With the best of intentions, I think we can make veganism seem too difficult, too extreme, and too perfectionist. I’m afraid we can make it seem like it’s only worth doing if you’re going to do it 100% (or try to do 100%, anyway). Avoiding holiday dinners with family, poring over ingredient lists, attacking fellow vegans for “slips,” criticizing vegetarians – how appealing can this be to “muggles” (non-vegans, for our purposes here)?
For whatever reason – it seems like divine grace to me – some of us have “gotten it” about animal suffering in a big way. We are motivated to do whatever we can to stop contributing to the horrific and unnecessary suffering of animals. We see our efforts as the only sane and compassionate thing to do, and as a blessing rather than a burden. But I’ve begun to think it’s really worth looking at the message that we are sending, and I’ve started to think about poring over those ingredient lists and restaurant menus at home on the internet rather than in public.
Less suffering for animals – that’s the objective here. Ideally, everyone would see the light and decide to live a vegan lifestyle to the best of their abilities. But realistically, that is not going to happen (yet). So let’s not make it seem like doing it “all the way” is the only thing worth doing. Meatless Monday, Vegan Before 6 p.m., vegetarian? Fantastic, I say! You care and you’re making an effort to go against the grain, to make a change for the good of animals and the planet. As the wonderful vegan author and speaker Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has said, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”
This is something I have to think about because I do have a tendency toward all-or-nothing thinking. I was realizing this recently in relation to my own eating. I have learned so much about healthy eating, as many of us have, and I have set the bar of what I consider healthy really high. And yet, I have a sweet tooth and it has become easier and easier to eat a lot of sugary, junky food as a vegan. It dawned on me that I had gotten to a point where I felt like if I wasn’t going to eat half a pound of vegetables at each meal, I might as well just eat almond milk ice cream, chips, and Skittles for dinner. Um, no. A dinner of wheat (or even regular) pasta and bottled marinara sauce is way better than that, and some days it’s good enough – even though it’s processed, doesn’t contain greens, has some sugar (not as much as Skittles!), etc.
Another thing I think we really want to look at is the way we call each other out. Scathing attacks on Ellen Degeneres for selling leather boots, or on Russell Simmons for admitting to eating chicken once in a while – what kind of message does this send? In my opinion, it sends a message that it’s all or nothing, and that we are out to criticize and condemn others. It says, “You’d better not do anything, unless you can do everything, all the time.”
And what about vegetarians? While I understand and agree with the reasoning that if you care about animal cruelty, consuming dairy and eggs is not behavior that is consistent with your values, I think it’s important to acknowledge the extent to which vegetarians do help animals. In Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, From the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, Nick Cooney writes: “Vegetarians do almost as much good for farm animals as vegans. They reduce 88 percent as many days of suffering and spare 94 percent as many lives. And if you’re talking about vegetarians who give up eggs, by both measures they do over 99 percent as much good.” This is important, Cooney goes on to add, because “meat-eaters perceive a vegan diet as much more unrealistic.”
I find this interesting both from the standpoint of having greater appreciation for vegetarians, and from the perspective of how can we make a vegan diet seem less unrealistic? Given the fact that animal products pervade so much of our culture, a vegan diet and lifestyle do require effort, there’s no doubt about it. But to whatever extent we can make it seem realistic, and even easeful, we can make it seem more accessible to others. And for goodness’ sake, let’s have a sense of humor, and loads of compassion for our fellow humans (vegetarians and muggles included) as well as for the animals.