Veganism Takes Guts

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Veganism Takes Guts

By David Horton on Abolitionist-Online
February 2008

So, why go this far? Perhaps because it’s the starting point to the changes all humans need to make - we’ve done horrible things to each other and even worse things to the animals, and in the process nearly wrecked the planet. Those who are making the strongest stand are vegans. They make such a fuss about animal slavery because it’s as ugly as any slavery gets. It reflects the nastiest side of human nature. We should all be ashamed.

To stand up for animals you have to be vegan, and to be vegan you have to have guts. No tickets on yourself, no boasting about it, just a strong will. It’s not for the faint hearted. It isn’t a breeze.

So, why go this far? Perhaps because it’s the starting point to the changes all humans need to make - we’ve done horrible things to each other and even worse things to the animals, and in the process nearly wrecked the planet. Those who are making the strongest stand are vegans. They make such a fuss about animal slavery because it’s as ugly as any slavery gets. It reflects the nastiest side of human nature. We should all be ashamed.

Billions of beautiful innocent non-human animals are ruthlessly seized, imprisoned, have things sucked out of their bodies and then uncaringly and cruelly killed. This is no euthanasia! It’s simply money driven cold hard bastardry.

That inspires vegans to call for change. But we’re dealing with determined human beings, intent on eating meat and spending money. So even more, we need solid vegans, active ones, determined to see things get repaired.

Humans have two choices, either ignore animal issues or act to liberate animals. It’s probably the only choice we have left. If we work to liberate animals, then everything else is repairable. Repair has to start at home. It’s about individuals making choices to bring about social change. It has to start this way because we’d be mugs to think any responsible government would ever close the abattoirs! Short of a catastrophe forcing their hand, it isn’t going to happen that way. We need to prepare for voluntary change, to become turned on by vegan principles not put off by them. And then, when there are enough vegans, we’ll have some real ‘people power’. Meanwhile, in these ‘early days’, vegans need to be tough to keep up their plant-based food regime whilst building a new product market, educating and group pressurising. It will be the press for change that will make it happen.

But pressure! It can work both ways. When people want to know, we can tell them but If we talk unwanted we get the ‘fascist’ tag thrown at us. “Must? Who says? It’s a free world, I can eat meat and no one can stop me”. How do we talk about animal issues with friends who don’t want to know, or to the media who also don’t want to know? How can we stand up for animals when no one wants to hear? It’s difficult to resist the temptation of driving our friends mad because, being so frustrated with so few people who’ll listen to us, we’re tempted to talk ‘vegan’ to non-vegan friends. We hope we might convert them. But who is ever pushed into anything too early? Pressure! It’s likely we could already be a seriously irritating friend, even becoming an ex-friend.

It’s worth keeping our friends because they are our most precious resource. They keep us going when we get down. Love them at all costs, answer questions but resist the temptation to try to convert them. Unless they ask say little. Keep the ‘talking’ for speaking in public.

Vegans have an important story to tell. Best told well - about the criminal attack on animals … it being bad enough to consider risking almost anything to stand up for them. To tell the story we’d go to the ends of the earth, to show how vegan consciousness can be the most enlightening and exciting opportunity there is … with the bonus that it stops us buying crap food. And all this would be wonderful were it not for the silence forced on us by people who don’t get it. And we, as vegans, have neither the power nor the right to change their minds. Their minds might be quite fixed, at the present: to them we’re trying to be too ‘good’, like being superior, like being stand-offish by rejecting the traditions of our culture. To them it seems crazy, for instance, to ignore the fine cuisines of the world by taking on a plant-based-only diet. “This is NOT for me!!” they say. “I’d go mad with all that denying yourself things and getting a social reputation for trying to be different”. For them it’s a threat. So, up go the defences … and maybe a white lie thrown into the mix. They say things not to hurt our feelings. They admire vegans for what they stand for. “I wish I could do it myself. . . ” and beneath their breath “No way! Ugh! Never! Not for me!”.

That’s a long way from how vegans see things – they see the bubbling violence in people, the ugly food they eat, the things done to animals. It’s sometimes hard to eat with people or mix with them socially. No wonder vegans seem like a social pariahs. But there’s a point to my painting this picture – if this is the reality for vegans, it’s sad, but at least builds will power in us, essential when asking ourselves: “Am I strong enough to say “no’ when I’d rather say “yes”? … can I overcome taste pleasures and food addictions?” If the answer is ‘yes’ then vegans can turn to talking, reporting “yes, it’s possible” and “it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be”. But however convincing we are telling people this, no one can know till they try. Until they want to try and want to be convinced that a vegan lifestyle is liberating and can even make us happy.

Veganism leads to being happy …“Happy, what right do I have to be happy while animals are still in cages …etc?” If becoming vegan doesn’t make us happy there’s good reason for it. Not because we resent missing out on all the goodies but because we can’t believe how slowly things are changing. Ever still, animal suffering gets worse and the planet dies and we humans continue to procrastinate. All the while vegans are wondering why people are so blind to the crime of exploiting animals. Why don’t they see animal slavery for what it is? Why do they sponsor the machines of murder, pollution and misinformation? If vegans get mad with people it isn’t because they have a death wish, for wanting to lose all their friends, it’s because of the drone mentality, and of course especially when they see it in their friends. So, how come we vegans know ‘it’ and they ignore it? Perhaps that’s slightly beside the point. Asking this question is usually a diversionary mental whinge that takes us nowhere.

Our attention should be on how to talk. The trick is to make what we say come from the heart, so even kids can understand and adults find it embarrassing not to. To say whenever we buy anything from animal sources we support an attack on them. There’s not much more to impart. You can ask any three year old kid why we are hurting animals and, even if they don’t know the answer they’ll understand the question. It isn’t complicated. It’s just a sad indictment on those of us who are still caught up in the whole sorry mess of violence. And ego … spending so much energy trying to prop it up or saving face, in order to justify what we do. The average adult still argues that we DO need animal food for our health, even though they know this argument is so behind the times. These days we should all be aware of the mass of evidence to the contrary, about nutrition and the benefits of plant-based diets, about it being safe, healthy and energy giving. And for the details, anyone with a Net connection can find out about this is more detail, plus how to prepare food, what to buy, how to make things taste good, where the vitamins and minerals are, etc. all without having to read dozens of books. It’s all there at the click of a mouse.

At present we humans can’t plan for the future because we look at ourselves and see no hope for the world. The sorry mess of animal farming and our part in it (as consumers) mirrors the mess inside our own heads. We fear finding out. And if it isn’t a fear of illness then it’s this social outcast thing, this fear of losing friends - the isolation cell we think we’re going to have to live in, if vegan. And on top of this is the realisation that what is my most important issue is not even on our friends’ radar.

That is … unless we tell them all about it, which brings us back to the central problem here: while we are busting to tell all our friends about it, they for their part, are busting to stop us!

I’ve already mentioned reasons why not to talk to them about it, because whenever we do it comes out sounding judgemental of them, and that is like being aggressive. It makes them uncomfortable. So, for the sake of keeping the peace we might need NOT to lay it on our friends … and yet we reckon we’d go crazy inside, wanting to get things off our chest - our friends are the only people we can talk freely with … and then, naturally, why not try to convert them (telling ourselves how wonderful it would be for our friends to become vegan!). Our move to bring this subject up with mates puts them off side. They find us obsessed and we take umbrage and quarrel. Friends, who needs them? We find them dispensable.

Friends play an important part in defining the person we are, in helping us develop in our peer group. Nothing’s going to happen for us if we lose our friends. So, for these reasons I have to come to the reluctant conclusion that we shouldn’t try to convert friends, unless asked. Instead keep quiet about our vegan principles. Put our energy into speaking in public . . . however, that’s the rub. Access to the public is limited. Discussing the subject of animal rights is not welcomed anywhere, in the streets, in churches or in schools. Channels of communication with ‘the public’ are blocked for the same reason that our personal channels with friends are blocked. The media, mass or otherwise, is not open to animal rights issues. Nor are interviewers, journalists, educators, priests or doctors because they all eat animal foods themselves. So, you see the picture I’m painting here. Vegans have to put up with this HUGE frustration factor. Unable to speak. Effectively silenced. Is it any wonder that long term vegans are so angry and are also largely inactive.

Going vegan isn’t just a spiritual picnic, it’s a set of serious considerations, some of which I’ve mentioned above, and all of which can be imagined in the space of a millisecond, whenever anyone thinks about being vegan - it fills them with fear. Mercifully, vegans don’t feel that any longer and can move on to another stage, where animal-advocacy is possible. It is centred on one rule: eat vegan: save animals. Everything else follows from that. And everything else worth having comes from that too. Especially the self-confidence to both be and talk on vegan issues.

The liberation of animals is ultimately on the line here but our own freedom is too. To be an effective activist we each need to be free from a world bogged down in self denial, self harm and bad habits By becoming vegan we shift the emphasis away from the self to ‘the other’. We try to become a benign influence on the world, just by making a statement about the wrongness of animal slavery.

By standing up for animals we are ambassadors. That’s a great thing to be, but it can feel like such important work that we get too busy with our own projects, and find no time for others. We both receive and give little encouragement. So vegans have to get used to going it alone (and we can’t expect much appreciation from those we are trying to liberate, the cows and chickens) - our strength must come from within. It’s all we have to draw on, to withstand people’s derision and accept doing without so many things. And we need strength and imagination to re-educate our taste buds and develop a preference for clothing and footwear, toiletries and cosmetics that are cruelty-free. All this takes energy. So, what I’m saying here is that going vegan puts pressure on us. It’s like supporting two families at once. We load a lot of responsibilities on our own shoulders and that weighs heavily, especially if we are trying to repair our world, boycott nasty stuff, try to find replacements, educate others and do it all solo.

Perhaps the key to a vegan’s overall success is to get beyond wanting-to-be-something or about giving things up. Veganism isn’t really about becoming enlightened or about being proud of ourselves (*Will Tuttle, in his interview puts it this way, “ … it’s nothing to be proud of. It’s our natural human seeing, … seeing beings to be respected rather than commodities to be used and harmed for self-centred pleasure or profit). Certainly, we should be proud of being vegan but not boastfully so. Our main focus should be on making friends and keeping the peace, keeping friends even when they disagree with us, and most of all building support systems with fellow vegans who need as much support from us as we do from them. In their public lives vegans must defend animals and eventually win them their right to live in freedom. And if that is difficult we need to develop more than bravery, we need to have a vision of how the world will be - where animals are no longer prisoners and therefore no longer afraid to be near humans. We need a mixture of optimism and maybe just a little magic. Something special that helps us transcend ordinary fears in order to regard privation as a privilege.

And of course being an animal advocate is a great privilege, despite friends making it so tricky for us!

It is a fact that even the most vocal organisations are aware of this potential for losing their support base by speaking too boldly. Even in the public forum today, whenever animal matters are raised, we only hear about the worst abuses of animals - factory farming or vivisection. We rarely dig deeper into the fundamental attitudes that need changing and the need for day-to-day boycotting of animal products. In our transition towards veganism we still go for a piecemeal approach which prevents us making brave statements about cruelty-free products and a world without abattoirs. And it’s because we incline towards the acceptable that we don’t spell out the urgent need for a complete uprooting of animal usage. Until we set this down as the basis for all our arguments, until we think abolitionist and talk it too, we won’t really get anywhere. And whatever we do achieve will be weakened because of that.