Most people react negatively to the idea of veganism. They think it is too out there, too extreme, too silly or just too hard and that was my feeling when I first heard of it about six years ago. At the time, my wife was vegetarian and she frequently tried to get me to listen to her ideas, but I wasn’t much interested to be honest. I mean, humans eat meat and dairy so why would I stop doing that?
Yet one day as we were driving to Adelaide and talking about farming, something occurred to me. Where are all the pigs? I had to admit I often saw sheep and cattle, but rarely any pigs. What my wife told me surprised me and to be frank I didn’t believe her, so I went off and did some research.
Long story short, I was caught off-guard by what I learned. I guess I’d never really bothered to find out where my food came from. From this investigation, I came to the conclusion that what was happening looked pretty awful and I just didn’t want to be part of that. I did a bunch of reading about what was involved in eliminating animal products from my diet and other aspects of my life and worked out how to be ‘vegan’.
And so it happened that I became a ‘vegan’. As did my wife. Surprisingly, it wasn’t particularly difficult. Of course, like anyone who suddenly discovers something horrible happening that they’d like to see changed, I wanted to encourage others to learn all about it. I naively thought that as soon as anyone realised what was happening, like me they’d decide it was better not to use animals like that.
It didn’t pan out like that though. Sure, most people do care about animal welfare, but that caring only goes so far. As they say, don’t get between a man and his steak. Pretty soon I realised that if you want to get other people annoyed at you, tell them you are vegan and try to convince them that they should be too. That’s what I did and I don’t think it worked all that well. Worse, as time passed, I discovered something else — I didn’t want to be a vegan.
I absolutely admire people who decide to be vegan — those people who think it’s nicer not to eat other animals and choose to not do it anymore. It’s a hard row to hoe at first because it’s not just finding the right foods but dealing with everyone else’s criticism. The thing is that for me, veganism has become a sort of black and white thing. In their enthusiasm for fighting for the rights of other animals, it feels to me that many vegans see veganism as a sort of club. You can’t be a vegan if you don’t tick off all the right options. Some vegans get pretty vocal if they think you aren’t living up to the club rules.
I was most concerned by some of the recent activism — abusing farmers at every opportunity, the farm invasions, stealing animals and so on. I get it, I really do. We have a duty to oppose bad things and there is a long and proud history of civil disobedience in support of social justice.
Here’s the thing though. I think of veganism as nothing more than kindness. Most of our moral and ethical beliefs and practices are about being kind. Sure, we talk about social justice, a fair and just society, about giving people the right to fair treatment and so on. But really, all of that boils down to being kind to one another. How then to justify being unkind to other people in trying to advocate for kindness to other animals?
Maybe I am wrong but while all the various philosophical reasons for veganism have merit I just want to look on it as being kind. I don’t want to jump on someone because they ate an oyster, I don’t want to abuse a farmer because he has a dairy farm and I don’t want to alienate everyone from the idea of veganism.
Really, for me veganism is just something I can choose to do. I can’t make someone else believe the same things I do. Still, I do care about how much other animals are harmed in farming, so what can I do to change that? Well, I think it is just this. Engage people when I can and without judgement, encourage them to think twice, hope they’ll see that kindness counts. Share the facts, be open to counter-arguments, be honest in listening to other opinions. And accept that other people just might not agree with me.
Nowadays, I do not call myself a vegan. I am not ‘a vegan’. I am just a bloke who wants to be kind when he can. When it comes to buying things, I do what I can to choose items that aren’t causing unnecessary harms to other animals. I don’t eat meat. I buy shampoos with the rabbit symbol on the bottle. I try to reduce my consumption of grains and cereals. In a nutshell, I think about my choices and whether one choice is kinder than another. I don’t get it right all the time. I probably can’t get it right a lot of the time. But when I can, that’s what I aim to do. That, to me, is what veganism is about.