If you’re someone who cares about the brutalization of farmed animals, you can focus on the big problem or the minuscule problem. The big problem, of course, is that worldwide upwards of 50 billion animals are slaughtered for food each year (nearly 9 billion animals in the United States alone.) The minuscule problem is that there are some near-vegans who insist on calling themselves vegan. The Vegan Police pour their limited energies into deciding who does and who does not deserve to be considered vegan.
If you want to get nit-picky (and the Vegan Police love to pick nits) nobody is truly vegan. Did you ever drive in a car? There were surely animal products used in its production. Do you wear contact lenses? At some point, they were tested on animals. When you walk down the street, are you using a Jain-style broom to brush any errant insects out of your path? You get the point.
So it all becomes a matter of drawing the line, and the Vegan Police invariably draw that line just south of wherever they’re at, in order to exclude as many people as possible. All of this invariably degenerates into a vegan-for-the-sake-of-vegan circle jerk, and an effort to make the vegan sainthood club as tiny and exclusionary as possible.
As it turns out, maybe the toughest part of being vegan is that you’ll invariably encounter the Vegan Police, who will write you up for one vegan violation or another. But pragmatism is the best revenge. Rather than embark on the pursuit of perfection, there’s an alternative. Why not focus your energies on creating change? Why not acknowledge the world is imperfect, and do your best to favorably impact as many animals as possible? Why not focus relentlessly on the bottom line, and make the entire point of your diet and advocacy be about inspiring the greatest possible change?
One way of doing this is to abandon perfectionism and to strive to keep as many animals from harm as possible. If you really want to demonstrate your passion for animals, the most powerful thing you can do is focus on generating massive results. It’s entirely possible, for instance, for one dedicated activist, over a lifetime, to keep more than a million animals out of slaughterhouses.
To reach a lofty goal like this, it’s wise to read books by results-oriented animals advocates. Some of the best include Ethics Into Action, The Accidental Activist, and Meat Market. Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart is like a graduate-level textbook for people who want to reach the highest levels of effectiveness when doing advocacy on behalf of animals.
What’s the Harm?
Even if we conclude that the Vegan Police can be annoying and narcissistic, are they actually harmful to the best interests of animals? I think the answer is an emphatic yes. Let me offer a few examples why.
Oftentimes, the vegan concept encourages people to take important steps away from animal products, even if they’ve presently ruled out embracing the lifestyle permanently and full-time. For instance, tens of thousands of people have bought Mark Bittman’s book VB6 (Vegan Before 6). Let’s say someone read Bittman’s book and decided that from now on, they’d eat no animal products until dinner. For most people, that one decision is likely to cut their intake of meat, milk, and eggs by at least half. But rather than encourage this step, the Vegan Police would likely respond with something singularly unhelpful along the lines of, “You can’t call yourself a vegan if you eat animal products.”
Ditto for someone going vegan on Meatless Mondays, or for someone giving veganism a 21-day test drive. Instead of praise and encouragement they’d hear, “don’t call yourself a vegan.” What’s especially maddening here is that in all of these examples, nobody’s claiming to be going vegan full-time and forever. But rather than praise important steps like these, the Vegan Police throw a bucket of cold water on people who are headed in the right direction and who are most in need of encouragement. So what the Vegan Police are actually pushing for is a tiny identity cult rather than a broad-based worldwide inclusive movement that will put an end to factory farming and large-scale animal agribusiness.
In the end, the Vegan Police unwittingly inhibit the spread of veganism. But they are more than made up for by the growing legion of animal millionaires—results-oriented activists who each strive to keep huge numbers of animals from harm.