Anyone who has been a vegan for a while will understand that there is a section of society that gives those following a plant-based diet a hard time. Accused of being self-righteous, holier-than-thou, or just downright annoying, vegans regularly have to justify their beliefs in the face of seemingly unwarranted hostility. So, why do people hate vegans? Do they really hate vegans? What is it about someone who is trying to save the lives of animals and, through the positive environmental repercussions, the world itself that might cause such a negative reaction?
In this article, we will delve into the reasons people might have for disliking or even hating vegans by tackling some of the commonly held beliefs about them head on. We will also examine what it is about humans that make so many of them hate other groups of people in general… that’s right folks, it’s not just vegans who face hatred. If there is a group of people that is related to more or less anything at all, you can guarantee there will be another group that will dislike or criticise them (for whatever reason).
Before we get into some of the (usually spurious) reasons people give for not liking vegans, let us outline some instances that show there really is plenty of hatred out there for vegans.
Do People Really Hate Vegans?
There is no doubt that the very existence of vegans causes real consternation with some people in the United Kingdom (and beyond). And, we are not just talking about meat farmers and the upset-by-everything numpty that is Piers Morgan. There are people who might otherwise be viewed as reasonable human beings who somehow find themselves experiencing real antipathy towards vegans.
Take for instance the (now former) editor of Waitrose magazine, William Sitwell. When a freelance writer suggested a series of articles on veganism, Sitwell responded and suggested that a “series on killing vegans, one by one” might be a better idea. He apologised soon after … and lost his job.
There are plenty of more extreme examples of people showing explicit contempt for vegans. Such as the remarkably idiotic self-publicist, Gatis Lagzdiņš. The Latvian YouTuber – who reportedly also believes the Earth is flat! – decided it was a good idea to skin and eat a raw squirrel in front of a vegan food stall (the Soho Vegan Market) in London. Along with an accomplice, he was convicted of public order offences on the back of the stunt. But what would motivate such a course of action when it was so obviously going to cause offence? Aside from a craving for publicity and desperation to garner viewers for his “work”, there must surely have been some underlying dislike, at least, for vegans.
Does Vegaphobia Exist?
As with other groups in society, whether religious or racial groups or fans of a certain type of music or football team, there are other groups or individuals who, for whatever reason, appear to take offence by the very existence of vegans. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests the existence of vegaphobia, defined by everyone’s favourite information source, Wikipedia, as “an aversion to vegetarian and vegan people”. But is there any actual evidence of this phenomenon? Well, yes there is.
In 2011, The British Journal of Sociology published research entitled ‘Vegaphobia: derogatory discourses of veganism and the reproduction of speciesism in UK national newspapers’. The researchers analysed 397 articles containing references to veganism and vegans and found that 74.3% of the articles were classified as “negative” towards veganism, 20.2% were “neutral” and just 5.5% were “positive”. If this pattern is replicated in the wider culture, there is little wonder the views of many people are somewhat belligerent towards vegans.
Reasons People Hate Vegans
The question about why people hate vegans could equally be asked about more or less any group of people. Whether the group in question is members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, dog owners, Brexiters, Remainers, people who like to have pineapple on (vegan-friendly!) pizzas… essentially, why do people hate (or feel negative feelings towards) anyone who is a member of a group, different to their own, of some sort?
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about the psychological and sociological determinants of the phenomenon of prejudice, fearing the ‘other’ and the probable evolutionary roots of such beliefs. But there is plenty of robust literature out there that delves into this area in great detail which can be very eye-opening.
Most people who feel or express dislike (or even hatred) for vegans cite ‘reasons’ that are essentially just regurgitations of stereotypical tropes that have been reinforced in UK (and Western in general) culture over the decades.
Thankfully, in relation to veganism at least, a lot of the rather tired stereotypes are being challenged on a regular basis, both by the many excellent vegan documentaries that have been produced in recent times, and through the growing number of vegan celebrities and sports stars who are effective advocates for a vegan diet and lifestyle.
As we cover in our Vegan Myths article, there are plenty of spurious beliefs about vegans and veganism in general. Often these target the vegan diet and how it can’t possibly deliver all the nutrients, such as protein, the human body needs (which of course it can, with a bit of careful planning, as we detail in the Vegan Health & Fitness section of our site).
But they also focus on the people who follow vegan diets and lifestyles themselves. Here we will look at some of the anecdotal reasons people often give for having an aversion to vegans.
“Vegans Are Annoying/Self-Righteous”
Let’s tackle one of the most commonly touted reasons for not liking vegans: vegans are annoying. There is unlikely to be a vegan in the land who hasn’t heard the rather tired ‘joke’: “How do you know if someone is a vegan? Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you”. But it does appear to strike a chord with many non-vegans who feel that many vegans come across as sanctimonious and virtue-signalling, especially in social situations.
The problem is, if a vegan is out for a meal with friends and they happen to mention to the waiter that they are vegan, they are doing it because they don’t want to be served something they do not want to eat. They are not saying, “Hey, look how amazing I am and how I’m going to save the world while you, lowly meat eaters, are going to condemn us all to hell!” They are probably actually saying something like, “Please can you leave the feta out of the salad?” or something rather innocuous. That it should provoke anything resembling resentment or animosity is rather remarkable.
Of course, it is very possible that there are plenty of sanctimonious vegans out there. As there are people who go out of their way to let people know how they’ve eradicated plastic from their household or that they give 10% of their salary to an African charity, or have given up flying or … we could go on.
But that’s the point, sanctimonious behaviour is not an exclusively vegan trait. In fact, we would argue that given the fact that empathy and compassion are cornerstones of the ethos of veganism, it is more likely that vegans would be aware of the feelings of those around them to the point that they tend to underplay the benefits of veganism to the wider world, such that they don’t make others feel bad about their own lifestyles.
“Vegans Are Victims/Snowflakes/Humourless”
Linked to the point above, many vegans are viewed as overly sensitive to criticism, defensive when questioned about their veganism or simply unable to take a joke. In various cultural media over the years, vegans have been linked to weakness, hippy ideals or as overly earnest. Whether it was the reference to Level 5 Vegans in The Simpsons, or the general characterisation of vegans as sensitive snowflakes who aren’t able to take a joke by commentators like Piers Morgan and Irish broadcaster, Niall Boylan, this is an idea that is often encountered.
Thankfully such views and negative portrayals of vegans are becoming fewer and further between. This is at least in part due to the number of well-known people from all walks of like who have embraced veganism to a greater or lesser extent, from Serena Williams to Adrian Chiles.
“Vegans Are Angry”
Yes, some vegans are angry. But many vegans would argue there is every reason to be angry about a world in which animals are not only killed and exploited on an industrial scale, but also one where such slaughter is celebrated and encouraged by large portions of society.
For people who have woken up to the way humans treat animals, there is often an emotional response. This could well be in the form of sadness or despair, or it could be anger. And, like in all walks of life, people exhibit their anger in various ways. Sometimes anger can boil over to become far from constructive, and if someone has had a run-in with an angry vegan, whether online or in ‘real’ life, it is likely to have left a negative impression.
Clearly though, having a negative experience involving someone who follows a certain way of life does not logically mean that everyone who follows a similar way of life will produce a similar negative experience. A person is no more likely to meet an angry, aggressive vegan as they are to meet an angry or aggressive advocate of roast beef or pig farming.
“Vegans Are Dangerous”
Some people have a dig at vegans because they associate them with extreme animal rights activists, some of whom have been known to cause damage to property and intimidate people who work with (or exploit) animals. It is quite possible that some, or even most, of the members of such animal rights groups are vegans, but that does not logically suggest that all vegans hold the same views or advocate the same courses of action.
Of course, the vast majority of vegans would be against the principles of using animals in research in the same way that they don’t want animals to be used for food. But the vast majority would also be sincerely against some of the tactics used by some of the more extreme animal rights groups. As with most ‘reasons’ for not liking vegans, people who cite this one are taking the example of the extremes within a group and projecting on to all members of that group.
Types of Vegan Haters
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of vegan hater that occupy the public space in these days of us against them. Or at least people who, for whatever reason, feel aversion to vegans or indeed who express their dislike or animosity.
When you’ve got a blog/book/podcast/YouTube channel to promote, there is little better than stoking up a little controversy. Often well planned and equally well targeted to maximise the chances of making a wave on social media, the Self-Publicist vegan hater makes up for a lack of moral fibre with their shrewd vindictiveness… the more controversial the words or action, the better, from their point of view. It is unclear whether many (or any) of this type of vegan hater actually hates vegans at all, but they’re happy to pretend to do so if it brings in the clicks.
The Pointless Troll
Found lurking in the comments section of most YouTube videos or Facebook posts that have even a passing reference to veganism, the Pointless Troll doesn’t even have anything to promote and appears to thrive simply on attempting to upset or belittle someone else.
A curious creature, they favour the shell of anonymity from which they strike with barbs that are rarely amusing or based on facts. After a while, others in the habitat recognise the Pointless Troll as benign and simply ignore them, at which point they seek new territories in which to dwell.
The Long-Term Vegetarian
Having become a vegetarian at some point in the 1960s, the long-term vegetarian might feel their thunder has been stolen somewhat by these new-fangled vegan types. Essentially on the same page as many vegans, long-term vegetarians who seem a little prickly around vegans will often mention the fact that they’ve done far more good for animals in the last forty years than someone who’s been a vegan for a year (whilst tucking into their scrambled eggs with smoked salmon). Deep down they don’t really hate vegans, of course.
Concerned Family Members
There are very few people who transition to a plant-based diet without a good number of comments from ‘concerned family members’, usually about how they fear the new vegan will become undernourished/lack essential nutrients/turn into a frog.
Assertions like “you’re playing with your health” and “you can’t get enough iron, you’ll make yourself ill” are all too common from people who, at heart, care about the vegan in question, but don’t do themselves any favours.
Nothing warms the heart of an aggressive non-vegan more than pointing out examples that show a vegan is just a hypocrite. “You want to save the environment?” they chunter. “So, you’ve given your car away, power your house using an exercise bike and shower using a thimble with holes in? No? … Hypocrite!” Or how about the one about medicines and vaccinations: “You don’t use things tested on animals?” they eagerly enquire. “So, you didn’t get your TB jab then, and you won’t get chemo if you get cancer? Oh, you will?! … Hypocrite!”
In almost all cases, it is advisable to give such folk a wide berth as attempting to enlighten them with the accepted wording on the definition of veganism is highly unlikely to go down too well. Much less would it result in a positive discourse if you pointed out their likely own hypocrisy with the gentle enquiry: “When was the last time you slaughtered a pig before tucking into a bacon butty?” Let them bask in their own ego-glow, safe in the (false) knowledge that they’ve put a vegan back in their box.
Conclusions: Why People Hate Vegans
Ultimately, the reasons certain people dislike, fear or even hate vegan can be highly specific to them (much as the reasons people choose to follow a vegan lifestyle can be very personal and not fit neatly into a box). Some people might have had genuinely negative experiences with vegans who were aggressive, boring or particularly self-righteous and they have simply tarred all vegans with that brush.
Others might not really hate vegans at all, and might just go along with the crowd when it comes to dissing those following a plant-based lifestyle. Others still are, frankly, just morons; for such individuals it is possible that no level of logical persuasion or fact-based information will change their minds about vegans in the same way that taking a member of the Flat Earth to the edge of the atmosphere in a rocket and showing them the curvature of the planet is unlikely to convince some of them.
Pick Your Battles
So, what is a vegan to do? The answer is to pick your battles. Don’t get embroiled in pointless online interaction and debate with an idiot who is simply trying to upset or anger vegans (or anyone who cares about animals/the environment for that matter).
On the other hand, if someone is asking questions about your vegan lifestyle, it is very possible they are actually interested and so sharing some of the challenges and rewards with them in an honest and open way can be a mutually beneficial experience (even if they are a family member who is concerned about your welfare to the point that it becomes a little over-bearing).
‘Haters Gonna Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate’
In short, there are always going to be people in the world who hate others for whatever reason. But the greater the number of calm, level-headed, humble vegans there are out there, the less attention the haters will get, and eventually they will retreat to the fringes. And the good news is that veganism is growing in popularity in the UK and around the world, so it might not be too long before vegans are the norm rather than the exception. And when that happens, remember to be kind to the remaining meat eaters out there when they are in the minority. After all, omnivore humans are animals too!
With the dissemination of information about the workings of the meat and dairy industries, and indeed lots of other industries that exploit animals, thanks to a number of fine documentaries and plenty of robust journalism, the eyes of the masses are being opened. And with such education comes a gradual shift towards acceptance of veganism as a lifestyle and a greater understanding of both the motivations behind it and the many benefits of going vegan.