I wrote this article with Angel Flinn, who is Director of Outreach for Gentle World
– a non-profit educational organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making the transition.
This article was originally published July 8, 2011 on Care2.
“If a man earnestly seeks a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from animal food.”
– Leo Tolstoy
Intellectually, most of us agree that inflicting unnecessary harm is unjustified – whether the victims are human or not. Yet somehow, most of the same people who subscribe to this belief are willing to turn a blind eye to such harm when they themselves receive some kind of advantage from it – whether the benefits are in the form of food, possessions, vanity, or amusement.
Sadly, because widespread violence against animals in the form of ‘agriculture’, ‘research’ and even ‘entertainment’, is sanctioned by mainstream society and its legal systems, the majority of people tend to be unwilling to see this brutality for what it is, and to step outside of the pervasive conditioning that makes such atrocities possible.
It’s true that more and more people are beginning to speak out about the many abhorrent abuses that occur within the animal industry, and the movement to ‘improve conditions’ for these animals continues to gain popularity. And yet, each one of the awful practices that animal advocates protest passionately against – intensive confinement, enforced insemination, separation of mother and child, castration, de-horning, tail docking, de-beaking, mulesing, de-toeing, live scalding, force molting – all of these horrific procedures, and many more, exist because an ever-growing number of human consumers continue to create demand for animal products. To an industry that views sentient beings as economic units – money-making machines – it is unavoidable that such violence will be viewed as an acceptable means to the end of delivering products that turn a profit.
In any case, even if every one of the aforementioned practices were abolished, it would still be immoral and inexcusable to use other sentient beings as resources. In today’s world, vegan alternatives are available for every single significant purpose for which we currently use animals*. Increasing numbers of people are embracing veganism as the solution to the problems we experience as individuals and as a society – from our many health crises, to our environmental emergency, to the issue of escalating violence – all of which have us living in some degree of fear for the future.
*NB: Although animal products are used in certain items for which there currently are no consumer alternatives – such as computers and car tires – there are alternatives that could easily be used in their manufacturing.
As this movement for animal emancipation grows in size and strength, a powerful example is being set by the individuals who refuse to take any part in the brutal oppression of innocents that we call ‘the animal industry’. Men and women all over the globe –simply by living as vegans – are demonstrating that there is no moral justification for the harm we inflict on animals.
Some people might attempt to justify consumption of animal products for reasons of health. And yet, an increasing number of medical professionals are beginning to realize that not only are plant-based diets nutritionally complete, but they are actually more nourishing and far less toxic than their animal-based counterparts. In addition, the public is beginning to realize that many of the major dangers associated with diet – heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and many, many more – are exacerbated by the consumption of animal products, and can actually be avoided by adopting a vegan diet.
According to the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association (“the ADA”):
“…Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases… Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
In other words, the official position of the – very mainstream – ADA is that including animal products in one’s diet is not only unnecessary, but can actually be harmful to our health.
What about our other uses of animals? Leather, wool, silk, down, fur, toiletries, cosmetics, entertainment, sport, the vast majority of our experimentation – all of these are also clearly unnecessary under any coherent concept of the word “necessary”, as there are vegan alternatives available for them all.
Veganism is not a fringe philosophy – it is a moral baseline that is consistent with beliefs that most of us already hold. Veganism is a simple matter of refraining from participating in unnecessary and harmful use of sentient beings. As most people are naturally opposed to unnecessary violence, becoming and staying vegan is not a matter of changing any of our basic moral beliefs. It simply requires us to be willing to change the habits we have developed that prevent us from living according to our principles.
Every one of us has been conditioned by the propaganda of a highly speciesist society – a worldwide culture that is extremely prejudiced against the interests of those animals who did not have the good fortune to be born onto this planet in human form. And yet, every one of us has the power to break free from this indoctrination. Becoming vegan is simply recognizing and admitting who we really are – it is the opportunity to become who we would be if no one had ever taught us that it’s okay to turn our backs on the needs and rights of our fellow animals, that it’s okay to ignore their pain if it leads to our pleasure.
Is veganism a sacrifice? Not at all. On the contrary, it is every non-vegan choice that sacrifices our own inherent goodness. Once you make the decision to live consistently with your values, the rewards – in the form of a healthier body, clearer mind, and more peaceful conscience – will be both profoundly apparent and a source of continuing joy.
But even if veganism does require us to give up some of our favorite foods, beloved items of clothing, and cherished habits, does that question really matter? The institution of slavery and the treatment of sentient beings as ‘things’ – whether human or nonhuman – are inherently and gravely unjust. The changes that veganism requires of us, and the rewards that veganism brings, are irrelevant to the true moral question:
Is the taste of a particular food, or the way you feel in your favorite pair of shoes or your winter coat, more important than the life and freedom of another living, feeling being?