Veganism is a big part of my life. I realised that I haven’t talked about it much on here, asides from the recent recipe posts on this blog featuring vegan food. One reason animal rights hasn’t appeared much in this little space is because it’s controversial, and the stereotype of vegans being self-righteous and self-absorbed (“How do you know someone’s vegan? They’ll tell you!”) is something I’m always trying to push against.
I think it’s an unfair stereotype. Animal rights are often bizarrely overlooked by those who care about other areas of social justice (see this brilliant blog post). People are derided for their activism by those who loudly demand equality for other groups. Animal rights is an important issue, and I’m sure we all agree that important issue’s need to be addressed. Additionally, we have to eat several times a day – in a world where the majority of pre-prepared food is not vegan and poorly labelled you have to check whether it’s something you can eat. Even so, it makes me feel self-conscious about discussing my ethics.
Like most people, I’ve always cared about animals. I begged for a pet when I was little, and adored my pet bunny rabbits and the horses I rode on the weekends. I visited my family in South Africa, and was in awe of the magnificence of the wild animals there. I was – and still am – extremely concerned about species extinction and outraged that poaching still happens to the magnitude that it does. Like most people, I ate meat, eggs and dairy and didn’t think much of it. I knew that animals were killed for my food, but I was told this was just a part of life and nature and I accepted it. Never having to actually witness or partake in slaughter myself, there was no reason to worry about it.
In the first year of my Philosophy degree, I chose to study Peter Singer for a project and read some of his most famous works – Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics. The argument from speciesism just makes so much sense. Excuse me if I butcher this – but the basic argument is that pain and suffering matter just as much regardless of who it belongs to. There is no morally significant distinction between the suffering of humans and other animals which means that my suffering matters and that of a cow, pig or chicken doesn’t. To deny this is to discriminate on the basis of species alone, which is irrational. Eating a veggie burger instead of a hamburger makes very little difference to our day, compared to the difference it makes to the animal that has lost its life for that meal.
Philosophically, people might try to undermine Singer’s argument by denying utilitarianism, but I don’t think you need to be a utilitarian to understand that morally, causing pain should be avoided where possible. Eating meat is unnecessary – humans have historically survived on a range of diets, not all including meat, and vegetarian food is delicious, healthy and easily available for most. The conditions that most farmed animals live in are horrific. They are bred to grow huge in a very short amount of time (which leads to distressing genetic deformities), kept in cramped conditions, abused, and have their lives cut short by a painful death. Even “ethically” produced meat involves distressing living conditions and a painful end.
I remember resisting vegetarianism at the time. My new boyfriend James was a vegetarian and the last thing I wanted was for people to think he had guilt tripped me into changing my lifestyle – I am a strong independent woman! The more I thought about it, the less appealing meat was to me and I secretly stopped eating it until my friends noticed. I remained a vegetarian for years, all throughout my degree at York. My compassion for my pet bunny rabbit extended into a compassion for all animals.
By the time I left University, veganism was on my radar. I believed that veganism was the logical conclusion of vegetarianism. As a vegetarian I objected to animal suffering, but I realised there is just as much of that happening in the egg and dairy industry. Dairy cows are forcibly inseminated and then separated from their week old sons, who are sold to the meat industry to be slaughtered at only 10 months old. In the egg industry, male chicks are ground alive because they are of no use, “free range” or not.
In both egg and dairy industries, animals are kept in cramped and uncomfortable conditions and selectively bred to increase “production” in ways which painfully deform them. They have body parts removed without anaesthetic. These practices happen throughout “free range” and factory farmed industries. At this point in my life veganism still seemed too extreme – what on earth would I eat?! Could I really live without cheese?! Where would my vitamins come from?!
After graduating, I moved in with James for a couple of months in York to do an internship. We decided to do Veganuary together, which then turned into Vefebruary because we found it much easier that we were expecting. We still ate dairy products when in restaurants or other people’s houses. After my internship I lived at home and reverted back to vegetarianism, but once I had moved out permanently I became vegan full time. I no longer eat animal products in restaurants or with friends. I love my lifestyle, I love the food I eat and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made!
It seems odd to some that I won’t eat any sort of animal products. The way I see it, using animals as products is all a part of this system that exploits and harms them. It is always difficult to know whether that animal was treated “ethically” or not. The easiest way to move forward from animal exploitation is to avoid any practice that uses them as “goods” or “products” and not as sentient, feeling, individuals.
I hope this has given you a brief but interesting insight into a core aspect of my lifestyle and belief system! If you’re interested in learning more, here are some great resources: