The social recognition of veganism

The social recognition of veganism

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Veganism as a social movement often lacks the type of recognition it deserves. However, veganism should be viewed alongside other social movements that campaign for equality. As such, veganism should be treated with the same respect and recognition that these other equality movements have.

This article is about the social recognition (or the lack thereof) of veganism in the eyes of the general (meat eating) majority. As a caveat: not all meat eaters disregard the idea that veganism is a legitimate social movement. Nonetheless, I am speaking about a widely held perception. So, to those people who might think veganism is not a social movement with purpose, I kindly ask you to read on.

There is a current lack of regard for a subject which vegans believe to be highly important and pertinent: the pandemic of poor and harmful treatment of nonhuman animals by humans (who are, lest we forget, also animals). I am not going to outline why veganism is a compelling notion. This is more about persuading people to treat veganism, as a movement and idea, with more respect and to recognize it alongside other equality movements, such as Feminism, BME rights, LGBTQ, and Environmentalism, etc. All such movements are based upon the principle that prejudice is wrong.

It is enough that there are people who do believe veganism is a meaningful social movement. This alone should be sufficient reason for those who are not vegan to respect the convictions of those who are. Of course, we should not be tolerant for tolerance’s sake or just respect any old belief. For society to treat belief systems with proper regard, those beliefs need to be well-founded and have reasonable content. I and many others think veganism does posses these things. There are a lot of people today, as there have been in the past, who are vegan, from the young to the old, philosophers to bakers, musicians to government officials.

Just because people believe something doesn’t make it a reasonable belief, but it does mean that before dismissing it out of hand you need to show why it is not a reasonable belief. This usually involves research on the subject, thinking objectively and carefully about it, and also not dismissing the beliefs just because you don’t like the people who hold them (known as an ad hominem fallacy).

Given that veganism is a movement with popularity and historical, scientific, and philosophical support, why is there an abundance of  anti-vegan jokes and offensive disregard of the movement (see links: 1, 2, 3)?

I argue that it is wrong to make light of veganism as a social movement. It is simply offensive and inconsistent of the people who do so. Most people today take women’s equality, BME, and LGBTQ issues seriously (as they should). Now, I am not arguing that these movements have in anyway reached their desired goals, sadly they are far from it, but my point is that they are held in high regard by many people who whilst at the same time hold veganism in a lowly regard. To behave publicly as a sexist, a racist, or a fascist is hugely frowned upon. Curiously, to mock veganism is not at all frowned upon by the majority within society.

Making a mockery of veganism and those who practice it seems to be an acceptable form of prejudice. There are other types of ‘acceptable’ prejudices also. Disregard and mockery of Romany gypsies and traveller peoples can be viewed as an ‘acceptable’ form of racism, seen through programs like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Prejudices against the homeless, the working classes, and those with mental health problems are also among the sociably ‘acceptable’ prejudices. What is more, these are also types of prejudice that people generally hold whilst at the same time being an advocate of one or more other equality movements.

If someone says “I am a feminist”, “I am a civil rights advocate”, “A humanitarian”, etc. the majority of people (sadly, again, not all) will not think to mock or ridicule them. Although to an extent, all such movements have their fair share of jokers in the opposition. Again, I am not arguing that these movements are always respected, but that veganism is disrespected by people who also respect these other movements.

If someone says “I am a vegan”, then more often than not that someone will get a response like: “but HOW do you live without chicken nuggets?” Lurking behind these sorts of responses is the idea that veganism is nothing but a lifestyle eccentricity for hippy-lefty-know-it-all types, those who ride the high horse, and those who are ‘soft’ pacifists that eat grass. I am sure you get the picture. Though I do not have the space to expand on this, it sounds eerily similar to what people used to say about feminists and slavery abolitionists not too long ago. It is enough to make one think widespread amnesia has set it.

In society today, as there has always been and always will be to some degree, there are ‘blind spots’ where open disregard or harassment for a particular group is seen as acceptable. Society never used to think women were equal to men, it was even ludicrous to suggest so; society used to think that non-white people were not even human beings; society used to think that it was a mental disorder to be anything but heterosexual, and so on. Today we thankfully no longer think these things (on the whole). Movements against sexism, racism, and LGBTQ discrimination are all held in roughly equal regard today. Veganism, however, is not held with such regard despite its being alike in form.

The upshot of this contradictory system of recognition is this. To crack a joke about veganism, to publically lampoon it for financial profit, to see it as anything less than a serious movement is analogous to making a racist or sexist joke, profiting from racial/sexual exploitation, or making light of said issues.

Here’s an example of a recent exchange I had with a friend, ‘Sam’. Sam, after seeing a recent article of mine on Facebook about veganism, posted on my wall a picture of a steak in a frying pan alongside the comment “I ate this for you, Richard”, and then a series of meat-based puns were made by Sam and other Sam-sympathisers in the comment section below.

After I told Sam that I had a problem with this, they took it down and apologised- which is great of Sam . But this example is not a one-time sort of thing. It happens frequently to vegans everywhere. Imagine if I wrote feminist articles and Sam had posted a picture of a women getting sexually harassed and commented “I did this, Richard” – that would be outrageous and horrible. However, when veganism is the butt of the joke, “it’s all in good fun”, ‘just a joke, ya know? :P”.

I’ll end on a less antagonistic note. What are vegans doing that is so irksome? They choose to practice a lifestyle that minimizes harm done to sentient beings, human and nonhuman alike. They’re pretty peaceful. I can only assume people mock it because they suffer cognitive dissonance within their own set of beliefs when thinking about veganism; or maybe they don’t think about it at all.

Richard Smith
As a blossoming Yorkshire rose, I've spent the recent years of my life in the far north, middle, and south of the fair United Kingdom. The past four years I spent studying for an undergraduate and postgraduate degree mainly in philosophy but with some sociology. I spend the bulk of my time thinking about animal ethics, digging my mitts into painting, reading and trying to write, as well as putting my lips to beer with friends (not the same beer). There is more to me, but there's the outline. Having recently moved to London, I am trying to do well without getting too much Big Smoke in my eyes. I try to stay open to others' ideas so if you're up for a chat or discussion, then it'd be my pleasure.

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