By regular contributor Emma McArthur
Barefoot Vegan regular contributor, Emma McArthur, discusses her thoughts on how vegans as a community should respond to others in order to be more effective in our outreach and helping to save animals.
Do you agree with the idea that a movement (any movement) should move together and as one? That those trying to advance a movement should not be disparate as a group, that they should be united, in order to create change? Divide and Conquer is the modus operandi of the oppressors and that's because it is perfectly effective - so let's not be divided. The first women's lib campaigners did not attack other women. Campaigners for the abolition of slavery did not show hatred to other people fighting to end slavery. Those petitioning for gay marriage did not hate their gay comrades – because it simply doesn't make any sense. So why are vegans hating other vegans, at times with real venom? And is it OK? Don't we have enough work on our hands dealing with hostility from meat eaters?
A short while ago I was browsing some take-out menus with my other half, and I noticed a dish containing sea scallops. We started reminiscing the days around a decade ago, when he would bring home delicious, delicate scallops from his dives in the waters off the coast of Devon. Sometimes I would sauté them in butter and lemon, other times we would barbecue them with tons of garlic. They were sublime, and one of the very few things which still make my mouth water as a vegan, along with halloumi cheese. This got us to talking about the reasons scallops are not vegan – and I found it to be an interesting question. When it comes to living things which lack brains, such as a scallop or an oyster, what is the difference between a living plant or vegetable which could be argued as being just as alive or conscious? I off-handedly posed this question to a large vegan group on Facebook – one which I will not name here and has almost 20,000 members. What did they think about the idea of eating scallops? I closed down my laptop for the evening while I enjoyed my take-out vegan pad thai, and completely forgot about it.
The next morning I awoke and logged on, and was immediately bowled over by an avalanche of antagonism and comments full of contempt toward me and my apparently moronic question. Sure, I hadn't looked into the issue much yet myself (see footnote), but it had been a casually asked, genuine question, put to a group of people who I thought might be able to offer interesting and well-informed insight. Instead I was assumed by dozens to simply be a troll, intending to rock the vegan boat. One member of the group even posted a picture of a troll (me) in amongst some cute little kittens (the rest of the group), which I found hilarious. In the end, the administrators of the group had to close down comments to the thread when things got out of hand. I was seriously blown away, and felt let down by my fellow vegans.
It had been a casually asked, genuine question, put to a group of people who I thought might be able to offer interesting and well-informed insight. Instead I was assumed by dozens to simply be a troll, intending to rock the vegan boat.
A week or so later, UK-based vegan activist George Martin (read my interview with him here) posted one of his poignantly hard-hitting posts on Facebook. The post itself was relatively brutal, sure, but that's why we love George. Suddenly this particular post went insanely viral – eliciting around 2.3K comments, including one from someone suggesting he should kill himself. I dropped George a line to ask how he felt about this incredible backlash, and he was very upbeat about the whole thing: "I think all justice movements have their bickerings. I wouldn't say it's "healthy", as such, but I'd more say it was "normal". It is, after all, what separates MLK from X, and so on. People are always going to disagree about the best ways in which to advocate for justice."
I love George's optimism and philosophical approach with regards to this vegan-on-vegan hating, even though it doesn't quite sit right with me. While browsing a vegan thread on Reddit, I found a comment from user "Andjok" which is similar in sentiment to George's feelings: "I think it's completely appropriate to criticize other vegans/animal activists. We shouldn't "hate" each other, but if we believe some vegans are misguided in their words and actions then we should speak up."
Later in the same thread – a user named Oogmar mirrors my exact sentiments with the comment, "Hey, look, it's the vegans that turned me (and dozens of other vegans I know) off of veganism for years!" To me this is exactly it. We should not be squabbling amongst ourselves like kids in a playground – we should be concentrating on the matter at hand, which is saving the lives of animals and promoting our cause. This is not about us, it's about them! We are already regarded as extremists by our corpse-munching families, friends and acquaintances – how are we supposed to be taken seriously when we show this amount of discord and hatred to one another?
My point is this – let's represent ourselves as a collective as positively as we can. I always come back to the same old quote "Be the vegan you would have wanted to meet before you became a vegan" – our job is to try to influence people to take a huge change in lifestyle, and we will surely be less effective if we come across as unlikeable, militant, fundamentalists. Let's be receptive to questions and learn how to be open and kind in our discourse. Even though it may make us furious to watch omnivores killing and eating our friends, we all had to start out somewhere. We all had to be guided to where we are today. This to me is the most important thing – let's think about the animals and not ourselves. It's literally a matter of life and death.
Since then I have done my research and found out some fascinating things about scallops! They have a large number of tiny eyes (10–100) around the edge of their mantle. Their origins date back to the Middle Triasic Period – 240 million years ago! There are almost 900 species of scallop in oceans everywhere. They may not have brains but they have nerves and veins, and are advanced in their evolution, especially in terms of digestion. They are hermaphrodites and possess both male and female sex organs, and can alter their sex throughout their lives. They become sexually active at two years old, and when they procreate they release eggs and sperm into the water, spawning hundreds of millions of eggs per year.
And this my friend, is called learning. Progressing. Which is what we should be doing together – sharing knowledge amongst ourselves so that we can share it with others.
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