The Discomfort of Anti-Vegan “Jokes”

If you’re vegan, you’ve no doubt been teased. Whether it’s an uncle repeating the never-gets-old “How do you know a vegan is at the table? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you,” or a coworker with the classic “If you love animals so much, why do you eat all their food?”

There is an innocence to these apparent jokes. If you’ve never heard them, you may find them funny, opting to giggle instead of correcting the misperception behind the humor. But after enduring the same few a dozen times each, you might start to wonder what function they really serve.

For example, if you correct someone who jokes about vegans eating all of the animals’ food — by pointing out that a vegan diet causes the destruction of less crops — you’ll get the predicted “it’s just a joke” response, and a quizzical, slightly incredulous look similar to a cat who demands to know why you just sprayed him in the face with water.

Telling an anti-vegan joke is a win-win for an uncomfortable omnivore. It’s a way of expressing their passive aggression without accountability. If you say nothing, the pseudo-argument that underlies the joke must be true; if you object, you are at fault for taking the joke seriously, and you’re just another aggressive, in-your-face vegan.

In other words, the joke itself is an argument that you cannot dispute.

This is further illustrated by the claims that when disputed will magically transform into jokes. I can’t be the only one that has been on the receiving end of the ridiculous “plants feel pain” canard who, after pointing out the absurdity of a brainless being feeling anything, was informed that the claim was, in fact, a joke, and I should lighten up.

To drive the point home: the person telling the “joke” is never the slightest bit curious about what your response to the claim, in non-joke form, might be. The lame attempt at humor is meant to shut the door to a discussion before it begins; it starts and ends with an indisputable claim.

It’s not clear what the best response is. The fact that it’s a win-win for them means it’s a lose-lose for you and for veganism. It’s also not clear that a response is warranted — someone who sets up a losing scenario for you suggests that they aren’t open to a vegan lifestyle anyway. But if there are others in the conversation who may be more open — or if the joker themselves may actually be persuadable — it may be best to respond with a “that’s funny but did you know….” type of thing. That way, you can’t really be accused of not seeing the “humor,” though they may still avert the discussion by pointing out that it was “just a joke.”

I have also hit back. My favorite response to the “How do you know you’re at a table with a vegan?” non-joke is “How do you know you’re with someone uncomfortable around vegans? They’ll make that joke.” But then the veneer of humor is out the window, and you may not like what remains.

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