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Why telling people to “go vegan” won’t work

July 11, 2018

“Go vegan!” comes the battle cry. The imperative contains the hidden half: “You should go vegan.”

I’m going to be daring and suggest that this is the wrong direction of approach. Our friends, family and peers should not go vegan because we tell them to. Nor should they even go vegan because they feel an immense social pressure to do so, or because they feel guilty. They should go vegan because they want to.

The word “want” has a bad rep. “Want” sounds weak and childish. “I want to eat bacon. I eat bacon because I want to,” is indeed weak and childish. However, it’s a mistake not to acknowledge the important role that desire plays in social change. Without desire, we don’t stick to important changes we make to our lives.

Rather than being actions driven by a deep internal desire to pursue them, they become routine chores – things you do because you have to, because other people tell you that you should. If there is actually nobody checking, guiding or sanctioning, there’s no reason not to abandon these changes as soon as they become inconvenient. The only way to ensure that you won’t is if you want those changes you made to continue.

Desire is also the fundamental basis of our economy and all manner of other systems. Why do we buy the things we buy? Because we want them. Not really because we need them. We all know that a person can do with a bare minimum of things, most of the time. But we desire items of convenience and items of luxury, so we buy them. These in turn are a vehicle of ingenuity and help cave a path to greater comfort.

The question then, is not “How do we make people go vegan?” but rather “How do we make people want to go vegan?” This is a more difficult question, because it involves knowing what people want. I general, people want:

– To be good people, and to feel like they are good people;

– ‎Peace, calm and quiet

– Freedom from fear, disgust, sadness and anger where possible;

– ‎Companionship and as sense of belonging to a community;

– ‎To be as wealthy as possible, within the boundaries of what they would deem immorally extravagant;

– ‎To be healthy and live longer.

The great news is that veganism ticks every one of these boxes. Ethical veganism pitches food animals as companion animals instead, therefore creating an image of peace and goodness. It also creates an community, bound by goodness, which is a strong bonding force. Every time we encounter animal agriculture in its true form, every one of us feels disgust, anger and sadness. Many people feel fear when they hear of the unsavoury practises that go into their food production.

Less commonly covered is health and wealth, because vegans may consider these to be less important. It is true that there is no weighty morality to personal health and wealth, but they are nonetheless strong driving forces to be used as instruments of good.

In Facebook vegan circles, I notice less in regards to health and wealth, and more in regards to morality. The problem with this is that it is too easily hit with the unfair label of sanctimonious. The people who use that term are usually of a type who like to consider themselves logical and undramatic. Such people respond poorly to emotive language, and perceive anything emotional that they do not believe to be hyperbole.

I think it’s important to find people at their level. If they are interested in the economy, tell them the animal agriculture industry is so heavily subsidised, a bottle of milk in the US ought to cost $9, and that relative to inflation, the price of milk is actually falling, increasing demand and exacerbating the problem. If they are libertarian, certainly tell them that they pay for all this through taxes.

Some libertarians are anti vegan because they think of it as an imposition on their freedoms imposed from above, rather than a sensible choice of where to spend your money, made by an individual. But, if they are interested in the right to choose whether they pay for something or not; and if they are pro competition and free markets and fair pricing, they should know that there is nothing libertarian about animal agriculture.

If the person you’re talking to is interested in health, direct them to The China Study or What the Health on Netflix. You can even double up on your points, combining health and economics. You can tell people that the tobacco industry causes fewer health problems than animal products, yet, the animal agriculture isn’t taxed like tobacco, but heavily subsidised. In other words, you pay for your own ill health.

Moreover, the economics of animal products encourage overconsumption of them, which every doctor worth their salt advises against. As David Robinson Simon said in his must-read book Meatonomics, animal agriculture has something to piss off just about everybody.

My experience of the world has changed, not just since becoming vegan, but since I have found increasingly more reasons to be vegan. I see the ill health around me on the street; clammy, overweight people in increasing numbers. I used to think it was unavoidable, and now I know different, I can’t shake from my mind the idea that, if others could see what I see, they’d think the entire system needed tearing up by the roots.

There is a book out there famed for helping a lot of people quit smoking. What it does is tell people the truth about smoking. It’s pitched at smokers, and it doesn’t lecture people into not smoking. In fact, it encourages smokers to light up, while they read the book and absorb the facts. Telling people what to do doesn’t work.

Telling people the facts does, as long as they are stark enough, and the person is in a receptive frame of mind – in other words, if they’re seeking information. The facts of animal agriculture are just as stark as the facts of tobacco, and more and more people appear to be seeking information.

I believe that the more information we’re exposed to, the more we change and the less we desire certain things. We don’t just go through the motions of doing better; we become better in our minds, for the information we have absorbed. There is actually no need for powerful rhetoric. The facts speak for themselves.

So, as important as it is to keep hold of philosophy and ethics, let’s not neglect facts. Read Meatonomics, The China Study, How to Not Die, and watch What the Health and Cowspiracy, among others. Or at least a bit of each. Knowing more than other people, and being able to even name the sources – well, that’s difficult to argue with.

 

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From → Animal Rights

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