Why are vegans portrayed so negatively in the Press?

Newspaper slamming veganism

Vegans are in the news a lot.

Veganism seems to generate debate on comment boards, so news sites like stories about us.

The growth in veganism has become a huge talking point and with it comes the inevitable backlash.

The phrase “militant vegans” seems to be applied to any vegan activist. Papers such as the Mail and Metro who use detrimental phrases such as this do seem to spend an extraordinary amount of time publicising vegan-related articles.

https://metro.co.uk/2018/12/17/militant-vegans-target-the-turkey-aisle-in-waitrose-8257667/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6539063/Counter-terror-police-brought-help-tackle-militant-VEGANS.html

Constant attacks from the likes of Piers Morgan only help to publicise veganism and provide vegans with their own media villains

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6564267/Piers-Morgan-tries-new-Greggs-vegan-sausage-roll-spits-bin.html

The Greggs vegan sausage rolls received a lot of free publicity from bad old Piers – all publicity is good publicity, after all. Piers himself received a lot of free airtime through his anti-vegan tirades. Maybe he was hoping for some free bacon for his trouble?

Both the Telegraph and Mail have a solid middle England readership – that readership includes farmers and we must not forget that the meat and dairy industries are worth billions.

The worth of the vegan pound may be on the increase, but, sadly, it still pales into insignificance next to the animal agriculture pound.

This article from January 2018 gives you some idea of the rise in veganism internationally.

https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/

In 2019, the figures  must be even better with Veganuary reporting its most successful year so far – https://veganuary.com/blog/a-quarter-of-a-million-people-try-vegan/

There have been reports of the dairy industry and other farmers starting to feel the impact of veganism – https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/dairy-industry-crisis-teenagers-ditch-milk/

Therefore, demonising the lifestyle through the use of terms such as “militant vegan” can sell an agenda to lessen this impact. Positive posting about their industry can also help to counter the rise in veganism – https://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/per-capita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-in-pounds/

That rise, albeit posted by the industry itself, is pretty alarming – as is the rise in intensive farming.

That is one thing that worries me about the rise in veganism in the short term – the cutting of corners until the square becomes a circle by the meat industry in the hunt for more profit against any falling sales. We have seen with the likes of the persecution of badgers in the UK the lengths the industry will go to protect its interests.

Although, other articles suggest the rise in meat consumption isn’t such a good thing – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/19/rising-global-meat-consumption-will-devastate-environment

The fact this is published by the Guardian is also notable – it’s the audience is mainly middle class, liberal and left-leaning – the stereotypical vegan in other words.

Linked to this we have the Februdairy campaign:  https://www.lep.co.uk/news/business/are-you-ready-for-februdairy-1-9566906

Obviously, supermarkets can’t ignore the rise in veganism – but there does seem to be a hint of guilt around the constant vegan bashing – not only in headlines, but in the comment sections of online stories about vegans and, disturbingly, it seems to be creeping into real life too.

https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/25/vegan-schoolboy-14-punched-bully-tried-force-feed-bacon-8393291/

Yes, there is a dark side to the anti-vegan propaganda and, of course, there is more than a hint of the “do not challenge the status quo” mentality rocking all over the discourse of the argument. “eating meat is tradition”, “we’ve always eaten it” and “this farm has been in my family for generations” is the kind of thing we hear.

Maybe there’s a little bit of guilt in there too – people want to hide away from the cruel reality of slaughterhouses – an “out of sight out of mind mentality”, which manifests itself in online attacks on those who choose not to hide away from reality.

There is a certain amount of hypocrisy there as stories about extreme cruelty to dogs and cats receive prominent coverage. Interestingly, there have also been stories about cruelty to pigs on farms – but, in a way, it is suggested that this is the exception and not the rule.

https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/pig-farm-workers-guilty-animal-cruelty/

Vegans are constantly being told not to “force their opinions down everybody’s throat”, the problem lies in the fact that it’s the very same people saying this that are forcing their views down vegans’ throats.

 

Where have all the vegans come from?

The number of vegans keeps growing and growing and social media keeps uniting them.

It’s odd really – animal rights protests and protest movements are attracting a fraction of the participants these days in comparison to the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it does actually make sense.

Many new vegans are driven by celebrity culture promoted by social media – often this means people are vegan for health reasons – and the argument that veganism is a healthier diet is certainly compelling.

But there is certainly a rise in compassionate vegans – people who are vegan for animal rights reasons – and the rise in social media means that there has also been a rise in social awareness. Look at the reaction to the film Earthlings compared to the Animals Film – the latter was actually broadcast on Channel 4 during its opening week. At the time, of course, there was no social media, internet, or even mobile phones, so the Animals Film was only talked about in school playgrounds, offices and common rooms.

Yet, in many ways, the Animals Film is more important than Earthlings because it got there first and got mainstream coverage – and it includes footage of the ALF and hunt sabotage. It’s worth tracking down on e-bay.

One could argue that the huge increase in the number of vegans saves countless lives in itself – and it does. Vegans are everywhere. When I first became vegetarian, there was one brand of soya milk in my local health food shop – and it tasted like dish water.

Now, every supermarket stocks plant milk and most stock plant cheeses. Most restaurants have vegan options and veganism is talked about in the national press.

Even farmers have been complaining about plant milk being called “milk” – because they see the rise in its popularity as a threat to the declining dairy industry.

However, social media also promote laziness – anyone can share a petition, comment on a story or fire off an email – getting out and demonstrating, or doing direct action seems less, well, popular these days. That’s probably because electronic protest is so easy, or maybe it isn’t seen a socially acceptable – I’m not sure why.

The rise in veganism has, by many, been labelled a “middle class thing”. The rise in luxury foods like hummus and avocado as vegan staples hasn’t helped – the latter is over-priced and over-rated in my opinion.

The main issue I have with vegans on social media is bullying. People who are vegan for different reason, new to veganism and transitioning are often shamed, shouted down and attacked for using this or that product, liking this or that person and not boycotting this or that company – it’s a very easy way of turning someone against veganism. Gentle debate often produces better results – especially with people who are, broadly speaking, on the same side as us.

On the plus side, information sharing – such as where is good and bad to eat, where you can buy what and swapping recipes and cooking tips has never been easier – and sometimes, online friends can become real-life friends.

It is also true to say that film of animal abuse is now easier to share – you are not limited to TV as a medium and nearly everybody in the Western World can take video on their mobile phone. This means that animal abuse is very often caught on video and shared widely. The same goes for vegan messages and recipes – and definitely for vegan products – look at the Gary publicity!

So, which came first, the decent vegan food, or all the vegans? Well, firstly, there is no replacement for cooking from scratch and using natural ingredients. I, and many other vegans, eat too much processed food – because it’s available.

Supermarkets are driven by demand – and social media gives a medium to voice such demands – so, the rise in veganism can, I believe, be the reason supermarkets are catering for us.

The message is being heard and spread because it’s backed up by science, welfare concerns, health concerns and, it has to be said, the promotion from celebrities and, in particular, sports stars, as a healthy diet.

The only vegan in the office

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Being a vegan at work can be hard, well, work.

Even with the 4 billion per cent rise in veganism (figures curtesy of the Leave Campaign and Diane Abbott), many people just don’t “get it”.

“But what do you eat.” Food mainly.

“You can’t even eat eggs?” Even eggs? Most people don’t actually die from a lack of egg consumption.

“Don’t you miss bacon?” No I don’t miss a fried slice of pig skin too much.

And so on.

To be fair, many people do try hard.

My former employers used to ask about vegan options on the menu for Christmas meals out. One restaurant forgot to get vegan cheese in and offered me a vegan alternative – and a free round of drinks for my table! Everyone wanted to be friends with the vegan that night.

But I did once go to an Italian restaurant whose vegan option was a pizza without cheese – that actually turned out to be a base with tomato sauce on it and two bits of asparagus. I like asparagus, but two pieces a pizza topping do not make.

But people do forget that it goes beyond diet sometimes. We won’t bet on the Grand National, go dog racing, give to Cancer Research etc etc.

Sometimes explaining these things can get a little bit tiresome – but when that happens, remember that it gives you an opportunity to explain your stance. In effect, you are being asked to be a “preachy vegan” – so go for it. You never know, you might open someone’s eyes.

I asked people on social media for their experiences. One Facebook friend mentioned how friends were raising their child vegan and said this on the ill-informed response she received: “Apparently, it’s ‘borderline child cruelty to impose veganism on someone who can’t think for themselves.’ Like animals can think for themselves, yeah?”

Somebody else had slightly more positive experiences: “People at my office are generally pretty good – and interested in talking about veganism. My boss is ace and has sourced me Vego bars for Easter and vegan cider for Xmas. However, I wasn’t able to go to the Xmas meal as they had a really rubbish vegan option – so it’s not always at the forefront of people’s minds. Also, people always bring in cake for their birthday and I can never eat it.”

Personally, I like the response from one office worker, who said: “My boss’s response “well there must be other normal vegans out there because you’re quite normal”.”

You see, we are normal!

Canteens were another issue, with many vegans bringing in packed lunches even when this facility is available in a workplace. One worker had this to say about company-provided food: “For the last company event I asked in advance if a vegan option could be possible. They ordered me 6 dry bread rolls. Compare that to the treatment I got when I recently visited our sister company in Sweden – they had informed the hotel in advance, arranged a vegan lunch for me every day and had informed the restaurant where we had an evening function that a member of the party was vegan and planned a menu for me.”

To be fair, the first time I ever encountered avocado was at a training event where a vegan meal was provided for me.

Several vegans I asked on Facebook said they were known as “the vegan” at work – something I find a bit laced with prejudice, although it can be done affectionately.

The most blunt response I received was from a builder friend: “Try telling someone you are vegetarian or vegan on a building site it’s almost as bad as telling them you sh***ed their granny the night before.” Quite!

It was also pointed out that “Case law has shown that veganism is a protected belief.” Something that is worth remembering if you get bullied or singled out in the workplace.

One respondent in charge of tea and coffee had been using soya milk instead of cows’ milk for months before anybody noticed… It’s worth checking that nobody has a soya allergy before doing this, however, the same applies to nut milks.

It is a bit difficult when someone brings a smelly McDonalds into work, the same applies to Tuna or egg, all of them smell like hot death to a vegan’s sensitive nostrils. To the death eater, we are a bit weird. Being a bit weird is generally OK you know – especially considering the alternative.