I feel I should start with an important disclaimer: I (the author of this opinion piece) am vegan. I have been so for 5 years, and to be honest, I am guilty of many things I will list below. When I started my vegan journey I was doing many things I consider now as ineffective (and often, very annoying). Fortunately, people grow and learn.
I know you might disagree with the things I will talk about because they are a bit controversial. But I ask you to read this article with an open mind and with the thought in mind that you and I share the same goal: to make the world (more) vegan.
#1 SAYING “VEGANISM IS EASY”
Don't get me wrong, veganism can be easy, and it definitely got way easier in the past couple of years. But the important thing is, it can also be difficult. Transitioning from a standard diet to a vegan one can be challenging. Yes, there are many vegan options in the supermarket, vegan recipes on the internet and a community of people willing to help others to make this transition. However, we (vegans) should not promote veganism as the easiest thing to do like we are forgetting the times when we are traveling and struggling to find a vegan option in restaurants so we end up eating a side dish with a side dish or when we hang out with friends or family and feel misunderstood and alone.
Instead, we should promote veganism as a way of living that will get easier by time, by practice and by more people being open to eating more vegan food. By being honest, people will not set high expectations and will be better prepared for the difficulties on the way.
#2 SAYING “VEGANISM IS CHEAP”
How many times have you heard or pushed the argument “If you just eat veggies, fruits and grains, it is the cheapest diet on the planet”. Well, my question is, would you go vegan if you knew that those foods were the only things you could eat? (Read this again, imagine yourself back then, not now, and answer honestly - would you?)
Maybe some of you answered yes, but believe me, there are so many people scared of the restrictions that the vegan diet may come along with. The idea of not eating animal products anymore can also be a fear for many people. I know that now, if all the vegan alternatives would disappear, I would stay vegan, however, when I look back and imagine that there would be no vegan yogurts, cheese or meat replacements, I probably would not have made the transition to a vegan lifestyle.
So yes, a vegan diet can be expensive (when you are a fan of cheese and meat alternatives). But, also when you want a vegan diet to be sustainable and healthy. I feel like I should say that eating just fruits and vegetables is not the best way of living - we do need protein and fat, and a great amount of them! Which gets me to another point:
#3 SAYING “WE DO NOT NEED MUCH PROTEIN”
Yes, we do need a sufficient amount of protein and eating enough calories does not necessarily mean we get enough of it (and enough of the very important lysine).
Maybe this information is obvious to some of you, but maybe there are still some people who live by the trend of high-carb low-fat low-protein diets in the vegan community (yup, those high carb vegan YouTubers who are no longer vegans...). So, even though you do not need to be afraid of not getting enough protein on a vegan diet, please be careful, eat your legumes, make sure your diet is balanced and do not underestimate your protein intake.
For more info: http://bit.ly/2U28KHV
#4 SAYING “IT IS EITHER 100% VEGAN OR NOTHING”
Let's get this straight. Most of the vegan food offered in supermarkets are not bought by vegans. We can be grateful to flexitarians, reducetarians, vegetarians and people interested in veganism for raising the demand for vegan products. For instance, 92% of vegan meals were eaten by non-vegans in 2018 in the UK.
Some vegans use the argument against, for example, Meatless Mondays saying “Meat-free Mondays? Would you also support human murder-free Mondays?” I get your point, however, try to get mine. In a society, where it is normal to eat animals, doing what everyone else does and thinks is okay does not make someone an evil person, it makes him/her a normal person with a flawed behavior. On the other hand, murdering a human - violating social norms, doing something that everyone thinks is a very horrible thing to do, is very different from being complicit in a default immoral behavior like eating animals. You as a vegan, you came a long way and therefore, you might equate these two. But please, keep in mind that the others (meat-eaters, reducetarians, flexitarians) do see a difference and we cannot ask them to change their perception of the world and morality so quickly. Each time you use an argument when communicating with others, ask yourself “How will it be perceived? Will the person be able to agree with me or am I using an argument that is so far from his/her mindset that I might scare him/her away?”
And what about people who identify as vegans but sometimes do something that you personally do not consider vegan enough? Do you sometimes think “They are not vegan, they should label themselves as vegetarians” Well, if you are familiar with the cognitive-dissonance theory, you should be glad that they label themselves as vegans. Because every time they do something non-vegan, they will be aware of the inconsistency between their attitude and action and it is likely that they will do this behavior less often than if they would label themselves as vegetarians (and therefore, they would be perfectly fine with doing non-vegan acts because it does not go against their identity).
Also, people are way more willing to do something smaller (such as reducing their meat intake) compared to something bigger (such as going vegan). Then, they can become more receptive to the idea of becoming vegan. Besides, people who reduce their meat consumption can reduce suffering more and therefore, may help the vegan movement more than a few vegans (by creating more demand for vegan products, as mentioned above, simply because there are more of reducetarians than vegans).
My point here is simple, let's be grateful for each other - for vegans, vegetarians, reducetarians and flexitarians. It might seem that one person does not do enough in our eyes, but if we focus on the bigger picture (which is the fact that there are more people living this way), it helps the vegan movement to an incredible extent. So let's be supportive of each other.
#5 SAYING “VEGAN CHEESE TASTES JUST EXACTLY THE SAME”
Hm, it doesn't? I strongly believe that one day we will get there and vegan cheese will be just perfect but let's be honest - we are not there yet. Let's admit that some vegan alternatives are just not that tasty. And if we admit it, people will not be that disappointed. Because believe me, you might have forgotten how dairy cheese tastes like, but non-vegans can tell the difference.
#6 SAYING “SUPPORTING A NON-VEGAN BRAND SELLING VEGAN PRODUCTS IS BAD”
They are allies, not enemies. Let's celebrate the fact that big companies have an interest in vegan products (and more resources to expand its production & make it taste better). This is proof that the change is happening! The big companies are not going to disappear, so, part of their business turning vegan is a thing to celebrate!
Also, saying that these products are not vegan - is your goal to make veganism even more difficult? Or, on the other hand, you would want to make it easier for everyone to be and eat vegan? Then, let's support the brands who are offering vegan products because, at the end of the day, fewer animals are hurt and fewer resources are used, and that is what matters, right?
#7 SAYING “YOU CAN HEAL EVERYTHING ON A VEGAN DIET”
It has been some time since I was confronted with this kind of message - “Oh, so you have a problem with (insert health problem)? Then go vegan, your problem will disappear!”. Veganism can help with many health problems, but it does not heal everything, of course. We are not experts in everything, please, let's be mindful of words we speak. If people will go vegan with the belief that they will finally get rid of their health problem and later find out that it did not get better, it will discourage them. Also, it is unfair to give false hopes to people who are dealing with health issues.
#8 SAYING “ANYONE CAN BE VEGAN”
Well, probably the people you know and are around you can be vegan. However, there are some cases of people with severe allergies or living in a food desert, where it is just not possible for them to be vegan. Let's not forget them.
Wow, you made it till here! :)
I hope this opinion piece brought some new perspective on communication about veganism
You might not agree with all (or any) of the points I made, and that is your right. I still appreciate you reading this (quite long) text. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, do not hesitate to leave a comment!
Disclaimer #2: This opinion piece reflects a view of the author, not the VSA Amsterdam as a whole.