People are quick to accuse vegans and vegetarians of having a superior attitude. There is a certain stereotype that exists, which paints vegans and vegetarians as being arrogantly passionate, judgmental, and self-righteous. It is an unfair representation and must be emphasized as such, for it breeds misinformation and resistance, thereby making meat and dairy consumers less apt to simply consider a different diet and lifestyle option. The truth of the matter is that meat and dairy consumers are equally, if not more, judgmental and adamant that their view is the correct one. This is what I came to discover whenever mentioning to my family and friends my thoughts to transition into becoming a vegan.
I was met with varying reactions, almost all of them negative in nature. Although primarily based out of concern and worry for my health, there was little support to be received. Ranging from lectures, debate, and doubts that I could go through with it. Complete with shaking heads, eye rolls, and sighs thrown in or at the very least, an eyebrow raise with a polite, pessimistic sentiment. A far cry from the open mind, acceptance, and respect the very same people claimed vegans and vegetarians lacked. The pendulum most certainly swings both ways.
I believe the image of the health-conscience, passionate vegan and vegetarian intimidates people in a particular way, which in turn may deter them from choosing that kind of lifestyle. From my own experience, the common thought that would cross my mind is that a vegan/vegetarian is surely going to tell me everything that I’m doing wrong and shame me and judge me for what I eat. And within that mind- frame, produced avoidance. People don’t want to be preached at or chided. They worry about the guilt that might ensue after a conversation. They dread appearing foolish, clueless, and ignorant. They simply don’t want to know the dirty details, rather being blissfully unaware of, quite literally, “how the sausage gets made”. Most people simply fear the unfamiliar and unknown.
It is important to recognize that people regard food in vastly different ways. It can be a taste-oriented comfort, a delicious and creative art, substances that your spouse or parent prepares and selects that’s placed in front of you, nutrients to feed your body-is-a-temple mantra, to mere fuel for the body and everything in between. Food can be savored slowly or devoured quickly, with differing degrees of apathy and distraction or deep purpose and intention. Diet is closely interwoven with lifestyle and becomes a sensitive topic for some, connecting on a deep, personal level, who they are and possibly sparking body or self-image issues. Having an open mind, tolerance of others’ opinions, and kind-hearted discussion and knowledge to offer is key to breaking this paradigm of casting vegans and vegetarians in this negative light. Not to say that the stereotype is vegans and vegetarians fault to fix, but it’s about time that reputation was proven false with respectful, calm debate on both sides of the aisle.
Thus, in order to stimulate knowledge and motivation in others, in the process of building to expand veganism and vegetarianism, I believe what would help in an impactful way, is for vegans and vegetarians to utilize a tactful approach when discussing diet and health to others. Personally, I was so relieved and thankful for my boyfriend’s fact-based and understanding method surrounding the subject with zero pressure and shaming involved. I’m so appreciative now, as well, for his advice and sympathy as I’m going through strong meat and dairy cravings presently. I know I would have been more reluctant to tackle this challenge and eventually make the decision to become vegan, if he hadn’t created such a kind and straightforward atmosphere. I understand the frustration vegans and vegetarians must feel about the sluggish pace of worldwide awareness and change, as well as the prejudice, exclusion, and judgment that they must face at times. The zeal you possess for your healthy vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is something you should be proud of and never apologize for. My advice, as a very recent converter to veganism, is to help educate others with compassion and tact if you wish to inspire and meaningfully change minds.