To listen to the average vegan extol the virtues of their diet one would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across a living saint. They have shunned the bloodied flesh to lead a life of a virtuous and harmonious being.
Unlike you heartless, murdering bastards.
With abstinence of all kinds comes self-proclaimed piety. It is both the gift of a hard choice, and a form of defence against the judgement of others. This is not unique to vegans but it does run deep with them.
This air of superiority is irritating. But is it well earned?
I am a vegan. Or, to put it more correctly, I follow a vegan diet. My reasons are simple: I am horrified by the way in which non-vegan food is produced: the immense suffering of other intelligent species; at a great cost to the planet; and resulting in food that I am scared to put into my body.
For a long while after becoming vegan I lorded it over others like a boy who just got the pretty girl to yield her phone number. It felt like a revelation and I felt others needed to know. And to be ashamed of themselves.
Gradually, however, I came to realise that the line between choosing to do something good and being religious is a fine one. And that, in turn, anything can start to show characteristics of being a religion.
And what defines religion, among other things, is the absolute belief in the correctness of ones own actions; and the commensurate wrongness of everyone else’s.
In my opinion religion is always a mistake because it does not admit other forms of being right and being good. And I notice this trait among vegans, particularly those closely associated with other movements, be they political, spiritual or environmental.
For many vegans there is no being right without eating a vegan diet. They won’t date non-vegans. They won’t eat with them. And most conversations end up in the same place: people who eat animals and animal products are evil perpetrators of a global holocaust.
If you replace a few words in the above sentences with “christian” or “muslim” and related concepts you could just as easily be talking about someone we would call a radical fundamentalist. That’s how extreme these people are.
For some there is an underlying distaste for the human race and the romanticisation of the animal kingdom. They commit a version of the Golden Age Fallacy in which they mistakenly believe animals to be living in a state of peace, harmony and bliss from which we, as a species, have strayed.
Tell that to the impala that just got suffocated by a leopard and dragged into a tree.
Which is not to say there isn’t a lot of truth and validity in the doctrine. Veganism is a healthy form of diet. Animals and animal farming are huge environmental problems. And torturing and murdering other creatures to put food on our plates is both unnecessary and, I would argue, repellant to most civilised people.
But these vegans commit an error of omission just like everyone else who attaches themselves too closely to one philosophical position. Which is to say they are transgressors in other spheres of their lives. Whether by action – such as burning fossil fuels – or inaction – such as not committing their lives to eradicating poverty or stopping war – everyone does some things right and some things wrong, The difference is that some define themselves by their virtues, and expect recognition for it.
Being vegan is a smart choice – for the planet, the animals and yourself. But so is recycling, looking after AIDS babies and raising happy children. They (and I) should be proud of ourselves for our willingness to make a difficult choice. But that pride is erased by all the things we do which are neither smart or compassionate.
There are clearly people in the world who commit horrible acts with intent and forethought such that we may validly call them evil. But this not the norm. Generally speaking we all come to the table with equally bloody hands, vegans included. Moral superiority is largely a conceit.
I follow a vegan diet. But I’m just as bad as everyone else.
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