If you think that cutting out meat, dairy, and eggs is the hardest part of being a vegan then you are sadly mistaken. With the gradual increase of the world’s vegan population so too did the amount of snide comments and ridicule over the Internet. Vegans seem to be an easy target, as they all happen to be tree hugging, tofu-eating hippies, right? This might shock you, but the stereotypes and generalisations that are presented to you over the Internet and by media are not always true. It may seem as though vegans have a larger agenda than eating tofu and saving animals, but in reality, that’s all us vegans care about. The most important thing to know about veganism is that it is not just a diet: it is a lifestyle, which includes being the voice for those who are voiceless. People like to label vegans as extremists, but honestly eating fruits and vegetables and choosing not to harm animals is the least extreme thing I can think of. It’s easy to get angry when someone points out the flaws in your arguments and the hypocrisy of your actions because naturally, no one likes to be told they need to change their lifestyle. However, the most important thing to understand is that when a vegan criticizes your choice to eat meat or wear leather we are not doing it to be spiteful, we are doing it so that you realise the consequences your actions are having on the environment, on animal lives, and on your health. It may seem as though all vegans want you to join their cult of compassion and indoctrinate you to believe that all species were created equal, and you’re right, it’s true, that’s all we want from you. If you already believe that all races, genders and people are equal, then you are already thinking in the right direction. The next step is to make the same connection between animals and realise that there isn’t much of a difference between the dog you love so much and the baby lamb on your plate. I understand it is hard to switch from steak to tempeh and from cow’s milk to soymilk, but knowing that no animal had to suffer and die for your food is one of the most rewarding feelings imaginable. You might be surprised to find that when you make the switch to veganism you will view the world in a whole different light, and most likely you, too, will turn into a preachy vegan asshole over the internet. Once you have seen and understood the true extent of animal suffering that goes on behind the scenes, it’s normal to be angry, frustrated and disappointed. Most importantly, remember that veganism doesn’t differ from any other social justice movement. If you wouldn’t make fun of a feminist, a LGBT activist, or a member of a racial minority, then don’t make fun of vegans. Essentially, we are all trying to bring equality and respect into a world that very much lacks it.
“To get mud off your hands use soap and water. To get blood off your hands, go vegan.” – John Sakars
For 17 years, I never gave any real thought as to where my food came from. I grew up eating meat and other animal products, just like my parents, relatives and friends. What was involved in the process of transforming a living, breathing, sentient being into unrecognisable pieces of meat that ended up on my plate? I didn’t know, nor did I particularly care. All I knew was that my mother, who loved me and whom I trusted, prepared my meals, and so naturally this meant that eating meat was healthy, ethical, and sustainable. Like most people, I didn’t question this because everyone around me was doing the same thing, including those who had raised me as a kind, caring individual with a moral compass that said causing pain and suffering was wrong. And again like most people, I didn’t really know what went on far from my eyes on factory farms. Questions did pop into my mind very occasionally, but thankfully I was comforted by my mother’s explanation that we only bought cage-free eggs, and anyway, the cows looked happy in milk commercials. Besides, if anything really bad was going on behind closed doors in the animal products’ industries, no one would have been supporting it, right? Turns out, I was mistaken.
After stumbling across some vegan bloggers and Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals, I started the slow process of informing myself about the realities of the meat, dairy and egg industries. I discovered things I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known before. How had I never been taught that cows had to be forcibly impregnated again and again in order for them to produce milk? I had only ever been told that we had to milk cows otherwise we would be hurting them. How was I only just finding out that male chicks are ground up alive or slowly gassed to death because they are of no value to the industry (they cannot lay eggs and are not suitable for chicken-meat production)? Whilst I was switching lights off around the house to save electricity, I was unknowingly supporting animal agriculture, which is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation. I was shocked to discover that animal products were nowhere near as healthy as I had thought… I was worried about my health when I read that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the US are for use on livestock and poultry, that The West’s biggest killers – heart disease, cancer and stroke – are linked to animal product consumption, and that eating even a single egg a day exceeds the safe upper limit for cholesterol intake. Finally, I was saddened to learn that 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
In the face of this new knowledge, I had to change the way I ate. My New Year’s Resolution for 2015 was to go vegetarian, and despite being worried I wouldn’t stick to it, as I continued to do some research, I also began to reduce my consumption of milk, eggs, cheese, and other animal products until I was eating a predominantly vegan diet. At first, the thought of depriving myself of cheese was terrifying (I mean, pizza without cheese, seriously!?), but I slowly realised I had no need or desire for animal products. There is an abundance of healthy (and unhealthy) foods I can eat as a vegan without feeling as if I am at all restricted. I can still eat cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, milk, meats – just plant-based versions, which are better for my own, and the planet’s health. It’s also a great feeling to know I’m no longer contributing to, or supporting suffering or death. I’m not obsessed with animals, I don’t hug trees, I’m not a health freak – I’m just someone who used to be uninformed and blissfully ignorant, but whose actions are now aligned with their beliefs.