Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, explores how “talking vegan” is an intrinsic characteristic of this philosophy which explains why we talk about veganism so much

“How do you know that someone is vegan?”

You probably have heard this question asked during stand-up comedy shows. “Because they will tell you,” is the punchline of the joke, which has become cliché even among vegan comedians — I guess to get a bit of rapport with a carnist audience and not to feel too much of a weirdo if revealing on a stage to be a follower of the philosophy of veganism. However, I believe that, for the most part, this statement is true. We, vegans, often “talk vegan”. 

I am not talking about using a completely different language unintelligible to non-vegans (although many — including me — write in a modified version of English we call Veganised Language that tries not to treat animals as commodities) but about announcing that we are vegans, talking about veganism, and discussing all the ins and outs of the vegan lifestyle — you know, that kind of talk that makes many non-vegans roll their eyes.  

Part of it is just asserting one’s identity. Gone are the times when vegans used to have a particular hipster look that allowed people to guest their veganhood by just looking at them (although this look is still prominent in some circles), but now, if you look at a big enough group of vegans (such as the attendees of a vegan fair, for instance) you could not really find any difference from any other average group of the same locality. We may need to be saying we are vegan, or deliberately wearing vegan t-shirts and pins if we do not want to be confused with a carnist at first sight.

However, there are other reasons why vegans talk about veganism so much. In fact, I would venture to say that “talking vegan” may be an intrinsic characteristic of the vegan community that goes far beyond normal identity assertion. I have been talking vegan for decades, so I know what I am talking about.

Communication Is Key

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If you do not know much about veganism, you may erroneously think it is just a diet. If that’s what you think, I get why it may be a bit strange — and annoying — to see those following such a diet constantly talking about it. However, diet is just one aspect of veganism, and not even the most important one. In my articles I often add the official definition of veganism created by the Vegan Society because, still, most people do not know (even some vegans) what following this philosophy actually means, so I will write it here again: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

I know, it does not say that vegans must be talking about veganism all the time, but it does say that vegans “promote the development and use of animal-free alternatives”, and talking about something is a common method of promotion. What are these alternatives vegans are promoting? Alternatives to what? Well, alternatives to anything: ingredients, materials, components, products, procedures, methods, services, activities, institutions, policies, laws, industries, systems, and anything that involves, even remotely, animal exploitation and cruelty toward animals. In a carnist world where animal exploitation is rampant, we are forced to look for vegan alternatives to most of the stuff that forms part of human life. That’s a lot to be promoting, and, in part, this is why we never seem to shut up.

However, we have more things we ought to talk about. If you deconstruct the philosophy of veganism, you will find out it has several axioms all vegans believe. I identified at least five main axioms, and the fifth axiom is the one relevant here. This is the axiom of vicariousness: “Indirect harm to a sentient being caused by another person is still harm we must try to avoid.”  This axiom is what made veganism a social movement because taking that thought to its ultimate conclusion leads us to want to stop all harm done to sentient beings in the first place, not only not participating in it. We feel that we are all vicariously liable for all the harm caused to others, so we need to change the current world and build The Vegan World to replace it, where ahimsa (the Sanskrit word for “do no harm”) will dominate all interactions. Donald Watson, one of the most well-known founders of this vegan social movement in 1944, said that veganism was about ”opposing the exploitation of sentient life” (opposing it, not just avoiding it or excluding it), and this movement was “the greatest cause on Earth.” 

Therefore, this axiom made veganism the revolutionary transformative socio-political movement we know today, and to transform the entire world, we have to talk a lot about it. We have to explain how such a world will look like so we all know what are we aiming for, we have to talk to everyone so we can convince them with logic and evidence to transform their behaviour and activities toward those compatible with the vegan world, we have to talk to decision makers so they can make vegan-friendly decisions, we have to talk to those growing up so they can learn about veganism and the vegan lifestyle, and we have to talk to carnist indoctrinators and persuade them to stop and move to “the good side”. You can call it proselytising, you can call it education, you can call it communication, or you can call it simply “vegan outreach” (and there are several grassroots organisations that focus on that), but there is a lot of information to transmit to a lot of people, so we need to talk a lot.

That’s not new, by the way. From the very beginning of the Vegan Society, this “education” dimension of veganism was present. For instance, Fay Henderson, one of the women who attended the founding meeting of the Vegan Society at The Attic Club in November 1944, is credited by sociologist Matthew Cole for being responsible for the “consciousness raising model for vegan activism”. She produced literature for the Vegan Society, served as a vice president, and toured the British Isles giving lectures and demonstrations. She wrote in 1947, “It is our duty to recognise the obligation we owe to these creatures and to understand all that is involved in the consumption and use of their live and dead products. Only thus shall we be properly equipped to decide our own attitude to the question and explain the case to others who may be interested but who have not given the matter serious thought.”

To transform the world we have to veganise every part of it, and we need to persuade the majority of humans about the vegan world bing what we need. This new world will allow us to correct all the mistakes we have made, and save both the planet and humanity (for the “benefit of animals, humans and the environment,” remember?) either through a fast vegan revolution or a slow vegan evolution. The transformation of the world will be not only physical but mostly intellectual, so for ideas to spread and settle they have to be constantly explained and discussed. The brigs and mortar of the new vegan world would be ideas and words, so veganists (builders of the vegan world) will become proficient in using them. That means talking vegan.

Living In a Carnist World

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Vegans have to be vocal about their beliefs because we still live in a vegan-unfriendly world, which we call the “carnist world”. Carnism is the prevailing ideology that has dominated humanity for millennia, and it’s the opposite of veganism. The concept has evolved from when was first coined by Dr Melany Joy in 2001, and I now define it as follows: “The prevailing ideology which, based on the notion of supremacy and dominion, conditions people to exploit other sentient beings for any purpose, and to participate in any cruel treatment of non-human animals. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of consuming products derived wholly or partly from culturally selected non-human animals.” 

Carnism has indoctrinated everyone (including most vegans before they became vegan) into accepting a series of false axioms that explain why so many non-human animals are suffering at the hands of humanity. Carnists believe that  Violence against other sentient beings is inevitable to survive, that they are the superior beings, and all other beings are in a hierarchy under them, that the exploitation of other sentient beings and their dominion over them is necessary to prosper, that they must treat others differently depending on which types of beings they are and how they want to use them, and that everyone should be free to do what they want, and nobody should intervene trying to control whom they exploit. More than 90% of humans on this planet firmly believe in these false axioms.

Therefore, for new vegans (and currently most vegans are relatively new), the world feels very unfriendly, even hostile. They must be constantly paying attention so they do not inadvertently participate in any exploitation of non-human animals, they must be continuously searching for vegan alternatives (and they can’t even trust the word vegan on a label if it has not been certified by a proper vegan certification scheme), they must reject again and again what people offer them or want to do to them, and they must be doing all this under an exhausting mask of normality, patience, and tolerance.  It’s hard to be a vegan in a carnists world, and sometimes, to make our lives easier, we talk about veganism. 

If we let people know that we are vegan in advance, this may save us a lot of rejection and waste of time, it will allow us to spot other vegans who can help us find what we need, and we may be spared the sight of cruel exploitation “in our faces” who carnist don’t care about but distresses vegans. We hope that by announcing we are vegans, but telling people what we do not want to eat or do, by telling others what makes us uncomfortable, they will make our lives easier. This does not always work because this may tip veganphobes in our direction and we then suddenly become the victims of prejudice, harassment, discrimination, and hate —  but this is a calculated risk some of us take (not all vegans like to talk vegan as some feel too intimidated by being a minority and feel too unsupported in the environments they operate).

Sometimes, we just want to “talk vegan” to vent the pressure that has been building inside us not just for having to work harder to do what everyone else does, but to have to witness the suffering of other sentient beings which carnist no longer perceive. Especially during the first years, being vegan is an emotional affair, so sometimes we want to talk about it. Either when we are super excited about the amazing food we have found (having had very low expectations) or when we feel very sad when we learn about another way humans exploit animals, one of the ways we deal with it is by expressing ourselves through talk.    

We, vegans, also feel a sense of “wakefulness” when we discover veganism and decide to adopt it as the philosophy that will inform our choices and behaviour because we believe we have been dormant under the stupor of carnism, so we may feel like talking — as awaken people do —  rather than just vegetate in silence and follow the norm. We kind of get “activated” and we see the world very differently. The suffering of others affects us more because our sense of empathy has been heightened, but the pleasure of being with a happy animal in a sanctuary or tasting a healthy colourful plant-based meal in a new vegan restaurant also makes us react more vocally because of how we value precious progress (which comes far too slower than we hope). Vegans are awake, and I think they experience life more intensively, especially during the first few years, and that is something that may manifest itself as heightened communication about the feelings of being vegan. 

In a carnist world, vegans may sound loud and expressive, because they don’t belong to it anymore even though they still have to live in it, and because carnists do not want us challenging their system, they often complain about vegan talk. 

The Vegan Network

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On the other hand, we sometimes talk about veganism because we expected it would be far more difficult than it turned out to be. We thought it would be very hard, but we learnt that, after the initial transition, once you have found out how to get the vegan-friendly alternatives you need, it’s not that difficult. Naturally, we want to let people know about this “revelation”, as most of our friends and family are still under this false impression. We want to spare them the waste of time being afraid about becoming vegan, so we talk to them about how much easier it turned out to be — whether they want to hear it or not — because we care about them and we do not want them to feel unnecessary anxiety or misapprehension. 

When those with whom we talked decided to make the step, we then kept talking to them to help them transition. In fact, a lot of the vegan outreach events you may find in the centres of cities are there as “information stalls” for those passersby who have been thinking about becoming vegan but are not sure how to do it or are still a bit afraid of it. Such events are kind of a public service to help people move from carnism to veganism, and they are much more effective in supporting open-minded people who are considering veganism seriously than in convincing a close-minded vegan sceptic about the worth of our philosophy. 

Talking about veganism is also an essential activity vegans do to help other vegans. Vegans rely on other vegans to find out what is vegan-friendly, so passing information about the new vegan-friendly products we discovered, or about the supposedly vegan products that turned out only to be plant-based or vegetarian. For instance, this is what was in my mind when, in 2018, I was telling my vegan colleagues at work that there are pension funds labelled as ethical which do not invest in pharmaceutical companies that test on animals. My employer at the time did not like this sort of communication, and I was fired. However, when I took my former employer to court, after two years of litigation I won (securing the recognition of ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 along the way) partly because it was recognised that talking about vegan alternatives to help other vegans is something that vegans naturally do (and they should not be punished for doing it). 

The community of vegans is very communicative as we need this to survive and prosper. We cannot seek to exclude all forms of animal exploitation without knowing them and how they are linked to all the products and services we may need, so we need to pass information among ourselves to keep us up to date. Any vegan may discover crucial information for the rest of the vegan community, so we must be able to pass it through and disseminate it fast. This is what vegan networks are for, either localised networks or truly global ones that rely on social media. 

Additionally, if we want to help fellow vegans with useful information we may have discovered (such as this new restaurant which says it is vegan but actually serves cow’s milk, or that this new park that opened keeps wild birds in captivity) we may end up becoming amateur detectives and talking vegan along the way with all sorts of strangers to find out what is going on. 

Veganism has to do a lot with the truth, and this is why we are proud to talk vegan. Exposing the lies of carnism, finding out what is vegan-friendly and what is not, discovering whether someone who says is vegan really is (the good type of vegan gatekeeping), finding true solutions to our current global crises (climate change, pandemics, world hunger, sixth mass extinction, animal abuse, ecosystem degradation, inequality, oppression, etc.), exposing what the animal exploitation industries want to keep secret, and debunking the myths perpetuated by vegan sceptics and veganphobes. Carnists don’t like that, so they would prefer that we keep our mouths shut, but most of us are not afraid to challenge the system so we keep talking vegan in a constructive way.

We, vegans, talk a lot because we speak the truth in a world full of lies.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.