There are definitely some vegans who hate and judge non-vegans. On behalf of the rest of us, I’m really sorry about those people. Vegans are supposed to be coming from a place of open-mindedness and empathy, but I’ve seen some really closed-minded and judgmental ones out there. (There are even vegans who beat up on other vegans for not being vegan enough. Ugh.) Unfortunately there are bound to be some bad apples in any group.
But the good news is that the vast majority of vegans do not feel or act this way! Most of us realize that being judgmental is completely ridiculous and hypocritical — after all, nearly all vegans were non-vegan at some point. Whether someone has no interest in changing their eating habits, is dabbling with ‘humane’ meat, is trying out vegetarianism, or is curious about veganism, everybody is somewhere on a personal journey about how best to live their life. And many people just don’t have the bandwidth to deal with assessing their food choices, even if they wanted to. We’ve been there. We get it.
I really hope that you never have to encounter a mean vegan. But in the world of the internet, where we all routinely encounter trolls of all stripes, there are bound to be some out there.
But even non-mean vegans can still get flustered sometimes. Nobody’s perfect. Ideally we’d always keep our cool, but here’s some background on why things can get a little heated sometimes.
We discovered something that’s really helpful, but nobody cares
One common response I get when people find out that I’m vegan is: “Ugh, that must be so hard.” While it’s totally true that making any change to your routine is going to require some effort, what people consistently underestimate is how hard it is not to be vegan.
Yeah, making the change to a plant-based diet meant that I had to figure out new recipes, and how to order differently at restaurants. But the net effect of making this decision was actually a huge relief and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I had never fully realized how much effort I was spending averting my eyes, willfully squashing down concerns, and ignoring how internally uncomfortable my relationship to animals really was. I loved animals, but here I was voluntarily choosing to do something that really hurt them, day-in, day-out. This contradiction was creating a constant low-level, background friction in my mind and my heart. (Psychologist Melanie Joy does a great TED Talk-style deep dive into where this psychological friction comes from and how it impacts us.) So once I made the decision to forge a better relationship with animals, and take an active instead of a passive stance, I went from feeling weighted down to feeling like I was strong enough to tackle anything. Pretty awesome.
Many folks I know are at some stage of struggling with how to be comfortable with their relationship to animals. Some people are worried that their choices do really clash with their values, but they don’t want to change their choices, so they “just don’t want to know” anything about how products like cheese are made and do “earmuff” hands if I’m talking to someone about it. Some people have learned about the horrible practices behind meat production and have chosen to stick to “humane” meat to reduce their impact. Other folks are vegetarians toying with veganism. Other folks are transitioning to veganism but still eat meat occasionally.
I had my own journey along these lines: after growing up as a kid who was a huge fan of steak, I ended up going vegetarian in my teens and vegan in my twenties. But the thing is: from my perspective, as well as in the experiences of other vegans I’ve talked to, all of those steps along the way were psychologically terrible compared to finally deciding to be vegan. It breaks my heart to see people struggling with feeling uncomfortable about eating meat, but continuing to do it. “The answer’s right there! You don’t have to keep agonizing and beating yourself up! All you have to do is stop!” But everybody has to find their own path. It’s just sad when you’ve discovered something wonderful, that you know would help someone, and they can’t or won’t give it a shot.
It’s literally a matter of life or death
If somebody wants to eat meat, that’s their prerogative. But please keep in mind that meat is really, really sad for a lot of people, because it’s literally a matter of life or death.
So please give us a break. I can’t count the number of times that somebody has reacted to finding out I’m vegan by taunting “Baaaaaconnnn!”, or making some rude comment about joyfully killing an animal (see next section). It says a lot about someone’s character when they feel like they have to react this way. Killing isn’t a lighthearted matter. If your dog or cat had been killed, we wouldn’t joke about it. Joking about this isn’t funny or cute. So please don’t.
But bad manners are only the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes just sharing a meal with respectful non-vegans, or walking down the meat aisle of the grocery store, can generate big waves of sadness, because we see each meat-based menu item, or shrink-wrapped cutlet, as representing a life that was treated as a commodity and then cut short.
For folks who have spent time with awesome animals like Esther the Wonder Pig, it’s really sad to see the mundanity and scale of how many Esthers are killed every day for no good reason. If you’ve ever befriended a dog or a cat: imagine if your grocery store had a dog/cat aisle, and if your friends routinely ordered dog or cat at restaurants. Even when they mean well, that reality can still be extremely sad to witness. I understand that there are a lot of reasons why people still choose to do it, but it just makes me sad. Not angry at them, not judging them to be lesser people, just sad that this is something that still happens.
Non-vegans troll us constantly
People often react to vegans by being very, very mean. I think there are a couple real, but reductive, things that generate this animosity:
Often the activism that folks are exposed to in the news is more radical stuff, like PETA throwing red paint on people, or
Maybe they actually did meet a mean vegan (sadly there’s bound to be one party-pooper in any given group), or
Maybe they’re assuming we’ll be mean, but haven’t yet chatted with a vegan and discovered how warm and cuddly we are! :)
But while I’m not intentionally mean to people because they’re eating meat, people do the opposite to me constantly. It’s an onslaught of so many hostile, defensive, jeering, and aggressive responses.
Here’s just one example. I wish I could say this was an isolated bad actor, but it’s actually par-for-the-course. I had left a sad review on one of our favorite restaurants, because it turns out the food they had told us was vegan actually wasn’t, and we had been eating it for months. Then somebody felt like the comment pictured here would be a cute reply. No, this is not cute. No, this isn’t going to make me go, “Wow, what a compelling point! I guess I’ll change my moral stance after all.” It’s creepy and abusive, but sadly this is one of the most common ways people react when they find out I’m vegan. What. the. heck.
Most vegans have learned never to read comments on any post involving veganism, or even just posts with benign cute videos/photos of animals like pigs, because the comments will be riddled with violent and gross content. And we’ve also had lots of practice employing the stonewall “not amused” face when family and friends say, “Ohhh, you’re veeegan? Does the veeeegan want some baaacon?” No. We don’t. You know that we don’t. Why are you doing this?
Of course, it’s never an excuse to allow bad behavior on their part to beget bad behavior on our part. But it does put some strain on vegan/non-vegan relations when so many of the interactions involve unprompted aggressiveness and viciousness. It can make us a little jittery. But, luckily, many people get it and are respectful. Or they just don’t care at all, since what I choose to put on my plate has nothing to do with them. Thank you so much, respectful and indifferent people!
Some vegans are mean and hateful. I’m sorry. We’ll try to get them to calm down.
Some meat eaters are also mean and hateful. Please encourage them to do better, by example and by pointing out that their behavior is not ok.
Vegans won’t judge you if you eat meat. We’ve all eaten meat, too. We’re just really sad about the whole damn thing.