The longer I live in the vegan movement, the more I have the impression that most of us have a kind of vegan fetish, believing that eating one hundred percent vegan is more important than anything else, either in life in general, or in animal rights activism. It seems that many vegans, consciously or not, believe something like this:
A vegan can do nothing wrong,
a non-vegan can do nothing right,
and a vegan is always better than a non-vegan.
But of course, when you think about it, what you put in your mouth is of relatively minor importance compared to other things. I’m not talking about children dying of hunger in Africa; let’s not have that argument. I’m talking about other things within the animal rights/vegan movement.
First of all, any person can have a big impact on other people surrounding them, with their communication, their behavior, their example, their cooking. This impact is much more important, because it is potentially much bigger, than what they eat themselves. Personally, when I believe I will have a bigger impact by making an exception, I will do so (unfortunately, I have limits, and I’m very easily put off and disgusted, so this only goes for tiny bits of animal foods).
Secondly, there’s not just communication, but there’s also the question of what we do with our time, and with our money. Some non-vegans may donate a lot of money to animal rights causes, or may invest a lot of time in them. And of course they may invest time and money in other causes than animal rights. You can fault them for not being vegan if you want, but you have to realize that their impact might ultimately be way bigger than yours.
By all means, be vegan (like I have been for 17 years), but let’s not make a fetish out of our personal consumption, at the cost of our attention to other things that may impact the lives of animals much, much more.
And no, of course it’s not an either/or thing, and we can be vegan consumers while doing all this other great stuff. But in practice, as we all know, a lot of energy – way too much of it – goes to that focus on personal consumption. We worry about micro-ingredients and we lose sight of the bigger picture. We focus on these things for the sake of “guarding the line,” to protect ourselves and our movement against the great big scary nightmare of “sliding back” and watering down veganism. But that great big scary nightmare is a fiction, and is nothing that should concern us right now. If we ever get people to avoid meat, dairy and eggs (and we will), I’m sure we’ll also be able to phase out e-numbers, honey, and other bits of animal product from our food system.
Let’s focus on what’s really important. Let’s put the biggest part of our energy where we can reduce the most suffering.
Featured image: a “vegan” sign. Image credit Ola Waagen, CC BY-SA 3.0.