image courtesy of the one and only Dave Warwak.
As a journalist, I’m not ashamed to admit that crazy vegans make for really fun news stories. But as a vegan, I sometimes have trouble reading past the headlines.
For the last few weeks I’ve watched the drama around school teacher and loudly proclaimed vegan Dave Warwak play out in Google News. In a soy nutshell (if you, too, winced at those headlines): Warwak, 44, went on a personal mission to convert the students in his art classes at Wisconsin’s Fox River Grove Middle School to veganism. As soon as the news hit the papes, Warwak was fired.
I don’t doubt that Warwak meant well. He just went vegan(gelical) in January, he’s used to molding impressionable young minds, and he probably thought he was doing the right thing. Tactless proselytizing looks much better from the inside–just like for religious teachers who’ve similarly been fired for leading prayers in class.
It’s not totally the media’s fault for characterizing people such as Warwak and the countless irresponsible “vegan” parents as vegan first and crazy second: that’s how they portray themselves. And when the vegan community stays quiet in implicit support it only makes it easier for the next crazy vegan to run with their unfounded moral righteousness. Even worse when they’re loud, misinformed and on the offensive defensive.
Vegans across the country have taken up Warwak’s “cause”–the same Warwak who just crashed the middle school homecoming parade, and handed out cards that said Santa Claus “is a lie,” and, “‘Naming a rock, a banana, does not make it food.’” Clearly he teaches art, not English.
Yet Warwak champions are popping up everywhere, from PETA (“Sound the alarm!”), to Meetup.org groups in Chicago, to Manhattan activist-bloggers.
Take Elaine Vigneault, for example.
“It’s yet another example of how vegans are painted as ‘crazy’ and our ideas are not taken seriously,” she writes. Unfortunately for Elaine, a lot of us are crazy: bat-shit, balls-to-the-wall, all-out freaking crazy. And the less that reasonable vegans differentiate themselves from the crazies, the more the entire world will go on believing that we are humorless ascetics.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, however, the humorless ascetics appear to be winning. Elaine says vegans “should be rude and obnoxious,” because we are the enlightened, and should spread our wisdom among the evil-doing masses. Well, that’s basically what she says. “Needlessly killing millions of animals is far beyond rude and obnoxious… And people who do it, people who promote it, and people who buy it deserve a little dose of the uncomfortable, rude reality.”
I guess that’s why not a lot of religious extremists hold teaching positions in public American schools, right? Because the uncomfortable, rude reality is just too tempting? Elaine claims Mr. Warwak didn’t have “some vegan cult he was recruiting for,” but when this kind of obnoxious attitude prevails, and the preaching continues, and converting the damned and absolving them of their sins is priority #1, that’s not truly the case. It just gives people more reason to block out, marginalize, alienate and fire the crazy.
You have to give people a reason to take your ideas seriously, especially if you’re challenging their entire paradigm. I don’t know one vegan who chose “the lifestyle” because they saw a disgusting PETA video or were yelled at for wearing leather. Making friends and influencing people is not about breaking them down. This isn’t a debate about animal rights or veganism: it’s about being a responsible, non-crazy adult.
And it’s also about not taking yourself so seriously. Because really, I for one think Warwak, PETA, Vigneault and the rest of the gang are hilarious.