Just in time for the holidays: 25 ways not to be a vegan asshole

Photo: flickr/Megabeth

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Over the 20 or so years I've been vegan, a number of people have complimented me on not being a vegan asshole (despite the fact that I have a button that reads, "Vegan Asshole"). Sometimes people seem downright perplexed that I wasn't an asshole to them about my veganism, and they have often credited this fact as what got them into veganism themselves.

Given this, I thought I might share my list of strategies for not being a vegan asshole. Before someone disagrees with me about something on this list, I'm going to stress that this stuff is only my opinion and things I feel work for me, some of them learned through making my own vegan asshole mistakes.

Without further adieu, "How Not to be a Vegan Asshole" aka "25 Ways Not to be a Vegan Asshole."

1. Recognize that it's highly likely that you once felt differently than you currently do about animals and animal products. Hold this in the forefront of your mind when you're talking to someone who is new to considering these ideas.

2. Offer to provide information if people want more information. Asking them if they want information is a great way of finding this out.

3. Make or buy them some vegan treats, and maybe some transitional vegan analogue items that make it easier to swap out the meat and dairy.

4. Direct them to websites, cookbooks, and restaurants where they know there will be things they can eat.

5. Cook for them!

6. I strongly suggest not talking about veganism or animal politics over a meal where people are eating non-vegan foods.

7. Remember that how you talk to someone is part of your activism. If this whole gig is supposed to be about compassion (I think it is, right?), it should be part of your conversations with non-vegans about veganism, too.

8. Have resources on hand that show how people can eat vegan on the cheap. It’s commonly assumed that veganism is more expensive than conventional meat- and dairy-centred diets, and it can be if you're relying on a lot of processed foods.

9. Vent with other vegans if you have to, but leave the reactive judgments at the door when speaking with non-vegans.

10. Recognize that you don't have it all figured out, and some of the questions that feel like baiting are worth considering. (What does it mean, for example, when bone char free sugar still has huge impacts on the environment and might hurt more animals through industrial agriculture than small scale beekeeping?)

11. To paraphrase vegan advocate Rae Sikora, recognize that there are likely ways that the person in front of you is more compassionate in their life than you are. You might be able to learn from them.

12. Be sensitive to the fact that veganism can intersect with extremely potent cultural dynamics regarding identity, familial bonds, etc. which are also complicated by issues related to assimilation and colonialism. Food is literally the thing that people use to build their bodies, and it can be such a crucial site for resistance against colonialism, not to mention key to identity. If you are coming from a place of white privilege, for example, think long and hard about that as you talk to someone whose people might have been colonized, assimilated, and/or largely exterminated.

13. To paraphrase humane educators Rae Sikora and Zoe Weil, you can only plant the seeds. In my own experience, people have to figure a lot of the stuff on their own, but if you offer a hand and a supportive presence, this will be encouraging. You can't make anyone walk through the door, though.

14. Unless you are a member of the group you're analogizing, drop the analogies that compare animal issues to slavery, the Holocaust, genocide, etc. Almost every marginalized group is currently and has historically been oppressed through such comparisons. No matter how much leverage you think this argument has, it will likely backfire and just alienate those who might otherwise see your point.

15. Show that veganism isn't about scarcity. A lot of people still imagine veganism like a giant food-filled plate with more and more items getting stripped away. You need to show what is added to those subtractions.

16. Try not to talk about how much you love lentil loaf, even if you love lentil loaf. I don't think I've ever seen anyone convinced by this.

17. Listen. Really, really listen. Unless someone is truly being an asshole to you, it's worth really listening to what they have to say, even if they are challenging you. If you listen, you might have a better sense of their barriers and potential misconceptions.

18. Recognize that there are, actually, quite a lot of vegan assholes out there. Which is to say, some of the defensiveness by omnivores and vegetarians is pretty hard earned.

19. Engage with other social justice and environmental causes. Show that you care about and work on other issues, and then really do your homework on them, and not just slap a Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. quote on your Facebook page about shared struggle or whatever. Get into it, and don't just use intersectional language as a way of showing you’re "down."

20. Don't date someone with the assumption or dream that they will go vegan, and share the same love of vegan cheesecake with you. I have done this before. It did not go well.

21. Talk about animal issues from a variety of angles, not just the horrible suffering and violent ones. Also do your homework about the animals you're claiming to represent. Show how they have their own histories and stories that aren't exclusively defined by suffering and helplessness. Definitely talk about issues related to exploitation, but don't always stay there. People just shut down or become overwhelmed. Also, by speaking about a richer range of animals' experiences, we align ourselves with other social movements that have long refused to render oppressed people strictly as victims.

22. Emphasize that most animal suffering and torture happens because of very long histories of objectification, and capitalism is a major driver of the large-scale abuse of animals. So we're all in this together. Generally speaking, it's not personal. Try to de-personalize the conversation.

23. Remember that a lot of people have grown up being vigorously socialized that "food animals" in particular are lesser beings. One conversation often isn't going to be enough to challenge that. Plant the seeds.

24. For your own self-preservation, if someone is really irate and is trying to tear you down, realize you can't and won't move everyone. Move on.

25. Recognize that it's highly likely that you once felt differently than you currently do about animals and animal products. Hold this in the forefront of your mind when you're talking to someone who is new to considering these ideas. This one is worth repeating.

    Lauren Corman is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Brock University. She specializes in Critical Animal Studies and contemporary social theory. She was the longtime host of the Toronto radio show, Animal Voices. She can be reached by email at lcorman@brocku.ca and Twitter @laurencorman.

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