As a vegan I often get treated like I am some kind of “fringe dweller” instead of a person who has made an ethical and informed choice about what I eat.
I am continually forced to apologise and explain myself. And then I am told to shut up.
What I experience is a form of social exclusion whereby I am asked to explain myself, but only so I can be judged or ridiculed. Those questioning me are usually not prepared to listen to what I say or engage critically with the issues raised.
And this is cross-sectional, including many of the academics I have worked with.
It is surprising how many well-educated people, who make a living out of thinking critically and subversively, can suddenly start arguing that plants feel pain and that animals are not self-conscious.
This situation is not helped by some media representations of vegans. A 2007 British study by researchers Mathew Cole and Karen Morgan canvassed 397 articles with the words vegan, vegans and veganism. Cole and Morgan published their findings in 2011, demonstrating that vegans were variously constructed in these newspapers as vitriolic extremists, sentimentalists or faddists.
Media is a powerful shaper of social norms. In my view, it has a responsibility to regulate bias so as not to support the derogatory narratives that make vegans look weird.
As Tiffany Lowana, the associate editor of online magazine The Scavenger, reports: “The media is maligning the experience of veganism. Vegans are variously moulded into kooky, tree-hugging ‘health freaks’ or hysterical, misinformed cult members”.
So are all vegans either addicted to a health fad or members of some weird cult? If these are the only stereotypes of vegans you are comfortable with then I would like to take this opportunity to unsettle them.
The bottom line for most vegans is a stand against animal cruelty, although it can also be for environmental or health reasons. We have a good case for all of these arguments, but in my view the animal cruelty one is the most compelling. No animal walks willingly to his or her death.
They say you cannot win an argument with a vegan because you are arguing not with the vegan, but with your own conscience. So let me apologise and put all our arguments to rest.
If you are not vegan then I am sorry. I am sorry that you are not able to give up your cherished cultural traditions to become vegan. I know there are cultural traditions that mean people like to eat meat, eggs and milk. I am reminded of this regularly by my critics.
I am sorry that your pavlova at Christmas is more important than the suffering of a caged hen. I am sorry to the hen.
Yes, I know I used to eat meat, dairy and eggs and I’m sorry. No, I’m not sorry to you, as I don’t care if humans judge me for this while they continue to consume cruelty. I am sorry to the animals I hurt and I am sorry for my betrayal of them. I knew better and I ignored it.
But this does not mean I am somehow a fake vegan now. It does not indicate that I now feel I am better than you. And it does not mean I have to explain why I no longer want to eat animal products.
Because I don’t owe humans any excuse, apology or explanation. I owe it to the animals I hurt.
Lastly I am sorry vegans have become a source of entertainment for those who wish to proclaim loudly and proudly that their taste buds are more important than the suffering of animals.
The only time I don’t have to apologise is when someone apologises to me for eating animal meat or secretions in front of me. So many apologies. Please save your breath because I am not the one you need to apologise to. Reserve it for the animals that are hurt.