Friday, February 22, 2013

Vegan Vigilantes: When a Good Idea Strays

I recently wrote a blog post Vegan Woes: When Non-Violence is Violent. My interest in this situation is not about the relative merits of a vegan diet versus the relative merits of a omnivorous diet. Rather, I am interested in how individuals, in an attempt to protect other living beings through advocating for a vegan lifestyle, transgress against others and act with violence and aggression.

This morning I woke up to an inbox filled with videos and pictures of dead animals, slaughterhouse horrors, and one picture that appears to be an aborted fetus. There were also various emails suggesting personal attacks against me such as one writer who hopes that my nose gets ground off like a baby rooster.


Not very non-violent. Also not very nice. Most of all, acting with violence and aggression is not an act that is internally consistent with a vegan philosophy. In making a call to reduce suffering and violence for farm animals, some vegans cause suffering and violence for other humans. That's not particularly helpful.

Some commenters on my blog have questioned my intellectual abilities as well as acumen as a psychologist. The gist of the comments are this: I'm nuts to call it an act of violence and aggression to demand other people adopt a particular world view.

Ethnocentricity is the attitude that "mine is better" or that "my way is the only way."

I view the assumption that if an individual has one particular world-view everyone must share that world view a rather imperious and colonial stance. I also see that as an act that holds potential for enormous amounts of interpersonal violence and aggression.

Many raise very important questions. What about slavery? What about child abuse? What about violence against women? What about discrimination against LGBTQ folks? These are, indeed, important questions. They are questions that, for many in the United States, have been more or less settled--or are rapidly settling. Slavery, child abuse, and violence against women is bad. An increasing majority sees discrimination against LGBTQ people as bad. We've created a system of morality enforced by laws. Being part of of our society means following these rules or risk legal and social consequences.

Five children a day die in the United States from child abuse related injuries. 

Yes, there is still a lot of work to do.

We've not developed a consensus that being vegan or vegetarian is the socially accepted value when making dietary decisions. A few questions worth considering:

  • What gives one group of people (vegans) the moral authority to demand their way of thinking is a way that should be adopted by another group of people (omnivores)? 
  • Is it a just act to demand that omnivores alter their diet to conform to the non-violent world-view of vegans? 
  • Is eating animals violent, as vegans feel, the only way to see the use of animals as food? 
  • Is it right to assume that the morality of another group of people (dirt-farmers who live from the land, religious folk who see animals as gifts of food from God, etc.) is less valuable or important that vegan's value system? 
  • What about issues of economy and class? The purchase of whole fresh foods can be significantly more expensive and out of reach of individuals and families with limited or modest incomes. Can we judge their choices and demand them to change?

There are about one million vegans in the United States and 7 million vegetarians.

  • Which choices are acceptable and important? Who decides? Who has the power? 
  • How is that power used? How is it misused?
  • It it moral and just to wield power over another to change their minds and ways? In what circumstances? Why? When is it not moral?

Many of the commenters of my blog, the vegan vigilantes as I'm calling them, seem to be uninterested in looking at these questions. They appear interested in demanding that others hear, accept, and follow their world view because they said so. They are unwilling--or unable--to see the world through a different set of values.

They are, indeed, committing acts of violence and aggression in the service of supporting a non-violent world view. An unreflective and unexamined imposition of one group's will over that lives of another group is an aggressive and violent act. While it is difficult to locate the place where dialogue ends and the violent imposition and colonization of one group's will over the lives of another group begins, it is important to at least know how to ask the questions that help us examine issues of power and control.

These questions are worth asking, and it's a worthwhile endeavor to look for ways to increase dialogue and decrease the imposition of one group's will over another. Many commenters to this blog, filled with good intentions, have gotten off their soap box, placed it upon their heads, and pulled it down over their own eyes. They are locked in a game of "who's right"--and while they are busying trying to win and be right, they are neglecting the interpersonal costs they exact from the others.

What's particularly sad is the unexamined aggression and violence some project toward the other in the service of supporting a non-violent world view.

Sad, indeed.


  1. I'm a recent vegan and I am very aware of the class issues (among other issues) involved in a vegan diet. I say this as a black woman, someone who does not fit the vegan stereotype.

    I'm not a preachy vegan and I can say with confidence that I never will be. I respect that others will make different choices than I will and I am also aware that others do not even have the option to make the choices I have at my disposal.

    I had a vegetarian friend who always made rude (in my opinion) comments whenever we'd have dinner together. He always talked about the pain of the animal that I was eating and why he didn't eat meat. He was not a part of the reason why I switched to a vegetarian and eventual vegan diet. The cliche, "You can win more bees with honey than you can with vinegar" and it's so true! This applies to more things than just veganism of course. Think about taking public transportation, recycling, not bullying, etc. I like to focus on the positives: "Taking public transportation helps the air stay cleaner. Taking public transportation saves you money" versus "All you people driving are polluting the air and making things worse for everyone else."

    While I'm sure it's very trendy to pick on vegans, let's not neglect others who want to impose their views on others: Evangelical christians against birth control, evangelical christians who want to outlaw legal and safe abortion, etc.

    1. Hi Pensive Fashionista,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I couldn't say it better, myself.

      So many are so busy trying to be right, and convince each other who is more right, that we forget how we alienate ourselves from each other... Evangelicals, atheists, vegans,omnivores, LGBTQ, straight, pro-choice, pro-life....