The whole “vegetarian/vegan as insufferable blowhard” trope has been dragged through society since humans have had the privilege of looking at food that was available to eat at that moment and saying, “Nah, bro, I think I’m gonna wait around for some kale.” And yet, as if they are blissfully unaware of the reputation that precedes them the second they proclaim their animal-free lifestyle, you can expect the most exhausting diatribes at the drop of a hat. With the advent of the internet, the various ways in which these people can preach to us from their position high atop Mount Judgment have virtually exploded. Now, don’t get me wrong — I have no problems with people’s personal dietary choices, so long as they remain just that — personal. Not a cause to proselytize to every lowly serf to ever ingest a chicken wing. I suppose, in the interest of specificity, I am talking here about the militants.
And the ways in which they make their veg-status known are many, each more dripping with condescension than the last. It can be a pages-long essay in a comment forum that brutally describes the procedures in factory farms (in a thread that likely has little to do with meat itself), or deceptive, misleading infographics, or a simple accusation of cruelty at a total internet stranger (I once saw a particularly feisty vegan use the term “bloodmouth,” which sounds oddly like a villain in Harry Potter). All of these methods and more are at their disposal to browbeat the internet at large into agreeing with the general premise that animal products are bad, and we should feel bad for using them.
But to address one of the more egregious methods, let’s talk about those condescending images of all the delicious, healthy food we could be buying if only we pried ourselves from the cruel teat of the animal-abuse industry. I’m sure you’ve seen the proud, well-lit photo of a refrigerator or kitchen counter simply overflowing with 4 metric tons of organic, farm-fresh produce that was purchased by the non-meat-eater for a mere 35 cents at his or her local market, as they only too proud to tell us. Look at how much money we could be saving if we only didn’t gorge ourselves like gout-ridden royalty at our local KFC, you guys! Aside from being amongst the most disingenuous images on the entire internet, this is also just a slightly more complex way of writing “F-CK YOU, POOR PEOPLE” across your forehead and putting up your middle fingers.
You see, while some people have the luxury of lingering in the aisles of Whole Foods and buying free-range when the occasion calls for it, not to mention living within reasonable distance of an actual grocery store that provides them with mildly heart-healthy options, a huge amount of people don’t. We have what are called “food deserts,” huge swaths of the country in which the options for dinner are fast food, fast food, or convenience store sticky bun. The people who are regularly feeding their family with cheap, easily accessible, unhealthy fast foods or prepackaged meals are often those who don’t have the choice. It’s nice that you can buy 8 pounds of lentils and several hectares of apple trees and then Instagram it to show everyone how ~balanced~ your nutrition is, but some people wouldn’t even have the time to turn that into a viable meal for their family — if the actual purchasing of it was even at their disposal.
There are fundamental problems underlying the kinds of foods that vegetarians and vegans often decry, and it’s not as simple as chaining yourself to a Burger King and hoping that animal cruelty will come to a screeching halt worldwide. It’s one thing to say that we should try to buy our food responsibly and ethically whenever possible, and we should, but it’s quite another to shame a huge amount of people to whom even the concept of a farmer’s market is completely unavailable. And yes, working to make a diverse array of healthy options available to an entire country is harder than yelling at people over the internet about how evil they are for eating a hamburger, but it might eventually lead to less animals living torturous lives.
Which leads to another flaw in this grand scheme to direct us all to the salad bar: most people aren’t going to stop eating meat. It is delicious, it is often healthy, and we have been eating it since we were able to sharpen a stick and throw it at moving things. I feel no need to apologize for the fact that I love chicken, tuna, or venison. I have seen my meal go from animal bounding around a small farm, to being bled out in a barn, to surrounded by roast vegetables on my plate. I know that eating an animal — or often, using its residual products — has taken a life. I am comfortable with that, and I don’t feel remorse. I simply do not place animals on the same level as humans in any ethical, moral, or intellectual sense. (No matter how many times you compare any animal conditions to the Holocaust, it’s not going to be any less offensive.) There are people that do, though, and more power to them. My aunt can post pro-animal, heartstring-tugging videos on Facebook until the sun caves in on itself and it is as though humanity never existed, but I’m still going to thoroughly enjoy meat products.
The truth is, I don’t care about most of the arguments militant vegans/vegetarians present. The second they stop being classist, offensive, disingenuous, and outright ridiculous — I’m all ears. But until that happens, it’s just another group of smug people looking for their soapbox.