Another day, another headline about meat-eaters railing against vegans – we’ve seen this film many times.
The latest bother started when William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food magazine and a critic on BBC One’s MasterChef, replied to an email from a freelance writer who’d pitched vegan ideas for the mag. Not liking her suggestions, Sitwell fired back with one of his own: an article about ‘killing vegans, one by one’.
The mainstream media jumped all over the story and vegans were invited to get angry, as we so often are. The media loves a good barney and it’s good for business when they can get ‘experts’ to respond in the simple, stereotypical ways that readers expect – in the case of vegans, lots of righteous indignation. Some vegans obliged.
Well, I’m not playing. For a start, Sitwell, who has since resigned because of the rumpus, was kidding. It was a crap joke and one that showed sad resentment towards a growing chunk of Waitrose‘s market. But I don’t want to live in a world where you can’t make crap jokes and let off steam without being shamed by the media and losing your job.
And anyway, I actually welcome these crap jokes hurled at us. They’re a sign of how far veganism has come and how rattled people are by our progress.
It used to be different. When I first stopped eating meat as a kid in the mid-1980s, vegetarianism was rarely mentioned anywhere, and veganism even less. A family friend wrote out recipes and my bemused mum did her best to make nut cutlets. I never got teased or attacked for not eating meat, and I think that’s because vegetarianism wasn’t on the radar back then. It wasn’t a big enough issue to trouble many consciences.
Now, in 2018, more and more people are waking up. Thanks to the internet, ignorance has become a choice. Young people in particular are finding out where their dinner came from and thousands of new people are becoming vegan each month as they see the horrors of factory farms and industrial slaughter. As the movement grows, more noise is made. Most supermarkets and restaurants have exciting vegan options now. It’s never been easier. We are winning!
As a result though, traditionalists feel threatened and there’s also a backlash. A lot of veggies and vegans feel lucky if we get through a day without hearing at least one putdown — people mocking our choices, sniggering at the fact we put the welfare of others above our desire for familiar tastes or textures.
Let’s be frank: people who consume animal products are responsible for over 70 billion farmed animals being slaughtered every year – and the vast majority of these sweet creatures endure brief, painful lives in frightening, intensive factory farms.
Everywhere people look, the word ‘vegan’ is staring back at them. It’s in newspaper reports, on television programmes, magazine covers, supermarket shelves, restaurant menus, and more. Everyone knows at least one vegan now. As I said, we’re winning.
But spare a thought for the hypocrites who want to believe they love animals while they eat them. Many of us have been in that position ourselves. The discomfort of it is often a stage of the journey towards becoming vegan.
It’s the ones who feel threatened who laugh loudest, even when their jokes aren’t funny. They laugh because otherwise they’d cry. Because they’re so close to agreeing with us that they need to keep pushing us away, for fear they’ll fall in with us.
For animal-eaters, being with a vegan, particularly around a dinner table, can be very unsettling, even if the vegan doesn’t say a word about being vegan. The mere presence of someone who’s thought sincerely about the issue makes others feel compelled to justify their own choices, even if nothing has been asked of them.
As people realize they can’t even eat cheese without funding brutality and slaughter, they want to stamp out these thoughts. Rather than consider the message, they shoot the messenger. Rather than change their behavior to stop funding animal abuse, they turn on the people whose very existence reminds them of the reality they can’t (yet) bear to face.
Yes, their knee-jerk comments can be bloody annoying, but we should hear them for what they are – the rattled cries of animal-eaters who’ve realized that what they do is wrong. In my experience, those who attack vegans loudest often end up quitting meat. It’s as if that rudeness was the last cry of their beleaguered carnism.
We’ve gone mainstream and we’ve got people rattled. According to a recent study, one in eight Britons is now vegetarian or vegan. So I think we can afford to be confident in the face of the backlash.
Next time you are invited to take the role of the indignant, humorless vegan, don’t play along. Leave the pitchforks in the garden shed. Instead, welcome the jokes and putdowns with a big, confident smile. They show we’re winning.