You don’t have to be vegan to be a leftist


Like the video title says: you don’t have to be vegan to be leftist. You really don’t.

I’m saying this as someone who’s been vegetarian for 25 years, and has seen veganism become increasingly popular. Now, while I do think people could benefit from eating more plants and less meat because it’s better for the environment, I didn’t make this video to convince you to go vegan. I made this video for those well-meaning vegans who are just a little bit… judgy.

That judgment bothers me, because I don’t think it helps anything. Not the cause of eating less meat, or of helping the environment. Also, I think we alienate a lot of potential allies when we’re militant about veganism. I’ll explain why.

First, there are plenty of  reasons why it’s hard or even impossible for some people to adopt a vegan diet. These include health issues, physical limitations when it comes to meal prep, and limited income, all play a factor into whether or not someone can go vegan. I’ve seen a lot of well-intentioned vegans mocking these reasons, or citing endless articles explaining why it’s actually much cheaper and healthier to buy beans or lentils than hamburger meat. Then you’re down a rabbit hole of arguing about how good almonds are for the environment, the ethics of farming quinoa, if Beyond Meat is gross… and all of this completely misses the point.

One issue I have when vegans lecture people is that it ignores the actual problems for the symptoms. If the issue is factory farming, the solution isn’t to tell people how awesome a vegan diet is.

In a nutshell: it displaces the responsibility— of a food supply chain, government farm bills, and the general awfulness of capitalism that created factory farms— and dumps that blame directly onto people. It’s similar to the argument I’ve heard about personal responsibility and the environment. While it’s helpful if people recycle, use reusable shopping bags, and ride a bike, those actions alone cannot offset the damage that corporate manufacturing does to the environment. 

Bad news: the system is rigged. Eco-friendly and cruelty-free products tend to be more expensive than products mass-produced in countries with no labor laws or products tested on animals. Capitalism sucks and makes it hard to live an ethical life. While I’m not saying to just give up, just remember where to direct your advocacy. 

Again, it’s shifting the blame and responsibility, and also bringing an element of class into it. Sure, it’s great if you can afford to shop at stores with organic products or if your neighborhood has recycling facilities. But personal choice will never outweigh the choices that governments or corporations can make, just on a sense of scale.

Two: lecturing people on why eating meat is bad doesn’t freaking work. If our goal is to have people eating healthier food with a lower impact on the environment, guilting them into it is not the best way to accomplish this— especially when not eating meat is something done for religious reasons in some cultures. It’s hard to stop eating meat. In fact, making people feel guilty might make them less likely to try vegan food.

I get it, it’s infuriating. But it’s a fact: simply presenting people with facts won’t change their minds. For example, just giving anti-vaxxers information on why vaccines work doesn’t convince them to vaccinate their children. It has the opposite effect: it hardens their resolve that vaccines are terrible.

For a personal example: when I smoked, people loved to tell me in a self-righteous tone that cigarettes would kill me. Not shockingly, none of these statements ever motivated me to quit. In fact, it sometimes motivated me to smoke another while maintaining direct eye contact.

On the other hand, talking to ex-smokers who had quit did encourage me to quit.

Food is an incredibly personal subject, one that intersects with so much, from cultural and societal traditions, to personal preference and taste, to health and politics… and most of the time, we don’t know all the emotional baggage any one person carries about food. Maybe it’s an eating disorder, maybe it’s internalized shame at not being able to cook more, maybe it’s a family that sees not eating meat as a personal affront, maybe it’s a four-year-old who refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets and crackers.

Now I will mention the holier-than-thou vegans who have lectured me. Since I’m vegetarian, maybe I’m a challenge? I’m so close! Just ditch the ice cream and eggs!

Bad news: I am well aware of the environmental impact of dairy farming. I still put milk in my coffee. I have also absolutely no patience for anyone who tries to lecture me about my food, whether it’s a bad Tinder date telling me about the evils of sugar in my coffee, to the vegan who told me about the horrors of milk production while I was an undergrad, to the flakey Bay Area friend who made fun of me for not eating meat, then went vegan and made fun of me for eating ice cream. All of these people were irritating and did absolutely nothing to change my eating habits.

You want to convince people to go vegan? I’ve found that showing up to parties with delicious vegan food— and not making a big point of telling everyone it’s vegan— goes a long way to help this. Or waiting until someone asks you about going vegan or about eating less meat in general.

To be fair, I’ve noticed that meat eaters are about a thousand times worse than any vegan about pushing their eating choices in my face— sometimes literally.

Also, I feel I should point out: setting aside health and economic reasons, it actually is difficult to not eat meat. I’ve been vegetarian since I was a teen, and while that was partially motivated by ethics and an article I read in Rolling Stone about factory farming— going vegetarian has never been hard for me. I honestly don’t really like the taste of meat, so giving it up wasn’t difficult.

The only times it’s been hard is when you wind up at a place where the vegetarian options are a side salad, of nothing but iceberg lettuce, raw purple cabbage, and despair. Or while traveling— both food options and language can be a challenge. Sometimes you have a layover in Phoenix and the only thing open in your terminal is a Pizza Hut, and all they have left is pepperoni pizza that’s slowing dying under those heat lamps, so instead of dinner you make do with a granola bar that’s been reduced to mostly crumbs from being jammed into your purse.

Which is why I dislike how sanctimonious some vegans can be. It’s taking a personal eating choice people make living under capitalism and putting a lot of moral weight behind it. No one likes to be preached to, or be forced to justify their eating habits to anyone. 

I say this, as I’ve noticed that sometimes family and friends feel the need to justify why they’re eating meat to me. I have never, ever commented on someone eating meat, or told anyone they should stop. But the moral judgement and perceived superiority of a vegan diet precedes me. Worse, I think it adds to the left being seen as boring and judgmental. I’m not sure how the left, with all of the genders, birth control and discussions about polyamory got labeled as “boring.”

A last word on Native and Aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. Vegans? Leave these groups alone. While I understand that a lot of Native land is being cleared in South America for cattle farms, that fact doesn’t mean that all people around the world are responsible for the unethical decisions regarding food that Europe and the U.S. have made. 

Vegans, you sound absolutely ridiculous: “yeah, I know we kinda committed a bunch of genocide and almost wiped out your culture, but because we don’t know how to farm without wrecking the planet… do you all mind changing your culture even further to accommodate our idiocy? Thanks!”

Look, the only time you should tell someone “you really shouldn’t eat that!” is if your friend is at your house, and is reaching for that container that’s been in your fridge for… well, you honestly can’t remember. Then it’s ok.



Native rights and vegans:

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