Being vegan in a non-vegan world is difficult for some. This can be especially true when those people live in hostile communities, work in hostile environments, or find themselves living in a hostile family. Very rarely is it because the thought of pus-laden milk was so enticing that they simply couldn’t hold out any longer. I recognize the privilege I have, living with someone who’s been vegan for over two decades and having many close friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are vegan. I live in a city with over 40 vegetarian restaurants. I recognize this is not a reality for all vegans, and that they can be prone to unique challenges because of it. If you’re one of those vegans, please know that you are truly a hero to me and a massive reason I write this blog is to humbly offer up a bit of catharsis and do my best to display solidarity, show respect and provide a wee bit of comic relief. Almost all of what I write is in service to you, not non-vegans, for which I take my fair share of heat. I wear many hats, and sometimes that ‘hat’ is sharing information with patience and while exercising non-judgment even when it’s hard, and I’m no saint. However, the ‘hat’ I wear for this blog tends to be bold and provocative, with a big-ass button that says “UNAPOLOGETIC VEGAN FOR LIFE”. But I digress…
Sometimes, despite serious efforts, people stop being vegan. And they’re not necessarily jerks. Sometimes well-intentioned, good-hearted people just choose to not stay vegan. While the details may change, one thing often remains consistent: the incessant need to ‘justify’ this decision to fellow vegans. This is an issue that deserves to be handled with the utmost of care, thanks to the phenomenon I refer to as the ‘failed vegan multiplier’ (consider this a primer in veganomics). The premise is based on the retail understanding that while a satisfied customer may tell 1-3 people about their decision to purchase a product or service, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 8-10 people about how unhappy they are. So while vegans are almost always happy to share all the ways veganism has made their life more rich, a failed vegan will almost always share even more information, to even more people, and it will likely be extremely negative.
This is almost always a simple matter of cognitive dissonance. To the former vegan in question, their decision to jump ship requires that they either accept themselves as: a) weak-willed b) inconsistent c) immoral d) a failure, OR– they contend that it is the movement that is flawed, wrong, strange, unnatural, unaccepting, elitist, and judgmental. So in order to counteract the guilt, they almost always go on the offense.
I recently had a close friend (or someone I thought was a close friend) pull an interpersonal Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde when she deleted me from Facebook with no warning, and ended our friendship via a text message. Talk about a knife to the heart! Now, when I say ‘ended our friendship’, I actually mean ‘insulted the vegan movement and my community’s “creepy obsession with animals” to the point where I wanted to remain friends with her like I wanted a hole in the head’. But I’m vegan, I’m a sensitive person, and this betrayal hurt me, especially given that it came out of nowhere and I’d been an extremely supportive friend.
In my opinion, until veganism reaches critical mass (which I believe will happen within my lifetime), there are simply going to be people who, despite knowing what they know and feeling what they feel, will abandon veganism because their identities are too dependent on external approval and validation. Not everyone is happy being considered a maverick, and we as a community can continue to find ways to support these people. [Note that I say ‘can’ because I don’t believe it is our personal obligation to, I’m very much against prescribing recommendations to people in any situation, this is merely a point worth considering.]
I have had a lot of time to think about my former friend, and had she given me the chance, there are some things I would have liked to say to her. I share them with you in the hopes that should you find yourself in this situation some day, you have a potential place to start a discussion. I do, of course, encourage you to trust your own intuition.
Five things I’d consider saying to someone who is respectfully telling you they’re jumping ship on veganism:
1) I understand this decision can’t be very easy for you, because I know how much you care about other animals. I also know that telling me probably makes you feel embarrassed, nervous, and afraid that I’ll judge you.
2) People are animals too, and while I’d love to see you stay vegan, if you’re suffering then not only is that not good for you, it’s not good for the movement. Does this decision seem like something long-term, or is it the result of feeling like you don’t have enough support or knowledge? If that’s the case, I’d be happy to help you access some amazing resources and feel more connected to the vegan community.
3) Veganism is a social justice movement. Therefore, like many of the freethinkers in other social justice movements, we have a worldview unlike many of the people around us, including those we love. Imagine how it felt to be a woman fighting just to be respected as a person in a world that refused her! It’s never been easy to be a history-maker, and veganism is no exception. I believe that we’ll be looked back upon by future generations as progressive people who lived in accordance with human beings’ deepest understandings of empathy and compassion. This provides me with comfort when I find the opposition difficult to endure.
4) I hope that despite your decision you’ll remember that veganism is a healthy, sustainable, compassionate worldview because all animals are individuals who are entitled to a peaceful, free life. You might feel like you need to justify your decision to others, but please remember that your individual beliefs and experiences are not reflective of the movement as a whole. There are more vegans than ever before, and it is a movement that will only continue to grow, especially as more and more linkages are made between it and other social justice movements.
5) I hope all the compassionate reasons you went vegan are the same reasons you continue to respect the movement, and keep an open mind about it for the future. Our personal journeys are long and winding, and don’t feel like there would be a grudge held if you ever decide you want to be vegan again.
And as for what I’d say to my former friend given that she didn’t respect me enough to actually have that conversation with me?
I know your family’s refusal to appreciate (or at the very least respect) your decisions has always been difficult for you. I truly wish your life, up to this point, had given you enough self-trust to push back, and I believe one day it may. In the mean time, I forgive you, I know it wasn’t really about me, or the ‘crazy, creepy vegans’, or even the animals for that matter. It was about you taking an opportunity to feel less otherized. I hope that the community you sacrificed is worth all the meaningless conversations you’ll now quietly endure over immoral, unsustainable, unhealthy meals with relatives who will continue to become chronically ill and remain steadfast in their ways, nonetheless. I hope you finally get the respect you’ve deserved from them the entire time, but have yet to receive (even way before you were a ‘crazy vegan’ yourself).
I told you. I’m vegan. I ain’t a saint…