Why So Many Social Justice Activists Are Not Vegan

Do you know anybody who protests against rising socioeconomic inequality and votes for higher income taxation and redistribution of wealth, but eats animals? I‘ve met many and always struggle reconciling their belief in social justice with their lack of sympathy for veganism. Not only are these otherwise compassionate, equality-seeking people not vegan, many actually reject veganism as elitist and say it reinforces or at least plays into the social inequalities they oppose. Veganism‘s elitist image keeps them from even considering going vegan.

There are countless stereotypes about vegans, but elitism is among the worst: For one, it is completely baseless. After all, vegans choose not to put their own pleasure before others‘ lives. It doesn‘t get much more modest than that. And second, it is one of the most harmful. It prevents people who are passionate about justice and not afraid to speak against the mainstream―two attributes that make them prime candidates for veganism―from going vegan. These are precisely the people who could be won over by the vegan argument, but they feel that veganism is not for the people on whose behalf they advocate: the disadvantaged, the working-class, and the poor.

These are some of the most common arguments they make, if they engage in conversations about veganism at all:

Veganism is expensive and therefore not an option for low-income people.

False. Veganism is exactly like any other diet. You can spend a lot of money on it or not much at all. Anyone who can afford an omnivorous diet will be able to afford a vegan diet. I could not afford to increase my monthly food budget when I went vegan, and it wasn‘t necessary.

Vegans are snobby and elitist.

I bet there are some snobby vegans out there, just like there are snobby non-vegans. But the vast majority of vegans is not motivated by snobbiness. They‘re not trying to be better than others or set themselves apart or be avant-garde. In fact, deciding to finally relegate your own pleasure far, far below others‘ livelihood is about as unpretentious a decision as you‘ll ever make.

Vegans put animal suffering before human suffering. Veganism is a luxury issue since there are still so many humans who are hurting.

Vegans don‘t care more about animal suffering than human suffering, but they care no less about it either, and in our animal-exploiting world that may look at first glance like a reversal of caring, when really it is just a leveling. Vegans don‘t deny that inequality and injustice among humans is a problem. Even Christopher Hitchens (not even a little bit vegan) said that „One of the most idiotic jeers against animal lovers is the one about their preferring critters to people (...) those who love hamburgers and riskless hunting and mink coats are not in the front ranks of Amnesty International.“ And not only are many vegans involved in other social justice issues besides veganism, but simply by being vegan they are not contributing to the human suffering behind the meat and dairy industry, such as its often calamitous working conditions, the export of food produced in countries where hunger is still a mass problem to feed richer countries‘ farmed animals, or the effects of global warming, which will hit earth‘s poorest and most vulnerable people first. And even if vegans weren‘t fighting against other social injustices as well, you can‘t discredit someone‘s involvement in one movement by observing that another one exists in which he is not involved.

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Any vegan knows there is no shortage of clichés about us. But that veganism is supposedly elitist bothers me the most. Not only is it not elitist, it is thoroughly egalitarian. Veganism's snobby image repels exactly those people who might otherwise be most susceptible to veganism's message of compassion and solidarity. Next time you meet a non-vegan social justice activist, tell him that veganism wouldn‘t mock his fight for human equality. His non-veganism does.