From world hunger to climate change, species extinction to escalating violence, the catastrophic problems we face are clear indicators that we are in need of transformation on a radical scale. Gone are the days when we could procrastinate about necessary changes or take baby steps toward sustainability in the hope that enough small actions would collectively add up to create meaningful impact. Drastic, sweeping changes are needed, and this fundamental shift in society’s values must begin with each one of us.
‘Veganism’ as a philosophy which embodies non-violence and compassion toward the helpless, until now, has been marginalized by our society. Those who embrace this deep and powerful set of values have often been ostracized and the wisdom of their choices ignored or trivialized. But those who recognize the far-reaching effects of this paradigm shift know how powerful the rewards can be. Ironically, it may well be that the survival of our species, and perhaps even the planet, is dependent upon learning the very lessons of empathy, responsibility and self-control that the vegan ideal embodies, and that our society seems so reluctant to embrace.
No matter how strong the current opposition is to adopting this radically different world view, it will soon have to be accepted that vegan is the way of the future. Only by living the vegan ideal can we address all at once the many, seemingly different issues that are crippling our civilization and threaten not only our survival, but the survival of the many other species that populate the planet. We currently run the risk of driving into collapse the essential life-preserving systems of the planet itself. Much of the destruction stems from the deep-rooted problem of our mistaken belief that we, like the shark or the tiger, are natural predators.
Our collective hunger for flesh and for the products that come from the bodies of animals has driven us to create systems of animal farming that are not only completely unsustainable in the long-term, but are also immediately damaging to natural eco-systems, populations of wild animals and the human population of developing nations. In order to provide affluent countries with meat, dairy and eggs, we have destroyed major portions of the world’s wild lands, altered the levels of gases in the atmosphere beyond recognition, decimated many wild animal populations beyond recovery, and pushed people living in poor countries further and further into cycles of starvation. The UK alone imports £46,000,000 worth of grain from third world countries to feed their livestock. In the US, if we all became vegetarian, it would free enough grain to feed 600,000,000 people. How much good can we really be doing with ‘foreign aid’, when we are taking food right out of the very mouths of those we ought to be feeding?
In addition, our society is desperate for a solution to our social problems. Violence is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in all areas of society, from school shootings to sexual abuse and assault. But the cause of this widespread aggression becomes clear, when we remember that we habitually feed ourselves and fuel our bodies with the products of violence and death. We may think that we can avoid the truth of this, by buying flesh in neatly wrapped packages at the supermarket, but we can not help but be aware of it in our deeper selves, and the violence that is implicit in our meals permeates our society on all levels from global to personal.
In a world that makes little of preying upon the meek, showing callous disregard for the pain and suffering of helpless creatures is not just accepted, but is frequently promoted in different forms by our society. Despite the fact that cruelty to animals is common in the violent histories of most of our nation’s serial killers and school shooters, certain states still allow children younger than 12 to go hunting with a parent or guardian. There is well-known evidence linking violence toward animals in childhood with violence toward people in adulthood. This should make us all stop and think about the values we are teaching our young people. The ethic of compassion toward animals is something that ought to be taught to our children in schools, but this can not happen in any meaningful way until we acknowledge that basic compassion includes not depriving them of their life or freedom, whether they are animals we consider pets, or animals whom we have traditionally considered food.
It sometimes appears that the light of the vegan ideal is so bright that people are afraid to open their eyes to it, even individuals who are deeply involved in other social or environmental movements. Despite a significant number of people being very outspoken about the different tragedies that actually stem from this same root cause, the dialogue of our society continues to revolve around just about anything other than the need to change our eating habits. What is it that makes us cling so stubbornly to a practice that is cruel, unnecessary and may well end up destroying us?
Making the transition toward a vegan diet and lifestyle is the single-most effective step an individual can take toward living sustainably on the planet. For further evidence of this fact, please read about the 2006 report from the United Nations: ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’. By making vegan choices, people can lessen their ecological footprint more than with any other lifestyle change, as well as gain control over their health, take part in eliminating world hunger, rediscover their connection with the many different animals who share our world, and make a powerful personal contribution toward the beginning of peace on earth.
When examining issues of such catastrophic potential as global warming, species extinction and mass starvation, it is understandable that individuals who care can feel helpless. It is easy to fall victim to the debilitating belief that we might really have no future. The vegan solution contains within it the power to solve the biggest problems we are facing, on every level from personal to planetary. The vegan ideal is nothing less than the next evolutionary step for humankind. We must embrace the ethic of non-violence if we are to evolve; and we must evolve, if we are to survive.
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