01/11/2018 12:29 GMT | Updated 01/11/2018 12:29 GMT

William Sitwell's Comments Show Veganism Has A Long Way To Go To Shake Off The Age-Old Stereotypes

It’s the responsibility of the vegan movement to evolve in such a way that people like Sitwell don’t leap to these judgements in the first place

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Oh William. Why did you have to write about killing vegans? Joke or otherwise, it’s the choice of over 3.5 million people in the UK so it was a poorly judged pot shot at an ever-expanding part of the population. But, I’m glad you did. Because you’ve inadvertently started an important and long over-due discussion on veganism that needs addressing once and for all. The discussion isn’t the act of renouncing animal-based products per se, rather, the out-dated perception of vegan conduct and reputation.

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.

According to Joseph Poore, lead author of a study published in Science this year, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.” And then, of course, there is the matter of animal sentience and the scale of animal cruelty that exists in a meat-eating culture.

What veganism is not is an opportunity to be obnoxious to meat-eaters and display moral superiority. It’s not an opportunity to hate people because they don’t understand or challenge your world view. It’s not an opportunity to clumsily place your cause above all others and belittle a person’s circumstances that dictate their personal choice.

And that, right there, is why the people like William Sitwell react so negatively to veganism. The noise generated by a militant minority of vegans has created a voice for the entire movement.

Irrespective of the hundreds of thousands of people making this choice every year and going about it with a thoughtful calm, it is those who shout loudest that create the backlash against veganism. They are the people whose choice defines them and robs them of the sensibility to discuss the practice with patience and an open heart. Vegans do tend to know quite a lot about the human food chain. They’ve watched the films like Earthings or Cowspiracy, conducting research and reaching a conclusion. What a shame that some cannot communicate what they’ve discovered without balance.

I’m a vegetarian but know and work with many vegans. All of them have made their choice based on their principles and world view and, of course, would like more people to join them on the journey. But, they appreciate that people come from a variety of social and educational standpoints and yelling at them to give up all animal products would be wholly counterproductive. However, two sided conversations that come from a positive place do create change. Even if people who consume animal products do one thing to change their diets, it goes a long way.

When you examine it, comments like those made by Sitwell are quite perverse; condemning people for not consuming living things while benefiting the planet? Strange. So, the motivation must come from elsewhere. It must come from the dark side of veganism that screams, insults and intimidates. And that’s categorically not about veganism, it’s about the individual. Unfortunately, these individuals become the voice of the movement and, by association, the movement itself.

For the majority, this isn’t the case and Sitwell’s biggest mistake was not to appreciate that. That being said, it’s the responsibility of the vegan movement to evolve in such a way that people like Sitwell don’t leap to these judgements in the first place. A plant-based diet is important for the future of the planet and people shouldn’t object to adopting this way of life because of the acts of a few noisy and aggressive vegans.