Are Vegans Smug Enough?

Tino Mori, Columnist

Veganism has, for some time now, been a cultural punchline. Though the consensus is that the animal-omitting diet renders these herbivores humorless and bland as the protein they consume, it’s both easy and fun to point at these strange creatures and giggle. Anthony Bourdain describes vegans as the “Hezbollah-like splinter faction” of vegetarianism. Burnie Burns of the Rooster Teeth Podcast strikes a similar note when he argues the quickest and surest route to militancy in the United States is veganism. Alan Richman describes the community help board in a vegan restaurant as “offering assistance with the essentials of life, such as channeling, massage, and meditation, and a lot of notices promising rewards for the return of lost animals. Vegans seem to lose more than their share of cats.”

Did I chuckle when I read and listened to these humorous descriptions? Did I contribute to the problem by describing their protein as bland with an unnecessary metaphorical flourish? Absolutely. There’s something about the evangelizing smugness of the generic vegan that lends them to mockery. Richman’s subtle innuendo that vegans lose their house pets because they’re feeding them vegan pet food is worth a chuckle. Oh, those foolish vegans, when will they learn?

But the question we never seem to ask ourselves is this: Are vegans convincing enough? Are vegans doing enough to convert us? By now it’s common knowledge that industrialized farming is not good for the environment. The old adage is that it’s better for the planet to eat veggie burgers in Hummers than cheeseburgers in Priuses. Consumption is a political act – voting isn’t the only way we express our hopes for the future.

But vegans have a real role, beyond leading by example. Vegans can and should jostle us out of our comfortable, epicurean routines. Tell us how much methane the beef industry produces. Enunciate the anguish of chickens, crowded together in dark warehouses and fattened on feed. Decry the plight of the workers, the farmers whose livelihoods lie at the whim of corporations like Tyson. Make us uncomfortable about our choices.

Should every single human being convert to veganism tomorrow, 6:00 a.m. sharp in time for morning yoga? Of course not. I eat too much Greek yogurt and honey to make any such demands. But it’s time to start thinking about our diets differently. My food philosophy could never deprive another human being of a food they enjoy (except perhaps human flesh), but if you truly enjoy something, you do not eat it all the time. When something is ubiquitous, we take it for granted and stop esteeming it.

For example, my favorite dessert is zabaione, a rich, chilled custard made with egg whites and marsala. I eat it once a year, perhaps once every two. To eat it more frequently would make it less special. I would appreciate it less. I’m not saying you must limit your lamb chop consumption until the next election cycle, but make your meat remarkable. It’s too ubiquitous now, and that needs to change.

What are you willing to give up for the sake of the planet? Surely you would choose a wheat protein cutlet over permanent resettlement on Mars…wouldn’t you? Not all change will come from a carbon tax.

The first step in changing our ways is to listen. We shouldn’t dismiss vegans so quickly. Don’t let the persona of the vegan stereotype dressed in an organic hemp sweater distract you from their message. The issues are important enough to overcome your inherent aversion to smug dogma. Instead, let your local vegan have their soapbox, and maybe even listen. After you help them find their escaped feline, you can perhaps learn something.