Answering the Question “Why are you Vegan?”

Sometimes seemingly simple questions are hard to answer.

I used to be something of a music nerd in my late teens and early 20s. I downloaded (illegally, to my shame) thousands of albums. It used to be so easy to find just about any album under the sun. There was a vibrant scene on music blogs and forums. Everyone wanted to help each other find great music. On the internet there are no walls between genres and everyone had far-ranging tastes. I had at least a toe in many genres, from indie rock to electronic music, to hip hop, to classical, to jazz.

So when people would ask the commonplace question “what kind of music do you listen to?,” my brain would shut down. How do you compress so much of your experience down to a micro-story?

I have some of the same feelings now when people ask my why I’m vegan.

Despite this, I still love being asked the question. Veganism is so divisive that to even have a curious interlocutor is flattering. Sometimes the question is a challenge to defend my worldview, but I’ll take that too. That’s why it is incumbent on vegans to think carefully about how they answer this question.

I know that’s not something I’ve always done. The first difficulty is whether to answer the question of “why are you currently vegan?” or “what led you to become vegan?”

I used to impulsively answer the former questionblurting out whatever was on my mind lately. Then a story hardened into place about the influence of friends (thanks Pretend Philosopher!), watching “Cowspiracy,” worrying about the environment, and then gradually recognizing the ethical importance of animal suffering. I wouldn’t always hit all of those notes, but that was the general gist in answering the latter question.

I still think that that picture is generally accurate, but I was never thoughtful about how I should express my answer to this question. My answer was detached–a speech I had recited many times before and knew by heart.

The way you answer this question is as important as the content. You must walk the line between being so casual you miss the opportunity to express what you love about veganism versus being so enthusiastic that you seem like a cult member (a common jab at vegans). As an understated person, I’ve always had more of the former problem than the latter.

I realize now that one aspect that was missing to my answer was the intellectual excitement of being a new vegan. I like to express that it was like a light switch going on when I realized that I didn’t really have good reasons not to make strides towards veganism. I’ve had better luck being more present when I answer this question.

I cannot give any vegan advice on how to answer this question because it’s a deeply personal one. My general advice is to be in the moment and genuine when answering it. Think about it. Find what has excited you and continues to excite you about veganism. Then refine that answer so that it’s brief and socially acceptable. Every vegan is an ambassador and I love that responsibility, but I also recognize that anyone who is truly interested will ask you questions and further discussion on their own terms.

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