I became vegan largely due to gut instinct. By that I mean that when I read the truth about the dairy and egg industries, I suddenly realised that my victims were just like me, with hopes and needs, with bonds that bound them to friends and family, desperate to protect their children and knowing the gut-wrenching anxiety that every parent knows. I knew that I had been utterly in the wrong and I had no excuses. The bottom fell out of my world.
I think that’s true of many people although I have no doubt that others are swayed to become vegan by reasoned discussion and debate. So although your experience may differ, I’m sharing this from my own perspective because it’s my truth and it’s what I know best.
As I’ve written before, I’m a mother, so I have laboured to bring children into the world and have nursed them in the way mammals do. I have felt the overwhelming emotion that a mammalian mother feels for her infants, and even to this day, without a moment’s hesitation, I would stand in front of a bullet, would give my right arm, would gladly lay down my life for them. I’ve lived every mother’s nightmares, the anxiety for their safety, the sleepless nights of wondering how I could continue to find meaning in my life if anything were to happen to them. Yes, it may sound like a cliché, but I’m sure that’s what nature designs mothers to do.
I can never forget the feeling that I had, after the marathon Google session that stripped the blinkers from me, after the tears had dried from my swollen eyes, when the shuddering sobs had started to subside, after I had accepted my inner emptiness as part of a new reality that I didn’t live in the world I thought I did. I remember the stomach-churning realisation that by drinking animal breast milk, eating cheese, eating eggs, wearing wool and all the rest of my casual, thoughtless behaviour, my actions had brought my worst nightmares to other mothers who were exactly like me in every relevant way except species. I remember the words screaming in my mind, ‘NO. No more. Never again’. And so I became vegan.
I freely admit that at this point I knew very little about veganism. All I knew was that I no longer wished to be part of any group of humans who considered their trivial and unnecessary preferences were more important than the lives of sentient individuals like myself. I no longer wished to be part of any group of humans who presumed some entitlement to use in the most sickening and scarcely believable ways, innocent, vulnerable and helpless individuals who were powerless against our superior technology and – let’s be honest – our unchecked brutality. I no longer wished to be part of any group of humans who found it acceptable to violate, confine, mutilate, enslave and kill our fellow earthlings with no justification whatsoever.
The first disappointment and other excuses
My first rude awakening occurred very shortly afterwards. I was so naive that I honestly thought that everyone would share my horror and would come to the same conclusion that veganism is the only rational decision possible. Sadly this was not the case.
On sharing the revelation of humanity’s unspeakable conduct at work, I immediately ran into what I now recognise as standard nonvegan justifications. I can still remember, ‘I didn’t climb to the top of the food chain to eat lettuce’, and ‘It’s my personal choice to eat meat’, from two people who, in a heartbeat, went from hero to zero in my estimation. As I sat there, inwardly shaking with grief and frustration, unable to speak because my voice would have betrayed me, I realised then that I needed to educate myself so that never again would I have to accept ill-informed and morally unjustifiable excuses without a ready response.
It was during this period of enquiry that I came across a number of writers and of course a huge number of organisations. This continuing quest to understand veganism, led me to my second revelation. I had originally assumed that everyone who identified themselves as vegan and a supporter of ‘animal rights’ all shared my view that animal use is wrong. I had originally assumed that whilst there would surely be some that were better than others, those claiming to represent animals rights would all have the same core values, namely that ALL use of other species is wrong.
I discovered that this view is called abolitionism. Abolitionism, developed by Prof Gary L Francione, is the view that all use is morally wrong and that all sentient beings, humans or nonhumans, share a basic right: the right not to be treated as the property of others. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this described my own conviction.
The second disappointment, when ‘rights’ aren’t rights
Well, along came my second big disappointment. It didn’t take me very long to realise that the vast majority of the ‘animal rights’ groups are not, in fact promoting animal rights at all because if they were, and as the first right of any individual is to not be the property of another, they would be stressing that veganism is the absolute minimum standard that we must set.
Hence those promoting animal ‘welfare‘ (a much misused word) require to adopt a position that, first and foremost, accepts the use of nonhumans as commodities and resources before going on to advocate the regulation of their treatment and torture; partnering, supporting and endorsing the very industries that commodify and harm animals. Some organisations – astonishingly – give awards for ‘humane’ exploitation and slaughter. Some organisations even have animal ‘farmers’ in positions of authority within what are effectively businesses staffed by career ‘advocates’. It is naive to think that any career ‘advocate’ is going to apply every effort to putting themselves out of work, unable to pay their mortgage and feed their families.
I have previously posted my thoughts about single issue campaigns and petitions. A staple feature of the fundraising activities of major groups, these are inevitably speciesist and are invariably presented in such a way as to suggest that signing or donating is a way to ‘help’ animals, with an implication that this is at least ‘doing something’, ‘relieving suffering now’, and is less ‘extreme’ than becoming vegan. This is misleading. Make no mistake. There IS no substitute for becoming vegan. The use of animals is driven by consumer demand and the only way to end supply, is to end demand. We must acknowledge that we cannot help all those unfortunates who are currently ‘in the system’ being used and awaiting death. Even if we can, by some miracle, take one or two individuals out of the line, more will be sucked in to take their place because the meeting of nonvegan consumer demand is what drives the process.
Almost every organisation – although tragically by no means all organisations – if asked, will say that they promote veganism. Asking people to become vegan is a naturally fraught situation and almost every one of us, when we first encounter the concept, resists to some extent. However any organisation that needs donations to pay wages cannot afford to alienate the huge non-vegan donor pool of people who wish to feel better about their use of animals by buying the absolution that giving donations provides. This is why on so many websites, the ‘donate’ button will always be easier to spot that the sentence that advises the reader that if they are in any way sincere about their concern for animals, it is absolutely essential to be vegan.
It also became apparent to me that not every group/ page/ blog with the word ‘vegan’ in the title was actually promoting veganism, and not every ‘celebrity’ who claimed to be vegan seemed to even know the meaning of the term, defined as:
[…] 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 third disappointment – sleeping with the enemy
All of this leads me to the third disappointment. And I think it’s the biggest one of all.
This line of thought started when I saw a post by someone who identified him/herself as vegan, condemning a page that I promoted for what they claimed was ‘criticising other vegans’ and ‘animal rights groups’ because ‘we’re all on the same side’ and ‘every bit helps’. This is a frequently expressed sentiment and it is one that can lead only to confusion for those who genuinely wish to end their part in causing harm to the innocent victims of our species. The fact that this came up in response to one of my own posts made me feel sick at the thought that it might be assumed I endorse the ‘all on the same side’ view.
I consider it important to be absolutely clear here where I stand. Those who seek to regulate torture, those who claim to promote veganism without mentioning the word or by conflating it with vegetarianism and other diets, those who praise nonveganism as part of a personal journey of indulgence that we can take our time with – do not share my understanding of veganism.
I do not support any animal groups, reject speciesist campaigns and petitions, would never endorse any ‘celebrity’ who claims to have concern for animals but is not vegan, and would never promote any sanctuary, page, site or blog unless it clearly advocates the abolition of all use of nonhumans, with becoming vegan and spreading vegan education being the very least we need to do. Thankfully there are a number of these with a clear and consistent message and they give me great cause for hope.
By all means we should definitely encourage and help others to complete a transition to veganism – each of us has different circumstances and while some transition overnight, for others transition takes a bit longer. However when we praise and promote ‘cutting back on animal products’ as an end in itself, we are excusing and forgiving the unspeakable violence and horror that is inherent in every nonvegan choice of every nonvegan consumer. Not one of us has the right to forgive agony, harm and death on behalf of another.
A plea for critical consideration of our heroes
As vegans, we each have decided to take responsibility for our actions and end our participation in the nightmare. Sadly, once we have crossed the border into veganism, the path is not as clear and level as we may at one time have fancifully imagined. I know that when I first became vegan I was so relieved to leave my complicity in the horror behind me, that I embraced, with open arms and thankfulness, every group or person I found who claimed to share my new understanding of the world.
However, animal exploitation encompasses multi-billion dollar industries and there are many with a vested interest in clouding the issue that we champion, namely the ending of the unnecessary use of individuals of other species.
It did not take long to realise that unfortunately, human self interest and the manipulation of situations for their own ends is a common feature even on the vegan side of the border. Not everyone who claims to support the abolition of all animal use, promotes or even actually wants it. I’m not suggesting we have to call out every single false ‘friend’ and ‘ally’, frustrating as it is to see those who should know better sowing confusion and misinformation, but we can refuse to give them our support, can refuse to provide the publicity they crave.
Neither should we require others to tell us who is on the side of the animals and who isn’t. Once we recognise that the chasm exists, that we’re most definitely not ‘all on the same side’, it’s up to us to work out where everyone stands and whether their values align with our own. So this is a further responsibility that we share, and it’s not always an easy one.
I implore everyone who considers themselves to be vegan to retain a healthy dose of cynicism and apply it critically everywhere that you find a donate button, everywhere you find nonvegans who claim to fight for animals, everywhere that a position that falls short of veganism is promoted, everywhere you find those who claim to be able to forgive on behalf of the persecuted millions whose lifeblood is draining through their gashed throats, whose infants are being denied the milk that is their birthright, whose eggs are rolling onto conveyor belts in hell.
Remember where we came from
So is gut instinct enough? I think it’s a good start but we really do need to educate ourselves to avoid inadvertently championing those whose motives are not what they may at first appear. When I am in any doubt, I think back to where I came from; that ‘ethical consumer’, that non-vegan ‘vegetarian’ who deluded herself that she was somehow an ‘activist’ by signing every petition and supporting every single issue. I think back to that deeply confused and direction-less person who wore my face and who had never heard of veganism .
I remember only too well that this ‘activist’ delusion was strongly reinforced by my petitioning and donating to those who promised to ‘do something’ about the treatment of our victims. Not one of them mentioned that we had no need for victims in the first place. No one mentioned that once all unnecessary use of our victims was stopped, there would be no victims left so their treatment would no longer be an issue.
Human nature being what it is, we are each inclined to choose a course that causes the minimum of personal inconvenience. Veganism necessitates a personal change and not everyone that we encourage to become vegan, will actually do so. However that does not mean we should dilute the message in any way, because the strength of the vegan message lies in its absolute honesty, its absolute truth. If our audience chooses to adopt half measures, than that is their right as individuals and we can only hope that the sincerity of our advocacy will eventually prompt them to do what their conscience asks of them.
If we were the only ones who stood to lose, this wouldn’t be so critical. However there are literally billions of individuals whom we will be unable to save, who desperately need us to work towards ending the atrocities our species inflicts on them. We cannot save all those in the farms today, those in the slaughterhouses, those in the laboratories, the zoos and all the rest. But we owe it to them all to ensure that our message is crystal clear so that some day, several nonhuman generations into the future, each sentient individual will have their rights recognised: starting with the right to own their own self, their own life. We can do this by tackling consumer demand, by educating that we have no need to use others, that they are not objects for our use, that veganism is the only decent way to live.
For the billions who are looking to us for justice, let’s remember what we owe them. We owe them veganism and nothing less. Be vegan.