Very regularly  I am asked, “Why are you vegan?”. You’d think by now I’d have a quick, smart, and persuasive answer. Nope. I still find myself tongue-tied, not sure how long my questioner wants to hear me talk and uncertain how to articulate my thoughts without sounding judgmental. Recently, while on a walk with my dog, Swede, I was answering the question in my head (imaginary conversations are commonplace on my walks) and decided to make time and space for a thorough response.  So over the course of this month I will be giving a three part answer to this very important question. And because this is a blog, I can ramble as long as I want. Meanwhile you can graciously walk away when you’ve heard enough and I will be none the wiser.

asaragus

Why I Choose Vegan: Part One

On Animals

When I went vegan in 2006 it was for one reason: animals. I had been a lazy vegetarian for several years because I had heard somewhere that feeding cattle was bad for the environment and farm animals were mistreated. But in 2006 I read “Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating” by Erik Marcus and watched Earthlings a very real (and disturbing) video. Both the book and video hide nothing as they reveal the truth behind factory farming and other misuses of animals in our world.

Over the course of the next several months I transitioned to a vegan diet and lifestyle while staying educated on animal (mis)treatment and developing my thoughts on the topic. In the beginning I asked a lot of questions. Did I believe humans were herbivores? Was there a natural food chain that allowed us to eat meat at any cost to the animals we consumed? Should animals have rights? Delving deeper into these topics I quickly realized asking if humans were herbivores or omnivores wasn’t the point. The natural food chain had nothing to do with the way we consume meat, and I eventually concluded that all animals (human and non-human) have basic rights that should not be denied.

Science has demonstrated that animals can express suffering. They feel pain and pleasure, exhibit fear, and experience loneliness and motherly love. Animals, like humans, did not ask to be put on this earth but find themselves sharing a space with a species called “humans” who have a whole lot of power over the lives of the rest of Earth’s animals—for good or ill . I concluded, along with a lot of others, that all of us who share this earth deserve certain rights, like the right to be free from the oppression of others, the right not to suffer simply so that others can derive wealth or pleasure at our expense, and the right to pursue our creaturely activities, such as caring for our young, breathing the outside air, using our legs, arms, and muscles, and living in a communal setting.

The motivation behind my abstinence from animal products and bi-products is the concern for the well being of animals. The demand for cheap and excessive meat has created a hell on earth for the animals that share this earth. Confined into cages, laying hens lack the very basic right to spread their wings and breathe the outside air. Pig are denied their longing to be communal and relational, their gentle nature turning cannibalistic in response to daily anxiety, abuse, and distress caused by extreme confinement and brutal environments. And pregnant nearly their entire lives, a milk cows birth a  little baby each year which is immediately taken away from her and the milk, naturally produced to feed her young, becomes processed for human consumption. The cow’s innate desire to feed, care for, protect and nurture her babies is stripped away from her.

As a new mother this hits home more than ever before. My emotional response to birthing Eden was so instinctual, I have to believe this is the same instinct animals feel as they bring their young into the world. Ever for those who can’t believe animals and humans share the same strength of emotions, if a cow, pig, monkey, or any other non-human mother felt even a fraction of what I felt in that immediate (and continuous) moment(s) of love and desire to protect and nurture, then we ought to think very carefully about stripping that animal of her deepest and most innate desire.

I believe these, at the very least, are the basic rights every creature on this earth deserve. There is no steak, egg, or ham worth the suffering of these animals.

Does my vegan lifestyle really make a difference?  I say yes. In six years I have seen amazing  changes in this country and world.
  • Numerous states have passed laws banning battery cages for hens, gestational stalls for pigs and crates for veal.  Laws continue to be written, voted on, and passed as this country becomes more aware of factory farming conditions. Check out some of the campaigns the Humane Society is currently organizing.
  • The number of vegans and vegetarians in the United States continues to rise and there are many mainstream movements (such as Meatless Monday) working to limit meat consumption in our daily lives.
  • Restaurants, grocery stores, and retail shops are popping up all over the country including VeggieGrill and Native Foods, two all vegan fast food chains. And yesterday I found out McDonalds will be opening an all vegetarian restaurant in India.
  • Celebrities, medical doctors, social philosophers, and social and natural scientists have been progressing in this direction and becoming leaders in the voice of veganism.
I believe we will continue to see greater awareness and movement towards a stronger plant based diet and am excited to see what another six years will bring.
 
So in response to the question, “Why vegan?”, this is the first and foremost of my reasons. If you’ve come this far, thanks for reading! Stop by next Friday when I will be tackling veganism and it’s global impact.

For more reading on animal treatment in the United States, check out:
Eating Animals, Jonathan Safron Foer
Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, Erik Marcus
Animal Liberation, Peter Singer
PETA on Factory Farming
Farm Sanctuary on Factory Farming