There’s an old joke that some people like to tell about vegans. It goes like this, “How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry. They will tell you.”
As a joke, it’s pretty tired, and yet it continues. There are memes and cartoons, and inevitably on Facebook or YouTube you’ll see it amongst the comments.
As a criticism, it bugs me. And here’s why – because it feels like a thinly veiled attempt to tell vegans to shut up. The subtext is, “Why are you talking about veganism? It’s not needed/wanted here.”
Why do vegans talk about being vegan? I’ll tell you.
Because being vegan affects the decisions you’ll make.
David and I have been looking for a new car for a while. It’s been a lengthy process for a few reasons. One, we both really like not having a car payment. So the longer our cars will keep going, the better. The other issue in looking for a new car is that we don’t want to buy a car that includes leather, and it’s been tricky to find cars that don’t have leather steering wheels or gear shifts.
If I were to lay out my dream car, it would be a Mini Coop. One problem – it cannot be purchased without a leather steering wheel, even though they offer cloth seats. It’s surprisingly difficult to track down the information on that, though. I contacted a local dealership, and they weren’t giving me direct answers.
So I tweeted to Mini Coop about it with the hashtag vegan. I figured if there were other vegans who had researched Mini Coopers, they might know. I didn’t hear from Mini Coop for a while, but I did hear from some stranger who decided to razz me for including the vegan hashtag.
I’ve since blocked him, and so I can’t tell you exactly what he said. But it was something along the lines of, “Why do vegans always have to talk about being vegan? Obviously you can get a Mini Coop without a leather steering wheel…”
Except you can’t.
Sometimes people aren’t aware of the degree to which animal products are included in everyday items until they actually go vegan. Once they are doing it for themselves, it becomes a lot clearer how ever-present animal products are in places you wouldn’t expect to find them.
Then the Twitter dude went on to try to bait me into some discussion about yeast. One of the gems that you learn while being vegan is that you don’t have to enter every debate and engage with every troll. (Although, if you’re reading, dude, here’s the scoop on yeast.)
One reason that vegans talk about veganism is because it affects our decision-making and it affects our lives. There are some times when it’s helpful & necessary to talk about veganism.In Los Angeles, people don’t talk much about weather. Why? Because it’s beautiful and sunny. You don’t need to plan out bringing an umbrella that afternoon or research if a heavy coat is needed. It will very likely be like every other day. You’ll be warm during the day, and then at night, a light jacket would be good. (It gets cool in the desert once the sun goes down.) But in Iowa, weather is a big topic of conversation. We don’t just look at daily forecasts. We look at hourly forecasts.
In contrast, in Iowa we don’t tend to plot our traffic commutes in the same way as when living in LA, because it’s just not the same. In the way that The Californians discuss the minutiae of getting from one part of Southern California to another, in Iowa crafting out a plan for avoiding traffic is unnecessary and isn’t discussed. Why? In LA, rush hour lasts 3 hours. Where I live now, it lasts 20 minutes. When David and I are late to meet up with friends, we like to joke to them that we got caught in traffic. They laugh, because they know it can’t be true.
Being vegan is similar. When you’re not vegan, any restaurant is an option. But when you’re vegan, it can be helpful to plan ahead, or to pick a restaurant that is more accommodating, or will have more enticing options.
Gift giving events are more comfortable for all involved if everyone knows you’re vegan, because then no one feels awkward when they give you a membership to a steak of the month club and you haven’t eaten steak in well over a decade.
Because if you don’t clarify now, you’ll have to clarify later.
In our own home, David and I don’t clarify with each other about getting the vegan version of things. Every Monday through Friday when David is leaving work, he texts me to ask, “Is there anything you need me to pick up from the grocery store on the way home?”
If I need cashew milk, I just text back, “Milk would be great.” But I don’t clarify, “Please get vegan milk.” It would be silly. We both know what kind of milk we buy. Clarification is unnecessary.
But if I was with an acquaintance and discussing the way I take my coffee, I would say, “I drink it with cashew milk.” Because if I just said, “I drink it with milk,” there would inevitably be a follow-up about that… “But I thought you were vegan?”
So vegans often head off questions by just clarifying ahead of time. Using words like veggie burgers or veggie dogs can be useful when letting people know what we’ll bring to a cookout. But when David and I are grilling out with just the two of us, we don’t have to clarify to each other that we’ll be making plant-based burgers, because obviously we will.
Because people talk about things that matter to them.
Every weekend in the fall, people talk about how their football team of choice is doing. My friends who are into sci-fi talk about sci-fi. My friends who are into running talk about running. My friends who are music buffs talk about music. And my friends who are into beer & breweries talk about that too. So I find it kind of obnoxious when people act like vegans are these obsessive oafs by talking about things that matter to them.
I have a friend who has always been irritated or dismissive about me being vegan. One time I was visiting Los Angeles after I’d moved away. I was getting together with a bunch of vegan bloggers at a bar, and we were talking shop. Not only are we interested in talking about food, it’s also our business. Since my visit was brief, it was the one and only night I’d be seeing them.
Well, this friend decided at the last minute to join us. And then he was endlessly irritated that we were talking about the vegan dishes we were working on at the time, and the vegan restaurants I should visit while I was in town.
This friend is a movie buff and filmmaker. I like movies well enough, but they’re not a passion for me. But I’ve heard him and his film buddies talk about movies endlessly when I’m there – even about movies I’ve never seen and never will see. But I was polite and nodded, because that’s what you do.
It’s just life that we sometimes listen to conversations that aren’t wildly interesting to us. And sure, we should be aware of whether or not people are getting left out of conversations, and try to accommodate that to a certain degree. But the point is – sometimes conversations are going to be uninteresting to you, and there are worse things than that.
People talk about eating meat too, but in our world, that is seen as being neutral.
David and I were at a get together the other night, and some people at the table started talking about experiences they had killing chickens. Then another person chimed in about a time that someone he knew took a child to pick out a goat. The child thought he was picking out a pet, but actually he was picking out dinner.
These are perhaps extreme examples of conversations that happen. But it’s not at all unusual for people to talk about the ways they like to smoke ribs, or how big the fish was that they caught last weekend. If people who criticize vegans for talking about veganism wrote down every instance in their day when they heard discussion of ways to prepare meat, scrolled through pictures of meat or dairy on social media, or saw advertisements for animal products, I bet they would be surprised. It’s unavoidable.
If you’re vegan and streaming TV, and they keep showing the same commercial over and over with a crab’s legs being cracked open in slow motion, it’s ghoulish. But for people who aren’t vegan, that doesn’t even register as something unusual because they are immersed in it as part of normal, everyday life.
When vegans talk about making “vegan food,” it’s seen as more of a STATEMENT because vegans are outliers in our culture. But when you look at the face of it, it’s interesting that talking about killing animals is perceived as neutral while talking about NOT killing them is charged.
How do you know I’m vegan? Because I will tell you.
I will also tell you a slew of other things – that my perfect day would be spent at Disneyland, that the world needs more handwritten and stamped letters, and that I dream of traveling to Japan.
I will tell you these things, because part of being alive is sharing our stories with each other – big and small. Life is about making connections and trying to find understanding. And that is nothing to apologize for.