Vegan Pomp - When Becoming Too Radical For What You Believe In Goes Terribly Wrong And Becomes Off Putting
“How do you know when a vegan enters a room?”
“They’ll tell you.”
The classic vegan joke. We’ve all heard at least one, yet the whole vegan community scratches its heads at and contributes to them simultaneously. Vegans often hear gripe from omnivores for being self-righteousness and judgmental, but if you are a vegan you might wonder why you and all your benevolent friends have become a punchline for caring about animals.
Though simple in concept, the line between non-judgment and passivism for many vegans is too fine. Commenting on or interfering in others’ diets feels like a way to advocate for a healthier life, animal welfare, and the environment. The vast majority who join the vegan cause do so with noble intentions, but interventions without a genuine understanding of how various societal factors like income, culture, and food security all shape an individual’s diet can sometimes make their efforts very annoying and detrimental. Escaping the vegan echo-chamber might be difficult, but fully and objectively understanding the culture in which diets are shaped is helpful if we are to radically defy it. It is absolutely vital that we as vegans begin widening our focus to include not just the benefits of the diet, but also the accessibility of the lifestyle. Truly accomplishing the plant-based movement’s goals of environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and human health, then, is no longer simply a question of whether or not it works, but how accessible it is to the average person.
We can start by examining the aesthetics of the vegan life. In the United States, the wellness scene as a whole looks a lot like thin white women in expensive leggings drinking green smoothies. Brands like Whole Foods, Lululemon, and your local juice bars and yoga studios have cemented an association between wellness and high cost, which leaves the vast majority of Americans feeling, if not literally being, excluded. Except for those of us who have the freedom to defy it, there are cultural and commercial forces at hand putting deep health in a microcosmic glass box and reserving it for the elite. These forces start at the lobbying interests of the meat and dairy industries and go far beyond the way people culturally identify meat as a symbol of hospitality and abundance. The longer those on the inside insist that these forces do not exist, or lose touch with the difficulties of a drastic diet change, the longer the option to be vegan will remain out of the majority’s hand.
Aside from its elitist associations, the “vegan pomp" phenomenon also regularly manifests itself in the form of misguided animal advocacy. The use of macabre displays of animal cruelty in promotional material, videos and other forms of media is an age-old tactic of fear-based vegan evangelism that is often a short-sighted means of attracting supporters because of its antagonistic nature. The secrets of factory farming and the true origins of our food need to be unveiled, this is inarguable, but subjecting individuals to this involuntarily creates discomfort and causes repulsion instead of receptivity. It is in the interest of the movement to cultivate an open dialogue about food production and animal rights in a way that puts ego aside and seeks to create general understanding among those that just don't know any better. This means a clear demarcation between generating guilt and expanding awareness, because the former not only drives people away from the sources of this information, but simultaneously creates a barrier of superciliousness and isolation around the vegan community.
Looking forward, it might be helpful for contemporary vegans to draw on two foundational teachings of Buddhism as practical prevention against vegan pomp. These are compassion and non-attachment. As defined by the Dalai Lama, compassion is “a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of suffering [that] is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.” He teaches that it is pertinent this compassion remains emotionally unattached, meaning we seek not to gain something from being compassionate, but that we are simply compassionate because every human deserves it - herbivore or omnivore.