I used to be in a relationship with someone who was vegan.
We met before I turned vegan (I was vegetarian at the time) and I remember that there was a great deal of pressure placed on me to become vegan. It wasn’t the sort of pressure you could quote, like ‘become vegan or [insert bad thing here] will happen’, it was a more obligatory pressure. For example, the topic of veganism seemed laboured when it was brought into conversation – a discussion of politics would turn to veganism, nice trees would turn into veganism, gossip about friends would turn into veganism – and, although it was very interesting it also became very tedious.
This evolved into the more direct ‘so why aren’t you vegan? Why are you vegetarian? So, if you are vegetarian for these reasons, then why not go vegan?’ At which point I was urrming and ahhhing about the whole thing. It seemed interesting, it was certainly in line with my beliefs, and I had someone on hand who could help me through it – I wouldn’t have to struggle alone.
I didn’t want to end up talking like she did about veganism, and for some reason (probably the fact that she was the first vegan I had met, and she was crazy about it) I was concerned that I’d end up turning into that sort of person. The kind of person who tries to convert all of their friends to veganism, who can’t enjoy a party without flexing their vegan legs and wearing ‘IM A VEGAN’ shirts, the person that says ‘IM VEGAN!’ during the shaking-hands part of an introduction. I really, really really loath those kinds of people…
And I think that’s what stopped me initially, I probably would have picked it up sooner had it not been hurled at me from across the room every five minutes. So I didn’t do it. But then came the absence of questions altogether, which was in some ways worst than the first two attempted movements into veganism because by this time I’d got pretty used to it. The awkward silences about veganism had become normal silences, the question-and-answer scenarios now floated off of the top of my head to the extent that I barely had to be conscious to recite them. Then suddenly they had gone.
Initially it was pretty scary. There was no malice there, no anger, no irritation, just one day it all stopped. I figured perhaps she was giving me some time to make my choice, or that she’d had enough of pushing the subject on me; that she’d realised I wasn’t going to budge. Then one day I got irritated, and asked her why she didn’t talk about it anymore, and she told me that she thought it was irritating me. That was true initially, but I felt all the worse after she’d told me that she’d stopped out of concern for ‘my interest’. In fact, I remember wanting to pick up veganism then and there just to make the whole subject go away, but that would have been wrong. I wanted to pick it up when I was ready and for the right reasons.
Then I fell into a group of vegans/vegetarians at university, which was many many miles away from the girlfriend I had at that time. I shook their hands and they told me their names saying nothing about their eating habits. I looked at their shirts (non-perversely) and they did not say ‘I AM VEGAN’, and they didn’t flex overtly vegan legs at parties, in fact I only found out that three of them were vegan a good few months later when we all went shopping, and they were very casual about it. There was no pressure there at all, and I’d often sit down with them and find myself asking the questions – the when and where’s, who and how’s – and it was incredibly enlightening. They didn’t care if I chose to go vegan or not, they knew that it was my choice, and they respected whatever decision I made, or if I made no decision at all.
Another thing that is very interesting is how people brand themselves. This girl I was with was almost enslaved by her ethics – if she were to make a bold move into something she would wonder how it would affect her ‘vegan persona’, she worried about her ‘ethical image’ in the same way that many worry about their physical appearance. It was brilliant that she concerned herself with these things and that she tried to make sure that her actions were always ethically sound, but it was also somewhat irritating being caught up in all this, because, in the position that I was in, she saw me as an extension of herself. If I were to put my name down for something, she’d worry as to how that reflected on her, and then on her views. If I were to go out and buy a pint of milk for a friend or my family she would often give me a look of disdain.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic when people have something they believe in, but as soon as it starts to creep over others in a semi-forceful enclosed manner then its starts to infringe on peoples freedoms. It’s like those people on the street that try to pull you in to do surveys; I sympathise with them entirely inasmuch that it’s their job – they have to do it – but at the same time you find the information forced on you, the questions too are forced on you. Maybe this works on most people, or maybe people need that pressure to get into something, but my feeling is that most people don’t – that they are more than likely to become forced into something they either wouldn’t ever have considered taking part in, or would have taken part in later when they were ready, or knew more about the thing in general…
The other thing, is that if something is meant to be the right thing to do, then surely it’s very rightness should persuade us to take that action. For instance, you could argue that when I began asking questions of my vegan friends I was showing a degree of potential guilt in my own actions. I wanted to know whether what I was doing was the most right thing to be doing (in my own point of view). I wanted a more even story to compare with the ethical views/lifestyle choices I had taken on at that time. I mean, I don’t really believe in a right and wrong, or in good and bad actions, but many of those that have tried to persuade me to do the right thing have, and yet, they have still attempted to apply pressure on me to make the right choice. If the concepts of right and wrong are inherent to the human consciousness, then they shouldn’t have to persuade me – they would simply have to provide me with the information and leave me to it.
Anyway, there’s a bit more background for everyone – and some thinking material too, perhaps.