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Posted on Sat, Mar 13, 2010 : 8 a.m.

We're vegans, not freaks

By Emily Weingarten

I recently received a copy of Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World by Bob Torres and Jenna Torres. I read the book in a couple of days, and I have to say, as much as I love fellow vegans, I am sincerely disappointed.

Vegan Freak is a sort of vegan manifesto in which the authors, a married couple and the executive editors of Tofu Hound Press, the company that published the book, attempt to instill vigor and commitment into already-vegans and inspire non-vegans to take on the lifestyle. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Sometimes the only way for vegans to get respect is to be able to eloquently state their reasons for being vegan and to be consistent in their diet and lifestyle. Inspiring others to be vegan is OK, so long as it doesn’t go too far.

I don’t want to write a blog entry criticizing Vegan Freak because the authors spend so much time criticizing anyone who is not vegan and using a variety of other negative tones such as cursing profusely and making bad sexual jokes. Instead, I’d like to argue for a different vegan manifesto, one that reflects the compassionate lifestyle and peaceful mindset that is inherent to veganism in the first place. Here are a few of my thoughts on veganism.

Any reasons for being vegan are great, so long as they are motivated by a desire to create some sort of positive change.
Although animal rights is one great reason for going vegan, there are many other reasons people decide to go vegan. As long as your reasons for going vegan are not completely vain or ill founded — i.e. you think it will make you look like an emaciated movie star, you think it’s the new fad, or you want to impress someone else — your reasoning is probably logical. Among these motivations might be for the ethical treatment of animals, to support a more sustainable environment, for your personal health or to simply adopt a more compassionate outlook on life by changing your relationship to food and other consumables.

Environmental vegans are just as valuable as ethical vegans.
We certainly need vegans to advocate for animal rights. If you aren’t aware of how unethical and cruel our meat and dairy industries are, just watch or read Food Inc., and you just might end up being vegan. But veganism is also about supporting a more sustainable environment. Not only does the meat and dairy industry abuse and kill animals, it also uses an unbelievable amount of energy in the process. Although the process of harvesting and transporting produce, grains and other plants to grocery stores and farmer’s markets requires energy, the energy required is significantly less and can produce many more pounds of food per area of land than producing animal products. And because vegans are often among the groups of people interested in where their food comes from, they are more likely to support sustainable agricultural practices and support local and organic foods.

Veganism is about you.
I’ll risk using the cliché, “you are what you eat,” because I believe that veganism embodies this phrase perhaps more than any other diet. By choosing to be vegan, you are bringing a heightened awareness to the type of food you put in your body, where that food comes from, and how that food makes you feel when you eat it. Being vegan might also make you consider how the clothes you wear make you feel, and you might stop wearing leather, wool, and silk. It’s OK to be proud of yourself for making these personal choices, but acting with modesty and humility around non-vegans is always the best way to go.

The whole world isn’t going to stop eating meat.
As a vegan, I think it’s great that veganism is becoming more widely known. There are more online and print resources than ever for vegans, vegan conferences, vegan clothing brands and vegan restaurants. That being said, vegans are a minority — not freaks — and cannot expect our entire society to adopt a vegan lifestyle when meat and dairy are central components of most Americans’ diets. While some are able to make the transition to vegan lifestyle “cold turkey,” most people in our country wouldn’t even begin to consider this process. What we can do is support the people who are interested in learning more about vegan lifestyle and possibly becoming vegan without alienating ourselves by projecting our vegan philosophies on others who may not be interested at all.

Veganism is sometimes about compromise.
It might make me a speciesist to say this, but people are much more important to me than animals. So if on my birthday, someone makes or buys me a non-vegan cake, I’m going to have a slice to avoid offending that person or causing hurt feelings. There have been so many instances in my vegan experience thus far where someone has made a special effort — at a restaurant, family dinner, or gathering with friends — to make sure I was accommodated. As vegans, we need to reciprocate. There are more appropriate time to talk about our lifestyle choices.

Vegetarians are OK.

Yes, the dairy industry can be just as cruel and unethical as the meat industry, but vegetarians and vegans have many common values, and, as vegans, we must respect that in order to be respected.

Finally, and most importantly, veganism is about respect, for animals, the earth and other people.
We can’t expect to receive respect from non-vegans and grow any sort of vegan movement if we don’t treat others with respect. We need to recognize that animal products have deep roots in our society and we can’t expect everyone to agree with us. Even if you never compromise your vegan values, this still means not projecting your values on non-vegans, not making judgments about meat eaters and treating everyone with the same respect you would always like to have as a vegan.

Vegan Freak lacks the compassion, humility, peacefulness that is inherent to a vegan lifestyle. To give credit to the book, the authors offer a lot of useful tips about vegan cooking, what types of restaurants are the most vegan-friendly and traveling vegan. If you’re thinking about going vegan, the best thing you can do is talk to a vegan you know and check out the plethora of online and print resources available. If you’re vegan, don’t be a freak about it.

Emily Weingarten is a new contributor to's Food and Drink section. You can follow Emily's blog at and contact Emily at



Sun, May 2, 2010 : 3:39 a.m.

My partner decided to become vegan and she is worse than a new born again christian zealot. Frankly, her frequent "animal killer" comments and constant barrage of peta videos, and social network rants seem cult like to me in that she is trying to COERCE/FORCE her ideals on anyone and everyone. Were she less self-righteous and had she refrained from proselytizing, I might have been curious rather than repelled. Instead, I now have a great dislike for vegan zealots. In fact, I came across your article while using a search engine to find a vegan shut-up t-shirt. I must say, I would probably have a different viewpoint on vegans and she and I would be in a much better place today had she embraced your philosophical approach. Good for you for having respect for others. Maybe other would be vegan zealots will think twice about trying to shock, guilt, preach, judge, etc. people into becoming vegans as there are many others like me who are repelled by such behavior.

Vanilla Rose

Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

A poster wrote "that doesn't mean those of us buying free-range grass-fed hippie beef are somehow cruel". Enthusiasts of free range meat are always telling us what idyllic lives the animals lead, but seldom bother to explain why they think their tastebuds justify their ending those lives so prematurely.

Vanilla Rose

Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 6:56 a.m.

Vegans not interested in where their food is from? Well, yeah, if you choose to ignore Plants for a Future, the Vegan Organic Network and the work of individuals such as the late Robert Hart and Kathleen Jannaway! (Both, may I add, lived to a healthy old age.)


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 4:28 a.m.

We're Vegans, proud Freaks. Freak: (As defined by some free dictionary online. That's the trend these days, to use unreliable or no sources, to support unreasonable assertions, but I'll shy away from my freakdom, and conform.)Essentially: 1. unusual 2. enthusiast 3. eccentric or nonconformist person, especially a member of a counterculture 4. inapplicable... Vegan Freaks, fitting if I say so.


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 2:18 p.m.

"And because vegans are often among the groups of people interested in where their food comes from, they are more likely to support sustainable agricultural practices and support local and organic foods." The problem is, this is exactly the opposite of what I've found. Most vegans I know are just interested in exactly what's *in* their food, not where their food is from or how healthy it is. Ie "ZOMG BEEF JUICE IN GUINNESS?! MUST FIND VEGAN BEER!!!" Most people I've met who are really into "local" foods are Pollan-style omnivores who recognize animal husbandry as a cornerstone of traditional farms. The idea that a Michigan vegan who buys processed foods from California is somehow more environmentally friendly than someone who buys chickens raised locally is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the idea that the "meat industry" is one entity and that it's all evil. It's fine if you don't want to eat meat, but the underlying arguments (it's all cruel, it's all unsustainable, it's healthier) are opinion, not fact. For one thing, grazing animals can make use of terrible land and turn garbage to fertilizer. For another, veganism sets us on a pedestal outside of the natural world rather than accepting our symbiotic relationship with animals. Humans didn't steal animals out of the wild and enslave them. Animals made the genetic "decision" to hang out with humans and we've co-evolved. The cow gets protection from predators, a free supply of food, access to a veterinarian and help with its reproduction. In return for this favor, it gives us fat and protein. If the cow _could_ choose, it'd be crazy not to choose to stick with us. Cows don't spend weeks dying painfully of disease or cruelly in the jaws of predators like deer do. Cattle have, evolutionarily speaking, done very well. Have you ever seen an aurochs? Exactly. Having actually known a few cows, I can pretty confidently say that they don't go through life stressed out and miserable. It's not bad, spending three years happily chewing and then getting a quick pneumatic bolt to the head. It's less unpleasant that how 99% of people go. Yes, we've done a bad job of living up to our end of the bargain the last 50 years or so, but that doesn't mean those of us buying free-range grass-fed hippie beef are somehow cruel. Personally, I think buying local meat does cows more good than boycotting all animal products.

Vanilla Rose

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

Maybe my friends and relatives are just exceptionally thoughtful, but they would NEVER expect me to eat anything that wasn't vegan just to be "polite". If someone asks why I don't eat meat, then I will tell them that I don't believe in killing animals just because they taste nice. If anyone asks why I am vegan, I will fill them in briefly about animal farming. If they don't ask me about it, then it is unlikely that I will talk about it. I will do my best not to sound judgemental, but I am not going to pretend that being vegan is a "lifestyle choice" on the same level as deciding whether to wear my black jeans or my teal green ones. If that makes me "preachy", then tough. I'd rather be honest about not supporting animal farming than have judgemental people rule that I am docile enough to pass as "normal".

Elizabeth Collins

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 12:39 a.m.

Is anyone else here finding it hilarious and quite ironic that the only people who are coming across as in any way overbearing are non-vegan commentators? (I can only hope that it is the result of a prickly conscience as is usually the casein fact if one were not bothered by the knowledge that tens of billions of sentient beings are being slaughtered per year, for the trivial reasons of taste, amusement etc, I would find that quite worrying). Being vocal about non-violence, justice and the right of sentient beings to not be used as a means to an end is not "judging others personal choices" or "forcing beliefs". It should never have ever been portrayed in that way, and it should stop being portrayed in that way. If I go to a place where it is perfectly socially acceptable to sell five year old girls as sex slaves, and I try to be vocal and educate about why that is wrong and how it must be stopped (on behalf of the little girls who are unable to speak out or help themselvessuch as the non-humans being used are unable to help themselves) is that "preaching" or "forcing my beliefs" or is it simply standing up for what is right? Please, if you are vegan, help us to promote peace, nonviolence and respect for all other sentient beings, respect for the environment and respect for our own bodies. It is the least we can do. It is, in fact, an obligation in my opiniononce you know, you are obligated to share the knowledge, especially if you want anything at all to change for the better, which is what we all claim we want, isn't it? Thanks

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:08 p.m.

Most of us who have adopted a vegan lifestyle have done so because we care, so you're right when you say it's about compassion and respect -- for humankind and the environment as much as animals. It's a very worthy cause, but one that is hard for non-vegans to understand and we must be mindful of that as vegans. Things like veganism didn't make a lot of sense to me before I learned the facts. Eventually documentaries like Food Inc. and the videos you can watch on meat.orgconvinced me it is the right thing to do. But I think we have to be patient for others to come around and we shouldn't be preachy. We should quietly lead by example and gently answer the questions non-vegans inevitably will ask us.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

@Mark: Incidentally, I agree that Vegans shouldn't feel obligated to eat animal products to avoid hurting someone's feelings.

Mark Sheppard

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 3:42 p.m.

People need to understand that not being vegan is also a lifestyle choice. They're choosing to eat animals when they don't need to for any reason whatsoever. Being omnivorous is not a normal or default way of eating; it's a lifestyle choice, just like anything else is. Vegans and even vegetarians are constantly being asked and often ridiculed about their choices. I don't think omnivores realize how annoying, judgmental and ignorant they can be when they're in the presence of vegans. Omnivores should consider themselves lucky that they can eat in peace most of the time, without people asking then questions about why they choose to eat meat, whether or not they're worried about their health because of the way they eat, etc. This is not the case for many vegans or even vegetarians. I don't know how many people have told me that people where they work or go to school question or harass them on an almost-daily basis about what they're eating. Often people who are absolutely ignorant about nutrition will tell vegans that they won't be able to get enough protein or iron on their diet, even though they have no idea what the hell they're talking about. To stay on-topic, though, I strongly disagree that it's better to eat non-vegan food so as not to hurt someone's feelings. If you were allergic to dairy, would you eat it just so you didn't hurt someone's feelings? Well, you don't have to have an allergy to have a reason to choose not to eat something; ethics are just as valid. There's nothing wrong with telling someone that you will not eat something because it's not vegan. People can take it. I do agree that vegans shouldn't bring up veganism in certain social situations if it's not necessary. If someone asks you why you're vegan, there's nothing wrong with answering them. If no one asks, though, and you're at a dinner or something, it's just rude to bring it up yourself.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

@Megan: and in my case, preachy Vegans are what's made me dislike Veganism as a lifestyle. (I don't dislike individual Vegans for being Vegan, but I react to hearing "so and so is Vegan" about like I react to hearing "so and so sells Amway". I expect that I'm going to be subjected to a harangue and am pleasantly surprised if I'm not.) So different people react differently.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 2:04 p.m.

Okay, I can see how you might have thought that was a personal attack, because I wrote it carelessly. Let me restate this to make it clear it's a general point, and not directed at any specific person: Vegans, like everyone else, have a right to talk about their beliefs and even to be preachy. However, if they do this, they shouldn't be surprised if their non-Vegan friends stop inviting them to things, and they shouldn't be surprised if it creates bias against Veganism. While preaching may convert a few people, it makes others hostile. It's very satisfying to assume that the hostility is because listeners "can't handle the truth," but the fact is that there are a lot of self-righteous people out there who want to tell us how to live our lives, and all of them think they've got the truth and we just can't handle it.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

Emily, your essay left me rather bewildered, to be honest. You state it's important to be consistent in one's diet and then assert that it's perfectly acceptable to go back on one's commitment "so as not to hurt someone's feelings" because "people are much more important" to you than animals. What a bizarre statement to make. So hurting someone's feelings over a cake is worse than giving the nod of approval (just this once...) to the exploitation of dairy cows? Really? The two are hardly the same thing. Indeed, the peculiar idea that to run the risk of appearing impolite could ever be comparable to the extreme harm inflicted on another sentient creature by the use of her secretions is very misplaced. If you acknowledge an animal's sentience, then that animal's desire to be free from pain and the interest she has in her own life should be respected all the time, not just when it's convenient, or when doing so would be socially awkward. I have experienced that awkwardness plenty of times -- I'm sure most vegans have -- so I know what it's like. It invariably results in people asking questions, which provides me with an opportunity to explain why I am a vegan. I won't shy away from this for fear of appearing preachy. I think you assume that everyone automatically gets incredibly defensive the minute a vegan mentions a different perspective. You're wrong. The vast majority of my experiences doing vegan advocacy with people have occurred as a a result of people asking me questions about veganism, not as a consequence of any direct "preaching" on my part. There are two other points I found generally disturbing about your essay. One is its overwhelming focus on - well, you. I would never shy away from any opportunity to speak to someone about veganism just because it might be deemed "inappropriate". At the risk of stating the obvious, there are lives at stake here; it's really not about me. Thus my main goal in talking to people about veganism is not to make people respect me because I am vegan; my goal is to ask people to question a system that enslaves other species and consumes their flesh and secretions purely for reasons of pleasure, convenience or entertainment. So I very much disagree with your statement that "veganism is about you". The other confusing element in your essay is the implication that veganism is more or less just a diet (and, if I may say so, I'm not sure why a vegan would ever recommend "Food, Inc." to someone who was considering going vegan, since the film is pretty much a full-on advertisement for so-called "happy meat"). But we all know that veganism is about much more than just what you eat, it's an outlook on life, a desire to work for a non-violent world in which every sentient being is respected and not exploited. Admittedly, you do write about the "compassion, humility, peacefulness that is inherent to a vegan lifestyle". Peacefulness for whom? The point, for me, is that those are all just words unless I put my commitment into practice by being consistently vegan (not just when it's convenient and easy, and not by avoiding milk but not leather) and by promoting veganism, which to me represents in itself the essence of the peacefulness you mention.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 9:32 a.m.

Hi Emily, I wanted to say also, I found some elements of your article to be contradictory and was left feeling that I, as a vegan who believes that the reason a lot of people don't question the use & consumption of animals is not through personal choice but through socialisation, (i.e. we're brought up to think animals are lesser etc.), am somehow wrong for trying to engage people so that through education these assumptions might be brought to light and discussed. I have to admit it kind of upset me! I don't see that maintaining your views and being clear to family and friends is offensive, sure, it can be if you have a horrible attitude problem - but offering information/new perspectives/discussion to people on things they've never truly considered isn't automatically offensive or proselytising. It is if you're upset with them and attacking them, which unfortunately can happen when people feel that their views are seen as unimportant/make them seem a 'freak' etc. - they lash out and try to 'win' or 'convert' non-vegans, it's upsetting for both the vegan and the person they're directing this at when this happens. I also disagree with the proposition that veganism is just a personal choice, on an island by itself, to me it's the most basic thing I can do to ensure that I am not a part of the unthinking use of animals and the assumption that humans are superior and have a right to do so. It's not something I did 'for me', it's the most essential thing I had to do once I began to take seriously the right of a sentient being not to be treated as property. I also noted in your post that you said that you might be speciesist for saying that humans are more important to you than animals. I don't know how much you've read about speciesism or what your reaction to it exactly has been, but I remember when I first heard the term speciesism I found it so bizarre, I was so influenced by everything that had been taught to me and by the 'status quo' that the word seemed so silly but the more I read the more I learned how real speciesism is and how similar it is to any other kind of oppression. It's actually a hugely interesting and inspiring field of work and I encourage you to read more into it if you haven't, even if now it might seem alien. I'm particularly interested with how it intersects with feminism/racism/homophobia etc. Please feel free to email me if you want some links :) Thanks for the opportunity to work through some of these ideas that your article presented, Kind regards, Lou


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 9:20 a.m.

Preachy vegans are what made me vegan. If someone thinks that it's obnoxious or intrusive should maybe think about why it bothers them so much.

Emily Weingarten

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments thus far. To address Mylene's comment, I'd never suggest vegans to be embarrassed of their lifestyle choices or be "in the closet," as you say in your blog. My intended message here is that no one wants to hear vegans project their views on others or pass judgments about non-vegans, just as vegans don't want meat eaters or vegetarians criticizing their choices. Certainly, it's important for vegans to be as consistent as possible in their lifestyle choices, from food to clothing and personal care products. As vegans, we need to understand that we are a minority and getting respect is all about giving it.


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

(Incidentally, despite the name, the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine is not mostly made up of physicians and is not a medical authority in any way. It's an explicitly pro-vegan activist organization that works very closely with PETA on animal rights issues. They are not a neutral or authoritative source on issues of nutrition.)


Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 8:28 a.m.

@ScottRNelson: "Shut up" may have come off a little harsh, but nobody likes a proselytizer. And yes, you're overstating the case. While vegetarianism can have health benefits, they haven't been demonstrated "for every chronic illness Americans face" by a long shot. You're not doing the vegetarian side of the discussion any favors by making overinflated claims.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 9 p.m.

Vegetarians are prey. See you at dinner.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

Emily, Nicely done article. I enjoy a plant based diet as a total vegetarian. Today on Detroit Public Television (fund raiser), Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was on for 90 minutes talking about how to REVERSE diabetes htrough a plant based diet. Wow! Talk about hitting the mainstream. Seldon's "shutup" is really out of place when a plant based diet holds such promise for every chronic illness Americans face, and the health care crisis in general. It is the answer to Americas Health Care crisis, and that is not an over statement. Thanks Again, Scott Reid Nelson


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

I was vegan for 15 years, from age 25 to 40, and my children were vegan from birth (except nursing) until ages 7&9. Now we are vegetarian, and I thank Emily for her clear and reasonable explanation of the choices. Don't criticize someone whose shoes you haven't worn.


Sat, Mar 13, 2010 : 10:54 p.m.

Thanks for a great reminder: it's about compassion, not judgment! I am not 'a' vegan; I eat that way mostly, but see a role for pet-chicken eggs and local honey, within a sustainable agriculture paradigm... and depending on local resources, sustainable practices, and individual (vs. corporate) fishing, I'm on the fence about fish & shellfish as sustainable/ non-industrially produced B-12 sources... still thinkin' it all through; but I have to go by my own ethics/ world view, *not* by what others think, even if they think it loudly and in a bossy voice!... If I do ever go ALL plants vs 99.5% plants, I still don't think I'd label myself 'vegan'... there are so many negative 'preachy' associations with the name, and so much bickering within the community about what it means to be one...I think proselytizing, unasked, just drives people away from the point: compassion, and thoughtful food choices. I think whether you're vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, flexitarian, or trying in any way to make more ethical food choices: we're on the same side! We should support and encourage each other, along that path; not bicker amongst ourselves, or alienate omnis with judgmental hostility! Most of the vegans I know in 3-D (real life) are cool & groovy; but online, I'm often unpleasantly surprised by the amount of vitriol I run across, from some of the judgmental types -- who, ironically, I agree with almost all the time! I think we should appreciate our similarities, respect our differences, and encourage kindness by example. Other strategies -- I completely agree with you! -- are unlikely to change the world in positive ways. Thanks for being a voice of kindness, compassion, and reason: well said!


Sat, Mar 13, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

Seriously. Low-key vegans are fine. Proselytizing vegans are about as welcome as proselytizing anything else: not at all. Vegans: shut up about it and do your own thing, and everyone will get along.


Sat, Mar 13, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

Vegans will be accepted as "normal", if the majority of them stopped being so preachy, and so self-righteous, and judgemental about their lifestyle choice.