They are the vanguard. Climate scholars say that if we are ever to survive a warming planet, people will have to consume far fewer animals than we do now. We will all have to become a little more vegan — and if we are to succeed in that, we will have to start by saluting vegans, not mocking them.

We are nowhere close to that now. In the media, in pop culture and even in progressive, enlightened polite society it is still widely acceptable to make fun of vegans. The stereotype of the smug, self-satisfied, annoying vegan has taken deep cultural root. One survey found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists and immigrants, and are only slightly more tolerated than drug addicts.

It’s true that America’s food industry has recently begun investing heavily in animal-free milks and meats; supermarkets are brimming with bounties of meat alternatives, Burger King is selling an Impossible Whopper, and KFC just announced fake fried chicken wings and nuggets. This is all great news for the planet, yet no one thanks vegans for creating a market for these alternatives. Not even the meat-alternative start-ups themselves, which call themselves “plant-based” and strictly avoid the V-word, perhaps because food industry surveys find that “vegan” is the least appealing label that can be applied to food — worse than “diet” and “sugar-free.”