Why do people hate vegans? Vegans are hated because they shine a light on moral inconsistencies, they’re vocal about animal rights, and they inconveniently challenge treasured customs and traditions.
That’s quite the concoction of objections when it comes to veganism. I mean, there’s just no escaping it. If you’re vegan, you know that there’s a lot of hate out there for people like us.
And the hate runs deep. Malicious at times.
This post will share some examples of how the general public views vegans before diving into the 3 reasons people dislike vegans based on some interesting studies.
Towards the end of the article, we see whether it’s possible to shift this negative perception and what vegan businesses should consider knowing these issues.
What does vegan hate look like?
Cobra Kai, a TV series sequel to the original Karate Kid movies, is one of my favourite shows. However, 2 core characters, Johnny Lawrence and John Kreese are carnivorous senseis that take regular shots at veganism to portray their masculinity.
As film review website Looper put it, “How many tofu jokes can one show make before it’s just too much? “Cobra Kai” seems intent on answering that question.
Then there’s more on-the-nose vegan hate, especially in the culinary industry.
The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once wrote in his book, Kitchen Confidential:
“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.
To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.”
Gordan Ramsey was a little more direct, saying:
“If the kids ever came up to me and said, ‘Dad, I’m a vegetarian,’ then I would sit them on the fence and electrocute them.”
Ironically, Gordon recently went on a health kick transforming his body and doing Iron Man competitions — and he attributes much of his success to removing milk and cheese from his diet.
And of course, the keyboard warriors are hiding behind fake profiles, making it their life mission to lurk on every vegan blog post, Youtube video, social media post and online forums to attack vegans. I’m not naive to know it goes both ways for this sad behaviour.
Beyond media, demeaning vegan jokes are plastered on t-shirts and bumper stickers.
And perhaps the most painful form of anti-veganism is in-person interactions.
When I first became vegan, I got constant snarky comments from friends when we were out in town or playing sports.
And even when I tell people I’m vegan for the first time, it’s met with defensiveness and sometimes criticism straight off the bat.
This general dislike towards vegans has been so prevalent that it even has a term, vegaphobia, coined by researchers Matthew Cole and Karen Morgan in a 2011 journal.
So why are people vegaphobic? There are generally 3 reasons.
Reason 1 – Vegans break the happy state of cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort we experience when we simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, values, or attitudes.
For example, you might believe that eating meat is morally wrong, but enjoy the taste and convenience of eating meat. In this case, cognitive dissonance would occur because you’re experiencing conflicting thoughts and feelings about your dietary choices.
I believed that people were genuinely unaware of our choices’ impact on animal suffering. But when I reflect on this, it’s not a lack of awareness. We’ve become insanely skilled at compartmentalising animal exploitation and what we consume.
Back in the day, there was no way I would let myself think about hen’s throats being slit when I was devouring popcorn chicken at KFC.
What vegetarians and vegans represent shines a light on this internal conflict which forces us to face our moral beliefs. The natural response? Do-gooder derogation.
Do-gooder derogation is the act of putting down someone because they’re trying to improve the world. It’s a way of coping with the cognitive dissonance by making fun of people living their values.
Remember that student in high school who always wanted to do the right thing? They’d get called a goodie-goodie, the teacher’s pet, a Dibba dobber just because they were trying to do better.
In this context, it wasn’t cool to be good. Goodie’s got in the way of fun. So bullies would tear them down. Furthermore, seeing others do good makes us feel insecure and uncomfortable.
We may all agree that it’s desirable to act morally, yet we may differ in opinions on right and wrong. In a 2011 study about do-gooder derogation, researchers Julia A. Minson and Benoît Monin found that moral conduct toward any cause, whether modest or significant, might be annoying and ridiculed rather than respected and admired.
They discovered that 47 per cent of respondents had a negative view of vegetarians, with 4% using words like “weak” or “malnourished.” Vegetarians were negatively linked with 45% of respondents in terms of unpleasant social traits such as self-righteous, aggravating, and insane.
We all care about our moral identity. So morally motivated individuals may be troubling to the mainstream media and trigger resentment — not just towards vegans.
In a 2015 study, researchers Cara C. MacInnis and Gordon Hodson discovered that both vegetarians and vegans were treated more unkindly than environmentalists, that vegetarians were regarded more favourably than feminists, and that vegans were evaluated similarly to feminists.
The study also found that vegans who are vegan for animal rights purposes were judged more harshly than those who are vegan for health or environmental reasons. Those who are vegan for ecological reasons were evaluated more severely than those who are vegan for health reasons.
This shows that ethical concerns are particularly sensitive when disrupting cognitive dissonance.
Reason 2 – Vegans are vocal about veganism
The loud minority of vegans make it seem like every vegan is attacking omnivores for their choices.
We’ve heard it a million times;
“How do you know if someone is vegan? They’ll tell you”.
Read more: Do You Feel Like a Preachy Vegan?
The reality is, being vegan impacts every consumption choice you make. When you’re ordering food and drinks or buying clothing or furniture, there’s a high chance animals have been exploited in the process. So you need to state your intention to avoid those choices.
Then you have someone like me, whose profession is to write on a vegan blog, so veganism comes into the picture again when people ask what I do for work.
It’s hard to escape your identity of being a vegan, even if you try.
Okay, but what about the animal activists who are proactively vocal about veganism? How do these actions influence the perception of vegans?
To answer the question, we first need to understand moral reproach.
Moral reproach is the disapproval of another person’s actions, usually done in an emotional way. It’s often used as a means to influence a person’s behaviour.
Moral reproach can be effective, but it can also backfire and make the accused more resistant to change — or straight-up hate in the case of veganism.
This makes sense. It’s uncomfortable to be held accountable for your actions, especially when your moral identity is questioned.
Back to the do-gooder derogation study. It was observed that meat-eaters generally believe that vegans see them as morally inferior. And the stronger the belief (increased evidence of moral reproach), the more negative vegans are viewed.
In other words, the more vegans hold non-vegans accountable; the more vegans are hated.
What’s fascinating is that in a follow-up study, they found that vegetarians and vegans do look down on omnivores somewhat, but nowhere to the extent that is perceived. Therefore vegan derogation is a preemptive strike against a vastly exaggerated threat.
It’s human nature to strike first to protect ourselves from a potential threat. Meanwhile, in the case of vegans, they’re not actually as “aggressive” and “emotional” as their stereotype would indicate.
So whether vegans protest, call out family at the dinner table, or try to avoid conflict altogether, the generalised perception of moral reproach drives anti-veganism.
Reason 3 – Vegans inconveniently challenge the status quo
Eating animal flesh is deeply rooted in traditions and customs. I remember when I visited my heritage country Ghana as a teenager, my uncle slaughtered one of his goats to prepare goat soup in honour of our arrival. For him, it was an act of gratitude and love for being connected with family.
This is just one of many examples, whether it’s Sunday roast or barbecue, first date with your future partner, thanksgiving turkey, or making recipes passed down from generations in your family. Some of our fondest memories are created from consuming animals.
Then vegans come along and present a direct threat to these beloved traditions. There’s a term for this; threat theory.
Threat theory is when people perceive an out-group as a threat to their way of life. So when vegans try to influence the meat-eating majority, it’s seen as a threat to their traditions and customs.
It doesn’t matter how veganism is presented or how non-threatening vegans come across. The message is always received as a threat to the status quo.
Veganism is always going to be inconvenient to the meat-eating majority.
Religious and political beliefs also influence anti-veganism.
According to the study mentioned earlier, exaggerated bias exists toward vegetarians and vegans among prejudice prone individuals. Those with a strong right-wing ideology/conservatism were associated with more negative attitudes toward vegetarians and vegans.
The assumption here is that vegans are seen as less compliant and more of a threat to people who hold these beliefs.
The impact of anti-veganism
Vegaphobia is real. But how does it translate to experiences?
In addition to the standard stereotypical vegan jokes and bullying, a study found that:
- One-quarter of vegan subjects said that a friend cut communication with them soon after announcing their veganism.
- Anxiety about revealing one’s vegetarianism/veganism was a problem for over one-third of veggie and vegan participants.
- Over 40% of vegetarian individuals and over half of vegan respondents reported experiencing everyday prejudice, preparing for potential discrimination, and employing coping strategies.
I can certainly relate to the first 2 points. Without a doubt, my veganism had changed some personal relationships, especially when I initially transitioned. It was my fault as much as it was theirs. Sad but true.
And telling people that I’m vegan to this day brings me anxiety, especially after knowing the subconscious resentment towards us “do-gooder” vegans.
I can’t say I’ve experienced any vegan discrimination and evidence backs this up.
According to the same study where vegetarians and vegans claimed to experience daily discrimination, the results differed.
Although omnivores dislike vegetarians and vegans, they didn’t indicate they were less willing to hire them than other groups.
In fact, people were more inclined to hire vegetarians than atheists, drug addicts, and immigrants. And participants were more ready to hire vegans than immigrants or drug addicts. Participants were also more willing to rent to vegetarians or vegans than other target groups.
Despite the animosity, omnivores acknowledge positive qualities in vegetarians/vegans when protecting assets such as businesses or real estate. Perhaps because of their “restrictive” food habits, vegetarians/vegans are perceived as disciplined and responsible, which may be desirable in hiring or renting situations. Go figure!
So what can we gather from this?
For one, the impact of anti-veganism or vegaphobia shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s real, and it can have lasting effects on our relationships and mental well-being.
On the flip side, not all is lost in the vegan/non-vegan relationship. There’s some underlying respect that can actually benefit vegans.
Is it possible to shift the negative perspective of vegans?
It’s unlikely we’ll see any significant shifts in how vegans are viewed. However, just like any discrimination or dislike, every interaction is an opportunity to create a new reference point.
For instance, I’m a black person in a predominantly white community. Locals haven’t interacted much with people of colour, so they have some pretty strong biases based on what they’ve observed in the media or heard from friends.
Regardless of the pre-conceived idea someone might have about me; I look at each connection as a chance to create a new precedent for them.
The same approach can be used for vegans. The first thing is to accept that most people will likely feel hostile towards you for the reasons outlined above. Now you have a choice. Validate the perception or create a new one.
Regardless of what cause you’re fighting for, overcoming the “do-gooder” perception is hard enough. But to then be condescending, aggressive or smug will piss anyone off.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has said, “when you first told me you were vegan, I thought you’d be uptight and annoying, but you’re not like one of those vegans.” Not quite the response we’re after, but hey, it’s progress!
As for non-vegans annoyed by the existence of vegetarians and vegans, it’s worth reflecting on why you feel that way. Sure, you might fundamentally disagree with veganism. Or, more likely, you’re experiencing some level of cognitive dissonance that you’re fighting to maintain.
Either way, confront your feelings, and hopefully, we can start to see more respectful and positive dialogue between vegans and non-vegans.
Tens of billions of animals are slaughtered each year in the U.S. alone for our sensory pleasure. And every consumption decision we make directly influences the number of animal deaths. It’s confronting to face the magnitude of this suffering, and it’s why many people go vegan.
How should vegan businesses brand themselves?
Knowing what we know now about vegan perception, is it wise for business owners to use vegan in their brand name?
It comes down to who you’re targeting.
If you’re trying to reach vegans, then sprinkling vegan throughout your branding will be clarifying and trustworthy to that audience. As a vegan customer, it’s a relief to see the business I’m engaging with is openly vegan. I know I don’t have to ask questions about their offerings making for a much easier experience.
However, if you want to reach vegans and non-vegans, leading with veganism could potentially alienate a good chunk of your customers.
For example, at the beginning of 2022, we decided to split our recipe content into a new website called Heartful Table. We did this because our goal is to help everyone interested in eating more plants create simple and delicious plant-based recipes, and we wanted a more approachable name (i.e. not the word vegan) to reach these people.
While The Minimalist Vegan is a place for people who are interested in the topics of minimalism and veganism.
With that said, the decision as to whether it’s best to be “obviously” vegan or not for your business is not black or white. In fact, vegan entrepreneurs are divided on the approach. Some prefer clarity, while others prefer to be more “stealthy” with their activism.
It is, however, worth giving some serious thought to knowing the potential impact.
Why do people hate vegans? Your thoughts
The bottom line is that there will always be people who react negatively to change, especially when it comes to something as personal as consumption decisions.
But we have a choice: we can either validate their perceptions or create new ones. With enough effort, we can slowly but surely shift the conversation from hate to understanding – and eventually, compassion.
If you’re vegan, have you experienced vegan hate? How have you dealt with it? If you’re not vegan, have you felt annoyed by vegans? Why? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.