As humans, we are often concerned about what our peers think of us. Those of us who identify as vegan are no different. Although the world is gradually becoming more accepting in this regard, I still cringe a little on the inside when I identify publicly as a vegan. Too often, people assume my veganism means I am some sort of extremist; they ask (in bewilderment) where I get my protein; or they inject their own opinion – “I could never give up [x, y, or z animal product]!” Most of these people with whom I talk about my veganism are not mean-spirited, but perhaps they haven’t fully understood where I come from with regard to my dietary choices.
Why do I follow a vegan diet (one that avoids meat, dairy, and eggs)? Quite simply: to reduce as much animal suffering as possible. In the U.S. alone, over nine billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year. The vast majority of these animals – chickens, cows, pigs, and others – live their short lives on “factory farms,” with little or no access to the outdoors, all the while being pumped full of antibiotics to avoid infection – which is rampant because of how closely they are crowded together. The standard American diet has produced such incredible demand for animal products that the modern factory farm looks nothing like Old MacDonald’s farm. Instead of cows happily giving us their milk, hens happily laying eggs, and farm animals of all kinds willingly sacrificing themselves for our tastebuds, we know from research that the animals living in these horrendous conditions experience stress, fear, and pain.
Thinking about life on a factory farm, it’s not unusual to realize that farmed animals don’t like this arrangement. How would our pets react if they were held in captivity and led to slaughter? How would we?
I approach veganism from three perspectives. First: I see veganism as the best way to align one’s diet and one’s values. The overwhelming majority of people love animals; in fact, most are appalled to learn of the intense cruelty that takes place in producing the animal-based food on their table. Most people of faith already believe in the humane treatment of animals, and biblical texts contain many references to this tenet; the next step is to find ways in which we can more fully marry our actions with our beliefs.
Second: I think it’s important for vegans – and anyone who cares about animals – to find a way to get active to promote their cause. Spreading the word about the abuses of factory farming has exponentially more impact than simply following a vegan diet in silence. Everyone has a specific talent or way they can get involved that can benefit animals, whether that’s leafleting, writing letters to the editor – one of the most widely-read parts of a newspaper – or making financial contributions to existing nonprofit groups.
Finally: it’s helpful to remember that veganism shouldn’t be a contest about who can best scour a list of thirty ingredients. We all cause suffering in our lives, whether that’s by stepping on an ant or running over a squirrel. Sometimes things happen. What matters is that we work to reduce as much animal suffering as possible – and avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs as much as possible is a great first step on that path.
For more information about veganism and ways to become active for animals, check out one of the most effective and efficient advocacy groups out there, Vegan Outreach.