Countering the Stereotype

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Countering the Stereotype

By Matt Ball, Vegan Outreach
May 2009

Society’s stereotype of animal advocates and vegans is a significant roadblock to widespread change. “Vegan” no longer needs to be explained when referenced. But unfortunately, the word is often used as shorthand for someone young, fanatical, and antisocial. This caricature guarantees that veganism won’t be considered—let alone adopted—on a wide scale.

Jennifer Greene hands Even If You Like Meat (pdf) booklets to concertgoers at Madison Square Garden.

Regrettably, the “angry vegan” image has some basis in reality. Not only have I known many obsessive, misanthropic vegans, I was one myself. My anger and self-righteousness gave many people a lifetime excuse to ignore the realities hidden behind their food choices.

As a reaction to what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses, very strong feelings, such as revulsion and outrage, are understandable and entirely justified. The question, though, isn’t what is warranted, but rather, what helps animals. I have known hundreds of outraged activists who insisted, “Animal liberation by any means necessary! I’m willing to do anything!” Yet few of these people are still active, and animal liberation remains in the future.

If we truly want to have a fundamental, lasting impact on the world, we must deal with our emotions in a constructive way. We need to ask ourselves:

Are we willing to direct our passion, rather than have it rule us?

Are we willing to put the animals’ interests before our personal desires?

Are we willing to focus seriously and systematically on effective advocacy?

It is not enough to be a vegan, or even a dedicated vegan advocate. We must remember the bottom line—reducing suffering—and actively be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Just as we need everyone to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our sorrow and anger to optimal advocacy. We must learn “how to win friends and influence people,” so that we leave everyone we meet with the impression of a joyful individual leading a fulfilling and meaningful life.


See Matt's great article, A Meaningful Life: Animal Advocacy, Human Nature, And A Better World.

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