As a vegan myself, I understand why non-vegans tend to be put off whenever they hear someone say “Oh I’m vegan…”. It is obnoxious when others try to preach and force their lifestyle on to others, and when people first go vegan it’s all they want to do. I was guilty of it even before I fully went vegan (so I was just an obnoxious hypocrite at that point). In their defense (and my own), the stark realization of the possibility of eating guilt free is truly life-changing and that’s why most vegans stick with it. It’s also why they want to share their realization to everyone they meet.
In reality, this is not an effective method to try to reach out to people. Most people don’t like being told that what they have been doing their whole lives is wrong and that they should stop. This is understandable of course, it’s very difficult to make such a sudden change to one’s routine, especially when it concerns something so vital and personal as our food choices.
For many people, food is a huge part of a person’s culture, or religion, so it can be very jarring to suddenly be told “you should stop eating that,” especially since many of us in the U.S. struggle to hold on to our culture as is. However, there are aspects of certain cultures that are a bit outdated and can be omitted from one’s practices, so who’s to say that consuming animal products is not one of those things?
As a Hindu, I know there are practices where we are supposed to pour milk over a deity’s statue. Though it is very symbolic, it does not make sense to continue doing this. At this point, it is just a waste of milk and in a country with millions of malnourished people, it’s pretty disrespectful. There are plenty of other practices that are just as symbolic and perfectly fine to do and maybe this one can still be done. Instead of milk maybe something less wasteful could be used instead. There are other ways to hold on to a part of your culture and honor a deity without harming other beings and the planet in the process.
A big reason why many people completely shut down conversations about veganism is the simple fact that it is an uncomfortable topic. No one wants to hear about something so grim like the conditions and mechanisms of slaughterhouses and milking parlors (or stanchion barns). But, just because people don’t want to hear about it or watch the disturbing videos of them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Avoiding the subject doesn’t make it magically go away. Our relationship with animals is one that needs to be addressed because how we treat beings that are considered “lesser” than ourselves, says more about who we are than how we treat our equals (other humans) or superiors (such as religious figures). I’ve become more interested in the religion I was raised on and though it allows me to consume dairy products. I know that that does not mean I must consume them, especially since the conditions in which those dairy products are manufactured are much different today than they were thousands of years ago when Hinduism started.
I understand that it’s difficult to face these harsh realities, and it’s hard to grasp all of them in one go. It took me three years to fully commit to veganism because it is difficult and I only had to give up dairy products since I was already raised vegetarian. Certain foods are a staple in people’s lives and it’s hard to cut them out so suddenly. Many don’t go vegan right away, most people try vegetarian diets as a transitioning stage, but it can also just be an end goal.
If it is possible to cut meat and dairy out for just a few days in the week, it will make a tremendous difference on the environment, the number of animals effected, and your own personal well-being. We live in a world where it has never been easier to go vegan given all of the meat substitutes available and the many vegan/vegetarian dining options. Cheaper, plant-based options are finally more available now and if you can plan it right, you can prepare a whole week’s worth of food with just a few vegetables without breaking your bank account.
That being said, many people still cannot afford to go plant-based (or do not have the time since it is a lot of meal-prep and time management). There are too many people around the world who live hand to mouth and are struggling to make ends meet as is and, to me, it is just rude to try to force such a restrictive diet on them.
At the end of the day, people need to assess their own lifestyles and determine on their own if going vegan is feasible and available to them. There is no need to preach about your lifestyle simply because you consider it “life changing.” It is much better and more effective to lead by example, and let others come to you about the subject rather than force it on them.
When I told my family about wanting to go vegan, they laughed at me and thought I was being too extreme. Then they did their own research and realized it was not extreme at all, if anything it just made sense. But again, we have the privilege to be able to do that and it is not within our right to try to ask others to do so simply because we can.
So, go vegan, vegetarian, or stay as is. But I do implore everyone to still learn about where your food is coming from. We could all be a little more conscious about what we consume and what industries we support. I still slip up every now and then, but when I do it is just a learning moment to be more attentive about what I am consuming. It’s important to not be so hard on ourselves and others, everyone is just trying their best and that’s what matters the most.
If anyone is new to this kind of material and is interested in learning more, here are some books and a documentary that first opened my eyes to this topic. There are plenty of more books, shows, and documentaries on these sorts of things, these are just the ones I started out with and found very helpful:
What the Health (available on Netflix)