Many vegans and vegetarians prioritize their ethics and beliefs ahead of society’s expectations. We become so used to the feeling of being the “odd person out” at social gatherings or at work—when everyone else is enjoying a burger or a piece of birthday cake that we deny ourselves because of our beliefs—that it almost no longer even registers as a feeling.
Still, there are times when our sense of self suffers. Whether such self-esteem problems originate with these expectations and our failure to meet them, or whether they are fully self-manifested, sometimes it feels like changing ourselves to be more conventional would make us feel better.
Stand Up By Standing Out
However, a common way to address the pressure to conform is to instead stand out. In this generally conformist culture, where those who actively resist the status quo—including vegans—are depicted in the media as idealists, weirdos, or extremists, there is self-affirmation to be found in “raising your freak flag high” and openly defying expectations by becoming, say, an antiwar veteran, a feminist jock, a sex-positive woman, or, for that matter, a vegan bodybuilder.
There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging this desire to “stand out” and “be different.” As vegans and vegetarians, we want to make a positive difference in the world. Openly defying societal expectations can spark public debate, which is the first means of doing that.
It is also, however, the most humble. It’s important to remember that actions outside of ourselves, like petitioning our representatives or handing out vegan literature, are more active ways to actually change the unjust world in which we live.
Is Veganism Activism?
Veganism could be defined as an act of abstinence—of NOT doing something—which is thought to effect an ethical goal. But veganism must not become a form of inactivism. It needs to be just the opposite. That abstinence, that act of NOT doing, must be balanced with a degree of DOING.
Of course, our abstinence does do something: it deprives the meat industry of some level of income, and that level has been increasing as veganism and vegetarianism enter the mainstream. What it does not do, however, is have any significant effect on dismantling the financial system that continues to exploit and profit off of animals.
Admittedly, our abstinence of meat does degrade the meat industry’s profits, and the expression of our political ideas does provoke important public debate. These two processes are of undeniable value and importance, and everything must start somewhere.
Remember Who We’re Fighting For
However, we must acknowledge that our end goal, the destruction of the meat industry and the end of animal cruelty altogether, will not come about by these means alone. It is not on any one vegan or vegetarian to effect this change, but on the entire movement itself. We must all make sure our goal remains liberation and not further insulation from the injustices for which we profess concern.