We can be vegan or we can be nonvegan. Some claim that becoming vegan is a journey that they take in steps and I’ve ready many articles about personal ‘journeys’. However, looking at the actions that determine whether or not we are vegan, they are binary. Any prevaricating that we do on the way means simply that we do not understand the desperate urgency of the situation and are making the issue about our selves and our own convenience. It’s not about us at all. Once we truly decide to dissociate ourselves from the hideous violence that members of our species have been taught to accept unquestioningly as the norm, many of us can’t become vegan fast enough.
We do cause needless harm or we don’t cause needless harm. Becoming vegan may be perceived as like a boundary, we’re either on one side or the other, we’re on the side that uses nonhumans or we’re on the side that doesn’t. A switch, is on or it’s off. Some things are just like that. One can’t be a little bit dead or mostly pregnant. One just is, or is not. There’s no progression, no middle ground with a handy fence to sit on, and so it is with veganism.
On making dietary choices
Vegetarianism as defined by the Vegetarian Society, the dietary halfway house claimed by so many to be ‘a step in the right direction’ is in fact yet another affirmation of the deeply ingrained speciesism that affects and infects our culture. Instead of rejecting the concept of other sentient beings being our property, ‘things that belong to us’ to do with as we choose, instead of recognising their right to live lives free of unjustifiable torment and predation, vegetarianism refines our speciesist view to reject only some types of harm and use and disregard the rest. And whilst it is true to say that many vegans are vegetarian before they become vegan, it’s very frequently simply because of lack of information. Once an ‘ethical vegetarian’ becomes aware that what they are doing is not having any significant impact on either the suffering of individual nonhumans or in fact the prevailing cultural view that all beings are ours to use, abuse and destroy on a whim – many become vegan and they can’t do it quickly enough.
As advocates we should always promote veganism as essential, as the very least we can do to recognise and respect other sentient individuals. How people then choose to deal with their ethics is their own business, but we should never confuse the message with the actions taken as a result of that message. If our audience decides that they do not wish to become vegan, that a protracted ‘transition’ is required, or sadly that they are comfortable with the devastating harm they are causing then this is something that individuals must decide for themselves and reconcile with their own conscience.
For some, the realisation that they are causing untold harm makes them become vegan immediately, but for others the realisation is never enough to change the habits of a lifetime and they produce excuses for their continued nonveganism, frequently accusing advocates of ‘judging them’. My own experience is that some of the most aggressive defences of speciesism and exploitation are made by those defending their own continued use of hens for eggs, sheep for wool, cows for milk / cheese or bees for honey whilst insisting that they ‘love animals’ or even more surprisingly, consider themselves to be vegan or at least wish others to perceive them as such.
I know only too well how insidious is the conditioning that raised so many of us to be thoughtless users of the helpless. Nevertheless the actions that cause sickening, terrifying violence and harm are frighteningly real and happening everywhere at this very moment. Only a victim can forgive so it is not our place or our right to forgive the needless agony that they suffer. Neither can we condone it or encourage the perpetrators to continue although we can suggest ways to help them stop and will gladly do so if asked.
As advocates it is our job and our duty to ensure that every nonvegan we can reach is in possession of the facts.
While I sit here at my keyboard, there are distraught dairy cow, sheep and goat mothers calling in desperation for babies that they will never see again; there are babies on their way to slaughter, whimpering in loss and bewilderment for the warmth and reassurance that infants of all species associate with their mothers; there are infant chickens being born in drawers never to know a mother’s tenderness as she croons encouragement to her unborn treasures even through their shells, there are innocent bright-eyed, curious male chicks headed swiftly for bins or on conveyor belts to grinders where their tiny, fragile, fluffy bodies will be crushed as waste while their sisters’ beaks are seared with hot blades, throbbing and bleeding as their lives of torment begin. There are piglets screaming as their ears are notched, tails cut off and testicles wrenched out before the helpless, stricken eyes of their mothers. There are billions of sentient individuals confined and suffering, born out of violation, and raised for the sole purpose of the unnecessary, unhealthy and environmentally disastrous human obsession with consuming corpses and the products of nonhuman use. And these are just the consumption ‘industries’ – I have not begun to list the other sickening horrors that our society approves and demands, the testing and vivisection, the ‘entertainments’ the stolen skin and fibres.
Advocacy and nonviolence
As advocates, our goal must be to bring about a change of the public perception that nonhumans are ours to use. All use is harmful and involves violence. Careless, unthinking, socially accepted violence sits alongside speciesism at the heart of the horrors we inflict upon our nonhuman kin. As advocates, we must seek to win minds and hearts armed simply with our honesty and the truth of our message. But these are powerful tools. Whilst many will argue that this task is impossible, we can see the tide beginning to turn and this will continue but only if we are unwavering and only if we believe it can be done.
Every day we must find nonviolent ways to open nonvegan eyes to really see those individuals whose joy is stolen to fuel humanity’s horrific preoccupation with torture. those of us who may be mindful always of our own nonvegan past, may seek to turn our grief, shame and horror into positive action on behalf of those whom our society regards as ‘things’, as ‘commodities’, as ‘ingredients’.
Except for the fortunate few who may escape the system and find sanctuary, we cannot save those beings who are currently ‘in the system’. It pains me to acknowledge this, but I know beyond any shadow of doubt that the only hope that we, as a species, have of our continued existence on this planet, is to shift the prevailing paradigm away from humanity’s mistaken belief in their entitlement to cause this unnecessary bloodbath.
So what about the ‘journey’?
So afte all this, you may be surprised to read that I consider that veganism is indeed a journey. However we do not embark on a journey towards veganism, but rather on a journey through veganism. My own experience has been that the journey began after I took the decision to become vegan. And what a journey it has been, and still is. It is a journey of self discovery, of self recrimination and shame, and ultimately of purpose and gratitude for having had my eyes opened to the truth. The journey is about learning what more we can do for our former victims, now that we have crossed the boundary into veganism.
I have shed more tears since this journey began than I ever did before, because no longer do I look upon nonhumans as a separate group that are treated ‘inhumanely’, but rather now I am part of their world as they are of mine. I feel empathy for all my fellow beings of whatever species.
My journey now takes me along a parallel course with others of like minds, humans like myself who, as former nonvegans having humbly acknowledged their past failings, now seek to become advocates for justice through their defence of helpless, vulnerable beings that so desperately need our protection. I am so grateful to have met these people whom I value greatly – even in cyberspace – because we support and strengthen each other while more and more join us every day.
Along the way, I have also realised that, as with any cause, there are those with vested interests in pedalling misinformation or with selling absolution. It is deeply insidious that duplicitous organisations and individuals exist, partnering with the death industries to condone and approve oxymorons like ‘humane slaughter’ and ‘happy meat’ while raising funds to promote speciesist ‘campaigns’. Despite knowing they are there, I think we all feel deep disappointment when we discover that our early heroes have feet of clay. The journey, however, teaches us to navigate these waters, eventually recognising falsehoods along the way and through our disappointments, becoming stronger of purpose and clearer of voice.
My journey will go on until the day I die. If you are not vegan, please go vegan and join the nonviolent battle for justice – it’s simply the right thing to do and you will never regret it.