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Shit people say to vegans

July 25, 2016

You’re so awkward / difficult!

We know that we cause problems for other people and we don’t know how to not cause problems. We have our own ethics, and there is no escaping the fact that we think we are right, and you are wrong.

That said, many of us do not want to push our beliefs down your throat when you are inviting us out. For that reason, many of us are unlikely to remind you that we are vegan and ask for any special catering.

Instead, we will go hungry, surreptitiously bring in and nibble our own food down isolated corridors, or lurk around the peanuts all night. Anything to avoid the conflict we get for needing to eat, with our Perverted Ways.

Bear in mind, veganism is an ethic, and an ethic is a religion without the mysticism and lack of underlying tangible facts. So, you’re really dissing a religion, and saying it’s awkward. Imagine you asked a Muslim to face West for a change, because facing Mecca is inconvenient to you, and they’re just being difficult.

If you wouldn’t cater for omnivores, don’t expect them to cater for you.

See the religion thing, above. You’re the versatile one, supposedly. If you can’t go one meal without eating your preferred foods out of some absurd notion of fairness or principle, there’s something wrong with you. Determinedly doing something just to bust other people’s chops because you think they’re wrong is not a principle. It is pure jerkwadery.

You can’t go to a Jew or Muslim household and tell them to give you bacon because you’re not a Jew or a Muslim. It’s their house. If you don’t like what’s on offer, so much that you simply can’t stand to be in the presence of those evil non-pork eaters a moment longer, then by all means, be off with you.

There is, after all, no contractual obligation for you the guest to eat something for the sake of someone else because of their religion. If you don’t want to eat any of the food on offer, then don’t. Go hungry for stubbornness, never try any new and delicious food that you would otherwise never try. I’m sure it’s totally worth it. After all, you’re making a heroic stand for the vague notion of normality. And if you won’t, who will?

I think what surprises me most about this point of view is how it’s presented to me as though I’ll be missing out on some great treat if the speaker does not come to my house. If you won’t respect my values, I don’t want you there. Obviously.

Incidentally, I don’t “expect people to cater for” me. Based on long experience, I actually assume that they won’t. Omnivores love the myth of the bullish vegan who bursts into other people’s houses and demands a tofu sundae. The reality is us meekly eating lettuce leaves you have presented to us as an afterthought.

I find most vegans sanctimonious. It’s like they’re trying to better than the rest of us!

It’s like we’re trying to better than the rest of you? Well, of course we’re trying to be better than the rest of you! That’s the whole point; the status quo sucks, and we don’t want to be a part of it. However, there is a self-contradictory idea at work here; that we both want to convert everyone to veganism, and be members of an elitist club of sandal-wearing moralisers.

Anyone can see the paradox, there. Obviously, if we successfully convert everyone, there is no one left to be better than. And this will be very upsetting for us, because we no longer have anyone to look down our noses at, which as everyone knows, is the main point of being vegan. Being vegan is entirely about humans – what humans think, what humans feel. Animals, what are those? 

“Sanctimonious” is a shaming word used by sneering people to disregard anyone who has a strong moral value that is not their own. It is a worthless word, because it pretends to be objective when there is actually nothing more subjective than it. Similar to “pretentious”, it places a value judgement on difficult concepts, like taste and choice, that is not justified by reason. 

As for me, I would rather have strong morals and run the risk of coming off as sanctimonious than purposefully shun them all and end up completely shallow.

Oh really, you’re a vegan? That’s so cool!

Veganism isn’t a hippy cult. For that matter, neither was being a hippy, back in the day. It’s nice that you think we’re cool rather than sad, that we’re pioneering or thoughtful rather than mad or stupid, but being praised for veganism makes us feel like we’re on display, a kind of entertainment for normal people.

Notable other groups who get this are those with variant sexualities, followers of far left politics such as anarchism, or followers of Buddhism or similar smaller faith / philosophy systems. We may seem interesting and it might be gratifying to be thought of as such, but we are serious about what we believe. There’s a difference between being interested in hearing the reasoning behind the belief and being fascinated by the concept. The latter is a bit over the top.

Be aware also, that if you tell a vegan they are “so cool”, the first thing they will wonder is: “If it’s so cool, why don’t you try it?”

You’re not like the other vegans / You seem too X / don’t seem X enough to be vegan.

Oh, but I am like the others. I believe human beings should not eat animal products. How much more like “the others” do I have to be? And for that matter, which “others” are you talking about – sandal-wearing, asparagus-obsessed hipsters who live in communes? Never met any vegans like that.

Saying I’m not like the others is a backhanded compliment. You’re saying I’m OK as a person because I’m not aligned with the stereotypes associated with the believers of the concept you don’t agree with, which by implication means you disrespect the concept itself. Contradictory stereotypes, I might add. We’re uptight hippies. Did you ever hear of such a thing?

It suggests that you think that these superficial aspects of a “typical” vegan are more worth paying attention to than the underlying values and their worth. Ultimately, you’re saying that my people are worse than your people, and Thank God I’m more like your people than my people. Well, I disagree on all counts.

Consider this, instead: I am like the next vegan; your stereotypes are empty; and if you knew other vegans personally as you know me, you would like them as well. Our personalities are not entirely defined by our political beliefs. Just like the next person, our sense of humour and temperament varies. Moreover, most people are fairly likeable.

It’s your choice and everything, but it’s a bit extreme for me.

Hmmmm.

What you mean is that it is an unwelcome change which takes you out of your comfort zone. People often describe the ethic itself as extreme, falling short of the rudeness of calling me extreme, even though it amounts to the same thing.

But in doing so, they anthropomorphise the act, and separate themselves further from it. Suddenly, it does not become about them, and their nature, or their choice of action. We should remember: The concept of veganism is not extreme; only people can be extreme, or not.

Extremity is usually defined by behaviour, not lack of behaviour. Veganism in practice is about abstinence. Abstinence is only considered extreme by people with no self-control, who simply cannot see the value in giving something up for a good that extends beyond your health or pleasure. Vegans are not extreme, because we’re laying back and saying: “It’s cool man, I don’t need death and dismemberment. I’ve got fruit.”

Why do you want to push your ideas of the world onto other people?

For the same reason you do, and why everyone else in the world does: Because I think I am right.

You don’t criticise groups of people you like or feel neutrally towards for the same level of “pushing”, suggesting a strong resistance specifically to veganism which is disguised by general moralistic statements about “indoctrination” and all manner of other behaviours you don’t see, provided they are undertaken by your approved groups.

The perfect parable is a Tumblr post, whereby one user said they hated the indoctrination of children by parents taking them to gay pride, and a respondent used their exact words to criticise the activity of taking children to church. We have to accept that it is not indoctrination that we mind at all, nor is it preachiness or pushiness. Most of the time, it is other people’s views themselves that we object to. We are universally intolerant.

I respect your choice and everything, but X isn’t X/Y without Z.

Talking about food stuffs now. “A roast isn’t a meal without meat,” or “A pizza isn’t a pizza without cheese.” It’s not of grave importance or anything, but this reasoning does tend to sideline us from your conversations. You say you love pizza. I say “Me, too.” And, knowing I’m vegan, you say, “Sorry, but a pizza just isn’t a pizza without cheese.”

Thus, no longer can we bond over our pizza experience. Which is a touch ironic, because my friends often complain about not being able to bond with me over our food. In reality, it’s them that’s stopping us, not me. I love the roast potatoes that make up a roast, and I love the baked tomato flatbread that makes up my pizza.

I resent the idea that words mean only what the non-vegan majority say they mean. I get to define words and their meanings my way, because if I can’t, I am effectively silenced, pushed out of the common language that allows us to effectively communicate. Would you honestly have me call a pizza “baked tomato flatbread with vegetable topping” every single time? Quite apart from sounding clunky and pretentious, you wouldn’t have the first idea what I was talking about.

I use the term “pizza” as much for your good as for my own; if I can buy it in Pizza Express, it’s pizza, and if I have to ask you if you want to come with me to “the place that does the baked tomato flatbread with vegetable topping” every time, you would rightly walk off before I could finish the sentence.

By the way, the Italians, inventors of pizza, don’t specify that pizza has to contain cheese. The traditional food isn’t specified that way, but our attachment to dairy makes us appropriate a cultural concept to suit our own preconceptions.

I don’t really get veganism. *Hint, hint.*

Did you ever try? Sorry, but I don’t exist to educate you. If you want to know, Google it. It really isn’t very difficult to find out what it’s all about. If you try to understand, you probably will end up understanding better than you ever could have guessed. This was certainly the case for me. I will not be accosted and held responsible for other people’s lack of knowledge.

Like I said, I have a life outside veganism, and I want to live it without being pounced upon like it’s my job to make sure you understand my personal decision. If I’m the one bringing it up, then fair enough, but I’m usually not. For the very reason that I don’t want to be drawn into this conversation.

I hate having to repeat myself, particularly on obvious or well-established points. You can ask me for the finer details of my particular veganism, if you are interested in me, once you have taken the time to get the general gist of the argument.

I tried being a vegan, but it was too hard.

What do you expect me to do with that? I’m not going to congratulate you for trying, I’m not going to stroke your conscience for giving up. You’ll either have to just move on or go back to it. I don’t really want to hear about your cheese addiction. I don’t think it’s a good excuse.

Another excuse I’ve heard is that other people pressure you too much, either from inside or outside the vegan circle. I shouldn’t need to tell you to have more strength in your convictions, and not be put off by things which are not the point; the approval of other people is not the point.

Ethical veganism is not a fashion, it’s not even a sociopolitical movement. It’s an ethical stance which is about animals. It’s not about people, so don’t make it about people. Why should cattle suffer their lives because you can’t take a bit of criticism? Get a thicker skin, for the sake of theirs.

It’s too expensive to be vegan. You can’t ask other people on low-income to do it.

I know for a fact that it’s both easy and cheap to be vegan, because I have been a cheap and easy vegan (wink wink, nudge nudge). The people who doubt it don’t know the price of veganism.

I have a friend, for example, who doubted that I could buy six large vegetables (several meals) from my local greengrocers for £3. She was veritably amazed. The fact is, she has never tried to do that herself; she always buys from supermarkets, because of the convenience of putting vegetables together with meat.

Because I don’t eat that, I can make meals out of permanently fixed cupboard spices, condiments and sauces, slowly building hordes of tinned tomatoes, and fresh vegetables from the greengrocer. Hence, I can eat far more cheaply than my friend, who pays that animal product premium. As to why supermarkets charge so much for fresh vegetables… That, is another story. Try “Hugh’s War on Waste” (BBC 1) for a starting point.

As for telling low-income people to go vegan, I never actually do; but, it’s interesting how many of the people who use this justification are not people of low income. Somehow, the fact that perhaps not everyone can be vegan excuses all the people who can be vegan from bothering to try.

There’s nothing really wrong with eggs / milk, is there?

My problem with this query is that it’s not a genuine request for information. It’s a challenge. Most people don’t ask because they know they don’t want the answer. Those who do ask still don’t really want the answer and would consider me either mad or psychotic for telling them the grim truth. Again, if you want to know, Google it. If you don’t want to know, don’t challenge me.

World economies need us to buy animal products from them.

In a world without the concept of animal products, these same societies would find other things to export. That’s my theory. I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I can claim quite safely that the people who raise this point aren’t, either.

They don’t really know how imports, exports, local or world economies work, but they imagine there has to be some kind of apocalyptic consequence to a vegan society. There has to be, because veganism is Something Different.

Don’t you find it difficult?

It’s difficult not to steal wallets left lying around, when you’re poor or very young, or both. You learn not to do it because it’s unethical, and then when you get used to that fact, there is no difficulty. You don’t even ask yourself the question. You don’t have the option to steal that wallet, because it’s not your option to take.

I don’t have the right to use animals for food, so I can’t consider it “difficult” to not do it. I just don’t get to make that choice, and I believe no one else should have the choice either.

Sorry to say this, ’cause I know you can’t eat it, but X is really good. Sorry.

Oh, bless you, you poor dear. You actually think that I envy you. You’re sitting there eating an ice cream, so into it, you’re a sucker for every advert, every suggestion, every recommendation. You walk past a cake shop, and you crave the cakes. You walk past a KFC, and you buy the chicken, because you can. Your diet, and health, gradually worsens as mine improves. Your fussiness and entitlements grow, as mine decline.

I used to be you, looking in at the cakes in the window like a dog looking at his master’s dinner plate. The more time passes, with me increasingly unable to recognise the food I used to eat as being any kind of food at all, the more I appreciate that which is wholesome.

I’ve become one of Those Vegans. I see an apple in a shop window, and look at it the same way as I used to look at an all-butter cookie. The difference is that I can buy that apple, and even at its inflated small-shop price, the price is minimal compared to what I used to pay. And when I talk about the price, I don’t just mean money.

I can’t be vegan, I’m a sportsperson. I couldn’t get enough energy or protein.

For the record, I have never met an Olympic athlete. The people I’m talking to are middle-level extracurricular sportspeople. They don’t even exercise every day. These are the suckers who buy whey protein powder and spend a Saturday in the gym, flexing. Some of them drink raw eggs, or tuna mixed with orange juice. All that disgust, when they could just have flax seed. Vegan Olympic athletes exist and thrive.

A lot of us vegans agree that we’re a lot more energetic since becoming vegan. Maybe we’re all deluded or its a massive placebo effect, but whatever it is, we feel the difference. Older vegans particularly feel it.

As for myself, I used to be quite a lethargic person, but I often find that I have an enormous amount of energy nowadays. Now, some of that is to do with regular exercise – but it used to be that I couldn’t bring myself to do it, because I was too full and bloated. Veggies overfill you and bloat you a lot less, so it all feeds into each other.

As it is, I go to clubs with my ever so slightly younger friends and I show those young whippersnappers a thing or two. Maybe if they ate my magic broccoli, they could keep up. I’m no nutritionist, but I can tell that that protein is easy to come by – it’s in everything, and you need less of it than adults in developed societies tend to consume. It doesn’t need to come from animals.

As for energy, that’s even more abundant. Some of the most energy rich snacks are nuts. Flip over a raw nut bar next time you see one, and let your eyes pop with wonder at the sheer number of calories.

I’ve never eaten vegan food.

Oh, yes you have. Ever eat a jam sandwich? Peanut butter? Ready salted / salt and vinegar crisps? Fries? How about… Fruit? Not Michelin Star stuff, I’ll admit, but the idea that veganism is some alien thing is ludicrous, really.

Your average non-vegan eats worse than half the stuff I just suggested, two meals out of every three. Your average vegan, unfortunately, doesn’t eat much different to that either. Fries we do commonly munch. But, really, cooking vegetables together with spices is easy and contains much tasty. The more you do it, the more you like it. Children hate vegetables, but we are adults, are we not? 

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 1 Corinthians 13


It is the main problem of having unusual views that people expect you to be accountable for them every moment of your waking life. When standing on the public platform, I agree you leave yourself open to challenge.

But I don’t care how much I disagree with someone, even if I think they’re downright bigoted, I’m not going to challenge them out of context, or in the supermarket. Everyone has views you agree with and views you don’t. Consideration of your fellows dictates that you learn when it’s appropriate to question someone. We all deserve “normal” lives, as far as we are able (and willing).

Before I was vegan, I thought veganism was difficult. I wondered how people could live only off vegetables. These days, my view is that I’ve been lied to about how difficult that actually is, and the real difficulty is the usual one; challenging accepted notions while attempting to live your life, socialising without compromising the strength of your ethics for the purposes of social harmony.

I know people who would sooner abandon the harmony and keep the ethics. These people are the most harshly judged. I am not one of them, but I consider it to be a sign of the greatest strength. If non-vegans were a little more understanding and sensitive, this simply wouldn’t be necessary.

I am always amazed at the extent to which people bristle when I suggest that, as omnivores, it is easy and would be kinder and politer for them to eat vegetarian or vegan for one night with a vegetarian or vegan guest than it would be to eat as you always would and expect them to sort themselves out.

It would be such a nice gesture, but we prefer the notion of “you do things your way, I’ll do things mine.” What non-vegans don’t realise is that this instantly alienates vegan friends. It’s not an allergy.

You can avoid touching meat, but you can’t avoid the concept of meat when it’s there in front of you, on the table and being eaten. Since it is the concept that we despise, there is no way around it than to have a vegan table. If more people said “I will expand my repertoire,” like that dear old lady from Pride, you’d have a happier, more enlightened (not to mention healthier) party or dinner table.

I, of course, never considered this until I became vegan. When I thought about the difficulty of veganism, I only thought about its difficulty for the individuals doing it. I never thought it was difficult for people who weren’t vegan just knowing vegans.

Yet, even with the minimum of effort made for vegan friends, non-vegans still behave like bringing veganism into their consciousness is some kind of arduous task that you do because you must respect people’s right to do X or be Y, not because you actually respect or understand the concept itself.

Now I know that the easiest thing to do is ask a vegan what they need, and they will tell you. It won’t be complicated. The likely answer: “If I bring some vegan sausages, will you stick them in the oven?” Or at worst: “I know! I’ll make my famous baked celeriac!”

I find myself wondering, for I cannot now remember, how I treated my vegetarian friends and one vegan friend. I know I never rubbed meat in their faces or directly mocked their choices, which deep down I always respected more than my own “choice” to eat meat. I’m sure, however, that my remarks about their difficulty in choosing or sourcing food may have sounded snide, as though they were intentionally being difficult.

It isn’t what I would have meant, but I think it’s very important for non-vegans to realise that this is how it sounds. Even when you say “I could never give up cheese” or “That sounds really hard,” apart from sounding complacent about something important, you’re also implicitly suggesting that the choice of your vegan friend is a step too far, when this is light years from the truth to anyone who’s looked into the matter.

Curiosity leads people to ask the questions they ask and say the things they say. Veganism is, in the mainstream view, at best a benign cult. Like any other benign cult, it looks like entertainment to people who are not involved, some kind of quirkiness or eccentricity.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is a choice that defines your every day life for the rest of your life. The impact of this is profound, though not as all encompassing as one might think. Funnily enough, I have other concerns I weight equally, and as soon as I’m finished eating my mushroom soup, I go back to them.

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From → Animal Rights

2 Comments
  1. Hi Adrian, I hope that a lot of people (especially non-vegans) are going to read your post. There are so many shrewd remarks in this post. I really enjoyed reading it. Great work!

  2. Hi Adrian,
    The idea of breaking bread with non vegans is a sticky issue for me. I am more and more repulsed by the smell and appearance of cooked flesh and the image of people chowing down on it. However, I have come to understand that being vegan is not so much about me, but rather the animals for whom I advocate. I have decided just to be a presence at the table, the pebble in the shoe of non vegans, reminding them with my food and my truth, that enslaving, abusing and murdering other species for our meat eating traditions and cultures is well, ‘just not right’. Thank you for your insightful article.
    Respectfully, Anne

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