Last week on Facebook, I posted a tidbit about Jennifer Lopez going vegan—it was just a bit of pop sugar water-cooler-chit-chat stuff. Not important.
Well, the post was met with a venom I haven’t experienced since the angry media frenzy around my vegan children’s books! Except this time, the spew wasn’t coming from meat-eaters, but from vegans, furious that J Lo was getting the spotlight when her “veganism” isn’t being extended to her clothing or cosmetics line, both of which are apparently full of animals.
I get it. She profits off the backs of animals in a way that eclipses any positive diet choice she could make. Yet the cussing! The name-calling! The condescension, as if I didn’t know the difference between health and ethical veganism. I’ve seen the worst hateration, and these comments compete.
I’ve long trained to make peace with online comments, but I felt so repulsed by the harsh negativity, the nastiness toward me, and toward each other, that for a split second I felt like shutting down the whole page of 80,000+ fans and getting out of this “community” if this is who we are. As big as the “angry vegan” reputation is, I’d never seen anything like this—a hateful line drawn by people who live vegan against those who eat vegan, and even against those who celebrate anyone else that begins to eat vegan!
Reading angry comments, I grew angrier. Not at the outrage at J Lo’s other animal product endeavors—which is fair—and not at impatience itself—but at the hateful impatience. It was injudicious, carnivorous behavior, and I expect better of this community. Celebrities are not all-knowing superhumans and most of us do not give up leather or change our careers in our first few days of veganism. And no one is immune to being picked apart if that’s what we want to do (even ink can contain animal products—do you own pens?), but I don’t think it’s effective activism. Bowing to the point, however (because I do appreciate a philosophical argument and semantics, too), I amended the Facebook post language from “vegan” to “plant-based.” I didn’t know there were so many hardcore vegans on my page. I added a note to them: “Where have you been? I hope you take this much action on the REAL good news I post from now on.” No one likes to think of themselves this way, but positive news about animals never gets as much traction as any news about celebrities.
The anger stuck, though, and I stewed in my upset for several hours, like a child. When I grew up later that evening, I laid on the floor to “train” and rid myself of this deeply bad feeling about nasty people, a nasty world.
Let me state my position on these “angry vegans” for whom small steps are never enough (this is me on the floor, slowing my pulse):
The anger is justified, and I always say so in interviews. There are no bigger zealots than industries who use animals. If the masses truly knew the extent of the destruction and abuse involved in producing animal products, their critique would be directed at the industries, not at “militant” vegans.
Anger can be effective—not when it is raw, but crafted and molded with care by its speaker. One of my heroes, Gary Yourofsky, gets called an “angry vegan,” yet he’s one of the most effective activists in the world, converting thousands. His words can be tough, but his answers are always air-tight, logical, and I’ve seen him, with hands clasped, literally beg a meat-eater for compassion. If that’s anger, it’s been polished with love.
Of course J Lo isn’t vegan with a capital V, and she’s no hero for the real cause. But she’s just chosen a positive new practice that’s the only one likely to ever get her to change her businesses. I wish we could throw a media blitz celebrating everyone who decides to eat vegan. Animal agriculture is a major supporting beam in the architecture of animal product industries. If it were to topple around the world, regardless of the motives, it would take many other atrocities down with it. And J Lo influnces lots of fans around the world.
Whether with peace or anger, nothing any of us ever do in our lifetimes will be enough for the crimes committed against animals and the earth—I feel urgent and impatient and angry over this at times, too. But I try to deal with my anger internally so that it is released effectively. I remember that everyone is doing their best at the moment until there’s a revelation that makes them do better. That revelation is more likely to occur the more the word vegan is normalized. So I am happy for any positive mention in the media, whose machinists generally throw away press releases about animals, let alone ethical veganism. If it weren’t for news about health veganism, we’d have almost no coverage at all.
Flat on my back, I turned my attention toward thoughts opposite of indignation. I prayed, to no god in particular, for our effectiveness as humans, for the earth to be spared the poison of everyone’s anger, for the heart-health of a sick acquaintance, and for an anti-GMO layman-leader friend who is running for mayor of Kauai, the Hawaiian island increasingly poisoned by the largest biotech corporations in existence.
The anger dissolved, first into tears, and then a kind of serenity about simply continuing my work.
With some intention paid, we can be transformed by our anger. We can practice managing its presence within us so that we are not the vessel of this poison, but a filter that becomes a remedy for the earth.
I recommend laying on the floor.
Ruby Roth is the author of V Is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind , That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things , and Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner Justin Bua and their daughter.
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