Some vegans can be annoying.
Just like every single other group of humans on the planet, some plant-based eaters can be judgemental, preachy and a pain in the proverbial.
But because veganism requires such a lifestyle overhaul and an unpicking of what so many hold dear (like bacon), vegan evangelicism has led to many writing off the movement and its devotees altogether.
‘How do you know a vegan’s a vegan? Because they’ll tell you!’ is one of the most common and least original gags on the planet.
It’s understandable, of course.
Lots of vegans do like talking about veganism and will try to convince you to have a go at living that #plantbasedlife yourself.
Even within the community, some are guilty of trying to ‘out-vegan’ each other.
You accidentally ate honey yesterday? YOU BEE KILLING MONSTER. You drank Rude Health mylk? Don’t you know their CEO hates vegans?
Because of this, many of vegans – particularly those of us who don’t have many plant-based pals – try to keep our dietary habits on the down low.
Is it worth being ridiculed by meat eaters and criticised by more hardcore herbivores? Probably not. Anything for a quiet life, huh?
But perhaps we’re taking the easy way out.
I was at a party back in December when some friends started asking me about why I’d turned vegan (oh hi, four-month anniversary coming up – feel free to send Vego and nut butters to celebrate).
I laughed at any and every gag, agreed that people should eat what they want and that yes, cheese is life and chicken can be tasty, before quickly trying to deflect the conversation on to something else.
At which point, one mate said: ‘Hey, I’m genuinely interested – don’t be embarrassed about it.’
What was I embarrassed about? Why was I so nervous to come across as The Vegan at a party? Surely, if I believed in the cause enough to completely overhaul my diet and lifestyle, it was something worth discussing?
Veganism is a force for good – I firmly believe that. And yet, I’m reticent to openly encourage others to give it a try.
But there must be a middle road between encouraging discussion around veganism and being annoyingly evangelical about it.
It doesn’t have to mean going around shaming people for their murderous meat-eating habits. And it also doesn’t have to involve harping on about it at every verse end.
Listening to anyone pontificate on any subject is incredibly mundane.
But it’s only by talking and demonstrating how easy veganism can be, and what benefits can come from it, that we’ll see an increase in the numbers of people turning towards a plant-based lifestyle.
I was largely influenced by my co-worker bringing in delicious vegan lunches every day. And then I went away and did my own research and concluded that I couldn’t carry on eating halloumi every day. That was back in October and now I’d say I’m a fully paid-up member of the green club.
My conversion wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t the result of being badgered.
I was just influenced by someone continually letting me try their food and by watching suggested films (e.g. Earthlings which, like so many people, definitely confirmed that I’ll never eat meat ever again).
I also found myself training with more and more people who had gone vegan and reported feeling lighter, faster, healthier as a result.
How could I argue? I had no good reason not to turn vegan.
And that was a result of friends and colleagues being open about their beliefs and about why I should give veganism a go.
‘Most people have three reasons for going vegan – animal welfare, the environment and health,’ said one long-term vegan pal over a drink some months ago.
‘Mine is animal welfare. Once you find what you’re really passionate about protecting, it becomes the easiest thing in the world. Give yourself six weeks and I promise, you won’t look back.’
That sort of low-key encouragement is what so many of us need to hear.
Food is a habit. The way we eat is habitual, and habits can be broken if we want to. The rest of the vegan lifestyle can follow.
Like smoking, cutting out meat and dairy can be hard and requires patience. The very last thing you need is to be is hectored for falling off the wagon or not managing to go the whole hog immediately.
But once you do crack it, you’ll want to talk about it. And you should talk about it.
And like former smokers who revel in the fact that they can’t believe they used to get through a 20-pack of a morning, former meat and dairy eaters often struggle to believe that they used to be partial to a fry-up or a bacon sarnie.
Smoking is bad for you – end of. Once you crack the habit, it’s natural to want to spread the word: GUYS I NEVER QUITE REALISED HOW SH*T SMOKING IS – I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER! Vegans believe that consuming animal products is also awful for you, as it is for the environment and obviously the poor animals who are slaughtered, raped and attacked in the process – it’s only natural to want to share that fact.
For fear of vilification, however, many of us don’t want to draw attention to our lifestyle changes.
But maybe we should be more open to talking about it when someone asks, and we should be proud of the changes we’ve made.
After all, if everyone made one change they believed would make the world better – and encouraged others to do the same – we’d be a damn site better off today.