Why do vegans act superior to others who indulge in meat?

Why do vegans act superior to others who indulge in meat?

Ask Annika! 

Why do Vegans act superior to others who indulge in meat?  

Well let’s get straight to it- it’s a bummer when anyone acts superior, regardless of what they eat (or don’t eat), what their religion is, what their economic status is, what job they do- whatever.  I’m sure we could agree that acting superior is very unbecoming.

I remember the first (vocal) vegan I met, back during my university days, who I had sustained discussions with about consumption, animal rights and veganism.  I remember thinking at times that he was angry, confrontational or aggressive. I was a vegetarian at the time and never ever gave thought to animal abuse within the dairy industry. A big part of that was simply disinterest in learning about it and perhaps also resistance to seeing any information or evidence that would make me think twice about consuming butter and ice cream etc. I remember thinking he was fighting a good fight but I didn’t really want to hear much about it.

Now, in my just over 2 years of being a vegan I think I’ve heard or seen a version of nearly every type of complaint, joke or criticism about vegans. They’re aggressive, they’re annoying, they’re wrong, they’re misguided and so on. You get used to people joking about how good bacon tastes when you mention you’re a vegan.  Rest assured, when I hear someone snort and chuckle about how tasty fried pig flesh is I wonder if they even know anything about the gestation crate debate which is far from a fringe animal rights issue or if they have even bothered to consider giving any of the interesting and delicious plant based versions of vegan bacon a try.

After while I began to realize that more often than not, people who had these blanket complaints about vegans didn’t really understand what veganism is and were often making comments from a reflexively carnist viewpoint. Also, Some people want to pick on vegans for being sensitive but when asked about their own food choices and knowledge can become mighty defensive with a quickness.

Below is a straightforward definition of veganism in my own words.

Veganism is an ethical viewpoint and decision of choosing to not consume or use animals for food, entertainment, fashion, cosmetics or any other products or practice that relies on the use and abuse of animals. Veganism is a lifestyle and a philosophy as well as a movement of justice rooted in animal rights. 

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

In my just over 2 years of being a vegan I have also been hyper aware of people’s range of response when I mention I’m a vegan. Some are immediately curious- they are interested  about plant based diets or were once vegan and still sympathetic to the movement. Some people immediately seem irritated and even if I do nothing more than mention I’m a vegan they launch into a monologue often referring to cavemen diets, the aforementioned bacon jokes and how plants feel pain.

People bring their own baggage to the table, meat eaters, vegans, everyone. Being vegan can be an extraordinarily isolating position. Some people may enjoy that aspect of it but it’s certainly not a motivating factor to becoming vegan. What you are interpreting as ‘acting superior’ might be that person feeling defensive or standoffish. They might have been through enough tiring situations in which people are questioning (or harassing or mocking them) about their choice that they feel proud of but guarded and quiet about as well.

I think for many vegans, far more important than feeling superior though, is feeling like we are making the right choice.  If doing something makes you feel uncomfortable or complicit in some horrible act would you do it?  That’s how vegans feel about the meat industry and dairy industry and other practices that are awash in violence and abuse towards animals in the name of production, consumption and profit.

If you, or anyone, is looking at a vegan with a side eye expecting them to challenge your consumption or views or thinking “Who do they think they are just because they’re vegan?” there’s a good chance that person might sense it and not be a model of open arms and kindness in return. It’s great when people can take the high ground when others are snarking at them but why would you or I expect that or criticize someone for not being a sweetie when they are approached with hostile challenges?

Veganism is not just about what we eat. It is a matter of justice connecting to a whole range of issues concerning why we use animals like we do and more specifically about the abuses they endure for that use by humans. Many of the issues that come up when talking about animal welfare and rights are very difficult to talk about and it can be easy for some to misread the passion that some ethical vegans have when they talk about this issues.  If you need any good starter resources to begin reading up on a range of animal rights issues just contact me.

So, do I think I’m better than you for my choices?  No, I don’t tend to think of it like that.  I was a meat and dairy consumer for over 3 decades.  I didn’t know about the abuses animals routinely suffer so that we might eat them or their secretions.  I never thought about it and often avoided thinking about it if someone offered information.  I feel my choice now is ethically superior to how I used to consume but I don’t think I am perfect or on a higher ground than those who consume meat. I am obviously an advocate for veganism and plant based eating and  aim to be conscious of what I am supporting and consuming, which is one of the key motivators to why people choose to stop consuming animals.

I hope I have been able to provide some insight from the vegan perspective.  Thank you for the question!

Addition: After posting a link to this post on my FB page, one of my dear friends (the founder and head chef of an  amazing Honolulu based raw vegan gourmet restaurant) mentioned that she “just wanted to speak directly to that “superiority complex. That “look” is what drove me away from the animal rights activists for a LONG time.It wan’t until I saw the Earthlings that I wised up, but I still distance myself from the ARAs. I don’t like to hang around with so much negativity.” I thought her comment was really powerful and important.  It’s difficult to not get into animal rights issues without getting involved with all sorts of subject matters that are  traumatizing, negative and debate inspiring.  But to have people in those fields, working as activists, judge you can be distracting and debilitating to the issue and unfortunately deter people.  Activists can benefit from thinking about the superiority angle as well- if you’re constantly shutting people out with your attitudes how will you make more allies and affect widespread change? That said, if you’ve ever met a grumpy or judgemental vegan, that experience should not be used as an excuse to dismiss the whole movement or not check out the issues for yourself. 


If you are curious about some of the issues covered in this post but aren’t comfortable talking with anyone, here’s a list of just a few great documentaries and books for reading, reference, education and inspiration. 



The Ghosts in Our Machine


Forks over Knives



Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food

Comfortably Unaware: What We Choose to Eat is Killing Us and Our Planet

 The China Study

The Happy Vegan

Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals

The World Peace Diet

Eating Animals

Over & Out!
Ask Annika is a space on this blog  devoted to fielding questions about vegan ethics, transitioning to vegan lifestyle, plant based diets and related issues. Send in your questions here

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