Beet Me Up If You Want To: Unethical vs. Ethical Veganism

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On Leftbook, Facebook’s young liberal sector, jokes and comebacks sting and often come with citations. Leftbook usually drags only the deserving. Usually. Unfortunately, one topic discourages accuracy: veganism. Leftbook knows jackfruit about the innards of the vegan community.

In the group “It Takes $0.00 to be Like This,” a user posted a video of a group of vegans having funerals for still raw Thanksgiving turkeys. These white, J.Crew wearing vegheads marched out the grocery store, each a turkey on one shoulder, chanting some form of “Meat is Murder.” The poster shared the video with the comment “If only they cared about black lives this much…” A vast majority of the commentators agreed with the poster’s sentiment of vegans not caring about human life – especially poor, of color folks – in favor of dearly departed Thomas the Thanksgiving Turkeys. To them, all vegans were no-good, clueless hippie veggie munchers. I, a black transman veghead kneedeep in the Welfare system and food banks, felt offended… for five minutes before I realized Leftbookers were talking about my pseudoenemies – Carrot Warriors.

Surprise! Carrot Warriors, whom are the textbook vegan, happen to be the community’s own least liked group of people. Veganism has in-fighting just like any other minority. On one side, Ethical Vegans – those inspired by animal rights and ethics to be plant-based – stand proud. A Carrot Warrior is the extreme version of an Ethical, splashing red paint on fur or burying stolen raw Thomas the Thanksgiving Turkeys. On the other side, Unethicals exist. We care about animals, but the primary motivators for our diet is the environment and our personal health, maybe even our wallet. Extreme Unethicals are Venjas, or Vegan Ninjas. Venjas like myself take take their vegan identity out of hiding only to throw “facts,” not paint at stubborn Omnis and Carnists. We’re less hated, but just as self-righteous. 

Carrot Warriors

To understand the divisions in the vegan community, discussion of the in-fighting must start with the Carrot Warrior. Nobody gets along with Carrot Warriors except for other Warriors. They are why the Unethicals and less aggressive Ethicals followup stating they’re vegan with “Not one of them!” We don’t want to be mistaken for such annoying people. I learned early in my plant-eater career to not debate with them. 

Once over a cup of nighttime tea in her dorm, a Warrior friend of mine and I discussed the complications of pleather. 

Her: “Anything is better than leather…” 

I:  “Actually, no, leather and pleather are both horrific for the environment and the factory workers who process the material.” 

My eyes creaked to the side enough to see her expression in the mirror near us. Her mouth stern, I knew her well enough to see her mind’s vegetable peeler sharpening her weapon for battle. “Why not just wear a sexy jean jacket,” I said

“People like the look of leather more! I get compliments on my pleather jacket all the time.” 

She thought she had me. Most people love a bomb black leather jacket. Her pleather could seduce the masses to the Green Side, so she later went on to say. But before she put her carrot away in its sheath, I switched to Venja mode. 

To make my delivery savage as possible, theatrics were added. With a smirk, a stir of agave in my tea, and a sip, I clicked my tongue and said, “Why wear material that so closely imitates leather that most folks can’t differentiate unless they sniff you?” 

Her eyes bugged. 

Still holding the cup, I sipped again and said, “And I’d like to know who’s buying habits you changed when they get up close and see how bad your jacket’s falling apart? Leather, same price, secondhand — lasts decades.” I tap my cup down on the dinner table. 

Another point for Team Venja. 

She stuttered “Pleather’s cheap to replace…” then huffed away to a bottle of vegan red wine. The “debate” ended with her brushing off my commentary with an eye roll and an invite to get drunk. She later spilled the wine on her cracking, toxic fumin’ pleather jacket. 

While wine helped me not side-eye her for acting like a child, I knew never to challenge her again unless I wanted a headache from irritation. I soon discovered her discussion tactics are the standard for the Warrior community. Online or offline, a non-Warrior challenging a Warrior on veganism equates to an Atheist criticizing a devotee’s religion: not much will be accomplished, no matter how fair the points.

Unethicals

Warriors stubbornness is why the Unethical label exists. Regular Ethicals may distance themselves from Warriors, but see them Warriors as their braver, albeit somewhat misguided next of kin. Unethicals? Our feelings on Warriors is similar to that of Mariah Carey’s on Jennifer Lopez: We don’t know them. 

While saying Thomas the Thanksgiving Turkey is not a driving factor for our veganism may irritate or anger Ethicals, omnivores, those strange carnists, and anti-vegan internet strangers favor us, as Leftbook shows. Understanding that animals other than dogs, cats, and humans contain emotions and can be tortured remains difficult for much of the world to understand. If they do understand, many don’t give a hot damn or pretend they care via their purchase of Orwell the Organic Thanksgiving Turkey. However, even a once-a-season veggie eater like my mom can understand avoiding artery clogs from lard, mercury poisoning from fish, and subtracting some from the tons of animal waste poisoning the water supply.

Unethicals are more likely to avoid accidentally vegan health traps, like Oreos. We prefer sharing clips from “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” than ‘If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls.” Our extremists, Venjas, proselytize with less emotional pleas, less showing of animal guts hanging from the ceiling to shock-and-convert, but we beat the Minimalistic Baker recipe book against the table just as loud as Warriors. 

Venjas prefer online debate over all else. In-person arguments fall flat thanks to outdated info or confusion of facts. Online, I can double check before I swing the blade. I also get the most attention for whatever I say. Warriors can’t eyeroll or drink me away nor can non-vegheads dismiss me as overzealous without risking embarrassment if they ignored the info I offered. 

Thomas the Turkey’s funeral did not activate my Venja mode. While upset over the group’s assumptions, my mood cleared quickly. Forgive these Omnis for they not know the truth I thought as I closed the tab. Another Facebook group presented me an opportunity to put on my onion skin mask and rush into battle, cucumber katanas drawn, to defend my kind: “Sounds Like White People Bullshit, but Ok.” Some white Carrot Warriors were rapping about the merits of veganism. The rap? Horrible. Packed to the soy container with pathos-only arguments. I watched ten seconds of the video before my ears itched for my vegan hip-hop hero GREY and his sickening lines about veggie-broth collard greens. My fingers pushed the video away for the commentary. 

A commentator had dropped the “We All Can’t Afford Whole Foods, Rich Whities” Bomb. 

No, veganism can be for everyone, I thought.

High school debate prepared me for my pending internet attack. Ethos only arguments, citations provided.

Like a Ninja Turtle from the sewers, I jumped from my underground digital hideout for a fight I saw worth provoking and ran into battle. My sword swinging created a respectful dialogue about veganism. I felt like a preacher who just laid down the best sermon of his career. I swore there was gonna be at least one new member of the Church of Avocado that night. 

By hour’s end though, my battle ended in a stalemate – not a single convert wanting to be baptized in guac.

“Well the majority…” was their defense. 

Here, I, Ultimate Venja, am telling the Omnis and Carnists the “vegan majority” no longer exists! Factions now dominate veganism. Broke and poor, “colored” or white, soy-lovin’ and tofu-fearin’, united for a single cause. Hear ye! Hear ye! 

My chest ached from embarrassment and the shame of wasting my time on a fruitless mission. I found myself, perhaps for the first time, in the same boat with the Ethicals. Nobody cares but us vegheads.  

Why Unethicals and Ethicals fail to admit more often we live in the same yam yacht, just different chambers is simple: ego. Ethicals often think they’re morally superior to Unethicals. Unethicals often think we’re cooler than Ethicals. The rare moments where both sides’ egos bust reveal the jealousy beneath our in-fighting. 

I feel ashamed that Thomas the Turkey doesn’t keep me up at night. I wish cared more about the squirrel my mother ran over the other day. I wonder if I am broken for not being at least stern faced when I see “stunned” cows flinging about after their throat’s been cut, male chicks heads being ripped off, a pig mother attempting suicide after her piglets taken. Maybe Carrot Warriors are right to not like people like me. 

My pleather-lover Warrior friend told several times she felt exhausted with caring so much in a careless world. She felt tired of people’s laughter at her heart ache for non-human animals, some even joking to sneak meat into her meals to “ruffle her feathers.” After watching a brutal slaughterhouse documentary, she lost sleep for a  week. Her dreams were filled with the blood of beings humans pay billions to torture. A Warrior comrade of hers told me after they both cried watching a PETA undercover video they wished to care as little as I do.

I wish the world outside our plant-based scuffle cared as “little” as I do.