Vegan in a non-vegan world

A response to the January issue.

It has been refreshing to read about veganism in an evidence-based and positive way (January issue).

As a vegan myself, it can be exhausting to read and hear the hate some people have towards us. The articles address some interesting and important issues that vegans face, although much of these relate to the social aspects of vegans living in non-vegan worlds. Indeed, being vegan in a non-vegan world is challenging for many on a social level, yet we must not fail to acknowledge that being vegan goes beyond social interactions and ‘food sharing’ activities.

Particularly for ethical vegans (those who are vegan for animal rights), it can be immensely difficult to live in a world where animals are exploited everywhere. I do not wish to speak for other vegans, although I am certain that many will relate: being vegan for the animals and having to live in a world where we see nothing but inhumane treatment towards them is painful. Simple things like visiting a supermarket or getting food from a marketplace can be distressing, for we see and smell animal corpses instead of ‘delicious meat’. Driving down a country lane and seeing a truck of animals being transported to an abattoir can cause feelings of anguish, helplessness and despair.

Some vegans may even feel distress thinking about the way they used to eat before becoming vegan, as well as immense guilt when they accidentally consume something non-vegan. What should be basic life experiences can be constant reminders of what happens to animals worldwide and can leave one wondering if this planet will ever be one of peace and kindness to all animals, humans inclusive.
Dr Clare Mann describes the feelings many vegans feel as ‘vystopia – the anguish of being vegan in a non-vegan world’. I am keen to see how research in this area develops. Earlier this year an article was published claiming that ‘vegans experience worse mental health than non-vegans’ with diet the proposed culprit. I would encourage researchers to further explore the emotional impact of being vegan and how food identity can influence mental health.

We have seen huge increases in vegan products in England over the last few years and being vegan is, one could argue, easier each day. Ethical veganism, as of January 2020 and thanks to vegan Jordi Casamitjana, is now considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This has brought hope to many.

Psychology has a role to play not only in behavioural change, challenging gender stereotypes and other topics covered in the January articles, but also in supporting those who experience emotional difficulties living in a non-vegan world and ensuring vegans feel included. From supporting children in schools, adults in workplaces, inmates in prisons, patients in hospitals and the elderly in care homes, vegans should feel safe and included.

Hayley Lugassy
Trainee Educational Psychologist
University of East Anglia

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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