OPINION: Dear militant vegans — Shaming me won’t work, here’s what will

I was once shamed by a staunch vegan for drinking cow’s milk. It was on a regular Sunday, at a nondescript coffee joint somewhere in the intersection of Beach Road and Arab Street, and all I wanted was a cup of latte. As you can see, I ask for very little in life.

While in the queue, my Sunday morning thoughts were rudely interrupted by someone standing behind me, also awaiting her order. Her shrill, piercing snort will forever be burned at the back of my mind—oh you could smell the arrogance from a mile away. She curtly asked why I needed to drink cow’s milk, and whether I was a baby cow.

Looking back, I would’ve given her a Vera-style clap back in a heartbeat, but back then, I was too dumbfounded even to respond. If you’re reading this, Kasey, I don’t ask you if you’re a baby almond, so perhaps you might want to watch the high and mightiness the next time you’re sipping on that almond milk latte.

The militant vegan—you know the type

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This claim of superiority doesn’t come unsupported. In a study conducted in relation to meats and morals, vegetarians did, in fact, tend to rate the level of the virtuosity of other vegetarians more highly than non-vegetarians.

As someone who mostly identifies as a pro-choicer, I’m a firm believer that whatever you want to do with your body is entirely up to your discretion. Lactose intolerant? Let me pour a cup of oat milk for you. Gluten allergic? Here are some gluten-free bakes.

But I draw the line when that choice or act is imposed on others. Imposition turns to judgement, and judgement turns to scorn. And that kind of energy never helped anybody.

Why going vegan feels good

‘Kind living’, as many in the vegan community put it, is the spirit of eliminating the suffering of sentient beings, as well as being a better global citizen—environmentally speaking. Others cite veganism as being progressive, especially in a mainstream world that still consumes meat. One website writes, “going vegan means you’re WAY ahead of the curve—and that feels pretty damn good”.

I’ll say it again—there’s nothing inherently wrong in being vegan. Being a militant vegan, however, is another story.

Like many other lifestyles with a large cult-following, members of the vegan community are highly, enthusiastically, and unabashedly supportive of each other. There are no two doubts about it—that kind of solidarity builds positive reinforcement. I would know, as an avid rider in the Absolute Cycle community myself—a group some would refer to as cultish the way I view veganism.

I’ll say it again—there’s nothing inherently wrong in being vegan. Being a militant vegan, however, is another story. Nobody likes that one vegan who can’t sleep at night unless they’ve shamed just about every meat-consuming, cow’s milk-drinking being, their partners, and their goldfish in their perimeter.

Such judgement, pre or post, simply does not help or encourage change. Change must start from within and is usually effective when approached unprovoked. Of course, some things can be done to make the switch more palatable.

Make plant-based alternatives cheaper

The economics speak for itself, lower-priced substitutes tend to garner favour with consumers quickly, and many are more likely to make the switch sooner rather than later. Even without knowing what the product tastes like, my take is that many would probably still be open to giving it a try, especially when it comes to a price elastic good like meat and its alternatives.

When Impossible’s ground beef first hit the supermarkets in Singapore, it shocked me to find out that it costs a staggering S$16.90, when the lowest-priced minced beef at FairPrice stands at S$3.80. That difference of S$13, at a hawker centre, is enough to feed a family of two for one meal in a day.

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Striking a cost-profit balance

Arguably, it’s not cheap developing such plant-based mediums. Research and development occupy a large proportion of the cost, and I acknowledge that. But passing that cost onto consumers hardly seems fair, especially for the bulk of current meat-eaters who are making infant steps towards a conscious effort for change.

It would make more sense, ideally speaking, to price non-meat alternatives lower than their meat counterparts to capture initial receptiveness, particularly since the target audience seems to be meat-eating converts. If that’s not possible, then to price them competitively against actual meat, is all I ask.

The fleeting thought of attempting to change out my diet has come and gone aplenty, but it’s hard to justify the hefty price tag on something that’s but one element on a dish. Going vegan is expensive.

Exploitative industrial farming as motivation for lifestyle switch

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Different vegans have their own reasons bolstering the practice of ontological veganism. Some boil it down to consent—that they will not consume anything that hasn’t consented to be eaten—while others chalk it up to ontology, and the belief that beings—in this case, animals—that count as ethical subjects, should not be eaten.

This argument is quickly reconciled by Plumwood’s theory of ecological animalism, an ideology that attempts to level out the playing ground between animals and humans.

Rather than advocating for human supremacy over animals, ecological animalism frames a more respectful, mutual, symbiotic relationship between the two. Us humans are very much food, the way animals are.

And it is on these very grounds that I find it much easier to accept cutting meat out of my diet because of the industry’s notoriously cruel reputation. The distinction is clear—the sin for me lies in the dire, brutal conditions that these animals endure in the process of meat-rearing, rather than in the act of consuming another life being altogether.

In theory, veganism isn’t half as terrifying, but the challenge comes in putting one’s money where their mouth is.

Constructive and less intimidating ways to reduce meat in your diet

There’s been a lot of talk about why going vegan is the superior lifestyle. Still, few actually prove sincerity and genuineness in helping to make a change. In theory, veganism isn’t half as terrifying, but the challenge comes in putting one’s money where their mouth is.

If there’s something I learned from being raised in a stubborn Asian household, it’s that the easiest way to convince someone of altering their habits is to demonstrate how seamless it can be. Compared to committing to intimidating, forbidding goals of strict veggie-only eating, you’ll find that change can be far less awful when you take attainable, progressive steps.

Start with familiarity. Keep that meatball marinara in your lunch menu, but swap out the meatballs for plant balls. Instead of your daily ham and cheese sandwich, try the Omni Meat luncheon in its place.

The world is in no shortage of plant-based alternatives—ImpossibleQuorn, Beyond, The Vegetarian Butcher, OmniOnlyEgJUST Egg, and probably many more still in the midst of development. What a time to be alive—it is arguably more accessible than ever to turn vegan.

Veganism is not nearly enough, nor is it always the answer

Ultimately, it is respectable when one dedicates a huge life change in the name of something larger than themselves. But it is naive to think that alone can eradicate ethical and environmental concerns surrounding meat.

Even more so, it’s important to acknowledge that—with many lifestyles and habits—being vegan is undeniably a privilege. The additional costs and nutritional opportunity costs prove too much for some to bear, and it’s paramount to realise that not everybody has the luxury of living a vegan lifestyle.

So, dear vegan readers, the next time you’re tempted to meat- or dairy-shame that person waiting in line with you, perhaps it’s better to adopt a more helpful approach; you’ll probably stand a better chance at helping your case, if at all.