A phobia is defined as “an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation.” Today, I am coining the term “veganphobia” to describe the irrational and excessive fear of veganism that I so often see.
Veganphobia is, of course, not a medically-recognized phobia, but is an irrational fear and opposition to veganism from those who have not researched or considered the issue.
Veganphobia manifests itself in myriad ways.
When someone tells friends that they have gone vegan, a common response is, “Don’t plants have feelings?” The person is not concerned about plants or they would have researched the issue and found that, even if you believe plants have feelings, veganism saves plants. As Carol Adams points out, the sudden presence of a vegan defines others in the room as meat-eaters, and the only way they can deal with that is to try to point out problems with veganism.
While the idea of someone being fearful of vegans may seem comical, the opposition to veganism is a real part of life that vegans have to deal with on a daily basis.
For example, an NBC News headline reads, “Vegan couple sentenced to life over baby’s death.” The baby starved to death due to neglect. This case had nothing to do with veganism. Even the prosecutor said that veganism was “not the issue in this case . . . The child died because he was not fed. Period.” The fact that the parents were vegan was irrelevant, but the headline points it out as if it were relevant. One would not expect a headline to read, “Christian couple kills baby” or “Tall couple kills baby” unless the couple’s religion or height were relevant to the baby’s death.
Conversely, we never see a headline that reads, “Meat-Eater dies of heart attack,” even though the meat eating probably was relevant to the cause of death. This is an example of privilege. There are many types of privilege, including those based on gender, religion, race, or sexuality. Privilege is about being a member of the group in power and rarely having one’s choices or presence questioned. In this case, the meat-eater’s privilege means rarely, if ever, having one’s dietary choices questioned, while vegans are constantly questioned and berated by friends, family and strangers who know little, if anything, about veganism. They certainly don’t know that the American Dietetic Association supports vegan diets, or that the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School say that a diet high in dairy products does not protect against osteoporosis and is actually harmful.
Causes of Veganphobia
The main causes of veganphobia are cultural conditioning, fear of the unknown and denial. Since most people are raised consuming animal products and learning that we should eat animal products (because USDA recommendations are heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists), our cultural conditioning tells us that eating meat, eggs and dairy are normal and healthy. Fear of the unknown is also a powerful force as well as a medically recognized phobia – cenophobia. People often fear what they don’t understand, but when that fear is excessive, it can be dangerous. Denial can also be very powerful, although someone in denial often doesn’t know it. They want to protect their world and their perception of the world, because if veganism is healthy or even better for the environment and for people, they will have to rethink their own diets. And most people don’t like to change their diets or think about things like animal suffering, cholesterol, desertification or climate change.
No one is suggesting that veganphobia be medically recognized as a type of phobia, nor is anyone suggesting that people who oppose veganism have a psychiatric condition. But many people do have an irrational fear and opposition to veganism that acts as a constant source of stress and conflict for vegans and a barrier to seriously considering veganism as a way to save animals, protect the environment and improve human health.