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Fully-fledged meat-eaters sometimes complain that they feel judged by vegans but in reality some vegans are too busy judging a different group of people.
The folk who seem to really rile vegans are those who’ve started the journey towards veganism but haven’t yet made it all the way. Flexitarians are mocked. Vegetarians are sneered at. Both are treated as enemies of the vegan community.
I understand the impulse. I’ve written that flexitarians are people ‘who think slaughtering animals is only acceptable on some days of the week‘.
And because I think dairy is the cruellest industry of all, I’ve often wondered why vegetarians can’t see that by eating cheese they are as responsible for the slaughter of cows as those who eat beef. It seems so obvious and simple, doesn’t it?
So when Simon Amstell’s superb film Carnage imagined a future in which the Meat-Free Monday concept would seem ‘as offensive as ethnic cleansing free Tuesday’, I smiled and nodded my head in recognition.
Sentiments like that are awkward for veggies and flexis, but there are also some facts that are uncomfortable for us vegans.
The rise of the flexitarian
Britain’s butchers are closing at a rate of knots but it turns out that we can’t claim the credit. Explaining the closures, industry spokesman Matt Southam pointed out that ‘when you get down to the pure numbers of people that are vegan, the numbers are very, very small’.
Instead, he explained: “What is having an effect is flexitarianism – those making a reduction, maybe one less meal a fortnight or one less meal a month.”
It’s a similar story with the rise in sales of meat-free ready-meals. The market has noticed that it’s not vegans, nor even vegetarians, behind this rise – it’s the meat reducers.
The head of Quorn, Kevin Brennan, said of his company: “10 years ago it was very much a vegetarian consumer base, but now 75 percent of our consumers aren’t vegetarian. They’re what we call a meat reducer. It’s the fastest growing food category.”
So whether we like it or not, it’s not us heroic vegans that are keeping the slaughter bosses awake at night, it’s those bloody flexis!
And look, the concept of the ‘meat-reducer’ gets on my tits as much as anyone’s but I also think that when we get on our (plant-based) high horses about all this many of us are showing we have short memories.
How many vegans can say we went straight from eating meat, dairy and eggs to absolute veganism overnight? Sure, some made the move immediately but for most it was a gradual process. We spent time in that in-between phase ourselves.
Cows are my favorite animals, but I was once a proud vegetarian who didn’t realize that by consuming dairy I was paying for them to be abused and killed. Luckily, the first vegans I met were wonderful, smart people who, rather than judge me for my contradictions, saw the sincerity lurking behind my confused position and helped me over the line.
I’ve met other vegans who weren’t so fortunate. They were stuck at vegetarianism for years because any vegans they encountered were so rude and judgemental to them that they felt repelled by the whole thing.
You could argue that anyone who really cares about animals and the planet shouldn’t care how vegans speak to them, they should just go plant-based regardless. But life is rarely as smooth as that and people aren’t perfect – not even us.
The simple reality is that once someone starts reducing their meat intake the chances of them becoming vegan goes up. But if vegans mock or sneer at them, the chances will usually go down again.
When we engage with flexis and veggies, we can use the experience to feel better about ourselves, or we can use it to warmly encourage them to go vegan. I know which approach the animals would prefer us to take.?
PS – I’m speaking at Brighton Vegfest on Saturday March 23. In an interview with Maria Chiorando of Plant Based News, I’ll talk about what it’s like to write about veganism in the mainstream media. My event is at 1pm in the ‘performance and panels’ room on the ground floor. Come!