In a recent interview with Paper Magazine, Waka Flocka Flame renounced himself as a vegan, stating “I dropped the vegan card.” This is definitely a big loss in terms of how veganism is portrayed and perceived in the public. As a vegan, I am processing his comments about veganism and checking myself to make sure I – and we, as a community – do better. Before getting into the details, his qualms with veganism largely involved a public image issue – that vegans are perceived as jerks and can act like jerks too. This is a severe threat to the goal of promoting a vegan lifestyle for everyone (except those with medical conditions). All of us should think about how we represent this way of life, we should ask what we can do to improve how it’s perceived. These are questions I am asking myself after reading Waka Flocka’s comments, I think we all should too. He got turned off because many of us seem to act a certain way, so it is our collective responsibility to make sure this impression of vegans improves. His loss is reflective of a larger problem: that vegans have a tough time being likeable and roping people into the cause, it might be some of our fault (even yours).
Now to get into the details. First he discussed that there was a bit of dogmatism within him in how he acted as a vegan, such that the use of the word “vegan” implied to him that the food was inherently healthier. He continued to talk about the ‘crisis’ he had come to about the label of ‘vegan’, now calling himself a “conscious eater” about the things he eats and drinks. His issue with the dogmatism around veganism stems from the fact that his mains reason for being vegan (in his case, a plant-based vegan) seemed to be for its supposed health and nutritional benefits. This rationale for becoming vegan is arguably flawed and problematic specifically because of situations like this, where the rationale isn’t nailed down to any principle or ethical conviction, but rather linked with something as arbitrary and capricious as diet and healthfulness. That means that whatever other virtue, impact, and worth there is to the choice of being vegan, it can be rejected because it may become inconvenient or undesirable. Aside from the issues of why he went vegan and what it meant for him, the term “conscious eater” is terribly nebulous and vague. (And maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a much stronger label than referring to oneself as a vegan.)
Next, he continued that designating yourself as a vegan is a stamp of superiority and distinction, and then he suggested that it has the effect of calling-out someone for not caring. This is a perception that I can imagine having about the designation of being a “vegan”. It’s a declaration of what your values are and what you do about them, a way to distinguish and separate yourself from everyone else; by distinguishing yourself you are casting out everyone else and implying they have different values or don’t follow-through with them or whatever else. This is another problem that we should focus on if we are serious about improving vegans’ social-standing. His third point was built-upon the effect of calling-out others. He basically questioned if anyone should question whether or not it’s moral to eat meat because both meat and plants have the ‘power of life’ and therefore, are morally equivalent. Frankly, that is a foolish sentiment that belies the facts about sentience, biology, neurology – so we’ll just skip over it.
Fourth, he exclaimed that it’s too much of a commitment to not consume honey, which is another component of veganism that should be framed as a philosophical difference, similar to how Waka Flocka’s reason for being vegan is different than other reasons that might be more reliable. Honey is also a subject I talked about too. Those philosophical difference are very interesting to me, and they should be interesting to everyone because they reflect the depth, breadth, and nuance of veganism! We shouldn’t wonder too hard about if consuming honey still means someone can be vegan, that kind of strict, unyielding rigidity is just not necessary. We should, instead, use reason to come to our own conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of consuming honey and not judge others as being right or wrong for making the opposite choice. This is an important tactic not only because of its congeniality but also because it fosters inclusion into veganism, rather than other-ing people.
His fifth and final critique is the one that carries the most weight and was the more direct. He argued that people are afraid of vegans because “they’re like the fucking cops”. He added that people hide their food when vegans come around. Of all of his criticisms, this one was the most spot-on and serious. It’s a commonly-held impression of vegans because vegans tend to act, well, like they’re fucking cops. Vegans who think they’re truth-telling and fighting the good fight often come-off as condescending, arrogant, and condemning. This is a perception I am sometimes faced with when I tell people I am vegan, and I’m sure we’ve all seen videos of well-intentioned vegans yelling at restaurant-goers for eating meat and dairy or other public scenes like that.
Honestly, I am a happy, (mostly) healthy vegan – I think adopting this lifestyle was one of the most positive and empowering choices I’ve ever made. I think this is a choice that it totally meritorious to all other dietary and lifestyle choices, the arguments supporting the importance of veganism are incontrovertible and compelling. There are truly few other topics like this in the world (seriously, think about that – it’s pretty profound). All that being said, however, we need to be careful that we are representing this lifestyle in a way that is the most attractive to the most people. If we want more people to be vegan, we have to meet people where they are by adapting our posturing and messaging in ways that people can get behind. Right, wrong, or whatever, if we want veganism to spread as a choice for people we have to tailor it towards the way people want it.
Or do we? PETA is an example of an organization where it’s members and subscribers use public demonstrations as a way to elevate vegan-issues, and they produce results. Let me know if you disagree.