In my recent article, I broke down a few of the common myths about veganism and explained why they are harmful from a psychological perspective. Since there are many more myths than I could cover in a single post, I decided to write a “part two” to explore a few more widespread misconceptions about veganism.
As I mentioned in the initial piece, I will be the first to admit that I believed many of these ideas about vegans and veganism before I became a part of the community myself. Thus, my goal is to offer information that helps non-vegans better understand this path — ideally, to shed some of the misinformation that is so rampant in our cultural narrative, and to develop more empathy and compassion for folks they know or encounter who live a vegan lifestyle. For the vegans reading, I hope this will be a helpful resource for you to share with loved ones who struggle to understand your perspective.
I covered three myths in part one, so we’ll pick up at #4 here:
Myth #4: Vegans are self-righteous and judgmental.
Any social cause has a broad spectrum of voices that varies in terms of skillfulness in communicating about its issues, veganism and animal rights being no exception. Back when I was an omnivore, I would sometimes feel defensive around vegetarians or vegans even if they weren’t talking much about their food choices. I later recognized that my defensiveness (or judgment of them) was about my discomfort with my own choices, and I didn’t like being faced with that, because I wasn’t ready to change. It was easier to roll my eyes at them instead.
When a person first “makes the connection”1 and goes vegan, it can be painful and disorienting. We want to shout from the rooftops that we can’t believe we spent all those years contributing to unnecessary suffering. Sometimes, this gets communicated in a way that can come across as judgmental of those who haven’t made this connection.
If you feel criticized by someone who is vegan, I encourage you to check in with yourself and reflect on whether they were actually being judgmental, or if you were hearing them through your own filter of discomfort with what their words or choices bring up for you. If you reflect and still find their behavior to be inappropriate, you could certainly express your feelings to them or make a request that they communicate about this with you in a different way.
Myth #5: Being vegan is expensive, and thus, only for the financially privileged.
Some meat and dairy alternatives are indeed pricier than their animal-based counterparts. However, it’s important to recognize that one of the primary reasons for this is government subsidies for the meat and dairy industries, which make the price of these products artificially low for consumers2. These subsidies are frequently criticized as ultimately harmful to the public; the World Health Organization recently classified processed meats (such as ham, bacon, and hotdogs) as a Group 1 carcinogen, and red meats as a “probable” carcinogen3.
So what would folks who can’t afford $10 artisanal vegan mozzarella or $5 sandwich “meat” eat instead? A nutrient-rich vegan diet (yes, including plenty of protein) can be even less expensive than an omnivorous one, thanks to the abundance and affordability of legumes, grains, nuts, and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, while pricier gourmet options are available, many meat and dairy alternatives are competitively priced — and as producers scale to meet increased demand, prices will continue to drop. Already, fast-food chain White Castle sells the Impossible Burger slider for $2, and discount grocer Aldi offers a variety of low-cost meat and dairy alternatives.
Myth #6: Veganism is just a diet fad, like Whole 30 or low-carb.
Diet culture is thriving more than ever in the US, with the weight loss industry reaching $72 billion in 2018. The proliferation of social media means that not only are we getting diet advice from daytime television and magazines as always, but we’re also getting it 24/7 from the friends and “influencers” we follow online.
Veganism is experiencing a cultural moment of being “on trend,” partially because of our collective obsession with “clean eating.” Thus, it’s true that some people are going vegan purely for health reasons. This is frequently referred to as a “plant-based diet” rather than vegan, because it often excludes non-dietary lifestyle choices that are a part of ethical veganism, such as not purchasing leather or products that have been tested on animals.
Some in the vegan community are critical of “plant-based” folks because of this incongruence, especially because it may not “stick” any better than other types of diets do (and the vast majority of diets fail) — which could mean they are back to bacon-wrapped steak in a matter of months.
However, often people who go plant-based initially for health reasons end up educating themselves further on the environmental and animal rights impact of various industries, and ultimately make the decision to life a vegan lifestyle that expands beyond just their dietary choices. As some vegans say, “I don’t care what brought you here, just that you’re here and doing less harm to animals as a result.”
I hope this two-part series on exploring common myths about veganism has been helpful. I invite you to comment and share any questions you have or other myths you’d like to see us explore on this blog over the coming months.
1 The vegan community often use the phrase “make the connection” to refer to the connection between our love of animals and our ability to make less violent choices towards them; or simply, making the connection between ourselves as humans and other sentient beings, recognizing how we are much more similar than we are different.
2 For more information about these government subsidies, check out the book Meatonomics by David Simon.
3 Source: World Cancer Research Fund