Given the rapid rise of veganism we’ve been seeing lately, which by some accounts has increased by a factor of 10 or more in recent years (at least in the USA), it seems clear that this explosive growth is going to continue for a while.
It stands to reason that many people who aren’t vegan today eventually will go vegan, perhaps sometime within the next few years.
I’ve had a lot of experience seeing people transition from non-vegan to vegan, including hundreds who’ve emailed or talked to me about this before, during, and/or after their transitions.
I’ve also seen people who’ve been familiar with veganism for years but show no signs of transitioning. This got me curious to ponder more deeply about the differences.
Based on this experience, I’ll share some observations about common differences between future vegans and non-vegans. Technically both groups are non-vegan today, but I use the “future vegan” label to distinguish those who show the telltale signs of someone who’s on their way to eventually becoming vegan.
These are generalizations and predictions based on personal observation, so take them on that basis. You could also read this article to see if you recognize any of the transitional signs within yourself, and then consider whether you think those could be suggesting a personal transition coming up for you.
Moreover, while this article is just about veganism, I think you could also generalize some of these ideas even more and ponder them as advance indicators of other types of transitions, such as signs that someone may be heading for a career or relationship transition.
So here we go…
Curiosity and Engagement
Future vegans engage with the world. They actively look around and observe. They seek information and want to learn new truths, including truths that may upset them. They’re willing to have their realities upended now and then. Veganism sparks their curiosity, so even if they feel resistant at first, they’re also compelled to learn more about it.
Non-vegans don’t engage as much with the world, preferring to stick to the familiar. They don’t read as much about unfamiliar topics. When they spot an alternative lifestyle such as veganism, they don’t feel as curious to learn about it. They figure that if it’s unfamiliar, it’s probably not worth learning about.
Future vegans frequently attract other vegans and vegetarians into their lives, often without deliberately trying to do so. Sometimes it appears that vegans recognize them as kindred spirits, while other times the future vegans appear to be subconsciously taking action that will predictably inject themselves into social spheres where vegans are more abundant, as if the future vegans are courting the influence.
Non-vegans tend not to experience this attraction effect. From their perspective vegans and non-vegans tend to keep to themselves most of the time. If there’s a rise of veganism in the world, they don’t see it happening as much.
Debating About Veganism
One especially common sign of a future vegan is how much they like to debate and argue with vegans. It’s part of the process of working through their objections and resistance to going through the transition for themselves. To get good at debating this topic, they also have to learn more and more about veganism, which invites them deeper into the rabbit hole and eventually plays a role in convincing them to go for it.
Non-vegans generally don’t care to debate about veganism, and they aren’t very good at it anyway due to lacking the knowledge, experience, and curiosity to fully participate. If they do engage, you’ll usually find them being emotionally dismissive, raising one or two easily countered objections and then opting out, or they’ll just quote the Bible and leave it at that. They don’t really see the point in debating when their minds are already made up. Some will object to the whole notion of a debate happening at all while they’re around.
Dabbling in Veganism
Future vegans tend to dabble and dance with aspects of veganism or vegetarianism, often for years, before transitioning. Many will buy appliances that are much loved in the vegan community, such as a Vita-Mix. Some will apologetically say they like to eat “rabbit food” now and then, or they may feel increasingly drawn to plant foods like salads and green smoothies. They may go to vegan restaurants or a vegan event, or they’ll buy a vegan cookbook and try out some recipes. Some will catch themselves watching documentaries about factory farming. There are telltale signs of progressive investment. In fact, the non-vegans in their lives will often recognize these leanings (and often try to dissuade the future vegan) before the future vegan consciously recognizes where they’re heading.
Non-vegans tend not to experiment or lean in this direction. They don’t even want to try it or test it. It’s not something they perceive as worthwhile or interesting, not even around the edges. It’s a complete non-starter for them.
Future ethical vegans value caring and regard compassion as a quality to be developed. They generally like the idea of becoming more compassionate and see it as a worthwhile direction of character growth. This eventually leads them to question how they’re contributing to the treatment of animals, and they start thinking about how this relationship could be improved. They may also begin to care more about the planet and question how their diet and lifestyle aligns with caring.
Non-vegans tend to have more static views of caring. It’s not a quality they desire to extend and further develop beyond a certain framework. They tend to have hard edges around their boxes of caring, frequently enforced by religious views. It’s pretty rare to see signs that they have any interest in becoming more caring or compassionate towards animals, let alone towards human beings from different cultures.
Future vegans value their ability to think and choose for themselves. They prefer to make their own choices regardless of what other people may think, sometimes going with the grain of society and sometimes going against it. Making a choice to go vegan often requires a strong independent will that puts following one’s own intellect above obedience to others’ demands or expectations.
Non-vegans tend to be more conformist and obedient to the will of others. They’re more deferential to authority. Many have been conditioned against independent thought, especially with heavy religious conditioning. They fall back on rules and frames taught by others about the role of animals, such as by repeating the story that animals were created to serve humans. They regard their loyalty to the old rules and stories as being more important than independent choice.
Going vegan requires courage. This isn’t so much about bravery though. It has more to do with heart-alignment and following one’s deeper feelings, even when the road ahead isn’t clear. When someone demonstrates courage in other areas of life, such as by summoning the courage to leave a misaligned job or relationship to pursue something better, that’s a good indicator that the person may be inclined to eventually use such courage to explore veganism as well.
Non-vegans tend to be more risk averse and conservative, preferring to maintain the status quo instead of exploring the unknown to seek significant gains. Their fears, worries, and concerns speak to them more viscerally than the voice of courage.
Future vegans are interested in growth, and they understand that growth is about creating improvement, not about achieving perfection. Veganism isn’t a perfect diet or lifestyle, but it is a significant improvement for many people and certainly for animals and the environment, and this positive step forward is good enough for future vegans to regard the transition as worth pursuing. Future vegans eventually recognize that progressing to the problems of veganism is a graduation of sorts from the problems of being non-vegan.
Non-vegans tend to be more static and absolutist in their thinking. All they need is to identify one potential flaw or objection (usually a heavily debunked one) to dismiss veganism outright, even as their current lifestyle has many more flaws. They rationalize that getting enough of X, Y, and Z nutrients as a vegan would somehow be a dealbreaker problem while overlooking more severe problems linked to their lifestyle, such as high rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. A key pattern is that non-vegans tend to look for reasons not to change while future vegans frequently look for reasons to change.
Future vegans value internal alignment in their thoughts, feelings, and mental models of the world. They dislike cognitive dissonance and want to resolve certain questions. They acknowledge that treating animals as products is not a satisfying solution, and they seek better answers to the questions of how to eat and live.
Non-vegans are more tolerant of cognitive dissonance. They can handle frames that are too misaligned for a future vegan to hold. Alignment is not such a big deal to non-vegans because they value other aspects of life more highly, such as obedience to authority.
Many future vegans reach the point where going vegan starts to feel inevitable. They’ve already decided that they’ll eventually do it. They’re just figuring out how to make it practical for them. For some people there’s a lot to adjust in terms of diet, lifestyle, and social life, and they want extra time to come to terms with this.
Non-vegans of course never reach this point of inevitability. They’re more likely to see it as inevitable that humans dominate animals, which also leads to other inevitable conclusions like humans dominating other humans. They’re more likely to frame diet and lifestyle as being chosen for them rather than something they get to choose.
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There are other factors too, so please don’t consider this an exhaustive list, but the ones I included here are some of the main ones that pop out. It’s really the combined weight of multiple factors that matters. Many future vegans will only show a few telltale signs before they transition, but they’ll be important indicators of investment.
If you recognize some of the future vegan patterns within yourself, you might enjoy reading the very thorough article called How to Be Vegan, which I wrote in 2015. It’s not about how to transition per se. It’s about what it’s actually like to be a long-term vegan, and it’s rich in details that you aren’t likely to find elsewhere. It will inform you about lifestyle aspects you may not have even thought about yet. It’s also the longest article I’ve ever written, long enough that if you actually read the whole thing, that’s another hint and a half that you’re heading for a transition.
I’m currently in my 24th consecutive year of being vegan. Before I transitioned in January 1997, I have to admit that I also showed many (but not all) of the telltale signs that I was heading in this direction, such as buying a Vita-Mix about two years prior and testing recipes from some vegan cookbooks. I also had the inevitability sign, knowing that I was eventually going to transition many months before I finally did it. It was only a matter of when.