By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor
The Long Journey
I’m eleven years into my vegan journey now and I can tell you with absolute certainty that I’m a much different vegan than I was eleven years ago. In my early blogging days I didn’t hesitate to call out people for doing harmful things to animals that I felt was, for lack of a better word, dumb. I didn’t mince words as I deconstructed the non-vegan world around me. And even though I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say it now, I even wrote one or two articles in which I resorted to name-calling. I called my activism style unapologetic and added badass to my bio. I was angry, I was passionate, and the combination of the two was a volatile spew-fest.
Like anyone else, I was heavily influenced by the information I surrounded myself with. In those days I spent hours researching the multitudes of ways that humans use animals. I watched horrible videos, I subjected myself to terrible images, and read countless books on factory farming. My soft heart took beating after beating as I consumed more and more media. I spent nights crying for the animals who were lost to greed and the tastebuds of others. These things strengthened my vegan resolve and fueled the growing anger I felt. I funneled my rage into this website and onto social media, having argument after argument about why we all should be living a vegan life.
While my advocacy style certainly got me attention (and a VegNews award), it didn’t get me a reputation for being kind.
Yelling at others for not living #vegan might get attention but it’ll never inspire change. Be passionate & truthful & kind.
— Your Daily Vegan (@YourDailyVegan) January 29, 2016
Looking back now I see how I could have done things much differently.
Over time, my writing-style changed. I moved away from being aggressive in my approach and instead focused my attention on being what I like to call thoughtfully critical. I still wrote extensively about veganism, but I reframed my writing to look at the broader, grey-area concepts, rather than individuals and specifics. That can be a challenge, by the way. It’s not easy to be critical of someone’s actions without also being critical of who they are as a person. It’s an important distinction, and I think it’s one that is hard to do. Nevertheless, I tried to make sure I didn’t attack people, rather focused my attention on actions and concepts.
During this time I decided to stop consuming violent media. I could no longer view graphic images or videos, my heart just couldn’t handle it. Instead, I surrounded myself with people in a similar place in their own vegan journey as I was- thoughtful, but critical of the direction of the vegan movement was going in. This helped a little, but I was still very much influenced from all those years of immersing myself in violent media. I was a full-blown cynic and still very much angry at the world that animals are forced to live (and die) in.
My cynicism is apparent in the last few years of my writing. Small victories for animals were met with scoffs of derision because, why can’t people just live vegan already? I wanted change and I wanted it now and baby stepping wasn’t getting us there fast enough.
Reflections & Contradictions
Looking back now I can tell you that my derision helped no one. Certainly not my own state of mind and certainly not the animals either. Gone was the happiness and joy I felt the first few years of my veganism. I no longer felt the kinship I used to have towards my fellow vegans. Instead, I spent time lamenting about how frustrated I had become at other advocates who renounced their veganism in favor of plant-based alternatives like veg, veganish, v*gan, or plant-whatever. I allowed my cynicism to not only inform my writing here on Your Daily Vegan, but I also allowed it to impact the how I felt about life in general. And that’s a bad thing indeed.
Allow me a moment of contradiction- I do believe some of my best writing came from this cynical place. It was during this time that I wrote the majority of the tutorials and guides, and I’m really proud of how they turned out. I’m not saying that everything I wrote was negative and full of cynicism, it wasn’t. In fact, my writing was never more thoughtful and respectful towards others than during the last few years. But the passion I had for advocating veganism was gone, influenced by the negative environment that I had put myself in.
Sending Mixed Messages
As veganism has moved more solidly into the mainstream, it’s meaning has been diluted and watered-down by people who have no interest in the autonomy of animals. Rather, these are the people who subscribe to a plant-based diet. Veganism has started getting a make-over and it hasn’t been pretty. It often leaves animals out of the equation completely. This has created a great deal of conflict within the vegan movement. Instead of advocating a clear and consistent message, vegans are forced to argue about the very definition of the word and whether or not labelling even matters. It is a frustrating situation, for everyone involved- including myself.
I am a Donald Watson vegan. That is to say, I define veganism as Watson did in 1944, “as a way of living which seeks to exclude – as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose; and promote animal-free alternatives.” I believe this to mean that the lives of animals matter and that veganism is about saving as many animals as I can. I believe that advocating veganism means we must include animals in our conversations and educate others. I believe that advocating for husbandry reform is not the best use of our vegan resources, and I rarely celebrate a celebrity eating a vegan cookie. I believe that advocating veganism is best done with a clear and consistent message. And I believe that all of this can be accomplished with kindness, compassion, and with respect to others who are not in the same place in their vegan journey as we are.
The conflict within the vegan movement is growing. There are those who want to redefine veganism. There are those who spend time in comment sections leaving aggressive tirades towards others whom they believe are not vegan enough. Then there are bloggers and vegan groups who send mixed messages about what veganism is- going so far as to pick apart other activists who they deem as too extreme. There has been shocking online fights between abolitionists, welfarists, and intersectional vegans. The environment over the past seven years that I’ve been blogging has changed dramatically, and not necessarily in a good way.
Earlier this year I voiced my support for distancing ourselves from negative behavior. I don’t believe that veganism needs to be redefined, it has a clear definition already. I believe the infighting is antithetical to the compassion that the vegan movement is inherently based upon. I also believe this type of environment is toxic, not only to myself, but to others as well. Who wants to be a part of a movement that is supposed to be about compassion, yet is full of vegans attacking each other left and right?
How to Make Vegan Friends & Influence Non-Vegan People
I want to admit something to you. The cynicism I felt coupled with the infighting happening within the movement the past year or so almost meant the end of Your Daily Vegan. Do you know that I regularly receive angry, antagonizing tweets from non-vegans? I do. I also regularly receive incredibly rude emails and comments on the site. I’ve been attacked for being vegan, for defining veganism, and for merely existing in my own space. Which, by the way, I own and pay for. These things made me question if blogging was the right fit for me. It’s not the first time I felt that way over the past seven years, but it is the first time that I took drastic measures to begin the process of change.
Because something needed to change. Or rather, someone.
I love animals. I love living vegan and I’ll never, ever not live vegan. I knew it from the moment my eyes were opened to the injustices being done to animals. But what I forgot in the past few years was how much I love to blog. I love to cook and I love sharing vegan food with people. My mother-in-law is one of my favorite non-vegan taste testers. I love to help people. I forgot how satisfying it can be showing people where to find an adorable pair of vegan shoes or a vegan baseball glove. I forgot how much fun social media can be when not participating in arguments about who is more vegan than another.
I forgot that there is joy in living vegan and there’s joy in sharing it with others.
So, I decided to distance myself from those who are bent on arguing and who can’t see that we’ll never achieve that vegan world we all want if all we do is pick apart progress. Instead, I’m re-focusing my attention on helping people to live a vegan life. When I think back to the past few years and all of the accomplishments that vegan advocates have made, I feel proud of how far we’ve come. Yes, we have a long way to go. But we’re getting there, one animal-free meal at a time.
I’ve become a much happier vegan in the last month. I’m still the same unapologetic Donald Watson vegan who started this website way back in 2009, that hasn’t changed and never will. But I’ve come to realize that sharing the joy of veganism is a powerful form of activism. I can advocate a clear and consistent message while staying true to my vegan ethics, and I can do it with kindness and compassion.
We can’t force change upon people, we can only inspire it. That’s what I hope my reclaimed vegan joy will do- inspire change and maybe influence some non-vegan people.
Photo: Maaike Flissebaalje