On Being Vegan
an essay from Vegan
Why, What, and How
People are interested in veganism for many reasons. These include reducing
suffering, helping the environment, and improving their health.
Regardless of why you are exploring veganism, your example and your choices
are the most important things you can do to help make the world a better place.
By not buying meat, eggs, and dairy, each individual is making a statement
against cruelty to animals, undertaking an economic boycott, supporting the
production of non-animal products, and supporting more sustainable agricultural
practices. These decisions, and the message they send to others, help make
society more humane.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The time is always ripe to do
With so many reasons to become vegan, it’s not surprising there are many
views of what veganism means. Beyond not buying the products for which animals
are raised and slaughtered, each individual has different opinions about being
vegan. Everyone takes their own path.
Once you make the decision to oppose factory farms and industrial
slaughterhouses, you will face a number of questions. There are two particularly
difficult questions that you’ll need to ask yourself:
1. What exactly is a "vegan"?
2. How should I deal with other people who aren’t vegan?
The Impossible Quest for Purity
When you first discover the reality of modern animal agriculture, you might
feel compelled to try to root out every single product associated with animal
suffering. Unfortunately, personal purity is impossible. All around us are items
connected in some way to animal exploitation: organic foods (animal manure used
as fertilizer), cotton (animal products in the bleaching process), bicycles
(animal fat used in the vulcanization of tires), books (hooves and bones in
binding glue), roads and buildings (animal products used in curing concrete),
water (tested with animal products, often filtered through bone char), etc. Even
many vegan foods result in killing some animals during planting and harvesting.
Vegan Outreach’s View: A Results-Based Approach
We believe that framing veganism as the avoidance of a specific list of
"bad" ingredients is not the best way to achieve results. When looked
at closely, any ingredients-based definition of vegan collapses into
inconsistencies. This is why we stress that the essence of being vegan is working
to end cruelty to animals.
Working to end cruelty to animals is a clear motivation that can be
easily comprehended by others. When discussing veganism, we admit there are not
always clear-cut answers and explain that it's not a matter of making the
"right" or "wrong" choice in every situation. This
practical, goal-oriented approach shows that being vegan is an active,
progressive means by which we make the world a better place.
Although all views of vegan include not supporting factory farms and
slaughterhouses, there are many instances where a results-based approach can
help animals more than the ingredients-based approach. For example, a consistent
vegan dedicated to an ingredients-based view of veganism wouldn’t use film
(which contains gelatin) under any circumstances. Yet how many animals have been
saved from great suffering, because of the visual impact of the pictures and
films that have documented so many abuses?
Not Just What We Avoid
Some would argue that vegans should replace their current cameras with
digital ones. However, we have to ask if spending money replacing a functional
object with a new one is the best way to oppose cruelty to animals. (This is
also an issue with leather and wool goods we had purchased before becoming
vegan.) Might the extra money be better spent creating resources to spread
vegetarianism, such as printing literature?
We believe that being vegan isn’t simply avoiding a list of products. We
seek to maximize the good we accomplish with our decisions. As vegans, what we do
is as important as what we don’t do.
Some vegans and non-vegans alike are quick to call others
"hypocrites" if they don’t avoid a certain hidden ingredient. But if
your goal is to alleviate suffering, it isn’t hypocritical to believe that
avoiding all hidden ingredients can be prohibitively expensive, time-consuming,
and make veganism appear impossible to others. It is also worth noting that
animal byproducts will disappear as the meat, dairy, and egg industries fade.
Spending our time and energy focused on minor ingredients rather than on
spreading vegetarianism may not be the best use of time.
Dealing with Others
Choosing to stop eating animals not only says that past actions were
"wrong," it also implicitly communicates to family, friends, and
colleagues that their continued eating of animals is wrong.
When vegans share their new ideas, some family and friends not only show
resistance, but can even react with mockery or anger. Combine this with the fact
that vegans naturally view meat eaters as supporting cruelty and causing
suffering, and it is not surprising that some vegans can develop a near hatred
In order to prevent and alleviate suffering, however, we must let the
compassion we feel for animals shine through the pain and anger we feel about
their exploitation. Unless nonvegans can respect us—as opposed to finding us
cold and judgmental—they will have little interest in veganism.
Instead of expecting others to go vegan immediately, we need to offer
understanding and give them time to deal with their unique situations. Burning
bridges with anger only serves to create enemies and feed the stereotype of
vegans as hostile, isolated misanthropes. As long as you remain respectful, your
positive example of veganism, as well as the information you provide, will
ultimately be the best voice for the animals.
Although some of the information regarding vegetarianism is outdated or
biased, there is a lot of solid information available to help us educate
ourselves about the issues. (Here
is a list of sources of good information.) However, we needn’t be
encyclopedias of facts. The simplest reasons for being vegan can be the most
powerful: "I know that I don’t want to suffer. Therefore, I don’t want
to cause others to suffer."
On Being Vegan
The most important tool we have in our efforts against cruelty to animals is
our positive, sincere, thoughtful example. Looking at the long-term changes in
society, we can know that each of us, in our example, actions, attitude—our
entire existence—is changing the world. If we could focus all our energies on
understanding and outreach, rather than on anger, the world would be
significantly better. Living honestly and compassionately as a vegan is an
affirmation of life, a means to fulfillment and joy. These positive aspects of
veganism are what we must embrace for ourselves and communicate to others.