Recently I saw a comment that ‘most people define veganism as the same as a plant based diet‘, before they went on to say, ‘Why does it matter? If people go vegan for health or environment it’s still good for animals too.’ So is that true?
The vegan believes that if we are to be true emancipators of animals we must renounce absolutely our traditional and conceited attitude that we have the right to use them to serve our needs. We must supply these needs by other means. If the vegan ideal of non-exploitation were generally adopted, it would be the greatest peaceful revolution ever known, abolishing vast industries and establishing new ones in the better interests of men and animals alike.
~ Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005), who coined the word vegan
The first thing that needs to be stressed is that veganism isn’t a fad diet, it isn’t a health kick, it isn’t an environmental stategy. It’s a moral decision, taken on an individual basis, to stop using other beings for any and all reasons. Veganism is a rejection of all use of other animals to serve our interests. That’s not a ‘matter of opinion’ as I’ve seen the uninformed claim. It’s the actual definition. It’s what it is.
So veganism is an acknowledgement of our kinship with the other species with whom we share a planet; it’s a decision to stop the deep injustice of making victims out of them, and it’s made out of respect for those victims. One of the consequences of that decision is to stop using their bodies for food, but it equally impacts on a decision to avoid substances and services that use their lives and bodies in other ways too. The food vegans eat is often referred to as a ‘vegan diet’ but in fact it is a plant diet and to eat that way is only one manifestation of the single decision to stop using others.
So when we hear about ‘going vegan for health’ or ‘going vegan for the environment’ it illustrates that many people don’t understand what veganism actually is. Quite understandably, and possibly because they don’t know what veganism is, they fail to see that it could be a problem as long as animals are not being eaten. So I have been wondering if they could possibly be right, that the net result actually IS the same regardless of motive.
But in the end I decided that I do consider it a problem. And my view has nothing to do with ‘personal purity’ or ‘policing’ or ‘being more vegan than someone else’ or any of the ridiculous accusations that tend to fly; it’s based on a lifetime of knowledge and a deep understanding of how our behaviours as humans can be swayed and affected by the motives behind them. So let’s clarify what is actually meant by ‘going vegan for health’ or ‘going vegan for the environment’; we clearly know what is meant even though, as I’ve said, they are inaccurate terms in themselves.
Now before I go on I’d like to get something out of the way because I’ve been doing this long enough to anticipate irate comments brewing. I know of many people who made the decision to adopt plant diets or change the range of species that they chose to use, for various reasons not necessarily connected with other animals. Many of these people subsequently did make the decision to become vegan and all are glad to have done so. For them, their initial motivation gave way to a true vegan ethic but it would be wrong to claim that the progression was automatic. In almost every case, some additional information, along with vegan education, provoked the shift.
As an advocate on behalf of the trillions of annual victims of my species, I will not sell them out by promoting anything less than being vegan for our victims. They are depending on every one of us; they have no one but us, and they are queueing in the slaughterhouses as I type.
‘Vegan for health’
‘Going vegan for health’ is used to mean that someone has opted to change their diet to a plant based one because they quite understandably consider that it will improve their health. For whom is this change made? Naturally it’s for the person who wishes their health to be improved; they adopt a diet.
Now given that it’s a diet, several things common to all diets will apply. We all cheat on diets. Go on, tell me you’ve never cheated on a diet and I won’t believe you.
Another phenomenon with diets (Atkins, Keto etc) is seen when media hype either renounces the whole thing, or claims certain aspects of the diet are unhealthy/need supplementation etc. Do we consider changing? Well again, because the reason for the diet is our own health, that’s our priority and it’s very likely we’d follow recommendations / change or stop.
Now given the fact that the animal use industries continuously advertise in ways that mendaciously suggest health and wellbeing both of victims and consumers, as well as paying to produce skewed ‘science’ in their attempts to safeguard their vile trade – it doesn’t take much figuring out to see where someone for whom health is their priority may be tempted. These industries and their ‘farming’ suppliers have for decades got away with the most outrageous lies about the necessity for our health of the horror show that they make vast sums of money from. They make it in sales and in subsidies and they have massive budgets to continue their propaganda machine as well as the clout to influence political and health policies and decisions.
In fact this ‘health centred’ route is the one travelled by so many who proclaim themselves ‘ex-vegans’. And the alacrity with which ‘anti-vegan / pro animal use’ sensationalist media picks up and publicises such stories is surely well known to us all. The claims made by these alleged ‘ex vegans’ about their need to reintroduce animal bodies to their diets invariably stem from flawed advice and nutritional misunderstandings but that’s not a subject for this essay. The fact is, when motivated by our own health, we can be much more easily swayed by the skillful propaganda being aimed so unscrupulously at those like us by industries that want our cash at any price.
‘Vegan for the environment’
So how about ‘vegan for the environment’? This is taken to mean a decision to adopt a plant diet in the face of almost overwhelming scientific consensus that animal agriculture is a pivotal driver of the climate emergency that is threatening to deprive our children of a future, and in fact will ultimately cause our own extinction as a species. That choice is arguably less self-centred than a similar one made for reasons of personal health but it is still unquestionably human-centred.
Debates are raging – and will continue to do so because so few are willing to accept their own personal role in the problem – but it is deeply disheartening to see how many articles continue to focus the blame for the current crisis on corporations and governments, refusing wilfully to pick up on the elephant in the room. That elephant? This time, it’s animal agriculture, its impact on the planet, the subsidies it continues to attract, and the fact that it is at heart a demand-driven system. Ideally, as an animal rights advocate, I envision that as consumer demand for animal use diminishes through individuals making the decision to opt out of the brutal regime of oppression, governments can finally be pressed to accept the deep immorality of continuing to subsidise a failing industry that is killing the planet.
However meanwhile there’s an unseemly rush in evidence, opportunists seeing the money-making potential of developing scientific and technological means to tackle the mammoth task of planetary cooling and the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere while minimising or even avoiding (!) any fundamental change in our destructive behaviour as a species. Can they do it in time? Can they do it at all? I doubt it, personally. With estimates ranging from 5-12 years before the whole planetary collapse becomes irretrievable, I just can’t see it happening. But if a miracle were to happen and it did, what then?
Well I would bet my boots that once the heat was off (pun intended), ‘vegan for the environment’ would no longer be seen as imperative and like the ‘vegan for health’ motive, adherents of such diets may see no harm in indulging themselves on the dead flesh, breastmilk and eggs of other creatures once again.
Not a diet
My final point on the two dietary options that I’ve talked about here, is that – wait for it – veganism is not a diet. As well as refusing to consume substances derived from the bodies of other creatures, where it is at all possible, vegans make appropriate choices in terms of all other goods and services including toiletries, cleaning materials, clothing, entertainment etc.
Underpinned by the decision to stop the deep injustice of creating victims, no checklist is needed to determine which species deserve to be respected; it’s ALL of them. This is what veganism actually is and once an individual has acknowledged that this is their choice, it is unshakeable. It becomes completely unthinkable to even consider going back on that decision; it becomes an integral part, even the defining part of who we are as individuals.
And that is why I so desperately hope that the commenter is wrong about ‘most people’ thinking in terms of diet, because if they are not, then there is only one group that will lose out by it, as they do every time. That group is our victims; for whom any reprieve as a result of human-centred and self interested motives can be only temporary.
Only on the day they take centre stage and are recognised as individuals with the right to be free of our violence and persecution, owning their bodies and living their lives, will their years of oppression end.
So be VEGAN for them.