‘…or if we can’t be vegan we can at least head in that direction.’ I’ve seen so many variations on that theme as a comeback to the call to be vegan that appears in almost every piece I write. Today I saw it again. I’ve given the words a lot of thought and I have to conclude that when ‘heading in the direction of veganism’ is thought to be a possibility, it is a clear illustration that the speaker hasn’t really grasped what veganism is.
Please note that as always, this statement does not refer to new vegans who are currently transitioning, incorporating the ethic into their life. This transition period is generally very short (for many it can’t happen quickly enough), but can vary depending on circumstances.
Pragmatism or betrayal – it’s a matter of perspective
At this point I can almost hear the rasp of keyboards being dragged into position by the ‘every little helps’ and ‘can’t all be perfect’ brigade (some vegan, some not), ready with their ‘world won’t go vegan overnight’, and ‘we have to be realistic’ preludes to a blistering criticism of such ‘purist attitudes’. Yes, I’ve been around on social media a good while and I’ve seen and heard most of the put-downs. The phrases lack originality, probably because they have become overused stock items, plucked whole and unconsidered from the shelf of platitudes that we have all, at one time, been guilty of using without due examination.
Just to be clear, although born vegan as I think we all are, I was not raised vegan and am ashamed to say I spent most of my life that way. I woke up with a jolt in 2012.
That year, and for as many of my (then) 56 years as I could recall, I thought of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, ethically aware, honest and honourable. I wasn’t perfect (who is?) but I thought that I was trying. I often said that I thought of myself as an animal lover. I abhorred what I considered to be cruelty to any animals, and as well as sharing petitions and ranting about ‘cruelty‘ and the need for ‘compassion’ to any that would listen, I donated to a number of organisations that claimed to look out for the interests of animals. In return, they sent me images in the post, many of which were so vile that I have been unable to forget them. I once even received a manicure kit (?) in a leather wallet if I recall, inscribed with the logo of some ‘Humane Society’ or other. I detected no irony in this.
Of course, as an animal lover and a hater of ‘cruelty’ I shopped for the very best, most ‘humane’ labels (as endorsed by the XYPCA of course), spending as much as I could afford on the animal products that I had grown up to believe were essential for the health of my family.
The curse of compromise
So, without a trace of conscience (why would I have, what with the humane labels and donations and the back-patting of the ‘animal welfare‘ organisations whose staff were paying their mortgages with my cash?), I snoozed on in my ethical bubble. I didn’t eat ‘meat’ or at least, not often (doesn’t everyone say that?), but cheese… oh, how I loved the taste of cheese. And eggs. And I delighted in wearing wool. Angora – bliss! I loved leather; boots, shoes, jackets, bags, chairs. Touching it and breathing in the scent was so pleasurable. Now, as my gorge rises at the memory and I fight not to gag with disgust it is hard to believe the person I was, but that’s how I can write about this. I’m not pointing a superior finger and finding fault. I’m writing from bitter and heartbreaking experience. But moving on.
I made it clear to my conscientious consumer contemporaries that I was very much one of them. Saving the forest, planting trees, worrying about litter, sending (most of – well it’s not always convenient, is it?) my glass bottles for recycling, visiting second-hand shops for clothes and furniture. I was ‘mostly’ vegetarian, except for the odd occasion (to be sociable, you understand – I mean, when someone goes to the bother of cooking something for you…). And prawns. Oh – and apart from the leather. And the sweets loaded with gelatin. And silk scarves (well so what? They were presents!). Oh yes, what a trooper I was!
Where was I heading?
So, since I was so ethical and conscientious, would you say I was ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan? After all, many of the things that I was doing were the very things we see so many ‘pragmatic’, ‘realistic’ people suggesting that we could all do to ‘cut down on animal cruelty’ and ‘reduce suffering‘ because we ‘can’t be perfect’.
I’m sure some would say I was definitely ‘heading in the direction’ of veganism. But they’d be talking absolute rubbish. I was not moving at all, not heading in any direction, wallowing smug and satisfied in the absolution that I bought every so often with donations. I was not vegan. I remained completely committed to using other individuals for my own most trivial interests without even questioning why. I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as veganism; except of course what I’d heard about the stereotypical, undernourished, sandal-wearing hippy, choking down worthy muesli only one step removed from sawdust, while taking a break from hugging trees.
The loop of mistaken need and entitlement
And this brings me to the whole point of this and it’s a point I’ve made before. When we are not vegan, we are hurting, harming and killing innocent and defenceless individuals who value their lives and don’t want to die. There are no exceptions.
*** – whether we have one victim or billions is irrelevant. By not being vegan we are harming and killing others because we think it’s somehow acceptable to do so; maybe because we think we have to; maybe because we feel entitled, maybe because we consider our own interests are more important than those of our victims. However we square our actions with our conscience – if we even have a conscience about them – we are killing other individuals when we have no need or right to do so. We can do it to fewer individuals, we can do it to fewer species; we can obsess about the environments or practices that facilitate our consumer choices; we can make judgements and protest about the degrees of brutality and violence that are completely inevitable elements of our demands, make different menu choices one or two days a week, but – Return to *** and keep reading the loop. It’s the way it is.
Breaking out of the loop
I say that I woke up in 2012. It was in 2012 that I stumbled across information that led me to understand what veganism is, and I broke out of the loop and became vegan. I was not heading that way. How could I be? I was stuck in the loop of self-congratulatory ‘conscientious’ consumerism. I was a killer. When I was a killer, I couldn’t gradually head in the direction of not being a killer, because it’s a binary thing. One is a killer or one is not a killer. And each of us is a killer until the final time that we take a life. It’s really that simple and it’s not on a sliding scale. And we can only make the switch from killer to non killer, non vegan to vegan, once we actually know what veganism is.
Once we know, we each have a personal choice to make, and no other can make that choice for us. We can choose to be vegan. Or we can choose not to bother. It is a personal thing, a decision driven by the values that we hold and the way in which we wish these to define us.
As an animal rights advocate, all I can ever do is explain how veganism is the only way that allows us to live in a way that reflects the values that most of us like to claim are important. The issue that we must address is not how we treat our unnecessary victims but rather the fact that we have victims when it is unnecessary. Once we, as individuals, deal with that as consumers at the checkouts, everything; health, environment and everything else will flow directly from our changed behaviour.
Before we have even heard about veganism, we cannot be ‘heading in its direction’ because it’s binary and we are stuck in a loop. Once someone knows what veganism is, really knows that it is a rejection of harm to other individuals who value their lives and want to live, it is at best disingenuous to excuse continued harm and killing by claiming to be ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan. I’ve heard it said that once you know what it is, the only honest reason not to be vegan is ‘because you don’t give a shit’. There’s a lot of truth in that.
*In case any readers wonder if it’s safe to click on any of the links in my essays, please note that I do not use images depicting violence and gore.