Saturday, July 21, 2012

Comparing Apples to Orangutans

The word “vegan” is thrown around more and more these days. For the most part, I think this is a good thing because each time the term is put out there it brings attention and curiosity with it. Hopefully, it will inspire more people to research the tenets of veganism and go vegan themselves. However, as encouraging as this may seem, there is also a detraction to vegan publicity and that is the misconception proliferated by many in the media, including celebrities, about what it really means to be vegan.

Recently, on a popular television magazine show, the actress Michelle Pfeiffer was approached about her latest decision to adopt a vegan diet.  The interviewer posed the typical canned question that most vegans get; what food does she miss the most? To which Pfeiffer replied, “A thick, juicy steak,” adding, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t have one now and then.” Apparently, Pfeiffer made the switch for health reasons, which is why she feels she can make ambiguous and noncommittal statements like this. It is unfortunate that she is unfamiliar with the main precept of veganism which requires that one abstain entirely from animal flesh and animal products.

Similarly, in a recent New York Times article on picky eaters the vegan diet was compared to other food restrictions, namely gluten free, sugar free, low fat, low sodium, macrobiotic, probiotic and local, to name just a few. Comparing these diets to veganism is like comparing apples to orangutans. Veganism is not on the same playing field as other food restrictions because what vegans eat—or more specifically, don’t eat—is grounded chiefly in ethics. There is a reason why veganism is associated with many religious beliefs, unlike the aforementioned dietary curbs. While some on a low sodium diet may allow themselves the occasional pinch of salt, vegans would never consider “allowing” themselves the occasional plate of cruelty embodied in animal flesh and animal products. Vegans don’t eat steak or drink cow’s milk or eat scrambled eggs every “now and then” because to do so would make them complicit in the suffering and deaths of other beings.

The foundation of veganism is that ALL animals—including human animals—deserve a happy life, free from pain and anguish. A moral code is what separates veganism from most dietary choices and is why celebrities like Pfeiffer, who speak so casually and callously about being vegan, do it no justice and, perhaps, even end up reducing its power and legitimacy. While the health benefits of a vegan, plant-based diet are numerous and well-documented, it is viewed by many vegans as an added bonus, like the icing on a vegan cupcake—the unintended, yet beneficial consequences of practicing nonviolence by not eating animals and their secretions. 

Vegans seek to avoid all forms of human and non-human animal exploitation and endeavor to live a more compassionate life beyond just what they eat, shunning anything that uses animals for clothing, personal care products, entertainment, experimentation, science and anything else humans can contrive to do others harm. Furthermore, vegans promote environmentalism by educating others about the disastrous effects meat production has on the Earth’s resources and climate; they bring attention to the horrible conditions of sick, exploited and underpaid factory farm workers who are also abused by the animal industrial complex, and they bring awareness to those starving in third world countries because the grains they need to nourish their bodies are used instead to fatten cattle for industrialized nations like the U.S. to feed on.

Veganism is not a fad, it’s not something you partake in during social occasions and holidays, or when you feel like it, rather, it’s an edict to live by each and every day. Veganism encourages self-awareness and a higher level of consciousness whereby we become attuned to recognizing animal suffering in all sectors of our lives and work to eliminate it.

Veganism is a lifelong journey of compassion, education, service and love, primarily for animals, but also for ourselves, our communities, and our planet. Wheat less, low fat, and sugar free diets can’t even begin to strive for the social justice remedies that vegans do simply through their food choices. Gluten free, no sodium and no carb diets have no part in ending speciesism or advocating for the rights of the most persecuted group of beings on this planet. Only vegans and veganism can do that. 

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