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Retake: Do Vegetarians and Vegans Think They’re Better?

I know I kind of went quiet on the subject after posting the original Do Vegans & Vegetarians Think They’re Better Than Everyone Else post… but I wasn’t ignoring you and all your great comments. I was just ruminating. Stewing. Marinating, if you will.

I have some really strong feelings about this, and have had some really negative experiences, and I just couldn’t decide if/how much I should share.
But here I am, and I’m going to share. At least a little.

The original post included quotes from a recent NPR story discussing whether we, as vegans and vegetarians, think we’re somehow superior to meat eaters. Some of us do, some of us don’t. As much as the haters would like to lump us all together as if we’re one person, that’s not the case.  Bruce Friedrich from Farm Sanctuary really summed it up when he said “Everyone knows there are saintly meat-eaters and cruel vegetarians…” No matter what we eat, there is no one size fits all.

But what actually defines “thinking we’re better“? Is it when we badger others about their eating choices, or is it simply when we try to share information? The definition is going to vary from person to person, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of omnivores would say that all vegans and vegetarians think we’re better, even if we never make a peep about it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think some people hear the word “vegan” and automatically insert the word “militant” ahead of it. Or “crazy”. Or “annoying”, etc.

And I’m sure there are these big, bad militant vegans out there, somewhere- but I’ve never met them. I’m not going to say that there isn’t a single one (because there are) but I think they’ve become a bit of an urban legend being bandied about by a certain group of omnivores trying to justify their own food choices.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know many vegans and vegetarians through my local meetup group as well as through the blog, and I feel pretty confident when I say that none of them would ever physically or verbally attack a stranger for ordering meat in a restaurant, or yell at some random child on the street about the horror stories of slaughterhouses (and yes- I actually read that on a message board once, that vegans had done this to someone’s child.)

Do we want to share our passion for animal welfare and the benefits of a plant-based diet? Yes, absolutely. Are we annoying about it sometimes? Sure, probably.

Wanna know what else is annoying (not to mention insulting and hurtful)? Omnivores verbally attacking vegans, unprovoked, for our food choices. I’m going on record right here, right now that I believe this happens far more often than the other way around. (Let the flaming begin! But before it does, please know I’m not generalizing all omnis. I have plenty of friends with whom I can freely discuss food and not come to blows!)

I have two stories where this has happened to me. I try not to let things bother me, but these 2 instances have kind of stuck in my craw. They are also instances where I, the vegan, did absolutely nothing to provoke either attack. Honestly!

The first happened last year. Picture three couples sitting around a table, 2.5 of which are omnivores. I’m the lone vegan. Now, I knew that certain members of the group had the potential to be hostile, so I had actually resolved ahead of time to not even mention the “v” word- and I didn’t until a few of the others started asking me questions about what I eat, how much weight I’ve lost, etc. They were honest, good-natured questions and I’d answer each one, then change the subject. I was actively trying to turn the conversation away from veganism. So we’re eating lunch, and I’m minding my own business, crunching away  on my salad (the only veg item on the menu- a fact I didn’t complain about or even mention!) when all of a sudden one of the other girls, out of nowhere, bursts out with “Vegetarians are so annoying. What’s their problem? God it makes me so mad!

Now, she knows I’m a vegan- and I can only surmise that vegans were included in her statement about vegetarians- but what could I do? Get into a brawl? I’ll admit I considered that option, but instead I looked at her and said “Seriously?” then looked around at everyone else to see if I was the only one witnessing this ridiculousness. Dead silence at the table for about 30 seconds until someone, thankfully, changed the subject. Now, if in the middle of her eating her lunch I had started talking about slaughterhouses, factory farms, animal cruelty, or even cholesterol, I would’ve been labeled as a Militant Vegan, right? I would’ve become the story she told to her friend over cheeseburgers and milkshakes, in an attempt to rationalize her food choices. “Vegans are horrible, you wouldn’t believe how rude this one vegan was to me at lunch the other day…I could never be vegan.”

Yet she, as an omnivore, is allowed to say that to me? The most maddening part is that even just defending myself probably would’ve earned me the militant title too, I’m pretty sure.

Incident #2 was a bit more recent and a lot more tricky. I was going to be surrounded by a lot of people (which I find difficult to begin with), and there were two in particular that I knew were just itching to start trouble. Picture the Mean Girls animal fight scene  (and no, it’s not often that I compare myself to LiLo). Again, I went into it keeping to myself. I really just tried to not talk to anyone about anything. A few people asked me questions about my diet, and I was actually the recipient of some very unexpected kindness, which was a nice surprise. But, of course, the close-minded mean girls always rear their ugly heads. It was just one comment but it was directed directly at me, and it was mean. And it was 100% related to my dietary and lifestyle choices. Did I mention it was really mean? This time brawling wasn’t an option at all (which sucks because this time I was assured a win!)… and neither was defending myself. It was late, there were too many people around, so I just turned on my heel and left the room. What else could I do?

People want to complain about “Militant Vegans” and “Vegan Police”, but my experiences have been the opposite.  Granted, these are just my experiences- other people’s may be vastly different.

I do want to say though, that while this type of situation makes me sad and angry, I wouldn’t give up being a vegan for the world- I love it and I’m proud of the way I live my life. I have no problem standing up for my beliefs and I love talking to (open-minded) people about animals and veganism and health, but sometimes we have to choose our battles. And I’m madly in love with the vibrant communities of vegans that are springing up all over the world, both online and IRL! You guys are all so awesome!

And, if you’re really good, maybe I’ll share some stories about the times I did decide to brawl 🙂

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{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Catt October 4, 2012, 7:38 am

    I’d say there are people on both sides who make attacks but I agree that there are many omnis who have no problem throwing out insults like that w/out thinking about hurting anyones feelings. It sounds like you should have “brawled”, haha! Thanks for sharing!

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 7:55 am

      I talk a big game, but I’m not really much of a brawler 😉

  • An Unrefined Vegan October 4, 2012, 7:49 am

    Wow, Barb!! Yes. So much going on in my head with this post that all I can really come up with is that – YES! I have been there, I have heard ALL of that. The only thing I can come up w/ is that there are omnis out there who, well, feel some kind of guilt and shame with their food choices so they immediately go on the attack. I don’t know…anyway, great post. Thank you!

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 7:54 am

      I agree 100% that the attacks are generally guilt/shame-based… and based on that, I can infer that if they’d just go vegan they’d be happier people and much less shouty! Oops, there I go again, saying vegans are “less shouty” like I think we’re better or something 😉

  • Sherry (BtLover2) October 4, 2012, 8:13 am

    This is so true!! My initial reaction is to get very defensive towards those who are so blatantly rude about my eating habits (but I am learning to pick my battles as you do). My opinion, just like the way I feel about religion and politics (right or wrong), is to worry about yourself. Live your life, believe what you’d like and mind your own business. I don’t really understand the rational behind the attacks. Does my eating affect your life somehow? Just eat your damn steak and shut it (pretty please 😉

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 8:23 am

      I sometimes feel really defensive, I just try hard not to let it show. And I love how you add “pretty please” at the end, all nice and sweet!

  • Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 4, 2012, 8:13 am

    Come on, we’re dying to know what the second b*tch said. Well, I am, anyway, because I’m a masochist.

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 8:25 am

      I need some deniability in case mutual “people” read this 🙂

  • Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 4, 2012, 8:15 am

    Also, I always say to people, “What I eat and don’t eat is really none of your concern and no threat to you, so perhaps you should not feel threatened by it so much that you’ll rudely attack me despite it being inappropriate.” That’s my standard reply to attackers.

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 8:22 am

      That’s a good response- and I think it’s a really good idea to have one on hand just in case you’re too angry/upset/annoyed to think clearly in the moment.

    • formerfishtacofanatic October 4, 2012, 11:29 am

      I might need to borrow that for next time.

  • NatalieSCook October 4, 2012, 11:06 am

    Love this – I’ve been veggie since I was 7 (20 years) (and no my parents aren’t veggie) and I’m perfectly happy with argumentative people who try to say that farm animals will go extinct if we don’t eat them, look at our teeth they’re designed for meat etc, but my boyfriend has only been veggie for a couple of years and has just started uni where he met two such people. he ended up getting quite upset/annoyed/frustrated – it was difficult for me to explain to him just to let it go. I’ve sent him this blog, thank you so much for writing it.

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 11:12 am

      Well, first off- I think it’s awesome that you went veggie at 7! Especially since your parents weren’t- that must’ve taken some serious backbone. Good for you! It also sounds like the last 20 years have given you practice in letting those comments roll off your back… I need a little more practice before I catch up to you 🙂

  • formerfishtacofanatic October 4, 2012, 11:29 am

    A friend of mine who is trying to go vegan posted something on Facebook on world vegetarian day about 30 reasons to go Vegan in October – some of which were health based reasons, and some ethical/environmental. Well, one of her friends went on a commenting tirade about how vegans are liars, and that meat isn’t really unhealthy (he curiosly didn’t try to address the ethical arguments presented in the article). And would attack any commenter that tried to counter his arguments as “misinformed.”

    It took all my might not to post a comment in response to him. See, he’s one of those people who HAS to be right ALL THE TIME. There’s no arguing with people like that. There’s no changing their minds.

    It’s so frustrating, especially because he was wrong. Meat isn’t healthy and most of my health problems came from my days of eating animal flesh.
    But in his mind, he’s right. And in some way, I think it’s because he’s justifying it to himself.

    • Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 4, 2012, 11:36 am

      Maybe this is me thinking I’m better, but does it make me feel better that I’ll keep looking like I’m 30 and being thin and healthy when I’m 60, while he’ll be fat and sick and battling high cholesterol? Yes. Yes it does.

      • Barb October 4, 2012, 11:42 am

        I’m right there with you! I like that saying about how genetics are the gun but how you eat is the bullet- being vegan doesn’t guarantee you’ll be healthy forever, but it sure gives you a much better chance!

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 11:36 am

      Without having ever met this guy I feel like I can say for certain that he’s trying to justify it to himself. Or… he’s just a jerk. I’m surprised your friend who’s trying to go vegan didn’t block him. That’s the problem with FB though… you’re constantly subjected to people sharing allll their thoughts and feelings 🙂

  • Somer October 4, 2012, 11:35 am

    I just want to give you a big fat hug right now. I think people give me a “free vegan” card because I went vegan for health reasons, I’ve actually had people say to me “Oh, I can totally see doing it if I were as sick as you were, but why would you do it otherwise” Um, to save the planet, to be kind to animals, to not give yourself cancer, diabetes or a heart attack. Maddening.

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 11:40 am

      Aww, thanks!
      It’s interesting though that some people find it somehow less annoying when it’s health based. I’d say that I’ve had people be more open-minded about it when I talk about it from a health perspective. My (unproven) theory is that when we say “it’s unhealthy” they feel like they’re only hurting themselves. When we say “Ohhh, the animals!” they maybe start to realize how much harm is being caused to others, and that’s when they start to get defensive. Maybe?

      • Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 4, 2012, 11:57 am

        Barb, I think that the fact that people are more open to veganism for health rather than animals is because many people don’t want to do anything that doesn’t benefit THEM, and is only to benefit others. The truth is, most people just don’t agree that animals are not made to be eaten. It simply does not ruffle their feathers (so to speak) for animals to be mistreated, because animals are not people. And that’s it.

        Honestly, I can understand feeling that way. What I cannot understand is being unmoved by the ENVIRONMENTAL impact their food choices have. That’s your own kids’ suffering we’re talking about, not a chicken’s. Also, I don’t know about you, but to me, the health stuff is major! The problem is that there is too much misinformation rattling around in people’s heads, and they cannot decide which is correct, so they go with the one they want to hear. The only defense against that, I think is if we vegans look amazing and are healthy. I went to my 10 year high school reunion (uhh, three years ago) , and you know what? I looked the best. Hands down. Not to be a jerk, not to think I’m better, but, well, yeah. I’m kinda better. There, I said it! I cause less harm, make decisions based off not just what I want but what is best, and I stand up against corporations, conventional wisdom, and restaurants who want to put cheese in my salad just to stick up for animals we factory farm, the children who will have to live on this destroyed planet, and MYSELF, since I intend to live a long life.

        • Barb October 4, 2012, 1:09 pm

          That could be it too! I don’t understand how people can refuse to consider any of the aspects- healthy, animal or environment. I’m totally an animal-welfare vegan but the impact on my health and the environment are both HUGE and I have so much appreciation for that. It’s almost funny that I, who is and always will be child-free by choice, cares more about how the environment is going to be for the next generations than some people who’s children and grandchildren, etc, will be the ones to suffer.

  • Audrey October 4, 2012, 11:41 am

    I still get pretty upset sometimes by things people say, but I am getting better about not letting it show. I think a lot of times–but not always–people mean well, or are trying to probe you for information to justify the choice to be vegan. Well, at least I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s tough, though, for sure. The hardest thing for me is being the lone vegan in my family, thus I have to deal with other people eating flesh and dairy each day. I still love those people dearly because they are my family, but it’s really hard not to flip out sometimes about it. I’m also not a very good arguer. I tend to forget facts and just kind of mumble and stutter incoherently when I am impassioned about something…so I do best to just let comments roll off. I’m still working on it, though!

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 11:46 am

      I agree that some people really do just want information, and I’m always happy to share it. I’ll admit that sometimes I have to wonder if they’re being serious when they say “But you can eat fish, right?”… but like you I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. And I know exactly what you mean about coming up with arguments and facts under pressure- I try to memorize a few really good points that I can always fall back on.

      Hmmm… maybe I should have everyone share their favorites with me and I’ll compile them in a post!

      • Audrey October 4, 2012, 4:55 pm

        That’s a great idea, Barb, about compiling come-backs!

  • narf77 October 4, 2012, 1:16 pm

    I too am a vegan who tends to hide her choices when amongst other people. I do this because its easier. Just say that you are gluten free, you are allergic or whatever and be done with it because being vegan by choice is probably worse than being a lepper. Living in the meat eating mecca of Tasmania I would probably be lynched if I outed myself any day soon but the thing is I could care less what other people eat and am not militant at all. I read a lot of vegan blogs where lecturing is the theme of the day. I get very tired of it but its usually teenagers trying to make sense of the world and find their identity and as veganism seems to be a phase that a lot of teenaged girls pass through I guess we are going to get this. Militant vegans are a pain in the neck as are militant meat eaters and you are right about the lopsided comments that we are supposed to take “in good humour”. Somtimes they are just plain outright ignorant and rude!

    • Barb October 9, 2012, 10:38 am

      I like how you phrase it- that we’re expected to just take the comments “in good humor”, because I think that’s exactly it. If we don’t laugh (about something that isn’t at all funny) then we’re too uptight, right? Talk about a ‘can’t win’ situation!

      • narf77 October 9, 2012, 11:07 am

        I just laugh at everything. I would rather they thought that I was a bit strange than an “uptight vegan” ;). I just keep remembering that this is MY choice and I shouldn’t have to defend it constantly and that makes it a bit easier to brush off stupid comments. At the end of the day, what other people think of me is really none of my business and if they actively seek me out to harangue me I most certainly know that I am not interested in taking that friendship any further! Nothing like a bit of vegan outing to make a pack start sharpening its teeth lol 😉

        • Barb October 10, 2012, 6:00 am

          Ha, I’m sure plenty of people think I’m strange 🙂

          • narf77 October 10, 2012, 11:23 am

            Strange is good…raving loonatic or “whinging vegan” not so good 😉

  • mrsnikkiv October 4, 2012, 1:36 pm

    I am a new vegan I try my very best not to do anything to get me labeled a “militant vegan”, but I know the damage has already been done in one of my social circles. A while back I posted something on Facebook of a picture of a puppy and a piglet, saying “Why love one and eat the other?” I guess that some people could see that as preachy, but I really meant it from a good place in my heart. I was trying to get people who I thought were my friends to consider their habits from a different point of view.

    As I have learned, if you post anything like that on Facebook, you have to be prepared for people to feel challenged and try to poke holes in your lifestyle choices. Two days later, one of my “friends” began a Facebook group called “Meat Eaters Against Vegans”, saying that it was in response to the recent increase of “preachy vegans” on Facebook. Needless to say, we are no longer friends.

    It seems like the majority of people feel that you owe them an explanation for why you chose to change your diet. I don’t think that we owe anyone anything… these are personal matters. People who behave like that likely won’t get anything positive from what you tell them anyway.

    I have another friend, who grew up on a farm, raising his own cows and chickens for the purposes of food. He and I have had many civilized conversations about why I chose to be vegan because he is truly curious and well-meaning. As a result of our conversations, I inspired him to try “Meatless Mondays”!

    I think it’s still worth talking to people about the issues if they are interested because you can possibly open their mind and change their habits, but you have to know which people will hear your message and which are trying to prove you wrong. Otherwise, you won’t get through to them and you’ll just frustrate yourself in the process.

    • Barb October 4, 2012, 1:55 pm

      Very well written, thank you! I don’t think what you posted on FB was preachy- I believe that anyone who took it that way (especially your “Friend” who started the group) falls into the category of people who realize, on some level, that their choices don’t align with either their values or what they think their values should be (and I say that because- why else would they care what you eat???). And I love the story of your other friend who’s now trying Meatless Mondays!! I’m really not an “all or nothing” vegan (although obvs I wish everyone would just go vegan!) and I see so much value in people making even the smallest of changes to their eating habits, especially because I believe that when those small changes are successful, they lead to even bigger ones.

      • mrsnikkiv October 4, 2012, 2:02 pm

        Exactly! Every step taken is a positive one. I think it’s a really good way to introduce people to the idea that you actually CAN live without animal products. If they get used to one day a week without meat, maybe they will take the next step.

        I see it as a move toward making active decisions rather than just doing what you have always done without questioning it. It makes me proud of my choices because I MADE THEM!

  • gail October 5, 2012, 7:41 am

    “but I’m willing to bet that a lot of omnivores would say that all vegans and vegetarians think we’re better, even if we never make a peep about it.” – exactly what I was thinking right before I read that part of your post. It is hard that my personal choice can automatically make someone else feel bad about their choice, or defensive, even if I never tell them that, but I have encountered that attitude time and again. I think the initial reaction is defensiveness, but I have also seen many people open up their thinking, and change their dietary choices, over time, when they’ve had a chance to let down their defenses and just think about the arguments. great post!

    • Barb October 9, 2012, 10:40 am

      Getting them to let down their defenses is key, isn’t it!?!? And I couldn’t agree more about about how these choices that WE made automatically seem to trigger defensiveness in some other people. It’s a shame!

  • Gabby @ the veggie nook October 6, 2012, 12:47 am

    Wow I am so sorry you have had to deal with situations like that!

    I think it’s very unfair that we as vegans are painted as militant, unforgiving individuals. I think omnivores forget that when they paint us as such, they become the same thing! It’s an endless cycle where we all become defensive of our lifestyles (although I think vegans are defensive in a good way because we are passionate about our beliefs whereas with omnivores it’s because they feel attacked by our presence).

    Why can’t we all just get along?

    Great post Barb!

    • Barb October 9, 2012, 10:41 am

      Thanks Gabby- I know I’m not the only one. And I love the way you put that: that they become the same thing- so true!

  • Heather October 10, 2012, 8:16 am

    I am so happy you posted this- I have never understood why omni’s are so overly concerned with how I choose to live, eat and breathe and attempt to “prove me wrong” whenever they have the chance – this isn’t all omni’s but the ones who are insecure about their own eating habits and I hate to say it – typically aren’t the healthiest people inside or out….i always go the nice sincere route but when they start to get nasty I kinda do too, but then I end the conversation simply saying how you eat and what you eat is very personal – it is my choice not yours

    • Food and Loathing in the Steel City October 10, 2012, 8:27 am

      Yeah, Heather, did you ever notice that the people who are most likely to tell you that you’re not getting all the nutrients you need being vegan are the most overweight and least healthy people? That’s been my experience anyway. I’m always like, “Since when do you care about nutrients? Let’s look at what you eat and see what nutrients YOU’RE missing.”

  • mrsnikkiv October 10, 2012, 8:46 am

    My sister sent me this after I was attacked on Facebook for posting something about being vegan. I thought I should share it. Let’s see if the link works…
    Uploaded with ImageShack.us

  • Ellie October 11, 2012, 7:31 am

    It’s interesting to see how making choices for yourself (and maybe some cute cows too, in veganism’s case) can draw out defensiveness in other people. I run into this as a vegan, as well as as a distance runner. Tell someone you run 26 miles for ‘fun’ and the same mechanism kicks in. They’ll tell you about how you’ll end upm with terrible knees, or people die running marathons. I try to be nice and point out that heart disease kills more people than marathons ever have, and that obesity is much harder on your joints than running.
    I get the same thing with being vegan, all the time. It’s tiring, so when I don’t feel like having the conversation, I just tell them I’m lactose intolerant (it’s not a lie, I am), and they don’t question it. It seems that defensiveness is a natural reaction, as exhausting as it can be if you’re the different one.

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