When I first started talking about veganism, I knew what I was getting myself into. Well, to an extent.
Even with almost two years under my belt living a plant-based lifestyle, I still find myself hesitant bringing it up to others. This uneasiness doesn’t reflect how I actually feel, as I am very passionate about the lifestyle and stand firmly behind it. But knowing how I and so many others stereotype vegans, the topic can get as heated as discussing religion and politics. Two things to never discuss at the dinner table, let alone what’s on the dinner table.
The time has come to break down our misconceptions about who vegans are.
Vegan in the farm belt.
When first transitioning to veganism, never did I expect the movement to grow so quickly as it has. I jumped on the bandwagon when veganism was still fairly new and was still very dominant in bigger cities, especially on the West Coast. Beyond that, finding dairy and meat substitutes was very challenging, and people had absolutely no clue what “veganism” even meant.
For someone living in a conservative, agriculture-heavy state, any attempts to “infiltrate” the general public are still intimidating. I’m not confrontational. I don’t even support PETA, but that’s another story.
Although veganism might sound like a trendy fad to soon disappear, I think it’s going in the right direction toward becoming a more everyday concept, but we still have a long way to go. I can still remember in my first semester of college, the students who stood at the crosswalk handing out cliche pamphlets on animal agriculture from Vegan Outreach, which of course have a great message in them, but I could practically hear people’s eyes roll over how vegans were shoving beliefs in their faces as they’re walking to Chick-fil-a.
At this point in my vegan journey, I cannot imagine eating or living any other way. I don’t even consciously think about it. I cannot look at dairy milk or, heaven forbid, meat, and think that it’s food. It’s so natural for me to live my life plant-based, and that only makes me more driven to beat down the walls we’ve built up between vegans and “normal” people.
Still sticking to stereotypes.
When I first think of veganism, I still immediately think of the stereotypes, which in some cases can be accurate. I’m not going to deny that there aren’t some people with dreadlocks eating fruit and salad at every meal (technically considered “fully raw“), or people who are very angry and outspoken, constantly stuffing the vegan message down everybody’s throats (someone like Freelee the Banana Girl). Even if the information and research in those outreach pamphlets is accurate and important, the way it’s delivered can still take people aback and have them making assumptions.
Veganism is by no means an easy mindset to adopt. Food is a very personal, traditional part of society. It brings people together and helps form connections. We form memories and emotional connections to certain dishes and recipes. And most likely those involve animal products. But most vegans did not grow up in the lifestyle. They too drank their recommended three glasses of cow’s milk a day and enjoyed turkey on Thanksgiving. A lot of vegans even enjoy the taste of dairy and meat. I can’t tell you how much I loved cheese growing up, and even yogurt was hard to give up. The difference now is that as vegans, we’re taking ourselves away from those universally accepted products and asking ourselves “why?”
When we eat those animal products, we see the food as food. We don’t necessarily consider how that food ended up on our plates. We grow up associating certain animals as pets and others as food sources. How we ended up choosing those, don’t ask me. We don’t look at a burger thinking of the cow it came from. Or wondering how happy the chicken is that provided your omelet. If you live on a farm or you specifically buy from local agriculture, those thoughts probably cross your mind more often. But they still don’t explain why cows, chickens and pigs now only live for our diets.
Which, might I add, we biologically aren’t designed to eat. No other species on the planet drinks another animal’s milk. And an animal that we aren’t even closely related to. If we wanted to drink milk better suited for humans, we might as well start impregnating monkeys and drinking that lactation. And when you see a cow or pig, you probably don’t get hungry. Your instinct isn’t to attack the animal and start eating it. We don’t even get hungry when seeing the raw flesh after an animal is slaughtered. But take a steak or pork chop and now we’re talking.
Unlike carnivores or omnivores in the animal kingdom, our digestive tracts aren’t favorable for meat consumption. Rather than very short intestines that digest meat very quickly, our tract is lengthy. So when meat passes through that system, it isn’t healthy. Now in our early times when food sources were scarce, we had no choice but to eat meat, helping us evolve into the species we are today. But we now live in a society where that isn’t necessary or reasonable.
When you learn this information and gain this greater perspective on your relationship with food, you just want to share it. It’s a human instinct, and if they go about it the right way, vegans shouldn’t be punished for it. We’re not condemning and taunting you for eating a conventional diet, because we were there, too. We just want everyone to be as informed as possible, to know the effects of their actions. The food we eat has greater repercussions than we initially realize.
Vegans don’t just look like hippies. Any gender, age, body type, ethnicity, or location can be vegan. We aren’t weak because we don’t get protein, iron and calcium from animal products. And most of us don’t even care for salad that much. We can make any dessert without cow’s milk and eggs. We still love (veggie) burgers and pizza (without cheese). Even at any restaurant, we can find a vegan option. A lot of the foods you already eat are probably vegan. We might have to get a little creative, but making those substitutions is becoming increasingly easier.
Open your mind.
This vegan movement is by no means slowing down. Even in my farm belt state of South Dakota, a place where most families hunt and fish on the weekends and love their bacon, there are constantly new vegan products on grocery store shelves. Somewhere I usually feel so out of place is starting to become more welcoming. More and more people are no longer seeing veganism as a foreign concept, but as a very approachable, reasonable lifestyle.
My advice to vegans is to avoid stepping on the high horse and allowing emotions run your activism. The best way to spread the message is to simply lead a healthy, happy life. Show others how simple the changes can be, how easy it is to choose more vegan-friendly options. When people around you see the benefits you gain, they’ll naturally be curious. Don’t ridicule others for their meal choices. If you want to convince family and friends who may be uneasy about your transition, suggest watching a documentary together. But please don’t just throw bloody, beaten factory farm animals in their faces. The information we learn can feel so eye-opening that we want to shout it every chance we have, although that’s not effective. If anything, it’s off-putting.
And for non-vegans, or those even toying with the idea of transitioning? Keep an open mind. Obviously veganism’s goal is to have everybody living a vegan lifestyle, but we don’t expect that change to happen overnight. Even just a simple change like switching cow’s milk for almond milk or practicing Meatless Monday can make a huge difference.
If you’re not about to make major adjustments, just start learning more about what vegans stand for. We aren’t just radical tree-huggers. Don’t make assumptions about our personalities. We aren’t just throwing out meaningless ideas. If you eat meat and dairy, learn about where it comes from. Make greater awareness and less ignorance your goal.
Who knows, maybe I too look like an angry hippie. If that’s because I’m practicing the beliefs I stand so strongly behind, I’m okay with that. I might be hesitant to start a conversation about veganism myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m not wielding myself with knowledge and supporting this cause with every ounce of my being.
How do you view veganism? Do you know of those fighting the stereotypes surrounding veganism?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie