This past weekend, I had a delicious and gratitude-filled vegan Thanksgiving… for the most part. Here, I reflect on my experience of being a vegan so far.
Before I sat down at the dinner table, I was reflecting on how grateful I am to be vegan and to have the support of my friends and family. It is such a beautiful thing to see the change that just one person can create. I used to be one of those people who would scoff at the thought that one person can make a difference. Do shorter showers really do anything? Not really. It helps, but… not really. But by going vegan, or just cutting down significantly on animal products, one person can make a HUGE difference. That inspired me, and still inspires me, to no end.
It’s hard not for the facts to spill out of me here. I’ll offer up just three for now:
- You can save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you will save by not showering for a year. (World Watch Institute)
- You save 198 animals a year by going vegan. (PETA)
- A vegan lifestyle influences the people around you. (Me)
The last one might not be backed up by hard facts and numbers, but in my experience, it’s just as true as the others. What’s difficult is that this influence isn’t always, at first, positive. Some people get annoyed when a vegan discusses why they’re eating and living the way they do. I think that there is a collective consciousness in circles of people that love each other, and so my awareness of the immorality of eating meat will extend to my family… whether they like it or not. Whether they choose to change their actions or not, they will likely be a little more conscious of their consumption of not only meat, but animal products.
I do not expect all my friends and family to become vegan. In my first attempt in becoming vegan, which ended terribly, I became aware of the horrors of factory farming. I was angry and disgusted, but, truly, I didn’t get the whole picture yet. I think it was actually through practicing yoga that I finally registered what they meant by “we must have compassion for all living things”. Yoga is known for communicating with us through metaphors, but this is literal. All living things means all living things.*
When my teachers would say this, I felt like it was just skimming the surface. Once I began to fully comprehend this reality though, I am trying to see every living thing, more and more, as a brother or sister. I can’t say I actually feel this way yet, but it is always going to be a goal to get to that point. But some people can’t even understand this argument. We do not get to decide where to draw the line at what living beings deserve our respect and compassion.
I realized that in this case following my gut, which told me it was wrong to eat meat and going through the actions of doing this even if I did not totally comprehend it on a moral level the way I do now, led to me having a much deeper understanding of what it means to practice compassion. You don’t have to be all the way there to start, you just have to start and then your mind will follow. There is definitely no going back now. I used to think I would be tempted to eat meat all the time. I am now at the point where I truly cannot imagine sinking my teeth into the seasoned flesh of another sentient being. To me, it has become barbaric. We are no longer in a living situation where we need to kill other living beings for sustenance.* So while the angry vegan stereotype annoys me, there is some small part of that stereotype that is unavoidably true. I feel anger because of the way I see the world so much differently than those around me. But I know that I see it much more clearly, at least for myself and what I am meant to be seeing. And so while I am grateful for that… I am saddened that it seems like everyone else is, sometimes willingly, wearing a mask to the reality around them.
But, mostly, I am grateful for this newfound vision. I remember driving down a highway and seeing a sign that was advocating for the protection of wolves. The next sign was an advertisement for a hamburger. How can we put one animal on a pedestal as beautiful and majestic while the other animal is almost expected to be ground to a pulp between two buns ready for our consumption?
Just because we have normalized something does not make it okay. Slavery was once normal too. Back then, slave owners may have thought of themselves as good people; they just thought that being a good person didn’t extend to other races. Again, we do not get to choose where to draw the line. We cannot continue eating the way we do. We can either stop the consumption of animal products, or we can perish as an ignorant, self-serving civilization.
All animals deserve the same level of compassion and respect. My point with the wolf and cow example goes off of this. While wolves are endangered, and their conservation is tremendously important, I also think that we need to realize that the same behaviours that are causing the endangerment of wolves is stemming from the same attitude that is making us feel like it is okay to eat meat. Wolves are endangered because of behaviours like hunting and clear cutting land to make room for agriculture. Many ocean animals are endangered because of fishing with giant nets that sweep everything below, including sharks and whales.
These endangered creatures die because of our belief that cows, chicken, salmon, and trout (for example) do not deserve compassion; instead, we believe they deserve to be eaten and they are on this earth for us. They are on this earth for us in a way because our environment would fail without them. They are not on this earth for us to eat. They are here for us and with us.
An interesting link between wolves and cows was brought up in an article on Mind Body Green. In 2012, a bill was proposed in Michigan that would allow people to start hunting wolves again. The reason for this was supposedly that wolves were frequently attacking cattle. Well, this already seems hypocritical and stupid because obviously farmers could just put a little more effort into protecting the cattle. Clearly this is just an excuse to allow hunting and for farmers to make money. I don’t understand what the thought process would even be here. After reading the whole article I learned that of the 149 cows that were killed, 96 were killed on a single farm, with their rotting carcasses left to attract wolves.
All animals are equal. The massacre of those cows is just as awful as the wolves being lured and hunted. If we took care of cows, we would see that they are beautiful and intelligent animals. They love their children and are driven to be happy, just like your family pet wants to be happy – in their own way.
It’s interesting to see how each person approaches veganism differently. My dad has drastically cut down on meat consumption since my shift to veganism (and my constant nagging that he needs to watch Vegucated), and he said that despite all of the environmental arguments I’ve posed, the only one that resonated with him was thinking: how would he feel if someone made a hamburger out of our dog, Hershey. It makes me so happy and proud of my dad that he was able to lift up some of the mask, and see compassion for all living things. Another little boost of happiness was when I discovered an internet tab on his computer for “how to make vegan breakfasts”. Now, he’s been cooking up all of these delicious vegan recipes for the family. Recently, he also said that steaks just aren’t the same to him anymore. It simply couldn’t taste the same because he has now become aware of the lived realities behind that hunk of meat. I don’t think my dad will never have another steak again, but I do know that once you have become aware on a deeper level about the reality of meat consumption and animal products, you will be suffering a little bit inside every time you eat meat.
Back to the notion of gratitude… Thanksgiving definitely has its challenges as a vegan. Food wise, it can be tough if you are having dinner at a table where they are not knowledgeable about veganism. It’s also just difficult to be at an event where meat eating is so normalized. In these moments, it’s hard to remember to be grateful instead of angry! For example, I couldn’t help but feeling annoyed when my family for some reason decided to discuss how many of them think hot dogs are delicious. I was even more annoyed that I am somehow seen as being pushy and mean to them if I point out that hot dogs contain lips and assholes and are completely disgusting on top of being morally wrong. I feel like there is this unspoken law that vegans are supposed to just let others remain ignorant about their food choices and never get angry or else they are labelled as mean, angry vegans. Suddenly it’s all about their choices and they choose to eat hot dogs and nobody can make them feel bad about it because it’s their choice. Why is it so acceptable that people are allowed to make choices that take away the choices of others?
Someone even said to me that me being a vegan doesn’t mean I am more moral than them (believe me, I had not even remotely suggested this to be the case). I cannot claim to be a more moral on a general scale, no. But in terms of eating, my choosing to not eat animals that have been killed for my consumption makes me a more ethical eater than someone who does not. It’s not my fault that pointing that out makes someone else uncomfortable with the hypocrisy of their own beliefs. I know that I really need to get better at controlling my anger and remember that I can’t control whether people have the ability to open their eyes to what I am saying. But I really am grateful for those who do.
*Recently someone said the whole bit, what about plants? They’re living! Here’s a brilliant response by my hero, Will Tuttle.
*Some cultures around the world do need to kill animals to survive.