Though not vegan myself, the number of vegan options on the menu of a local restaurant caught my attention.
In thinking about the commercial solicitation of the vegan market, I was inspired to learn more about vegans. Who are they? Why veganism? What motivates this small but growing segment of the population?
Uncomfortable attempting to explain a movement of which I am not a part, I turn to a committed vegan activist, Marybeth Wosko. Ms. Wosko is a practicing attorney and partner in a law firm as well as a gifted athlete, (marathon runner, A/Open racquetball player, fast and slow pitch softball). She is on the Board of Directors of the Compassionate Living Project, and a Trustee of the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation, www.all-creatures.org.
What follows are excerpts from my cyber-interview as Ms. Wosko explains her philosophy, her cause and her commitment to veganism and beyond. Whether one agrees or disagrees with her views, I hope the reader can appreciate the intellectual, moral and spiritual consistency of her perspective.
GOING VEGAN A little vegan background on the person interviewed.
ES: When did you adopt a vegan lifestyle and why?
MBW: I became vegan upon reading Howard Lyman’s book, Mad Cowboy. I was 33. Something clicked. I had a realization that I was killing animals, killing sentient life, on my dinner plate. This book triggered something in me to face the facts, to face the Truth of killing that I did not see directly. I could no longer be complicit in it.
ES: To which organizations do you belong?
MBW: I belong to, am associated with, or financially contribute to a number of animal rights organizations including The Compassionate Living Project, the Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation, PETA, The Fund for Animals, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, United Poultry Concerns, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the Animal Rescue & Care Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, Best Friends Animal Society, Northwest Veg and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The common denominator of these groups is that this world is not and should not be a homo-sapiens only club.
DEFENDING PETA and criticizing the philosophy of exploitation
ES: PETA evokes negative reactions from many because of some of their tactics. As a PETA member, what is your view of the organization’s tactics and accomplishments?
MBW: PETA, in my opinion, is one of the best organizations in terms of public outreach. Their mission and promotion of non-violence is laudable. Sometimes they promote discussion through controversial tactics. Those who dismiss PETA as lacking in credibility because of those tactics, in my view, are looking for a reason to dismiss an uncomfortable Truth they have yet to realize and are too lazy to change. It is easier to say “radical idiots” than to self-examine behavior and change behavior after contemplation of the ethics of consumer choices.
ES: Discuss your views of human exploitation of the planet, other humans and animals.
MBW: Human exploitation is tied to animal exploitation. The ethic behind either is the same: a party has power and oppresses parties without power. This is a profoundly moral issue. In terms of the environment, homo sapiens as oppressors cannot be denied as we have driven, and drive, species to extinction and now may create a catastrophic global warming through carbon emissions.
DIVINITY AND RELIGION loving God, but the Church, not so much
ES: You have been active in trying to persuade churches to become active. Please explain why you have focused on churches?
MBW: Organized religions, in my opinion, are laggards in terms of ethics and morality – even though they are in the business of ethics and morality. Efforts with my church, which happens to be Roman Catholic, have been largely negative in terms of eliciting interest in animal rights issues. As institutions dependent upon money, organized religion, in my view, is afraid of alienating its donor base by challenging the traditions associated with food consumption. As with the civil rights movement, where most churches waited for people to find civil rights to be important before endorsing it, I believe most organized religions will wait until grassroots reform makes animal rights popular before taking a position on the issue. That, to me, is cowardice and irresponsible on the part of organized religion.
ES: What are your views of divinity?
MBW: Divinity is real. It is the spark of existence and the connection with a greater, benevolent, omnipotent Source.
ES: Please discuss your views of factory farming.
MBW: “Factory Farming” refers to the present state of use of animals in concentrated animal factory operations which are like concentration camps. Animals are warehoused, well away from the press and public view. They, particularly chickens, live lives in squalor and confinement, only to be killed. These sentient beings – sentient referring to an ability to feel pleasure or pain – suffer greatly during their short lives.
MBW: Dairy farming is one of the most abusive industries in terms of animal exploitation and in terms of impact on human health. Cows are kept continually impregnated in confined conditions, giving birth only to have their calves ripped away from them, and then milked continuously until they are spent, at which time they are sent to slaughter. In terms of human health, casein, the protein in milk, has been linked as a cancer promoter of breast and prostate cancer as discussed in T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study.
ES: Why don’t we hear about these cancer issues from mainstream researchers?
MBW: Cancer is big business. All those universities that need grant money are silent with respect to veganism, which may be the best prevention of breast and prostate cancer. Why? Disease brings them money.
HUNTERS, FISHING Do hunters murder the ones they love?
ES: Do you also oppose hunting and fishing?
MBW: With respect to hunting and fishing, this I would describe as “murdering for pleasure”. It is inexcusable and morally reprehensible to teach children this murderous habit in the name of “love of nature” or “tradition”. How exactly is it love to murder the object of one’s love? To the fish, moose, elk or deer, a hunter would be their Satan.
ES: What about animal testing?
MBW: Animal testing is around only because of antiquated FDA regulations and grant money. Better alternatives include micro-dosing of humans and computer modeling.
THE PERSONAL SIDE OF VEGANISM commitment meets lifestyle
ES: What changes have you noticed in your personal life since becoming vegan?
MBW: The impact on my personal life of being vegan has been enjoyable and profound. I am happier, stronger and more vital than I ever have been. I feel great! In my practice of non-violence, particularly on my dinner plate, I feel better connected with what I perceive God to be. Yet my happiness is not why I am vegan. If I were miserable, I would still be vegan. Happiness or narcissism is not the issue for me. Other sentient life is what matters for me. I am beginning to realize that giving strength to others (including the most oppressed, animals) around me is more satisfying than giving strength to myself.
ES: Some might regard veganism as inconvenient. What would you tell them?
MBW: Vegan food is abundant. Many meat eaters would say, “Then what do I eat?”, when the fact is that a large part of what they already consume – coffee, bread, vegetables, fruits, etc. – is vegan anyway. To see veganism as an ascetic lifestyle is wrong. It is the opposite. It is a lifestyle of abundance. As a vegan, I love food more than I ever have.
ES: And the clothes you choose to wear?
As far as clothes, I buy organic cotton and Patagonia items for casual wear and Misook high-end polyester suits for business attire. I have no problem eating or dressing well.
ES: Is your commitment limited to veganism or are there other aspects to your lifestyle?
MBW: My commitment to veganism is not limited to not eating animals. It also means not exploiting human animals, not exploiting the environment and minimizing consumption. I try to buy local and organic whenever I can.
ANIMAL RIGHTS, ANIMAL WELFARE to demand animal freedom or to ease the pain
ES: Where do you see the animal rights movement today?
MBW: The animal rights movement is rapidly gaining momentum. Go to your local grocery store and you will see vegan options.
ES: Please distinguish between animal rights and animal welfare and why you emphasize rights.
MBW: The distinction between animal rights and animal welfare may best be explained by an analogy to human slavery. In the abolitionist movement, a rightist would say “emancipate” whereas the welfarist would say “loosen the shackles and limit the number of whips in a beating.” Most animal rights groups adopt a welfare approach, but only because they feel it is the best way to minimize suffering in the face of a largely apathetic and, frankly, sociopathic public. It is better to reduce suffering if nothing else is likely to happen by way of change anytime soon. Rightists want immediate change today. Welfarists espouse the “pushing the peanut” approach because we have an ethically and morally retarded society. By retarded I mean slow to change. Yet I believe most welfarists are simply practical rightists. They concede to minimize suffering because people won’t stop eating turkey simply because they don’t want to, never mind the turkey’s position. So let’s make the turkey’s brief life as good as possible while he or she is alive because we are dealing with a sociopathic mentality which does not reason properly.
RESPONDING TO CRITICS, ENGAGING THE APATHETIC go ahead, get mad, I like it…and Schopenhauer too
ES: Do you ever find yourself socially ostracized because of your views, or not taken seriously by others?
MBW: I do not feel ostracized generally because I use logic in my arguments directed to mostly intellectually-minded people who comprise my circle of friends. I have met with resistance and ridicule however. When I do, I recall Schopenhauer, who described the three stages of Truth as: (1) ridicule, (2) violent opposition and (3) acceptance as self evident. The anti-slavery movement in the United States is an example of this. First, blacks having freedom and the right to vote? How silly; they are mere animals! Second, the civil war with violent resistance to emancipation. Third, the now accepted axiom that blacks are free persons. This same pattern happened with women, and it will also happen with animals. The common denominator, again, is that of oppressor/oppressed. In terms of animal rights, I like it when someone is angry with me, as I know they are closer to the Truth than those that ridicule.
ES: Some people believe veganism is not a healthy choice. How do you respond to that?
MBW: Veganism is far healthier than the standard American diet. Americans today experience heart disease, diabetes, obesity, impotence and cancer at an unprecedented rate. Vegans do not eat animal proteins and fats. In my personal experience, I know of no obese, diabetic, or sexually impotent vegans, whereas I know of many meat and dairy consumers who have these afflictions.
ES: How do you propose getting the apathetic general public to pay attention and/or care about this movement and these issues?
MBW: The only way to get the public to pay attention to animal rights issues is by appealing to one of three things: (1) that their personal health is at stake or (2) that the ethical and moral implications of taking life where it is unnecessary and where tremendous suffering is involved require changes in behavior or (3) that, if we continue to eat flesh, we will deforest land for production of Big Macs and deplete aquifers and topsoil with resultant starvation, famine, disease and war. Meat eating is not sustainable.
A final comment from Mr. Elijah Sweete: Ms. Wosko brings a very interesting perspective. While not agreeing with all her conclusions, I found her responses honest and reflective of a kind spirit and iron-willed commitment. TMV’s comment section carries both critique and support, and I ask TMV’s always thoughtful commenters to consider additional questions they would like to see addressed on this subject. Finally, Ms. Wosko moves me to say that, whether or not one chooses veganism, there is more we all can do as individuals for our personal health and the health and welfare of all our fellow beings.