For many vegans, the question of how to best advocate and advance veganism is often a challenging one. For some, the daily choice to live a vegan life will be their statement. For others, a more active advocacy is best suited to their lives. This subject comes up often on blogs and discussion boards, and there is usually no consensus, even among committed vegans. However, one of the things that continues to rear its ugly head in the blogosphere is the accusation that vegans are holier-than-thou, uppity, intolerant snobs. One particular theme that came up recently got me particularly incensed – it was the suggestion that vegans somehow retreat into their cocoon of vegan life, not really understanding what life is like for others, and not even trying to identify with others’ chosen lifestyles-that we hang out in some kind of vegan retreat, excluding and scorning the nonbelievers. The image that came to my mind was of some hidden-away tree house where one needs a secret knock to get in; inside which vegans are sitting around drinking refreshments and high-fiving each other while looking down contemptuously at those who have not yet arrived.
For most, if not all vegans, nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that any vegan stays, literally or figuratively, safely ensconced inside of some kind of retreat or safe house is beyond ridiculous. Many of us, I would say even most of us, by the very act of walking out of our own doors, are leaving the gastronomic and emotional safety that omnivores often do not have to think about (although people with food intolerances or on medical diets can probably relate to the feeling of concern upon leaving home). As we leave our homes, many on a daily basis, we are entering a world of families, coworkers, and neighbors who do not understand us and often challenge our way of life like there is something we have to defend about it. We shop at stores and attempt to eat in restaurants that do not always (or ever) have food we can eat and even if they do, we are still surrounded by the products of suffering for others to consume. We are constantly challenged to scour ingredient lists, ask wait staff about what might be in a restaurant dish, and deal regularly with the confused and sometimes critical questions and comments from those who share our lives. Even those of us who choose not to take a more activist role are often unexpectedly pressed into service, explaining to someone the realities of factory farms or the cruelties of circuses and marine mammal parks that lie behind the happy advertising. For most of us, just the very act of being who we are publicly is an act of advocacy, a defiance of the status quo. Even the educational foundation and thought process often involved in the decision to become vegan has exposed us to the realities of immense animal suffering, the knowledge of which the vast majority of omnivores do not (or choose not) know, and the sadness of which we can never un-know or forget.
And that’s just those of us living regular lives. Add to that collective effort the subset of vegans and vegetarians who engage in hands-on, proactive, direct activism – tabling at events, volunteering at nonprofits, literally getting our hands dirty doing direct animal rescue, talking regularly with farmers, vivisectors, and hunters, writing, blogging, tweeting, and interacting with many on both sides of the issue. Those involved in direct activism are often exposed to even MORE knowledge of suffering, more criticism, and more emotional heartache.
But frankly, none of it sounds like a walk in the park. This is not say that vegans are looking for sympathy or some kind of award. But for anyone to suggest that vegans anywhere on the activist spectrum are hiding away in a vegan-only clubhouse, safe from the realities of real life, is to not know truly and intimately the life of a vegan (which is why I am particularly puzzled when such critical statements are made by other vegans). Veganism IS vegan activism – by its very nature, veganism is love in action. However we choose to express ourselves to others, we are ALL activists for our nonhuman kin and advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves.