Inside the vegan bubble

By Nick Cooney

June 12, 2012

All of us tend to think with a closed mind. Many studies have shown a basic human tendency when it comes to hearing new information. If it fits what we already believe, we uncritically accept it. If it contradicts what we believe, we search for a reason to dismiss it. We even get a rush of pleasure when we think we’ve found that reason!

There are many ideas that we animal advocates accept as true without thinking critically about them. Below are three examples of how what we hear in “the vegan bubble” isn’t always true.

Bubble-Buster 1: Even if slaughterhouses had glass walls, not everyone would be vegetarian

It’s true that a lot of people who go vegetarian do so after seeing the cruelty inside of factory farms and slaughterhouses. But it’s naïve to think that if we simply show the public how animals are mistreated, they will change. The vast majority of people who see what goes on inside factory farms and slaughterhouses continue eating meat. Why?

That simple question should be seen as a jumping-off point for us as animal advocates. Of course we have to keep showing people pictures and video of factory farming. These materials are some of the most powerful tools we have for creating new vegetarians. And even if only 1 in every 100 (or 500) people we reach makes a change, that’s still a phenomenally effective use of time and money. But we also need to figure out what more people need. For example, many people also need to know how to change their eating habits. When that’s the case, how can we help?

The fact that most people who see what goes on in factory farms do not go vegetarian also underscores the importance of improving living conditions for animals that are eaten, like the recently-introduced federal hen bill would do.

Bubble-Buster 2: Vegans do not live a cruelty-free lifestyle

Eating vegan is a great way to put our compassion for animals into practice, and it’s the right thing to do. A danger of acting ethically, though, is that it can cause us to look down our noses at others. (Some vegans even have a particular disdain for vegetarians!). That’s not good for promoting vegan eating. If people get the impression that you think you’re better than they are, they’ll tune out.

So, here’s a reality check to keep us grounded. We vegans kill animals – many animals – with our consumer choices. For example, windows kill nearly a billion birds a year, and cell phone towers kill tens of millions more. Cars cause a painful death to well over 100 million animals a year in the U.S., and pesticides do the same.  Over a trillion fish are killed each year by U.S. power plants. We all contribute to our share of those deaths when we buy and use windows, cell phones, cars, non-organic food and electricity.

Of course, none of us are perfect. By being vegan, we reduce the amount of animal suffering and death in the world. That matters! Yet as we go about our advocacy, let’s do it without the attitude that we are so much better than and so different from everyone else.

Bubble-Buster 3: Vegetarianism is not a white, upper middle class phenomenon

Those who don’t support vegetarian eating sometimes decry it as a white, upper middle class phenomenon. Unfortunately, many in the animal advocacy movement believe the same thing. Sometimes it leads to a good bit of hand wringing. But statistics show that this is simply not true.

In terms of race, Americans of Asian or Indian descent are most likely to be vegetarian. Caucasians are much less likely, coming in third. African-Americans are nearly as likely as Caucasians, with Latinos trailing close behind.  (Teenagers are the one group where whites are more likely to be vegetarian. But they still trail Asians and Indians.)

While there is some connection between income and vegetarianism, it is not dramatic. It is also not linear. (In other words, those with the lowest incomes are not the least likely to be vegetarian; those with the highest incomes are not the mostly likely to be vegetarian.) Vegetarian eating does not belong to any one economic class.


What else do we animal advocates tell ourselves that is not true? Thinking critically is important if we want to be as effective as possible for animals.


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