Just because PETA sucks doesn’t mean all vegans do.
When I first posted the above-linked article one commenter wrote: “PETA is the Westboro Baptist Church of animal welfare. They’re nothing but professional trolls who have figured out how to make a living being assholes.”
I recently reposted the piece, because, surprise, PETA was in the news for being dicks again, and while I was in the gym some militant vegan came along and wrote that I was a hypocrite because I am cruel to animals. When I got back, I saw that the thread had close to a hundred comments.
It had rapidly degraded into a full-blown war of words between people asking her to justify her claim, and her using the typical “meat is murder” talking points. I didn’t read them all, but her replies I saw dripped that sanctimony of “I’m better than you because I don’t consume animal products” that some vegans are known for. I scanned through then dropped in the link to my “Eat This Motherfucking Cheeseburger” recipe as a reply. Within minutes, she dirty deleted.
Being vegan is fine. As I wrote here, it can be done well and impart health benefits. In it, I quoted my friend Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who told me, “Eating vegan is something that we are allowed to do, and I’m not going to judge anyone on the basis of their diet. If they like it and it’s helping them live healthier or feel better about themselves or their effect on the environment, then good for them.”
I agree, except when a person makes unscientific claims about a diet or claiming that this diet is best for everyone. Then I start judging like mad.
A lot of my ire regarding dietary pseudoscience and zealotry has targeted those pushing low carb and keto diets. Comparatively, I’ve only ever gone attack mode on vegans once, and that was my “Open Letter to Militant Vegans.” That latter piece was about how militants fail to convince anyone of the merits of veganism—and in fact have the opposite effect, much like PETA does—by being sanctimonious asswipes who most people would rather fling into the sun for a vegan BBQ.
Plenty of vegans liked both the articles about PETA and the piece about the militants. They’re the silent majority who proclaim, “We’re not with them.”
Some vegans are chill. You might not even know they’re vegan. They’re just minding their business, doing their thing for their own reasons. Others are outrageous assholes throwing fake blood and filling your Facebook feed with bullshit images of flayed sheep who look like they were sheared by a blindfolded spider monkey on a meth bender.
But veganism is not a bimodal distribution of cool people and ass wagons; it’s more of a continuum.
Some aren’t militant, yet still have that smug sense of superiority, that sanctimony that they’re somehow better than others. If this is you, know that being vegan doesn’t make you special. And yet, so many like to blather endlessly about how special it makes them. This writer for The Guardian, who went vegan a year previous, wrote a piece titled “Why Vegans have to Always Tell You They’re Vegan.” Her explanation involves the allegedly amazing health benefits, increased energy, finding of a community, and how “every meal is guilt-free.”
Okay … Except all those things are easily found without going vegan.
If you go from a shit diet to a well-planned vegan diet, you’re going to be healthier and feel better. But you can get the same results by going to a better omnivorous diet. What about community? Ever hear anyone go on endlessly about CrossFit? And there are plenty of people bonding over low carb and keto. They have the ability to get just as cult-like. Hell, people bond over My Little Pony.
Also, every meal I eat is already guilt-free, and I had cow for dinner last night, and eggs this morning. It’s guilt-free because I feel zero remorse over consuming animal products; neither does the majority of the population.
And douchey vegans who compare eating meat to slavery, or to the Holocaust, aren’t going to change my mind. Beyond that, there are specific reasons why being vegan doesn’t make you any better a human that those who consume animal products.
Let’s take a look …
The High Failure Rate of Vegetarianism and Veganism
A study of over 11,000 people found that 84% of vegetarians give up on the diet, and 70% of vegans go back to consuming animal products. Many are choosing to go vegan for ethical reasons, but it seems the call of the critter is strong, because over two-thirds of them soon sacrifice those ideals in favor of a Baconator.
Part of it has to do with the puritanical nature of the diet, the all or none thinking. A recent example of this is the story of vegan YouTube personality Tim Shieff, who admitted that he’d returned to eating meat, and was then ousted from the vegan clothing company he founded for having dared bring “dishonor” to it, or something.
Such extremist thinking in the vegan community can also cost lives. Another recent story is that of Mari Lopez. She said that a vegan diet cured her of cancer. But it turns out, it didn’t. Because she just died. Of cancer.
(Side note: Read my piece “Shut the Fuck Up about Your Bullshit Cancer ‘Cure’.”)
The Paltry Environmental Effects
I worry about climate change more than anything else. I imagine the world being left for my children and their (possible) children and think, They’re so fucked.
And going vegan can have a positive effect, but not a significant one. Because only 9% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. are due to agriculture. More important is that a 2017 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found that switching to animal free agriculture would reduce total US GHG emissions by a mere 2.6%.
Those who vote for politicians who are interested in cleaner forms of energy can have a much more positive impact on reducing the harm from climate change. We need sweeping, country and planet-wide solutions. The odd person going vegan (and probably failing at it) isn’t going to make hardly any difference.
Pushing Veganism is Culturally Insensitive
Humanity has a long history of bonding over “the hunt” or “the catch.” Communities worked together to obtain this highly favored source of sustenance and distributed the food amongst the collective. Such cooperative food acquisition played an important role in shaping modern civilization.
Across the millennia the consuming of meat has been a binding force for humanity, and to this day many cultures place great emphasis on their ability to provide meat for their families. The other day I was cooking a roast beef, and I prepare it in such a way it makes the house smell wonderful. My daughter walked in the door after hours of karate training and blurted out, “Holy fuck it smells good in here.”
It’s not just the taste of meat I like, but the pleasure of a family meal that is focused around a carefully prepared, meat-focused dish. Like Homer said, “You don’t win friends with salad.”
Well, perhaps you do, because vegan dating is a thing, and that’s fine. But the expectation that being vegan makes people somehow better dismisses the strong cultural aspect of how human society has evolved while using the eating of meat as a form of celebration to bind us closer together.
Perhaps you can win friends with salad, but you don’t endear yourself to the majority of the population by alienating them from their culture and saying they should completely overhaul the way they eat.
The Privilege. Oh, the Privilege
I’ve spoken to many vegans about the challenges of doing the diet well. It’s time-consuming. It takes a lot of effort. It’s not the simple flipping of a switch; it can be an ordeal. If you’re working two jobs and barely making ends meet, it’s a significant challenge to take on the additional burden of making sure you don’t consume any animal products.
This piece, which explains why veganism is primarily a Caucasian diet, states, “If you’re living such a safe, supported life that you can put the needs of animals before the needs of your community, that’s a privilege.” The author, an African American vegan, explains that racism is exhausting, and it’s hard to care about animal welfare when you’re more concerned about “systematic imprisonment of males in their community” or always being followed through department stores because of the color of your skin.
Regardless of race, there is also the reality that lower socio-economic status communities aren’t going to have a lot of vegan options at their food establishments.
The Dismissal of Alternatives
I wrote a piece in 2018 titled “One Day We Will All Be Vegan.” I don’t know when that day will be, but it’s logical that scientific advancement will eventually make it feasible that meat alternatives will appear and taste indistinguishable from the real thing. Couple this with it being cheaper, safer, and healthier, and the market will decide. Meat eating will slowly fade away.
Some vegans weren’t too pleased with the piece. Perched on a moral high horse, they don’t want technology or market dynamics to make veganism a reality, they want us to choose to do it because it is supposedly right. They even criticize plant products made to mimic meat, because it’s somehow wrong to even pretend to eat animals. All or none. My vegan highway or you can fuck all the way off then fuck off some more.
One commenter suggested meat eaters should commit suicide. He called me a “meat cuck,” whatever that is. These people are so wrapped up in their identity as vegans that they see total restriction as the only solution.
This is despite the fact that for many people, switching to a semi-vegetarian “flexitarian” diet is shown to decrease body weight, improve numerous health markers, alleviate certain medical conditions, and is MUCH easier to adhere to.
Individual veganism is fine as a concept. If that’s what you want to do, go big. I’ll encourage you to investigate how to do it well, and perhaps consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in vegan diets to maximize your health. It’s the promotion of universal veganism that makes it problematic: the sanctimonious proselytizing, the constant efforts to win converts via shaming and alleging how changing diets will make them a better person.
As already mentioned, many vegans aren’t fond of the sanctimony either. They are vegan for their own reasons and don’t think what they choose to eat makes them better than anyone else.
Be like that. Realize that veganism doesn’t make you special. You’re not saving the world. Trying to force your diet on others isn’t winning you converts.
Eyes on your own fucking plate.
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James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.