Activism and Evangelism: Make Food Not War
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
I don't want to keep referring back to "when I was a young man.." But it looks like I'm going to, regularly. This distillation of lived experiences will continue to direct my musings, and today I'm thinking about my past life as a young evangelical Christian. For many years I belonged to churches for whom 'spreading the word' was a key tenet, I am no longer a member, nor a Christian, nor a believer in anything, that's all water under the bridge and arguments about faith belong elsewhere, so I'll not enter into them, but I remain an evangelical, sort of.
Being young, opinionated, religious and evangelical, naturally I had a tendency to turn into a backside pain by launching into theological debates and telling people where they were in error. I will cut my young self a little slack, I never told anyone they were going to hell, and the most heated arguments were reserved for those members of other churches and 'cults' who should have known better. Even then, I was aware that actions spoke louder than words. In many respects that helped me on the path to the career I later embarked upon. One particular stream of evangelism used in many churches 'The Alpha Course' involved hosting a group of interested people over several weeks and getting them off-guard by treating them to a decent meal and chatting before subjecting them to a talk or video on 'What Does The Bible say?' or some such topic. After a few years I was quite adept at the cooking and hospitality side, and was even catering for church house parties of up to 100 people.
So, I'm instinctively wary of those 'more-vegan-than-thou' animal loving evangelicals who insist that they can define who is truly vegan or merely 'plant-based.' The commandments they live by are obvious to them, but seem obscure to others. Some require that you can't be truly vegan unless you're a fully paid-up placard waving activist, facing up to farmers at the abattoir or handing out leaflets on the high street. Heaven forfend that you inadvertently use some hair product that was not cruelty-free (not my problem of course), or be caught wearing leather, even it was shoes you'd been given and could not refuse. Others demand that ethical veganism be accorded the same respect as any religious belief, but I contend that this elevates religious belief to a rational level at which it does not belong.
I'm not sure of the motivations here. Despite my erstwhile protestations, there is, to quote Lennon, no Hell below us, above us only sky. Yes, veganism is a moral practice, good for the planet, but there is no personal betterment, aside for some possible health benefits, you don't achieve a higher level of being. You're not St. Francis, no animals will express their gratitude to you. You've been a vegan for five years? Thirty years? Good, well done! You might be able to help and advise others, but there's no long service medal, you don't outrank me, you're my comrade. You're efforts today have no more significance than those of yesterday. If you accidentally eat a packet of crisps, and only discover afterwards that the Aldi salt and vinegar crisps contained milk powder (just, why?) you're not going to be damned for all eternity, nor do you have to rewind the clock on your veganism: 'Accident Free For  Days.' You don't become personally liable for the death of a calf, you haven't switched from pacifist to warmonger. In case you're still feeling condemned, I absolve you, like Salieri in the asylum scene, it means nothing, but I hope you feel better.
If I learned anything in all those years doing the Alpha course, running church barbecues, and hosting events, its that it's always better to make friends, but start an argument, and it's easier to make enemies (he says, starting an argument even as he does so). Everytime someone sits down to a vegan meal they wouldn't normally have eaten, global warming slows down just a tiny little bit. An animal may not breathe a sigh of relief, but maybe gets one extra breath. If you have a steady stream of people and 70% of them are vegetarian or omnivorous, then the impact of feeding them vegan food is multiplied. If they like the food, then, even if they never eat vegan again, they'll be slightly more disposed to your point-of-view. If they like it so much they want to try it again, then you've made a friend. A friend will sit down with you and listen to the evangelicals. Even if they don't agree with it, they'll still talk to you, they might come back further down the line. Confronting people with their own violence, or the consequences of their choices, rarely does anything other than push them back into their trenches, from which they will continue to fight. It's the old 'sun and the wind' fable again. I hope I'm the sun, maybe I've persuaded some people, but even if I haven't, I have at least fed more people with vegan hot dinners than some 'activists' have actually had hot dinners (and yes, I realise that doesn't make me any more vegan than them.)