Wednesday, September 12, 2012

4 Mistakes Made by Veteran Vegans

Even vegans of many years make mistakes. In fact, it’s because they’ve been vegan for so long that they make mistakes... which just goes to show that experience does not always have its advantages. Sometimes it’s the newer, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vegans who can teach (or reteach!) the older ones. Here are 4 mistakes made by veteran vegans.

     1. You forget about what it means to be vegan
You’ve been doing this lifestyle for such a long time that you've forgetten why you do it. Turning down a ghee masala dosa is so axiomatic at this point that it no longer becomes a conscientious decision. With engrained habits also comes desensitization—many moons ago you learned about the horrid conditions of boxed cages, but all of that seems like a distant memory. You’ve grown so accustomed to others eating non-vegan foods that you’ve stopped questioning how this system came into place, and why. Even if you've boycotted one facet of it, the status quo becomes as natural to you as it does to meat-eaters. While at the outset of your vegan journey it was all about being active, you’ve now become passive. By no means does veganism require political activism. It does, however, require awareness.

Another problem of losing touch with the motivation of going vegan: you completely, totally forget about the nutrition component. This happened to me recently—since moving to India, I get asked the question, “where do you get your protein?” Your iron? What about calcium?” Guess what? I had no idea—I stood there looking like a complete dolt because I forgot. I learned all of these things when I first went vegan. Back then, I was a nutrition-studying machine who devoured every book she could get her hands on. I could not only tell you about protein and omega fatty acids, but about esoteric ormus, ORAC scales, and the Sapoty Brooks CaPNaK chart. But my body has mostly been an autopilot now for years (with intermittent experimentation in raw foods) that I no longer look at nutrition labels to ensure I’m getting these things. I don’t have to; my diet is rich in these nutrients even if I forget that, say, a cup of soy milk contains 7 grams of protein. But I still better know the answer to these questions.

Complacency also comes with problems such as eating the same foods over and over, and hanging out with the same people over and over. Some veteran vegans inculcate themselves into little cliques. Guess how many people this serves? None. Spending time with people who only affirm your views is a most boring life. Vegans have so much to learn from non-vegans by virtue of us all being human. To deduce non-vegetarians as “morally bankrupt” and you therefore cannot respect anything else they say is… sad. It’s cult-like behavior that gives veganism an awful reputation. 

2. You demand too much from others. You expect them to see the world the way you do, and you judge them when they don’t.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the vegans who stop questioning the ills of the status quo are the veteran vegans who become myopic in their vigilance to change it. These people commit the cardinal sin of demanding too much from others. They’ve spent their whole lives immersed in activism, vegan cooking, or plant-based nutrition that they forget how many baby steps they had to take to get there. It’s as if they see the world from the top of a 3-story building and they become infuriated with those who can only see the view from their front porch. Some vegans expect the porch-sitters to gain the ability to fly, overnight, from their porch to the rooftop. They forget how long it took for themselves to trudge from their own ground-level seat and up every single one of the stairs.

Here’s the other assumption: that everyone wants to experience the same view as yourself. Many people, though, are perfectly happy to be sitting right where they are. Sure, the view on the roof might be nice. You get a good breeze. See more of things. But a lot of people are happy on the porch—they talk with the neighbors passing by, and their chair is quite comfortable. Here’s a thing many vegans fail to realize: you do not need others to agree with you to affirm your choices. Whether or not 1 or 100 people agree with veganism doesn’t affect its reality. Justification and legitimacy for your decisions should NOT come from others. Yes, it helps. But it’s not required. Your decision doesn’t gain justification or legitimacy from others; those things come from within. In fact, those things can only come from within. You have to be comfortable with being the only one in support of your choices—if you seek affirmation from everyone else near and dear to you, you’re going to be disappointed.

When veteran vegans do not get the assurance they need from others about their personal choice, they begin to view the world from a defensive, antagonistic perspective. This is where the judgment of others sets in. It’s a natural byproduct deriving from one’s own insecurity. Judgment of others is a backhanded compliment to yourself, as they say. If others are not willing to include you and support you, the reaction is to vilify everyone else to placate themselves that “I don’t need their approval. Because they’re ignorant and unenlightened.” This is a shame, and it’s a defacto stance for many veteran vegans as a result of how they were treated at the outset of their switch years ago.

“No, I just get really annoyed when a meat-eater deludes himself into thinking he’s right,” you might say. Well, this whole “judgment” thing goes both ways. Many vegans are at the receiving end of others putting them down to affirm their own choice to eat animals… which is also born from defensiveness and insecurity. Deep down, meat eaters know it’s probably healthier to eat less meat. But instead of tackling that issue in their own head, they subvert the issue entirely by focusing on a wholly unrelated characteristic of the vegan. That’s when they say things like, “you’re being too radical and dogmatic,” even if you haven’t said a word to them. Because they’re not ready to think about veganism, they put up a strong emotional wall to block their brains from going there. They do it by associating veganism with unfashionable clothes, or they hold onto a really ugly remark made by a vegan they knew from a long time ago.

Non-vegetarians are amazingly good at taking completely unrelated characteristics as reasons for their decision not to even ascertain veganism. “God I hate vegans,” they say. “I want to shove a steak down their throat.” I’ve heard this one plenty of times and the hostility never ceases to amaze. Even my most intelligent friends start the discussion on veganism at an amicable level… but then it devolves quickly. A talk on protein goes to a story they heard in the news about how two parents starved their child on a vegan diet and the kid died of malnourishment. Is this a logical response? Only if the vegan wants to retort about the obesity epidemic creating in the first generation of people not expected to outlive their parents… all as a result of parents feeding their children terrible diets. But really, there’s no point. They have a strong mental connection of vegans acting a certain way; and they’re goading you into affirming their perception. Again, this is to justify their own meat consumption using methods wholly unrelated to the actual merits of veganism. So don’t do it. Disengage, smile, and agree to disagree.

3. Veteran vegans antagonize those who disagree.
This mistake is a continuation of point #2. Veteran vegans who engage in lengthy, war-like forum battles online or in person confuse me, to be honest. They might be armed with a staggering breadth of knowledge and a wellspring of salient information. And yet, I don’t have to know the specifics of what was raised to know this: nobody will walk away saying, “wow, I hadn’t thought of that. You’ve brought up some good points and I find I agree with you now.” It doesn’t plant seeds in someone else’s head that germinate into a full-blown vegan with further consideration. Ever. I repeat: that doesn’t ever happen.

If anything, those critical points raised and those amazing studies given by the militant vegan will be completely mitigated because of one crucial thing: an asshole raised those points. And when a militant, dogmatic person raises the information, the recipient will do everything they mentally can to undermine, block or negate it. They will actively find ways to disprove the studies, whereas if the points were raised civilly, the audience might be willing to ascertain such studies and watch those movies... instead of googling for a person who watched the movie and hated it, to use their review as ammo against the vegan. 

4.  You don’t recognize how much the community can benefit from people with your views and convictions.

There’s a delightful Dr. Seuss quote that goes, “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.” Every great thing in society derives from someone caring and putting effort into a passion. They did something. Their efforts started small and it didn’t seem like much at the time; a group of 5 people together in a makeshift building working hard on something small is usually how the success story starts (I believe the biography of Steve Jobs and Muhammad Yunus go something like that). Even if the results do not culminate in a billion dollar company or extricating millions from poverty, it’s something.

Going vegan is not an obligation to serve the community. But if you’ve been vegan for a long time and it’s served you well, then yes, I’d say you do. You have an obligation to pass along what you know, to help new vegans who aren’t quite sure if they can do this, and to explain to others that this lifestyle exists.

Supporting vegans is so much easier and less effort than one would think. It’s not all about giving money to animal rights groups, picketing, handing out pamphlets, or showing films to groups of people. It’s clicking on an advertisement in your favorite vegan blog and giving them a few rupees (if every reader did that, wow… and no, my blog is ad-free with no intentions of changing that. I’m just giving an example). It’s clicking “like” on their page, or showing up at one such organized potluck and enjoying good food. That’s it. 

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