As 2016 comes to a close after a seemingly endless series of notable deaths beginning with Robert Stigwood and David Bowie only days apart and ending with George Michael (so far, anyway – let’s hope the Reaper retires his blade for a while), I was struck by this thought:
One celebrity dies, everybody cries. Slaughter billion of animals, no one bats an eye.
If we all observed just one second of silence to honor each animal needlessly slaughtered for human pleasure today (estimates range from 123 million to 153 million per day – that’s a minimum of roughly 45 BILLION per year), no one on Earth would speak again until at least 2020.
Personally I like that idea, however it’s simply not practical. Here’s an idea that is practical and achievable:
By educating people about veganism, we help them understand that if they believe – as nearly everyone does – that oppression of the vulnerable is unjust (and no members of our global community are more vulnerable than non-human individuals), then they have an immediate moral obligation to disengage from participation in their enslavement, exploitation and execution. This is achieved by living vegan which is defined as “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979 (please see our disclaimer about groups, individuals and organizations).
Simply put, living vegan involves no longer using animals for one’s pleasure, habits, entertainment or conveniences nor paying others to enslave them for any reason. If one believes slavery is wrong, then it is wrong no matter the race, gender, age, religion, species or other arbitrary characteristics of the victim(s).
If you have the ability to speak, then you have the ability to speak for those individuals whose voices are routinely ignored and violently silenced for no better reason than the satisfaction of fleeting human pleasures. If you have the ability to speak, then please speak to those who need to hear why this is wrong, why this needs to end and what they can do, simply and immediately, to bring about that end. Don’t be silent – be vocal about injustice to achieve justice for all. Be vocal about oppression to achieve freedom for the oppressed. Be unequiVOCAL about veganism to create a peaceful, fair and just world for allsentient beings.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
2017 is quickly approaching and with it, my twelfth veganniversary. 🙂
Living vegan was never something I had thought about, planned for or aspired to but, from the moment I made that seismic shift in my thinking and behavior toward individuals of other species that instantly led me to veganism, I knew that returning to living a non-vegan life was not an option.
Before going further, at the risk of offending those who self-identify as some version of “vegetarian” — Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Reducetarian, Lacto–Ovo-Bilbo-Frodo-Groucho-Chico-Harpo-Zeppo-Marco-Polo-I-Dunno-No-tarian — it needs to be understood that when one is vegetarian (i.e., still consumes some animal parts or secretions), one continues to directly participate in animal exploitation. Arbitrarily excluding certain products of animal exploitation, like veal or other “meats”, from one’s diet does nothing to reduce animal suffering or help change the current paradigm that allows and demands that non-human individuals to be used as disposable, replaceable human resources/property. Vegetarianism may seem on the surface to be helpful, but one need only look a little deeper to realize that, sadly, this is simply not the case. The tacit message of vegetarianism is that “some violence and exploitation is not ok, but some is ok”. When put in a human context (child or spousal abuse, for example), we clearly see the problem and immediately take appropriate action to a) cease our complicity in such morally unjustifiable activities and b) advocate for a full stop to all such activities.
Solving a Mystery – When Did I Start Living Vegan?
For years I’ve wondered exactly when it was that I made the ethical decision to live vegan, as opposed to the mostly arbitrary decision I’d made some months earlier to “become a vegetarian”.
I mean, I knew it was late in 2004 and certainly know the circumstances (I’ll never forget…) but I couldn’t recall the date and always wished I could. Earlier this year, I was leafing through an old journal (from back in the days when people actually wrote privately in journals rather than blogging, tweeting and Facebooking every thought in their head, a behavior of which I’m certainly guilty) and was excited to find some entries that have essentially solved the mystery for me.
From what I can deduce from the third entry below, it was within a few days of New Year’s Eve 2004 while my cousin Scott and his future wife Laura were visiting Florida on vacation.
Entry 1 is the first indication that I had gone vegetarian, which we can see was not based on any ethical considerations; it was all about me. I had simply eaten so much meat over one particular weekend that I felt I’d “eaten all the meat I’ll ever need to eat” (I actually said something very similar at the time):
[Keith's Journal Entry #1] 8/21/04 - I haven’t checked in here in quite a while. I’ve decided to become a vegetarian and have been eating strictly veg (OK, lacto-ovo veg, as this morning’s omelette would suggest) since March 19th (2004), immediately following the Grilled Meat-Fest at Rudy’s [my now ex-father-in-law]. Don’t worry Rudy - it’s not you, it’s me.
Note my use of the term “veg” (above) which is pretty meaningless as it lacks any real definition. That morning, “veg” included eggs (and very likely cheese) which are not, to my knowledge, “veg”etables.
Entry 2, paragraph 1 shows a glimmer of awareness – albeit wrapped in self-righteousness – that laziness and selfishness are two qualities inherent in (most? all?) humans that can make it challenging for one to take a stand against any societal norm, even when that norm requires the egregious and morally indefensible enslavement, exploitation and execution of trillions of innocent non-human individuals every year for no better reason than “they taste good”.
[Keith's Journal Entry #2] 12/8/04 - [in an Asian-fusion restaurant] - The college-age kid seated to my right commented to his dinner date that, “I think I could be vegetarian”. My first thought was to tell him he’s right and just how easily he could make that transition [but] simply put, vegetarianism is NOT the easier, softer way. Culturally, in this country, meat is easier. You don’t have to look deep into a menu to find chicken and burgers and steak. But a vegetarian dish that’s more than just a side of something? Often, this requires effort, and Americans don’t want to put in effort. After all, this is the society that invented fast food and the drive-thru.
I love when non-vegetarians (y’know - flesh-eaters) find out I’m vegetarian! The #1 question - right out of the box, within seconds - is “How do you get your protein?” I have to remember to write up some index cards to carry around explaining how it’s done and debunking the protein myth. I could just go with, “Well, I still eat human flesh. I don’t think that counts as meat... Human is a vegetable, right”?
Paragraph 2 (above) shows – once again wrapped in self-righteousness – the spark of my desire to educate others (or just be a pain in their ass). Unformed and without direction, it was there nonetheless. Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see. A fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred – I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.
Entry 3 shows me what I wanted to see – a fundamental, life-altering shift had occurred. I was leaving my non-vegan life behind and moving forward with a commitment to no longer participate in animal exploitation.
[Keith's Journal Entry #3] 1/7/05 - I’m at Sublime [vegan restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, FL], waiting for a table. I was here New Year’s Eve with Cousin Scott and his girlfriend Laura. They’re both vegan and just wonderful, spiritual people. They didn’t give me the vegan hard-sell, but I’ve decided to go that direction. I’ve already bought two belts made from man-made-materials to replace my leather ones. I’ve gone online in search of non-leather shoes, sneakers and wallets as well. I’ll need to get past my sentimental attachments to my leather stuff because I really don’t like the idea that someone died and, prior to that, lived miserably to produce them. I watched Peaceable Kingdom with Scott and Laura and saw the unbelievably wretched conditions food animals “live” in. I came away feeling... haunted. It was like watching footage of Nazi concentration camps. There should be an animal holocaust museum.
After seeing how dairy cows are mistreated, I’ve realized they are nothing more than slaves. I don’t want to be a part of the slave ‘n slaughter culture anymore. Scott and Laura simply refer to all animal products as “death”. Couldn’t be more accurate. My death-free entree has arrived - seitan with mashed potatoes and veggies. It’s one of the best things I’ve EVER tasted.
I find it notable that my earlier entry stating I’d “decided to become a vegetarian” went no further or deeper, except to show just how non-committal I really was about the whole thing. I was even jokey about it. Going “veg” was no more significant a life choice than, say, making the decision to wear khakis more often or take up cross-country skiing or mahjongg (or cross-country mahjongg while wearing khakis… whatever). It was just another thing to do, a whim subject to change at a moment’s notice. I recall that, along with that decision, I also very loudly “reserved my right” to eat fish and eggs “if I need to”. I’ve since learned that a) no human “needs” to eat fish or eggs for any reason and b) when the “right” I’m reserving denies another sentient being his or her right to live freely, it’s not a right I’m reserving – it’s a morally unjustifiable wrong.
By contrast, in discussing my decision to start living vegan in Entry #3, I included some of my feelings and reasoning for making that decision (including identifying animal use as slavery, a fundamental injustice I oppose, which was the catalyst for my decision to live vegan), action I’d taken and plans for further action in the same direction. Put another way, this was not some spur of the moment whim. I was serious.
When it comes to veganism and animal rights, I’m still serious and that’s how I’ll remain. It’s no laughing matter that trillions of land and sea animals – non-human individuals who think, feel and have the same basic right as any human animal to live life freely and autonomously – are killed every year for human pleasure, entertainment and convenience. It’s the shame of our species that the majority of us continue to support, condone, promote and actively engage in such horrific and barbaric practices. Living vegan is the very least we can do for the animals and, secondarily, for ourselves and this small planet we all share.
Veganism should be our global society’s moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species and fortunately, for many of us and more every day, it already is. Is it yours? If not, why not?
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
To take a stand against one form of oppression while willingly participating in another shows a lack of integrity and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. All one needs to do is engage in a little bit of critical thinking to see this.
It’s always sad to see the anger that comes out in people when their entrenched beliefs are challenged as their participation in the oppression of the mostvulnerable members of our global society — non-human animals — is exposed.
When one agrees to participate in the oppression and exploitation of one vulnerable group, it opens the door to further oppression and exploitation of other groups. The myth of human supremacy begets speciesism, which in turn begets racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and the like. If one feels “superior” to a particular group and gives oneself permission to bully and oppress them at will (to the point of killing and eating them by the billions, in the case of non-human individuals), why should another group be expected not to do that to them? How is that fair in any way?
You can’t demand justice while committing injustices.
A non-vegan once asked me, “Isn’t it hard being vegan?”
OK, it wasn’t “once” and it wasn’t “a” non-vegan – I’ve been asked many times by many non-vegans, some out of well-meaning curiosity and some who were looking to poke holes in the foundation of my ethical stance to abstain, wherever possible, from meat, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool and all other products of animal exploitation. My answer always starts with “No”. Sometimes it ends there and we go our separate ways, but more often than not I will take the time to explain just how easy it was (and still is) for me to choose to live vegan once I understood the injustices involved in turning a cow into a steak, a chicken into a cutlet, a pig into bacon and a baby calf into a suede jacket, to list but a few examples of the tyrannies humans force on vulnerable individuals of other species.
A good question to ask non-vegans who believe living vegan is “hard” is, “Who told you that?” In my experience, it’s never a vegan who tells someone that living vegan is hard… because it isn’t. It’s usually someone or some company with a product to sell that counts on such misinformation to keep consumers from thinking critically about veganism and the moral obligation it entails. Stretching one’s arm 6 inches beyond the cow’s milk to reach the almond milk, for example, is not a difficulty – it’s a minor inconvenience and slight change in a habit pattern that will become a new habit when practiced for a short while. Shopping for affordable non-leather shoes may take a little more time that simply buying ones made from the skins of dead animals, but this is again only a minor inconvenience and one easily overcome. In my experience, this is true of nearly all shifts from using products of animal exploitation to living vegan and, once new habits are in place, everything is easy again.
If there is anything “hard” about living vegan, it’s dealing with the cognitive dissonance of non-vegans.
Non-vegans. They come one at a time. They come in groups. Sometimes I feel like Bruce Lee entering a room full of black belt warriors and having to defend myself against their simultaneous assaults. They come online, at work, at the grocery store, in restaurants… sometimes I’m surprised they don’t come knocking on my door when passing my house and spying the vegan bumper stickers on my car (usually, those random doorknockers are Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to share their “good news” with me. Want to know my definition of fair trade? Graciously accepting some of their literature and handing them some clear, consistent vegan information in return after discussing why veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of all sentient beings. That’s the best news I know).
As a recovering non-vegan (more of an anti-vegan when I really think about it), I get it. I was the classic, stereotypical animal product consumer, waving hamburgers under my vegetarian friends’ noses, snarkily asking my PeTA-supporting former boss where the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans” pamphlets were and thinking up clever ways to derail their veg-trains. I understand where non-vegans are coming from and why many, but by no means all, behave as they do toward vegans:
I was unable to diagnose, recognize and deal with my fears back then. Instead, I acted out in denial and avoidance of those uncomfortable feelings. Somewhere inside, probably near the pounds of undigested red meat rotting in my intestines, I understood that every hamburger begins with a cow begging for her life. I knew something dreadfully awful was happening to veal calves and it wasn’t, as I so cleverly rationalized (and I’m not proud of this, though I was at the time), “the only life they know anyway so, since they have no frame of reference for what a happy life is, why does it matter? And if their lives are so bad, it’s actually merciful that we slaughter them so young and put them out of their misery. We’re doing them a favor!” I knew that chickens didn’t “sacrifice” themselves to become the nuggets I was eating twenty at a sitting. I knew… and I denied. And I defended. And I attacked. Those were the methods I employed to keep from hearing, understanding and – worse – feeling the truth about animal exploitation and my complicity in it. I kept the truth a comfortable distance away and drowned out the voice of my conscience with pseudo-intellectual rationalizations and justifications that, as I now know, were mere fabrications of my frightened ego.
When I deal with non-vegans now, especially in terms of vegan education, I try to meet them where they are, remembering that I once stood where they stand – blinded and misguided by a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have us believe we need to eat animals to survive (false), that we would suffer and maybe die if we didn’t (false), that animals were put on Earth to serve us – the “superior race/top of the food chain/most advanced species” in the history of the planet (false) and on and on. I remember that I too was once afraid to take a stand for my ethical beliefs in a society that marginalizes, ridicules, bullies and berates those who swim against the current of cruelty and go against the grain of gluttony, afraid to be looked at as “abnormal”, afraid to no longer be accepted by those who engage in behaviors I now consider morally unacceptable…
So I do my best to let them know how it was for me, what happened to cause me to change and what it’s like for me now. I let them know that making the choice to live vegan is the single best choice I’ve ever made and that living vegan is the best action I’ve ever taken. I let them know that it’s best to follow one’s ethics instead of one’s palate. I let them know that veganism is not a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a phase – it is one’s personal commitment to a social justice movement that seeks to dismantle speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet today. I let them know that every argument against veganism is an argument in favor of slavery, bullying, misery and horrible, needless death. I let them know that if they believe animals matter morally at all, then living vegan is the only rational response. I let them know that living vegan is as easy as making the decision to withdraw support from and cease complicity in a worldwide system of animal exploitation. I let them know that vegan food is nutritious, delicious and all one needs to survive and thrive in optimum health.
And I let them know that I, and millions of other vegans, are here to offer education, informationand supportif they are willing to put their fears aside and embrace that which they already believe in – justice for all.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
“I’ll tell you something, Berger – you can go a day without food and a day without water, but you can’t go a day without a good rationalization” – Wayne K. Johnson, educator, New Baltimore, NY circa 1988
I once overheard a store employee remark to her coworker she isn’t going to tell her children “all the bad things” she’s heard about Sea World (“Like how they keep whales in too-small tanks for years and years” *rolls eyes indignantly*) so as to not “ruin the experience” for them. I commented, “Well, kids oughtta know the truth, right?” and she replied with the following rationalization that I could actually see her struggling to create on the fly:
“No… they need to, uh… meet them in person, um… so they can fall in love with them, uh… and want to protect them. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.”
Riiiiiiiiiiiiight, that’s a great idea. The logic is infallible. Let’s take the kids to see enslaved animals held prisoner 23 hours a day in tanks that for you and I would essentially equate to bathtubs who are then trotted out and forced to perform unnatural acts while being rewarded with food that is otherwise withheld from them in order to get them to engage in said acts in the first place – and PAY their captors to continue this abuse. Yup, that’s sure to instantly turn any child into an environmentally-conscious marine biologist hell-bent on ensuring marine mammals are protected, if they can see past the exciting, cleverly packaged “entertainment” of it all. That, or they’ll want to take home a stuffed orca and ask when they can come see the pretty dolphins again.
And who’s making what sacrifice here, aside from you sacrificing your ethics if you believe the “bad things” you already seem to know about this organization you’re about to support? Are you suggesting the current Sea World slaves are “sacrificing” their freedom so your children can see this, become enlightened and protect future generations of marine mammals? I think even a rabid, speciesiest utilitarian like Peter Singer would find that to be a stretch worthy of the most flexible Tibetan yogi. In fact, I think it’s an example of the Head Up One’s Own Ass pose.
By analogy, would anyone take their kids on a field trip to visit a group of sex slaves – and pay their traffickers for the privilege – so that, having witnessed the “sacrifices” being made, their kids will have epiphanies and start crusading for human rights?
I’m not a parent, but I believe that part of responsible parenting is to model appropriate, ethical behavior and instill a sense of justice and morality in one’s children. Allowing them to watch and participate in events where individuals of any species are exploited seems to be the exact opposite of those ideals. If you wouldn’t bring your children to a cockfight, then you shouldn’t bring them to Sea World (or any marine park), or the circus, or the zoo. Further, I’m of the belief that parents should be educating their children from as early an age as possible that individuals of other species are exactly that: individualswho should be afforded, at the very least, the right not to be treated as property and/or disposable, replaceable resources to satisfy human pleasures and conveniences.
When we educate people that enslaving non-human animals and treating them as property is morally reprehensible, we begin to dismantle speciesism and change the paradigm that makes the use of animals for human desires acceptable. This paradigm shift begins with vegan education because, when individuals begin to live vegan, they quickly cease complicity in supporting all forms of animal slavery.
I’m ashamed to say I made none of these comments to this individual (beyond my initial comment) as I knew with 100% certainty that I was, at that moment, incapable of forming any statements that would have come out kind in any way. It’s said that discretion is the better part of valor, but I can’t help feeling this was a missed opportunity to educate, or at least offer some valuable information to this individual. In the moment, I was seemingly without the ability to find my way from verbal assault mode to education mode, so I chose neither. I’m not proud of that choice, but it’s the one I made… this time.
Perhaps I’ll see this person again and take the opportunity to further the conversation. Until then…
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
The victimization that results in the consumption of animals is the most devaluing form of subjugation imaginable, as it involves paying someone to overpower and kill an individual (unless one does it oneself), then cutting one’s victims into little pieces, swallowing them, physically turning them into shit and flushing them down toilets.
Calling someone a “piece of shit” is one thing, but nothing says “You have no value whatsoever” like turning another individual into actual shit.
Always remember that it’s not just the animals humans use as food that’s at issue – all animal use for human pleasure and convenience is morally unjustifiable. As we dismantle speciesism through educating people to live vegan, we move closer to the abolition of this and all other forms of oppression that spring from the myth of human supremacy.
You can stop participating in the theft of others’ dignity, freedom and lives right here, right now by starting your vegan life today.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how:
[NOTE: I plan to update this essay from time to time to include more feedback from individuals who have responded positively to South Florida Vegan Education Group’s (SFVEG) ongoing public education efforts. Stay tuned – it’ll be worth it! 🙂 ]
After ten years of engaging in single-issue animal welfare campaigns, I have zero evidence to suggest that any action I took in that time helped influence a single person to begin living vegan. One reason is that most, if not all, of those campaigns are organized by large donation-based animal welfare charities (you’ve heard of them even if you’re not vegan – their expensive marketing budgets have seen to that) whose primary agenda is notto influence people to live vegan but rather to ensure the continuation of a steady stream of donor dollars from their largely non-vegan donor base by being careful not to alienate them. This is achieved by actively avoiding using the word “vegan” (or downplaying it, or being vague about its meaning and importance) and certainly not presenting veganism as the moral baseline for our treatment of individuals of other species.
Since I refocused my advocacy and, with co-founder Elena Brodskaya, that of South Florida Vegan Education Group (SFVEG) and committed to engaging in clear, consistent, unequiVOCAL abolitionist vegan education, we keep receiving feedback that people are committing to living vegan as a direct result of our conversations, presentations and associated work. I don’t have the words to express how gratifying and humbling it feels to know that what we do actually makes a positive and meaningful difference in the world.
Here are some examples we’ve compiled of feedback we’ve received:
Thank you to all who support me and our group in these endeavors, and a special thanks to my friends Ramona Reichert for gently (ok, not so gently 😉 ) shaming me into opening my vegan mouth on Facebook and to Colin Wright for gently (ok, not so gently 😉 ) nudging me out of the black hole of welfarism and being the first to point me toward abolitionism. I am deeply indebted to you both.
Lastly, but mostly, thank you to my love, Elena Brodskaya, for walking this path hand-in-hand with me and for being my greatest influence and inspiration, my constant sounding board and for gently (yes, so very gently <3 ) letting me know when I need to come back from some tangent I’m on and get back on the path.
If you’re not vegan: please ask yourself why and then ask yourself whether your answer(s) would hold up and be justified if the helpless victims from whom you receive palate pleasure and other benefits were human. If you feel they would, let’s talk about that. If you feel they wouldn’t, let’s talk about that, too. Either way, I’m truly interested to hear your thoughts and have a discussion. Really. For realz. No kiddin’ around. Mean it.
If you are vegan, I’ll leave you with this: clear, consistent, unequivocal abolitionist vegan education works, and it’s far more effective than engaging in campaigns that profess to have the best interest of animals in mind, yet in reality exist to serve their own ends through endless self-promotion, donation solicitation and putting out small fires while ignoring the larger source of the blaze that’s been burning the world to the ground for centuries. Sadly, when we work to reduce – but not eliminate – animal suffering (as is the hallmark of the welfarist organizations), there’s an unintended consequence — non-vegans keep eating animals, only now with a clearer conscience and no reason nor desire to ever stop. If you’re afraid to be direct and honest about veganism, I challenge you to move through the fear and do what you know is right. After all, your “fear” is nothing compared to the real fears being felt right now by the animals we all want to save. To operate from fear in this light helps no one. In fact, as a form of enabling, it only serves to cause more unnecessary suffering to all involved.
From my heart to yours, thank you for listening.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: