There’s this thing that some people do when they find out I’m vegan but don’t want to ask me directly about it or don’t know how. They spend extra time telling me about their pets, regaling me with stories of the funny thing their dog did on the weekend or how they just got a cute little kitten and wouldn’t I love to see the pictures?
Um, unless I can show you a picture of a rescued cow or chicken in return then…not really.
I think I understand where the extra effort comes from. I feel as though on some level they’re trying to show me that they’re not bad people; by going out of their way to demonstrate to me how devoted they are to their pets proves they love animals, e.g., Sure I eat some animals but look how much I love these other ones!
First of all, no one has to answer to me for their choices. They really don’t. If people have genuine questions about my diet or being vegan, I’m happy to talk about it. But I actually rarely bring it up and when the opportunity does present itself, I keep it simple because one of two things always happens: either the conversation dies completely or more questions follow. But telling me about your pet does not bring us any closer to understanding one another. All it confirms is that you love your pet.
Another thing I find interesting about the experience of pet owners making a point to tell me all about their animals once they find out I’m vegan is, one, I think they’re subconsciously trying to convince themselves that loving certain animals and eating others can co-exist comfortably, and two, they assume I’m a vegan because I love animals.
Being considered an animal lover is hardly the worst thing to be thought of as and I’m certainly not offended by the label. What I’m more offended by is the assumption that it’s why I’m vegan. Without directly asking me, “Why are you vegan?” and just assuming it’s for a love of animals (there are vegans who do it for different reasons such as health), that’s when I get a little pissed. Additionally, the label “animal lover” can also be a little bit dismissive. Dismissive as in, “Oh, you’re one of those.” Similar to the word “feminist” today. Even though feminism has only ever stood for one thing – equal rights for women – it seems to mean different things to different people and can bring applause from one person or a condescending insult from another. Such is the case with “animal lover”.
That label also puts me on the spot. When someone assumes I’m a vegan because I’m an animal lover, they feel quite comfortable telling me all about their dog or cat on a regular basis and in great length. Yet were I to make that same assumption about them – oh, you must be an animal lover because you mention your pet a lot so therefore you must be okay with me telling you about how much it grieves me to see the way cows are treated on dairy farms – it wouldn’t be a two-way street. They would not want to hear about that, let alone see pictures.
As I’ve written before, I don’t have to love animals to be a vegan. In the same way I don’t have to love all women or refugees or gay people or children or people living in poverty to care about their rights and well-being. At the heart of my veganism is not so much a love of animals but rather a desire to achieve justice for them. A desire to do what I can to help rid the world of their suffering and bloodshed. A desire for all living beings – human and animal – to be free from enslavement, oppression and suffering. A desire to live in a world I can be proud of.
So what should you call me? Call me a vegan. And then ask me why I’m one.