The Hardest Thing about Being Vegan

Panel 1 - A: I agree that animal abuse is wrong.  But veganism is too hard. B: Have you ever tried going vegan? / Panel 2 - A: No B: Do you want me to give you some recipes and examples of cruelty-free toiletries? / Panel 3 - A: No. B: So you just want to complain about how hard veganism is without trying it or even learning about it? / Panel 4 - A: Now you're talking my language, high-five.

Cartoon by Vegan Sidekick

When (non-vegan) people say ‘It must be hard to be a vegan’ and ‘Isn’t it hard to be a vegan’, I don’t know how to respond. The part that they think is hard – giving up on torturing, killing and eating animals with central nervous systems – was actually much easier for me than I expected. Thus I am tempted to say ‘It’s easy’. However, there is another aspect to being vegan which is hard – living in a society which encourages practices which you feel are ethically wrong. However, very few non-vegans understand this, because they are either don’t know how much harm they do to beings with free will capable of pain, or they are in deep denial. That is why I will almost never say ‘it is hard’, because most will assume that it means something other than what I actually mean, and if you think it’s easy to explain it to them, you’re clearly don’t have much experience telling people that things they do habitually are unethical.

There are many facets to ‘living in a society which encourages practices which you feel are ethically wrong’. For vegans, this sometimes means ‘lack of convenient/suitable vegan food/clothes/toiletries/etc.’ However, I have worked out most of the practical problems, so I now feel that being vegan is only slightly less convenient than being non-vegan.

The facet which is hard for me is … other people. Specifically, non-vegan people. Sometimes, when a person I respect or admire suddenly makes a reference to their support for the torture and killing of animals for pleasure, it makes my heart sink a little. That does not mean that I necessarily stop respecting or admiring them – I used to support the torture and killing of animals myself – but it is disappointing.

And that’s people who I don’t interact with personally. When it is someone who I have a close personal relationship with, often a relationship which existed before I became a vegan – it’s even harder. You can try to explain, you can try to persuade … but if they still don’t get it? Do you continue a personal relationship with someone with such ethical values? Even if cutting off all such personal ties means that your close personal relationships can only be with other vegans? Might such social isolation be harmful in the long run to non-human animals, since if we vegans cut ourselves off too much from non-vegans, how can we hope to create meaningful change?

Furthermore, how much persuasion is not enough, how much is too much? Too much means that people won’t listen, won’t change, and ultimately will torture and kill more animals. Not enough also means people won’t listen, won’t change, and ultimately will torture and kill more animals. Is it better to show righteous anger, or to show calmness and patience?

And it’s also very tempting to turn an attempt to ‘persuade’ someone into an attack. The vast majority of vegans have thought about these issues much more than most non-vegans, and are much better informed about the facts, and for those reasons alone have the upper hand in many debates (I think vegans also have an upper hand because we are right, but just having spent more time thinking and researching about these issues by itself is an advantage). It is much easier to ‘win’ by making the other person feel bad than to ‘win’ by actually getting them to choose a better path. I think this might be why there are so many ‘vegan police’ – there is an emotional satisfaction to picking all of the faults with other people’s ‘veganess’, whereas the slow work of changing hearts and minds does not offer such instant gratification.

Aside from staying within ethical limits, when I face these dilemmas, I try to think of what would ultimately be of greatest benefit to the animals who are suffering, whether in factory farms or degrading wild habitats, and use that to point the way. But that is often not obvious.


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7 thoughts on “The Hardest Thing about Being Vegan

  1. I relate to this; I’m not a vegan yet but I’ve been a vegetarian for several years and am working my way toward veganism (my main obstacle right now is the higher cost of some vegan items), and since becoming a vegetarian it’s started bothering me more and more to see my friends and family eating meat and defending their consumption of it. The worst is when people say, “I care about animals and wish I could be a vegetarian/vegan, but meat is just too good!” They’re basically admitting that they agree with me but saying they still won’t change their actions, and I just never know what to say to that; it seems like there’s no hope of them ever changing their minds.

    Other times when I talk about veganism/vegetarianism people get annoyed about it; they don’t like hearing any sort of criticism of their habits or feeling like I’m trying to persuade them to change. I don’t know if I’m just going about it wrong somehow, but so far I really haven’t found a good way to have a conversation about it with people who eat meat. The responses I get seem to always be “I would if I could (but I can’t)” or “I don’t agree and I’m not going to change.”

    • First of all, some people are never going to listen, no matter what you do. People don’t come with magic buttons that you simply need to press in order to make them hear and *actually understand* what you are saying. The trouble is, it’s hard to know who will never listen, and who might listen if only you did X.

      Some people (such as yourself) really do have external/practical problems which make it very difficult to become vegan, which is why I prefer to phrase things as ‘choosing to harm animals’ rather than ‘harm’ animals.

      However, I notice that when people sincerely do want to avoid unnecessary harm to animals, they mention their practical problems pretty early, and then mention all of the things they do to minimize harm to animals given their circumstances. This is how I tell people who really *can’t* go all the way into veganism (at least not right now) from people who say they “I would if I could (but I can’t)”.

      Given my personality, I tend to respond with something like “Actions speak louder than words. If you actually thought hurting animals is wrong, you would stop (to the extent that you can, which you are not doing)”. However, 1) given the complexity of human psychology, that statement is not true and 2) it may not be the most effective tactic for changing someone’s mind (or maybe it is – I don’t know). It might be better to say ‘Okay, so what can you do to reduce the harm you do to animals’.

      I recently read this:

      http://veganskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/11/i-could-never-go-vegan.html

      I don’t feel comfortable using that approach, since it seems too complicated, and I prefer to keep it simple when talking to non-vegans about veganism, but it’s still good food for thought.

      • I *think* things like “actions speak louder than words” in response to those people, but I’m not brave enough to actually say it! But yeah, I like the idea of answering them with a suggestion of changing in a less extreme way, but one that would still reduce the harm caused to animals–like eating less meat or giving up one kind. That does seem better than trying to persuade someone to drop all their animal-product consumption at once, since that’s pretty unlikely to happen if they’re not already considering it.

      • I don’t think ‘actions speak louder than words’ is the best approach if you actually want to persuade somebody to change, but given that sometimes there’s *nothing* I can say to persuade them, I figure I might as well speak my mind.

        I do agree with that blogger that telling people to give up chickens and eggs if they are only going to give up a few animal-based foods since a) there’s a pretty convincing case that chickens do suffer a lot more than many other domestic animals (partially because they receive much less legal protection from animal welfare/cruelty laws than mammals such as cows and pigs, at least in the USA) and b) a lot of people assume that the path is to give up ‘red meat’ before chicken meat / eggs, so suggesting that supporting the torture of chickens is the worst might make them actually think about it. That said, I don’t think this is the tactic for me.

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