Veganism is Compassion in Action
Melissa Phillips,16th February, 2009
It is difficult to answer the “but, why vegan?” question when speaking to someone who is of the opinion that animals have be put on earth to be used, abused and consumed by humans. To be fair, “abused” does not seem to be a word that enters the consciousness of carnivores when making the connection from farm to table.
In my former life, I believed that as long as I understood where my meat was coming from and ate with a measure of awareness and gratitude for the life of each piece of meat, that it was okay to eat it. After not eating the flesh (or by-products) of animals for more than a year, my point of view has significantly changed. I am not sure whether this is purely a cultural shift for me, or if it is more basic than that. Does our physiology change so much that meat becomes unpalatable? Has my awareness been coloured by so much veggie propaganda, or am I on the right path?
Certainly, when any drastic lifestyle change is made, everything around us changes as well. What we watch, read, eat and think are intimately connected by our changing perspective. Doubtless we surround ourselves with media that supports our changing point of view, but I like to think that I have approached my veganism with a measure of balance. I do not wish to be convinced that my choice is the correct one; I want to know that it is right for my body and my conscience.
I am no longer able to justify to myself the sacrifice of an animal to provide me (personally) with food, clothing or upholstery. In my mind, there is not much difference between a perch, pigeon, pig or pug. My mother’s 25lb Thanksgiving turkey could have been any skinned or plucked animal, and I could not help but take a second look at my 21lb friend, my canine buddy Keifer.
I am a reformed smoker who never wanted to be preachy about it with friends who still practice the habit, and I feel the same way about my choice to quit animal products. I do not have it in me to decide what is right for anybody else, but I will share my point of view if it comes up.
There are many reasons people become vegetarian or vegan; these motivations are diverse and all equally relevant in terms of our human responsibility, and our position as stewards of the earth and all its creatures.
In casual conversations, I’ve discerned that most people make the shift to a vegetarian diet for health reasons. A plant-based diet greatly reduces the risk of suffering from any lifestyle-related disease such as heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes and hypertension. Of course, there are still genetic, stress, environmental and other factors at play when it comes to health, but diet is (to me) the easiest factor to control.
Personally, I have not experienced any negative side-effects as a result of my food choices. Just the opposite, as a matter of fact. After a lifetime of tummy-troubles, I now digest my food easily and quickly. My salt and sugar cravings have been greatly reduced. My energy is a lot more steady and I don’t crash in the afternoons. My most recent physical exam did not uncover any nutritional deficiencies, and my doctor is not concerned. I general, I feel better all the time.
Another topic that often comes up between vegetarians and carnivores alike is the destruction of our environment. Industrial agriculture puts a huge strain on the atmosphere and eco-systems. Factory farms contribute significantly to the degradation of forests and plains, the pollution of groundwater and generate tonnes of cO2 through animal waste. Cow belching alone is responsible for a huge amount of methane emissions. Imagine that!
Generally speaking, people who decide to go whole-hog vegan all the way (no animal products or by-products whatsoever) are moved greatly by the plight of farmed animal the world over. In mainstream media, an episode of Oprah highlighted the living conditions of factory farmed hogs and chickens. This episode aired just before people were to vote on California's Proposition 2. This proposition, which passed with 63% of the vote, prohibits any confinement of chickens, veal calves and gestating sows that does not allow them to stand, lie down and fully extend their limbs. Before seeing this on Oprah, I’m sure a large portion of her audience was not aware of the way their food was being treated. I truly believe that if you’re going to eat it, you should be able to stomach all of the not-so-tasty facts as well. Bravo, Oprah.
The popularity of books such as Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (Running Press © 2007) have made veganism more fashionable. What motivates women more than weight-loss, beauty and humour? Though you are less likely to have weight issues as a vegan, it is still possible to create many gourmet treats and foodie delights. There are many amazing books, blogs, websites and magazines dedicated to making veganism easy as well as delicious.
Although I am very happy with my choice and love my vegan food, you will never hear me say that this is an easy lifestyle. I will say that it does get much easier over time. Socially speaking, dinner with friends can be challenging. Those of us living in small towns do not have easy access to vegan-friendly restaurants or take-out. I always eat something before going out so I never feel deprived if there isn’t much on the menu for me.
Shopping can be difficult as well. Cruelty-free products (especially shoes and belts) can be hard to source. The internet is the greatest shopping tool to be an informed consumer. Over time, all these challenges become smaller, and hopefully, with more people making the shift to a vegetarian lifestyle, cruelty-free products will become more mainstream.
Becoming vegan has been a huge growing experience. Every day I learn something new about myself and I’m very excited about new possibilities. I love creating new recipes and feeding my friends and family. I love feeling good about what I am doing. I am enjoying the process. For now, I am very happy with my choices and I no longer struggle with my conscience. I am still working on bringing forward my better, more compassionate self, but for now, just doing what I can is enough.