01 November 2010

Happy World Vegan Day!

Vegan (activists) are fond of mini-holidays where they can proudly display their vegan-ness. World Vegan Day, Meatless Mondays, Hug A Vegetarian Day, etc.; these "holidays" serve as annoying reminders to omnivore friends that they are still paying someone to torture and butcher a cow. Yours truly is not exempt from this shouting at the rooftops.

I have come a long way from the days when my self-esteem was so low that I felt the need to identify fully and completely with movements for social changes and/or subcultures. Despite having a "vegan" tattoo and spending 5% of my time hugging animals and rescuing little creatures, I actually do not think of "vegan" as something I am. Veganism is something I do

It is also one of the (if not the) smartest choices I have ever made...in my life and it is definitely something I know I will never regret. 

Why am I vegan?
Animal Acres' own Oliver the Sheep
Well, look at this little guy right here.  My first visit to Animal Acres was in September 2008.  A friend of mine was writing an article on it for a community college journalism class and knowing how partial I am to 4-legged creatures, she invited me along. Changed. My. Life. Forever. I had already been a (shady) vegetarian for a few years, but I had never entertained the thought of "going vegan." Why? For all the excuses everyone else gives...stuff like...

(1) I work full-time and I go to school...how can anyone expect me to find TIME to "be vegan"?;

(2) Veganism is too extreme and too hard. I mean, ok, I get not killing the animals, but you're not hurting them by drinking milk or eating cheese or having an omelette;

(3) I would be vegan, but I just effin' love cheese, man;

(4) I don't want people to think I'm a weirdo PETA supporter;

(5) Have I mentioned I work full-time and go to school...how can anyone expect me to spend time reading labels?!

Yes, I made all those excuses.  People forget that many of us who have gone to the other side were once on their side and most likely do understand and empathize with their own reasons.  The difference being, of course, I realized that those excuses were pointless and had no ethical or logical standing. 

You see, the first time I met Oliver, he walked up to me, placed his head against my thigh, and looked up at me with the most mischievous eyes I had seen in an animal. "Hey there, little fella," I said. "What are you up to?"  Ciddy, the Animal Acres tour guide, walked over and explained where he had come from (meat industry) and then said the first thing that shocked me that day: "Oliver was given hormones and bred to carry this extra 'meat' on his side."  I had not noticed the "meat pouch" sticking out from the side of his stomach until then.  That was the first blow to all the arguments I had against going vegan. The idea of such a wonderful creature with just as much sensitivity and affection as one of my cats being genetically manipulated for an appetite...it just...didn't seem right.

The second blow came when I was shown the battery cages and told that male chicks were ground up alive in the egg industry because of their inability to lay eggs. 

The third blow came from meeting the many dairy farm cows (both the milking cows and the unfortunate (veal) byproducts).

It is one thing to extrapolate about the evils of big business as if they existed in some kind of void.  We all know intuitively that these industries do not exist to forward the progression of mankind.  Slaughterhouses and  animal byproduct industries are about profit at any cost. They are about cutting corners.  They routinely violate worker's rights, cause irreversible environmental damage, pay "health organizations" to release manipulated nutritional data, etc. We know it's wrong. We know it's out there.  It's just not a real part of our life.  Unless a member of our family works in the industry or we have somehow been affected by food poisoning, the majority of us are in a state of blissful denial.  

It is an entirely different thing to be around  and get to know the victims of those industry.  Although human rights and environmental factors are just as important as the animal torture side, knowing about them is not nearly as effective as seeing the scars on a cow that jumped out of a moving truck grasping for one last chance of survival.  It not as effective as hearing the story of the group of piglets who had escaped a slaughterhouse together and seeing them playing and running around all while growing an insane 2 pounds a day (thank you hormones.) It is not the same as seeing the debeaked hens come up to you to sit in your lap despite their painful and dark entry into the world.

I stepped away from the sanctuary a changed person.  

Of course, I did not want to immediately "go all the way."  What about all the (mis)information about health? What about protein? Or B-12? What if these stories are just extreme examples? 

I did what I always tell people to do: researched myself.  In the span of two weeks I read:

1. Vegan Freak, by Bob and Jenna Torres
2. Farm Sanctuary, by Gene Baur
3. Diet for a New America, by John Robbins
4. Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer
5. Mad Cowboy, by Howard Lyman
6. Thanking the Monkey, by Karen Dawn
7. Becoming Vegan, by Brenda Davis
8. The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell

I also watched Earthlings and began to read about a thousand blog entries. 

It was horrifying. I shared what I had learned with my little brother (who I live with) and he looked at me and said, "I guess we're vegan now, huh?"  I asked, "Do we have a choice?" He answered, "Not if they're grinding up baby chickens alive."

When I first made the decision to eat a vegan diet, it seemed preposterous that other people would not follow.  It seemed like such a natural progression once one became knowledgeable and aware of the reasons. So I grabbed my little soap box (ok, maybe like a gigantic effin' soap box) and yelled at everyone. This kind of activism is obviously not effective because who the hell am I to proselytize?

Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, actually made me more sympathetic and aware of the culture of comfort and convenience so I put my little soap box away and decided to straight up "take it to the streets." I realized that one can only plant the seeds and hope they grow.  Of course, seeds cannot grow without encouragement so I made sure to keep myself as non-scary and approachable as possible for people to ask questions in an environment where they do not feel judged.  The truth is...some people are just never going to go to vegan. It's a waste of time and resources trying to get them to think outside themselves, but it's possible to be a good influence! To support and promote conscious eating. To support and promote healthier eating. To support and promote a few meatless meals.  Sometimes, you would be surprised.  One week before I went vegan and two months before my friend Alli went vegan, we were having dinner.  She mentioned my vegetarianism and I said something like, "I could never be vegan. Oh hell no."  Alli then said, "I could not even be vegetarian! I love chicken!"  A few years later, we are both sporting those vegan tattoos and have spent hundreds of hours volunteering, baking, and passing out cupcakes to bar hoppers.

I also think of an early date I had with my boyfriend where he ate Oliver in front of me.  (I refer to all "lamb meat" as Oliver now, tyvm.)  I had come out of a relationship with a vegan dude so it was kind of weird and off putting to see someone scarfing down what I endearingly refer to as "a monkey."  However, I made my boundaries known: no dead animals in my house at any time and if this progresses to a FOR REALZ SERIOUS relationship, I can't have dead animals in a shared home. Other than that, I kept my trap shuuuuuut.  Two weeks into our relationship, he went vegan! To quote S., "If you were willing to get a vegan tattoo, it was worth looking into." <3

Unfortunately, because the vegan diet is a minority, vegan doers are forced to act as spokespeople and examples. It sucks. It can be frustrating.  People are essentially using you as a definition for vegans everywhere or you may encounter people who use someone else as a definition for you.  Just remember it is a way of discrediting that choice.  Even if it is not conscious, the way to ignore someone actually "living their morals" is to categorize and compartmentalize. Don't take it personally and don't allow yourself to be engaged by folks like that.  Nothing good will come out of it (except maybe a good ranty blog and a dinner bitching about omnis with other vegans.)

Anyways, to finish this off, remember to be careful about giving yourselves pats on the back.  I feel it is really important not to think of yourself as better than anyone, because if you feel a vegan lifestyle should be the standard, then you are not really doing anything above and beyond that. 


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