Being Vegan in a Speciesist World
“I will continue to be a vegetarian even if the whole world started to eat meat. This is my protest against the conduct of the world.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer – Nobel Prize winning author
We live in a world where the vast majority of people consider it perfectly acceptable to use and kill nonhuman animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other unnecessary pleasures. Not only do we enslave, exploit, torture and slaughter animals by the tens of billions every year, we do so in order to provide ourselves with food and other products that we simply do not need. The growing number of vegans who live healthy, fulfilling lives are a testament to this.
Not only is this extreme violence against animals sanctioned by the legal structure of society and accepted almost without question by most people, but in some kind of bizarre confusion, it is actually promoted, encouraged, and even celebrated. This is true to such a degree that, when an individual chooses to reject violence against animals, and makes a personal commitment to provide for themselves without participating in this carnage, that individual does so at the risk of being criticized, insulted, ridiculed, and perhaps even accused of committing some sort of offense against society.
Taking into account this cultural context, becoming vegan does require us to step outside of the current paradigm. Becoming vegan means renouncing one’s personal stake in the most widespread and socially accepted injustice of our time, and to do this, we have to be willing to see nonhuman slavery for what it is. That kind of honesty requires some candid reflection, and as a result, it’s possible that some new vegans will experience a sense of alienation from others, including one’s own family and friends, and possibly even society as a whole.
I believe it is this experience that often leads vegans to question their resolve, and in some cases, even go back on their commitment to nonviolence, in favor of greater assimilation within society. Because of the intense social pressure against vegan living, I think it’s extremely important that people who are moved by the values of veganism be clear from the outset as to which is more important to them: living according to their own highest ideals, or being easily accepted by a larger social group that does not share those ideals? To a growing number of people, there is no question which matters more, but to many, it can make the difference between maintaining one’s commitment and ‘falling off the wagon’.
But this does not need to be the case. Rather than seeking acceptance by abandoning the practical application of one’s moral principles, there are ways to find the sense of community we all need, by reaching out to other people who share our ideals.
As our collective awareness and understanding about the intrinsic rights of nonhuman animals grows, the vegan community is expanding all over the world. In many urban locations, there are vegan groups who meet for potlucks and social events, especially on occasions such as Thanksgiving, when many vegans are seeking an alternative to traditional gatherings which focus on the consumption of animal parts. Even for those who don’t live near a city, the growing popularity of online venues is making it increasingly easy to reach others who have rejected their social conditioning in favor of a kinder, gentler, more peaceful way of life.
My advice to people who are not 100% confident about their commitment to vegan living is to do everything you can to educate yourself about why you are making this change. Read about it, learn about it, and keep reading and learning until you reach the point where the products of animal slavery no longer appeal to you. Once you really understand the reasons for being vegan, there is no social challenge that will make you question your resolve, and no degree of pressure will cause you to be tempted to break your commitment.
If you find that those around you do not understand your way of thinking, and if you feel that you are alone in your perspective, consider the positions of some of the greatest minds in history:
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Leonardo da Vinci:
“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Count Leo Tolstoy:
“Vegetarianism serves as a criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of humanity is genuine and sincere.”
“The highest realms of thought are impossible to reach without first attaining an understanding of compassion.”
And remember… You are in good company.
Image: In Defense of Animals