Are You A Closet Vegan?
Are you a closet vegan? Or, perchance, are you semi-closeted vegan…loud and proud about your veganism with close friends… but not at work or at school? This is more common than you might think. We live in a carnist society, defined as a culture where most people feel it’s their right to exploit, abuse and kill animals for food, clothing, research or entertainment. This pathological sense of privilege, felt by the majority, is deeply offensive to the minority.. in this case vegans. But, because society accepts animal abuse as a given, and falsely characterizes it as a necessity, challenging these prejudices can actually risk career suicide.
Sarah (not her real name) is working to get her degree in nutrition and is attending a traditional institution, in other words, not specialized in plant-based practices. One week a new class assignment brought a big dilemma. Part of the coursework calls for preparing meals using animal products. As an ethical vegan, Sarah sought guidance from her teacher. However, her concerns were dismissed with the only options being: fail the class or do an extra credit assignment. Her teacher took a clear stand on the matter insisting to her, falsely, that in her profession she would need to learn how to cook animal-based foods regardless.
Of course, Sarah should not be forced to participate in killing an animal, with her own hands or by extension. And, lawsuits challenging similar ethically tone deaf assignments have actually been filed and won.
Speaking Truth to Power
A young medical student named Neal Barnard was ordered to experiment on an animal as part of his medical training. Neal refused and got other students to join his revolt against cruelty. He won his challenge and went on to become a leader in the animal rights movement, founding Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has successfully challenged animal experiments in medical training. Indeed, PCRM has been instrumental in “replacing animal use with simulators and other human-relevant training methods in all U.S. and Canadian medical schools and pediatrics residencies.” These are historic victories.
But, not everyone is up for filing legal challenges and rocking the boat at school or on the job. Sarah decided to drop the class, saying she would try again next semester and hope for a kinder outcome.
Curious, I took a poll among members of an ethical vegan group on social media. Out of 183 respondents, 28 admitted to holding back that they are vegans in certain situations. That’s a small, but significant, percentage. The rest stated they were out and proud vegans, t-shirts, bumper stickers, tattoos and all. It’s encouraging that nobody said they were totally in the closet. However, since this is a poll of those who have joined an ethical vegan group, it may not tell us the full picture.
The Bullying of Vegans Is All Too Common
Both ethical and health vegans wake up everyday to a world all too willing to box them up and label them crazies, unrealistic, dreamers, etc. Read through any vegan post and you won’t have to scroll too far down to find trolling comments that mock and insult vegans. Vegans should not have to endure bullying because we have chosen compassion. Bullying vegans is a form of prejudice akin to sexism and racism.
Staying in the Vegan Closet
Rather than facing the onslaught of ridicule, absurd questions and being socially ostracized, some choose to not disclose that they are vegan until the situation calls for it.
Such was the decision Greg (not his real name) made when he moved to a region in the heartland where many of his neighbors were meat-loving hunters. Not wanting to elicit negative reactions, he chose to conceal his vegan lifestyle. Greg had a very real fear of putting himself and his property at risk.
Stephanie (not her real name) felt outing herself as vegan would equal “social suicide” among her work colleagues. Mandy (not her real name) endured having dinner with prospective suitors who were consuming animal flesh because she failed to disclose to her dates that she was vegan.
But let’s not judge. There’s enough of that going on. Instead, how do vegans get the respect and even admiration they deserve while also letting people know that veganism is the solution to so many of the world’s problems, from pandemics to world hunger, from the health care crisis to climate change?
Putting It Out There
Psychologist Clare Mann is the author of Vystopia: the anguish of being vegan in a non-vegan world. Her book addresses the “existential crisis faced by vegans.” A vegan herself for 11 years, Mann was shocked when a colleague walked into her practice wearing zebra leather boots and proceeded to model the shoes with the obligatory inquiry “How do you like my new boots?” This woman was either being passive aggressive or revealing that she was too narcissistic to have consideration for her colleague’s belief system.
According to Mann, responding to speciesist behavior, requires a calm and non-reactive mindset. While she does not preach her values, she is always prepared to have the conversation. Her go-to dialog opener is asking others: “what is your understanding of veganism?” “We’re not the only ones who bring our values to the dinner table,” says Mann. In her experience, when someone feels comfortable and serene while engaging in a difficult conversation, they are better equipped to deal with the discomfort of other people. Perhaps this is why many new vegans struggle with hostile situations in the early stages of their journey.
Ultimately, choosing when or even if to disclose our ethical stance is a personal decision. As Bas from The Everyday Vegan tells us, there is no right or wrong way of being vegan.
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