Many reasons keep otherwise kind people from going vegan, even when pro-vegan arguments resonate with them on some level. One of the most powerful reasons is that acknowledging the evil behind the seeming normalcy means admitting that you and everyone you love have been wrong all along. It means admitting you are culpable of having fostered cruelty, and that you will have to live with some regret and guilt for the rest of your life. It also means conceding that your parents, your romantic partners, your friends—in short, all the people you love and perhaps admire for traits like kindness and intelligence—are implicated in a moral crime completely at odds with how you previously perceived them.
Admitting your own and loved ones’ culpability and fallibility, I believe, is the most difficult and painful process in becoming vegan. Once you go vegan, you see your past self and those around you in a different light. You don’t stop loving them, of course, but forever lose some of the innocence and trust in their essential goodness. And your self-respect takes a beating, too. This was certainly true for me.
At the same time, this experience of self-questioning and subsequent guilt also has potential for connecting with non-vegans and debunking vegans’ holier-than-thou reputation. Almost every vegan was once a non-vegan. Almost every vegan was terribly wrong for a long time and has had to admit and come to terms with his decade-long compliance in animal exploitation. We should share this experience with non-vegans. We should say that it’s not acceptable to be wrong on this, but it’s okay to have been wrong.
When trying to disprove we are holier-than-thou, vegans should not only be open about how they were once wrong, but also about how they still aren’t perfect. I’m aware of child labor and slavery in the production of cocoa, for example, yet I don’t always buy fair-trade chocolate. I know aluminum foil isn’t environmentally friendly, yet use it for convenience’ sake. And while I believe that my Wanderlust doesn’t justify its environmental impact, I fly several times a year and sometimes borrow my parents’ car for pleasant but in-the-scheme-of-things unnecessary and harmful trips. Like every other person on this planet, I sometimes reinforce what I oppose.
Don’t get me wrong. Amidst all the bad things humans do, speciesism is the worst, not least of all because of its sheer scope and prevalence. But I do think that pointing to other ways in which we vegans are also imperfect—along with openly addressing our own non-vegan past—makes us seem less goody-goody and veganism, in turn, more down-to-earth and feasible. It shows we all partake in systems we don’t believe in, sometimes thrusting aside our moral qualms for temporary comforts and peace of mind. And it shows that with something as gruesome as animal exploitation, it’s certainly shameful to be on the vicious side—but there’s no shame in admitting you once were. We all were.