Perhaps you’ve heard this joke before:
“How do you know someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry – they’ll tell you.”
It’s not a badly constructed joke, although one could easily replace “vegan” with “hunter”, “bacon-lover” or “meat eater”. Obviously the joke wouldn’t land in the same way because the punchline of the original joke is based on the stereotype that vegans are militant fanatics who are constantly in-your-face. Whereas hunters, bacon-lovers, and meat eaters are the accepted norm despite the fact that some of them have no qualms about being just as in-your-face about their beliefs when it comes to animals and food.
I’ve talked about stereotypes before, in particular the ones that have been placed upon vegans. As with any stereotype, it’s important not to let them define an entire group of people (or animals) not only because most of the time they are widely inaccurate, but because they can quickly become counter-productive, even dangerous. As soon as we allow a one-dimensional impression become the sum total of an entire group, species or movement, that is where defensiveness, prejudice and hatred can easily seep in, creating division rather than change.
That said, I have spoken up when I felt it necessary to and I do believe in exercising my democratic freedoms to speak up on behalf of animal suffering. As long as I’m not being a dick about it or harming my fellow human beings in the process, that is my right to do so. How someone chooses to respond to me is, frankly, not my problem.
But can I tell you something too? I didn’t expect to care this much. When I first went vegan in 2013, my intention was just to stop eating animals and anything that came from them. That’s all I wanted to do. I had no agenda and no desire to make a big deal about it or draw attention to it or blog about it or take it any further than my own kitchen. But becoming vegan, at least for me, was a game-changer. It changed everything. It changed how I viewed the world, how I viewed animals and how I viewed suffering. As someone who’d always considered myself as having a social conscience, there was nothing that opened my eyes to oppression and greed quite like learning about how animals are treated today for our food and endless products. As I have said many, many times before: what animals endure today for our food is nothing short of a horror show and we as humans have a lot to answer to.
The more I learned, the harder it became for me to remain silent. As much as I might have wished to keep my views contained within the safe harbor walls of my own home and not stick out and not rock the boat, it actually became impossible. I can only hear so many ignorant jokes. I can only listen to someone go on and on about how delicious their steak is to a certain point. I can only swallow my views for so long in front of people who never once have to worry about censoring theirs, despite the fact that ninety-nine percent of them would throw up if they knew the truth about the animal part they’d just consumed.
Eliminating animals from my plate became so much more than a change in diet. These animals became real to me; living beings whose deprivation and pain I could no longer separate from the end product being advertised to me on a menu or in a commercial. The conditions in which they live and die became something I found myself wanting to be vocal about, wanting to share, wanting to speak up for. Although I was the one who chose to become vegan, the plight of animals and speaking up for their rights ended up choosing me. I couldn’t be silent even if I wanted to – yet another surprising development to going vegan.
I leave you with a joke chef Gordon Ramsay made last month via his Twitter account. Someone asked him if he was allergic to anything. His response? “Vegans.”
My favourite comeback to him? “Funny that, I’m allergic to cruelty.”