I really thought everyone would have learned by now.
Hard truths from a vegan.
Almost two years into the pandemic, I get why so many vegans I know feel so deflated. Angry, depressed, frustrated, demoralized, disappointed. Not to sound melodramatic but any and all responses seem justifiable and reasonable. (I should say here that I am very much on the record as being critical of anti-science vegans throughout this time.)
Like many vegans before and after us, John and I had thought that when we presented to people the unvarnished truth about the invisibilized victims of animal agribusiness, that would be enough. It should have been enough. We thought if we could just break through the defenses and myths, we would be successful. It should have been a cakewalk, right? We would just need to communicate well and our professional lives were spent in communications. We were naive, though. We hadn’t taken into account the hoops the human mind will happily jump through to rationalize habits it doesn’t want to change. As newbie vegans, we thought that if people knew the truth about the animal agribusiness industries, how violent and cruel they are, they would surely have an inner-reckoning and withdraw their support. So we presented and promoted alternatives. We developed recipes that were easy and tasty. We made compelling, fact-based arguments. We described how great it feels to have found this path, how there are no sacrifices when something feels this in alignment.
. . .
We did all those things, some better than other, but I think we did them well for the most part. Time after time, though, we found that Buffalo wings, cheese omelets and Haägen-Dazs were valued more than the animals who unwillingly gave their lives to supply them.
In the 2000s, the news started becoming harder and harder to avoid about climate change and the inextricable ties to animal agribusiness, but the needle still didn’t shift much. Maybe it didn’t touch lives personally enough yet, maybe it was still too abstract. Then the pandemic happened. This would be it, we thought. Once burned, twice shy, but we had hope: This was the time. We hoped that when push came to shove, when omnivores really had no place to hide, they would come around to the vegan message. Even if they don’t care about chickens and cows, we thought, surely the repercussions of animal agribusiness on human lives, current and future, would cause people to stop their support of the supply chain. Again, people have shown that what should be a flashing red light is easy to ignore if it’s in your preferred best interests to keep your head down and just keep doing what you’ve always done.
While the jury is still out on the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, it is considered likely that the virus, which causes COVID-19, crossed over from a wild species like bats or pangolins to infect the human species. We know that all seven human coronaviruses to date have a zoonotic origin, meaning they originated in a species other than our own. The truth is, even in the unlikely chance that it is discovered that this infectious disease did not spread from wildlife to humans, there are still so many more pandemics in the lineup just waiting to happen. According to a recent story in The Guardian, eight variants of avian flu, any one of them as potentially catastrophic as the coronavirus, are currently circulating through the industrial chicken factories of the world, and some of these strains, like H5N6, have already begun infecting and killing people. It’s still in the infancy of the most tepid of alarms being raised but early news about the COVID-19 started out a little sleepily in retrospect as well.
. . .
So the big question is, do we ever care to learn from our mistakes?
People of all political persuasions and backgrounds seem to be able to agree that vegans are the enemies of fun, the proverbial finger-wagging scolds. Most of us are more than accustomed to being assigned the role of unwanted doomsday prophesiers tsk-tsking over the all-you-can-eat buffet of normalized consumption habits. This is nothing new. What I am wondering, though, is when we will hit the bottom collectively and hit it with enough force to want to change, if ever? When will enough be enough? Will it ever be?
When will people care enough about the growing body of research that recognizes animal agribusiness as a leading cause of climate change to realize that every time they support these industries, they are complicit in this hastening nightmare on earth? When will it feel better to try to fix things than to smirk at Greta Thunberg’s entreaties about the planet she and her generation are inheriting, the one they fear for and actively grieve over? Will this recognition and change ever happen in numbers enough to make a difference? As a society, we seem to have accepted that climate change is just something we’ll have to live with like sad sacks with no personal agency, just as we have accepted that pandemics are inevitable. Will it only be the outliers who decide these are unacceptable prices to pay for cheap and plentiful meat and animal products?
. . .
I remember watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as a vegan all those years ago and being filled with disbelief that his climate change solutions focused more on light bulbs than dietary changes. He had that enormous platform, he had the attention of so many people, and he ignored the elephant in the room that is animal agribusiness, the ultimate inconvenient truth to his ecological message. If they can’t be honest about what animal agribusiness wreaks and how completely unnecessary it is, no matter how many well-heeled funders and many more small donors they’ll potentially offend, why are people like Al Gore and deeply funded environmental organizations even in the business of speaking about saving the planet? How dare they fundraise without finally, consistently, and honestly, fixing this glaring omission?
I know this has been a barrel of laughs. Honestly, it’s been a barrel of laughs feeling all this.
If we didn’t believe that people would want to change for the better when presented with the facts, we wouldn’t have created Vegan Street in 1998 and we certainly wouldn’t have revived it in 2013. Some days, though, it’s very hard to believe.
I’m having one of those days. I’ll take a walk, play with my dog, call a friend, zone out on Pinterest, read a book, get some serotonin going. I’ll be okay. At the moment, though, I am haunted by this nagging feeling that when push comes to shove, as it has again and again, people will still decide to make the easy but devastating choice, again and again.
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