I have always stood by an assertion that veganism was perfectly adequately defined by Donald Watson and his contemporaries when they first developed the philosophy and the words to describe it:
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)
That definition works for me. And yet, after several years of being vegan and of reading and blogging about animal rights, and despite having a fairly good idea about the specifics of the obscenities we inflict as a species, I still come across new atrocities that make me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. In this world where our relentless use of all other species, our destruction of their habitats and our devastation of even the very planet that we all inhabit is so ubiquitous, it seems that the majority of humans have absolutely no idea how widespread, and how serious our crimes actually are. And the industries that perpetrate the atrocities have no scruples whatsoever when it comes to disguising the truth about what consumers are paying them to inflict.
Against this unenlightened backdrop I find it increasingly difficult to describe what veganism actually is, because veganism is not an action. Veganism is the light that has a shape only because it is shining through the darkness of our atrocities as individuals and as a species, the patch of clear blue sky that is framed by storm clouds. Veganism is the peaceful calm that is left behind when the activities that comprise nonveganism are stopped.
To be vegan is to stop being nonvegan
Recently I posted about a gentle and timid pheasant family in my garden whose innocent lives are likely to end in terror and the gore of a shotgun blast in less than a month’s time. I found myself reflecting that while sensationalist and profit-driven media prattle on about ‘vegan options’ and ‘vegan diets’, giving coverage to mendacious industry-funded scaremongering about health issues alongside the array of propaganda of unscrupulous industries that simply want to continue to profit from the violence that they inflict on defenceless creatures on behalf of consumers, few are being assisted to join the dots that we all need to join before we can finally live in line with our values.
Because veganism is a non-action, and nonveganism is the action, we all need to focus sometimes on nonveganism, because it is only by seeing it, understanding it, opposing it and utterly rejecting it, that we can finally appreciate the inactivity that is left. This is the way I understand veganism, through seeing and being repulsed by the many activities that comprise nonveganism.
Nonveganism is loud and proud and highly visible. It’s the dark cloud, the profit-hungry shadow that sweeps us along. And as supporters of nonveganism we are only too willing to be carried along, cocooned in a desperate need to think well of ourselves, despite demanding activities so vile that we would vomit if we actually thought about them, despite paying with our consumer cash for places where defenceless lives are farmed, where innocent creatures are used, tormented and broken, and hell holes where the sobs of the dying echo amidst the stench of blood and entrails.
So today as an example I’m considering the nonveganism around my remote cottage, the nonveganism never mentioned in the media, the nonveganism that I never appreciated until I reached that patch of clear blue sky that I mentioned earlier and looked around me at the shadows. This isn’t about ‘vegan options’ or ‘diets’, it’s not about me or ‘my health’, it’s not about what I’m wearing or driving or the labels on the things that I buy. This is about pure and simple veganism, seen only in relief by looking at its opposite.
Country life? Country death.
My friends, the pheasants, exist as a result of intensive and lucrative reproductive exploitation by my species, are set free in the wilds for a season and then used to make profit as nothing more than interactive targets by selling shooting ‘privileges’ to those who find pleasure in killing. That’s nonveganism in action.
They share the wild areas near my home with shy and private deer whose lives are bought and sold in the same way as if they belonged to my species rather than to themselves. Interactive targets sold for profit; nonveganism in action.
Along with pheasants and deer, grouse, partridge and woodpigeons live in the few wild hedgerows and thickets. These shy and timid little birds are seldom spotted, going to enormous lengths to avoid humans and with very good reason. Interactive targets with a price on each tiny head; nonveganism in action.
There are hatcheries nearby where salmon and trout are ‘bred’, the reproduction of both male and female individuals violated by human hands that lift them from the water and ‘milk’ the eggs and sperm from their bodies, cultivating vast numbers of offspring in tanks that are then emptied into local rivers and reservoirs in an activity known as ‘stocking’. Thus they become interactive targets where ‘fishing rights’ are sold for profit: nonveganism in action.
I could go on but on this occasion I won’t. It is not for me to list every violation, every atrocity, every affront to decency that surrounds us all. We all need to think for ourselves – we all need to face our own eyes when we look in a mirror. All I can hope is that today everyone who reads this will focus in on the nonveganism that we are all taught to ignore or endorse. See it for what it is and don’t balk at the truth. Then reject it. Refuse to be part of it even for one more day.
Once we stop being nonvegan, all that’s left is veganism.
Be vegan today.