Some time ago (a few months, I believe), I was following along the comments for an Offbeat Home post that dealt with recipes, and therefore a conversation about dietary choices sprung up. While one commenter vehemently argued that Offbeat Home was villain-izing vegans (they definitely weren’t, so the conversation was rather amusing), another posted a link to an NPR article that was talking about a study of vegan judgmentalism. Or rather, in this case, it compared the perception that vegetarians and omnivores have of the vegetarian diet. The results were interesting:
“In one study, vegetarians did rate a fictional person who most often ate “tofu, vegetable tempura, salad, whole-wheat bread and lentils” as more virtuous (i.e., more tolerant of others, kind-hearted, considerate, concerned and virtuous) than a fictional person who most often ate “lamb, lean beef, salad, whole-wheat bread and chicken burgers.” But omnivores also judged the tofu-eater more virtuous than the lamb-eater, if to a lesser degree — a difference of .5 points for omnivores versus 1.3 points for vegetarians on an 8-point scale…
In a study of this phenomenon, omnivores again judged vegetarians more moral than their omnivorous peers, but expected that vegetarians would perceive this gap as nearly 10 times as big — that is, that vegetarians would rate the difference in morality between meat-eaters and vegetarians as nearly 10 times greater than the omnivorous participants believed it actually to be. A follow-up study confirmed that omnivores inaccurately overestimated how harshly vegetarians truly judged them.”
I’ve always tried to be the kind of vegan/vegetarian that people want to aspire to be like (or even simply like); that is, I’ve tried not to be a dick about it (I’ll admit to some faltering on that point, but I would attribute that more toward being a teenager, and we were all dicks when we were teenagers), in addition to eating food that tastes good and supporting organizations that deserve support. I don’t actually have a problem with other people eating meat; what I do have a problem with is people denying that the factory farming industry is an issue while at the same time spoiling their cat or dog (or rooting for the gazelle on Nat Geo and becoming sad when he gets eaten). I have so much respect for people who are able to say, “I get that it’s hypocritical, but frankly I don’t give a fuck.” Because I try really hard not to be a dick to people who aren’t vegan (and that includes you, my much-loved paleos – apparently we’re supposed to hate each other, but I don’t buy that), it bothers me when I get comments like “for every cow you don’t eat, I’m going to eat three hurr hurr”, “animals were put on earth for us to eat”, and especially “but you’re not a good enough vegan.” In the world we live in, with the way items are processed, there is no way for any one person to become completely vegan. I’m talking items like car tires and glue, etcetera, etcetera. What a lot of people need to realize is that sometimes, as much as we try to be “perfect”, taking the best possible option is what we need to do to be good vegans or vegetarians, and shaming us for not being good enough is not helpful for anyone – whether the person doing the shaming is an omnivore or a veg themselves. And no, I don’t think that taking the best possible option is hypocritical – it’s making the best of a bad situation, instead of completely ignoring said situation to begin with.
Overall, I think both sides of the spectrum have work to do when it comes to respecting one another. This isn’t something I can fully speak to, seeing as I know no other vegans and only one other vegetarian, and therefore am unfamiliar with how the veg community chooses to represent itself on its most basic level. I guess the biggest piece of advice that I have to give is that, unless you want to become vegan and have legitimate questions about the process, know your audience. In most cases, simply don’t discuss it in polite or casual conversation. So omnivores: don’t get started on the reasons you eat meat, and veggies: don’t get started on the reasons why you don’t. Some people are up for big philosophical debates, but there’s a saying that goes that religion, sex, and politics shouldn’t be discussed in polite conversation, and since being veg can fall both under the categories of religion and politics, chances are someone’s feelings are going to get hurt if it’s brought up in length. If you need to talk about it, go online and find like-minded people or write a blog post and tag it so that people can know to avoid it if it doesn’t interest them or read it if it does. And if you initiate the conversation and someone states they’re not comfortable getting into it, respect that. I guess it’s somewhat similar to asking a trans person personal questions about their surgery or sex life – you can look that stuff up online. It’s called Google for a reason.