"Vegetarianism makes no sense. It's completely illogical. There's just as much violence and killing in a glass of milk as there is in a steak, perhaps more. Cheese is made from cow's milk and a baby calf was killed so that you could eat that cheese. Chickens are used, abused and killed so that you could eat those eggs. You don't need any of it. It's all terrible for your health. There's no such think as humane eggs or milk. If you went vegetarian for the animals, you should be vegan."
That's what I wish someone had said to me. No beating around the bush, no "every step counts", you're on your journey", "you've taken a worthwhile step." None of that. I wish someone had put it to me straight. But they didn't. I'd never met a vegan before I went vegan myself. I'd never been challenged on my choices, on how I was spending my money to support animal exploitation. If only I had been, maybe I would have stopped sooner. I'm sure I would have stopped sooner.
Now, in the moment, depending where I was, how I was feeling that day, I might have been seriously pissed off. I might have been really defensive. I might have come up with lots of excuses or tried to rationalise my contradictory behaviour. I might have looked for inconsistencies in their behaviour, for something they did in life that could be called unethical, to make myself feel better. But, I like to think I would have got past that. I like to think I would have gone away from that conversation and had a hard think to myself. How could I not? I think I'd have felt compelled to educate myself, find out for myself if it was true about milk and cheese and if my "happy eggs" were really a myth concocted by savvy marketers. I like to think I would have done the right thing and gone vegan.
The people we talk to day to day and on our stalls are not that different. Some of them are open-minded and prepared to consider the issues right there and then. Others get defensive and put up lots of excuses. All of them will have the key issues brought to the front of their minds and many must later think things over, when they have the head space and they are not in a situation where they are putting up barriers.
Is going vegetarian a step towards veganism? Well, it's certainly not a necessary step. Lots of people go directly to vegan. All it takes is a decision (not to spend money on things that involve animal exploitation any more), and then you take it a day at a time, ensuring you spend your money in ways that avoid supporting animal exploitation. Yes, it's an adjustment, yes it involves a little bit of Google time, thinking about how to make your usual dishes vegan, or finding new dishes to experiment with, but we all have Google (at the library if nowhere else) and we all have supermarkets. (See our web site under How Do I Go Vegan - Vegan Food for recipes, supermarket vegan lists and vegan friendly restaurants and bars).
We understand that it involves change and it may seem like too much to take on all at once. It may be that some people will decide that they want to be vegan but they don't feel able to do it in one step. Perhaps they'll think, "ok tomorrow I won't eat meat or fish", and they have a think about what they will eat the next day. The following day they don't eat meat or fish, and they don't die and they don't starve. They use their tea breaks to have a wee scout around on Facebook and Google, finding some good ideas for plant-based meals and pick up some shopping on the way home that evening. Then they decide, "ok tomorrow I'm not doing to eat meat, fish, or dairy." The next day comes and goes and they don't die and they don't starve. They use their tea breaks to learn a bit more and find some more ideas and decide that evening that the following day they won't eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs or honey. The following day they eat vegan, they eat well, they feel good and they realise that their taste-buds have started to change.
They continue like that, learning more each day, trying new foods they weren't aware of before, realising their taste-buds are changing as they go, appreciating natural flavours more than they did and recognising that it wasn't a case of willpower and denying themselves things, but rather a change of focus and the introduction of lots of new things. With food sorted they can turn to look at non-food products (see our web site under How Do I Go Vegan - Non-Food Products).
It's understandable if they take that approach. They are going from non-vegan to vegan very quickly, but not overnight. There's no lengthy "journey" or "I'm taking it at my own pace", or "baby steps". They realised going vegan was the right thing to do and they've acted on that quickly. We would still encourage people to just go vegan, and we know lots of people who have, but we acknowledge that it is an adjustment and there is some learning and planning in those initial days.
The issue is that a lot of people will spend months and even years saying they are in transition to veganism, or they are "on a journey" or they are just not ready. Our question to them is what are you waiting for? Animals are being exploited, hurt and killed now. You are paying for that to happen. If you know that's wrong why do you continue to do it? You say you can't live without cheese, do you think it's easy for the cows to live without their calves who are taken away from them so their milk can be used to make that cheese? Are you genuinely happy to pay for someone to take male calves from their mothers and kill them?
Are we being too harsh? Is it the case that it's easy for us to say this but everyone is different and it will be harder for some people? Paul McCartney is about as privileged as they come, yet he's been vegetarian for over forty years. That's not something I praise him for, what's stopping him going vegan? It can't be about availability or affordability for him. He has to be a classic case of someone who went vegetarian and got stuck. Stuck vegetarians realised eating animals is wrong, they made a change in their lives then lived by that decision, they got used to it and got into a vegetarian rut. They stopped thinking about the issues, they stopped learning about what lies behind the animal foods they consume, and they never progressed to vegan. That's not a stepping stone. That's a blocker to veganism.
We don't think veganism is about privilege. Vegetables, pulses, rice and other grains, fruit and spices are good-value, healthy and readily available wherever you live in Scotland. A diet based around these wholefoods is going to be cheaper (and better for you) than one based on processed/pre-packaged foods. Of course there are people who don't have control over what they eat, or wear, e.g. children, people in intensive care etc. We're not saying there aren't situations where it's difficult, situations the Vegan Society and others are working to improve. For the vast majority of us who do have control, and who make choices every day, vegan choices are very accessible.
If you can afford pre-packaged foods and that's your preference, the big supermarkets have a sizeable and rapidly growing selection of vegan processed foods. Whatever kind of vegan you want to be, what are you waiting for? Whether you are spiritual or not, going vegan isn't about you. It's about the animals. Go on a spiritual journey if you like, but do it as a vegan, don't say you are on a journey to veganism, as that's just a cop out.
Are we being judgmental, preachy vegans?
We're not judging and we're not preaching. We're just telling it how it is. We're being the vegans we wish we'd met.
When we talk to people straight about the issues - and by that I don't mean criticise them or judge them, I mean tell them what happens for their dairy and eggs and challenge them to test their logic - they may not take it on board right there and then. They may get defensive, put up excuses or appear not to listen, but when they have space to think it through for themselves later they may well not be able to avoid the conclusion that if they care about animals at all they should be vegan.
Don't be afraid to talk to people about veganism. It's not a dirty word.
Veganism = justice = non-violence = living consistently with what you already believe.
Don't be afraid to be called judgemental or preachy. My sister called me both when I first talked to her about veganism. Now she's vegan, so is her husband and so is our other sister. As long as you're being reasonable and respectful and are talking about the issues rather than accusing the individual, you are no more being preachy than you are when you talk about racism, homophobia, sexism or any other form of injustice. Calling us preachy and judgemental is just another expression of defensiveness. It's just another way to get us to shut up. Never shut up. The animals need a vegan movement. It's up to all of us.