Part of being vegan is being kind to all forms of life, including humans. Some people take this a step further and say that we should respect everyone's decisions. On a surface level this idea sounds great, but does it mean that we should respect and encourage omnivores and vegetarians? Most vegans won't encourage omnivores, but we come to a gray area when vegetarians are involved. Should we be happy they are vegetarian? Should we encourage them? Should we accept them even if they tell us they will never be vegan?
I've met many vegetarians who, when finding out I was vegan, acted as if we were the same; as if their vegetarian diet and lifestyle choices had absolutely no effect on animals and were equal to my own. They even acted as if we should be close friends just because they were vegetarian. On a surface level this doesn't seem like a very big deal, but it is the result of encouraging vegetarians into thinking we are similar. It is the result of vegan groups that say 'for vegetarians and vegans!' or for vegetarian groups that happen to accept vegans as if it's a give in. Now what is the problem with that, you might be thinking. Doesn't it just encourage everyone to get along and support each other? Yes it does, but at a very big price.
By encouraging vegetarians to feel perfectly comfortable around vegans we are sending a message. We are saying we accept them as they are and that there is no need to ever become vegan. This also belittles all of the reasons that we ourselves are vegan and have chosen not to be vegetarian. It forces us to ignore those reasons and pretend that they aren't real, when in fact they are the central core of our vegan experiences.
So what is the alternative? We could just act like vegans and talk like vegans around vegetarians and they will soon realize we are very different. We could mention the thousands of animals a vegetarian diet kills, how it still includes cholesterol, and how it is still harming our planet - I know that's what I as a vegan talk about, but I often feel compelled to censor myself when vegetarians are around. I shouldn't though, but I consider it because some vegetarians get very very upset when you show them that as vegetarians they aren't really helping anyone. They do not save real animals, they are still supporting the meat industry, and they are prolonging suffering in different animals. Upon realizing this many often become overwhelmed, or worse defensive. Vegans become the enemy, the too picky elitists who are too aggressive and too preachy. So is speaking our mind, and being vegan around vegetarians, really the answer?
I would say yes, that's the answer. It's the only way to not compromise our morals, our values and the reality about how and why animals suffer. Vegetarians are still strongly tied into, and support, a reality where animals are objects to use. We'll definitely lose a few vegetarian allies along the way, but we were never out to make friends with them anyways. Vegans are not vegetarian for a reason, and the second we forget that we're going to need to make a new term for those vegans who still remember.