Imagine you’re drowning in a pool surrounded by people. Do you cry out, splash and do whatever you can to attract help? Or do you politely and self-consciously raise your hand, hoping someone will notice?
What if a kid has fallen onto the train track and a train is coming? Do you shout and wave and try to stop the driver? Or do you worry people might think you’re overreacting?
Extreme situations require extreme responses. When there’s an urgent situation – such as a threat to life – we’ll usually go the extra mile and do what needs to be done. We drop our vanity and stop worrying what people will think of us. And while it seems obvious to say that, I still see a lot of vegans worrying they’ll seem ‘too extreme’ if they talk openly about the slaughter of 70 billion land animals each year, and the countless fish and sea creatures.
There was a time when I got a few pats on the back for not being ‘one of those’ vegans. Friends told me I was ‘okay’ because I didn’t ‘bang on’ about it. And that annoyed me because I knew they were really saying: “My conscience isn’t being unsettled, so I can continue eating flesh without feeling bad.”
Well, I soon became ‘one of those vegans’. I rediscovered my passion for activism, raising issues and making a fuss – and fundraising for animal sanctuaries, which I think are so important. I’ve also been writing some grisly exposes for national newspapers, highlighting what really happens in the meat and dairy industries, beyond the branding and marketing spin.
The ‘right kind’ of vegan’?
It would have been easier to accept praise from animal-eaters for being the ‘right kind’ of vegan, but I’ve never gone looking for an easy life. I’d rather tell the truth – and that’s bound to unsettle some consciences when our species is doing truly awful things.
We’re in the middle of a very extreme situation. Increasingly over the last 100 years, our species has mechanized the breeding and killing of our animal cousins. Now they’ll sell a bird’s wings for a few pennies. A baby sheep’s leg. Whole pigs hacked apart. Billions of them who only knew their cage and then the slaughter room. Dairy farms where the baby’s milk is stolen. Egg factories where hens are used as machines.
Of course it seems extreme. What’s happening *is* extreme. If it doesn’t seem extreme, you’re playing it down.
Tricked into silence
We mustn’t be tricked into silence. It’s like with the term ‘snowflake’. In some circles, the moment someone suggests a more compassionate approach to anything, a boor pops up to call them a ‘snowflake’. And now there’s ‘fake news’ too. If you reveal an uncomfortable fact in 2019, some prat is bound to shout ‘fake news’ at you.
The people shouting ‘snowflake’, or ‘fake news’ or ‘vegan extremist’ are doing it to try and shut you down. They hope you’ll keep quiet next time. And it’s an effective strategy in our image-conscious era, when it seems more and more people are obsessed with themselves and their ‘personal brand’.
But I’ll say it again: extreme situations require extreme responses. While billions of animals are being enslaved, abused and exploited, we mustn’t be afraid to upset the status quo. When would women have got the vote if they’d all been polite about it and asked nicely?
Let people call us what they like. It’s about getting them to think more about the animals they eat and the ethics of that. What they think about us doesn’t matter.
So I say ignore their insults and keep telling the truth. Have facts and links to share. It doesn’t matter if you get labeled as an extremist for simply telling the truth. It only matters that you keep going!