A lot of new vegans tend to think of themselves as a martyr to a cause. They want to eat cheese and eggs and maybe even meat, but they have been convinced by the logic of adopting a “cruelty free” diet. Cheese holds a power over them, but like any good ascetic, they dutifully look away. Their friends tell them “I don’t know how you do it!” and though they feign modesty pretty convincingly, inside they feel a small glow of self-satisfaction. At no time is this glow felt more intensely than when our brave young vegan martyr goes hungry for lack of vegan food.
Flash forward about six months to a year and what do we find? Probably a vegan that no longer believes that veganism is martyrdom. What happened? Who killed the Vegan Martyr?
Well, the longer you’re vegan, the more you find out about all the horrible things that happen for animals to produce and become food. And the more you adapt to a vegan lifestyle, the more you realize that veganism really isn’t that hard for the most part, and no one should be given a medal for it. This is all very logical.
But where it starts to get illogical, probably the most significant change in our young vegan is self-imposed disgust. The last time our young vegan ate a piece of cheese, he probably liked it. Same with meat. But the longer you stay vegan, and the more you read vegan blogs and listen to vegan podcasts, the more you start to think of non-vegan food as disgusting. Why is that? You used to like it, young vegan!
Once you convince yourself that cheese tastes disgusting, it no longer takes any will power to avoid eating it. You can easily get to a point where eating some cheese becomes way harder than avoiding it. So if it involves no will power, then how can you be a martyr? This is probably right around the time you start to think that “vegan is the moral baseline” totally makes sense. Because if it really takes no will power to be vegan (once you’re properly programmed), then aren’t all these people eating meat and cheese just doing things that they know are wrong and that they could easily stop? If they’re below the moral baseline, doesn’t that make them immoral? Doesn’t that make them sinners?!
Yes! Now you’ve crossed the line! Now you get it! Veganism is not martyrdom. NON-veganism is SIN!!! Now you get it.
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You see, this is why so many vegans will tell you that veganism is not hard at all and that it never involves any sense of deprivation. If you can get to the point where you’re so disgusted by non-vegan food that the thought of eating it makes you want to retch, it really doesn’t take will power to avoid it.
But how real is this disgust if it has to be learned? Is relying on a self-cultivated sense of disgust kind of like “cheating?” If you don’t think that you could avoid eating something if you didn’t teach yourself to find it disgusting, do you really find it ethically unacceptable? If you really, truly find it ethically unacceptable, why do you have to force yourself to find it disgusting? Why do you have to say patently nonsensical things like non-vegan food just ISN’T food (here)?
I think a lot of vegans, especially new vegans that are in the phase of veganism when they’re still trying to cultivate disgust, are really conflicted by certain smells that their animal brain finds enticing but their enlightened “vegan brain” finds repugnant. Which brain wins? Well, the vegan brain, obviously. You MUST subjugate your natural feelings to your new-found ideas of decency. You can’t admit that some broiling meat smells good because then you’d have to admit that veganism requires feelings of deprivation, that you’re denying yourself something that you would find enjoyable. Nope, you have to pretend that 1) what is immoral and 2) what is tasty forms a Venn diagram with no overlap.
Absolutism helps breed disgust and disgust helps breed absolutism. If a thing or act has absolutely no justification and it’s unequivocally wrong, then your disgust for it is warranted. If you see someone eating a cheeseburger, be sure to wrinkle your nose and generally make a face that says “I may have just shat myself.”
You can extend this disgust to non-food items, such as friends. This way, your disgust for certain types of food can start to dictate who you hang around with. You know that friend you’ve had forever who is really fun and hilarious, but who stubbornly refuses to see the light and stop eating hamburgers? Well, you probably shouldn’t hang out with him anymore. You wouldn’t want to have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of watching a great person eat something that you want to convince yourself is disgusting. Imagine if he gave some sort of indication that he was enjoying it! Gasp!
But just remember – all of this disgust enhancement is for a good purpose. You’re doing this so that you can continue to NOT eat something that you already stopped eating because of logical arguments. You’re doing this so that you can get to a point where it interferes with your ability to interact socially with 99% of humanity. You’re doing it so that you can avoid eating non-vegan food that would otherwise go to waste (waste is good as long as it’s wasted on principle, right?).
Martyr? Yeah, right! Everyone else is just sinners!
I don’t know what’s worse, a vegan that thinks his veganism makes him a martyr, or a vegan that forces himself to think of all non-vegans as sinners. For my part, I’m trying to be somewhere in the middle. I’m trying to get over my disgust for non-vegan food because it’s something that I had to learn anyway, and for bad reasons. I’m just trying to focus on the reasons why I initially went vegan and try to forget all the crap that I put in my head after that point. Disgust is a big part of that. I need to unlearn it.
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