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On “Vegangelicals”

In Grist‘s "Love me, love my food habits," Sarah van Schagen explores veganism within relationships and eventually comes around to: veg-an-gel-i-cal: noun, a "holier-than-thou" vegan.

What I’m really interested in is the comments section, where "spaceshaper" writes:

When I first came across this coinage a few months back, I’ll admit I was annoyed. It was in a context where it was clearly intended to be insulting, demeaning and dismissive – the president of a biodiesel company defending his turf and his market, seeking to deflect yech-factor criticism of his CAFO chicken-fat feedstock sourcing.

The irritation resurfaced when I read the post above: "I’m not a vegangelical" says Balcavage, clearly wishing to dissociate herself from the strident, shrill etc. image which the word is intended to convey. And in the many emotional anti-veg diatribes we see whenever Gristmill examines the environmental ethics of meat-eating, such an image is constantly invoked. "I’d eat less meat myself if PETA just weren’t so strident" runs the complaint.

Then my thoughts went to the fact that despite living in a community where veg*ns are not at all rare, I’ve never actually encountered this trope myself. Just where are all these strident veggies?

And then I suddenly began to wonder if this absence was actually such a good thing. I’ve always been one of those "polite" veg*ns myself, always responding with a quiet deflection when someone asks at a party "why aren’t you eating the ham/beef/turkey – it’s delicious!" I hold back from mentioning the short unhappy life and nasty brutal death of the animal they’re eating. It seems so unfestive and awkward, so I say something nonconfrontational, like Oh I just don’t like to eat meat. The carnivore at my elbow usually backs off at this point and changes the subject.

But perhaps I’ll have the courage to take a more aggressive line, now I have a label to cling to. Instead of cringing defensively when this trendy coinage reappears, as surely it will, I’ll emulate the Impressionists who turned sneering insult to badge of honor. "Meat is disgusting", I’ll say, " you should be ashamed of yourself. I’m a vegangelical and you’re infringing my rights to a meat-free environment. Why are you insisting on eating that crap in front of me? Take it somewhere where I don’t have to see it."

The non-smokers did it. God, wouldn’t it be great if the hard-core carnivores at a dinner party were banished to the back deck in the rain to chew their slim jims away from polite company. Are we being just too nice? Fellow vegangelicals: rally to the banner. Our hour has come!

This got me thinking about yesterday’s post and self-monitoring. There’s got to be a balance, I’d imagine, where you have the ability to read a person and deliver your message in such a way as to maximize its reception, without diluting it. Meanwhile, I read "spaceshaper" and I say, "Yes! Let’s humiliate them to cease their nefarious practices, like we did to smokers!" Whether you’re killing yourself and harming me with your smoke, or killing a sentient being with your animal products, it’s all equally offensive to me. (Though I admit that’s a hard sell for most people involving a quantum leap.)

What are your thoughts? Do you like "vegangelical" and do you use it? And what about the tactic? Do you too secretly wish you could tell people what they do is disgusting and they should be ashamed?

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think spaceshaper was exaggerating a little, just to stress a point. But I do agree (to an extent) with his main claim.

    When asked, for instance, why I'm not eating meat at a party, for instance, I don't shy away saying stuff like "I don't like meat", which in any case is untrue (I actually used to love the taste of meat…and maybe I still do).

    I usually reply with a simple, non-argumentative sentence such as "Because I can still eat tasty and healthy food without having animals killed for me".

    I think we're entitled to being honest, especially when we do not bring up the topic ourselves.

    February 15, 2008
  2. the (honest) bunny #

    "Do you too secretly wish you could tell people what they do is disgusting and they should be ashamed?"

    No. I wish that I could stop being an angry asshole and convey the beautiful message of veganism out of the *genuine* love and empathy that is in my heart for all animals. I don't know how to lie. So my anger comes from an honest place already.

    If I don't feel empathy or kindness or politeness, I can't feign it just to get my message across. Slowly I am coming full circle to the person I once was when I was younger – a caring person whose intentions toward people were good…before I became a misanthrope. I am starting to once again feel sympathy and kindness – out of the recent revelation that humans are flawed creatures…we were never meant to be perfect…we were meant to simply propagate. The fact that human animals have been able to move well beyond doing just that to become creatures that care about the planet on which we live is incredible and wonderful. It gives me hope.

    My hope is to begin to influence people with my own authentic true compassionate empathetic voice. It's getting there again…naturally…organically…but I will not purposely feign what I don't feel inside (self-monitor myself) in order to make people see my views. Nor do I want to be a "vegangelical" – pushing people around to make more room for myself.

    I know that this is an emotional post rather than a logical post. But I've come to realize that's part of who I am. I accept that a significant portion of how I view things comes from my heart. I don't think it's so wrong anymore. I wish more people spoke from the heart. I think people listen more when they hear something that genuinely comes from the heart.

    February 15, 2008
  3. The appeal of spaceshaper's comment for me was that I'm always the polite one. People mock my beliefs, they say animals are here to serve us, they remind me that PeTA means people eating tasty animals (or whatever), and I'm always compassionate and kind in my response. I'm the one acting from a place of an ethic, yet I'm always the one being put on the defense and treated as if I'm doing something bizarre. I don't respond in kind, but sometimes I just want to scream at them and tell them how I really feel about their disrespect for my beliefs and for nonhumans.

    February 15, 2008
  4. Mary,

    As someone who has been slammed by some animal rights activists, I appreciate your politeness in your responses to me and others who disagree with you on some issues (sled dogs in my case). There are times when I get furious and want to get drawn into a screaming argument about one thing or another.

    But here's what I have learned. Getting outwardly angry with someone makes THEM angry and unwilling to listen. Of course there are some people who would not recognize a kind response if it bit them on the nose…but those aren't the people you are trying to reach.

    Thanks much for your patience!

    February 15, 2008
  5. Angus Taylor #

    In the original NY Times piece, Dynise Balcavage says, "I'm against child abuse. My husband regularly abuses children. He's an adult and I respect his choices just as he respects mine."

    Oh, no. Sorry. I misquoted that. It was "I’m not a vegangelical. He’s an adult and I respect his choices just as he respects mine." But presumably if her husband were abusing children, she would respect his choice. After all, judging people is bad, and the fact that he's an adult means that no one should hold him responsible for his decisions.

    Hmmm. Let's start again. People who are morally opposed to X do negatively judge the behaviour of those who engage in X, whether X is child abuse, meat-eating, worshipping graven images, or wearing purple hats. The judgement is logically entailed in having the moral opinion. It makes no sense to say that one "respects" the other's choice. But one can nonetheless respect/care-for/love the person who makes the choice. This is not a matter of being condescending: the fact that I judge the other person to be wrong with respect to eating meat doesn't mean I think I am generally a superior person, much less a saint.

    Although pretending that our treatment of animals (or children) is just a matter of personal choice may make for less friction at dinner parties, it is no help to animals (or children), since it reinforces the idea that the behaviour in question is acceptable. But hectoring should be avoided; it is less effective than leading by example, coupled with polite honesty about one's beliefs when asked.

    February 15, 2008
  6. Well said, Angus.

    If being a “vegangelist” or “vegangelical” means stating unpopular views about the popular violence that we inflict on nonhuman beings, then I’m with spaceshaper. Call me vegangelical! In fact, I might have to add the moniker to my blog description “about me”. 😀

    February 15, 2008
  7. Here's my problem — or at least one of them:

    There are socially acceptable unethical things to do, such as killing sentient beings for no good reason, and there are socially unacceptable unethical things to do, such as pedophilia and other child abuse.

    Being vocally anti-child abuse is a no-brainer and won't bring odd looks or snide remarks. However, because most humans are a bit behind the morality curve, it seems that even though killing sentient beings for no good reason is bad, it's still at a point where it's viewed as a "lifestyle choice."

    Now, if we want to change minds, doesn't it behoove us to refrain from antagonizing people who view the situation as them "disagreeing" with us?

    For me, this is like the property damage and sabotage issue: I think being vegangelical is a great idea. I think sabotage and property damage are great ideas–IF they have been demonstrated to be successful and are helping us reach our goal.

    I'm always going to be honest with people, but my delivery matters. And if I get more people to convert by NOT pushing them and by accepting them, then that's what I should do. I spent a decade telling people that this isn't a mere disagreement, and that though I might indeed love them, I despise what they do and what they stand for and I have no respect for their beliefs. And my delivery wasn't rude or disrespectful, but that kind of message, even kindly delivered, is tough to swallow for the average person.

    I guess my question is: Is it more important that I'm right or that I'm changing the minds and habits of those around me?

    February 15, 2008
  8. "Now, if we want to change minds, doesn't it behoove us to refrain from antagonizing people who view the situation as them "disagreeing" with us?"

    Yes. IMO. I've just rejoined reality and got back to being a vegetarian (I don't know where I went, but I did). I'm still working on the vegan part, and I know I'll get there, but for me, it's a process. I've been struggling lately with being so judgemental towards everyone (including myself, and I know you felt a pang when I said I was still *working* on the vegan part) who doesn't instantaneously see that harming a sentient being for pleasure (eating) is abhorrent.

    I realize this is extremely simplistic, but it makes my point — when I was very young (many moons ago) a boyfriend broke up with me because I didn't recycle. It's not that I wasn't willing to understand recycling, or begin recycling; it wasn't that I didn't care. I just didn't KNOW. I wasn't raised that way. I hadn't yet learned about the impact our society has on our planet ( I was living a mindless life, I hadn't put two and two together, etc. He dumped me anyway. He didn't try to teach me. Or help me. Or talk with me. He just judged me and yelled at me and walked away.

    I guess my answer is: It's more important that you're changing the minds and habits of those around you…and that you're accepting that they won't see it at the same rate of speed, or compassion, or planetary destruction, etc., etc., etc.

    It's hard tho. Because someone has to die in the meantime. But education is important and nobody learns when they are feeling judged.

    "No. I wish that I could stop being an angry asshole and convey the beautiful message of veganism out of the *genuine* love and empathy that is in my heart for all animals. I don't know how to lie. So my anger comes from an honest place already."

    So well stated.

    Mary, thank you for your blog. You've been the source of many a night of introspection and I thank you for that.

    February 15, 2008
  9. "Is it more important that I'm right or that I'm changing the minds and habits of those around me?"

    Well, if I were not right, trying to change the minds and habits of those around me would actually be immoral.

    Of course, I do get your point. What matters most is not the satisfaction in knowing you're right, but convincing others to change their minds and habits.

    However, how do you go about changing minds and habits if you do not make it clear that veganism is not a matter of personal choice, but is a matter of right moral action?

    I think insulting people is out of the question. But telling the truth (that it is wrong to use and/or kill animals)?

    There is a difference between the following two replies on being asked why you don't eat meat:

    1. Because I'm not a murderer like you.
    2. Because I can still enjoy food and be healthy without having animals killed or exploited for me.

    Answer 1 is obviously a terrible answer. Answer 2 is telling the truth in the most polite and unoffensive way possible in the circumstances.

    February 16, 2008
  10. One difficulty with the comparison between eating the packaged and heavily marketed parts of animals and pedophilia is that many of us vegans were eating the corpses of or products from animals not too long ago ourselves.

    And Mary does have a point about social acceptability as well.

    The fact remains that the majority of child molesters, no matter what rationalizations they employ, know that what they are doing is condemned by society and that they must hide it to stay out of prison. The vast majority of meat-eaters were raised eating animals from earliest memory, as I was, and maybe have not given the practice more than an uncomfortable passing thought. Should the topic be presented to them, it's easy to turn to practically everyone else they know for reassurance that eating animals is normal and fine.

    When you have a problem with a child molester in your neighborhood, you call the police, and if the police don't do enough, you alert all the neighbors. When your husband eats burgers, it's really all on you to do the vegan outreach with him

    And, it's complicated when you understand so fully that you were once in that exact position. You think over what worked to awaken you to concern about animals.

    I'm not the vegan conversion master, but most people that I have assisted in jumping on the vegan train, it involved considerable patience from me. I answered the same questions for the 100th time, I cooked tasty vegan foods to show them it was possible. I took them to visit sanctuaries. I didn't ever tell them they were RIGHT to eat animals, but I also never said they were like pedophiles or rapists either. Even though we know the horrible things that are done to animals, and we know that milk is a product of rape, it's just hard to make progress from that approach.

    Or, what do I know? Some people have told me that they were converted in an instance by graphic footage or something like that. Others told me their conversion was long and full of missteps.

    I know that close relationships involve all kinds of issues of identity and power, and sometimes it's harder for someone to get any kind of message of change, whether on veganism, or smoking, or whatever, from a spouse or partner. It sounds silly and petty, but a person can be so focused on "I'm my own person, you aren't going to change me" that they tune out everything else. This is why I have friends who've told me that they weren't able to convert their meat-eating significant others, but what did it was going to a viewing of Earthlings, hearing an unrelated speaker, or some other venue that didn't carry the same baggage. This is because there is often an odd subtext to intimate communication and instead of hearing "I want you to know why veganism is important to me" the person hears "you aren't good enough the way you are." It's possible that the woman in the article eventually will find herself with a vegan husband, she might also be scared of turning him off to the idea completely if she pushes too much or in the wrong way.

    I of course avoided all such stupid games by marrying a vegan.

    In any case, I am a vegangelical. I believe that sharing my veganism with others will do more good for them personally, more good for the animals, and more good for the planet than anything else I can share. I'm also an extremist, and a dogmatist, a zealot, and many other names that have been thrown my way. I merely try to be a kind and polite zealot.

    February 16, 2008
  11. Dane Ecklund #

    I am a vegan, and would like to be able to say what i want to when people eat animal products. However i would rather not be labeled as a Peta vegan type. As i do not like peta. Also i am an atheist for ethical reasons and don't like the term vegangelical. As is obviously a reference to evangelical, i do not wish people to have to change there ways to meat my own selfish needs, however unselfish they might seem.

    I also don't try to recruit vegans, its a personal choice which is unfortunately not the norm but i don't think it makes a person bad for doing what they were raised with. Just like i dont think religious people are terrible, just ignorant, and if theres one thing ive learned you cant argue with an ignorant person about anything.

    October 25, 2011

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