"I have ridiculed people for not being vegan and I have been ridiculed for not being vegan enough. To tell you the truth, neither position feels very good."—Elaine Budlong, Here Come the Vegan Police, Vegan Forum, Summer 1999.
I guess I was just sitting here fat, dumb and happy (Note: the emphasis is on "dumb"). I thought everything was as groovy as can be in the world of vegetarianism, and that we were all getting along splendidly. Then I heard from a more astute friend of mine about the battles being fought between ovo-lacto vegetarians and vegans. Well, maybe "battles" is too strong a word—but at least heated disagreements. I was dumbfounded. (Again, the emphasis is on "dumb".) How can this be?
In retrospect, it's not hard to see how friction between vegetarians might arise. Vegans feel their diet is more beneficial than an ovo-lacto diet from both a health and ethical perspective, and with the best of intentions they see fellow vegetarians as likely converts. (It's an old fundraising trick—ask the people who have already given to give more, rather than wasting your time finding new donors.) On the other hand, many ovo-lacto vegetarians already have their hands full trying to balance their diets with the demands of meat-eating family and friends. They rightfully think they deserve praise for their efforts, rather than the scorn of "holier-than-thou" fellow vegetarians.
Of course both sides in the Battle of Veg*an Hill are right, but merely saying that doesn't help solve the problem. We need to remember the basics.
We're all on a continuum.
It's been said before, and it's true. Humanity can be viewed as being on a continuum—a giant scale on which the vegetarian ideals we all know and love are measured. At one end of this continuum are folks like Gandhi and Mother Teresa (okay, so maybe neither one was vegan, but you get the idea—they had the right attitude). At the other end of the continuum, of course, are the bad guys—the American Meat Association, Ted Nugent, and the "People Eating Tasty Animals" web site. The rest of us are all somewhere in between. There are no perfect vegetarians, and there isn't one of us whose diet and lifestyle couldn't stand improvement. None of us have bragging rights.
We're all weak…
Sure, we all want to get to the end of the continuum where Gandhi and Mother Teresa are having a cookout, but sometimes it's tough going. More often than not it's just human nature to be weak, lazy and self-centered.
…but vegetarians are pretty remarkable.
Fortunately though, even the weakest vegetarians have done some pretty remarkable things, especially when it comes to thinking for themselves, acting on their beliefs and being an example for others. On the values that the strictest vegans hold dear, even a rookie vegetarian is in the top 1% of the population as a whole. But let's not dismiss that other 99% either. Remember, we don't all start with the same advantages of genetics, education and encouragement. The real measure of character may not be where on the continuum we end up—vegan, vegetarian, or even meat eater—but how far we had to travel to get there.
We have to get along with others.
We are social animals, and in our culture, where very few people are vegetarian and very few people can even comprehend veganism, it's hard to fault anyone for continuing to eat meat, much less dairy products. So let's not do it! Whether it's vegans trying to influence ovo-lacto vegetarians, or ovo-lacto vegetarians trying to influence meat-eaters, negative energy rarely does anything but make enemies. On the other hand, don't underestimate the power of getting along with people. Who does more for the cause of vegetarianism—a vegan who alienates others with his proselytizing or an ovo-lacto vegetarian who others admire and want to follow?
We need everybody!
We need everyone we can get in the vegetarian movement. We need those seemingly "perfect" vegans, who we can all look up to as the very embodiment of human health and the epitome of compassion for the earth and its creatures. Maybe we resent them a bit because they make it look so easy, but vegetarianism would be weak and undisciplined without them, and its promise would be unfulfilled. Just as much, though, we also need the housewife who, in her first unsteady months as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, smiles and tells her friends "it isn't so hard!" and then tries to find vegetarian dishes her family will like. Without people like her the movement would isolate itself and die.
On the great continuum of vegetarian ideals I've just barely crossed over from the "Gandhi" side of ovo-lacto vegetarianism to the "Ted Nugent" side of veganism. I haven't given up on being invited to the soiree at Mother Teresa's place, but I know I've still got a long, long way to go. (Boy, do I have a long way to go!) I'm counting on all those vegans, ovo-lacto vegetarians, and even meat-eaters who may be a little further along on some of the "vegetarian ideals" than I am to help me out. I want them to point out my flaws, and I want them to challenge me to do better. But I want them to do it with love and respect. In turn, I'll try to do the same for those coming up the path where I've just been.
Life is a continuum and we all need to keep moving in the right direction. It shouldn't be hard. If we encourage and care about each other, all of us will win the Battle of Veg*an Hill.