Is extreme vegan activism actually helpful or just annoying?

5 years ago I chose a vegan life and I have never looked back. I truly believe it is the best choice for not just myself but for everybody. And here in lies the problem. I am pro choice on almost every other subject, except of course those relating to harmful criminal behaviour. When it comes to eating meat people have to change their choices, but is extreme vegan activism helpful?

Freedom of choice

Being able to make my own choices is something I have fought for my whole life. I live in a country that protects my freedom of choice. I am especially aware as a women in 2019 that I am lucky to have such freedom and I would protect that with my life.

So why do I feel so different when it comes to veganism? Why do some of us become extreme vegan activists? Would I vote to strip people’s rights to choose to eat meat? Perhaps I would and I surprise myself when I say that. I support laws for minimum drinking age, laws controlling tobacco and other harmful substances. I would also support legislation regarding meat farming and consumption. So have I gone mad? What is it about veganism that turns us all dictatorial, evangelistic and militant? And what turns some of us into extremist activists?

Becoming vegan

Like most people it was access to accurate information about the wide reaching impacts of animal farming that made me choose to become vegan. Netflix content like Cowspiracy and Vegicated opened my eyes. I then read the UK legislation on animal farming standards published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I wanted to see if the problems are also here in the UK.

When I was younger I accidentally saw the castration of a baby bull in Texas. They didn’t use anaesthetic. It was traumatic and it haunted me for decades but I thought it was a local Texas practice. The UK legislation told me that we do that here too. When I found out there was no going back for me. That treatment of innocent animals was not good enough for me and I could not argue to ‘not’ be vegan. Within an hour I had cleaned out the kitchen and I have been fully vegan ever since.

Over the months to come I continued to learn more about farming practices, impact to my health, the planet and of course the animals.

The anger hits

What happened next was a surprise to me. It may be a surprise to non-vegans. I think fellow vegans will relate to this and find it very familiar.

I was angry. My emotions where all over the place actually, I was sad but I was mostly very angry. Angry that I didn’t know this information sooner, angry at the amount of pain and suffering I had caused throughout my 36 years and angry at other people who refused to learn the truth. So angry!

It is that anger that drives a lot of vegans to consider what can they do to help this terrible situation? And perhaps unfortunately it is friends and family that this anger is first released on.

If you found out that the local water supply was killing our children, you would say something. You would become active. You would be angry and you would shout it from the rooftops, that is how vegans feel. Well that is how I feel.

Can you choose how to deal with that anger?

My partner and I had a conversation on day 1 about what kind of vegans we wanted to be. Yes he also became vegan on the same day, phew. We agreed a couple of rules. We try to avoid conversations about it at meals with others. Unfortunately this is when it comes up as it is sometimes where people discover we are vegan. The question is normally “why vegan?” To which I say “Ah, lots of reasons including health, environment and animal welfare. I can talk to you about it after dinner if you are interested”.

Inevitably we don’t get back to it but I tell myself that my story would not have an impact on somebody at that dinner as they tuck into their meat platter.

The real answer is maybe it would. There are a lot of vegans who will say I have done the wrong thing in that situation. They would say I should answer the question right there and then. And maybe they are right.

My action was to open a vegan cafe and we also run a vegan shopping website. I choose to share good food and products to make being vegan easier. I also wanted to support those who are creating amazing products.

Is extreme vegan activism helpful?

Most vegan’s become active and vocal when they find out the truth about animal farming. Going into action, no matter what they choose, makes them activists. They do this because they have discovered an atrocity. And when you discover an atrocity you can’t stay quiet about it.

We call ourselves ‘positive activists’. We try to show people that they don’t have to miss out. Sharing amazing cruelty free food and amazing cruelty free products is our way of showing people that being vegan is easy. But is there room for other types of activists? Should we support those who create a stir in more controversial ways?

All forms of activism are needed

But I learned early on in life that for a movement to take hold and actually shift popular thinking at the grass routes, real long lasting change, that all kinds of activism are needed.

The movement has to provide information in all formats. Some people respond to conversations, some to movies, some to books and some to imagery. And believe it or not, some people also respond to extreme vegan activism. I Believe they are all needed.

There are many examples of powerful imagery for example kicking off real debate and real change. Journalists know this and they are always on the hunt for the image that tells the story. The young girl running out of the Vietnam napalm attack. Rosa Parks on the front of a bus and more recently a young Syrian refugee dead on a beach. These are all famous images that really get to the heart of the atrocity or injustice. Hard hitting images that move us.

Some activists are great at getting provocative images, sparking debate, creating compelling content, stimulating thought through controversial actions, leading demonstrations, writing books, carrying out research or like us creating delicious food alternatives.

If you look back in history to a time where a mind shift has taken place there has been all variations of activism happening at once.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is a great example. Demonstration alongside lobbying alongside, working with journalists, positive hopeful stories, sad stories, inspiring stories, hard hitting images all have a place when we need everybody to listen and change their views.

Why would we reduce the tools we have at hand to achieve a grass routes movement?

Put simply rearing and consuming animals is wrong. And we need to tell people, everybody, what it is doing to their bodies, to the planet and of course to the animals. We have some tough messages to get across, and sometimes we have to hit people between the eyes before they will look up from comfortable lies that bring them happiness in their choices.

And things are changing thanks to all the amazing people who have taken their anger and turned it into effective activism. However they have done it, whether it be through positive activism, or hard hitting actions and messages.

I would like to see vegans support one another in their chose activities rather than judge.

Love the cafe owners, the chocolate makers, the vegan bakers but also love the saboteurs, the demonstrators, the sticker vegans, those who bear witness, those who steal chickens, those who shout down the politicians, those who write, those who share imagery. Love those out there doing extreme vegan activism and simply anybody who is inspired to share the message in their own way. They are all doing an amazing job, they are all worriers, they are all changing the world and we need them all.

Check out ways to be an effective activist here

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