There are a few sorts of vegans out there. A vegan is “a person who does not eat or use animal products”, but there are two main sorts of veganism - abolitionist and welfarist.
Abolitionist vegans do not believe in anything other than total animal liberation. They take a more “hard line” approach to veganism and do not support animal welfare changes (i.e. laws around battery hen cages and sow crates). The do not support anything less than absolute veganism, and do not support vegetarianism or Meatless Monday approaches.
Welfarist vegans, meanwhile, are a little bit more “lax”, and support animal welfare law changes and a slower movement towards veganism, and support a movement towards a vegetarian diet. PETA and RSPCA are companies that are based on the welfarist approach, and often fight for better conditions in factory farms and slaughter houses.
Personally, I am both welfarist and abolitionist, or somewhere in the middle. Of course I would love for the entire world to already be vegan and save over 150 billion animals a year from torture and slaughter - but I also realise that that dream is not a reality, and probably a long way off happening. The end game is definitely for humans to realise we don’t need animal products to survive, but in the meantime I think it’s important to make sure animals are getting more and more rights and better welfare.
Humans have been eating meat since the beginning of time and is ingrained in tradition. For a lot of people, changing their view point about consuming animal products takes time. It’s fantastic that so many vegan health and animal rights documentaries (like Cowspiracy, What the Health and Food Inc) have come out, so people are being more and more educated on veganism and it’s obvious benefits - with documentaries and information arising, vegetarianism and veganism is on the rise.
In fact, in the past two weeks I have had four seperate people tell me that they have turned vegetarian with the goal of going vegan! Fantastic news! As someone who appreciates that turning vegan isn’t easy for everyone, I love that people are taking a step in the right direction. Which is where an abolitionist and I might have some disagreements.
Abolitionist vegans generally do not approve of anything other than absolute veganism, and often use a more aggressive or scornful approach towards non-vegans- like in that episode of the Simpsons when Jesse rolls his eyes and says, “I’m a level five vegan. I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow” in response to Lisa telling him she’s vegetarian. Lisa looks embarrassed and disappointed in herself, a feeling stemming from feeling like vegetarian is not good enough.
When I first went vegan I was definitely in this category, and would be non-supportive of vegetarianism. Often my conversations about veganism would turn hostile because I was judgemental and not willing to broaden my understanding of how non-vegans felt about a huge lifestyle change.
Over time, even though I am still vegan and still promote veganism above vegetarianism or anything else, I am more encouraging of smaller, slower steps towards eliminating animal products. This is mainly because I have noticed better outcomes of being supportive of family and friends who have turned vegetarian- mostly that is the first step, followed by eliminating wearable animal products, and sometimes going vegan.
I have found that when I would accept nothing less than absolute vegan perfection (abolitionist), people felt more judged and less encouraged to change their diet, and therefore lost the opportunity for forward progress.
I would absolutely rather someone go vegetarian than continue eating meat every day.
Abolitionists would argue that the support of anything less than veganism makes people complacent and less likely to commit fully to veganism. I definitely understand that point, but I disagree and think that if people open their mind to cutting out meat, they will continue to educate themselves and have more of a chance going vegan in the long run. After all, my own vegan journey started by cutting down meat consumption, to going vegetarian, to finally cutting out all animal products- a journey that took me two years.
There's no right or wrong ‘sort’ of vegan, and I truly do think we need both to change the world. Whether you want to take it slow or be strict is completely up to you and what makes you comfortable.
To learn more on both perspectives, here are some useful related links: