I wonder if they’ll come a day when we coin a term for people who discriminate against vegans – how about vegaphobia? No? What about herbivoreism? Maybe hippie hate crimes will become a thing one day. There’s already a term for the attitude people have against seeing non-human animals as equally living beings – Speciesism – but I’m curious if the day will come when we as a society will have to address the public shaming and punch lines that are extended to vegans with the same ignorance and carelessness that sexism, homophobia and racism are.
A friend of mine, who is a vegan, had a recent experience in a restaurant that frankly, blew the brains right out of my head when she told me. I wasn’t there and I don’t know how she managed to keep her calm because I’m not sure I could have done the same.
It was last Friday and my friend had joined a group of her chums and acquaintances at a pub after a theatre show. Some people there brought additional friends along and it was a large gathering. Someone sitting next to my friend, whom she already knew, mentioned a cake they would be making and, knowing my friend was a vegan, wondered aloud how they could ever make dessert without cream: “I just can’t understand dessert without loads of cream,” they said to her to which my friend replied, “I’ll have to make you one some day – they’re good.”
When the gasp-inducing news broke that someone at the table was vegan, a woman sitting across from my friend whom she had never met before blurted out:
“You’re vegan?!? But I like you!”
Hahahahahaha. Jokes ensue. Cake-baking friend tries to “help” by saying to the complete stranger, “I know, I still talk to her despite it!”
They had all ordered food and when my friend’s veggie burger with onion rings arrived at the table, Insufferable Stranger (credit to my friend for that term) says to her:
“You know those aren’t vegan,” pointing to the onion rings.
My friend, thinking maybe she’d missed an ingredient detail on the menu simply said:
“Oh, really? Geez, well you better have them then.”
Insufferable Stranger then says so loudly that the entire section of the restaurant could hear:
“YOU ARE SO DUMB! OH MY GOD, YOU ARE SO DUMB! I JUST WANTED YOUR ONION RINGS!”
Did I mention that this person had NEVER MET my friend before that evening yet felt perfectly entitled to treat her this way simply because she was a vegan.
As my friend was relaying the story to me the next day, she said, “Needless to say I was fuming but hid it graciously ‘cos that’s what vegans do EVERY DAY of our lives.”
It’s not that we don’t have a sense of humour. Fuck no. In The Simpsons episode where Lisa makes the decision to become vegetarian and is sitting at the dinner table looking down at the meat on her plate and says to no one in particular, “Do we have any food that wasn’t brutally slaughtered?” and Homer says, “Well, I think the veal died of loneliness,” that is some funny shit. Why can we laugh at this and not the scenario in the restaurant? Because there is truth in the veal joke and both human and animal experience are represented within it. Sitting at a table in a public place being mocked by a stranger who feels entitled to belittle my friend based on an inaccurate stereotype is not funny in the least – it’s ignorant bullying. In fact, had my friend been abstaining from meat and dairy for any other reason like religion or disease, Insufferable Stranger would not have dared to say the things she said. But because my friend’s choice to abstain is to alleviate animal pain and death – a detail Insufferable Stranger would know had she bothered to ask – oh, well, we can make fun of those people, right? Um, no.
It’s the same ridiculous rationale behind the term “unnecessary suffering.” If cats or dogs are found neglected and exploited, it’s defined as abuse, neglect and a human can be charged with causing “unnecessary suffering” to them. But cows, pigs and chickens living in the exact same conditions on factory farms or mice, chimps and rabbits living like that in labs at the hands of those same humans is somehow okay ’cause it’s in the name of “food” or “science”. It’s either suffering or it isn’t. In the case of my friend in the pub last week, ignorance is either okay or it isn’t.
As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of a blistering open letter Steve Coogan wrote back in 2011 to the hosts of Top Gear who, at the time, decided it would be hilarious to describe cars made in Mexico as, “lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus.” They went on to describe Mexican food as, “sick with cheese on it.” Steve Coogan, a fan of the show at the time and one of the most respected comic writers and actors ever (Saxondale is a favourite in our home) took the show’s hosts to task on the matter, explaining the finer points of comedy and humour (“You can get away with saying unsayable things if it’s done with some sense of culpability.” Case in point: the above-noted Simpsons’ episode). But the part that came to me as I wrote this was when Steve Coogan said in his letter:
“What makes it worse is that (the show’s hosts) wear this offensive behaviour as a badge of pride, pleased that they have annoyed those whom they regard, in another lazy stereotype, as sandal-wearing vegans with beards and no sense of humour.”
The fact that motherfucking Steve Coogan uses the vegan stereotype to parallel another harmful and inaccurate stereotype about the people of Mexico illustrates the point beautifully. Just as “three rich, middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans” was neither humour nor comedy, a complete stranger publicly laughing at my friend about her diet was the same “offensive behaviour,” worn as a “badge of pride” meant to humiliate. On some level we’ve been conditioned to believe that animals are “just animals” and are therefore ours to do with what we please and those of us who choose not to eat them or their by-products are often treated with the same eye-rolling flippancy, as if we couldn’t possibly be making this choice based on any actual reality or conviction, as if we couldn’t possibly have any concrete facts, feelings or thoughts on the matter. But we do. And so do the 650 million animals who are slaughtered every year in this country for food.
I have more to say on this – see you in the next post. Thanks to my friend for letting me share her story. I hope Insufferable Stranger chokes briefly on her next serving of onion rings.