ProVeg director Jimmy Pierson looks at a few everyday dilemmas that vegans face and suggests positive ways to deal with them…
Living as vegans in a non-vegan world presents all manner of scenarios in which our convictions are challenged, and we’re routinely faced with dilemmas about how best to promote veganism to other people. Is the best way to navigate these situations to always stick to our principles? I would suggest not.
I’m a committed vegan of three and half years. In my personal life I do all I can to minimise animal suffering and reduce my environmental footprint. But as a vegan advocate, activist and the Director of a pro-vegan organisation, I am far more pragmatic in my approach.
My view is that, while I’m certainly not going to eat a beef burger just to keep the peace, there are times when we should perhaps consider compromising our moral position and/or softening our rules a little if doing so would have a better overall outcome for animals than rigidly being ‘right’. To me this is being pragmatic.
A big part of vegan advocacy is the way we portray veganism in our daily lives. The influence we have on others has the potential to have a much greater impact than merely the food we purchase and eat ourselves. I therefore want to project the most positive image of veganism as attractive and achievable, rather than as impossibly finicky or depriving.
To this end, I’ve been influenced by ProVeg International Co-Founder Tobias Leenaert, aka The Vegan Strategist, whose book How to Create Vegan World is a must-read for every vegan advocate or activist.
Below I describe a few scenarios, some of which might be familiar to you, along with my proposed ways of handling them. I’m sure many of you will disagree with my responses, some may even find them a touch controversial – and that’s natural. We should all have different answers to the dilemmas we face. I just hope they start to make you think more strategically.
The dinner dilemma
My first thought experiment is borrowed from Tobias’ book, in which he asks you to imagine that you’re taking a meat-eating friend out for dinner.
For the very first time, your friend says they are interested in trying a non-meat option. You know that the vegan burger at this particular restaurant is dry and tasteless, while the vegetarian burger which contains egg and a little milk is absolutely delicious. Which do you suggest your friend goes for?
My answer: While I would of course always eat the vegan burger myself, as a pragmatist I would recommend my friend opts for the tasty vegetarian burger. This is so that they have an enjoyable overall experience and are therefore more open to trying more non-meat options, including vegan food, in the future. Just a single unpleasant experience of a vegan meal can put someone off the idea of vegan food for years to come.
You’re out for dinner again, but this time with work colleagues, who you don’t know too well, but whom know you are vegan. One colleague starts ordering some wine for the table. The wine menu doesn’t state whether the wines are vegan or not, wine bottles aren’t typically labelled as vegan and the waiter is unlikely to know. Your phone has run out of battery, so you can’t check online. Do you question whether the wine is vegan, to which there will be no clear-cut answer, propagating the notion that veganism is impractical and difficult on a daily basis? Or do you decide to keep schtum and drink whatever wine is ordered, knowing that it is likely to contain traces of an animal product?
My answer: It would depend on the personalities of the work colleagues, but there would be occasions when I would drink the wine. I want to portray veganism as easy and achievable. For me it’s not about my own purity, but about being an effective advocate and projecting a positive image that vegans are not the party-pooper that so many people think they are, that they can still join in and have fun.
Here’s another example that might be familiar. Your Gran goes to a lot of effort to bake you a ‘vegan’ cake for the very first time. You notice she used dairy butter without realising it’s not vegan. What do you do?
My answer: I’d firstly give her a big hug to show my appreciation! I’d then accept the cake and take it home with me, but not eat it. I’d give it away to someone else (ideally someone who’s unlikely to ever meet my Gran!). I might subsequently give my Gran a vegan cake recipe for the next time she feels the urge to bake me a cake, together with a dairy butter replacement.
You accidentally buy a few packs of cereal, which you discover include a small amount of whey powder and/or honey. You can’t find the receipt to return them. What do you do?
My answer: I would give the cereal to a non-vegan friend, therefore reducing demand for other non-vegan cereal they might purchase by the same number of packs that I give them. I certainly wouldn’t judge any vegan for eating the cereal, especially those struggling financially – there’s no additional impact since they’re not adding to demand for non-vegan items, because they’ve already made the purchase.
McDonald’s, for many consumers a highly problematic and ethically questionable company, introduces a vegan burger in the UK. Do we promote and celebrate this, or do we boycott them? Or do we have another response to the situation that is somewhere in between?
My answer: I would encourage us to celebrate and promote. This increases awareness of vegan issues to a much wider audience, and further normalises and mainstreams veganism. It may also encourage other major retailers to consider introducing more plant-based items. And while McDonald’s continues to wreak havoc on the environment and the lives of animals, and I won’t be ordering a McVegan anytime soon, I see this is another step on the road to the vegan world we all want to live in.
ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation, active in five different countries – Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK. ProVeg works with governments, private companies, public institutions, medical professionals, and the public, to help the world transition to a more plant-based society and economy that is sustainable for humans, animals, and our planet.
Jimmy Pierson went from a student working at KFC to director of ProVeg. His journey, including broadsheet sports journalism and working for The Vegan Society, gives him a unique perspective and insight into being a vegan in 2018.