On Fear, Non-Vegans and Cognitive Dissonance

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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.

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Just another day at the office…

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:

They’re afraid, just as I was.

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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, information and support if 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:

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