Should Vegans Respect Non-Vegans’ Choices?

Should Vegans Respect Non-Vegans' Choices

Many vegans have heard the sentence “I respect your choices, so why can’t you respect mine?” It’s often used to shut down a conversation when someone attempts to educate their family and friends about animal rights issues. Some people take it even further. For example, they may insist that vegans should serve animal products to non-vegan guests in the name of showing respect.

This point of view is problematic because veganism isn’t some faddish dietary choice – it’s the deeply-held conviction that exploiting animals is wrong. A vegan would have to compromise their beliefs in order to buy and prepare animal products, whereas a non-vegan’s beliefs are not compromised by providing vegan food to their guests. Few of us would argue that Muslims ought to provide pork to non-Muslim guests, because we recognise that this would go against their beliefs. The same should apply when it comes to veganism.

But back to the main question: if someone has researched where animal products come from and decided they’re happy to continue buying them, should vegans respect this decision? The answer, in my opinion, is no.

You may think this is unreasonable, but hear me out. I’ve previously argued that the production of animal products is inherently cruel – for example, animals have to die for meat to be produced, and calves must be taken from their mothers to produce dairy. Also, animal agriculture is unquestionably disastrous for the environment and for other people. If someone knows this and chooses to buy animal products anyway, how can we be expected to respect that decision?

Here’s an analogy to illustrate the point. Imagine you find out that your friend’s favourite clothing retailer is using child labour. When informed of this, your friend says that although it’s a shame, they aren’t going to stop buying the brand – they just love it too much. Would you respect your friend’s decision? Probably not.

Of course, some people are unaware of the suffering and environmental destruction inherent in animal agriculture; they eat animal products because that’s what they’ve always done. In that case, they haven’t really made a conscious decision at all. I’m not going to respect the choices of someone who hasn’t taken the time to do their research. There isn’t really anything there to respect.

I hasten to point out that if someone has a genuine reason why they can’t be vegan right now, I do understand. But even so, there’s almost always something that person can do for animals, such as buying cruelty-free products. I respect the choices of people who are doing what they can. After all, veganism is about doing as much as is possible and practicable.

Not respecting someone’s choices isn’t the same as not respecting the person themselves; it isn’t acceptable to behave disrespectfully towards anyone, vegan or otherwise. There are millions of good people in the world who aren’t vegan, and I respect them and the work they do – just not their contribution to animal exploitation.

Finally, I want to clarify that do I respect the choices of people who have made the decision to go vegan but are transitioning at their own pace. I appreciate that many people who try to cut out everything at once end up lapsing because they find it too hard. I’d rather someone took their time and did it sustainably – as long as veganism is the end goal. This approach will likely save more animals in the long run.

What do you think?

Should Vegans Respect Non-Vegans' Choices?

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The Vitamin B12 issue is why I would never go Vegan
    The evidence is that vegans although well meaning is that the vegans assume no one should ever eat animal and we all be fine how ever a human has the wrong gut for a vegan diet proof of that is the vitamin b12 issue. Vegans do not get enough get enough vitamin b12 this can result in death

    1. This is a misconception. B12 is made by bacteria in the soil, so we would formerly have been able to get it by eating plants. However because everything is so sterile these days, this is no longer possible. These days, farmed animals are given B12 supplements – otherwise animal products would no longer contain B12 either. If you’re vegan and take supplements, the only difference is that you’re getting your B12 first-hand. In fact, meat-eaters are just as likely to be B12-deficient as vegans. See this video for more information.

        1. Again, this is untrue. Our bodies can convert the omega-3s in plants into the type we need. People have been developing normal brains without eating fish for thousands of years – see this article. People who were raised vegetarian or vegan are no more likely to have problems with brain development than those on an omnivorous diet. Many people eating a standard Western diet are in fact deficient in omega-3s. Besides, the NHS also states that you can get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet:

  2. I have an inflammatory bowel disorder and cannot digest vegan protein. Animal protein is one of the few foods I can digest without pain and other unpleasant symptoms. Veganism is not an option for me and I am angry when vegans try to force their beliefs onto others. I believe in my beliefs as much as you believe in yours and you should respect that. You are not an expert on all human health problems and therefore cannot pass judgement on all humans. Plenty of vegan foods are not sustainably-sourced and cause suffering of animals indirectly by loss of habitat, pollution etc. Don’t eat quinoa if you care about not hurting the people and animals and rainforests in brazil. Other carnivores eat meat, are you going to convert lions to veganism? The reason why meat eating is a problem for humans is not about being carnivorous in itself, but about global sustainability and animal welfare in the meat production process. Both of these can be enhanced without the need for enforced veganism.

    1. With regard to your situation, I’d like to draw your attention to this paragraph – “I hasten to point out that if someone has a genuine reason why they can’t be vegan right now, I do understand. But even so, there’s almost always something that person can do for animals, such as buying cruelty-free products. I respect the choices of people who are doing what they can. After all, veganism is about doing as much as is possible and practicable.”

      The point about lions is irrelevant. They are obligate carnivores with no choice but to eat meat. We are not. There are far too many of us now for meat production to ever be sustainable – it’s just too resource-intensive. And for the record, I don’t eat quinoa for that very reason. I believe in doing as much as I possibly can for animals and the planet.

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