It must have been about six years ago that I made the switch from a vegetarian to a vegan (all plant-based) diet. My goals were: to eat (even) healthier, reduce my environmental impact and reduce animal suffering. As for the latter, my dietary adjustment probably caused more suffering than it prevented(!)
I read “Toward a Vegan World” by Tobias Leenaert. This is a book I can recommend to anyone interested in following a plant-based diet. A book cannot be summarized in a few sentences, so let me stick to a statement that immediately struck me: “a consistent vegan diet is overrated”. If reducing animal suffering is a priority of yours then you can actually have more impact by influencing those around you to consume less meat and fish than you can by eating a flawless plant-based diet yourself. The visibility of 100% consistent vegans leads to aversion rather than enticement of others who may have been willing to make an effort to consume less animal products. I wonder how many people see me and think “there’s that vegan again.. just leave me alone!”.
On top of that, 43% of ex-vegans/vegetarians indicate that it was too difficult to be “pure”. Many of them then return to their old diet full of animal products. In essence: the rigid “all or nothing” principle leads to more animal suffering than a more flexible approach towards non-vegans.
I find this approach a breath of fresh air. I realize how critical and rigid I appear when I eat at my parents’ house who try so hard to cook plant-based meals but momentarily forgot what was in pesto. Or my preaching to colleagues about the meat in their snacks at the bar. All in all, it’s pretty ineffective.
At the same time, I recognize how difficult it is at times to be 100% consistent. There are times when I cheat: because a Berliner donut is an essential part of New Year’s Eve, or because my coconut bread turned out to contain offal. The other day I craved a cheese stick during a reception with no vegan options. I ended up eating the snack in secret, as inconspicuously as possible, guilt-ridden. I now try to remember that this guilt does not serve me and certainly does not benefit the animals. The trick is not to contribute to the crazed, fanatic impression of plant-based eating. It is more effective to be gentle towards yourself and others. With kindness we can entice more people to reduce suffering with their diet.