It’s a tale as old as time. You’re at a BBQ somewhere, or perhaps out to dinner, or maybe you’re just at the grocery store, and some pale, skinny person rocking an aesthetic that could only be described as “crunchy granola anemic” sidles up to you and says,
“I’m a VEGAN.”– Random vegan who feels the need to tell everyone
Shocked, you stare at them. Who is this person, and why are they telling you what their dietary choices are?
You’re just trying to live your life.
You just want to eat your burger.
Live, laugh, love, amirite!?
You just want to buy your live crab from the store.
You just want to roast your turducken.
And those dang vegans are ALWAYS INTERUPTING YOU TO ANNOUNCE THAT THEY ARE VEGAN.
They are (for lack of a better word) the WORST.
But wait…. That sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Yes. Yes it does.
Did you know that only approximately 0.5% of the population of North America is vegan? And if now you’re thinking that it’s probably those darn VEGETARIANS (not vegans) who are constantly in your face about it… well, actually only 2% of people in North America are vegetarians. [source] Moving forward, for the purposes of this blog post we’re gonna mostly use the percentage of vegetarians, instead of vegans, because math is hard and I am lazy. 2% is easier.
If you’re a regular person at a regular dinner party of 10 people, statistically, there won’t be any vegetarians OR vegans there.
Humans tend to struggle to maintain social circles above 150 people (according to Dunbar’s Number). Using that assumption, most people only personally know 3 vegetarians. But even if you consider the number of friends someone has on Facebook (which is 245 friends, btw), the average person knows 4.9 vegetarians, or approximately 1.2 actual vegans.
So is that 0.5 – 2% of the population really so vocal and in-your-face about their dietary choices? Is the very, very, very old (and tired) (and stupid) joke true?
“How do you know someone’s a vegan?” “Don’t worry, THEY’LL TELL YOU!”-Every person who’s ever learned I’m a vegetarian, even if I didn’t bring the topic up
Well, the numbers aren’t on your side.
So where does the stereotype of the vegan telling you they’re vegan come from?
Honestly, I can’t pretend like I know it’s origins. But, I can give you some anecdotal evidence that we veg-heads do not, in fact, constantly tell everyone about our diets.
For example, I’ve gone this entire time talking about vegans/vegetarians and I haven’t brought up the fact that I am also a vegetarian once. SHOCKING. I KNOW!! (Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s pretty heavily implied based on the topic of this blog….) I don’t typically bring it up at all in person, unless someone comments.
So how come people perceive vegans as talking about their diets more than anyone else? (My theories…)
My BFF has been vegan for over 2 years now. She constantly talks about her food and sends me recipes. Does that mean that being a vegan inspires people to tell others? Not at all! She used to talk about her food and send me recipes all the time before she went meat-free, even though I didn’t eat meat. Usually she’d stick to just sending me vegetarian recipes, but sometimes she’d send something with a different, meatier, protein, and we’d discuss what substitute I could use.
Now that she doesn’t eat meat, do you think that other people perceive her as talking about veganism too much?
Does she talk about vegan food any more than she used to talk about meat-based food?
But the perception is skewwed so that if you are not in the majority, you are seen as pushing your views on others simply because what you are doing is not the accepted norm.
It’s the same thing that the LGBT community goes through when others perceive the normal inclusion of non-hetero people in media as being “shoved down their throats”, despite the fact that LGBT characters make up less than 7% of the reoccurring roles in the top 300 shows [source]. Or, how people perceive women who talk the same amount as men as talking more than them, even when they aren’t [source] and there’s the age-old myth that women speak more than men, when the truth is the opposite [source].
I believe the same bias that views marginalized groups as monopolizing situations (when they don’t) is the same reason people view vegans as constantly talking about veganism, when they aren’t necessarily doing that.
The psychology and bandwagon-jumping of Hating On Vegans…
If you talk about how much you like bacon, and everyone else talks about bacon (which, trust me, people do) and then someone says they don’t eat bacon, you’re going to focus in on that because it’s the outlier. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t mention their dietary choices 99.9% of the other times you’ve discussed meals or eaten together. By saying it just once they’ve outed themselves as the dreaded “Other”, and humans are hard-wired to notice negative differences more than positive ones [source].
If people already have a negative view of veganism (however unfounded), they are going to take more note of this negative stimuli than they would the positive stimuli of other people who share their meat-inclusive-diet, dwelling on the information and putting more emphasis on it than is warranted. Simply put: because it reinforces pre-conceived negative stereotypes, you’re going to notice it more, remember it longer, and regurgitate it to others to further the unfavorable opinions [source].
“[V]egetarians’ and vegans’ voluntary abstention from meat eating, which conflicts with the omnivore majority’s values, represents a symbolic threat in ways that contribute to negative attitudes toward these targets.”2015 study entitled “Integrated Threat Theory”
The article “Veganism: Why food choice can spark rage” beautifully summarizes that study: “Proponents of this theory think that meat eaters who respond negatively to vegans believe that a vegan’s dietary choices pose a symbolic threat to their beliefs, attitudes, or morals.”
I have noticed this situation over and over and over and over. I could go ten years without anyone knowing I’m a vegetarian (and I have), but if I mention it one time that is what someone else will focus on, and remember, because that’s going to reinforce their negative stereotypes about people who are meat-free. Do I bring it up constantly? Nope. Do people think I do? Probably.
Some real life examples from my real vegetarian life
Let’s set the scene, shall we?
I’m at a party. It’s a potluck (yum!) and I’ve brought vegetarian shepherd’s pie as my contribution. I put a little “V” next to the label in front of my dish, so other meat-free folks will know it’s safe.
Random party person: “What’s the V for?”
Me: “It’s a V for vegetarian.”
RPP: “Oh my GOD. You vegans just always have to tell everyone, don’t you?”
RPP: “I could never be a vegan. I love meat too much.”
I’m working in the oil fields of Alberta, where we live in camps. Our meals are made for us. Four days into a set, I’m sitting down at a table with my co-workers who I’ve been sitting with for four days. I have also been eating with them for literal months before this.
Coworker #1: “How come you didn’t take any chicken?”
Me: “I don’t eat chicken.”
CW#1: “What about steak?”
Me: “I don’t eat steak. I’m a vegetarian.”
Coworker #2: “HEY CW#1! How do you know someone’s a vegan?”
CW#1: “BECAUSE THEY’LL TELL YOU!”
CW#2: “I’ll never be a vegan. I love meat too much!”
And another memory for ya’ll to enjoy……..
I’m at a restaurant with a group of my friends. It’s sushi, so I’m ordering my usual yam tempura, kappa maki, and veggie roll (YUMMMMMM!!)…
Friend: “You don’t like california rolls?”
Me: “No, I don’t eat meat.”
Friend: “Is this a new thing you’re doing?”
Me: “No, I haven’t eaten meat in 15 years.”
Friend: “I didn’t know that.”
Me: “I don’t tend to bring it up.”
Friend: “You must be one of those rare vegetarians who doesn’t tell everyone they’re vegetarian.”
Now, bear in mind that my experiences are not homogenous for vegetarians/vegans. Everyone has different lives and different intentions.
Of course, some vegans/vegetarians do bring up the topic…
It is possible that you’ve encountered someone with a plant-based diet who has broached the topic of why they don’t eat meat, and perhaps even tried to give you information about why you shouldn’t either.
Do all of us preach to others? No.
But the simple fact is that yes, there are vegans/vegetarians who will initiate a conversation about their diets, just as there are lots of hunters who will initiate conversations about hunting, or how there are folks who don’t buy nestle (because F*CK NESTLE) who will initiate conversations about how you, too, shouldn’t support that cesspool of a company (because you shouldn’t. Seriously. They’re the worst.) There’s a million other examples of people who will want to discuss something their passionate about, especially if they believe that it is beneficial to the world, or to you as a person.
Some of the reasons vegans/vegetarians might talk to you about it: they want you to be informed. Or they are excited about their new choices. Maybe they hope that you’ll care about the same things they do. Or perhaps they are simply enthusiastic about something important to them. Is that so bad? I don’t think so… But maybe I’m weird like that.
But what about the ethics?
**TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion about industrialized animal farming**
Now, we’ve gotten to the real tofu and potatoes of the topic: IF vegans/vegetarians are more likely to talk about their dietary choices (there really isn’t a lot of proof of that, but okay. Let’s delve in.), it’s probably because of the reason behind why they made the switch to meat-free.
Eating meat contributes to the very serious, and very deadly, climate crisis.
Eating meat is unethical, due to the abuse the animals endure.
Even when farmed ethically, animals who have been bred for meat/eggs/milk often have poor health and life quality, such as egg laying chickens who suffer from prolapse, or cows who’s udders become infected etc.
Contributing to habitat loss and deforestation.
As this article by the Vegan Agenda UK says…
We have a greater awareness of how non-vegan food is produced and what goes into it, which is why we avoid it. The same goes for many non-food products too.
It’s hard to hold onto this knowledge and watch people blindly consuming things [that involve animals dying, contribute to climate change, and have disgusting ingredients]. We simply have to say something. We believe that you should have the information to make a conscious choice about what you are consuming.-WHY DO VEGANS ALWAYS HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE THEY’RE VEGAN? By Cara @ The Vegan Agenda
That’s really the crux of it. A lot of people aren’t aware of the impact that their dietary choices have on living, breathing, sentient creatures, as well as our fragile and dying earth. They might make different choices if they knew the truth, and had correct information.
In fact, some of the only changes that have been made to better the lives of animals in the industrial farming complex have been due to the tireless efforts of vegans and animal activists.
Personally, when people ask me why I don’t eat meat (which they always do) I tell them simply:
“If I can kill it, skin it, gut it, and cook it myself then I’ll eat the meat. I haven’t once done that, not since my dad took me hunting when I was 11. If I can’t do that to something whose life I’ve taken then I don’t deserve to eat it.”– Em Van Moore, Writer, Vegetarian, and Olympic Hopeful
Which, of course, opens up a whole can of worms regarding hunting vs meat farming (for the record, I am okay with hunting when done ethically, and sustainably).
Regardless, Vegans/Vegetarians get an unnecessary amount of hate for their dietary choices.
This article, “Veganism: Why food choice can spark rage” points out that there are many reasons for the vegan-hating agenda, characterized by the old joke (and the topic of this blog post) about how vegans just have to tell you they’re vegan — the implication being because they are garbage people who are trying to push their choices onto you and/or are holier than thou about said dietary choices.
As that article states, the reasons for the vegan hatred are varied…
From zealots who are vocal about veganism/vegetarianism disproportionately being viewed as the “norm” amongst us (like the old saying, they’re a “vocal minority” but they receive the majority of the attention)
To the media’s portrayal of plant-based diets being overwhelmingly negative ( as per this article: “A 2011 studyTrusted Source looked at how the print media in the United Kingdom reported on veganism. Of the 397 articles that mentioned veganism, the researchers deemed 20.2% to be neutral and 5.5% to be positive, while they considered the remaining 74.3% to be negative”.)
And of course, we have to note that people with plant-based diets have often chosen that path because they wish to cause less harm to animals, which is, at its core, a moral and ethical decision. Objectively, it is better to not hurt other creatures, which leaves meat-eaters with the uncomfortable truth that they are choosing to support an industry that overwhelmingly causes harm. People don’t like when they are confronted with the fact that someone else is making a decision that would be judged morally superior to their own, and when people feel inferior, or less moral than others, they tend to lash out. We already know that there is a perception that vegans/vegetarians “think they’re better than others”, but in the absence of the group saying these things we’re left with the assumption that people are making that judgement becuase they feel someone else is doing something better than them — and humans don’t really enjoy feeling like that.
Question: How do you know if someone is a vegan?
Answer: Chances are, you won’t. But if they do tell you, it’s going to reinforce negative stereotypes, and possibly make you feel bad about yourself, so you’re going to heap a disproportionate amount of hate onto them.