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.