An omnivore recently asked me if I ate a lot of meat before I became vegan and how it was for me to stop eating it. To put it bluntly as a child I loved steak, but I loved cows more. I stopped eating steak as soon as I made the mental connection that it was a real animal. While that may seem silly, it shouldn't be surprising. We are encouraged to see meat as dead and passive, not alive and suffering. I stopped eating all meat when I made the connection that meat means death and I don't want to cause death. After listening to me talk for a little while a vegetarian asked me if all vegans were like me. I guess he'd never met one before. I laughed and said not at all. I pointed to my boyfriend and said we're pretty radical when it comes to vegans. That idea, are all vegans the same, is something I'd like to explore.
I find culture lumps all vegans in one category. Fanatics that want to convert you and might even throw things at you if you eat meat in front of them. That's a very shallow message, and while you might not believe it you're still encouraged to believe that all vegans are the same. Like we're one massive blob and the second you become vegan you're pulled into that blob, learn everything about veganism, and are thrown back out to interact with a now hostile world. It assumes that there is a common vegan experience and a common vegan knowledge. As if we have vegan libraries and vegan 101 lessons and that the messages about veganism are universal. It assumes that we are not people, we are vegans. We have no identity as individuals but instead mold ourselves to replicate a collective group model.
The first time that I realized that there were different kind of vegans was when speaking to a stranger I met on the bus. We had a lovely chat after he heard me use the v word while on my cell. I was pointed in the direction Francione and researched him. He suggests there are two types of vegans. Welfare vegans think that if we can find a way for animals to be happy and not suffer we can eat and use them. They want to show everyone how easy veganism is and don't always follow a vegan diet, but still call themselves vegan. These are the kind of vegans that say we should enforce legislation where factory farm conditions are made better. Some might even say dogs and cats are natural meat eaters so they keep them as pets and feed them meat without question. This is a big over generalization, but it has many qualities I expect you'd find in a welfare vegan. The other kind of vegan is a vegan abolitionist. They say that we shouldn't support laws that make things better for animals; these laws make it harder for us to realize that eating or using animals is wrong. It is simply morally unacceptable and we should never do it. We should only support organizations that are vegan abolitionist and say that the end goal is veganism, not those that settle for promoting vegetarianism. You should only talk to people about veganism regarding animal rights first, and health, the environment and religion second if ever. You don't soften your message for anyone, because when you soften it you lose it. Not everyone will be vegan, but eventually you'll find people that will be. Once again this is probably a very brief over generalization that has the potential to be slightly inaccurate because it's only based on shallow research.
Okay so there are two types of vegans – the problem turned out though that I wasn't in either category. I definitely wasn't a welfare vegan, but I wasn't an abolitionist vegan either. I'm not a religious person, but my veganism is spiritual. I believe that I am vegan because my life is just one life. It is wrong to take anyone's life so that I can continue to live. I'm lucky being vegan is so healthy, because I'd still be vegan even if it wasn't. My belief comes from a profound attachment I have to non-human animals, and I know not everyone has it. I know people are vegan for different reasons and telling someone about my spiritual vegan ideals may not make them vegan because maybe they just don't care. It doesn't mean I'm wrong and they're right, but instead that they grew up in a different culture and now manifest it in a very different way than I manifest my culture.
So should we have a vegan 1 to 10 scale? 1 means you're welfare, 10 abolitionist, and I'd probably be like a 5? Well that isn't fair, and doesn't seem right, especially since I consider welfare vegans to be normal people that often follow a vegan diet but aren't actually vegan. Should they be 3 separate and distinct groups? Well no, because they aren't separate. No vegan has developed in isolation, and a lot of the traits of abolitionist vegans have developed in response to what they feel are inadequacies in welfare vegans, and vice versa I assume as well.
I think the best way to look at it is like a whole is vegan culture. Inside this culture there are people of course, and they bring with them the mass culture. So it's like bits and pieces of people fit into this culture blob and take on part of it, but keep part of their old selves. People with similar mass culture experiences often group together in the vegan culture to create vegan sectors embedded in the larger vegan matrix. So you get vegan abolitionists, and welfare vegans but you also get other groups like Christian vegans, Hindu vegans, Pagan influenced agnostic vegans (which seems to be the best way to describe me), health vegans, environmental vegans and so on. Then of course you get people who cross these boundaries and fit into multiple vegan sectors. While this is view of veganism is definitely rooted in my faith in social constructionism and classical conditioning I think it adequately describes the multifaceted and constantly in flux nature of veganism.
There is no one type of vegan. Things would definitely be easier if there was, but alas it's not so. We all need to forge ahead and create our own identities while never forgetting that our identities are made out of what mass culture gives us. We do not make entirely new things, and while our identities are not just responses to mass culture they are shaped by it. I think the easiest way to find ourselves is to educate ourselves about the kind of vegans that are out there, and see how well that fits or doesn't fit into our world view. While it may seem controversial to break up veganism and add boundaries and groups it's an important response to the idea of the uniform vegan.