Vegans like me can win the debate if we stop shouting

Everyone is familiar with the image of the placard-waving, angry vegan who paints “meat is murder” on butcher shop windows and chants their righteous message at diners in unwary restaurants. Indeed, you may have seen some of these “militant” activists in Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary, The Truth about Vegans, which caused a stir on Wednesday night.

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Moderate vegans
As a vegan myself, I believe these campaigners are right to feel so outraged. Today, like every day, two and half million animals will die in the UK to satisfy our cravings for animal flesh. How can you argue with that? But another voice is emerging from the moderate vegan movement. We feel just as outraged over society’s treatment of animals but follow a gentler, more pragmatic ideology, seeking to engage not only with meat eaters but also with large, non-vegan corporations.

You may have heard this week that McDonald’s has launched a vegetarian Happy Meal, and may roll out a McVegan burger after a successful trial in Finland. A lot of vegans are horrified and have vowed to never support this cow-killing corporation. But others among us believe these products can only be a good thing. If McDonalds sells a lot of vegan burgers, then we hope they will be selling less beef and therefore fewer animals will be slaughtered.

A vegan burger… at McDonalds?
“It’s easy to see some of the advantages of having a vegan burger at McDonalds,” says moderate campaigner Tobias Leenaert. “Such an offer would help tremendously in normalising and mainstreaming vegan food, and would lower the threshold for a lot of people to try it.”
There is also a debate over the acquisition of Whitewave foods, which owns Alpro and Provamel soya milk, by Danone. Many vegans were aghast that one of their own sold out to “the enemy”.

Yum. I made this recipe up today. It’s going to go in the cookzine I am working on.

The co-founder of Veganuary, Matthew Glover, sees it differently. “The sales in the dairy division had fallen 2.3 per cent, but the plant-based milks achieved double-digit growth,” he says.

“Now imagine if you were sitting in the Danone boardroom and talking about the future direction of the company: would you be thinking it’s best to invest in dairy products whose sales are flat or declining, or plant-based milks whose sales are achieving excellent growth? I know what I’d be doing.

“Could it be that companies like Danone will accelerate the adoption of plant-based milks far faster than ethical vegan businesses could achieve? I think so.”

The middle ground
I’ve been on the receiving end of the angry vegan stick myself. I recently started a campaign called The Middle Ground, which seeks to connect with meat eaters and gently suggest that they reduce meat, dairy and egg consumption.
Although vegans represent less than 2 per cent of the UK population, up to 50 per cent of people are willing to consider reducing their meat consumption – so the thinking is that more animals can be saved by engaging with people who can be encouraged to do this, even if they don’t want to become vegan.
A lot of my fellow vegans didn’t see it that way and have attempted to derail the campaign. They seem to forget that every one of them was once a meat eater and that many of their friends and family eat meat.

What is the best way to effect change?
Hardline vegans want to show you footage from slaughterhouses and they will tell you that you are directly responsible for the torture and slaughter of millions of animals – and maybe they’re right. It’s difficult to defend your love of bacon once you’ve seen a pig in a gas chamber.

But the question must be asked: is this the best way to effect change?

The moderates are willing to meet people half way with inclusive initiatives like Meat-free Mondays and Veganuary, challenging “all or nothing” thinking. People, in my experience, are far more responsive to a helping hand than a pointing finger.

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