What is a vegan and why are they so annoying?
British shadow secretary of state for environment Kerry McCarthy, hit the headlines in late 2015 for suggesting that farming cattle should be phased out and meat should be treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it. The former lawyer, who has no background in health or environment, joins the many voices of veganism, a movement that has increased in Britain by 360% over the past decade . But what is veganism?
Veganism is a lifestyle that abstains from the use of any animal products (food or otherwise) in order to eliminate cruelty or exploitation of animals. In dietary terms, this means a strictly plant-based diet, which unlike vegetarianism does not permit the consumption of any dairy products or eggs.
On paper, veganism sounds pretty decent and hugely inspiring for a group of humans to take such a commendable step as to put nature before themselves. Or at least it could be inspiring if it stopped there.
The vegan propaganda machine
One of the key forces driving veganism is social media. If you have vegan friends, then it is almost impossible to avoid the endless stream of vegan memes that fill up social media feeds. This digital world provides a prime environment for virtue signaling as keen to be identified vegans seek for the approval of their network. A vast slew of the media shared puts facts and scientific evidence on a backseat, choosing instead to adopt an emotive and sensationalist focus often boiling down to the fact that some people are squeamish about where food comes from.
Whilst some of this information can be factual and enlightening to some, it all too often falls foul of “crying wolf”, with the drive to convert more vegans losing sight of what is and isn’t factual, resulting in spurious propaganda that weakens what could otherwise have been a strong argument.
The cult of veganism
Not since the Amish have a group so clearly defined themselves by what they don’t consume. Vegans, despite having no real cultural output, conform to a very tight stereotype of often white, middle-class, females who appear to be part of a cultish scheme that rewards you for every person you convert to “going vegan”. By comparison, you wouldn’t be able to identify celiacs or lactose intolerant to anywhere near the same accuracy. It is as if by “going vegan” you automatically conform to some kind of religion – an idea, according to Professor of religion and culture, Gillian McCann, that may be closer to the truth than you might think. She has described the cultural phenomenon of clean eating food movements as the “moral hierarchy for food” , arguing that they coincide with the decline of religion as people seek a new paradigm of ‘goodness’. As with religion, this gives rise to self-righteousness as those at the top of the hierarchy sit in judgment of those beneath.
This “us and them” mentality inevitably leads to a scenario whereby no matter how good the example set by the model pupil in your class at school, you still hated their guts as they were placed on a pedestal by your teachers with the soul purpose of making you feel bad about yourself. For a vegan to sneer at a junk food addict only acts to drive that person in the opposite direction. So by attempting to engage in this way you ultimately fail in your key objective of promoting positive change.
Principles aren’t transferable and examples can’t be shoved down other people’s throats. If we truly believe in something we should live by it whether or not we do so as part of a vast tribe or completely on our own and it is that conviction our society is built upon.