Phil Davis laments the damage caused by factional infighting which distracts from our common goals and alienates potential vegans.
Why are people who identify as having the same aims so often unpleasant to each other?
Civil Rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King famously fell out, as did ground-breaking feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. And Christianity has fractured so many times we’ve stopped trying to count the denominations.
This is not to not to compare veganism and its aims with human rights movements or religion, but there are parallels.
Social media attacks
Broadly speaking, vegans are all on the same page. Clearly we don’t eat animals. We all want better animal welfare standards generally and believe animals shouldn’t be exploited or mistreated.
Despite near-total alignment in their world views, however, vegans are shockingly quick to judge each other and can be vicious in their judgments on each other, not least on social media.
I avoid social media whenever possible but, because we are still learning how to care for some of our animals, social channels can be useful for swapping tips and finding information. Whenever I slip into more wide-ranging discussions, however, I am almost always frustrated.
"Vegans are shockingly quick to judge each other and can be vicious in their judgments on each other, not least on social media." Photo © Ivan Pantic via Getty Images
A recent thread on a vegan group asked what you should do with the eggs laid by rescued battery hens. Some people ate them, some gave them away to friends, others fed them back to the chickens. The discussion quickly got heated, insults were thrown, and the result was a splinter group forming, leaving buckets of bad blood in its wake.
On another thread, for newbie vegans, someone proudly showed off a photo of their “first meal on a vegan diet”. Cue rounds of applause? Nope. The first comment was that “being vegan isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle”. Bam. Instant alienation for someone who may already be facing criticism from friends and families and came to the group looking for camaraderie and encouragement.
I’ve even seen posts from people lamenting that “everyone is jumping on the vegan bandwagon these days” when surely that’s exactly what we want!
Other forums and threads are similarly full of internecine infighting and general bad behaviour between people who should be pulling together, not pulling each other apart.
Infighting from peoples who should be pulling together, not pulling each other apart alienates new vegans. Photo © Praewphan via Adobe Stock
Healthy debate = good, fights = bad
As far as I can see, these fights often come down to the same thing: you’re not vegan enough. All vegans — particularly new vegans — need support. We get enough opprobrium from the rest of the world without foisting it on ourselves.
And how do our squabbles look to the vegan-curious, those who pop into our world with wonder in their eyes, hoping to be inspired and expecting (rightly) to be welcomed? The last thing we want to do is scare them away from taking a first, tentative step, or perpetuate the myth that to be a vegan means being an all-or-nothing hardliner whose sole aim in life is to be holier than thou.
Every person turned off by our infighting and self-righteous rejection of newbies is a truckload of animals condemned to suffering and slaughter.
As one forum contributor said: “Let’s be welcoming and encouraging – save your ire for the slaughterhouses, horrific farms, and organisations that facilitate animal misery.”
We are a minority, under frequent attack from all sides, so individuals desperately need support, which is not going to come from the outside. I don’t think factions are a bad thing necessarily – they suggest a movement that is maturing. But let’s embrace vegan diversity instead of trying to squash it, and celebrate people at all points on the vegan spectrum.
"Every person turned off by our infighting and self-righteous rejection of newbies is a truckload of animals condemned to suffering and slaughter." Photo © Syda Productions via Adobe Stock
Doing something is better than nothing
Personally, we’re more vegan now than when we first became vegan. My wife Kate laughingly calls her journey a “slippery slope” that started with turning vegetarian when she first owned rescued hens and moved through stages of rejecting dairy, then all eggs and animal products. Now she is vegan across all her diet, lifestyle, and consumer choices. I first went vegan for health reasons, and I’m now as committed to animal rights as Kate.
At our little farmstead in Cornwall, we encourage guests to follow a plant-based diet while they’re here, and it’s a house rule that they don’t cook animals on the premises.
Guests often tell us they’ve been inspired to make a change to their diet and lifestyle when they leave. Our ability to introduce them to the animals they take for granted as food has been invaluable in swaying hearts and minds, but so has our undogmatic approach to explaining how these animals are mistreated and exploited.
We’re delighted when guests renounce eggs because they’ve heard our hen stories. We love hearing parents explain to little kids why riding animals at petting zoos isn’t nice after meeting our sweet-natured donkeys. And you can see the lightbulb come on when they realise horse riding and traditional horse ownership are shockingly cruel as we show them how our Dartmoor ponies live.
Some people go vegan quickly, while others take longer to transition to a fully vegan lifestyle. Being overly critical to those who are finding their way is off putting and could turn them away from veganism. Being supportive and encouraging to new vegans is more likely to help keep them motivated to becoming fully vegan. Photo © N Felix/peopleimages.com via Adobe Stock
Would it be better if they renounced animal products and cruelty immediately? Yes. Is it better than nothing? Also yes. Is it potentially the start of a journey towards veganism? We hope so! Will we give them a hard time for not doing enough or going too slowly? Hell no.
Although we are passionate about veganism and how we apply it to our lives and farmstead, we would never get overtly pushy about it. Berating someone for their apparent shortcomings would simply put them on the defensive and be counter-productive.
We are sometimes taken to task – usually passively – for our brand of veganism. We have direct experience of being seen as “too vegan” by some and “not vegan enough” by others. We have lost potential guest bookings on both accounts.
The loss of a vegan guest or being prevented from advertising on a vegan Facebook group because we’re not vegan enough doesn’t, frankly, upset us – vegans already “get it”. But we see the loss of an omni guest as a lost opportunity to gently, and non-judgmentally, show someone that another way is possible.
Respecting others’ lines in the sand
This doesn’t mean that we compromise our principles and allow meat to be cooked in the cottage in order to attract guests.
That’s our line in the sand. That’s how vegan we want to be. Others can decide where their line in the sand should be, how far and when it shifts, and why.
For us, the key is to respect other people’s lines. It may not be where ours is drawn, but it won’t be too far away. We share common goals, so small differences in outlook and behaviour are no reason to go to war.
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Featured image: Deagreez via Getty Images