We’ve all heard of them. In the workplace, at school, on the street. They’re everywhere! Read the comments section on any news piece having to do with animal rights, and you’ll find all manner of people complaining about the nuisance of preachy vegans.
The problem, it seems, is that meat-eaters are just always being accosted by evangelical vegans, forcing their world-view down the meat-eating throats of nice, innocent people simply trying to go about their business. Veganism in these contexts is often compared to proselytizing religions, aggressive salespeople, or otherwise bothersome and pushy ideologues.
Personally, I’m a bit sick of it. Not the pushy vegans, mind you. But the myth of the pushy vegans. I, personally, have rarely seen either a vegan or a vegetarian confront someone directly about their meat eating — and when it does happen, it’s never out of nowhere. I’ve never seen vegan canvassers, vegan’s handing out literature at subway stations, or vegans shouting at people through megaphones. It’s not that these things don’t happen — maybe they do. But it’s certainly no epidemic. And really, would it be so bad?
The great irony about the whole thing is that every day when I leave my house (or even before then, sometimes) I’m bombarded with images of meat and people eating meat and proclamations to the greatness of meat eating without any consideration given to the horrific realities of animal agriculture. Everywhere I go, animal products and implements for cooking and eating them are on sale and on display. It’s not vegans who are controlling the public messaging here. When you leave your house, you aren’t confronted with an endless panoply of vegan advertisements and images. But you don’t ever hear anyone talk about the multi-billion dollar factory farming industry as being preachy.
Most vegans actually don’t bring their veganism up around strangers. What usually happens, though, is that someone will offer a cupcake, or an omelette’s, or a chicken wing. Nine times out of ten, as soon as such an offering is refused, there’s a follow up. “Oh you’re vegan? Why’s that?” or “I was vegan for x years until I learned blah blah blah” or “You’re a vegan? Well don’t you care about all the mice that get killed on farms every year?” etc, etc, etc.
If you’re a vegan, you often have to be on the defensive about your ethical choices, because every time they get brought up, someone will explain to you why they aren’t vegans and therefore why you shouldn’t be, either. But the moment you express the rationale for your dietary decisions, you become the dreaded “preachy vegan”. Suddenly you’re telling everyone else how to live their lives. Which is why, contrary to the stereotype, many vegans and vegetarians would just prefer not to discuss the issue at all. And that’s a shame, because we should all be thinking about the ethical consequences of our behavior.
If you’re a vegan, there’s one phrase above all that you’ll become exhaustingly familiar with. And that is the phrase “but meat TASTES SO GOOOOD!”. This is something that comes up all the time in any sort of discussion about the ethics of eating meat. And this gets to the heart of the whole preachy vegan myth. For most people, veganism is a choice that was consciously taken in accordance with certain ethical values. The same can’t be said for almost anyone who eats meat. People are born and raised eating meat in a meat-eating culture. Therefore, meat-eating isn’t even recognized as being a decision or a lifestyle. And so meat-eaters can’t be considered preachy, because they don’t even qualify as being a group. I’ve never met anyone for whom eating meat is an ethical decision — that is, a decision which they made explicitly because of some sort of moral principle, rather than custom, habit, or personal pleasure (it tastes so good!)
This is the psychology of dominant groups. It’s why North American’s don’t think they have “a culture”, and it’s why people think everyone else has accents but they don’t.
This isn’t something that’s unique to vegans. People are dismissed anytime they challenge dominant ideologies (which are almost by definition never even recognized as being ideologies at all). And so parents who want to raise their kids outside of the typical gender paradigms are criticized for “brainwashing” their kids, while conventional parents are free to buy highly gendered toys for their children without being accused of manipulation.
A lot of vegans and vegetarians don’t speak out about their ethical positions, because they’re sick of having to always be on the defensive about it. But it’s not just a dietary choice or a “lifestyle choice” — it’s a commitment to end suffering. And if that’s not worth talking about, then what is? I personally would love it if meat eating were challenged on a regular basis. But as a matter of fact, it isn’t. If anyone is preachy, it sure isn’t the vegans.