13 Years a Vegan (and counting)

2018 is quickly approaching and with it, my thirteenth veganniversary. 🙂

Living vegan was never something I had thought about, planned for or aspired to but, from the moment I understood that animals are individuals and not objects to be used for pleasure and experienced a seismic shift in my attitude 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.

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Before going further, at the risk of offending those who self-identify as some version of “vegetarian” — Pescatarian, Flexitarian, Reducetarian, LactoOvo-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.  If you identify as “vegetarian”, please consider this information and commit to living vegan as quickly as possible.  See the links at the end of the essay for valuable resources!

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.

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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?

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[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

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Integrity Revisited

Our Perspective is Our Reality

Lately, I’ve been questioning whether there is a fundamental flaw in my thinking.

I tend to operate under the assumption that, when given the option, people would prefer to live with moral integrity.  When asked whether they think it’s wrong to hurt and kill the vulnerable for pleasure, most (if not all) of the people I meet say “yes”.  Much as I and others work to provide them with incontrovertible evidence that, if one believes it’s wrong to unnecessarily harm and kill innocent, vulnerable sentient beings to satisfy one’s pleasure, comfort or convenience, the only logical response is to start living vegan as soon as possible, many resist and make the choice to continue benefitting from the injustices inherent in animal use – thereby living in direct opposition to the moral standards they profess to hold.

Could the problem be that the people I meet have no true desire to live up to their own standards in instances when to do so would prevent them from getting what they want, preferring instead to violate their own moral boundaries in an ongoing quest for self-satisfaction?  For example, for those of us who understand that robbing a bank is wrong because taking that which does not belong to us is fundamentally unjust, would we do it anyway if no one was looking and we wouldn’t get caught?

“I knew I was ‘hitting bottom’ when I was violating my standards faster than I could lower them” – Recovering member of Alcoholics Anonymous

This excerpt from a previous essay helps explain why this phenomenon occurs:

…the innate human characteristics of selfishness (“What’s in it for me?”), laziness (“How much energy am I going to have to spend on this?”) and a desire to be right at all costs (“I’m right, you’re wrong… and I’m also right!”) set up stumbling blocks to accepting new and vital information.  The result is defensiveness born of cognitive dissonance (“If what you’re telling me is true, that means my firmly-held beliefs are wrong and I’ll need to make significant changes… and that can’t be simply because it can’t be, so clearly you’re wrong and I’m right because I believe I’m right!”) and an almost impenetrable wall of denial is immediately constructed.

Or perhaps the problem is that the people I meet just don’t have a clear understanding of what values make up their moral compasses, so they follow the crowd and rarely, if ever, question the speciesist societal indoctrination they’ve been exposed to since birth that tells them non-human animals are exempt from the moral community, have no real rights and therefore can be used and exploited for the benefit of humans.

When applied to vegan advocacy, the Socratic method is an invaluable tool for helping non-vegans quickly understand what their morals are where animals are concerned and how veganism is in line with the values in which they already believe.

Here’s an example of Socratic questioning in a vegan advocacy setting:

Questions adapted from vegan advocate Chris Petty’s questionnaire

Being Conscious of Our Conscience

I do my best to live in accordance with my moral compass and am sure that I fail to live up to my own standards almost daily in some aspect of my life or another, but I am far from claiming to be perfect in any way.  I just do the best I can with what I have and, when I realize I’ve done less than my best and violated a boundary, I admit my transgression as promptly as I’m able and amend my behavior so I can do better the next time and recover my serenity in the process.

Prior to embracing 12-step recovery to heal from the traumatic effects of having lived in close proximity to others’ active addictions, I used to believe that I didn’t have a conscience.  To the casual observer, based on many of my choices and behaviors the first 26 years of my life, this might have appeared to be the case.  One day I mentioned this to another recovering person who gently suggested to me, “You always had a conscience – you just didn’t listen to it.”

And with that, the atomic bomb of truth landed right in my lap.

BOOM.

Once again, our perspective is our reality.

Over the past 23 years, I have come to understand and incorporate the Twelve Steps as guidelines for living an emotionally healthy life, and part of my process in “working” the Steps involved making a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself.  Much has been written and shared about this particular step on the recovery path that many seem to find daunting and too tall an order to complete (it’s often said that the Twelve Steps are a “simple program for complicated people”), but a friend broke it down to its essence for me by saying, “Dude, I inventoried my morals” and it suddenly sounded manageable.  I came to realize that I didn’t really know what my morals were – what were the values I held dear and believed in to the core of my being?  What were my basic beliefs about right and wrong?  Did I have my own moral code or was I only watching others and taking my cues from them?

Prior to making my own moral inventory, I could only guess at the answers to such questions and finally wanted to know, so with the guidance of a trusted friend I dove in and did the work.

Consider this passage from an Al-Anon publication:

“My Fourth Step inventory helped me discover who I am, what my values are, the behavior I’d like to keep, and the things I’d like to change.  With this in mind, I am working to establish new behavior that reflects my integrity and expresses my true values.  Where in the past I have accepted unacceptable behavior [from myself and others – Editor], I now can choose a different response.  I must consistently do what I say I’m going to do.  Today I have the courage and faith to be true to myself, whether or not others like or agree with me.” – Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups, p. 345

Once I’d done a good deal of introspective self-examination and completed my moral inventory, I had a much clearer understanding of what I believe in/what I don’t believe in, which behaviors of mine are acceptable/unacceptable to me, what my core values are and who I truly want to be as a person.  In short, I came to know – and embrace – who I am.  I became able to identify and enumerate those values that comprise my moral compass and began setting internal boundaries for my behaviors.  I began living and behaving in ways that were in line with my values and I became more and more comfortable with myself.  It became clear that the more I listened to my conscience, the less anxiety I created for myself and I found that each time I transgressed my own boundaries and stepped out of integrity with my morals by choosing not to listen to my conscience yet again, I felt a familiar sense of shame.  This was the same feeling that had haunted me all those years I’d lived contrary to who I really was, acting out unhealthily in reaction to the toxic cloud of other peoples’ addictions that was everpresent in my life.  It was this feeling that kept me believing I was unworthy of everything – love, acceptance, friendship, family, happiness, success… oxygen – and I knew I no longer wanted to willingly engage in behaviors that would invite my shame to return like a vampire to suck the blood from my soul and leave me cold, empty and nearly lifeless again… and again… and again.

A Literal Moment of Truth

On that night nearly thirteen years ago when I was suddenly confronted with evidence that, by living non-vegan, I was undeniably complicit in, supporting and promoting a worldwide system of enslavement, exploitation and execution of vulnerable sentient beings, I had a choice to make:

Knowing the truth of the consequences of my choices, do I continue to fund and personally benefit from these injustices… or do I do the right thing and cease my complicity in them immediately by living vegan?

I knew almost instantly that my only acceptable course of action was to begin living vegan right then and there, and here’s why:

I understood from my Fourth Step inventory that I place a high value on justice, fairness, honesty and integrity, so I do my best each day to live in a way that honors those values.  When I fall short, there is another part of the Twelve Step process that is extremely beneficial in helping me get back on track, and that’s the Tenth Step.

Step Ten – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Until I was shown the truth about animal exploitation that night in 2004, ten years after my recovery journey began, I was ignorant – and on some level, willfully so – as to the part I was playing in it and once I knew, I couldn’t un-know.  My mind, my gut and the tears streaming down my cheeks all told one story – all animal use is unjust and I won’t be a part of it any longer.

Simply put, I was wrong.  I admitted it.  I amended my behavior.

In that moment, I was faced with a moral dilemma.  Do I choose to take the selfish route and continue doing what I was doing by rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, intellectualizing, blaming, shaming, deflecting, avoiding and otherwise denying that living non-vegan runs in direct opposition to my core values or do I make one selfless decision to stop victimizing others?  Each choice presented its share of consequences, but I knew the consequences of the selfish choice – shame and self-loathing – weren’t ones I was willing to face again, so I made the selfless choice.

My vegan life began that night.

Quote by Michele McCowan

“Humility will help us see ourselves in true perspective and keep our minds open to the truth.” – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change

I make no claims that I take or have taken morally higher ground than others nor that mine is necessarily an example to follow.  I only wonder whether my Twelve Step way of living, the moral inventory it suggested I make and the suggestion to take ongoing accountability for my behavior made me somehow more receptive, open and willing, at least in that moment of truth, to making a hard and fast commitment to living vegan than many of the people I meet.  I am certainly not suggesting that embracing the Twelve Step philosophy is a prerequisite for embracing veganism nor that it’s some sort of universal missing piece of the puzzle, as I know others in recovery who have been exposed to the truth about animal exploitation and continue to personally benefit from those injustices, however I do believe that immersion in some sort of moral inventory process is crucial if one is to have any chance of fully understanding one’s own moral compass and living in integrity.

My feeling is that my moral inventory was a critical piece for me since I would almost certainly not be living vegan today had it not been for the Step work I did that led me first to define my morals and then commit to living by them as best as I’m able one day at a time.

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

On Magical Thinking and Why Food Is Not the Solution to Speciesism

“Education is key. You give a person a vegan meal and they’ll eat vegan for a day. You educate them and give them inspiration to go vegan, they’ll be vegan for life.” – Elena Brodskaya

From an actual conversation:

Long-time vegan: “Do you know the best way to get someone to go vegan?” [smile]
Me: “No, what is it?!?”
Long-time vegan: “Cook them a delicious vegan meal!” [BIG smile]
Me: [blink…… blink…… blink……]

I find myself in disbelief each time vegans tell me they think they can convince people to truly live veganmeaning to embrace 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 – by merely showing them how delicious 100% plant-based meals can be and how easy they are to prepare.  Yes, plant foods are delectable, satisfying and meet our nutritional needs (just some of the wonderful ancillary benefits of living vegan), however most people have prepared, eaten, and continue to eat tasty and satisfying foods that are not derived from animals – and yet 98% of the population continues to indulge in the consumption of animal flesh and secretions right alongside, below, atop, within and around those delicious vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that comprise a plants-only diet.  A “hot dog with everything”, for example, is literally surrounded on all sides by mouthwatering plant foods, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone swear off hot dogs because they became enraptured with relish.  As Elena Brodskaya has said many times, veganism is not a diet and without a morally compelling reason to stop consuming products of animal exploitation, plant-based cuisine exists as just another option among many and not a replacement for any:

“What do you feel like eating tonight?  Italian, Mexican, Asian…  Vegan?”

We’ve had family and friends prepare us countless meals suitable for vegans (I try not to use the phrase “vegan food” because it reinforces the mistaken idea that “vegan” represents a food category rather than an ethical stance against violence and injustice) that they themselves partook of, so they knew without a shadow of a doubt the simplicity of preparation and the delightful tastiness of the food they were serving and not once did any of them exclaim, “That’s it – this food is so good, I’m going vegan!”  I’ve had many enjoyable meals in restaurants of various ethnicities and can say that I’ve never felt an overwhelming desire to suddenly embrace every aspect of another culture because their food is yummy.

When a person is unaware that, through behaviors they’ve been indoctrinated to believe all their lives are appropriate, acceptable and necessary, they are complicit in the victimization of vulnerable individuals, it is crucial to not just offer them an alternative option to those behaviors but to take the time to educate them as to why those behaviors are morally unjustifiable in the first place.  Imagine a scenario in which you know your friend is a spousal abuser and, rather than having a frank and honest discussion about why spousal abuse is fundamentally unjust and that he should stop this at once, you suggest instead that he might consider joining a bowling league as a way to “blow off some steam” on the weekends since it’s fun, communal and gives him something more productive to do with his hands.  While bowling might present a distraction and perhaps interfere temporarily with the pattern of abuse, it fails to address the underlying problem, offers no real solution and is far from a guarantee that the abuse at home will cease or even diminish.

Now consider a scenario in which a vegan serves a non-vegan a plate of spaghetti and meatless meatballs and says, “Isn’t this vegan alternative to meatballs delicious?  Now you never have to eat ‘real’ meatballs again, right???”

Without making a compelling case for why it’s wrong to continue consuming products of animal exploitation (because it represents one’s support of and engagement in the bullying, victimization and slaughter of the most vulnerable group of beings on the planet and is  therefore antithetical to most people’s morals), all that’s been accomplished here is that another option has been added to an existing list of menu items.  Nothing in the non-vegan’s belief system has been challenged, so nothing has changed.  And when nothing changes, nothing changes.

Again, the common misconception that “vegan = diet”, bolstered by celebrities like Dr. Oz (only one among countless others) who blithely promote that erroneous message, moves the focus from where it needs to be: ethics.

If one believes that non-human individuals matter morally and that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on them, then the only logical response is to start living vegan immediately.

Magical Tragical Thinking

It’s not food that truly convinces people to live vegan, nor does eating a salad or choosing a meal free of animal flesh and secretions “save lives” or “spare animals”, despite what large, self-serving animal “welfare” groups – who work in concert with animal agriculture to find more economically efficient ways to exploit animals – would suggest in most of their litter-ature and manipulative marketing materials.  There is no evidence to suggest that skipping a hamburger or saying no to a steak results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary.  Consider this from a previous essay:

“Does [anyone] believe that asking non-vegans to go ‘meat-free’ seven days out of the year (which tacitly condones the consumption of animal flesh the other 358 days per year) is bringing us closer to the abolition of animal exploitation?  It’s not as if the animals currently confined and scheduled for execution so that their bodies can be disemboweled, dismembered and distributed for sale in neat packages will be spared that fate when some unknown number of people take a one-week meat vacation…  The results will be the same as if it never happened – all those animals will die and be eaten soon enough (and then be replaced by other animals forcibly bred into existence for commodification and consumption), and most likely by the same people who didn’t eat them that week.  To believe otherwise is to employ a form of magical thinking that is counterproductive to the cause of eliminating the violent oppression of non-human animals.”

Don’t Just “Go” Vegan – Live Vegan

Again from a previous essay:

“When you ‘go’ someplace (to the store, to the movies, to work, on vacation), more often than not you come back to the very same place you came from, and that’s usually the place where you live.  Conversely, when you live a particular way, you embody your ethics and take them with you wherever you happen to find yourself (just as you would in opposing racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and any other form of oppression, all of which are analogous to speciesism).

What convinces people to live vegan, as opposed to go vegan, is the internalization of the idea that when we know it’s wrong to unnecessarily hurt and kill innocent sentient beings for our personal benefit (usually palate pleasure, comfort, convenience and entertainment) and continue to engage in this injustice, we are living in opposition to our own morals and ethics.

When it comes to living vegan, it’s not the taste on our tongue but the voice of our conscience that effects meaningful, lasting change.

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how: