Over the last few years, it has become abundantly clear that Britain is a divided country on so many levels. The haves and the have nots. The Brexiteers and the Remainers. Even down to football partisanship. All have had the ability to split communities, end friendships and even divide families.
It was on this basis that I read with interest an article about a family in Cornwall, the Robins, on the CornwallLive website, and how their decision to go vegan had ended friendships. In the article, the family explained their individual reasons for going vegan – including concern over animal welfare. But living in a rural farming community, the family has faced a backlash from those they regarded as friends. Their children are taunted at school, friendships have been lost and backs are turned when the mother and father show up at social events. And all because the family refuse to be silent about why they decided to follow their vegan lifestyle.
But unlike some propounding the vegan lifestyle, the family chose social media to explain their decision. And this is where they have met with resistance, as to help people understand the reasons why they became vegan, they posted photographs of the horrors that exist in the food processing industry, specifically meat. The backlash was immediate, with people stating that this was not what social media was all about, post photographs of the family instead.
Mother Jacqui Robins described how there appears to be an expectation that all vegans are aggressive militants. “There seems to be some kind of divide where people meet vegans with aggression and resistance when you are just trying to raise awareness about practices that people should know about.”
“If I had just gone vegan and kept quiet about it, my friends would have probably left me alone. But the breaking of friendships was mostly because we wanted to inform people.”
Any vegan has the right to explain the reasons behind their lifestyle decision, and to inform and educate in a way that does not make people feel threatened. Whether it be through social media or by joining a group of like-minded people, everyone should be able to express themselves freely about things in which they truly believe. But as Jacqui says, “Passion is misunderstood to be aggression or hatred. I have been to parent’s evenings and had people turn their backs to me. They would rather do that than engage in a conversation that will make them feel uncomfortable.”
Which is a shame, as if more people were aware of the reality, I’m sure more would be able to make informed decisions about how they choose to lead their lives. It boils down to the liberal values of respect and freedom which, it appears until recent years, the UK held dear. Vegans are free to choose their lifestyle, and the absolute right to promote – in a non-confrontational and non-aggressive way – the reasons behind their choices. They should not be met with the nonsensical protests of some who disagree with their lifestyle, as previously described in this blog, or by being shunned by their friends. And in the same way, vegans must respect the decisions made by those who do not share their views, while at the same time being free to explain why a vegan lifestyle is beneficial to self, environment and animal welfare. As social intolerance increases, it is time for vegans – and any other group – to protect their freedom of choice without fear of ostracization.