Why are vegans so irritating? Veganism is a laudable lifestyle choice, but there is something about it that seems to get on people’s nerves. Just ask the town of Aargau, in Switzerland, which recently denied citizenship to a foreign-born vegan resident because she was being too annoying. In Switzerland, local residents get a say in applications for naturalisation and the townsfolk decided the woman’s very vocal veganism was incompatible with Swiss values such as “cowbells … pig racing, eating meat, circus animals, mouse-catching [and] giving out milk at school”. Don’t let anyone tell you the Swiss don’t know how to have a good time.
It’s not just Switzerland; vegans seem to be a global irritant. Take the new £5 note furore. When the polymer note was introduced last year, vegans were not happy that it contained small amounts of tallow and a petition was sent to the Bank of England asking for the animal fat to be removed. The Australian inventor of the polymer notes responded by saying: “It’s stupid. It’s absolutely stupid.” There was a general sense that the vegans were at it again – getting outraged and causing trouble.
Veganism has a lengthy history. Followers of the ancient Indian religion of Jainism have been big fans for a long time. But trends don’t really become a legitimate “thing” until white people claim them, so veganism-the-brand wasn’t officially born until 1944. This was kind of an eventful year, what with Paris being liberated from the Nazis and the Battle of the Bulge. Amid the turmoil of the second world war, Donald Watson, an English woodworker, called a meeting with some fellow non-dairy vegetarians to form plans for eventual dietary world domination. It was decided that “non-dairy vegetarian” wasn’t a terribly catchy name if they wanted their lifestyle to spread and that some new nomenclature was needed. They mulled over various options, including “dairyban”, “vitan” and “benevore”, until finally someone said something along the lines of “Veganism, my dear Watson”, and they all agreed on that.
Today, around half a million people in Britain consider themselves vegan. But they also get a lot of flak for it. Veganism has become the butt of many a joke (“How do you know someone is a vegan? They’ll tell you”) and is considered a socially acceptable target for mockery.
A major reason people are often hostile to vegans is because of a perceived holier-than-thou factor. A 2011 research paper in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science sums it up in the title: Do Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally Motivated Minorities to Defuse Anticipated Reproach. The study found that the mainstream feels judged by moral minorities and this causes backlash. “Do gooder derogation” also factors into antagonism towards teetotallers, cyclists and millennials who can fit a year’s worth of their rubbish into a jar.
Vegans also have a Peta problem. The animal rights group has been one of the loudest proponents of veganism over the years and it has done the movement no favours. Peta has a long history of appalling advertising, which for some serves to confirm the idea that animal activists care more about animals than humans. It has compared cows to rape victims and factory farming to the Holocaust. It is also fond of depicting women as pieces of meat and misogyny runs rife through its marketing. It appears incapable of creating an advert that doesn’t involve a naked woman; its latest campaign features Alicia Silverstone baring her buttocks in a meadow while coquettishly clutching a lamb’s face. The headline reads “I’d rather go naked than wear wool.”
Personally, I would rather swallow knitting needles than eat vegan cheese but, to be clear, I’m not here to berate veganism. I am never going to give up pizza with proper cheese but I am a vegetarian and I think that cutting down on our consumption of animal products is one of the easiest ways to support the wellbeing of the planet. Livestock accounts for more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, for example; widespread adoption of a vegan diet could cut this considerably.
There are numerous compelling health, ethical and environmental reasons for moving towards a vegan diet and more people are paying attention. The stigmas around vegan diets are also slowly being dismantled and it may not be long before the days of vegan-mockery are over. The idea that veganism is unmasculine, for example, has largely been debunked. A 2015 study in the journal Appetite found participants did not associate vegetarianism or veganism with lower levels of masculinity. And John Joseph, an Ironman athlete and punk singer, recently wrote Meat is for Pussies, a book that challenges the idea that eating bacon somehow makes you a bastion of masculinity.
More people are also trialling veganism through concepts such as Mark Bittman’s VB6, where you eat only vegan foods before 6pm. There is also Veganuary, which encourages people to go vegan for January. Launched in 2014, a record 50,000 people signed up Veganuary this year. No cheese pairs really well with no wine, so if you’re doing dry January, you may want to consider combining the two. Nothing like a Dryveguary to cheer you up.
If you are doing Veganuary, it has also become a lot easier to find something to eat. Pret a Manger, for example, introduced new vegan options earlier this month. Vegans may long have been mocked for taking the high road, but they have finally arrived on the high street.