It’s crucial for the spread of veganism that vegans be visible, and that they bring attention to their veganism in appropriate ways that foster polite and informative discussions. Most importantly veganism should never be depicted as difficult or extreme, or as anything less than a moral and political commitment to non-violent living.
One way of being visible is to wear vegan message tee shirts. I have two such shirts and am planning to purchase a couple more in the near future. I liked both shirts very much when I ordered them a couple years ago, but since then as my thinking about animal rights and veganism has evolved, I’ve come to see them differently.
One of the shirts has the word “vegan,” followed by this dictionary definition of the term: ‘vê·gən\ (noun): a person who abstains from consuming or using animal-derived foods or products, including meat, dairy, eggs, fur, leather, wool, etc. While this definition is technically correct, I have a couple of problems with it.
First, it’s incomplete by failing to describe veganism as a moral and political commitment to non-violence. One thing that needs to be clearly understood is that non-violence is the basis of veganism.
Secondly, the word “abstains” may imply to many people that being a vegan requires substantial sacrifice or deprivation. But as a vegan, I don’t feel that I’m abstaining from anything. Sure there were some things I initially missed. But the food I eat and drink is still tasty, and the few changes I needed to make to my clothing, footwear and other products I use in no way reduced their quality. While I still frequently wear this shirt in public, I don’t like it as much as I used to.
The other shirt has the message “PROUD TO BE A VEGAN.” I no longer like this shirt and no longer wear it outside the house. Veganism represents the minimum standard required to fulfill our moral obligations to other sentient beings. It’s not something heroic or above and beyond what should be expected of the individual, any more so than not littering, not being a racist, or not being rude. These are all examples of basic standards of decency, or what we owe each other every day. They are not things to be proud of, nor are they things that warrant more attention paid to the individuals carrying them out than to the issue itself.
There’s one vegan message item of mine that I really do like. It’s a coffee mug that I used at my last office job that has the single word “vegan.” It’s a great conversation starter. Often short and simple messages work the best.