A dear friend of mine once told me that her parents found the idea of veganism harder to grasp than homosexuality, because: “homosexuality you’re born with, but vegan…well I don’t know where that comes from”.
I should say that my friend’s parents are Texas conservatives and highly religious, so I found their remark very funny.
For those that might find the choice to be vegan odd, especially if you live in the land of red meat, I have tried to explain myself here.
Being vegan for me is a continuation of social justice. However, when compared with other pressing– and depressing– issues of the day, choosing lettuce over lamb sometimes seems insignificant. With so many wars and conflicts, inequality and oppression, I sometimes find myself asking, what does it matter that I don’t eat meat?
It matters because I recognize that there is something in my life that I have the power to change.
We spend a lot of time wishing and hoping for things to change. So when the opportunity presents itself to actually make the world a better place it’s important that we take it. We cannot give up simply because we cannot change the big things.
Paraphrasing from something I’m sure I’ve seen embroidered on a pillow somewhere: If we fail to take the first step, we will never begin the journey.
Because, as I see it, being vegan, or vegetarian, is one of the easiest ways to live a compassionate life. I’m not physically fighting against factory farms, I’m not petitioning congress, I am simply removing my support from an industry that produces a product I do not wish to consume. What I’m trying to say, is that I’m no radical and that I think everyone can be vegan if they choose. Because unlike trying to Free Tibet, or stop racism, or fight for gay rights, being vegan is an individual choice that doesn’t depend on a bureaucracy or government to make a change. All it takes is you. If everyone became vegan, there would be less suffering in the world. If everyone asked the government to free Tibet….Tibet probably still wouldn’t be free. That does not mean that we shouldn’t take on the big issues. But nor should we ignore the small fights.
I accept that I am only one person. But I am going to use my personal agency to the best of my ability. And that includes signing petitions to Free Tibet as well as eating a plant-based diet.
This quote from Dominion, Matthew Scully’s book on the morals and ethics of how we treat animals, describes perfectly what I believe: There is not a limited supply of compassion. And there should be no hierarchy of who we extend our compassion to.
“And it is true that there will always be enough injustice and human suffering in the world to make the wrongs done to animals seems small and secondary. The answer is that justice is not a finite commodity, nor are kindness and love. Where we find wrongs done to animals, it is no excuse to say that more important wrongs are done to human beings, and let us concentrate on those. A wrong is a wrong, and often the little ones, when they are shrugged off as nothing, spread and do the gravest harm to ourselves and others (Matthew Scully, Dominion).
I believe veganism is a concrete way to promote social justice in a world that has enough suffering. People might dismiss it as trivial and think it will accomplish nothing. And I say, no, I am not ending the suffering of animals. But I know that I am ending the suffering of a few. And that is not nothing.
I don’t think we should wait to extend the hand of kindness to animals until after we have solved all our human problems first. Because that is never going to happen.
So let us offer our protection to the weak, and perhaps it will help us learn to be more compassionate to each other as well. It can’t hurt. Often times tackling the easy things first can create the momentum that pushes us through the harder things as well.