The subject of vegan activism and advocacy has been on my mind quite a lot recently. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that while I am passionate about the joys of leading a vegan lifestyle, I am also incredibly sensitive to the complexity of the matter. My attitude towards veganism has prompted me to write several posts promoting a compassionate approach and discussing the intricacies of why the lifestyle might not be attainable for everyone. It’s certainly not a topic that is black and white.
I have a lot of opinions regarding organised vegan activism – demonstrations, use of violence, slaughter house vigils, etc. – and while I would love to put them into proper sentences I don’t quite feel I am qualified to do so. The bulk of my activism – if you can even call it that, advocacy for me feels a more fitting term – takes place online; I am far better versed in mild-mannered Twitter takedowns than, say, throwing red paint on someone who might be wearing real fur or pretending I am a pig getting its throat cut.
I’m becoming increasingly aware, however, of the fact that my voice is not the loudest in the crowd. When I talk about reducing meat consumption as opposed to cutting it out entirely, or allude to people not being able to go vegan rather than not wanting to, my voice fades into a whimper, losing out to someone invariably conflating factory farming with sexual assault, or quoting Morrissey, or something. By voice, I mainly mean Tweets. Because where do self-righteous, card-carrying vegans go to air the rants that no one will hear out in real life if not online spaces like Twitter?
I was most recently reminded of this reality following the release of Carnage, Simon Amstell’s mockumentary based in a futuristic vegan utopia. I really enjoyed the way that Amstell poked fun at the sometimes extreme nature of vegan activism; not only was it amusing to a “liberal” vegan like me, but it is also a much more palatable way to present the notion of not eating meat to steadfast omnivores, with the intention to ultimately tempt them over to the cause. I sent a few Tweets out using the #Carnage hashtag; while they were well received on the whole, I did get one response which sought to put me in my place [CW domestic violence] –
Putting aside the fact that I find it both deplorable and unhelpful to liken eating meat to domestic abuse, I was fascinated to see a fellow vegan taking their time to tell me how I wasn’t being vegan enough. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have encountered this much in my flexitarian-friendly online advocacy, but it is an all-too-familiar experience for many vegans. There will always be someone waiting in the wings to diminish your efforts, call you out, or straight up accuse you of being an “apologist” for the mass murder of cows.
The way I advocate a vegan lifestyle online doesn’t differ much from how I promote it in real life. I answer questions people ask me in a non-judgemental, non-confrontational way. I shout about sick vegan food options – irl this mostly consists of me enthusiastically waving a packet of Oreos around the office until someone says, “They’re not vegan, though.” I resist the urge to snap at non-malicious jokes, and engage in conversations with environmentalists who eat meat, letting my high horse gallop past me into the sunset.
I emit as many misandrist vibes as the next person but on the most part my existence is surely more peaceful than the “Meat is murder!” camp’s. And do you know what? This brand of advocacy ACTUALLY WORKS. People come up to me at work to excitedly tell me about this vegan food they made at the weekend, or how they’re trying to reduce their meat intake. Friends send me links to lists of hot new vegan restaurants they want to go to with me. My mum and stepdad – who, up until a few months ago, couldn’t confidently tell me that rice doesn’t contain animal products – took part in Veganuary, and loved it so much they decided to stick with it.
Now, I wonder how many open-minded omnivores have been prompted to give up meat altogether by aggressive, totalitarian nobodies on Twitter?
I’m not saying that the use of slaughterhouse footage and more visceral attempts to sway public opinion aren’t effective or sometimes called for. There are definitely a lot of people out there who have made changes to their lifestyles based on graphic information they’ve received. But I think we are missing a big opportunity if we abandon the compassionate, educational approach to teaching those around us about veganism. From what I see, omnivores are becoming increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of the food that they eat, and it is becoming harder to deny that veganism offers solutions to a lot of the problems. I daresay a growing amount of people are open to leading a plant-based life, and vegan advocates now have to make a decision: do we entice them with a softly-softly approach, or turn them away by preaching an all or nothing dictum?
The answer is a pretty clear one to me.
What are your thoughts on this? Did you watch Carnage?