Recently I published a post that said with regard to animal rights, we need to focus on the concept of farming as a central issue rather than attacking individuals who carry out what is after all only one of many barbaric practices that serve nonvegan consumer demands. And you know what? There were scathing contradictions and attacks on the integrity of the page. I was astonished by accusations that There’s an Elephant in the Room is an ‘apologist space’ (ironically the polar opposite of the usual criticism) and that farmers are *sociopaths. All of them, apparently.
There’s a predictable pattern on social media when some circumstance concerning the consequences of nonvegan actions hits the headlines, to read vitriolic, sweeping generalisations and every insult imaginable from those who identify as ‘vegans’ as well as those ‘animal lovers’ who probably aren’t vegan, but are brimming with righteous indignation. I’m sure we’ve all read toxic tirades using words like ‘scum’, ‘evil’, about ‘people who are *cruel to animals’, and how none of them gives a shit. ‘I hate them all’, ‘How can they live with themselves?’, ‘I could never do that, I’d rather die’. Etc.
In one way, I can understand the knee-jerk behind such comments but it must also be said ‘before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.’ They are indeed fortunate who have no concept or experience of what it means to have to do whatever it takes to survive and feed one’s family in a society that has increasing contempt for the poor, for immigrants, for the physically, mentally, educationally or otherwise disadvantaged. I can only hope never to be faced with recognising how far I’d go for the sake of my children’s lives. Surprisingly the ones who seem to cop the least vitriol from the vociferous name-callers are the nonvegan shoppers, every one of whom is quietly filling their shopping trolley while paying the wages of the entire nonvegan support industry that attracts so much contempt.
And then of course we read xenophobic, racist rants about what ‘other’ people do in ‘other’ places – which is apparently so much worse than our own, ‘pleasant’, in-house brand of brutality. This is even more in evidence now as we all watch anxiously while the latest potential pandemic sweeps inexorably across the globe, following on the heels of SARS, avian flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, and the many other zoonotic diseases that are and will continue to be an inevitable consequence of the mind-blowing scale of our species’ needless exploitation of trillions of innocent nonhuman individuals every single year. Everywhere I see verbal assault and abuse, hate speech, xenophobia and racism.
Who were you? Who was I?
If you’re reading this and you were raised as a vegan, I envy you; you have a major advantage that most of us didn’t have, and you may not be able to relate to this blog. Otherwise, if you were not raised vegan but now are, I’d like you to cast your mind back to the days before that lightbulb moment. I know from personal experience that it may not be easy, because it’s such a momentous change that it’s difficult to remember the person who wore your face in those days.
When I look back to my own experience, that lead-up, the moment of decision, and the aftermath, was like no other in my life. It was a time when denial crumbled slowly at first, accelerating in the face of uncovered truths; a time I was crushed by waves of horror, disgust and shock. It was a time when I was overwhelmed with a directionless rage, physically sick with awareness of the lies I’d been told, and inescapable shame for the many innocents that I’d betrayed. It gradually dawned that every single utterance of the collected nonvegan supply industries, their advertisers and their shills, was an exercise in calculated deception. I felt unclean. I disgusted myself. Every single value that I had ever thought I had, was shown to be a lie – or at best a delusion.
But because I know who I am today, of one thing I’m absolutely certain: with access to the truth, I had the potential to change. And change I did.
The roots of anger
I’m not a saint and I don’t know anyone who is. Do I ever feel angry when others seek to justify their nonveganism with all its blood-spattered consequences? I’d be a liar to deny that I sometimes feel a surge of anger when someone is going out of their way to claim that they somehow have a right to hack and brutalise their way through the lives of the innocent to indulge unnecessary preferences.
But am I really angry at the nonvegan, or am I angry because of their uninformed rhetoric? Am I reacting to unwelcome reminders and echoes of my own smug days of ignorance?
I actually think it’s the latter. We are each our own harshest critics and the person whose failures have caused me the most distress, is myself. Each of us has to face ourself in the mirror. Go on. Please take a deep breath, look at yourself, and ask, ‘Who were you before you were vegan? What were you like? What did you think?’
Well, who were you before you were vegan?
We had been raised to believe that what we were doing was normal, necessary and essential for our wellbeing, and this lie was reinforced by everyone and everything around us as we grew. Yet like me, I guess that many readers will be saying without fear of contradiction that they will be vegan until their dying breath. Yes? Which means that somewhere along the line something happened to make us change.
Bearing in mind that the majority of our species still sincerely believe as we did, we must realise that there are vast and powerful vested interests spending billions on advertising to ensure that their hideous money-making propaganda is not questioned. Sometimes there’s an assumption that those who facilitate and support the nonveganism of consumers, do so deliberately, with knowledge that their customers lack; the knowledge that nonveganism is unnecessary, the knowledge that nonveganism is immoral, the knowledge that nonveganism is unhealthy and the knowledge that nonveganism is environmentally catastrophic. So do they actually possess that knowledge? Well, maybe some do – but the rest ..? I suspect that their main concern is to make money. My observations suggest that knowledgeable ones are few and far between. Yet for me and probably you too, whatever our upbringing, our education, our job or profession, our background, we all fell for the hype. We. Never. Questioned. Anything. We were nonvegans like every other person we knew.
So still thinking about ourselves when we weren’t vegan, were we ‘scum’? Were we ‘evil’? Did we just not give a shit about our victims? Or were we just ignorant, needing the truth to make us change?
And here’s another thought. Few of us have had the joy of seeing every member of our beloved family becoming vegan despite our efforts. Are they ‘scum’? ‘Evil’? Our mothers, our fathers, our siblings; do we hate them all? Some of you possibly do, but for most of us, it’s one of the most upsetting things about living in line with our values; the constant reminders that our (still) loved ones don’t understand and share what to us is the most important thing there is to know about us.
Who do YOU actually blame for your previous nonveganism?
Given that we all come into the world as innocent infants, whose fault was it that we weren’t vegan? Was it our parents, or farmers, or medical professionals, or scientists, or leather shoe or upholstery makers; was it fur coat makers, sheep shearers, bee keepers, fishermen, silk makers, zoo owners, horse or greyhound racers, the TV, the newspapers? Was it? Did they all know something they were keeping from us?
I can’t see how. As the majority still does, every single one of them had bought into a cultural mythology that reinforced what we were all taught, and facilitated our own unchallenging nonveganism right up to that moment when veganism knocked on our door and we saw it for the truth that it is. And because we can’t pinpoint where the blame lies, we have to consider that most nonvegans are in the exact same position that we once were ourselves. They are, in all honesty, ourselves as we were at an earlier time in our lives.
The doer and the deed
And this comes back round to the point where I began. As someone who spends almost every moment trying to think of new ways to persuade the nonvegans of the world to just stop the horrors that they spend so much time, effort and money committing and be vegan, I’m surprised to be called an apologist. I’ve written reams about how I have absolutely no right to excuse and no right to forgive any nonvegan actions on behalf of even one of my species’ victims. I’m uncompromising about the need for veganism and nothing less. I’ve been called all sorts of things but never ‘apologist’. Because I’m not.
But I do believe that every single one of us needs to separate the doer from the deed. We can all despise nonveganism in all its vile manifestations, without personally despising every nonvegan on the planet. We can even despise the actions of our loved ones without hating and loathing them; while still hoping and trying to find the key that will open the lock of the ignorance we once shared with them.
When we address the deeds that are committed in the name of nonveganism by cursing, abusing, insulting and denigrating nonvegans, it isn’t helping a single one of our victims as they stand quaking, awaiting their turn with the saws and the blades in the slaughterhouse. We need to remember that common ground that we share with almost every nonvegan and help them realise – as we did – why our victims want to live unharmed and deserve to do so. And then we need to shine a light for them to illuminate the path we took ourselves, the one that got us out of the dark and gory nonvegan hell-hole of our upbringing.
Apologist: – someone who argues in favour of or defends an unpopular belief or system
Sociopath– someone who has antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with ASPD can’t understand others’ feelings. They’ll often break rules or make impulsive decisions without feeling guilty for the harm they cause
*I’m not going to repeat the essay here but the word ‘cruel‘ is highly problematic because it means such different things to different people.