Vegan, by definition, describes ‘a person who does not eat or use animal products’. But in reality, the word holds negative connotations. Whether you’re a lifelong vegan or devout meat eater, you’ve probably heard vegans variously referred to as hippies, tree-huggers, deranged, ill, pushy, anorexic, extreme or obnoxious. What the word doesn’t immediately suggest is compassionate, loving, kind, supportive or well intended.
Like many others who have chosen to adopt the vegan lifestyle, I have experienced first hand the backlash of the ‘vegan stereotype’. Despite this, the movement has seen rapid growth in the past ten years with the number of vegans in the UK increasing by 360%.
A Paradigm Shift Is Coming!
The huge rise in numbers and victories like the wider availability of plant based milk is evidence of change and the vegan message being heard. Unfortunately, greater questioning of the standard diet has also meant that opposition to this lifestyle has grown more vocal.
“If you’d asked me then if I was ashamed of my lifestyle my answer would have been yes”
I am genuinely proud to be vegan but I haven’t always felt this way. When I first decided to cut animal products from my diet and lifestyle I didn’t tell anyone for a whole month.
Despite my apparent cowardice or ignorance I was passionate about veganism and the lifestyle I was adopting. In my twenty three years as a non-vegan, I knew that the term wasn’t always met with the warmth and compassion which is the hallmark of the movement itself.
Frankly, I didn’t want to be labelled or associate myself with the stereotype – I didn’t need the aggravation. If you’d asked me then if I was ashamed of my lifestyle my answer would have been yes.
My Own Shift In Perspective
I was always determined to stay silent about my choice to be vegan – I didn’t want to impose my views on others but I soon came to realise how hypocritical I was. I suddenly felt defensive about fellow vegans and people who were taking a stance and speaking out about the horrors of the meat, dairy and egg industries.
Whenever I heard a comment about ‘pushy vegans’ or ‘tree-hugging hippies’ I now felt should stand alongside people who, like me, were living this way for the sake of the planet, their health and to promote equality.
Veganism = Compassion
For me, behind the hostility and disapproval surrounding veganism lies a lack of education on what it’s really all about. We see extreme images of protests, ‘meat is murder’ slogans and associate them with cult-like behaviours and aggression.
We don’t think about why these people are so angry or passionate about the cause. For most vegans, eating meat and supporting the industry is as bizarre and absurd as killing or eating a pet, something that most people would recoil at the thought of.
Unchecked, Compassion Can Lead To Aggression
Like many other vegans, before I learned about animal cruelty, I had been unaware of what was happening right under my nose. When I started to research the horrific practices that go on on a daily basis I became extremely angry, upset and desperate to make others see how we had been consistently lied to.
“I often worry that the hostile approach will outweigh the message”
With this anger comes care and genuine concern for the welfare of humankind, the planet and the animals that suffer such unnecessary cruelty and suffering. I felt a moral duty to educate others and expose them to this horrific part of society that’s rarely questioned.
I began to realise that the people I had once ridiculed and considered extreme, were simply trying to achieve the same end as me. Do I always agree with the methods people use? Absolutely not. In fact, with the increasing number of aggressive ‘YouTube vegans’ and Facebook activists, I often worry that the hostile approach will outweigh the message.
Kindness Is Contagious
I will always be the kind of vegan who aims to lead by example and offer guidance only when asked about my beliefs. This softer approach is sometimes necessary, particularly when engaging those who are interested in veganism but don’t want to be shamed or preached to.
A more hands on or up front style of activism has its place. I researched the lifestyle after seeing some YouTube videos from the highly controversial ‘Freelee the banana girl’. I don’t particularly like her brand of activism and education but that little bit of controversy and extremism is what made me listen, like the 700,000+ other people who subscribe to her channel.
“we all want the same outcome: a more peaceful and compassionate world”
Whether it’s a protest, a Facebook campaign, a YouTube video or simply leading by example, we all want the same outcome: a more peaceful and compassionate world.
Seeing the great efforts people make to help and support each other on the journey to the vegan lifestyle is something that makes me very proud I and will continue to promote it passionately until one day it becomes the new norm.