Vegan Part 2

Hi guys. Thanks for your patience with this post. Miss Part 1

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In my first post, I discussed my journey to veganism. In this post I want to discuss the different prongs of veganism, what they mean to me and what they may mean to others.

I guess I had a lot to say, so it turned out a little longer than intended.  If you do read all the way through, I appreciate it and love you. 🙂

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WHAT IS A VEGAN?

What is veganism? By definition, it means causing the least amount of harm to living creatures. Taking things that don’t belong to us, like animals’ skin, wool, honey, milk, and eggs, is not vegan. Testing on animals for human benefit is not vegan. Veganism encompasses more than a diet. A diet is one prong of an overall lifestyle to a vegan.

"Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for life. It applies to the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals." –Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, coined the term “vegan” in 1944.

In my last post I mentioned different kinds of vegans. Some of the more…extreme vegans believe that if you are a vegan for any other reason than animal rights, you are not a ‘true’ vegan. While this may hold true to the original definition of vegan, we as humans are nothing if not changing and evolving. Part of the beauty of being sentient aware human beings is that we can change our meanings and reassign traditions and move forward.

That said, I’m not sure quite where I fit in on this spectrum yet. Is someone a vegan if it’s primarily for health reasons, despite the original definition of veganism?  Do we really need to put people in boxes? Doesn’t that get away from being compassionate to all? Does it really help if you’re doing your best to limit suffering, and someone tells you you’re not doing enough? You’re not vegan enough?

I don’t think so. I hope not, anyway. At the end of the day, if people aren’t eating animals, if people aren’t eating dairy, if people aren’t wearing leather, if people aren’t using products tested on animals, some animals lives are better. And isn’t that what it’s about for the animal loving vegans anyway?

A lot of vegans, and vegetarians, start out eating more plant-based foods for their health, and then work backwards, so to speak, learning more about animal rights. Read Gena’s recent post at Choosing Raw for a powerful reminder of this.

Whatever method you take to get here, I’m just glad you arrived. I’d prefer it of course if you stayed awhile and made yourself comfortable.

Some people get hooked by the plight of animals; as anyone who read my last post is aware, that was me. Little Sensitive Sally over here loves all living creatures and doesn’t want to see them hurt. I don’t care if steak tastes good; it can’t taste good enough. By the same token, I don’t care if dog tastes good. It can’t taste good enough.

VEGAN FOR ANIMALS

When one is vegan for the animals, it includes the lifestyle. The vegans you see who are incredibly dedicated and passionate and maybe a bit annoying? Those are probably the vegans who are doing it primarily for the animals. Whether they came that way first or wound up here through another way, like health, these vegans are usually in it for life and can’t imagine a lapse into dairy or buying that cute vintage leather purse. They’re not doing it to annoy you. They’re doing it because they believe in something that has the power to change the world and save lives. (When I say ‘they’ I’m sure you know I consider myself, for better or worse, one of the annoying passionate vegans.)

VEGAN FOR HEALTH

A vegan for health reasons will eschew all meat and dairy products because quite simply, it is healthier to eat plant-based foods. I’m not saying you cannot be healthy eating animals and their secretions. You definitely can and people do all the time. Overall, however, eating a diet that naturally contains no cholesterol and has loads of vitamins and minerals is better for you than a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and quite often, hormones*. (*Animals from factory farms make up 99% of all animals eaten. Jonathan Safran Foer’s definition of factory farming: “In a narrow sense factory farming is a system of industrialized and intensive agriculture in which animals…are genetically engineered, restricted in mobility, and fed unnatural diets.” –Eating Animals, pg 34) People who choose to be vegan for health reasons generally find themselves a whole lot healthier. Have you seen the Dr Oz clip where a 265 lb meat-obsessed cowboy with the heart of an 85 year old was challenged to give up meat and dairy for a month? It’s actually quite inspiring to see the changes brought about.

VEGAN FOR ENVIRONMENT

A vegan for environmental reasons chooses not to eat animals or animal products because of the by now well-documented fact that global warming is caused in large part to meat and dairy farms and agriculture. And by the way, if animals weren’t raised for food, then the leather, suede, dairy and egg industries would not exist. Free Range? Organic? Doesn’t really matter. An organic cow belches methane, produces vast wastes and destroy local ecology just as much as a conventional cow.

WORKERS RIGHTS’ AND HEALTH

The other benefit, though rarely a motivating reason, to eating a vegan diet is the health of people who have to work in slaughterhouses. Colleen Patrick Goudreau discusses it here. (Just a note—she say at first that 10 billion animals are killed daily. It’s actually 10 billion animals that are killed each year). And for a more detailed account, Gail Eiznitz writes heavily about the health of slaughterhouse workers in her book, and I’ve heard that Jonathan Safran Foer touches on it in his book.

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EDUCATION

Educate yourself about what you eat. I suggest delving a little deeper—research where your food comes from. And by research, I don’t mean buying a label that says free-range. That’s not research, that’s not educated buying. By research, I mean read books. Talk to vegans. Study nutrition. Visit slaughterhouses and farms.  Do your research.  Your life, the planet’s health, the lives of animals and slaughterhouse workers’ all depend on it.

And if you still WANT to eat meat, dairy, and eggs; by all means, knock yourself out. But I can pretty much guarantee you that if you do decide to look into it, your dietary habits at the very least will change a bit. Nobody likes cruelty to animals. Nobody wants to eat food that’s proven to cause disease (Unless they’re a star on the TV show Man v Food. Really?!). Nobody wants to cause our planet’s livability to decline. It can be incredibly hard to reconcile our lifestyle with things that cause harm. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted.

CHOICES

Personally, whenever I have a choice, I try to pick the choice with the least amount of harm. I don’t always know, but I do my best. If given the option of a vegan glass of wine and a non-vegan, I’ll pick the vegan, every time. If I can read the ingredients or ask someone what they are, I won’t buy or order something if it’s non-vegan. If I’m at a clothing store and something is labeled as leather or wool or suede, I won’t buy it. If I find out later I received the wrong glass of wine, or the boots I bought really are made of leather, that doesn’t make me a bad vegan. We all just do our best. We do our best with what we know, and it’s the finding out that’s the hard part—the feeling that we had been living in a protected balloon.

No matter what your diet or lifestyle, look into other ways you can cause less harm. There’s no “perfect vegan”. That concept is silly. We live in a world where everything is touched by corporate greed and animal exploitation; we don’t have to strive for the impossible but we can try as hard as we can to be the best ‘us’ that we can be. Don’t beat yourself up if you choose bread with honey. Don’t feel despair when you find out that playing card are coated in gelatin (they are).  We can only aim for the best that we can do.

WHAT IF?

Lucky for us, there are no ill side effects. If we’re wrong, and animals don’t really suffer or they really do want to die so we can eat them, we’re not doing them any harm by not eating them. If we’re wrong and the environment will not actually deteriorate because of factory farming, there’s no harm in trying to minimize or eliminate factory farming. If we’re wrong, and eating a plant based diet doesn’t actually reverse heart disease, cure diabetes, and lower your cholesterol, what’s the harm in eating plants anyway?

But what if it’s all true? What if by adopting a vegan lifestyle, you will minimize the pain, suffering and death of animals? What if by adopting a vegan lifestyle, you will help heal the earth, help your body to become more of a nutrition powerhouse, and help people who work in slaughterhouses not to have brain damage or lost appendages? It seems like there’s so much to gain, and what is there to lose? A few things that are tasty to your palate? Americans choose to eat less than 25% of the known edible food on the planet. There are so many other foods and cuisines out there to explore; animals don’t need to be one of them.

 

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Still with me? Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Janessa

I'm a travelin' vegan gal, event planner & writer who loves eating, drinking, hiking, biking, reading, writing, loving, scheming, learning, laughing, champagne-ing and gerunds.
  • Angela

    vegan for the animals. 😀

  • Lesley

    Excellent. Love the What If part. Just my existence puts meat eaters on the defensive, and it drives me nuts.
    I have been vegetarian since 1990 (go hippy college!) and recently made that final push to veganism after reading The China Study (having gone through breast cancer at age 32, and losing my dad this past May to cancer).
    I stopped buying animal based products a long time ago. I'm currently looking for art supplies that are vegan (did you know watercolor paper is often sized with gelatin? Awesome).
    Thanks for this.
    By the way, I think about the pumpkin whoopie pies from BTE almost every day.

  • Abigail S. Bean

    Thanks, Lesley. I had just stopped thinking about those pumpkin whoopie pies and you've got me going again.

    Enjoyed your post!

  • Janessa

    watercolor paper is sized with gelatin?! *hand to forehead* geez. It never ends, does it?

  • Gena

    This is such an awesomely written and comprehensive post. Thank you so very much for it, and for linking to me! My ethical perspective really has opened up a lot since I began the vegan journey.

  • Janessa

    Gena, I'm just jealous you live so close to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary! 😛

  • A Jo Ker

    Ness,

    Great post, and I really like the context you pull in to help support your personal views and thoughts. But does it go far enough? There's what I've been thinking lately.

    Why does compassion end with animals? If I'm concerned about wearing leather, and drinking cow's milk, how can I then crave a pasta salad or a pumpkin pie? It has seemed to me recently to be rather hypocritical to draw a line in a sand and say "We're not exploiting these living things," whilst "Yum! These other living things are delicious!"

    Why do plants have less of a right to live than animals? Because they're less cute? Because they don't show feelings? Because there is no evidence of them feeling pain? I get that a slaughterhouse and a garden aren't exactly analogous, but I wonder if ultimately they do serve the same function. We have reserved the use of the term cruelty to animals, but are we blinding ourselves to the fact that a field of wheat or soybeans is the same as a pasture full of dairy cows?

    Is it crazy to think plants have a right to live too? I think the obvious objection is what does that leave us? Breatharianism is noble but starving our race to death probably isn't going to work. Maybe Fruitarian is the way to go, but if being a vegan is challenging that is even more so. I'm not opposed to solely eating manufactured foods, but I know I'm in a minority there.

    I don't have a resolution to these questions. The vegan choice has recently seemed to be based on a false dichotomy.

  • Janessa

    Ahi, thanks for the kind and thought-provoking mini essay on breathatarianism.

    For my readers, Ahi is my older vegan brother, as much an inspiration to me as an occasional jack-ass. 😉

  • Lea

    Thanks for the great post!