On Brow-Beating and Cashew Cheese: A Vegan’s Response to Manifestos

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By Jordan Kercheval, Minerva intern—


My diet used to consist of Kraft mac and cheese and corn dog baskets from the local bar in my college town. McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Give me a 20-piece.


But then I started to pay attention to the ways diet interacts with some of our world’s most pressing issues: factory farming is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions – the World Health Organization classifies red meat as a carcinogen – and factory farm conditions are horrific for both the animals and the environment.


So, I cut meat out of my diet three years ago and ditched the dairy and eggs two years later. In other words, I became a vegan.


As I learned about veganism, I started to become more passionate about the reasons I chose the lifestyle. I began to go down the path of what many consider a stereotypical vegan.


I’m sure you’ve heard the joke – “How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” If I saw someone eating meat, I would silently judge them: “How can you eat that burger? Don’t you know what the conditions are like in factory farms? Don’t you know what impact that has on the planet, on your health?!”


The silent judgment reserved for strangers wasn’t as silent for my friends and loved ones. I acted as if we hadn’t been eating chicken fingers together only a few years earlier.


Thankfully, my friends and family also didn’t waste time in calling me out for this hypocrisy. I quickly realized the way I had been acting was no different than someone hitting me over the head with their religious or political views. This is not only annoying, it’s also an ineffective way to bring about change.


It’s easy to get wrapped up in something you’re passionate about, especially in the beginning. It’s easy to forget that not everyone is on the same journey. Trying to guilt people into feeling a certain way isn’t going to make the difference you are hoping for – especially when it comes to changing behaviors. This brand of veganism advocate gives a bad name to everyone else who participates in the lifestyle.


So, here’s what I’m asking other vegans and anyone with a mission to change other people’s behaviors to consider: stop assuming everyone wants to hear your opinion. Whatever message you’re trying to send, you’ll never break through to someone who isn’t interested in the first place. Let’s shift our tactics to helping people understand the issues, and sometimes that means answering annoying questions.


So how do we do that? We patiently answer questions like “How do you live without cheese?” or “Aren’t you dying for a hamburger?” by describing all the delicious options that are now available for people trying to have less of an impact on the environment and stop animal cruelty. There’s no shortage of nut milks, cashew-based “cheesy” dips, and burger substitutes like the Impossible Burger (which is amazing). We respond to endless questions about our protein intake with educated information about plant-based protein sources.


I’m a big fan of the Veganuary charity. This campaign challenges people to try a plant-based diet for the month of January. They provide fun ways to test a vegan lifestyle like education, recipes, and information about the impact of changing to a plant-based diet. The platform helps people experiment, learn, and decide what aspects of living plant-based – if any – they enjoy.


I’m happy to say that the plant-based movement is growing, despite the questionable, brow-beating tactics from well-meaning vegans. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1 to 6 percent. My hope is that adopting better tactics and education will support this growth. If it does, we will have a healthier planet and population.


Like most decisions that require a substantial change in behavior, we need to remember that change happens incrementally. Everyone moves at their own pace and shaming people is an ineffective way to keep that change moving in the right direction.

About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.