Monday, 10 October 2011

Hanging out with the omnis

This is one of those subjects that occasionally generates controversy, I'm not always 100% clear why because only at very low moments has it been an issue with me. Nonetheless, because it is subject to much discussion, it probably warrants some coverage here.

I have some very nice vegan friends. Some of them comment here. I also have some very nice friends who aren't vegan, some of whom also comment here, although not to the same extent. I don't use veganism as the sole criteria for whether someone is a decent person or whether I like them. Maybe that's the controversial bit. I have encountered vegans doing the whole grandstanding 'I don't want to hang out with *those people*' thing, and in most cases if you probe a bit it turns out to be just that - grandstanding. They don't like what their friends eat, certainly won't facilitate it (guess what, neither will I), but don't actually boycott 'those people' to the extent they'd have you believe. Then there's the quieter sort of vegan who is unahappy about seeing people eat meat, would prefer if all their friends were vegan, and sometimes avoids events where meat is front and centre. I have a lot of sympathy with that view. However, if you try to tell me to cut off half my friends on that basis - well, I'll respect your opinion and your right to choose your friends on whatever criteria you like, but I'm unlikely to go along with your (obviously equally respectful) suggestion.

The nature of my friendships, vegan and otherwise, aside, the way I see it is that a vegan bubble isn't necessarily the best way to go about things. Sure we can insulate ourselves, only form meaningful relations with other vegans, avoid facing any criticism of our beliefs from anyone we care about, forget that the rest of the world exists. I'm not sure how that helps the animals though. (I'm assuming that if you avoid hanging out with non-vegans you must be vegan for moral reasons, otherwise it would be like me refusing to sit next to someone who was drinking diet soda) Promoting a vegan diet and lifestyle is a pretty good way of helping the animals, and promoting these things to other vegans is a wee bit pointless.

Let's try a quick thought experiment. I'm a philosophy tutor so I rather like those. Say you're a meat-eater (we could push it a bit and say vegetarian, but let's go with what the majority do) and you're on the verge of hearing about veganism for the first time. How keen would you be to adopt a lifestyle exemplified by the work colleague who eats alone in a corner every day and never joins in social activities? With the promise of that person as your only friend? Or would you find it more convincing from someone who is like you in every way other than the whole animal use thing?

The non-vegans in my life get to know a real-life vegan. They get to see that a vegan is as healthy as they are (not making any grand claims there, think I'm about average among my friends), eats tasty food and does, for the most part, the same things they do. (not triathlons or rock-climbing, but you get my point) I'm not kidding myself that all or even most of these people will go vegan. But I like to think they'll get a little less anti-vegan, less likely to be hostile to the next of their friends to go vegan, and less likely to freak out if one if their children starts to link sausages to pigs and act on the knowledge. I think I benefit from the interactions as well - my vegan beliefs are a whole lot stronger now than they were when not dealing with any serious considered criticism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ooh. I knew you were an academic, but I didn't know you were a philosopher. Me too. What do you specialise in?

(I know, that wasn't meant to be the main topic of the post.)