In less than two months I’ll be celebrating 25 years of veganism. That’s longer than some vegans have even been alive 😉 I thought it was a great opportunity to reflect upon what I’ve learned as a vegan in those 25 years and see if any of it resonates with any of you.
Incidentally, this year, towards the middle, I’ll celebrate 15 years of sobriety having not let a drop of alcohol cross my lips in that time. It is a celebration, because both of these events have taken commitment, dedication and perseverance against societal norms during these 25 and 15 years respectively. Incidentally, I’m not sXe (straight edge) though I’m sympathetic to the ideology, as I enjoy coffee and tea and I’m for the legalization of drugs. But that’s another matter.
So here are some thoughts about what I’ve learned in 25 years of veganism that have helped me stay the course and keep sane in a schizophrenic world.
1. The passage of time brings its own gifts.
I have said this to those close to me regarding aging. I’m enjoying getting older, it does indeed bring greater gifts than time is able to snatch away. The same is true of veganism.
When I started back in 1990, the only soy milk available to vegans had to be bought from Chinese grocers, and it tasted like liquified soybeans. It was gross, so much so, I resorted to wetting my cold cereals with diluted apple juice, and not finding that ideal, started switching my breakfasts to toast and jam or marmite (yummy) or to oatmeal. I also explored making my own almond milk before it was cool. And that was yummy and worked incredibly well in cereal.
I had to learn to drink coffee black, as I had historically taken both cream and sugar. You also couldn’t find meat analogues or Tofurky, at least in my neck of the woods. For special occasions we had to make our own ‘Roasts’ out of seitan (praise be to seitan), which had to be made from scratch. It takes hours to knead the dough from flour when you don’t have gluten flour and you have to rinse your ‘dough ball’ under cold running water for what seems like forever as your hands go numb.
You whippersnappers don’t know how good you’ve got it dang nabbit by gum 😉
2. Change happens but it’s slow.
You’ve seen the numbers, billions of animals are dying horribly each year. Millions per day in the US alone. It seems hopeless, and I sometimes have felt that way myself. And yet things are changing. To quote Martin Luther King Jr. “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
This is true. Less than 75 years ago we didn’t know what veganism is. In fact, this November, 2015, will be the 71st anniversary of Donald Watson coining the term veganism. That’s not even a lifetime.
And in that time we have seen the arc slowly bend towards justice. I believe that furs are becoming less common and seen as an abomination and not a fashion statement. The same could be said for veal. I like to think that veal production is down in the last 25 years. Meat consumption is up less than 10% since 1970, but beef and lamb consumption is down. Pork is practically flat but sadly, our feathered friends, chicken and fish are bearing the brunt of humanity’s appetite as well as fish 1.
Even more encouraging, veganism is becoming a bipartisan, or perhaps maybe even a nonpartisan issue, as the latest VRG survey I saw cited roughly equal percentages of vegans on both the Democratic and Republican parties. And indeed, it shouldn’t be a political issue.
3. The world is still full of assholes and it ain’t gonna change.
But these assholes are becoming a little more polite. I don’t nearly as often hear snide remarks made about my veganism as compared to 25 years ago when I just started out. Indeed, politicians, business(wo)men and sports stars are becoming vegan in greater numbers.
We’re still a small minority but I believe we’ll see great growth in the next 25 years as people being to realize as I’ve been saying all along that aiding and abetting the violent deaths and suffering of innocent beings for nothing more than palate pleasure is anathema to the finer values and ideals of humanity and human beings. More will come to see that. Others will come to realize that the healthiest diet is a healthy vegan one.
The truth telling will ring from the mountain tops.
4. Veganism is becoming more confusing to the general public than not.
This one pains me personally. And what I mean by this is that veganism has been usurped, likely by the imbeciles who got us into the shit we’re currently in (the baby boomers), by aligning it with diet. Whereas diet is only a part of what veganism is.
For those unsure, veganism is a lifestyle seeking to eliminate as much as possible the harm caused to other sentient beings by eliminating animal products from our diet and other uses. That’s why vegans don’t wear silk, leather or wool or try to eliminate products tested on animals etc. Diet is just one part of veganism.
Unfortunately, too many people are confusing the health benefits of a whole foods plant based diet with veganism. A whole foods plant based diet is only a part of the vegan lifestyle and it’s probably not even the goal, i.e. not all vegans are eating as well as they can or should. Which leads me to…
5. The only valid argument for veganism is ethical.
This is not to say that I don’t support folks who want to selfishly appropriate a whole foods plant based diet and thus think they’re vegan. I’m all for the elimination and removal of suffering by just about any means. But these are the same folks who slip on and off the band wagon as their lily livered will allows.
Listen, veganism is not a dietary choice2, it is a lifestyle choice based on ethics. That’s it, that’s all. It’s nice that folks happen to become non animal eaters because they’re concerned about their health, but they’re not vegans.
However, I’ll take any wins we can get that means less suffering. But we can’t dilute the waters of veganism with the piss and vinegar of navel gazers who are solely interested in their own health without regard to the sympathy and ethics involved in veganism. I hope most folks who choose a plant based diet will come to see the ethical righteousness of their dietary choice and thus choose to take on veganism at a deeper level but I’m not so sure, because…
6. ‘Vegans’ are dropping off the bandwagon like flies on shit.
You’ve heard these stories. I was a vegan but I just couldn’t cut it. I didn’t feel healthy, and when I went back to eating meat, cheese, milk, eggs (menstrual waste) or pig saliva I felt like a million bucks. Bullshit. You just didn’t give a shit about the suffering of animals. You’d sooner continue to enslave them and condone the violence meted out against them because you are of weak moral fiber, don’t have any, or you’re easily swayed by society, authority figures or your own navel gazing voodoo.
Read this book by Jack Norris RD. Now, I grant that maybe 1 in 100 people might need something that can only be had in animal products, maybe, and that’s if I’m feeling generous, which I am right now. However, what about the other 99 out of the 100 of us. We’re not natural omnivores, we’re natural vegans. Just ‘cos we can eat animal products doesn’t mean it’s best for us. But I digress.
I’m glad more people are eating ‘vegan’ style, but if you’re an ethical vegan, you’ll go to the ends of the earth before you consider consuming animal products for some even really, really legitimate health reason. Let me rest on this topic with a quote from George Bernard Shaw:
My situation is a solemn one. Life is offered to me on condition of eating beefsteaks. But death is better than cannibalism. My will contains directions for my funeral, which will be followed not by mourning coaches, but by oxen, sheep, flocks of poultry, and a small traveling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honor of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures.3
7. Vegans should endeavor to eat a healthy whole foods plant based diet.
I think the best way to encourage change is to be an example of what that change looks like to others. Whether we like it or not, we are judged by others on our outward appearance. We should try and make that outward experience as pleasing as possible. And to a large extent that is within our control. Veganism helps to keep us trim, but we should endeavor to remain so.
This is not about fat shaming, but we’re fat because we eat too much. Vegan or omnivore alike. And nowadays with all the plethora of vegan processed and fake foods it’s easy to do so. We must remain ever vigilant. Remember, veganism is a compassionate ethical lifestyle choice aimed at reducing as much as possible the suffering of sentient beings.
Stop the presses!!! We, as humans, are also sentient beings. So be compassionate to yourself. Eat well, try to live a healthy life. Limit your alcohol consumption, don’t smoke and take time to feed the temple, physically, spiritually and emotionally. This brings me to…
8. Vegans MUST supplement with B12.
This is non negotiable. I’m not gonna debate the merits of why veganism might not be the all ‘natural’ diet for humanity if we need to supplement with B12. Suffice to say, I love me some civilization and I’m not a fan of return to nature fallacies.
You might not ever have a problem if you don’t supplement with B12, but it’s cheap, harmless to do so and should be a requirement of all vegans. But that’s all you have to supplement. You can choose others if you wish. I also take DHA/EPA omega 3s from algal oil and vitamin D in the winter. But only B12 is mandatory. This is the kind I like.
9. Veganism is not an absolute, rigid set of rules.
As an ethical lifestyle choice, I’m okay with vegans slipping up now and then. It’s not about perfection. There is no perfection, there is only try, and try better. I’ve slipped up on occasion knowingly and unknowingly.
‘My name is Jason and I’m a vegan.’
‘I have slipped up and eaten milk chocolate when I was vegan.’
‘Gasp… stone the heathen!’
No. You’ve gotta be compassionate first and foremost. Not only to yourselves but others on the path, and even those who are yet to see the truth of veganism. I might sound like a bit of an asshole on this blog, but it’s my alter ego. I really am quite compassionate and understanding.
10. Veganism is not about the minutia.
This was a hard one for me. When I was starting out I got a little bit strident and militant about veganism. But at the time it was hard, I had started the first animal rights and vegan club on the local university campus and I had seen more cruelty by vivisection and slaughterhouses than I can ever forget. And that made me sad and mad.
But arguing over the bit of casein in margarine, or which wine or beer is truly ‘vegan’ as it is not clarified with isinglass or whether the sugar in your sugar bowl used bone char to clarify it, or, even, heaven forbid whether honey is vegan or not (it’s not, but I ain’t gonna bitch you out about it), is not helping the long term sustainability of the cause.
Drink your Guinness and put bleached sugar into your coffee… or don’t, but let that remain a personal choice as we focus on making even greater wins…
11. Veganism is about eliminating cruelty as best as is possible.
I’ve touched on this before. Veganism is not perfection, nor is it the higher moral ground, even though it is true and right and kind and good. We are flawed beings, but we can continuosly strive to do better.
Take care of the gimmes, the softballs. Eliminate all the obvious animal products in your diet. No more meat, fish, fowl, eggs or dairy. There are great vegan options now. Don’t by any more leather, wool or silk. Use up or give away those items you do have. Don’t support circuses, rodeos or any other animal slavery. These are easy, and by doing these few things you’re 99% of the way there.
Who wants to be part of the 1% anyway 😉 Explore further options as your interest in veganism grows but don’t sweat the small stuff.
12. Your mindset will begin to change.
Wanna hear a gross story? I’m gonna tell it anyway. I used to love pork belly and crackling when I was a teenager. In fact, it was such a rare treat that it was a special order for almost all birthday celebrations. Now I recoil in horror just thinking about how I used to think about animal products.
I now think of bacon, or beef as parts of sentient animals. I shake my head in wonder that I could have ever thought of them as food. I no longer see animals or their products as food just as much as I could imagine a human as food. The idea is just so bizarre as being almost incomprehensible.
Food is only what the earth provides, what Genesis 1:1 suggests. Vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, beans are food. Animals are our companions, our brethren and sistren, on this flitting, fleeting flight on this gentle, delicate orb hurtling around space in a cosmos too big to really understand.
13. Veganism is peaceful.
Once you come to terms with the horrors we daily inflict upon animals, you can start to enjoy a deeper peace. I’m not talking about apathy. I’m talking about a peace in the soul, knowing that you are no longer contributing to that barbarism and suffering. You can continue to be a gentle warrior fighting for truth, compassion, veganism and justice, but you don’t have to live in the pain of it. The peace is a cool and soothing pool. Dwell in it.
As Franz Kafka said:
Now I can look at you in peace; I don`t eat you any more.4
14. You can and will instigate positive change.
I can’t say that I’ve done as well at this as I would have liked, but I have done my best. I haven’t helped move many people to veganism other than immediate family, but I am aware that friends make more compassionate choices when I’m around.
So be around more people. Be a guiding light, a warm candle to show the way rather than a hot and harsh interrogation lamp.
15. Veganism fits well with all religious beliefs.
From the research I have done, there is no prohibition against being vegan. From Islam, Judaism and Christianity, you can practice veganism alongside your chosen spiritual beliefs. In fact, in many religious and spiritual practices it is sometimes recommended. Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism come to mind.
And this brings me too…
16. Veganism is not only non denominational, it is also apolitical.
This was mentioned before. But veganism is not aligned or affiliated with any political stripe or creed. Republicans and Democrats can be found as vegans in equal numbers. And along with this theme…
17. Veganism is universal.
It is an ethic that anyone can appreciate, perhaps those who have born the brunt of sexism, racism, homophobia or any other suffering can appreciate it at an even deeper level. Compassion is a universal language. We all respond to kindness and animals are no different.
18. Veganism is humanism at its core.
Humanism tries to support the inherent goodness and potential value of human beings. Human beings are nevertheless animals. Veganism is about aiming to reduce the suffering of other sentient beings as much as possible. And humans are other sentient beings too.
Being vegan is not about turning your back on human misery and misfortune. I’d say it is quite the opposite. Veganism is about trying to lift all who are in suffering out of that difficulty and awfulness, be they human or animal.
19. Veganism is truly environmentalism.
I’d go so far as to suggest that you cannot be a complete and true environmentalist unless you embrace veganism. Animal agriculture is a nightmare to the environment. If we are truly concerned about climate change and reducing soil erosion and the abuse of fossil fuels then we must embrace veganism as a core tenet of environmental stewardship.
20. Vegansim is the healthiest diet.
We are natural vegans, in spite of the necessity of needing to supplement with B12. More and more science comes out yearly to back the benefits of a vegan diet on our health. And I believe that as time goes and science becomes even better and more nuanced, and scientists are able and willing to check their biases we will continue to see that even small amounts of animal consumption is detrimental to our health. So why eat them at all in any amount?
That was a rhetorical question by the way.
21. We are already witnessing the first generation of born vegans.
My son was part of this group, until his mother veered him off course for a few years, but he’s since found his way back home.
In the last 25 years we are starting to witness, at least in the west, a generation that will grow up without ever having eaten animals or animal products. This is just phenomenally awe inspiring. They are still a small minority of their generation, but can you imagine living your whole life without ever having contributed to societies hidden cruelty and violence towards animals? To me, that’s the gold standard. Hell, it took me 20 years to figure it out!
22. It is never to late to become vegan.
My father was 50 or older when he became vegan, and he’s been vegan over 20 years now. Don’t dismiss anyone, however young or old. You might be quite surprised by who might become vegan in the future. We’re seeing that all the time and it is uplifting and heartwarming.
23. You are planting seeds wherever you go.
Like a gardener, as vegans, we are planting the seeds of compassion and veganism wherever we go. Try not to give up on anyone, but don’t mistake your own path to veganism or even veganism itself for proselytizing. Explain your truth honestly and patiently to those that ask, but be forever vigilant about coming off like a militant vegan jackass.
Your example, as I’ve said before, is more important than your words when it comes to veganism.
24. Veganism has never been easier and it’s getting easier all the time.
That’s some more truth telling right there. Remember how I started it off by saying how good you young whippersnappers have it? Well you really do. I really do 🙂 It’s getting easier to be vegan all the time.
People now for the most part understand what veganism is and if they’re not downright supportive they’re certainly not as antagonistic as they have been before. I believe that veganism is becoming more and more easy each year. We’re getting better foods and healthier options. Science is creating great fabrics that don’t require animal abuse and we’re understanding that plant based diets are the way to go.
25. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.
This is what I want to leave you with. Let’s not get too caught up in the details. Let’s embrace all roads to veganism, even if one of the major highways at the moment is veganism for selfish health reasons. At least we’re winning some battles.
And don’t lose sight of your own veganism. Take care of the big issues and work from there. Encourage veganism by showing how easy it is. If you’re new to veganism, please don’t get bogged down by the details, focus on the beautiful forest.
For those thinking about veganism, here’s how to do it. Give up animals products. No more meat, fish, fowl, eggs or dairy. Don’t buy any more leather, wool or silk. Get used to that for a bit and then, if you want, explore veganism further as your heart leads you.
BONUS: Veganism will prevail, it will stand the test of time.
Remember what MLK jr. said? We are on the side of righteousness and truth. And in time, perhaps many generations from now, humanity, I truly believe, will be vegan for all intents and purpose.
Veganism for the win 🙂
1 – http://vegetarian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004716
2 – http://www.vegansociety.com/try-vegan/definition-veganism
3 – http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/Animal_Rights_A_History_Gearge_Bernard-Shaw.htm
4 – http://www.ivu.org/history/europe20a/kafka.html