I have a question: By being vegan, do you automatically become activist?
Here’s a scenario for you:
Two coworkers are having lunch together in the company’s breakroom. Mark (an omnivore) is eating a burger and fries from a popular fast food restaurant chain, while Gina, who is vegan, enjoys her falafel and tabouli salad. Mark leans over and gazes at Gina’s lunch.
Mark – “What are you eating?”
Gina – “Falafel and tabouli. Want to try some?”
Mark – “They smell weird. What are they made of?”
Gina- “The falafel is fried chick peas and fava beans balls and the tabouli is a chopped salad made with bulgar, cucumbers, parsley and spices.”
Mark – “Sorry, I like realfood!”
Gina – “This is real food.”
Mark – “But there’s no meat.”
Gina – “I don’t eat meat or any animal products, I’m vegan.”
Mark – “Not even milk or eggs?”
Gina – “Or honey. I also don’t wear clothes that are derived from animals either.”
Mark- “Whoa, you’re like one of those Peta people.”
Gina – “I’m not a member of Peta.”
Mark – “I thought that vegans are…please don’t take this the wrong way but… you’re not skinny.”
Gina – (Laughs) “Not all vegans are skinny, Mark.”
Mark – “Sorry, but I CAN’T go without meat.”
Did that conversation sound familiar? Mac and I have overheard and been involved in conversations similar to this one for years now. Gina, like many other vegans, is unaware that she may actually be an activist or ambassador, be it for animal rights, a cleaner environment or just living a healther, plant-based lifestyle.
Activist is a word that possesses somewhat of a negative connotation. For some, the word brings about images of protest rallies, sit-ins, riots, glitterbombs, etc. Albeit these can be and often are methods that some activists use to convey their message(s), there are other, more subtle ways to make a point.
You may be an activist by simply explaining why you’re a vegan to your uncle. You may be an ambassador when you cook awesome vegan food and share it with your neighbors at the annual street pot luck lunch. You may be both activist and ambassador by simply choosing not to purchase products derived or tested on animals or emit harsh pollutants and toxins, and sending a message to retailers that those products are waning in popularity and desirability.
Like many beliefs, unfair characterizing and stereotypes run amok. Many people assume that vegans are: members of PETA, skinny, only eat organic raw foods, are offended when meat is eaten or spoken about in their presence, care about animals more than people, etc. Because these stereotypes are widespread, it can be difficult and frustrating to set the record straight.
So, how do we move folks away from stereotypes? The answer is pretty simple: Just be ourselves and share knowledge in a respectful manner, of course. In turn, we should open to feedback. Sure, not everyone will agree with us, but the conversation can possibly change perspective. I think we can make some significant headway, especially as veganism grows in popularity.
Is it unfair that we have to be on our best behavior and bite our tongues when people hurl insults at us? Sure. There was a time when many thought it was strange that many Jews keep Kosher, Muslims only eat Halal, or that Hindus refrain from eating beef. Nowadays, these practices are widely accepted as beliefs that others hold important. It will be a great day when veganism is met with the same respect as the aforementioned ones. And that day is coming!
As an activist/ambassador, you have the power to permanently shatter stereotypes and educate uninformed people. By expressing to people why we do what we do, we’re sending an earnest and powerful message. While it may seem to be in earnest, just remember that vegans will never reach everyone, but we can and already do make a difference every day. Veganism is more than what we eat. It’s about the animals who share our planet, the air we breathe, the water we drink and being the best humans we can be.
Let’s keep the activism going, no matter how silent or loud!