by Lindsay Wong
Cultural Differences Regarding Veganism
Veganism has been around for a long time, but what started off as a predominantly hippy movement became a trendy hipster lifestyle that has now morphed into this strange form of extremist cult. Vegans are now vocal and outspoken about their reasons for choosing this plant-based diet that does not include any animal products. Extremist vegans are also infamous for enforcing their ideology onto others in an aggressive manner in the West, but why is this not the case in Asia?
Veganism in the West
The vegan culture has a greater link with their ideology rather than religion in the West, resulting in a stronger backlash against vegans. Many outspoken vegans preach about animal cruelty and environmentalism in an aggressive and condescending manner in order to enforce their ideology, creating a distaste and bad reputation for the community as a whole. In France, extremist vegans go to the extent of terrorising butchers, leading the latter to seek help from the government.
In a study conducted by researchers Cara MacInnis and Gordon Hodson in the U.S., vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants and homosexuals. Some people even choose not to be vegan anymore because of its toxic culture, not the diet. In many cases, veganism is also associated with political connotations, which have led people to take a strong stance either for or against it. For example, veganism apparently fits in with left-wing politics.
Veganism is also heavily promoted in the West, ranging from mundane endorsements via celebrities like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth and bustling vegan night markets in the heart of London, to extreme means where protests turn violent as butchers are terrorised by extremist vegans.
Meanwhile, in Australia, don’t be surprised if you come across crowds of vegan protesters in Melbourne’s CBD who wear all-black outfits and scary white masks while holding TVs that show graphic contents of animals getting slaughtered for meat. They stand in a circle right in the middle of the sidewalk, and will sometimes stop random pedestrians to try to persuade them to be vegan. As an international student there, this has both shocked and scared me, and now I avoid them at all costs.
Veganism in the East
Being vegan in Asia is less of a big deal than in the West since some Asians are already vegans (or vegetarians) because of religious reasons. The Hindu diet is purely vegetarian, but the Buddhist diet is basically vegan since it does not include any dairy products. Besides religion, there are also Asians who choose to be vegan for health reasons or ethical concerns. For example, Nadiah Lim became vegan in order to lose weight, but now she does it for animal welfare reasons.
Since a large population already adopts a vegan or vegetarian diet, vegans in Asia are unlikely to receive the same backlash that they otherwise would receive in the West. Furthermore, there are rarely any public protests regarding meat-eating on the streets of Asia, since Asians are less vocal about their diet choices in public.
Veganism in Singapore
The ‘Western’ vegan wave has definitely caught on in Singapore, which was named the second most friendly vegan city in Asia in 2016. According to the HappyCow app, there are over 500 restaurants in Singapore that offer vegan options as well as purely vegan restaurants, like VeganBurg, Green Dot, NomVnom, VegCafe, The Vegan Bowl, Loving Hut and Brownice. Many of these restaurants serve vegan versions of dishes that aren’t your typical Buddhist veggie cuisine. In addition, supermarkets now have vegan options and some food courts have vegan food stalls. Even though the vegan population in Singapore is still relatively small (there are less than 200 people in the Vegetarian Society Singapore’s support group on Whatsapp), there is no doubt that veganism is catching on.
People’s attitudes towards veganism greatly differs across cultures because of its perception in different parts of the world. As toxic veganism becomes more prevalent across the world, perceptions of vegans are likely to evolve as well and maybe even influence how Singaporeans address veganism.