What does it mean to be a “militant vegan,” as opposed to a regular vegan? In my 10+ years as a vegan, I’ve seen the term used to refer to different things. Usually, “militant vegan” is used in a negative way to label vegans who are more aggressive in their activism.
Many sources online take a hard stance about “militant vegans,” either criticizing or defending them. In this article, I hope to present a nuanced view of the term “militant vegan” and the debates surrounding it. I’ll summarize the different viewpoints and add my own thoughts.
Definition of Militant Vegan
A militant vegan is someone who passionately believes in vegan ethics and uses aggressive tactics to get others to go vegan. What counts as “aggressive” and whether it’s a problem are debated. Some people say the term “militant vegan” is just used to shame ethical vegans who speak up at all.
The Meaning of “Militant” in “Militant Vegan”
For many people, the term “militant” suggests combat and, specifically, it hints that there is violence involved. But “militant” can also refer simply to being organized and coordinated in an activist group.
In that latter view, militant simply means coordinating with your fellow activists in a way that can be depended upon.
That is, you don’t just post a whiny Facebook post when you feel upset. You actually show up to the protests, consistently, and you bring signs for everyone to hold. You make a plan, and you follow the plan.
Another way to think about: Militant vegans are the equivalent to religious fundamentalists, but for veganism. They’re the ones who really take the ideas seriously, apply them strictly, and try to spread them far and wide.
Other words used to describe militant vegans might be “pushy,” “obnoxious,” or “intimidating.”
Given that “militant” can mean different things, we should accept that “militant vegan” is going to mean different things to different people. So let’s just look at some examples of what is called militant veganism.
Examples of Militant Veganism
There is a spectrum of beliefs and behaviors that might fall under the umbrella of “militant veganism.”
To prepare for this article, I read a bunch of articles about “militant vegans,” and all the following behaviors were cited as militant.
Most people would agree that some of these are “more militant” than others.
Examples of being a militant vegan:
• Vandalizing a butcher shop.
• Breaking into factory farms to free the animals.
• Occupying a non-vegan restaurant, chanting or holding signs to promote veganism.
• Yelling at or harassing people for their involvement in non-vegan industries.
• Expressing that you’re grossed out by someone’s meat-based meal (saying “ew”).
• Using the words “rape,” “murder,” “slavery,” or “holocaust” to describe animal agriculture.
• Showing graphic images and videos from factory farms and slaughterhouses to convince people to go vegan.
• Feeding your dog or cat a vegan diet.
• Not supporting a mostly-vegan product because animals were still used in some way in its production or it was tested on animals.
• Being grossed out when people use your kitchen utensils with non-vegan food.
• Using guilt as your main rhetorical tool to convince people to go vegan.
• Being an “abolitionist vegan” whose only message is to go fully vegan.
• Having the end goal of a completely vegan world.
• Thinking you’re morally superior to non-vegans.
• “Imposing your diet on others” (trying to get others not to eat animal products).
You’ll notice that some of these examples of militant veganism are actually intrusive and combative. Other examples are merely about having a strict definition of veganism and wanting others to also become vegan.
It should be noted that, for all the talk of “militant veganism,” I haven’t seen any reports of vegans using violence toward other human beings as part of their activism.
Even in the case of vandalizing property, which is at the extreme end of vegan activism, so-called “militant vegans” are still not committing violence toward people from what I’ve seen.
What’s the Problem with Being a “Militant Vegan”?
There are criticisms of militant vegans both from outside the vegan movement and from inside the vegan movement.
The non-vegans who dislike militant vegans are usually just annoyed by them. They find them obnoxious, self-righteous, preachy, and pushy. They don’t like being guilt-tripped or inconvenienced by them. In some cases, they even feel legitimately threatened.
The fellow vegans who dislike militant vegans usually oppose militant tactics because they think they’re ineffective at convincing others to go vegan. The usual argument is that militant tactics can alienate people from veganism. It pushes them further away.
Think about it: If you’re getting yelled at by someone for what you’re eating, is that likely to actually persuade you to change your diet? Are you likely to respect the viewpoints and ethics of a person who is yelling at you, vilifying you, or trying to guilt-trip you?
I definitely see the point of those critics of militant veganism. There are many instances of militant vegan activism that frankly can’t possibly be effective.
Some non-vegans will even push back against militant vegan activism, saying things like, “I’m going to eat two animals for every animal you don’t eat!”
Do You Want Your Vegan Activism to Bring Guilt, Vilification, and Antagonism into the World?
Going vegan is potentially a very positive message. A vegan diet can sometimes completely transform your health and change your life for the better. So why does promoting it need to rely on guilt-tripping and vilifying people?
Most of us weren’t born vegan. So we know what it’s like to be uninformed about animal agriculture and other animal rights issues.
Shouldn’t we be able to have compassion for meat-eaters, and even for animal farmers, hunters, or leaders in non-vegan industries?
Shouldn’t we extend our compassion to those people who stand opposed to veganism, even the animal farmers and dedicated opponents of vegan ideas? Do they actually intend to cause harm, or are they just doing what they believe is right at this point?
I think it’s okay to make passionate emotional and ethical appeals in promoting veganism, and I think it can be appropriate for people to feel guilty for their involvement in a violent industry. But personally, I want to keep a certain level of understanding and intellectual integrity in my messages.
I know that most non-vegans are well-intentioned people. I also know from experience that people can be convinced to go vegan without being yelled at. So personally, I tend not to choose the most aggressive tactics.
All that said, something also makes me want to defend so-called “militant vegans.” I do think they have a right to believe what they believe and make efforts to spread their message.
Is “Militant Vegan” Just a Term Used to Silence Vegans?
Sometimes, when I read articles about the problem with “militant vegans,” I do think the writer of the article just doesn’t want vegans to ever speak up about animal rights or being vegan, ever.
I’ve seen many situations where a meat-eater accuses a vegan of being “holier-than-thou” or “shoving it down their throat” even when the vegan barely said anything at all.
These people don’t only have a problem with militant vegans—they have a problem with ethical vegans, period.
Maybe these people feel guilty about the fact that they eat meat. Maybe they have some insecurity about whether they’re a good person. So they feel attacked or criticized when a vegan even walks into the room.
Being an Ethical Vegan Is Not an Extremist Position
If you’re vegan for ethical reasons, it makes sense that you may feel passionate about it. To be honest, animals are dying horrific, violent, painful deaths in factory farms, scientific laboratories, and elsewhere in society every day.
So is it really unreasonable to talk about it passionately sometimes? Is it unreasonable to be willing to show up to a protest about it? Is it unreasonable to organize such a protest, or take time handing out leaflets about it?
It shouldn’t be seen as “extremist” just to passionately oppose what happens to animals every day in this society.
It’s Okay to Try to Convince Other People to Go Vegan
Most people in our society go about their lives trying to completely ignore the fact that their food used to be a sentient animal. So it makes sense that ethical vegans wouldn’t just be completely silent about it.
It makes sense that being an ethical vegan would include getting other people to look at the gross conditions of factory farms.
Some people seem to think that using graphic photos and videos from factory farms makes you a militant vegan. They say you’re “guilt-tripping” people with those images. But I say: All we’re doing is showing you documentation of what is really happening.
I can agree that yelling “murderer” at non-vegans may be excessive (and counterproductive)—but you should be allowed to show pictures and video of what’s really happening.
If you believe that killing animals is wrong, and you want less of that wrong thing to happen, it completely makes sense that you would try to stop it. So it makes sense that you would try to convince others to go vegan. There is nothing wrong with that.
It’s Okay to Believe in a Strict Idea of Veganism
Some of the examples of “militant veganism” I collected above are just things you’d do if you have a strict idea of what veganism means and how people should implement it in their lives. This might also be defined as being a “hardline vegan.”
One article I read was using the term “militant vegan” interchangeably with “abolitionist vegan.”
An abolitionist vegan is someone who believes in achieving a vegan world—that is, abolishing all forms of animal use by humans. The strategy used by abolitionist vegans is to advocate for full veganism, as well as for legally changing the property status of animals.
Abolitionist vegans aren’t satisfied with people eating less meat or eating free-range, “humane” meat. They actually oppose a lot of those solutions because they think it might make people less likely to go fully vegan.
Whether or not you are an abolitionist yourself, abolitionist vegans do have a consistent ethical belief. They believe the property status of animals and the use of animals as resources is unethical, regardless of how well the animals are treated.
The criticism made against abolitionist vegans is that their messaging could turn people off from even taking a small step like eating less meat.
It’s like abstinence-only sex education, critics argue. If teens are told they shouldn’t have sex at all, they’re more likely to reject that message than a message about having safe sex. Similarly, if people are told they must go fully vegan, they’re more likely to reject it and go in the opposite direction.
Personally, on this website, I write in more relaxed terms about veganism. I believe it’s your choice how flexible you want to be about your vegan diet. But that includes the fact that I think it’s okay to be strict if that’s what you believe in.
I think abolitionist vegans should be compassionate and understanding toward non-vegans. But if you believe in a specific vegan philosophy, you shouldn’t feel like you have to water down your message. Tell it straight.
My only note to the more militant vegans would be to understand that not everyone will agree with you or see your view right away. And that doesn’t make them bad people.
From my experience, people just have different experiences informing their view of things. So try to take the high road as far as not vilifying people.
It’s Okay to Be a “Health Nut” Vegan
I also hear criticisms of vegans going “too far” into healthy eating. They are accused of having an eating disorder called “orthorexia.” (I wrote about this in my article “No, Veganism Is Not an Eating Disorder.”)
Some vegans refuse to eat any refined oils. Some vegans refuse to eat any refined sugar. Some vegans don’t eat cooked food. This is all fine!
It’s your diet. It’s your body, and it’s your life.
You can decide for yourself if you want to follow one of these “extreme” diets. The “whole-food plant-based” (WFPB) diet has received a lot of positive attention over the past few years, and for good reason.
Of course, you should do your research, hear what the critics’ concerns are, and take care of yourself. But don’t be pressured into conforming to what other people think is reasonable.
It’s Okay to Be Grossed Out by Meat
I think most people who have been vegan for a long time start to feel grossed out by people cooking meat on their kitchen pans and stuff like that.
Is it rude to say “ew” when someone is eating meat in front of you? Yeah. I wouldn’t do it. But it’s also rude that an animal was caged and killed to produce that meat. So I’m hesitant to say that the so-called militant vegan saying “ew” is such a bad person in that case.
So What Does “Militant Vegan” Really Mean?
“Militant vegan” is typically used negatively, as a way to criticize passionate, ethical vegans. Sometimes it refers to vegans who carry out the most aggressive forms of vegan activism, such as vandalism. But it also sometimes gets used to refer to any ethical vegan trying to spread their ideas to others.
The critics of “militant veganism” may have a point: The most aggressive tactics often create anti-vegan sentiment, pushing some people away from veganism.
How to Actually Have an Impact as a Vegan
In my experience, the following three things are the most important components of convincing someone to go vegan in a way that has a good chance of long-term impact:
- Providing positive examples of how being vegan can make life better (weight loss, blood pressure, etc).
- Helping them see that vegan-friendly foods are accessible nearby, how to find them, having vegan friends.
- Giving them a visceral understanding of the bad impacts of animal agriculture and other animal use.
Many militant vegans maybe focus too much only on the third point. They just hammer that point repeatedly and in the most aggressive ways. But it is only one important part of the equation if you want people to commit to a vegan lifestyle long term.
In the end, don’t allow someone to shame you with the term “militant vegan.” Just be mindful of which tactics you’re choosing, and try to choose the ones most likely to actually cause the end result that you want.
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