As a vegan, I confront this notion often. Of course, no one directly asks it, but a variety of reactions ranging from "I don't eat meat that often" to "I respect your choice but could never do it myself" often imply some level of perceived judgment.
I'm sure there are some vegans out there who judge people who eat meat. But the vast majority of vegans I've met are quite soft-spoken, and in fact, worry that their lifestyle will create tension in relationships. Nonetheless, vegans aren't a homogeneous group, so I'll simply speak from my own experience.
If I were to judge people who eat meat, I would be judging some of my most cherished friends and family members, as well as myself for 20 years. I also don't believe that our character should (or can) be defined so simplistically. No one is simply, a "vegan" or a "meat-eater" but is rather a complex person with innumerable identities (e.g. "father", "pet-owner," "artist," "student" etc.).
Admittedly, I often feel sadness about the atrocities of animal agriculture and factory farming. However, these feelings are directed at a system in which we grow up disconnected from the source of our food, and the impact of our food choices.
In my high school "Earth Team," we learned to save water with shorter showers, gas with carpooling, and electricity by turning off the lights. We never learned about the effects of agriculture on the environment. Filming what happens in factory farms is still illegal in some states ("ag-gag laws"). We're simply not raised in a culture that teaches us to connect with our daily decisions, and as social creatures, our culture has an enormous influence on our actions.
My deepest hope is for people to see eating vegan and vegetarian meals as a powerful tool to effect positive change in the world—for the planet, the animals, and perhaps their health. I want people to see veganism as a powerful tool for change, not a marker of moral character. I want veganism to be an inviting movement that everyone can take part in.
Unfortunately, if simply existing as a vegan leads people to perceive judgment, then speaking about issues can lead to heightened feelings of judgment. Part of me believes that any advocacy approach (regardless of the issue and presentation style), will lead some people to feel judged. But perhaps advocacy work needs to be more explicit in turning a critical eye to a system, and not the character of people. An approach that aims to shame someone is not okay, and undermines the very compassion that the movement strives to promote.
I know some people strongly endorse a more direct advocacy approach, while others strongly endorse a more indirect approach, in which people don't mention lifestyle choices unless explicitly asked. Perhaps a movement will only gain momentum with a variety of approaches—the presentation of straight-up information for people who value a "no bullshit approach," and the subtle "leading silently and by example" approach for people who are off-put by a "no bullshit approach". I've agonized over finding the 'perfect' balance of proactively spreading information, but also not upsetting people.
I don't think a perfect balance exists, and at the same time, I think it's important to strive for continually more compassionate communication. I hope that with compassionate communication people will see the pure intent of the vegan movement, and feel invited to join in, in whatever way they personally can.
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