It's tempting to think that living a vegan lifestyle is the ultimate moral choice we can make on behalf of animals. Once we're vegan, we're done. We've done everything that we need to do in order to be good people.
From the high (mock?) horse we're riding on, it can be easy to look down at others. They're just eating less meat, or they're only vegetarian. Clearly they're not as morally refined as us wonderful vegans.
This sort of attitude is quite problematic. If we come across as self-congratulatory and arrogant, it makes it easier for others to dismiss us. How many times have you heard someone complain that they can't stand those "obnoxious vegans"? We've heard that many times at Compassionate Action for Animals, despite our best attempts to fight that stereotype through our words and actions.
But isn't veganism the end-all be-all? Shouldn't we be praised for our excellent ethical decisions?
At Compassionate Action for Animals, we want to praise everyone who has made an effort to help animals. Every time someone chooses to eat fewer animal products, this reduces the amount of animal suffering in the world. We want to support people who care about animals, regardless of what stage they're at on their journey to a fully plant-based diet and lifestyle.
It's important to remember that our goal is to help animals, not to be vegan. If twenty people cut their animal production consumption in half, that's better for animals than one person going vegan. If one vegetarian becomes an activist who spends ten hours a week educating others about factory farming, that does far more for animals than one vegan who does no activism at all.
We also must remind ourselves that veganism is not the best possible world for animals. Plant foods that come to us from industrial farms still come with suffering. Farming equipment like tractors kills animals, especially ground-dwelling animals like mice and rabbits. Transportation of food kills animals and damages the environment.
We could reduce suffering even further if we all did things like grow our own food (without machinery), dumpster dive, and eat road kill. Maybe the dumpster diver with a back yard garden should be looking down at those of us who are vegans.
It's really not possible to live in modern society without contributing to at least some suffering. The best we can do is look for ways to reduce our contribution. We all must find a place where we are comfortable with our choices.
At Compassionate Action for Animals, we advocate for people to move towards a plant-based diet because we think that veganism greatly reduces suffering and is practical for everyone. We advocate veganism with the open recognition that there is always more that can be done to reduce suffering, and we hope that this recognition keeps us humble in our work. When we acknowledge that there is no suffering-free choice, it makes us more approachable and more effective as advocates for animals.