your time than proselytizing is learning some food technology to make this possible (and I would do well to remember this as well). I mean c’mon. How hard can it be to make soy taste like milk, cow, chicken and pig?

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Graduate student

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