Is it Time to Stop *Being* Vegan?

After some recent conversations with Unny, CAA’s Development Coordinator, I’ve started thinking about whether or not the idea of being vegan is a barrier to entry for animal advocacy.

Is vegan something I am, or is veganism simply something I do?

I’ve long said that “I am vegan” to people when describing my diet and/or my ethics. It’s a nice simple shorthand. However, it also defines me in a way that “living a vegan lifestyle” does not.

I’m not sure we should talk about veganism as part of one’s identity. This sort of framing may actually discourage people from making a change. Changing one’s self-identity is a big deal. On the other hand, asking someone to act on the feelings of compassion that they already have is much less of a big deal. Instead of telling that they need to change who they are, we are just acting them to change their behavior. Even better, we’re asking them to change their behavior so that it’s in accordance with their stated values.

At CAA, we’ve long taken a low-pressure approach of encouraging people to “explore veganism”. If someone tells us that they can’t become vegan, we encourage them to make whatever change they can. This change in framing seems like a natural extension of that “soft” approach.

The problem with all of this is that it’s incredibly awkward to not say “I’m vegan” in spoken conversation. Saying “I live a vegan lifestyle” just sounds weird. I can’t imagine that this language will be adopted. This is especially unlikely since the people who already have experienced a change in self-identity probably want to hold on to that identity!

However, I think that we can approach this sort of change slowly. For a beginning, we can look at the written materials we use to pursue animal activism, and modify them to emphasize that veganism is a matter of lifestyle, not identity. We can also make a point of describing things as vegan (food, clothes, etc.), not people.

Vegan Outreach has a great line in one of their essays, “we want a vegan world, not a vegan club.” I suspect that making veganism an identity furthers the creation of that club.


Sum1, on 2010-10-14 19:43, said:
I didn’t really got your point up to the “world vs club” quote,
but there is something to it,
when we categorize ourselves as “some-word”,
people who don’t consider themselves in that category
will categorize themselves as “not that word” (if not some opposite word),
and if they think of themselves as “not that word”,
as part of their identity/personality/ believe,
switching to the “other team” might feel like a dramatic change
or even losing a part of who you are,
and even if not, it may still give a feeling of
canceling ones general past approach,
which in order to justify,
one must stick with or immediately face (all at once)
the illegitimate of it’s previous life style,
which may be too overwhelming, scary and hard to do.
For a solution I’ll have to get back to you when I’ll think of something.
Right now I don’t see any way around it,
Unless you want to specify every aspect of your way of life,
you need a short way to say a lot.
The shortest way is dome word which describe what you want as it’s definition,
but than you get a category word, splitting everyone to “us” and “them”.
Maybe the solution should be something like instead of naming ourselves,
we can name our thought / life style,
like veg-thinking, or veg-living, veg-choosing ? (.. sound weird).
I’ll leave the name choosing to some one more fit to do so (which includes most people)
Naming just 1 of our choices, instead of defining our entire personality,
Which might separate us from anyone who doesn’t define he/she’s entire personality
as a word he/she doesn’t truly understand the emotional purpose nor spirit of.
But I won’t be surprised to learn this approach
will with time (once the word is publicly known) will collapse back into the very
same problem it’s aim to solve.
Hoping someone got a better solution.
Good luck and live well (live-veg)