About veganism without fanaticism. A good book not only for vegans.
Books and filmsFood
Veganism is one of the ideas that spark a lot of controversies. Both on the internet and in the real life we can witness vegans and omnivores debate around the topic. Usually, these discussions are very emotional and full of mutual accusations. I bet that every vegetarian or vegan has heard some jokes about their diet, something like: “Carrotts also have feelings” or “You’re eating my food’s food”. Quite common are also questions about health – as meat lovers usually assume that something must be seriously wrong with a person if he or she does not eat meat. Most vegans react allergically to this kind of remarks. On the other hand, omnivores are often fed up with omniscient vegans who treat them as morally inferior or ruin family dinners/friends meetings by describing in details what happens in a slaughterhouse. After such an experience, many omnivores would rather double or triple the amount of meat consumed, only to annoy the much disliked vegan, than consider the impact of their food choices on the animal welfare, natural environment or even their own health. On top of that, there are also other conflicts: vegetarians versus vegans or 100% vegans against vegans not sufficiently vegan for the former. I’m pretty sure everyone can think of at least a few more examples.
Earlier this year, I participated in a vegan picnic in one of Warsaw’s parks. The event was attended both by vegans and omnivores. The idea of the event was to spend some time together and meet new people, while munching on some vegan dishes in the meantime. However, one of the participant was a radical vegan activist, who seemed very angry and displeased when people started discussing a topic different than vegan food and animal rights. He was not very pleasant either for the people who did not identify themselves as vegan. I’m pretty sure that with his attitude he did not encourage many people even to start considering abandoning animal products.
This way, the idea, however noble, is polarizing the society and in extreme cases causes conflicts among family members or within groups of friends. And yet, most vegans have one objective – to minimize (and eventually eliminate) the suffering of animals. Of course, people who are sensitive to what is happening to animals find it difficult to distance themselves and discuss the topic without going emotional. This is perfectly understandable. But it is worth considering if too much negative emotion will not bring more harm than good to our cause. Will animals really benefit from our mutual misunderstanding and angry exchanges? What if we start perceiving our adversaries as potential allies who, in their own way, can also help us build a world free on unnecessary suffering? How to convince other people to consider your arguments and, at the same time, not make them feel frustrated or morally inferior (as nobody likes that and even less do people like the person who made them feel this way). These are just a few of many questions asked and answered by Tobias Leenaert in his book How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach (Lantern Press, 2017).
A few words about the author
I really did not expect that one of the best books I would read this year would be a guidebook. Especially a guidebook with a title that sounds a little bit like a fanatic’s dream. Yet I can assure you it’s indeed one of the best books I’ve read this year and that in fact it does not have much in common with any form of vegan fanaticism, even though Tobias Leenaert is a very important person in the vegan world. Originally from Belgium, he is an experienced animal rights activist, a co-founder of a vegan organisation called EVA (Ethical Vegan Alternative) and the author of the blog “Vegan Stategist”. .
Of course, as you can guess, he is a vegan too but far from being some kind of a crazy radical. His book is probably the most reasonable, cool-headed work on veganism I have ever read. Also, it is full of empathy – not only for animals, but also for the people who think and act differently than himself.
Road to Veganville
Leenaert admits that his dream is indeed to create a world where the animals are not exploited by humans in any way and he believes that this vision will become true one day. However, he realizes that it will not happen overnight. As he points out, the fight for animal rights can be compared to a marathon rather than to a sprint race. To illustrate his goals, he introduces a concept of Veganville, which is a fictional town, inhabited by people who don’t use products of animal origin at all. The author’s mission is to invite as many people as possible to move to Veganville as well. The problem is that the town is located on the top of a very high mountain and the road leading there is steep and full of challenges. Many people who think about moving to Veganville get discouraged by difficulties ahead of them and they never even try to hit the road. Also, many of them start to climb, but then they get so tired that they decide to abandon the quest and come back to where they were initially. What should be done to make Veganville less difficult to reach?
How to act effectively?
From Tobias Leenaert’s book you can find out (among other things):
- why in certain cases it is better not to use the word “veganism” and how to replace it
- why some people are (or at least they seem to be) indifferent to the suffering of animals
- why serving vegan meals on long-haul flights as a default option for all passengers would be a great idea
- when it is best to use arguments related to health or environment and when should we refer to ethics
- how important it is to make vegan “infrastructure” more easily available for everyone (by infrastracture I mean for example places where you can buy inexpensive alternatives to animal products)
- who are reducetarians and why they play the key role in building a world free of animal suffering (at least suffering imposed by humans)
- what initiatives can help, in a friendly and non-imposing manner, encourage the society to reduce their meat consumption
You will also have a chance to read about a few businesses selling vegan products and you will be faced with a number of quite philosophical challenges to solve. For example: who of these two people does more to help animals? A 100% vegan who hates omnivores or a friendly and communicative reducetarian who can “infect” other people with their attitude and encourage them to eat less meat? It’s only one of numerous examples considered in the book.
Calling vegetarians hypocrytical or inconsistent may motivate some to take the next step, but many others will feel discouraged and alienated. Jonathan Safran Foer puts it well “We have to get away from the expectation of perfection because it really intimidates people who would otherwise make an effort. People use the fear of hypocrisy to justify total inaction.”
Who should read the book?
Nowadays, shelves in bookshops are full of different kinds of guidebooks. Many of them are written by popular bloggers or internet authors who become famous enough to receive offers from publishers. Hence they write their book on a specific topic and then sell it easily thanks to their popularity on the internet. Unfortunately, some of such publications are rather disappointing as writing a good book is much more demanding and requires more skills than writing on the internet. Not everyone can and not everyone should write books. Tobias Leenaert, however, is a completely different case. His work is written on a very high intellectual level, his arguments are based on solid research and bibliography from many different fields – such as psychology or sociology. In the book, you will also find many interesting historical analogies, references to literature and proofs of the author’s vast knowledge in business, politics or simply his understanding of human nature.
I would definitely encourage anyone who feels comfortable reading in English to become familiar with this book. It is aimed mainly at people who act for animal rights but I think everyone will find something interesting in this publication: vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. By omnivores, I mean both those who would like to change their diet but are not sure where to start, but also those who for the time being are not planning any changes, however are curious to find out more about what motivates vegan people (and wish to have it explained in a pragmatic, reasonable manner). This is also a great reading for all people involved in any kind of activism. It can help you understand how to convince people to your cause, but at the same time not to start to hate the entire world and not to turn your allies into enemies.
- The book can be purchased here (both paper and Kindle version): https://www.amazon.com/How-Create-Vegan-World-Pragmatic/dp/1590565703
- A presentation by Tobias Leenaert held at the Animals Rights Conference in 2017 in Luxembourg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6xnBqylWnY