Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beware of the Vegan Police!

Let me open by saying that most of the vegans I've gotten to know since I became a vegan a year ago are the salt of the earth. They're great people. They're kind. They're reflective and thoughtful. They care about the world, about making compassionate decisions, and - most importantly - about the well being of animals. It's a wonderful and vibrant community of kindred spirits. I am proud to be a part of it. What I'm about to say here is not applicable to them.

Oh Lord, I do get tired of the Vegan Police.

The Vegan Police is a term used to describe vegans who tend to be overzealous and take it upon themselves to make sure that other vegans are following the rules. Because they've never done anything wrong, because they've never fallen off the wagon, and most importantly, because they're so damn cool, they have appointed themselves as Vegan Enforcers, making sure that North America's infinitesimally small vegan population falls into line and does everything - absolutely everything (no exceptions!) - by the book. And if any vegans are caught making mistakes, it's crucial that they be outed.

You know the type of people I mean.

"If you do X, you're not a true vegan." "If you do not do Y, you're not a true vegan." "Whatever you do, do NOT do Z! Real vegans never do Z!"

You'd better not feed your cats non-vegan cat food.

You'd better not slip on your old leather shoes to go out in the rain.

You'd better... Oh, you get the picture.

I have a couple of Facebook friends (I won't name names) who fall into the category of Vegan Police. These well-meaning folks will occasionally appoint themselves Judge, Jury and Executioner in order to decide who's the real deal and who isn't.

All I can say is: It must be exhausting to be in the Vegan Police. I don't know how they do it. There simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to become a "Vegan Monitor," making sure that everybody who claims to be a vegan lives by the strenuous rules and regulations that I lay out for them.

I chatted with a vegan friend once who lamented what he called the "Vegan Gestapo." Frankly, I haven't run into anybody so heavy-handed that I'd use the label "Gestapo" to describe him (or her). But certainly, I have come across some people who ought to be considered part of the House UnVegan Activities Committee.

Sometimes I wonder whether there is a "Vegan Police Academy," where the righteous go for extensive training to figure out who needs to be rooted out for lacking sufficient purity.

One of my favorite vegan cookbook authors is Sarah Kramer of Victoria, British Columbia. Her books are filled with wonderful recipes and great insights. Check out her Website at Go if you get a chance. Sarah often says in her cookbooks, on her Blog and in interviews that she does not want to be the Vegan Police. As she told one interviewer:
Being vegan is a very personal choice for me and I try my best not to be the Vegan Police. I prefer to live by example and hopefully my vegan choices will rub off on the people around me and will raise their consciousness a little so they'll start making cruelty free choices. But I do have some friends who are dog lovers. They would lay down in front of a car for their dog, but they still munch away on fried chicken or steak. The connection they have for one animal and the disconnect they have for another fascinates me and frustrates me all at the same time. So I try my best not to judge (because that does nothing) and instead to gently encourage. We all have a path to walk and some of us are faster than others.
All vegans would do well to take a page out of Sarah Kramer's book. Well, not literally (because her books are so wonderful, I prefer to leave all of the pages in them). But you know what I mean. As a historian, I've studied countercultures and subcultures in United States history, and a common thread I've found is that each one contains very zealous types who like to make sure that everybody else in the group is adhering to all of the rules.

I don't know why some people feel the need to do this. Sometimes I think the policing types are so into monitoring the actions of others because they project their own weaknesses and insecurities onto other people. It is like homophobia. Ever notice the worst homophobes seem like they're closet homosexuals trying to violently repress that side of their personality? I imagine that a lot of Vegan Police have a real hankering for a piece of chicken or a slice of old-fashioned pizza or a dish of ice cream or some other delicacy made of animal products. They project their cravings onto others and become Vegan Commissars.

Of course, I'm talking about a very distinct personality type - definitely a minority within the vegan community, which is a minority within the vegetarian community, which is a minority of the North American population. As I've said before (and I'll say it again and again and again, until I'm blue in the face), most vegans I know are extraordinarily wonderful people, and what I'm saying now is not applicable to the overwhelming majority of them.

Still, the Vegan Police are a very vocal minority and it's impossible to miss them. My concern about the policing types is that their rigidity may frighten off possible converts.

Rather than policing the tiny vegan community, we should focus on the real offenders - the factory farmers, the fur traders, the foie gras racketeers, etc., etc., etc.. Ours is but a little homestead in a sea of animal exploitation, and the last thing it needs is a sheriff. Or worse yet, an entire police force!

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Please note: The image used above - "The Vegan Police" - is from a T-shirt used by the wonderful folks at the Ruby Ranch Pig Sanctuary (see their Website here!). This T-shirt is reminiscent of one of my favourite shows, Dragnet, starring Jack Webb. The kind-hearted folks at Ruby Ranch do all kinds of wonderful work with pigs. Please support them! Interestingly, I found it by going to Google Images and entering "Vegan Police." It was one of the first things that came up. They are very graciously allowing me to use the image here. In return, I'd like to praise them for the extraordinary work they do and encourage you to visit their Website. There are so many wonderful animal sanctuaries across North America, and Ruby Ranch is one of the best!


  1. Me too: I know so many fun, hilarious vegans--who never give me a hard time when I order a dessert without asking what it's made of. The only police-type vegan I know is also a psychopath, and he'd be a psychopath who ate meat if he weren't vegan.
    We're all so implicated, caught, framed, constituted, embroiled --that the only complete escape would be some kind of monastic life, but I guess even then, any running water at the abbey would be linked to the State, and you'd be back where you started. So, the only way through is to be good and compassionate and forgiving and self-forgiving.
    I'm glad I wrote that; it helps with the rage over all the fires.
    We have to reconstitute ourselves, to be intersubjective with the earth and its inhabitants. Right now, we carve ourselves apart from it all. We need to reenter. I think it's possible.

  2. Hi Andrew, your blog is great! I just wanted to ask if you could please note that the design you posted is from our site and that a) it was a t-shirt design we used as a fundraiser for Ruby Ranch Pig Sanctuary north of Guelph, On. It raised $500 for the Sanctuary! b) that our site is a play on the use of the term and all that comes with it; the perceived militance of vegans and the way omnivores use that reflect investigating their own complicity and also the way in which vegans themselves are so intent on personal purity and self and community policing. Subversive humor. Thank you and keep up the great work.