…..don’t worry they will tell you, is the suggestion on a popular meme often shared on social media. Contrary to this rather amusing, and not in the least bit outworn little joke it’s not actually the first thing we say when we introduce ourselves. Just like ‘normal’ people we are inclined to offer our name rather than our dietary or lifestyle information.
You are also unlikely to be able to ‘spot the vegan’ in a group of people. Whilst some of us do indeed wear combat trousers, t-shirts sporting animal rights slogans, have piercings and dreadlocks just as many of us don’t. We don’t all live in squats, exist entirely on lentils or look undernourished. We are in fact as diverse as any group of omnivores. Often the only thing we have in common with each other is our abstinence from any animal product and our desire to live in a more compassionate world.
Vegans are so preachy!
It’s true that we speak out about it, but only in the same way than anyone will speak out about something they feel is an injustice. We don’t offer the information to appear ‘preachy’ or so we may adopt a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. We offer the information because it’s that same information that made us realise that the picture the industry shows us of happy animals on friendly green farms isn’t exactly the whole truth. We try to give others those facts that made us see what a terrible impact animal agriculture was having on our environment. We have done the research on the health benefits, know the difference it has made it our own lives and want others to be able to benefit from this too. We don’t want to make anyone feel bad about their dietary choices, we don’t want to ‘guilt trip’ people, we just want people to think about what they have been raised to accept as normal and entertain the possibility that there might be a better alternative.
Why are you all so angry?
After the initial phase of ‘vegan shyness’ where I would stick to being a dairy and egg intolerant vegetarian when trying to order food, or even the more acceptable ‘I just don’t like the taste’, where I was following a ‘plant based diet’ for health reasons or giving veganism a trial as a challenge, I got angry.
I got angry at the cruelty of the meat, dairy and egg industries. I got angry at the endless advertising on television for animal products, showing happy families smiling at each other whilst they cut bits off a dead lamb. I got angry at all the women wearing cosmetics from companies that still test on animals and I got angry at anybody who seemed to know the facts and still supported the industry.
Truthfully it’s hard not to be angry, outraged even when you have suddenly become aware that cows don’t actually need to be milked. That it is us paying for them to be artificially inseminated time and time again until they are too old to be of use to the industry. That we are the ones who vote with our pockets for their newborn calves to be dragged away so we can consume the milk that nature intended for their babies. That our desire to eat eggs means thousands of male chicks are killed every day as they are no use to the egg producers. That even something as innocent and natural as honey produced on a mass scale means bees being fatally injured. It’s hard not to be angry when you realise that we don’t actually need any of these things in our diet.
I didn’t take me long however to understand that my anger wasn’t making any difference to anyone but me. It can be a great tool for giving you the drive you need to bring about change. To get out and participate in outreach projects, to write to companies or to be pro active in any number of ways that will help raise awareness and educate. Used directly against those who are living their lives in the way that most of us were a few years ago, it does little except to cement their resolve that we are a bunch of aggressive weirdos!
What about human rights?
‘You vegans care more about animals than you do about people’. As a general rule, no. Fighting for one cause doesn’t immediately exclude you from supporting another. I personally believe there is a very strong link between the way we treat our fellow-man and the way we treat those of another species. I feel that until we can learn to treat those completely at our mercy with kindness and respect we are still perpetuating the belief that some of us are better than others and that we should have control over their lives. The comparison some draw between slavery, the way women were viewed in the past and the way we treat animals is often frowned upon but we cannot deny that these forms of oppression were once viewed as normal and the notion that one day both these groups would be treated equally was absurd.
There is more and more evidence coming to light that show us animals are not only intelligent, feeling beings but have complex social structures, can use tools and solve puzzles. I believe this has only touched upon the surface and as we look deeper we will get to the point that we can no longer deny that our animal cousins have every right to be treated with respect and no longer seen as something that exists solely for our own use.
How can you call yourself a vegan and still drive a car….
…or use a phone, pc, tablet or any of the items that are generally accepted as being part of our everyday lives. It would be ideal to live in a world where we had the option not to use anything that was ever tested on an animal or contained any product of animal origin, at present that isn’t a choice we have. Whilst we can of course make informed and better decisions when it comes to motoring and technology, a car without leather seats or trims and vegan tyres or buy from a company whose ethics sit more closely to our own, right now our choices are very limited.
So why don’t we stop using our cars, pcs and phones, I mean surely if we were really dedicated vegans we would, right? There is no denying that it’s a valid point to which there is no simple answer. Something however that might go some way to explaining our ethos is the definition of veganism first suggested by Leslie Cross in 1949
“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
The words ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ are very important here. It’s why many of us still wear the leather boots we had before turning vegan, or haven’t replaced all our wool jumpers. It’s why many of us still drive cars and use phones. It wouldn’t be financially viable to replace all the items we had pre vegan and for many of us not using a car, pc or phone would seriously hamper our ability to do our jobs, communicate with family and friends or do any number of activities that have become a part of our daily lives.
But just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. It’s far easier to change your milk from dairy to almond or to buy the cruelty free option when purchasing shampoo, washing up liquid and make up than it is to give up your car. Making conscious and compassionate choices is becoming ever easier when purchasing food, household items and even clothing. If we all start to make those choices which do the least damage, to our bodies, to the other sentient beings with which we share this earth and to the earth itself, then I believe that the positive change we would all like to see is inevitable.
After all, if you could live your life without harming others, why wouldn’t you?