Cheer Up, Vegan Kid

I don't eat anything squee-worthy.

“Wow,” she said. “Those vegans are really angry.”

I could only nod in agreement.

As we ambled down the sidewalk, the light breeze tossing the branches overhead in a brilliantly blue sky, I thought about her words, and how I was faintly embarrassed to have exposed my friend to such behavior. I felt, I imagine, the way most Christians feel when they see Fred Phelps on the news.

That guy? No, he doesn’t speak for me. He’s a nutjob. We’re not all like that, I promise.

Since my first forays into veganism I’ve spent a lot of time defending vegans in a similar fashion.  I’ve also spent a lot of time nodding and saying, “I know, right?”

This is not to say that well-adjusted, relaxed and groovy vegans (or Pagans) don’t exist; they absolutely do, in large numbers. But after a number of experiences with the recalcitrant jerk variety, I sort of stopped trying to find community and ran screaming into the night.

I understand the anger.  It’s hard not to feel it.  If you watch video of a slaughterhouse floor or read accounts of worker abuse and the lies spewed by Big Meat and Dairy, shock and rage are the two most obvious emotional reactions.  We’re human beings; confronted with that kind of horror, of course we want to recoil and then strike out.  We have the innate urge to protect the innocent from suffering, whether in our own species or another; we can put blinders on and stick our fingers in our ears, but most of the time if we really, really look, we at least have a damned hard time going back to business as usual.

But what to do after your eyes are opened? This is where roads diverge, and while one vegan ends up making cupcakes and meditating, another ends up throwing red paint on people walking out of KFC and wearing an “I Love Hunting Accidents” button.

Allow me to grossly generalize: Some of the most unhappy, cynical people I’ve ever met have been vegans, and they tend to take that unhappiness out on those they consider “lesser beings,” meaning meat-eaters, but also lacto-ovo vegetarians, anyone with spiritual inclinations, and anyone without at least one tattoo that will guarantee an inability to hold public office.  There’s a high average intellect among such folk, the kind that you’d associate with staunch atheists who think anyone with faith is a juvenile moron.

I’ve run into this sort of vegan over and over again, and I totally understand why people say the word “vegan” with such disdain.  Seriously: if the alternatives are being a fat, ignorant sheep who can eat whatever you want, or a miserable asshole that nobody likes except other miserable assholes, who could blame people for saying “Baaaaa?”

(Anyone who knows me knows I’m hardly a Pollyanna.  I’m a bit of a cynical bitch myself, and I treasure sarcasm. Though I’ve gotten better about it, I still tend toward the glass-half-empty.  So if I’m marveling at the depths of your negativity, wow, you’re in trouble.)

But then there are the other vegans, and from them, I draw my inspiration, as well as my hope that humanity has the capacity for great compassion as well as great happiness…if we dare to open our hearts even wider than our minds.

I am inspired by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, whose podcast Vegetarian Food for Thought was what inspired me to become vegan in the first place.  Colleen popularized the term “joyful vegan,” and it’s that label that I want to claim for myself; her writing and her podcasts are full of facts and truth, yes, but also full of hope and understanding.  She even started a website called Joyful Vegan to gather people’s stories of transformation.

I am inspired by Alicia Silverstone, actress-turned-activist behind the Kind Life, author of The Kind Diet, which embraces the idea of doing what you can as you can, and making changes in stages when you need to; her positive approach to animal rights and health are a breath of fresh air.

I am inspired by author Carol J. Adams, who wrote The Inner Art of Vegetarianism, a book on the spirituality of choosing a compassionate diet.

I am inspired by Ellen DeGeneres, one of the kindest and happiest celebrities out there, who uses her stardom to bring vegan consciousness more into the spotlight but doesn’t shove it down people’s throats.

Doubtless a lot of the more militant vegans would want to know just how being kind helps animals when the system is so huge and pervasive and can’t be brought down by niceness.  I often wonder the same thing about being militant. How many people have stopped eating meat because someone was up in his face yelling “meat is murder?” I’ve always found it much more effective to be a shining example than a dire warning. People hear you’re a vegan and they start asking questions; even if they’re tiresome questions, or even if they’re being belligerent about their own animal consumption, when has fighting jerk with jerk ever really helped?

I’d rather win people over with baked goods than guilt.  Yes, animal slaughter is needless cruelty.  Yes, the suffering of factory farmed animals is horrific.  Yes, it’s destroying the environment and injuring or killing thousands of workers every year who have no legal recourse. Yes, it foists scary genetically modified disease-causing frankenfood on an unwitting public.  I, too, have been angry about all of this. But hate rarely wins a war. All it does is alienate and poison everything it touches, including—especially–the person spewing it.

This is why I don’t debate these issues.  I write about what I believe, and I read the work of others, synthesizing my own way of living out of a dozen different paths; but I’m not interested in arguments with people who have already made up their minds and just want to vent spleen all over the internet. I do the best I can, I write about it, and I hope it inspires a few people. I have no right and no reason to spend my time verbally beating down omnivores, because it wasn’t that long ago I was one, and I still struggle trying to balance a vegan consciousness with emotional food issues and a society that makes it easy to take the low road.

I believe that, whatever my own issues may be, and however long it may take me to complete my own veg transformation, veganism is an inherently loving practice; it isn’t about what you can’t have, or what shouldn’t happen.  It’s about embracing the abundance of the Earth and making compassionate choices out of gratitude and a reverence for life. Veganism is choosing to abstain from an unnecessary cycle of cruelty and waste and saying that individual free will still means something.  I am grateful that I have the luxury of being able to choose what I eat based on ethics, not just survival; I have the freedom to do more than subsist, and I choose to pass that freedom on to creatures who aren’t so lucky. That’s a beautiful thing.

I don’t want people who’ve met me to leave and say to a friend, “Wow, that vegan was angry.”  I want them to say, “That vegan was cool. I’m really going to have to think about what she had to say…oh, and those cupcakes were awesome!”

When it comes down to it, that’s basically my manifesto:

Live compassionately. Keep trying. Eat cake.

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4 thoughts on “Cheer Up, Vegan Kid

  1. This is so true! I’ve been vegan/vegetarian for nearly my entire life. I know it’s easy to get angry about the treatment of animals and how uncaring the world seems. But it’s important to consider that lots of people do care about animals; they just find other ways to do it. They might donate to animal charities or avoid fur and leather, or adopt lots of cats and dogs. Recognizing the efforts of others is good for your emotional well-being and good for the movement as a whole!

  2. I think it’s important that people not try to militarize their food ideologies, whatever they may be, in the first place because it only ever makes people look (and feel) angry and insane. Regardless of whether you’re a carnivore or a raw vegan, it’s better for everyone to be relaxed and groovy about it rather than shoving someone’s face in your beliefs.

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