My Vegan Mistake – misunderstanding a label
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
We recently wrote an article titled “Meat Demand is changing but its not because of the vegans.”. Our primary point was that there are many Canadians who are eating less meat overall, but still some eating meat – flexitarians. I often hear complaints that the vegans are the ones driving this reduction. We just wanted to make the point that focusing on vegans (and vegetarians) misses the point somewhat and overlooks the real driver of reduced meat consumption.
We did suggest that the number of vegans is likely over-estimated because in our recent survey, many people who identified as vegan also answered that they eat meat. The intent was not to ridicule or criticize, but rather to highlight that there may be fewer true vegans than many people think – which again suggests that they are not driving the change in meat consumption.
We received several comments suggesting we were “attacking” vegans. We were criticized as shills for the meat movement and clearly biased meat eaters. This caught me by surprise. I didn’t understand the issue at first but upon further reflection I think I have figured it out.
I am personally a flexitarian and remain a committed omnivore. I am eating less meat for a number of reasons:
I am getting older and generally eating less (like many Canadians);
My wife is not eating red meat so, although we frequently eat separate proteins, I am eating more fish instead to fit with her preferences;
I have to watch my sodium intake so processed meats are not an option because they generally have astronomical levels of sodium;
I am increasingly aware of the environmental footprint of my diet and am thinking about reducing it (while not completely eliminating meat); and
There are some excellent vegetarian/vegan foods available and I enjoy the variety.
I am not inclined to try and change the meat eating of my friends and family or, for that matter, of anyone else. That is the point that I missed. There is more than meat that differs between me as an omnivore and some vegans. I am neither a meat advocate (well, sometimes I will rave about a steak) nor someone who presumes to tell people not to eat meat. For some vegans, particularly those motivated by animal welfare concerns, there is a drive to change everyone’s diet. More than a personal choice, it’s about getting everyone to stop eating meat. That’s why the vegans who responded felt like they were being attacked. They presumed that I was saying they were not having an impact. While their impact is likely limited, that was not the point we were making.
This highlights the need to be careful with labels. In my mind, a vegan is someone who chooses (for a variety of reasons) not to consume animal products. I would think that people who are advocating for an end – or at least a reduction – in animal agriculture are animal activists (another loaded label). They may or may not be vegans. I had a discussion with a vegan (in fact stay tuned for a Food Focus podcast where I have a conversation with several vegans and get a better understanding of their motivations) who spoke of the “movement.” These people don’t differentiate between their own choices and their desire to eliminate meat consumption altogether. That said, that there are vegans who are motivated by other factors and may or may not seek to change others’ meat-eating habits.
The debate about eating meat is left for another discussion. To me, this issue highlights the complexity of understanding any issue – not just changes in meat consumption. It’s important that we have civil conversations to understand everyone’s perspectives. If we default to pre-conceived notions of others we lose the opportunity to understand and engage. We will disagree on many things but if we seek to understand rather than just to label, we are more likely to make progress. In this case we could have been more judicious in our description of the reasons for changing meat consumption. Those who responded, however, could also have engaged differently rather than simply attacking us.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. “My vegan mistake – misunderstanding a label”. Food Focus Guelph (19), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, April 4th, 2019.