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An Open Letter to Militant Vegans

I once heard Bill Maher say, “There will be a gay president before a vegetarian president.”

I remember chatting a few years back with a friend of my sister’s, an exceptional and brilliant woman I have known almost 40 years, about her lifestyle: that of a cigarette smoking, non-drinking vegetarian.”

“Wow,” I joked. “That’s like the trifecta of ‘why would you want to do that?’”

As an imbibing, non-smoking omnivore I could have been tempted to judge her – put labels on her – for such life choices, but I knew her too well. Besides, I was in too good a mood at the time to be doing any judging, as I was on vacation with my family in a coastal paradise, burger flipper in one hand, and beer #4 in the other.

I count many vegans and vegetarians as friends. Most of them don’t ram their life choices down anyone’s throat. Scott Jurek doesn’t.

For those who don’t recognize the name, he’s a champion ultra runner, vegan and author of Eat & Run. I interviewed Jurek for the LA Times, and this was my opening line:

Scott Jurek is a nice guy who exhibits none of the sanctimonious proselytizing that vegans sometimes do.

To the militant vegans I say, enough with the sanctimonious proselytizing.

Before any sanctimoniously proselytizing vegans leave this column in disgust, permit me to say that we share some similar goals. I would love it if people around the world ate less meat.

“Similar” is not “same.” The people this column is targeted at are the abolitionist approach vegans; those who pursue an aggressive campaign to cease all forms of animal use by humans.

I’m realistic enough to know that it’s just not gonna happen barring some kind of technological leap forward. Hell, I won’t give up meat or eggs or dairy. I do try to keep it all moderate, especially meat. Most every day I follow what Nancy Clark calls “two-thirds vegetarian.” I only eat meat for dinner. Most days.

But I believe in the merits of less animal products being consumed by humans. It’s better for the environment, and although meat consumption cannot be equated with smoking, if the typical omnivore traded a portion of their meat intake for more fruits and vegetables, then I’d argue it’s better for health.

The less animal death part is just a bonus.

That comment about health can be contentious. There are healthy omnivores, healthy vegetarians and healthy vegans. Given the opportunity to examine the minutia of health differences between these types of diets, I decided to take a nap.

Perhaps I’ll write a book on that subject one day and co-author it with an RD. But for the purposes of this column, I think it’s safe to say the average North America would be well served to replace a chunk of their meat intake with more fruits and vegetables. And that’s because Americans eat an average of 270 pounds of meat per year. When you compare this to the fact that only 24% of them get the minimum recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, I assert that there is room for improvement. If meat is replaced with Froot Loops, it imparts no health benefits.

I do not advocate abolishing meat. In moderation, it can be a healthy part of an omnivorous diet, especially if you’re avoiding the processed kind, because that increases the risk of butt cancer, and this subject has enough butt hurt surrounding it already.

But if people decide to cut a portion of their meat intake in favor of more fruits and vegetables, we’ll all be better off. Better for our health, better for the environment. Better for the critters.

And you sanctimonious proselytizing vegans are missing the goddamn boat.

Let me get something straight: We don’t like your preaching. Hell, some of us don’t like you because of your damn preaching. I’ve seen people write jokes like, “For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat three.” You create contempt for vegans, because fuck you.

Wake the hell up, will you? You are having the opposite of the intended effect!

Again, I am talking just to the abolitionists. The ones who are trying to guilt trip the world into going vegan, and calling meat eaters murderers and perpetuators of a holocaust. Did you believe that most of us would be converted by such insults? Did you think we would react positively and say, “Oh, yeah. Thanks for pointing out what a horrible, mass-murdering carnivore I am. I shall go forth and sin no more and smugly eat my bean sprout and tofurkey salad while sharing graphic images of what goes on inside slaughterhouses on Facebook.”

One website I perused is www.AbolitionistApproach.com. You can read the Mission Statement, but it’s all about pushing veganism as the “moral baseline,” because the author Gary Francione, who has over 67,000 followers on Facebook, has zero tolerance for use of animals in any form. I reached out to him a while back to ask for an interview to get his perspective, and he never replied.

Here are some examples of the guilt tripping on his site:

“If you are a feminist and are not a vegan, you are ignoring the exploitation of female nonhumans and the commodification of their reproductive processes, as well as the destruction of their relationship with their babies.”

“If you embrace nonviolence but are not a vegan, then words of nonviolence come out of your mouth as the products of torture and death go into it.”

The site also has an “animal kill counter” to show you how many of what type of critter has been murder by us awful carnivores since you opened that page.

Scott Jurek isn’t militant, and neither are most of my vegan friends. Speaking of which, here is an interesting post from the Vegan.com Facebook page:

“Can we abandon the phrase ‘militant vegan’ in favor of, ‘an asshole who happens to be vegan’?”

And suddenly, I find I like whoever is running their Facebook page. But they’re not exactly getting lots of agreement. Here is the most liked comment in response to that post:

“What’s wrong with being militant? People don’t get it until it hits them. You can’t just think that being mr or mrs peaceful vegan will persuade the masses. Do think in ww2 if America fell back and preached peace that the nazi’s would have released and stopped slaughtering the Jews? I’m not a vegan to become more likable, my goal is to save animals and stop the evil that’s going on in the world.”

There were a lot of comments back and forth on that post about how vegans should behave towards omnivores, and it seems to be contentious issue. So just FYI to any non-vegans who are reading this – they’re not all guilt-tripping loud mouths. Far from it. Many see the militant variety as harmful to the cause.

And as a meat eater who is in the target audience for militant bile, I can also tell you that you’re harmful to your cause, because we’re not listening. We’re dismissing you as a bunch of wingnuts.

The guilt isn’t going to work. The all-or-none approach will convince almost no one. We’re not listening to you.

Here is your problem. Regarding this typical militant vegan statement: “Do think in ww2 if America fell back and preached peace that the nazi’s would have released and stopped slaughtering the Jews?

Okay, let’s ignore the fact that you just referred to all omnivores as Nazis. And let’s also ignore any debate about equating the eating of meat with what is arguably the most horrific act of genocide in human history. Instead, let’s talk about your target market: those you are trying to convince to go vegan.

The reality is, we don’t see eating meat as a holocaust, and we don’t appreciate being referred to as Nazis. Think on how we’ll react to someone who tells us such things.

Also worth noting is that is that the United States didn’t enter the war because of the Holocaust. Although the U.S. was keenly aware of Germany’s anti-Jewish policies and the resulting refugee crisis, it is arguable as to whether America understood the level of mass genocide that had, and was about to, take place. Rather, the United States entered the war because of Pearl Harbor, and because Japan and Germany were allies and Germany decided to declare war on the U.S. a few days after Pearl. Also, the Nazis didn’t get guilt-tripped into ending the Holocaust, they were bombed and machine-gunned into submission. Is that your plan? Are you going to use lethal weaponry against omnivores to save the animals? Judging by some of the content on VeganWarfare.com, I imagine there are some of you who would like to.

Historical misinterpretations aside, for millennia of human history we’ve consumed meat to the point where it’s encoded into our genes. Granted, we were mostly vegetarian, but we ate meat as often as we could get our hands on it, and for thousands of years the nutrition it imparts has helped us to survive. Because it’s something that we’ve always craved as a species, good luck convincing many people that it’s akin to a genocide. Again: We are not listening to you. Trying to convince us that we’re bad people for eating meat is like speaking Klingon.

As I mentioned earlier, we have some similar goals. You want no animal death, and I want less animal death. You see me as a murderer, but perhaps you should try seeing me as an ally instead. Because your methods ain’t accomplishing shit, whereas mine actually can.

You want no harm. I’m telling you your no harm messaging is about as effective as a Dr. Oz miracle weight loss cure.

I want fewer animals used because it’s better for the environment, and if people choose fruits and vegetables to replace a portion of their meat intake, it will be better for the health of populations around the world. The moral aspect of animals being used for dairy, eggs or meat barely rates compared to the previous two.

See, we omnivores are good at shutting the moral aspect of animal use off in our brains. We just don’t care that much, and all of your guilt-tripping is going to send us further away from your camp, not bring us closer in. You might win the odd convert, but overall, you’re pushing more people away than pulling in. You’re failing.

You. Are. Failing.

Now I want to talk about porn.

I wrote a post entitled “A Compelling Argument for Changing Your Porn Viewing Habits.” In it I discussed how guilt and shame won’t convince many to alter what they watch on the bare naked Internet. The whole “God is watching you / that’s someone’s daughter-sister-mother” falls on deaf ears. Just like you heaping guilt on us about animal holocaust is equally ignored.

But what can change some minds is appealing to self-interest. You need to try that.

Lots of people care about the environment, because we only have the one planet. Many care about their health as well, and seek to improve it. If you want to really reach them, back away from the “stop killing the poor furry creatures” diatribes and posting of imagery of cows heading off to slaughter, chickens crammed into tight spaces, and pigs being electrocuted and try communicating to people what’s in it for them to consume fewer animal products.

“Fewer,” not “no.”

I know abolition is what you’re after, but be rational. When you preach total abstinence, we stop listening, just as most teens tune out preaching of sexual abstinence. And so, you’re missing out on an opportunity for creating less harm by sticking to your zero harm approach.

You want us to listen? Ease off with your demands. Instead, educate on the benefits of less by appealing to our self-interest.

And stop with all the sanctimonious proselytizing.

This piece was first published on my former website on March 13, 2014.

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James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.


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